Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lies People Tell - Intro

I've been so impressed lately with the vast volume of lies that people tell that I feel I need to address some of them. You see, it seems like we who believe we need to contend for the faith (Jude 1:3) often find ourselves defending what turns out to be lies. In a large number of cases they are what is called "strawman arguments" where someone attributes to us beliefs we do not have and then explains why we're wrong. And we try to explain why we're not ... but we don't hold the thing we're defending. An example might be when anti-Reformed theology folks argue that Reformed theology doesn't believe that faith is necessary for salvation. "You Calvinists believe that God chooses whom He will save and God gives them faith, so faith isn't necessary." Well, yes, we believe God chooses whom He will save ... but that doesn't preclude the necessity of the chosen exercising their God-given faith. You see, it would be easy to end up trying to defend against the conclusion -- "faith isn't necessary" -- but the lie occurred in the transfer of claim to conclusion. The anti-Reformed folks will argue, "It's absolutely clear from Scripture that faith is necessary for salvation" and the Reformed folks would ... cheer in agreement ... except we end up trying to defend against this ... lie.

I'm obviously going to have to make this a series on the topic because the volume and scope of these lies is huge. The goal, however, is to make things easier for you. It's difficult at times to try to explain your position in terms of nuances, but when the attack is simply a lie, it becomes a lot easier. It's hard when you have to explain, "Well, that's close to what I believe, but it's not quite and here are the shades of meaning that you missed." It's much easier when you can simply say, "No, that's completely wrong information. Here's the truth." Unfortunately, some of these lies have been repeated so many times that they've become accepted as true without examination and then we end up stuck with a lie against which we need to defend. So I want to address those types of lies and see if we can step out, just a bit, from some of the false accusations that we've been told are true and we've been hard-pressed to defend against. I hope it will be a beneficial series for you. Keep your eyes peeled for future installments.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Are you sure you want to go there? III

"Patriarchy" comes from two Greek words. Patria refers to the father. "Archy", from the Greek arche, means beginning, first in origin, to rule. We use "archy" in a variety of terms: Monarchy, oligarchy, lots of "archy's". One form of "rule" is "patriarchy", defined as "the structuring of society on the basis of family units, where fathers have primary responsibility for the welfare of, hence authority over, their families." As it turns out, in fact, "patriarch" is a biblical word (Acts 2:29; Heb 7:4). Everyone knows that the Jewish origins are "the fathers", Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. From the very beginning, in fact, the fathers were the dominant reference. Why? Because "Adam was formed first" (2 Tim 2:13). The concept is unavoidable in the Bible.

First and foremost, we have the God of the Bible. We have God, the Father, Jesus, the Son, and the Holy Spirit to whom the Bible always refers as "He" (never "She"). (I'm hoping I don't need references for this. It's quite obvious.) While both man and woman are made in the image of God and both share equal value as persons and both are required to exercise dominion over the Earth, even before the Fall, woman was designed to be man's helper. At the Fall, God declared to woman "he shall rule over you" (Gen 3:16). It was God's design.

And so it went as an unbroken string throughout the Bible. Regarding Abraham God says, "For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has promised him" (Gen 18:19). It is fathers who are commanded to bring up the children "in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph 6:4). It is about fathers and husbands that Paul writes, "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Tim 5:8). While wives are commanded to submit to their husbands, husbands are commanded to love their wives (Eph 5:22-33; Col 3:18-19), offering distinct commands to distinct genders. Paul doesn't mince words about the hierarchy (another "archy" word) of the home: "I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Cor 11:3). He goes on to say, "[Man] is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man" (1 Cor 11:7-9). There are controls and limits placed on male leadership. Fathers are not to exasperate their children (Eph 6:4). They are to show compassion (Psa 103:13). They are to honor their wives (1 Peter 3:7). The image isn't one of domination, but servant leadership, compassion, and honor. The man, then, is ordained by God to be the head of his household, the leader of his family, the provider and protector, with the authority and mandate to direct his household in paths of obedience to God.

So ... why did I ask, "Are you sure you want to go there?" Well, it's quite obvious that none of this is popular today. It's "sexist" and demeaning. It makes men as better than women. And on and on. Part of the problem is that the entire concept of "patriarchy" is defined and understood by most in terms of error and extremes. I say "patriarchy" and they think "male domination", "subjugation of women", "unequal value". None of that is accurate. They are errors. They don't align with biblical patriarchy. One of the difficulties is the problem of "submit" versus "devalue". Somehow we believe that if one person submits to another, the one who submits is of lesser value than the other. This is demonstrably not true. The Son submitted to the Father. In no way would we say that the Son was less valuable than the Father. In similar terms, we connect value with significance. A person in charge, we seem to think, is more important than the rest. Headship, somehow, makes someone more important than those over whom he is head. Any one with any sense who supervises people will tell you that the people are the important ones, not the supervisor. The supervisor coordinates, perhaps, but it is the supervised that make it happen. And then there is the inevitable "What about lousy fathers?!" People who abuse their God-given role are just as much in error as those who refuse it. We can't determine what "godly" is from people who are wrong. Still, some determine "Patriarchy must be wrong because my father was abusive." That doesn't make sense.

Properly understood, it is inevitable that we conclude that the Bible teaches a structure for the family with the father and husband at the top. It isn't the top in terms of value. It isn't the top in terms of importance. It is often a difficult, unrecognized position. I suspect that one of the reasons that patriarchy is out is because men didn't want to do it. Imagine, guys, if you took your role seriously and knew that it was your job to be the one to supply all the answers to whatever question your wife might ask (1 Cor 14:35), for instance. Imagine that you kept in mind that it was you whom God holds responsible at every turn for the choices and direction of your family. Enviable position? Not really. But it is the biblical one, despite all the complaints of today's unisex society.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Walking on Water

Almost everyone who has ever heard of Jesus knows about this event:
25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, "It is a ghost!" and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid." 28 And Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." 29 He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, "Lord, save me." 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God" (Matt 14:25-33)
We use the phrase "walks on water" to indicate someone who can do no wrong (you know, like Jesus). There is even a lizard nicknamed the "Jesus lizard" (no relation to the band of the same name) because it can run on top of water for some time. Most everyone knows that Jesus walked on water.

Less obvious is the secondary story. Those of us familiar with the account are also aware that Jesus wasn't the only man to have ever walked on water. In verse 29 we read, "Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus." Most of us see "walking on water" as an impossible task accomplished only by the Son of God, but, in truth, a follower of Christ did the same thing at His command.

Let's examine for a moment the very special qualifications that Peter had to do this task. Let's see ... well, he was a fisherman! Unfortunately, that only qualified him to handle a boat, not to get out of it and walk on water. He was a failure as a disciple. In this event Jesus calls him "you of little faith". Later he claims he'll always follow Christ and Jesus tells him he'll fail miserably. Then he chops off a guy's ear and Jesus has to rebuke Him. Finally he denies (three times) he ever even knew Jesus. Yeah, that's not a "well-qualified" candidate for "can do no wrong" or for walking on water. No, Peter had no qualifications to do the task.

Still ... Peter walked on water. He actually did it. So what qualified Peter to do such a thing? There were two simple qualifications. First, he was commanded to do it by Christ. Second, he stepped out in what was the nearest thing to "blind faith" (as much as I hate the term). That's it.

This is really significant for us today. Most of us are asked by God to do things we don't really feel qualified to do. Maybe it's something big like go to the mission field or enter the ministry or marry this spouse. Maybe it's something more mundane like "go and sin no more" on a particular subject. "But, Lord," we say (with the ultimate oxymoronic phrase), "I'm not qualified. I don't have what it takes." Like Moses at the burning bush, we say, "Who am I that I should go?" (Exo 3:11) or "I am slow of speech and of tongue" (Exo 4:10). To the first God replied "I will be with you" (Exo 3:12) and to the second He replied "Who has made man's mouth?" (Exo 4:11). In other words, it's never about your qualifications. We are tasked by God to do what He wants us to do not because we're special but because He will do it.

Peter didn't last long walking on the water. What qualified him to fail? Verse 30 says, "When he saw the wind, he was afraid." And, of course, Jesus explains further that it was his doubt that made him fail.

All this to try to encourage you. Are you being asked by God to do something and are hesitant? Are you fearful because you believe you don't have what it takes? (Let me give you a hint: You probably don't have what it takes.) Are you discouraged because you don't think you can do it? (Again, you're fear is likely real.) Remember, Peter walked on water. The only thing that stopped him was when he took his eyes off Jesus, His Lord and the One who provided all he needed to accomplish what he was commanded, and looked instead at the problem. You see, in Christ we are more than conquerors ... and that's not a statement about our unique qualifications or abilities. It's a statement about His glory. In truth, when we step out to obey God without regard to our own abilities or lack thereof, we cannot fail as long as we trust.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Science Triumphs

I know ... it looks bad, but it's really good news, so bear with me.

In this news item an Arizona man told police he was possessed when he stabbed his family to death, all the while singing an Eminem song. "Here comes Satan, I’m the anti-Christ, I’m going to kill you." The man claimed that "he stabbed his son the most because he loved him the most". There you have it, folks. It wasn't his fault. It's Eminem's fault and it's Satan's fault and it's "just crazy's" fault. Don't be too harsh on the guy. (FYI, the son, 4-year-old Brian, survived 11 stab wounds. His mother and sister died.)

Then there was this little piece that happily informed us that "experts have found the 'gang gene'". That's right! Experts from Florida State University have discovered a gene that apparently determines if you are predisposed to join a gang. If you have this gene, you are also more likely to be a violent gang member. From the article, while 42% of males have this genetic deficiency, about 5% joined a gang, but, hey, who am I to question science?

Where is this going? Well, it's really good news. There is no right or wrong. Morality is mere perception. The reason people do "bad" things is environment, genetics, hormones, all sorts of things that are actually outside their control. I know, I know, God seems to think He can hold us responsible for doing "bad" things, but the good news is God's wrong!

Oh, wait ... something's not right here ...

Friday, June 26, 2009

In Case You Missed It

Just about every Christian and a large number of unbelievers are familiar with the Lord's Prayer. Gina at Refreshment in Refuge recently did a little interesting piece on the Lord's Prayer, a conversation with God from someone who is praying. Quite convicting.

One of the things that I've noted over the years that I find almost all Christians that I know seem to have missed is this tricky little test question: What is the very first request in the Lord's Prayer? Feel free to peek. It's an open book test. Just one question. Not too hard. Almost everyone I know will say, "The first request is that God's kingdom would come." See? Easy.

Unfortunately, it's also wrong. The very first request is given in the very first sentence: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name." "No, no," you assure me gently, "that's not a request; that's a statement." Well, actually, no. If it was a statement, the phrase would be "hallowed is Your name." But in this case, the verb tense is not present, but future. This is a request, not a statement.

Jesus tells us "Don't pray like the hypocrites (Matt 6:5-8). Instead, pray like this ..." (Matt 6:9-13). His very first (and, therefore, likely most urgent) request is simple. "Father, may Your name be held as holy." He asks that because we live in a world that does not hold God's name as holy. He asks that because God's holiness is of paramount importance. He asks that because God's holiness informs all the other components of this prayer.

Maybe you don't agree that it's a request. No big deal. I would hope, though, that you would recognize that our world does not regard God as holy, that even we tend to fall into that, and that we need to constantly recognize His holiness. That is, even if you don't agree that it's the first request in this prayer, perhaps you'll agree that it should be.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

You asked for it

So someone asked for more nature pictures. Okay ... more bird pictures, but I thought I could expand it. Let's see how this goes.


Interestingly (at least to me), this picture was taken on Margs Trail which, by sheer coincidence, is (almost) my wife's name. I found the contrast pleasing. (My wife wondered if I photoshopped it even though she was there when I took it. I did nothing to edit this photo.)



I wonder if someone can give me the name of this lizard. No, no, not "Ted" or "Bob". I mean, what kind of lizard? A Chuckwalla perhaps?



The green lizard, I'm pretty sure, is a collared lizard. Sure, but what kind of collared lizard? (Note: This was a pretty large lizard. The body without the tail was something close to a foot long.) I'm thinking Eastern Collared Lizard?



Getting a butterfly to sit still long enough for a picture is tough. Getting them to smile is really hard. (Made you look.)



I need some help identifying this yellow bird. It was singing madly up in the Sedona area. I can't figure out what it is.



This sweet little hummingbird looks way too thin. Maybe she needs to buff up a little?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Carbon Credits

Do a quick search online and you'll find multiple companies offering you "carbon credits". They figure out your carbon footprint -- the total amount of greenhouse gas emission that you are causing. You pay a fee. That fee goes to a wind farm in Texas or a reforestation project in Brazil, some program that offsets the emissions you are causing. Now, the version in the Kyoto Protocol was a little different. Designed for companies rather than individuals, the idea was to pay poorer countries to reduce their emissions while developed countries remained at the same level. Either way -- POOF! -- you don't have to stop your emissions. You just pay someone else to take care of it.

As it turns out (and this will likely come as a shock to all of you), the program is nonsense. Studies show that the results are being falsified or misstated. As it turns out, actually measuring the effectiveness of this concept is nearly impossible. Go figure.

But the numbers are still changing. Two scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have published their findings. As it turns out, the real cause of global warming is obesity. You see, obese people require extra food production which causes more carbon emissions. They cost more (in carbon emissions) to move around. They won't likely walk or cycle. See? Proof! Die, fat people!! Or not.

What's frightening to me is that this kind of stuff (like the odd fact that Al Gore pays his own company for carbon offsets -- yes, Al Gore has a company that makes money off the global warming frenzy) just drifts on by under the cover of the "global warming" religion that America has swallowed without a thought. People will look harder at the obvious idea that God designed the universe than they will at the unproven climate change issue or the "born that way" "certainty". Is there a point at which we say, "If you're that gullible, you deserve what you get"?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Evolution


During our recent trip to Sedona, my wife and I took a pleasant hike into nature. The scenery was beautiful and the goal of the trail was to leave the land untouched. So I was really excited when I came across what is sure to be a colossal find.

If you look into the center of the picture you'll see a small pile of rocks. These rocks are not on the path, so they're obviously natural. They appear to be neatly stacked one on top of the other, but this is a nonsensical conclusion based on a predisposition to find intelligence in the design of the universe. No, no, here is a photographic display of the amazing random erosion of rock to look like "design" when we all know that no such design took place.

Marvelous, isn't it? I mean, what idiot would leap to the conclusion that there is intelligence behind that design? Sheesh!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Doing Church -- Living

I've been looking at the question of whether or not we are doing church right here in the 21st century. I started by pointing to the first church from Acts 2. I see scant comparison to today's churches. I looked at biblical church leadership compared to our version. I see large disparities between the biblical prescriptions and what we're doing today. I looked at the biblical purpose of church compared with our general purpose today and found a large gap. It has all made me wonder how far off we really are from having biblical churches.

This next territory is more personal. How are Christians to be living? I connect this to "doing church" because I see the biblical model as "discipleship" or, as the author of Hebrews says it, "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works" (Heb 10:24).

There appears to be, at least in American Christianity, a largely limited notion of what Christians should be doing. At least from the outside, it looks like we believe that our primary role in life is to point out how bad people are. We seem to think that our purpose is to make a more moral society, to try to conform our world to biblical standards of behavior. We seem, in so many cases, to be trying to make bad people into good people. And, of course, you can understand why. I mean, isn't that what the Bible says we ought to be doing? Oh, wait ... I can't find that in mine. So ... what do I find?
By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).
"Yeah, yeah," some of you might say, "leave it to Stan to oversimplify." Maybe. But before we complicate things, let's just start with this, okay?

Since Christ is the one we're following (you know, "Christians"), I would think that Christ would be the one to best define what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Christ Himself gives one and only one genuine hallmark of a disciple: love. Christian living, then, ought to begin and end with "love". Of course this is entirely consistent with the two commandments that form the basis for all moral law -- love God and love your neighbor.

Interestingly, Jesus called this command "a new commandment" (John 13:34). What about this commandment was new? Well, first, the original command was to love "as you love yourself". Jesus said that we are to love one another "as I have loved you". That is a significant difference. But there is another difference. He is clear that the "one another" to whom He refers is the disciples. Now, to be sure, we are to love everyone, including our enemies, but Jesus gives a special command to His disciples: "Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another" (John 13:34). It is that love for the brethren that is the hallmark of a disciple.

In the earlier example of the first church, we see this clear hallmark. "All who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people" (Act 2:44-47). The first church was clearly marked by a genuine, observable, practical love that exceeded the simple "as you love yourself" kind of love. It was sacrificial (you know, like Christ's love). It was personal (like Christ's love). It was observable (like Christ's love). It was selfless (like Christ's love). It was just what Christ said it should be.

So, here I am again at the question stage. Are we, as Christians, living out what Christ said we should be living out? Is the church teaching us to live genuine, Christ-like love for one another? Or are we living comfortable, selfish lives? Based on the perspective most people have of Christians, at least in America, I am sorely afraid that our churches are not molding us into genuine disciples marked by genuine love for one another and our Christians are not nearly as concerned about loving one another as we are about, oh, say, politics, morality, judgmentalism. Now, don't get me wrong. It is abundantly clear, if you read through Acts (the entire New Testament, in fact), that the disciples, as they went about being genuine Christians, did not fail to point out sin where it was -- they did not fail to stand for the truth -- but this was only part of the message they brought. And "making converts", according to Acts 2:47, was God's job. So I ask, are we sure that the Christianity in America to which we've become so accustomed is biblical? If it's not marked first and foremost by a Christ-like love for one another, I suspect we (you and I) have a problem.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day 2009

It's Father's Day, a day set aside to honor fathers. Now, you'll likely admit that Father's Day isn't nearly as important as Mother's Day. On Mother's Day, moms everywhere are treated to dinner, given gifts, pampered and praised. Father's Day is typically a barbecue in the backyard (you know, where Dad is doing the work) and maybe, if he's lucky, a bad tie or handkerchief as a gift. I know, I know ... oversimplification, and too much of a stereotype, but I'm sure you get the idea. We just don't make as much of fathers as we do mothers.

Part of that, I suppose, is the fault of fathers. Again stereotyping, everyone knows that mothers raise the kids while fathers tolerate them. Everyone knows that moms make the home while dads go off to work to pay for it (typically, these days, with the added income of mom's job). Everyone knows that when families break up, Dad leaves the kid with Mom because dads are not responsible for being fathers. This, as I said, is stereotypical, and not entirely accurate, but I think there's enough of it that dads have gotten a bad rap for it.

The other part, I am thinking, is ... sin. Well, perhaps "sin" isn't the right word. We modern Christians in our enlightened day have decided that God's ideas of what it means to be a father isn't quite right. We know now, for instance, that mothers are the much better parent. We figured that out when, apparently, God couldn't. We immediately discount the Old Testament preponderance of "fathers" as an archaic, patriarchal system, no longer relevant today. (The fact that it carried into the New Testament is equally irrelevant, a nasty byproduct of a failed culture.) We read quickly over such nonsensical passages of Scripture as "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph 6:4). That's simply telling dads not to make their kids mad. Surely it's not telling them to "bring them up". That's the mom's job. And, seriously, that whole "Wait 'til your father gets home" thing is so outdated. I mean, just because Hebrews references "earthly fathers who disciplined us" (Heb 12:9) is no reason to think that fathers should do discipline. And who really thinks that "God the Father" should bring any influence to our view of "fathers"? So, we wise moderns completely discount the singular perspective of the Bible that fathers are the primary responsible parent.

Well, I'm personally of the opinion that it's a mistake. I am incapable of reading the Bible and coming away with anything but the firm conviction that God has made husbands the head of their wives (1 Cor 11:3, etc.) and fathers the head of their families. God has designed the family to be led by fathers. Fathers are responsible for the education, discipline, and training of their children. They are responsible for seeing to it that their children are prepared for life. Now, I'm not saying that they need to do everything, but from what I see in the Bible, they are the ones responsible for everything.

Guys, the biblical perspective on men is really quite intense. Responsible for the family, responsible for the wife, responsible as the priest of the family, we have some phenomenal tasks laid on us by God. I intend to make very sure today that I thank my father for having done his part of those tasks so well. I also intend to pray to my Father for the strength to do them myself, especially in the face of a society that is so willing to discount fatherhood.

Dad, if you read this ... Happy Father's Day!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Vortexes


My wife recently had her birthday. To celebrate, I took her to Sedona for the weekend. It was a wonderful time. Sedona, Arizona, is a beautiful spot. Everywhere you turn is a new vista, a new eye-popping experience. We drove up Oak Creek Canyon and hiked on the West Fork trail and we drove up to Airport Mesa and took in the panorama there and we went down to the Chapel of the Holy Cross and took in that view and we hiked Marg's Trail and enjoyed that view. We did some shopping (not buying -- my wife hates buying) and some fine dining. It was a really good time.

There was one thing that really struck me as funny ... as in "odd". If you look at the title of this piece, you should note that, well, it's wrong. If you have more than one vortex, the plural is not "vortexes", but "vortices". This is true ... everywhere except in Sedona. You see, the area is known for what they call "vortexes". Now, a vortex in nature is a convergence of energy that produces a circular motion of concentrated force. You've seen a vortex when you watch water go down the drain in a sink. That spin effect is a vortex of fluid. You've seen a vortex when a tornado occurs. That spin effect is a vortex of wind. Well, in Sedona they have another kind of vortex. This vortex is a confluence of spinning spiritual energy. They're supposed to be concentrations of spiritual force useful for prayer, meditation, and healing. No, you can't see them. It's just ... there. And Sedona has a bunch of them.

It was actually somewhat surprising how big a part of Sedona these "vortexes" played. There are a host of shops with crystals and other spiritual things to help you along. There are entire businesses (yes, plural) devoted to taking you to and helping you gain the maximum benefit from these vortexes. You can find entire vacation packages to Sedona focused on spiritual healing at these vortexes. There are maps to all the vortexes readily available everywhere you turn. I was quite surprised, in fact, that the official Chamber of Commerce maps had these vortexes pinpointed for you.

The reason this whole thing struck me as funny/odd is that it's so well accepted. It's in the business environment there. It's part of the city of Sedona. It's even on the official maps. Now, while there are growing voices of complaint about Christianity in the public square and even in the private domain, why is it that this ... craziness ... is accepted without comment? Why aren't the atheists up in arm over this? Why are those groups that have formed to sue to have religion removed from all public venues leaving this stuff alone? Why is Christianity intolerable to a growing number of loud voices, but "vortexes" (with their improper spelling, their absence of reasonable argument, and their purely religious connotations) are a good thing? What's going on here?

Well, my wife and I enjoyed our hikes and our views and our meals and our time together, so I won't complain. You can go ahead and figure out what's up with vortexes and why they're acceptable when Christianity is not.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Doing Church - Purpose

Sticking with a theme here, I want to examine the question of "Why?" Why are we here? What is the purpose of the church?

If you ask the question or just observe and infer, you'll likely get something along these lines: We're here to spread the Gospel. That, my friends, is largely the entire answer. Every church service has a Gospel invitation. Every sermon has a Gospel aim. The church is there to "proclaim the gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15). I mean, isn't that commonly understood? Why would you even ask?

Funny thing, but that's not what I find as the biblical function of church. First, nowhere will you find the command "Go into all the world and make converts." It's not in there. We can find "proclaim the gospel" as I indicated above, but "make converts" isn't there. What is "The Great Commission"? "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matt 28:19-20). Boiling that down to "make converts" is a serious breach of text. It's not what He commanded. There is "go" (literally, "as you are going"). There is "make disciples". There is baptizing. There is teaching. There is no "make converts". No, no, this Great Commission is a broad command to spend your time wherever you may be bringing people along as genuine followers of Christ, baptizing them and teaching them the whole truth. You may call it "mentoring", but the easiest, biblical concept is "discipleship".

Now, to be completely fair, that is a command to Jesus's disciples. It's an individual command, then, to all who would follow Christ. How does that relate to doing church? Well, according to the Bible, the function of church is to enable individual followers of Christ to be disciples. Where do I get that?
And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Eph 4:11-16).
He (Christ) has equipped the church with the tools that we need to ... what? "Equip the saints for the work of ministry." Why? "For building up more converts." No, no, that's not at all right. "For building up the body of Christ." And what is the goal? "Mature manhood." The goal, according to Paul here in Ephesians, is to build up the body of Christ to maturity in love.

Funny thing ... I have rarely found a church who views its primary goal as building believers in maturity. I know of precious few churches who see their primary function as making disciples, of teaching "all that I have commanded you". It just doesn't seem to be a common perspective in most churches of which I'm aware. Some will focus on evangelism. Fewer, but not an insignificant number will focus on "serving the community" -- the "social gospel". Fewer still will focus on preaching the Word, which is really a good thing -- a start on this purpose statement -- but not the whole picture. But I know of extremely few churches who see their purpose as making disciples, building mature believers, "equipping the saints".

So I ask ... are we sure we're doing church right? What we're doing may be good and all that (there's certainly nothing wrong with evangelism, serving the community, or preaching the Word), but is it biblical? Are we doing church like we are intended to?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Through a New Lens

Okay, so the old camera started falling apart. (No, seriously ... the battery cover fell off.) So now it's time for a new camera. I'm not rich guy, nor am I highly adept at photography, so I didn't go for the more capable but more expensive SLR models. Still, the one I got has a 20X optical zoom with image stabilization that will make it even easier to get some of the shots I have tried for. So far, then, so good. Here are some of the pictures I've taken as I have started learning this new Canon.

Look closely. I know ... it looks like rocks. But look closely. It's a brand new Killdeer. Right next to this one is an unhatched sibling. This little baby was one of three born in the middle of a parking lot near where I work. I got to see his parents do the "I'm dying, chase me" dance that they do and then I got to see this little guy finally hatched.



This one is a long shot of a fairly common visitor to our yard. We've watched this cardinal grow up since he was a just a young kid. Now he is "married" (cardinals are monogamous for life, you know) and has had several groups of offspring come through. I just think it's odd to see such a brilliantly colored bird in the desert of Arizona, but, hey, I'm not complaining.






My wife invited a friend from work to come with your kids to enjoy the pool. Sure, it was a bit cold (we didn't even reach 100°), but the kids didn't mind. So I tried the camera out for action shots and caught Adrian in midair after I told him how to do a real cannon ball. Not a bad shot, if you ask me.








At the same time, I noticed that the clouds were quite lovely. (We really do get some spectacular cloud formations here, complete with remarkable colors.) I just thought I'd get a "picture of the day", so to speak. Sure, it was a chilly 95°, but it was a pretty day.






This shot was taken clear across the yard. My wife had filled the feeder and the birds came in to gorge themselves. So, let's see ... the darkest ones are brown-headed cowbirds. The light one above them is a female of the same variety. The one in flight is a male house finch and the one next to him perched there is a female. Just a test of a long-distance action shot. Not too bad, I think.





























UPDATE: I apologize. The explanation for each picture doesn't line up with each picture. Please chalk it up to blogger.com's difficulty of use and, obviously, to my ignorance of how to make it work.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Are you sure you want to go there? II

Okay, I already tackled the dangerous topic of divorce (my first "Are you sure you want to go there?" topic). I lived. So, let's try another difficult one.

Masturbation. There, I said it. Now, is it right or wrong? Well, the first place a Christian should go to answer that question is the Bible. What does God's Word have to say about the topic? Truthfully ... not a thing. It is not mentioned once. Others have tried to link Onan (Gen 38:1-10) to the subject. Don't bother. Although some dictionaries still define "onanism" as "masturbation", that's not what was going on there. No, folks, not one word in the Bible on the subject.

What do we conclude? Well, some would conclude, "If the Bible doesn't say anything, it must be fine." A more careful person might say, "Well, it may not be good, but it is morally neutral." Unfortunately, the leap from "not mentioned" to "okay" is a bit too far.

Now, I don't want to create rules or place undue burdens on people, so I won't say, "It's a sin!" Here's what I'll offer. These are some of the things we find in Scripture:
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts (Rom 13:14).

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul (1 Pet 2:11).

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal 5:24).

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service of worship (Rom 12:1).

You have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body (1 Cor 6:20).
No, you're right. Not one mention of "masturbation". So I'm not trying to make a rule where there is none. All I'm trying to say here is that if you can engage in the behavior and still submit to these commands and concepts, then more power to you. Me? I'm just not seeing it ...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Doing Church - Leadership

Taking my own suggestion, I want to examine various aspects of "church" that, perhaps, we need to revisit. Are we doing what we're simply comfortable doing, or are we doing what the Bible says to do? I will look here at the concept of leadership.

There is plenty of information in the New Testament to explain what church leadership is supposed to look like. We have two entire passages -- one written to Timothy and the other to Titus -- that details the qualifications for a particular component of church leadership referred to as "elders". It might be called "bishops" in some translations or "overseers" in others, but it's the same thing. We know, for instance, that elders are appointed, not elected. We know that they are males (no matter how hard you work at changing that). They are called to a higher character than your average, everyday Christian, beginning with the concept of "blameless", a high calling indeed. We know that they are to lead by example, and not for personal gain (1 Peter 5:2-3). And we know that there was not a single "elder", but always a group of elders. Oh, yes, there is plenty of information on this particular group.

Funny thing. How many churches do you know that follow this? Elders are elected, not appointed. The qualifications are often mitigated -- "No one can meet those standards, so we'll just try to get close." Often those who serve as elders aren't chosen for their spiritual depth, but for their willingness or, worse, their contributions. In the worst cases, though, some churches ignore this group of people altogether. They claim that their pastor is their "elders". (You see the problem, don't you? "Elders" is plural, but "pastor" is not.)

There is a second group in biblical church leadership. They are typically referred to as deacons. This group first came about in Acts 6 when the numbers of believers were starting to overwhelm the Apostles. Deacons, then, were appointed to serve the needs of the church people. These first men were no slouches. They were "men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom" (Acts 6:3). One of them, in fact, was Stephen who, a chapter later, died for the faith. Paul explains to Timothy what the qualifications should be for deacons in 1 Tim 3:8-13. There is some question about whether or not women may serve in this role, and that's fine, but there is no doubt that deacons form a second tier of church leadership. Another group of servants, the deacons take care of the physical needs of the church while the elders take care of the spiritual needs.

Today, of course, biblical qualifications aren't of much concern. "Warm, willing bodies that can do things around the church" are pretty much all the qualifications required. I mean, seriously, are you really going to suggest that you need to have "men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom" to get the job done? Don't set the standard so high! And, of course, there are other churches that ignore this group entirely as well. Some churches have deacons and no elders. Other churches have elders and no deacons. Neither of these fit the instructions for church leadership.

I have to admit, there is a problem along these lines in my mind with a particular segment of "church" today in America. The "house church" is quite popular, and I see lots of good things there, but a church that consists of maybe a dozen people is not likely to include "elders" and "deacons" without making nearly everyone one or the other. I've never quite understood that particular aspect of the house church concept. I'm just saying.

There is another disconnect between today's churches and the biblical accounts that I've never had cleared up for me. Every church in America today has a pastor. This pastor is the primary leader. These primary leaders vary, I suppose. In some churches he is the "teaching elder". In others there is the "head pastor" along with several other "lesser" pastors. But it's still primarily a singular form of leadership, not a leadership by elders. Now, in the Bible I find only one, single, solitary reference to "pastor". It's in Eph 4:11, and most reputable translators find it to be a basically hyphenated word with the concept that follows it: "Pastor-teacher". There are no Bible colleges, no seminaries, not even anything that resembles "clergy" in the Bible, but we still live with this pastor-leadership concept in nearly every church in the country. Why is that? Where does it come from? Most importantly, is it right?

My question, then, is this. Are we doing church leadership in a biblical manner? Biblical leadership has two tiers, elders and deacons, is constructed of a plurality, has specific qualifications, and is appointed. Each tier has its tasks to do. There is no example in Scripture of a singular leader of a church -- what we call today "pastors". (Of course, you'd be hard pressed to find anything approximating the concept of "the Southern Baptist Convention" or some other denominational structure over a group of churches.) So ... are we doing church leadership in a biblical manner, or is it time to reexamine how we have structured the leadership of our churches?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Divorce and Remarriage

I went out on a limb a couple of weeks ago and suggested that the Bible teaches there is no valid reason for divorce (and, therefore, remarriage). One point I made as quickly and clearly as I could was that I did not believe divorce and remarriage to be some "unforgivable sin". Why would anyone think it was? Well, if you believe that divorce and remarriage is adultery, then it is likely you would conclude that the ongoing second marriage would be an adulterous relationship. The only remedy, it would seem (and there are many who make this argument), would be another divorce and a return to the first spouse.

Those who hold this view have two primary points for their argument. First, adultery is ongoing and needs to be stopped. Second, they use the biblical example from Ezra. In chapter 10, the people repented of having married foreign women and pledged to "put away all the wives and their children". There, see? If you're in a sinful marriage relationship, the right action is to divorce, even if there are children. Simply repenting isn't enough.

I'd like to make two important points on this. First, I need to point out that repentance is necessary. Those who argue "My divorce and remarriage is just fine -- I don't care what God has to say about it" are not repentant. A failure to recognize sin is no more repentance than is a refusal to admit to it. Repentance is necessary for temporal forgiveness.

The other point, though, is this. The question is inevitable: "If divorce and remarriage is adultery, what then should we do to make it right?" I thoroughly disagree with those who argue for a second divorce (and especially a necessary return to the first spouse). I understand the arguments for that perspective, but I think they are wrong-headed. If divorce is wrong, it seems nonsensical to remedy the problem with a divorce. But there is an interesting biblical perspective that affects both halves of the "divorce and return to the first spouse" argument that I think shines a light on the problem.

Lots of people know that the Bible prohibits divorce on most grounds. Lots of people know that Moses allowed divorce; according to Christ, it was a product of hardheartedness. What most people don't seem to know is that the Bible specifically prohibits divorce from a spouse, remarriage to another, then returning to the first. In Deuteronomy we read:
When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man's wife, and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance (Deut 24:1-4).
Note the phrase "that is an abomination before the Lord." This is a serious condition. God says, "If a husband divorces his wife And she goes from him And belongs to another man, will he still return to her? Will not that land be completely polluted?" (Jer 3:1). Aparently there is something about marriage, even subsequent to a divorce, that breaks the previous union and forms a new union. Note that in the Deuteronomy passage, even "if the latter husband dies", there is no return.

It appears, then, that marriage, even if it begins in adultery, forms a union, a bond that still should not be broken. It seems that if you are in a marriage, no matter the conditions or source, that you are in a condition of which Jesus says, "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate" (Matt 19:6).

There is biblical precedent to the idea that God could condone, ordain, and use a relationship that He initially forbids. In 1 Samuel 8, Israel begs Samuel (God's appointed judge) to ask God to give them a king. Of this request God says, "Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them" (1 Sam 8:7). Now, I don't think anyone can conclude that rejecting God is a good thing. Clearly God didn't think so. He warned them about the cost (1 Sam 8:11-18). Still, after all was said and done, 1) God gave them a king, and 2) He ordained that through that kingly line Christ would come. You see here a case where God recognizes an action as sin, but uses it to produce His ends not by eliminating it, but by sanctifying it -- setting it apart for His purposes.

There are those who argue that divorce and remarriage is an adulterous condition from which the only escape is to divorce and remarry. To me, it makes no sense, it violates the sanctity of marriage, and it leaves no room for God to use what He will use. To me, the remedy for a couple who are married as a product of divorce is repentance and a wholehearted reliance on God to sanctify them ... you know, like every other sinful human being.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Doing Church

In Acts 2 we get a picture of what the first church was like:
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47).
Now ... think for a moment about your church. What are the similarities? What are the differences? Okay, for me, the similarities are minor and the differences are vast.

Have you ever asked yourself if what you and I know of as "church" is what it is supposed to be? I know. I can find lots of good things about church. I'm not suggesting it's ... bad. But here's the interesting thing to me. Almost nothing that marks "church" to us today can be found in the Bible. In other words, while I'm not saying what we do today is wrong, it does appear that it's not biblical.

What are the components of the first church? They had a specific leadership -- the apostles, men who had been in the company of Christ and discipled by Him. Of course, we don't have that today. Can't have. But we do have what they wrote, so we can have "the apostles' teaching". We just can't have their leadership.

What else made up that first church? Fellowship was listed second. The word is koinonia. It refers to communion, to communicate, to share in common, companionship. It has all of this in mind. This church wasn't a come-and-go affair. You didn't attend church. Oh, no. It was deeply interpersonal. It's interesting, too, that Princeton defines the concept this way: "Christian fellowship or communion with God or with fellow Christians; said in particular of the early Christian community." Why "in particular of the early Christian community" and not today?

The next two components were "the breaking of bread" and "prayer". I stick them together because, in a sense, they are part of "fellowship". If fellowship is "communion", then clearly "the breaking of bread" is part of fellowship, whether it references observing the Lord's Supper or actual eating together. And prayer is a marvelous interpersonal tool. "How can I pray for you?" is a question that any Christian would love to hear.

It's interesting in this first church that "everyone kept feeling a sense of awe". You didn't hear, "Church isn't that relevant to me." No one was looking for new music or trying to adapt it to new arenas. The presence of God was sufficient.

Perhaps the most astounding thing this passage outlines is this: "All those who had believed were together and had all things in common." It was a physical togetherness as they met house to house day by day. It was a doctrinal togetherness as they devoted themselves to the apostles' teachings. It was a financial togetherness as they sold their goods to meet the needs of others in the group. It was a social togetherness as they ate together day by day.

The more I think about it, the less I think it would be tolerated in today's churches. Oh, sure, we'll gather and even listen to the Word. But daily? No, thanks. Twice on Sunday has become too much. Eating meals together? No, thanks. I need my space. And that whole "selling their property and possessions" thing to share with each other is a bit over the top, isn't it? I mean, look, there's no command that we do that, is there?

The passage above lists one interesting comment about this church. It says they were "having favor with all the people". Now, we know that Jesus promised persecution and they got it, so they got both favor and hatred, but it seems to me that the church today, at least in America, only gets one side of that coin, and it's not the favor side. Is it possible that we today in the "enlightened" 21st century are maybe not doing church right? Is it remotely possible that the church to which we've become accustomed is not the church that was originally intended or even most effective? Is it possible that we would do well to reexamine what it means to do church -- from a biblical viewpoint?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

You Gotta Read This

It's short, succinct, to the point, and it makes the case very well. You gotta read this.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A New Day is A'comin'

Hate Crime Legislation -- it sounds so ... innocuous. Of course we want to ban hate crimes. No one should have to endure that. Of course we're in favor of hate crime legislation. And we smile and usher in ... rules we never saw coming.

As most of us know, the Senate is currently working on pushing through a new federal law to combat hate crime. So controversial is this law that there are now rumors that they won't even bring it to the floor for a vote. They'll just push it through attached to another piece of legislation. But they're working on it. And it is already through the House, so be ready ... here it comes.

What's the big deal? Look what's happening in the UK with similar legislation. According to the Telegraph, "Religious groups are to be forced to accept homosexual youth workers, secretaries and other staff, even if their faith holds same-sex relationships to be sinful."

It is becoming ... interesting to be a Christian in the UK, according to the article. In one case, a nurse was suspended for offering to pray for a patient. In another, a British Airways worker was sent home for wearing a cross. While it's not being said, the sense of it is, "If you're a Christian here, don't tell anyone. You'll be better off keeping your faith silent." Funny thing ... that's a lot like what you might hear from Satan, isn't it?

Oh, sure, that's them and this is us. But we're headed that way, aren't we? Canada has threatened legal action against pastors who preach that homosexual behavior is a sin. The UK is ready to force churches to employ homosexuals regardless of their particular view of the subject. And we here in the U.S. are "homophobic" and "hate-mongers" because we believe the Bible. More and more people are inciting hate toward religious beliefs. Churches have been burned. Christianity has been edged more and more out of the public arena.

I'm not at all sure there's much that can be done about it. President Obama made it quite clear where he stands on the subject when he ordered June (ala Clinton) to be National Gay Pride Month, making what Christianity holds to be a sin to rather be a matter of pride. He'll certainly sign the legislation. So be ready for the time that is very possibly just around the corner when we will be forced to either move our faith underground or to compromise our beliefs -- your choice.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Paul on Politics

Okay, the title is meant to be amusing. I'm actually talking about Paul on Election.

One of my favorite passages on the doctrine of Election is Romans 9. It is impossible for me to read it and come away with anything but an abundantly clear presentation of the doctrine. Now, I know ... lots of people take it and turn it and say, "No! It's about corporate election" or some such (a distinction without a meaning as far as I can tell, because if God ordains that there will be a body of believers, does He not also ordain that there will be individuals that make up that body?). The simple fact, to me, is that you cannot read this passage and miss the very clear doctrine of Election in it. If you are going to miss it, you're going to have to work at it.

Paul begins this chapter by bemoaning the loss of Israel. "I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Rom 9:3). He immediately comforts himself because 1) he knows God ("it is not as though the word of God has failed" - v 6) and 2) he understands the secret: "it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring" (v 8). The question then becomes, "If true 'Israel' consists of 'the children of the promise', how do I become one of those children?"

Paul first spends some time proof texting. Ishmael was firstborn, but God chose Isaac. Esau was firstborn, but God chose Jacob. And he points out a fundamental fact: God chose whom He chose before they "had done nothing either good or bad -- in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls" (v 11). God didn't choose one over the other based on one or the other. God chose one over the other based on His purposes. So, the underlying rule of the doctrine of Election -- "the children of promise" -- is "God's purposes".

Paul faces the inevitable objection, the one anyone who promotes Election as fact will face: "That's not fair!!" (v 14). Paul's answer to this objection is this: "It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy" (v 16). If that isn't a red flag to the majority of believers I know, I don't know what else to say. The majority of believers think that God's choice does depend on human will: "God chooses those whom He knows will choose Him." "Good" Christians don't think it's based on human effort, but there are still a sizable number of believers that do. But Paul denies both. It is not based on our choice of Him or our efforts for Him; it is based (remember?) on "God's purposes".

What Paul says to seal this concept should be truly disturbing to those who reject Election. Paul uses examples of individuals throughout. There are Isaac and Jacob. There is Moses. And ... there is Pharaoh, an example of one not elected for salvation, but still part of "God's purposes". "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, 'For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth'" (v 17). Pharaoh was predestined to stand against God so God could show His power. Paul summarizes, "So then He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills" (v 18). I hate to tell you this, folks, but that's "double predestination".

Paul faces the next logical objection. You should guess what it is. "If God chooses who will and who won't be saved, on what basis can He hold anyone accountable??!!" "If it's all His will, what does it matter what we do??!!" Oh, you'll hear it in other terms. "What about free will??!!" Or, "God doesn't want robots!!" But it's the same objection. "You're saying that God does all this. If it's true ... then God is wrong!"

Paul doesn't pull any punches with this objection. He doesn't apply reason so much as a slap in the face. "Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, 'Why have you made me like this?'" (v 20). He says, in essence, "Back off! Are you sure you want to argue with God??!!" Paul makes two claims here. First, he asks "Has the Potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?" Now, keep the metaphor straight here. Who is the Potter and who is the "vessel"? Clearly God is the Potter and we are the vessels. And Paul claims that God makes some vessels for "dishonorable use". Again ... "double predestination". The other claim here is equally astounding.
What if God, willing to show His wrath and to make known His power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy, which He has prepared beforehand for glory (Rom 9:22-23).
This claim is as easy to miss as it is to realize. Paul says, "You're objecting that God would choose to save some and not all? I'm asking, 'Why would He save one?'" You see, we see ourselves as valuable, worthy, deserving, but Paul portrays us as "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" -- not so nice. Paul declares here that one of "God's purposes" is "to show His wrath and to make known His power". We've set that up nicely by being sinners. Another of "God's purposes", however, is "to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy". In other words, the only reason He saves any of us is to make known the riches of His glory, not because of our choices, our works, or our intrinsic value to Him. It's all about God's purposes and God's purposes are all about His glory.

Look, I know ... the doctrine of Election isn't very popular in most circles. It seems that God chooses some and not others, has decided to save some and not others, and even does so apart from foreseen choices in the elect. How does one become one of the "children of promise"? God chooses. God makes them that way. That's what all this seems to say. As for me, I would prefer to accept an unpopular perspective when it is clearly stated and realign my views with God's views than to hold to popular ideas that require me to drag down God's sovereignty and work hard at twisting the clear language of Scripture. In the words of John the Baptist, "I must decrease and He must increase."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Ordinary Evil

Watch the movies and you'll get the impression that evil is everywhere. Oh ... and that's right. You'll also get the idea that evil is, well, quite spectacular. It wears a distinctive hockey mask and hacks up foolish kids in the forest. It is a hidden organization at the top of our government doing currently impossible things with technology to destroy its perceived enemies. It is a twisted face with murderous intent or, perhaps, a religious fanatic with twisted morals. But it's always quite clear. Evil is really spectacular.

Of course, that's what you'd like to think. "I'll know it when I see it." Hey, you've seen CSI and Law and Order. You know what Jason and Freddy look like. You'll know it when you see it. But ... we forget -- "The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. Who can know it?" (Jer 17:9).

It is my suspicion (or, perhaps, my conviction) that the real problem is not spectacular evil, but the ordinary. We're all aware of the problem of smut on the Internet, but we're not quite as clear when it comes to the effects of a 12-year-old girl dressing for church in clothes that a prostitute would envy. We're all quite clear that certain types of music are evil ... you know, that angry, loud, shouting stuff like punk or metal or that dirty, rotten gangsta rap. We're all sure of that, but we seem to miss entirely the elevator music that encourages us to "spend the night together". I mean, when David Gates and Bread sang, "I want to make it with you," it was a sweet, melodic love song ... right? And, really folks, what kind of lunatic would suggest that certain rhythms encourage certain emotions like anger or lust? That's just ... conspiracy theory stuff, right?

So we bravely and with righteous indignation bar the door to those evils out there, those horror movie demons and those twisted mass murderers, and we do our best to stay away from Internet porn and sexually-centered movies -- that spectacular evil that we recognize so easily -- all the while gulping down a glut of ordinary evil, thinking we're safe.

I don't suppose it's coincidence on God's part when He had Paul write "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap" (Gal 6:7) right after he wrote "Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted" (Gal 6:1).
The one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary (Gal 6:8-9).
Evil is quite ordinary most of the time. Avoiding evil is wise. Doing good is wiser. Perhaps we ought to stop looking for evil in masks and government conspiracies and work at being transformed so that we may prove that the will of God is good and acceptable and perfect. Remember, the mature Christians are those "who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil" (Heb 5:14).

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Gender-Neutral

There are lots of agendas out there. The liberals want to accomplish this and the progressives (as they differ in some way or another) want to accomplish that and the Christians hope to do this other thing and the Republicans (who aren't actually Christians, even if there are Christians among them) are aiming in that direction. The "gay community" vehemently denies it, but if you believe something is true (like "homosexuals are being mistreated") and you believe it is not right ("They shouldn't be"), then, let's face it, you'll have an agenda to right what you believe to be a wrong. They, too, have an agenda.

The most devious ones, however, are the ones that are "under the radar". You don't see them coming until it's too late. It's only when it's accomplished or, perhaps, long after that you realize, "Hey! Someone had an agenda they were working here ... and they did it ... and I didn't know it!" These types go unnoticed because 1) they are not broadcast, and 2) if you do notice you don't really notice the impact. "So? What's the big deal?" And if it's no big deal, then it's not an issue. But there is one of these really sneaky ones that has been worming its way through "the fabric of American society" (I just heard that phrase again recently and was both baffled and fascinated by it) generally unnoticed and largely unchallenged. Nay, in some quarters -- especially Christian arenas -- it is championed. And I didn't choose the word "worming" lightly. Like worms in fabric, its consequences are much worse than they initially appear -- even devastating.

What is this evil agenda? It's best known name is "gender neutral". That's it's "popular" name. It also goes by the ever-so-friendly term "gender equality". The reality is that its part of an agenda that aims at removing gender from our social equations. When the French are told that men are different than women, they reply, "Vive la différence!" -- "Long live the difference!" But we've moved away from that now. What we really want these days is "gender neutral" ... or "There is no difference!"

Consider some of the evidence:

1. It has become ... unwise to say something like "she acts like a girl" because, really, what does "acts like a girl" mean? How are girls (or boys) supposed to act? What makes particular things "girly" or "manly", "female" or "male"? It's all a faulty social construct aimed at keeping genders apart. No, no, what we really want is to have our boys "get in touch with their feminine side" and "act less like boys" (tell me again what that means). And girls ... well, they ought to be more like men ... except, of course, not.

2. The Bible uses language like "head" and "submit" and places roles on males and females that include those concepts. Today it is unpopular to suggest that a wife ought to submit to her husband or that the husband is head of the wife ... even though the language of the Bible is clear that both are commanded.

3. Despite nearly 2000 years of biblical certainty that women shouldn't be allowed to be pastors, today it is common. Why? Because "Why should women be singled out?" Not "Well, that's not what it says." No, that came after the first objection.

4. In 2005, Zondervan published Today's New International Version. Referred to as the TNIV, one of the biggest reasons for the new version is that language is changing. You see, our culture no longer knows that gender-specific terms can be used in a generic sense. Didn't you know that? So when a boat captain refers to his boat as "she", it must mean that it's actually a female vessel (as opposed to a male vessel which, apparently, doesn't exist). When the president explained his plan to help the housing problem, he said, "It's a plan that won't help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford, but it will help millions of Americans who are struggling with declining home values." Obviously only males buy houses ... right? Well, apparently, because our culture no longer knows how to use generic gender-specific terms, requiring a rewrite of the Bible.

5. Years ago the standard pronouncement at the end of the wedding was "I now pronounce you man and wife", but that was too ... sexist. But we're moving from there, thank goodness. "Husband and wife" are too ... gender specific. We'd prefer "married" or "spouses" so there will no longer be a question about "gay marriage". "What difference does 'husband' and 'wife' make?" The goal, then, is to strip off any sense of gender.

6. The president is working hard at removing the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy from the military. Where does that leave you? Assuming all combinations of "sexual orientation" (real or imagined), in what possible context can you house and employ the military without impacting their sense of personal space, safety, modesty, etc.? It used to be that when a group of guys went out on a mission, one issue that wasn't an issue was what was normally the biggest issue -- sex. Now it will be. But, hey, it mustn't be because gender is irrelevant. Colleges are encouraging gender-neutral bathrooms and dorm rooms. Dorm assignments are made without regard to gender. Awareness of gender is considered "gender bias" ... you know ... sexism. The remedy? Pay no attention to that man/woman/whatever behind the curtain!

7. The entire LGBTQ (are there any more letters required?) movement is aimed at the removal of gender. Sexual partners are sexual partners regardless of gender. Gender is irrelevant. In some cases (the "B"), it's really irrelevant. In others (the "T"), it's just plain wrong. To the "transgendered", you are what you feel like. Chromosomes not withstanding (and the protest "What does 'act like a girl' mean?!" reversed on itself), if you feel like you're a member of the opposite sex, you simply become it. What difference does it make? Gender is not an issue.

Just try it. Try to mention "biblical manhood" or "biblical womanhood" and see how far you get. Point out the passages that say that a woman (pick a circumstance, any circumstance) should submit to a man (again, any circumstance) and see if you're not labeled sexist and outdated. No, no, there can be no gender differences! In fact, doesn't the Bible teach that? "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28). See? No male or female. To Christianity (isn't that what "in Christ" means?), gender is not significant. Never mind the multiple places that Scripture says otherwise. Clearly only a sexist would see gender as an issue. There is no difference. Genders are equal. Genders are irrelevant. It is only outmoded, outdated, patriarchal stooges who buy into this stuff. No genders!

And we miss this little agenda as it worms its way through the fabric of our society, eating away at all the ties that bind, all the biblical references that exalt gender, all the design that God put into two sexes, all the value and abilities that make male and female distinctively special. I say, "Vive la différence!"

Monday, June 08, 2009

Acclimated

When I was a kid, I didn't actually know any kids whose parents were divorced. I'm not saying there weren't any. It's just that no one would talk about it. I mean, if your parents split up, that was bad ... really bad.

When I was growing up we used to travel the neighborhood and beyond. Mom didn't worry that some molester would bother her kids because, well, there just weren't many out there to think about. And while some today might think she was a bit careless, apparently she was right because not once in my growing up did one single adult try to give me some candy or lure me into his car. In fact, I never heard of it happening at all.

When I was in high school, I didn't know one couple who was sexually involved. I didn't know the "tramp" (if there was one). I wasn't aware that "she is easy". No one had a reputation, either of being a ladies man or of being a ... loose woman. Oh, sure, I'd suppose it was going on, but it was really in the background because, well, it wasn't acceptable behavior.

Today, obviously, is quite different. I have to wonder about cause and effect. Is it different because we're so different, or is it different because it's so well publicized? Are there more child molesters because they've found lots of sympathetic ears on the Internet and think, "Hey, maybe it's not so bad!"? Are there more because we allow organizations like NAMBLA to exist? We used to feel bad for the kid whose parents split up, and now we wonder about the kid whose parents are together. I've seen kids delight in slasher movies but weep when animals get hurt on film. Is violence on the upswing because we make it look so normal on TV, movies, and video games, or are human beings just getting more violent?

I fear that America is in such moral decline simply because we're acclimated to it. What parents tolerate in moderation children indulge in excess. We're always looking for that next "big thing" because, well, we're bored with the last one. So ... at what point do we get acclimated to conditions so perverse that they destroy us ... and we just look on smiling because it's, well, normal?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

More than Conquerors

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, "For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:31-39).
All debates, disagreements, opinions, perceptions, reasonings, personal notions aside, you have to admit ... this is really, really Good News!

If you're concerned about the direction of the country, here's something to think about on the Lord's Day. If you're worried about the decline of Christianity in America, here's something to think about on the Lord's Day. If you're facing hardships, tribulations, suffering, here's something to think about on the Lord's Day. If you lost your job or your house or you are just at your wits end, here's something to think about on the Lord's Day. Truly Good News!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the feeling of uncomfortable tension you get when you try to hold two conflicting thoughts in your head at the same time. We've all experienced it, I'm sure. Of course, since my primary focus here is matters of Christian concern, my primary cognitive dissonance issues will point there.

Let's say that you believe it is wrong to kill animals ... and then you discover that God ordered thousands of animals killed often for sacrifices. Or you believe that the death penalty is immoral ... and then you read that God ordered the death penalty in many instances for a variety of crimes. Maybe you're quite sure that science accurately explains the origins of the universe ... and then you read the Genesis account. Perhaps you think that there is no fundamental difference between men and women ... and then you read that Paul didn't allow women to teach men and that wives are to submit to their husbands. Or, here, how about this? You know lots of good people who aren't Christians ... and then you read "There is none good, no not one."

Cognitive dissonance is the description of what is occurring in these (and many other) examples. You have your own core beliefs ... and then you run up against another of your core beliefs. What do you do? How do you resolve this problem? Different people have different approaches, but, essentially, there are only three. One approach is to hold both beliefs at the same time, as contradictory as they are. They put themselves in an awkward position, trying to logically defend a contradiction (which, by definition, is illogical). Another very popular approach is to throw out the new paradigm in favor of the old. That is, "I've always believed X, so Y just can't be true." I suspect there are several reasons that this is so prevalent. First there's pride. "You're saying that I've been wrong all this time???!!" Then there's the emotional connection. "Hey, I learned that from my mom/pastor/favorite person ... and you're telling me they are all wrong?" Dropping an old paradigm for a new can be difficult and disconcerting. The third approach, then, is to drop the old for the new. The person encountering the dissonance says something like, "Well, I had an opposing view, but it appears to say something different, so I'll discard my original view in favor of the new."

Now, I'm sure you're well aware that this is an oversimplification. Usually people use some combination of these three. Perhaps they won't see it as one of these three. For instance, when they explain away the new view as not what it actually says, they'll think, "I'm just being wise here", not "I'm unwilling to change my original view for a new one." Conversely, they might say, "I am not even going to think about it; I'll just toss out my original view and take the new one because 'the Bible is always right'." And they don't think ... many of them.

A thinking approach might equally be any of these three positions. A thinking person might tell himself/herself "I've always been told that there is no difference between men and women. I've carefully examined the texts about men and women/husbands and wives and cannot find support for my original view in Scripture. It would seem that I need to change my view." It is possible to think, "I've seen the evidence from science and I don't know how to refute it. Perhaps I am not properly understanding what the Genesis account of Creation is actually saying. Let's see if I can correlate the two." You could say, "I believe God is good, and this passage seems to portray Him as bad. While I don't accept that He's bad, I'll still accept this passage as true and rely on my ignorance of the total character of God to retain both positions -- God is good, and this passage is accurate."

So ... what approach would I recommend? Well, think it through. Here are a few points in the order that I would recommend:

1. Ask "What does Scripture say?" That would include "What does the text say?" (including context, type of passage -- doctrine, narrative, poetry, wisdom, etc.) as well as "What does the rest of Scripture say?" since Scripture is first and foremost best interpreted by Scripture. If what you read in a passage contradicts what you read in another passage, there is valid reason to question your understanding (as opposed to the veracity of Scripture). If one passage implies something you've always believed, but another explicitly denies it, you may need to make a change. On the other hand, if there is no contradiction in Scripture, be prepared to change what you believe so that it aligns with what Scripture says.

2. Ask, "Why does this cause me problems?" If you are confused because your experience or personal views are getting in the way, then you may need to overwrite your experience or personal views. "I always thought people were like this" is not a good reason to conclude "the Bible must be wrong." Very often people refuse to change their perceptions in the face of clear biblical content because the cost is too high. "That would mean that I'm in sin" or "if that's true, then people I love are in deep trouble." I would submit that the reverse is true. If you are actually in sin or the people you love are actually in deep trouble, redefining it to protect yourself or them is a disservice ... to both.

3. Find out what historic Christianity has said on the passage. This is 3rd on my list because historically the Church has made mistakes, but if the Holy Spirit truly leads His own into all truth, then there should be a thread throughout Church history that holds one common view from beginning to end. If your conclusions are novel, question them. If your understanding defies historic orthodoxy, on what basis do you think you're right when they've all been wrong? If you come to the same conclusion that historic Christianity did, especially if it is in opposition to your original view, be very careful before you reject it.

4. Ultimately, determine your source. Are you, in the end, going to go with yourself as your source, or are you going to submit to the Bible as your source? Is God's written Word sufficient, or are you going to hold yourself in higher esteem? Your call. Make it the right one.

Let's look at an example. You know lots of nice people. You know atheists who are good husbands (or wives) and good parents and good citizens. They do lots of good. Then you read,
"For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: 'None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one'" (Rom 3:9-12).
Wow! Didn't see that coming. So, let's take a look. What is the context? Well, Paul has just spent Romans 1:18 through 3:8 explaining that sin is a problem, that God's just wrath is against sinners, and we're all in a heap of trouble with God. The context, then, supports the passage as written. But does other Scripture? Well, later we read, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23), "you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness" (Rom 6:16), and "The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom 8:7-8). Wow! Just as harsh! And over in 1 Corinthians we read, "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14). Then in Ephesians Paul writes, "You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience -- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind" (Eph 2:1-3). And on it goes. It appears that the Scriptures hold a dim view of the capabilities of natural man for any possibility of good.

Still, I know good people, so perhaps the text doesn't mean what it appears to say. Maybe it's hyperbole, you know? Let's look at that. The Bible certainly uses hyperbole at times. In Mark 1:33 we read, "And the whole city was gathered together at the door." Seriously, Mark? The whole city? Well, no, of course not. He's trying to get across the large number of people that showed up. But ... what if he actually intended to say "every man, woman, and child"? Well, he'd need a few more words, but it would look something like this: "And the whole city -- every single person -- was gathered together at the door." You see, in that case Mark would have been saying "the whole city -- and I'm not speaking in hyperbole." We find this type of thing in Genesis. "But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house" (Gen 19:4). Do you see the care taken to explain this? When you first read "the men of the city", you might think "hyperbole -- overstatement to make a point". But the passage explains carefully -- it's not hyperbole. It is "the men of Sodom" (as opposed to Gomorrah), "both young and old" (as opposed to any particular age group), and "to the last man" (as opposed to "a whole lot"). This description is designed to say that actually every single adult male in the city of Sodom was outside of Lot's door. So ... what do we see in the passage in question? Paul uses this descriptive tool, doesn't he? When he says, "There is none righteous" he doesn't leave room for hyperbole. He emphasizes it: "no, not one". When he says "no one does good" he doesn't leave room for misunderstanding. He emphasizes again "not even one". He is clarifying, "I'm not speaking in hyperbole" (or, to be more accurate, "the psalmist I'm quoting wasn't speaking in hyperbole"). He actually means all.

Now we have a choice. We can redefine our experience -- those good non-believers we know -- or we can redefine what is plain in the passage, allowing our experience to override the text. If we chose the latter, it would not be because of context or contradiction of other Scripture. It would be on the basis of our personal experience and preference. Essentially we would be saying, "That passage cannot mean what it clearly intends to say because I trust my instinct and experience over that text, so I will not accept it at face value." And we would do so at our own risk.

It's important to read the Bible for all it is worth. It is important to know what it says both in immediate context and in its entire context. The Bible is our sole source on matters of faith and practice, God's Word to us. We should "rightly divide" -- handle carefully -- the Word. But be very, very careful if you decide that despite all the texts and contexts and history and commentaries that you're right and they're all wrong. Be very, very careful.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Accidentally

There has been some discussion on the idea of "willful sin". The idea has been "You can't sin by accident." In other words, you are only sinning when you know it's sin, and if you don't know it's sin, it's not sinning.

This is a "warm" perspective to take ... but the Bible seems to disagree. In the Old Testament (this may come as a surprise to many Christians) most of the Mosaic sacrifices were for sins done in ignorance. Sins done on purpose were supposed to be dealt with in repentance (primarily), but you can't repent of sins you don't know, so the majority of the sacrificial system was for sins they did not know they committed. Describing it in Hebrews 9, we read, "The high priest enters once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance" (Heb 9:7). As a prime example of "sins committed in ignorance", Peter tells the people "You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. ... And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:14-15, 17-19). Peter accuses both the people and their rulers of acting in ignorance when they put to death "the Holy and Righteous One". Nonetheless, it is not an "excused" error due to ignorance. No! He calls on them to "repent and return".

What we have here is a failure to comprehend "sin". Most people view sin as "bad things we do". Some also understand it to include the failure to do good things -- you know, sins of commission and omission. The Bible uses words like chatta'th in Hebrew which means "an offense, and its penalty, occasion, sacrifice, or expiation" and hamartia in Greek which means "to miss the mark". There are more. One in Greek is anomia -- literally "lawlessness". Interestingly, one of the places this definition is used (translated in the King James as "transgression of the Law" and as "lawlessness" in the NASB) is in John's definition of what sin is: "sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). John's definition, then, is not simply what we do (or don't do). It is a lack of law.

Compare that concept to this statement: "For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Gal 5:14). Be careful, now. Paul here does not say that the whole Law is fulfilled in one statement. He says it is in "one word". What is that word? "Love." Why do I say that? Because Jesus did. "On these two commandments (Love God and love your neighbor) depend the whole Law and the Prophets" (Matt 22:40).

Okay, now, what have we built? Sin is the absence of law. The Law, in its basic form, consists of 1) loving God with all we have and are, and 2) loving our neighbor. That's the basic structure.

So, back to the original question. Is it possible to sin by accident? If we define "sin" as "a failure to love God with all we have and are and to love our neighbor as we ought", then I would assert that it is a certainty that we will sin accidentally. We will sin by failing to do what we ought for God and our neighbor, even when we're not aware of it. We will sin when we do what we ought not even when we're not aware of it. And age makes no difference, since righteousness begins with "love God with all your heart" and any failure to do so is sin. On that single point we all stand condemned.