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Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day, 2010

Meet Jared Monti. Jared is from Massachusetts. At age 21, Jared was part of an intelligence-gathering patrol in northeastern Afghanistan. The 16-man team was attacked by more than 60 enemy troops. Jared called for artillery and air support. One of his patrol was killed and another, Specialist Brian Bradbury, was wounded. The leader of the patrol's sniper team said he was going to get Bradbury, but Monti called him off. "That's my guy. I'm going to get him." Jared tried three times. The first two times he was chased back by enemy fire, and on the third he was hit by an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade). Monti died a few moments later of his wounds. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on July 24, 2009.

Private Charles Barker served in the Infantry in Korea, a war fought to stop the spread of Communism into South Korea. He was at the famous Pork Chop Hill. His patrol surprised some enemy soldiers digging emplacements on the hill. His patrol took up firing positions while Private Barker moved through open ground firing and throwing grenades at enemy positions. Low on ammunition and hit by friendly mortar fire, the patrol was ordered to retreat. Private Barker remained behind to cover their withdrawal. He was last seen in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy, allowing the rest of his patrol to safely retreat. Private Charles Barker was awarded the Medal of Honor for his "conspicuous gallantry and indomitable courage above and beyond the call of duty".

In World War II, some of the fiercest fighting took place on obscure islands in the Pacific. One of these was Peleliu, an island in the island nation of Palau. It is a tiny island southwest of the Philippines, and the Battle of Peleliu is legendary. One of the first ashore in the landing was Corporal Lewis Bausell of Virginia. He led his men in a charge against an enemy pillbox. Reaching the gun emplacement first, he fired through the slit until his men could join him. The Japanese threw a grenade into their midst and Corporal Bausell didn't hesitate. He threw himself on the grenade, absorbing the blast and saving the lives of his men. But he wasn't alone. Private First Class Richard Kraus of Illinois volunteered to evacuate a wounded comrade. He and three others were heading for the rear when they came across some Marines. Demanding the password, the Japanese disguised as Marines threw a grenade at the group. PFC Kraus threw himself on the grenade and saved the lives of his three companions. So did PFC John New, a resident of Alabama. He threw himself on an enemy grenade and saved the lives of his two fellow soldiers. PFC Charles Roan of Texas was wounded by an enemy grenade. When a second one landed in their midst, he threw himself on it and saved the lives of four men. All of these men were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions.

According to infoplease, more than 4,400 Americans died in the American Revolution. In the Civil War, the Union suffered 140,000 combat deaths and the Confederacy suffered 74,000 combat deaths. Some 53,000 American soldiers died in World War I. In World War II, over 290,000 members of the American military lost their lives. The Korean War cost the lives of 33,000 American fighters. More than 47,000 Americans died defending liberty in Vietnam. In total, America has lost more than 650,000 in battle.

Veterans Day is a day that we salute all military veterans, living and dead. They may have served in battle or they may have served in peace. They may have been on the front lines or they may have been cooking meals behind the scenes. All who served in the military are honored on Veterans Day. But today is Memorial Day. This day is set aside as a special remembrance of the men and women who gave their lives in service to this country. Some say, "You can't make a perfect world with bombs" and I understand the point. On the other hand, there are things worth giving one's life for and things worth defending ... with force if necessary. You may voice disagreement with the government in this action or that war and you're free to do that ... because thousands of men and women in the military gave their lives believing they were fighting for what was right. For their sacrifice, for the freedom they secured for us, for the liberty they have given us and to others, for the price they paid selflessly and generously, I am truly thankful.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

2 Chronicles 7:14

We live in difficult times. Morality is declining. Evil is becoming the norm. The economy is in trouble. There are wars and rumors of wars. There have been a sudden spate of earthquakes. The Church is in decline. We don't know where our country is going or how it will turn out. And on and on it goes. So a verse like this is very popular these days.
[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land (2 Chron 7:14).
So the call goes out to Christians all over the country "Humble yourself and pray and seek God's face and turn from wickedness" in the hopes that God will hear from heaven and forgive our sin and heal our land.

Unfortunately, this isn't the intent of the passage. There are a few reasons this is apparent. First, we know that forgiveness is not a product of turning from wickedness. Forgiveness is forensic. That is, it is applied to those who are called according to His purposes, to those who are born again. In Jesus's words, "It is finished." We can't out-sin Jesus's Atonement on our behalf, nor can we earn it. Second, the context is not the Church. The context is Israel. The "My people" to whom God is referring when He makes the statement is Israel. Some of Israel believed and some didn't. The context of the statement (verse 14 is in the middle of a sentence) is "If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people ..." (1 Chron 7:13). The intent was that, in the time of God's judgment, unbelieving Israel needed to repent. The third reason is linked. The Church does not have land. The Communion of the Saints crosses all boundaries and time. Israel had a land to be healed. Christians are outside of geographic boundaries.

Fortunately, all is not lost. History shows us that those nations that repent receive blessing from God and those who do not ... do not. So the task of sharing the Gospel -- you know, like we're commanded -- ought to be a priority. And we would certainly call all Christians to humility, prayer, seeking God's face, and repentance. We would like to see this passage as a promise, but it isn't. Still, it isn't the promise of this passage that we need. It is a confidence in God to do what's right. And nothing in the context or content of this passage will prevent that from happening. Thank God!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Making History

You may never have heard of historian, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, but you probably have heard or seen her quote: "Well-behaved women rarely make history." See what she did there? Don't think about it; feel it. What are you supposed to assume? Well-behaved women don't mean much; it's the outlandish that make history. That's what's important.

You see, making history is important. You know, like Adolf Hitler who continues to be the standard of evil against which others will compare ... oh, wait, no, that's not right. No, how about Lenin? He united a nation from under an evil government and issued in communism, bringing peace to his land. When he announced the policy of Red Terror, a civil war ensued that killed an estimated 10 million Russians ... no, no, that's not right. We're talking about women. You know, like Lizzie Borden, one of the most famous killers of our time ... oh, wait a minute, that's not right either. Okay, okay, how about this one? Benazir Bhutto was the first female Prime Minister to be elected to govern in a Muslim nation, the country of Pakistan. There you go. She was deposed 20 months later when the president of Pakistan dissolved the Parliament, but she didn't fade. She was re-elected in 1993 ... and fired three years later for corruption. Um, bad example? How about the famous Bonnie Parker? No, that isn't right either.

Wait, wait ... I seem to have gotten lost here. What was the point? Oh, yeah! It's good to make history ... right? Well, maybe not.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Problem of Language

Language can be difficult. I remember walking into an area at work that had just been modified. Signs on the wall proclaimed "Wet Paint". My first inclination, of course, was wrong. Remembering the unfortunate "Wet Floor" incident where attempting to follow instructions got me into trouble, I reexamined the possibilities. Maybe, just maybe, this was a warning rather than instructions. Yes, that was it. And I congratulated myself for avoiding another communication mistake. But then I noticed the smaller print under the "Wet Paint" text. It read, "Painted with pride by the Maintenance Department." Interesting. You see, normally we use paint to paint walls, but apparently the maintenance department had used a different product -- pride. I was mulling over the possibilities -- "Maybe 'pride' is a brand name for paint or maybe it was a new product similar to 'whitewash' with which to cover walls" -- when it struck me that these walls ... were white. I was horrified. These walls had been painted with white pride! How evil! And, of course, I had lapsed once again into a communication breakdown.

Despite my amusing (to me) excursions into uses and abuses of the language, we do it all the time and it's generally more serious than that. Take words like "rich" and "poor". Normally those would reference people with a lot of money and people without (respectively), but today if you use the terms they reference "people with more money than I have but wish I had" and "people who make so much more than the average person on the planet but not enough to buy basic subsistence items like a TV for every room and two cars instead of one". (I can't tell you how many "poor" people I've seen with cell phones and cable TV, so apparently those aren't some of the limiting factors of the term.)

If you are in favor of enforcing immigration laws, that translates to "racist". Of course, "racist" carries its own misguided weight. You see, only white people can be racist according to too many people who hate white people. It's like "sexist", the term applied (typically to men only) to those who are often accused of being sexist because they believe there are significant differences between men and women. I am a person who believes in and tries to live my life by biblical principles. That translates to "fundamentalist" which further translates to "dangerous religious nut job". Charity is defined now as "higher taxes". A patriot is someone who cherishes his own vision for America to the exclusion of other competing dreams for America. Or how about the term "morality"? This word has shifted from "what we think is right and wrong" to "a religious construct that has no genuine undergirdings and generally means that all behavior is okay as long as I approve of it". And so it goes.

Other terms take on their own significance. "Diversity" which simply means "variety" now means "variety in cultures, races, and genders" and beyond that has gathered its own value. It is assumed that "diversity" is automatically good and its opposite, uniformity or similarity, is a bad thing. Please, whatever you do, don't think that through.

Other terms have lost their significance. "Marriage" used to be the fundamental structure of society, the relationship in which a man and a woman joined to become a family, to reproduce, to link with other families, to tend to the family, and to shape society around this structure. Now it's "two people -- gender is irrelevant -- who 'love each other', at least for the moment, so they want to make some sort of more outspoken bond together which may or may not last and may or may not produce children." "Sexual relations" used to be the uniting of that man and that woman, a special process reserved for that relationship. People who engaged in sexual relations outside of that relationship were outside of "moral". Sex, you see, had meaning and value. Today it is a recreational event with or without emotional attachment and marriage has nothing to do with it. It's all about doing what feels good to me, you see.

We often think we're being wise by abusing the language. The "racist" who is "racist" only because he thinks that countries have the right and responsibility to control their borders is shut down easily by casting aspersions on his character without evaluating his arguments. The Christian who holds to biblical principles can be ignored as a "fundamentalist" without even thinking about whether or not she is right. We can be judgmental and intolerant of people we deem judgmental and intolerant and feel good about ourselves as being enlightened and inclusive. It all works toward removing clear thinking and toward emotionalism that allows us to live our lives by how we feel rather than thinking things through. And it's not a healthy way to go, either physically, socially, mentally, or spiritually. I would have included "morally", but we've already eliminated that meaning, right?

Postscript: For a fun and enlightening excursion into today's language, you might try visiting Dan's New World Order American Dictionary, a work in progress but a fun read.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


It's a real word, apparently. You can look it up online. Wikipedia has a generic definition -- "the worship of a particular book". The Free Dictionary defines it simply as "excessive adherence to a literal interpretation of the Bible." Of course, "excessive" is not defined in this context, so it's not a helpful definition. The word is built on two other words: Bible and Idolatry. The accusation seems to be that people who believe that the Bible is inerrant are Bible worshipers. That's probably not an accurate understanding of the accusation, but that's the intent of the word. The idea is that we shouldn't hold the Bible in that high of regard. It's imperfect. Deal with it!

Interestingly, the accusation usually comes from Christendom rather than the anti-Christian world. Christians historically have indeed been "people of the Word". The claim of the Reformation was sola scriptura -- the Bible is the sole authority in matters of faith and practice. The truth, in fact, is that for most of Church history the Bible has been held as inerrant and infallible. (Why they use both terms is beyond me. I mean, if it's inerrant, it must be infallible, mustn't it? But, hey, no one asked me.) The split between the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformers was not about inerrancy, but about the Bible being the sole authority. (Roman Catholics also see the Church and Tradition as two other sources.) It wasn't until the 19th century that the question was even raised. And yet, in the last 200 years, "wise" scholars have determined that Church history has been wrong and the Church, united on this point, has been wrong and we are much smarter now to realize that it just can't be.

So what is the accusation of "bibliolatry" all about? Well, if you believe that the Bible is actually inerrant, you're placing too much trust on an unreliable book. In the '70's, Fuller Seminary (among others) shifted from "inerrant" to "infallible". (Something can be infallible in its claims while having errors in its content.) "You see," they assured us, "we believe that the Bible contains God's Word, but it is not actually God's Word and, as such, may have errors. It's just true in principle, not particulars." So here we are -- those of us who still believe that the Bible is the Word of God, inerrant -- no longer on the inside looking out. No, we're a dwindling minority. And the quickest way to shut us up is not via argument, but by ridicule. Thus the term, "bibliolatry". "You crazies ... you worship the Bible. Not us! We worship God!" But ... is it accurate? Is the accusation fair? Are we bibliolaters, even if that's hard to say?

I don't get the accusation. Oh, I suppose that there actually are folks who worship their bibles. Take, for instance, the Muslims who are offended if you sully their book. The book itself is sacred to them. Christians don't see it that way. I suppose there might be a few, but they're outliers. No, the Christian pejoratively referred to as "fundamentalist" (because that rotten Christian adheres to fundamental, biblical principles and rejects secularism) doesn't actually worship the book. So what exactly is the idea of "fundamentalist", of "inerrancy"? Well, the claim is that God breathed the Bible using human hands to write it. It filtered through their language and personalities, but God superintended the Bible to say what He intended it to say. Therefore, the Bible is God's Word written by humans. The claim, then, is not that the Bible is inerrant, but that God is inerrant. The claim is that an inerrant, infallible God saw to it that we had written down for our benefit what He intended us to know.

So my question is the counter. Is it the claim of these Christians who level the accusation of "bibliolatry" that God cannot or would not do such a thing? Is it their assertion that God was either incapable or unwilling to provide such a written record for us? And what was the failure mechanism? Did God just not conceive of the idea? Or did He fail to keep it in some satisfactory condition while Man degraded it? Did human Free Will override God's ability to maintain a reliable book? It seems to me the problem is not a problem of worshiping a book, but the apparent certainty of a God too small to bother with such a book. This God says, "Sorry, kids ... you're on your own. Good luck with that." And this is a much more educated, superior position to take than the foolish fellow who naively believes that God cares enough to see to such a writing and make sure it gets into our hands in a reliable fashion. Yeah, that's lame-brained. No, no, God has no such intent or capability.

And Paul's words echo in the background ... "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools ..."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Janet Napolitano

She was the governor of Arizona before President Obama pressed her into service as the head of Homeland Security. Last week Senator McCain asked his ex-governor about her opposition to the Arizona law-enforcement bill, SB1070. Had she read it? Well, no, not actually, but it was a bad idea. What about it exactly was a bad idea since she didn't actually know what was in it and since most Americans favored it? Well, it's just a bad idea.

For as long as I lived in Arizona with Napolitano as governor, the news reported repeatedly her disgust with the federal government for not enforcing immigration law. She complained continuously that they needed to act. So last week she informed us that ICE is not required to process people arrested by local police. What? Apparently she was only upset about the federal government not doing their job as long as she wasn't part of it. I mean, one could make the argument that she was only complaining about the federal government while she was in Arizona as a ploy to avoid having to do anything about it herself. One could make that argument. It doesn't bode well for her that she seems to have carried the "do nothing about it -- it's someone else's problem" attitude with her.

The good news, of course, is that Janet Napolitano is on the job. As head of Homeland Security, she is now stepping up to the plate. She has assured us that she will be keeping the pressure on BP until this invasion of oil has been turned back. Not to worry, America. Janet Napolitano is on the job!

Or, to put it another way, it's government as usual ...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Last week Estrella Mountain Community College had their spring commencement ceremony. Included on the list of graduates was a fellow by the name of Zachary Chia. Zachary was born in Arizona, but moved to Singapore as an infant. A few years back he returned to Arizona with his family. To go to school he had to be tested to find out his education level. Turns out ... he didn't need to go to high school because he had surpassed all state requirements. So on May 14, 2010, Zachary Chia graduated from Estrella Mountain Community College ... at the age of 15.

According to the story, Zachary says that the reason for his advanced position isn't intelligence, but a "totally different standard" in Singapore. During his college education here he carried at least 18 credits a semester and spent 8-10 hours a day studying. No, not intelligence, simply hard work and conforming to standards set by the schools he went to and by his parents. Some three years before the standard American student expects to graduate from high school, Zachary Chia graduated from college with a 3.9 GPA and Associate degrees in both Arts and Business. He plans to go next to ASU with a major in Business Management of Tourism.

According to wikipedia, Singapore spends almost 20% of their total budget or 3% of their GDP on education. The U.S. spends nearly 5% of GDP on education. Yet Singapore ranks #1 in international educational scores with the U.S. a distant 24. According to the Cato Institute, "Compared with that of the rest of the world, American governments' investment in education is lavish indeed. Although precise comparisons are difficult, because of differences in demographics and the varying ways countries organize their educational systems, figures published yearly by the United Nations reveal that the United States spends more on education as a percentage of its gross national product ... than do most of the countries whose students outperform U.S. students on standardized tests ..."

Wait! That can't be right. We here in Arizona were just subjected to months of commercials warning us that if we didn't increase the sales taxes we pay, education would stumble and fall for lack of funds. Everyone knows that the more money we put into education, the better the result. Oddly, that Cato report actually says, "Researchers have not been able to prove the common assumption that the richer schools are, the better taught are their students." Instead, "historical trends fly in the face of the spending-equals-learning thesis."

Now, I know ... schools need funds. No doubt. And I agree that teachers are underpaid. No doubt. I'm not suggesting we decrease funding to education. Here's what I'm saying: It's not the money that makes for a good education. What, then, is it? I suspect the answer is complex. Some of it is found in teachers. Just last week the Texas Board of Education revamped their textbooks (which, apparently, affects textbooks throughout the country) to what the news is reporting as "more politically conservative". So, tell me, why does the word "politically" have anything to do with education? Are teachers pushing political agendas? And then there is the newly popular "Outcome-based Education" system (OBE). This new approach to education discards traditional education that leans on teaching facts and prefers the "constructivist" approach -- the idea that students develop their own knowledge through experience. "So, look," some teachers will tell you, "we're not teaching the kids facts anymore. No, no, we want them to discover their own knowledge." Umm ... what?!

Frankly, while I have no doubt that money is a part of the educational dilemma and I'm quite certain that teachers are part of the problem, I believe that the biggest culprit lies elsewhere. Zachary hit on it, if only a glancing blow, when he said that Singapore had a "totally different standard". One of the differences in standards is educational, to be sure, but another is at home. You see, Singapore doesn't suffer from the modern western malady of "my kid can do no wrong". Remember Michael Fay? Okay, maybe not the name, but he's the kid who, at 18, was caned in Singapore for theft and vandalism. It would never have been allowed in the U.S., but neither the government nor the parents in Singapore put up with that kind of stuff. How would a teacher manage to teach 30 students? Well, first, they'd have to be well-behaved kids, and that is outside of the teachers' control. Between the training parents need to give their kids on how to behave in public and the discipline parents are to impart for kids to do their school work, I am pretty sure that the largest gap in our educational system is the one at home.

Education is important, to be sure. Too many Christian parents have made the mistake of thinking that a real biblical education takes place once a week on Sundays for their children and their duties to "train up a child in the way he should go" are discharged. By the same token, too many American parents think that it is the school system's job to teach their kids. It's not. It's their job to provide the opportunity. If parents were more involved in their children's lives and more involved in their children's education, I suspect there would be fewer amazing stories like Zachary Chia and fewer odd phrases like "more politically conservative textbooks" and a level of education in America that hasn't been seen for at least a half century.

Monday, May 24, 2010

At What Price?

Do a little research on the effects of television and you'll find some frightening facts. Television -- the medium without considering the content -- is harmful to children. Studies suggest that children who watch too much TV in the first few years of life have a much higher risk of ADHD by the age of 7. The flickering images, the noise, the 2-dimensional aspect, the singular focus, all this can damage their developing brains. It's bad for kids. Of course, beyond that, it's considered a major contributor to childhood obesity where kids who used to play outside are now becoming couch potatoes. And all of that isn't even considering the content of the shows which are clearly aimed at messages that are counter to Christian values. But it's a funny thing. On multiple occasions I've explained this to young parents urging them to avoid doing that damage to their children. Do you know the universal response? "That would mean we couldn't watch our shows." Yeah, it does. Is that too much to ask? In every case in which I've been involved, the answer is "Yes, that's too much."

Look around the Internet and you can find all kinds of wackos out there who will tell you crazy stuff. It's fun and entertaining if you're not foolish enough to believe it. So when I saw an article by a website called (this should be a clue) about how Lyndon Johnson (yes, the one that became president) installed the 501(c)(3) concept to silence churches, I had to laugh. You know the 501(c)(3) concept, right? It allows a church to avoid paying income tax. Nice. But come on,! Can you say "paranoid"?

And then I came across another "unreliable" website -- According to the IRS, "In 1954, Congress approved an amendment by Sen. Lyndon Johnson to prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations, which includes charities and churches, from engaging in any political campaign activity. To the extent Congress has revisited the ban over the years, it has in fact strengthened the ban."

Wait ... the IRS concurs that one of the conditions under which churches can be considered tax exempt is that they refrain from engaging in politics. The latest amendment specifically forbids them from speaking against any candidates. Now, let's put this in the clearest terms. The U.S. Government is paying churches to keep silent. Hmmm ... sounds like hush money. You know what they say. "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you."

So here's what I'm wondering. Why is it that churches in general are willing to maintain a tax exempt status at the price of their freedom of speech? What pastor would agree to this? (At the back of my mind I'm wondering, "Is this one of the reasons that a pro-abortion (I don't use the term lightly) presidential candidate can get such support from Christians?") The question becomes "At what price are you willing to sell the rest of your freedom of speech? How much will it cost to silence the Gospel?"

I have to wonder sometimes about us humans. We know that cigarettes are bad but we aren't willing to stop them. We know that alcohol is a problem but we're not willing to do anything about it. We know that television harms our children but we aren't willing to act on it. We know that the government is paying our churches to be silent but we're not willing to get out from under that control. Why is it that we seem to consistently pay too much for "freedoms" that do so much damage? When do we say, "No, that's too much to pay"? At what price do we surrender personal pleasures and corporate comfort for what is right? The frightening thing to me is that we haven't yet found an answer to that question.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Not Fit

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "A man who won't die for something is not fit to live." "Not fit to live." It's intended to be a shocking phrase. It's not simply, "You deserve to die", but "there is nothing in you that deserves to live." It's a comment on the totality of the person making them unfit for existence.

William Boen was a Quaker born in 1735. In his own words, he wrote about a time when, as a boy, he could be killed by Native Americans. And, in contemplating that possibility, he says, "It was showed me, and I saw plain enough, that I was not fit to die." We get "not fit to live". It's a sad condition. But "not fit to die" ... now that's a scary place to be.

Jesus said, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt 10:28). Under what conditions would God threaten to "destroy both soul and body in hell"? Well, we're all under a sin condition, of course, but it isn't a matter of "fit to live". The Bible plainly teaches that we are declared righteous on the basis of grace through faith, not by works.

Jesus said to "fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell". It is that fear that begins the question, "Am I fit to die?" But that fear has consequences ... or, perhaps better said, results. We all know that "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov 9:10), but did you know there are other benefits (as if "wisdom" wasn't enough)? We also read that "The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil" (Prov 8:13), that "The fear of the LORD prolongs life" (Prov 10:27), and that "The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life" (Prov 22:4).

Maybe you feel you're "fit to live", but are you "fit to die"? Do you have a healthy fear of the Lord? Biblically it's not optional. Nor is it trivial. It's the start of everything good. And, properly applied, it solves the entire problem of both "not fit to live" and "not fit to die". Today would be a good day to settle that question.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cutting Edge

This week the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of the United States, broke new ground. They "consecrated" the first openly lesbian bishop. Now, keep in mind, this is the same body that broke ground in 2003 by installing "the first openly gay bishop in the history of Christendom" in the person of Gene Robinson. That's right. The Episcopal Church is on the cutting edge of Christendom. By "cutting edge", of course, I mean the knife that forms the schism. In 2003 their decision to elevate Robinson to the office led to a split in the Episcopal Church that hasn't been healed.

But it's not just the Episcopals at work here. Coincidentally, Monday, the 17th of May, witnessed also the ordination of Italy's very first female priest. Now, sure, it was done by a group known as "the Old Catholic Church, a group which broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in the 1870's", but now Italy has its own woman priest. Of course, in non-Roman Catholic circles women have been ordained for some time. The Salvation Army has ordained both men and women since their inception in 1865. The United Methodist Church ordained their first woman pastor in 1880 while they were still the Methodist Protestant Church.

But it's not in only in the arena of homosexuals or matters of gender. The church has tried to be "cutting edge" often. The Emergent Church movement tried to incorporate post-modernism (a worldview that, at its core, denies the existence of absolute truth) into its structure. I hear that movement is waning. There have always been off-shoots where groups protest this or that and decide to rewrite their bibles to support their position. You know, like the Jehovah's Witnesses. Started by a guy named Charles Russell in 1872, he didn't like concepts like eternal hell, the Trinity, or the Deity of Christ, so he redefined biblical references to eliminate the concepts. Voilà! A new, cutting edge group with new revelation that throws out all of Church history and standard biblical understanding. Of course, Russell wasn't alone. There are myriads of folks like him. The most obvious would be Joseph Smith who managed to find the North American connection with special revelation from a special angel with special insight into the fact that the Bible is not reliable ... but the stuff he found is. Cutting edge.

Traditionally the Church has been built on the Apostles, the Scriptures, and tradition. The Roman Catholic Church elevated tradition to Tradition, a third part of their doctrinal source, but rationally, biblically, and historically tradition has always been a primary consideration. Yes, biblically. Paul told the Thessalonians, "Stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter" (2 Thess 2:15). Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would lead His disciples into all truth, which would logically suggest that true disciples have always maintained the thread of genuine truth since the arrival of the Spirit. Tradition is important. So do we really want the Church to be cutting edge? Do we really believe that the Church has always been wrong in "this" area or "that" doctrine and we, the wise and precocious people that we are, have suddenly come up with the truth? Are we really that arrogant?

Sure, there has been error in the Church. Sure, along with the history of truth there has been a history of heresy. Sure, we need to be keenly aware that false doctrines will pop up all the time ... even false doctrines that have already been put in their place. And, indeed, there are matters of "trappings", form and style, that are open to "cutting edge" because they aren't prescribed by Scripture. It is possible to hang on to tradition for the sake of tradition rather than because it's right. I know all that. But when the Church of the 19th century decides that it's much brighter than the last 1800 years of Christendom and women should be ordained or when the Church of the 21st century suddenly realizes that the sin of homosexual behavior condemned by Christendom and before is actually perfectly fine, I am concerned that the edge being cut is too far. Are they cutting off the limb on which they are sitting? Is it a good idea? I don't think so.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Such Language!

It's really funny how often times what you say is not what I hear (or, of course, vice versa). It seems rather common to pick up an entirely different dialog from the actual words being said.

You know how it works. A kind husband takes his wife out for dinner. He is looking over the menu, aware of the current economy, and says, "Man, prices just keep going up, don't they?" What she hears is, "Man, you sure are expensive. You never seem to stop costing me money." Now, he (likely) never intended such a thing (because, remember, I started with "a kind husband"), but what she hears may not be what he intends.

It's not always that way. Sometimes what you hear may be exactly what was intended. On the news the other day Lakers fans were protesting the Lakers and Phil Jackson (the coach). Jackson had said, "If I heard right, the American people are for strong immigration laws, if I’m not mistaken." The protester I heard interviewed said, "We want Phil Jackson to say that he is against Arizona's immigration law." Simple, straightforward, and not what I heard at all. What I heard was, "We do not want public figures to express opinions opposed to ours. We want Phil Jackson to have the opinion that we allow and not something different. By no means should he be allowed to express a different point of view."

Or how about the message I saw on the side of a building the other day? It was a spray-painted (and ghastly) cartoon of a person yelling for help. "Help us! Our civil rights are being raped!" It was a protest to the Arizona immigration enforcement law. How ironic that the protester had no qualms about defiling the business owner's civil rights by painting this message on the side of the building. "My perception of my civil rights are important," this protester told me. "Yours are not! All that is important is that I get what I want!"

Often language is used intentionally to present a different conversation than the surface one. "McCollum urges support for anti-abortion bill at St. Lucie event," the headline reads. It seems that Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, running for governor in Florida, urged Republicans to lobby the present governor "on behalf of legislation this week that requires women seeking abortions to pay for an ultrasound and hear a doctor describe the fetus." So, while the message was that Bill was hoping that legislation would pass that required doctors to more clearly explain the fetus to the mother, it was "anti-abortion". There's a loaded term. Of course, there is another, more loaded term. Amanda Marcotte writes for RH Reality Check (where "RH" stands for "reproductive health"), "Anti-choicers were very close to killing health care reform entirely over abortion." What is intended in these terms? It's very clear. Let's kill the argument before the arguments begin. "Oh," we'll say, "you're anti-abortion or, worse, anti-choice!" Of course, it simply isn't true. It's that old "poisoning the well" fallacy. "If you are not in favor of women being allowed to kill their babies in the womb, you are 'anti-' something -- either abortion or choice." Not really. We're pro-life. We believe that these babies have the same right to live that the "pro-choicers" claim for their mothers. In fact, if medical science could come up with a method of terminating a pregnancy without terminating the life of the child, we'd have nothing more to say about it. It's not that there is something special about pregnancy that we want to defend. It's something about life. It's about not aborting life. It's about not allowing that child choices. But the language terminates that discussion ... intentionally. So the news item about Bill McCollum was intended to paint Bill McCollum in a negative light.

We do it all the time. We filter what we hear based on what we expect. If we anticipate something nice, we might read into an apparently unkind statement something nice. If we want to make a point, we might purposely use language to make people hear more than our arguments. "Not only are they mistaken ... they're evil." It's the job of advertisers everywhere; use language that will make them want the product preferably without even knowing why. So Impalas and Mustangs are still marketed as sporty and quick because, hey, "impala" and "mustang" conjures up images of cool and quick! The company named Suave wants to convey that their entire line is "smoothly agreeable and courteous" just by the name. And so it goes.

Look, I'm not saying don't do it. Hey, I'd be quite surprised if I don't do it myself. It's often not even conscious. I read a piece the other day titled, "Joe Legal vs Jose Illegal" which, I noted, automatically assumed that the illegal was Hispanic ... without even trying. I'm quite sure that the graffiti criminal I mentioned above wasn't thinking at all about the civil rights he was violating when he attacked the wall. We all do it. I'm just trying to make you aware. People do it. Be aware of it. You do it. Be aware of it. And sometimes -- too often in my opinion -- there is a failure of communication where there just shouldn't have been. Be aware of it. Just keep your eyes open to your own communication and to others. Communication, you see, is tenuous at best.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fly in the Ointment

Do you know where that phrase came from? Solomon wrote it. "Dead flies make a perfumer's oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor" (Ecc 10:1). Solomon was talking about how a little bit of nonsense can corrupt a good thing ("fly in the ointment"), but the conclusion is interesting: "A little foolishness is weightier than wisdom." Now, of course, he wasn't saying that foolishness actually was better than wisdom. He was saying how easy it is for a little foolishness to drown out genuine wisdom.

Wisdom is sometimes elusive. It's so easy, it seems, to appear wise without actually being wise. Who hasn't heard the awe-inspiring wisdom of the ages when the Buddhist Master says, "It is like the sound of one hand clapping." Wow! Now that is deep ... so deep I can't even fathom it. Wait a minute! "Clapping" is defined as "Striking the palms of the hands together." By definition one hand cannot clap with one hand any more than a square can be round or 2 + 2 can be a banana. We have definitions and wisdom must work within those definitions, making sense of them, not discarding them. Yet we will too often hear someone say something that seems so wise and makes no sense. How about this one? "We should want to do what is right without caring about what we get in return." Someone somewhere told us that line, and we bought it hook, line, and sinker as if it's "wise". Why? What makes doing what is right "more noble" if you do it out of duty rather than pleasure? What kind of stinking thinking is that? But the weight of such foolishness often seems to drown out wisdom.

Over at The Bumbling Genius, Danny recently gave a really good post on what he called "poisoning the well". "Poisoning the well" is a logical fallacy in which you supply unfavorable information about another person in order to preempt any logical discussion of the ideas. You might hear, for instance, "You know, the only reason there are religions is to control people." The next time the listener talks to a religious person, they will be analyzing the religious claims for proof that it's about control (and likely finding it). Or how about this very popular one: "Those who disagree with global warming are fools." Now, if you try to present the reasons for why you disagree with global warming, you can only be doing so because you're a fool and your reasons are irrelevant. That's how it works. Danny's idea, however, was slightly different. He was explaining how we Christian parents so often fail our children by shielding them from error. His idea was to walk them through error so that, when they see it, they'll know it. It is "poisoning the well" in the sense that the first time his children hear this or that heresy it will be from him and with genuine answers supplied. So it was more like purifying the well, I suppose.

In the course of the dialog after that post, a wise fellow popped in with pearls of wisdom. "I raised my son not to be a Christian." Now that is wise, isn't it? Sure, sure, you who are convinced of religion want to raise your kids in religion, but wouldn't it be better all around if you raised them without bias and let them come to it on their own? I mean, if it's true, they'll still come to it, won't they? Oh, so wise! Not! We're dealing here with nonsense again and accepting it as somehow "wise". You see, if you raise your children "without bias", you have supplied a bias. In fact, no matter what you do with your children, you will bias them. It's the nature of the relationship. Our friendly neighborhood walking contradiction there at Danny's blog was quite proud that he raised his son not to be a Christian without even recognizing that this was intended to bias him away from Christianity. This is not "no bias". You'll find the same kind of arguments coming from skeptics in terms of science. "Science approaches the world without biases." Nonsense. We cannot function without presuppositions. Bias is "the inclination of the mind towards a particular direction" and without inclination, nothing moves.

So where does this nonsense presenting itself as wisdom come from? Is our friendly neighborhood commenter at Danny's blog unique? Not at all. Solomon said it. Foolishness can appear weightier than wisdom. Arguing against it is sometimes pointless. In the Proverbs Solomon wrote, "The foolishness of man ruins his way, and his heart rages against the LORD" (Prov 19:3). Yeah, we see that. In fact, sin rots the brain. At least, that's what Paul claims (here and elsewhere):
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures" (Rom 1:21-23).
Be careful of what you find "wise". It's easy to hear something that sounds wise and is, in fact, utter nonsense. Since each of us is tainted by sin, it is very likely that each of us has some ... stinkin' thinkin' ... you know, a fly in the ointment.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Greatest in the Kingdom

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And calling to Him a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea (Matt 18:1-6).
Most of us are aware of this passage. Most of us think it's ... cool. You know ... Jesus loves the little children ... that sort of thing. Everyone likes that.

But ... did you hear what Jesus said? "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." Now, think about it. And be honest. How often do we cause one of these little ones to sin? I'm afraid it's much more common than we care to think about.

What do we, as loving parents, model for our children? Do we model godliness or do we present to them sinful lives as "good"? Or what do we defend as parents? It's one thing, you see, to err and another thing entirely to defend that error. No parent is perfect. We all make mistakes. But do we defend them? It's one thing when we do the wrong thing and then apologize, for instance, but when we don't identify the wrong we do as wrong, we tell our kids, "What I did was right." And that is an excellent way to cause them to sin.

I know of people who identify themselves as Christians who live sexual immorality in front of their kids as if it's just fine. I know youth pastors who go along with the kids in their care when they push against their parents' authority as if it's just fine. I know Christians who casually and coolly live sinful lives in front of their children as if it's just fine. And I have to check myself because that statement from Christ is no small thing: "It would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." Am I guilty of that? I sure don't want to be.

We all interact with children to some degree or another. Some of us do so intensely because, you know, they live in our houses or they are our primary ministry or some such. The other extreme are those who simply see them in passing. Are you aware of what you are saying to these kids in your choices and behavior? I'm not talking about the mistakes we all make and recognize as mistakes. Those are easier to work on. I mean, we're all in agreement there. I'm talking about the things that we approve and defend. "So I lost my temper and yelled at him. He deserved it. That ought to teach him." Teach him what? That anger is perfectly okay? "It's okay to play video poker in front of my kids because I'm not doing any serious gambling." Is it? "I should be allowed to live my life the way I want." Should you? "It's not their business if I have a little too much to drink on a Saturday night to relax. I'm not breaking any laws. Who is it hurting?" Really? "I just want them to be comfortable around me, so I let them do things when they're with me that their parents won't. It's not hurting anything." Is that true? I don't know about you, but I want to be a Christian who is a follower of Christ (duh!). I think perhaps I should really consider what Jesus said about my effect on children. What about you?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tyre has a Bone to Pick

There are certain very common thoughts that some Christians hold that might be worth reconsidering. Take, for instance, the Open Theism claim that God cannot know what humans will choose because it is free will. Okay, let's not go there. That's a minority. How about this? God's goal is to save as many people as He possibly can. That one is popular, for sure. I mean, doesn't Paul say that God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4)? And then there's the popular (even though its name may not be well known) notion (so popular, in fact, that I once held it) of Middle Knowledge. God looked down the corridor of time, figured out what would save whom, and then carried it out. These may be popular, but are they accurate?

Jesus is generally thought of as a meek and mild man. That's our general image, I think. I don't think that's wrong. But there were a few times in His earthly ministry when He wasn't quite so ... easy-going. Remember the visit to the Temple where He overturned tables and broke out a whip? Not so meek. Or how about the time when He took on the Pharisees near the end of His life? Let's see ... cute little phrases like "whitewashed tombs", "full of robbery and self-indulgence", "hypocrites", "brood of vipers" ... you know, heart-warming pleasantries. Yeah, not so warm and friendly then, either. One of the other times was when He was sending His disciples out on their mission trip. He told them to wipe the dust from their feet if they weren't accepted and warned, "It will be more tolerable in that day for Sodom than for that city." Then He launched into what I can only call a tirade.
"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will be brought down to Hades! The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me" (Luke 10:13-16).
Umm, yeah, not so meek and mild there, especially if you understand the Hebraic concept of "woe". Some might have been tempted to warn Jesus about overdoing it a bit. You know, more flies with honey than vinegar ... that kind of thing. But He said it.

Look, though, at what He said. There are things hanging there that I've never heard in a sermon. Take, for instance, the certainty that Jesus had about what would have been. Not what was, but what would have been. Apparently God can know what human choices would be even if they didn't make them.

But it's a two-edged sword. Look at it! "If the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago." What do we know from this beyond the fact that God knows what would have been? Well, if miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented. Really? Wait a minute! What about our basic premise that God wants to save as many people as He can? He knew that sending miracles to Tyre and Sidon would have resulted in their repentance and He didn't do it. What happened? This strikes a real blow at that cherished idea. It also puts a real hole in the Middle Knowledge concept. He knew what it would take to produce repentance and He didn't do it.

You will conclude what you want, of course, but what do I conclude? I conclude that God owes no one salvation. I conclude that His choice "does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." I conclude that "He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires." Yeah, yeah, I know. That sounds a lot like "double predestination". But that's what I conclude. I wonder if it's time to reexamine some of those popular ideas ...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Prop 100

Arizona is having a special election on May 18th. Only one issue is on the ballot -- Proposition 100. The proposition is to add on a 1% sales tax to the current amount. Why? Well, according to the proponents, "Vote YES ON 100. Protect education, public safety and health care." That's right. The threat is that if we don't increase the amount of taxes we pay, we stand to lose out on education, public safety, and health care.

Now, I have to admit that I'm confused about this. You see, as far as I can tell, the primary function of government is to protect its citizens. Now, we can argue about the limits and nuances of such protection, but it would seem quite obvious that it would start with "public safety". So ... if the first job of government is public safety, where are they spending their money today that would require us to pay in more for that first priority?

Let's see what the official 2010 budget says. Hmm. Well, they'll be paying back $50 million in Federal Stimulus money. Odd. There is a line item for an additional $40 million in "new private prison beds". Right ... so our criminals are more comfortable. Got it. Interesting. There is a "Department of Racing". Apparently the Department of Racing regulates the Arizona parimutuel horse and greyhound racing industry. Oh, now this is funny. The Department of Economic Security has a budget of $546 million. Perhaps we ought to fire them, eh? While we're at it, perhaps we ought to take a real hard look at the Governorʹs Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting and their $2 million. I'm thinking they're not doing their job. Oh, I suppose there is no way around the $2 million we're spending on the Board of Cosmetology. I mean, what could be more important to Arizonans than beauty treatments. Oh, yeah, we have to regulate that carefully. There's another $4 million on a "Telecom for the Deaf Fund". I know ... that's a good thing ... but is it more important than public safety? Is that really the job of the government? And the fact that we're spending more than $13 million on a "Department of Gaming" (with another $74 million to the Arizona State Lottery Commission) is troubling to me all on its own.

Allegedly something around 60% of our budget is already spent on schools and public safety and health care. Fine. But is anyone looking at what that money is going toward and how to cut waste? Trust me. There is lots of waste. Take, for instance, the salaries of the football and basketball coaches. The combined income of the head men's football coaches and head men's basketball coaches at ASU and U of A adds up to more than $3 million dollars. And that's just four men. That's not counting their interim heads and their head assistants and so on. Hey, the combined total of the three major state university presidents is slightly more than $1 million. Says something about what we prize, doesn't it?

Don't misunderstand. I'm not opposed to "education, public safety and health care". And I understand that Arizona's revenue has really dropped. I get it. But I have to wonder where our priorities lie when we need to extort more money from our citizens to provide the very basic things that the government should have already been providing. ("Now, Stan, is 'extort' a fair word?" Yes, it is, when they tell us, "If you don't vote for this you'll lose your education, public safety, and health care funds.") Is that right? Is it really a lack of funds, or is it more likely a case of exorbitant government waste and screwy priorities? I wonder.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

But for the Grace of God

A few days ago I did a tongue-in-cheek entry aimed at pointing out the problem with the common line of thinking among Christians that I arrive at salvation because of my choice. In case it wasn't clear, it was not about how special I am, but how glorious and gracious God is.

When we talk about "election" in Reformed circles, there is an element of those listening that think, "Well, you sure think you're something special ... God choosing you and all." And the point gets missed. According to Paul, those who are chosen are chosen "so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls". That is, nothing in me caused God to choose me.

It is this that brings me to my knees at the very thought of being saved. My question might be, "Why me?" What is certain is that it wasn't because of me. It is with the psalmist that I say, "Not to us, O LORD, not to us, But to Your name give glory Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth" (Psa 115:1). Or, as Paul puts it, "He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace" (Eph 1:5-6). Something I can't forget.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Absolute Comfort

It is difficult to watch the unfolding of events in the Gulf of Mexico these days. That oil rig that blew up has created a mess ... a real mess. Oil spilled and continues to flow out into the water. The crude is reaching the coastline, washing up on beaches, damaging the environment, engulfing wildlife that doesn't know to get out of the way or, worse, has nowhere to go. Shrimp fishermen are out of work. The oyster beds are closed. And despite the vast sums that BP America is spending to fix the problem, it only seems to get worse.

What amazes me in all of this is the outcry we hear. The suggestion seems to be that nothing like this should ever happen. Oil rigs shouldn't blow up. Oil pipelines shouldn't leak. If they do, they should be easily fixed. Oil spills shouldn't be so hard to control and clean up. Things like this shouldn't happen!

We work hard for comfort. We invent new levels of comfort. We often believe, in fact, that comfort is our right. So we make new work-saving devices and invent new safety measures and pass new laws to prevent discomfort. We seem to actually believe that we can arrive at Paradise in this world where there are no accidents, no misfortunes, no painful events, where nothing bad happens.

It looks like we've forgotten what it takes to be successful.Vince Lombardi once said, "The price of success is hard work." We know in theory "no pain, no gain" and "you have to break some eggs to make an omelet". Still, it seems as if we have arrived at the place where we want all the comforts without any of the cost. We want advancement without risk. We are very foolish indeed.

The Bible says that all creation is under the curse. Sometimes people think that work was the result of the Fall of Adam, but the truth is that work was always part of the plan. Adam had work to do before he ever fell. No, the price of the Fall was not work, but hard work. God told Adam, "Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Gen 3:17-19). Since humans are assigned by God to hard labor and since all creation is cursed, why would we expect Paradise on Earth?

I'm in favor of labor-saving devices. I'm not against safety measures. If we can find newer, safer ways to do things, I'm all for it. But what concerns me is this notion that nothing bad should ever happen, that accidents shouldn't occur, that at some point, if we do all things correctly, we will achieve an environment without problems. We can have our oil without risk. We can drive where we want without accidents. Someone is always to blame and all we have to do is find out who it is and make them pay. There! Fixed that! We even think that we it is our right to never be offended. If someone says something offensive, they ought to pay! No one should ever be offended again! Not gonna happen, folks. Absolute comfort is not the birthright of every human being and will not exist in this life. Making that your goal, your dream, is setting yourself up for failure.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Problem of Peter

If you want to put an end to all the dialog and discussion and terminate those dreaded "5-point Calvinists", it's a simple thing. Just point out 2 Peter 2:1. You see, it's not possible to read that verse without seeing that the Atonement had no limits and, therefore, those awful Reformed folks are wrong.
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction (2 Peter 2:1).
Of course, it's not as if they're going to just roll over and admit it. Seems like those guys have an answer for everything. In this case, in fact, they have several.

The text refers to "the Master who bought them" and that's the crux of the question, isn't it? I mean, did Christ die to save everyone or did He die to save the Elect? Calvinists would argue that He intended to save some and actually accomplished it. Others argue that He actually paid in full the sin debt of all mankind and you just have to accept it to get the benefit. I addressed earlier the problem of the notion that all sin is paid in full, but that tends to be the most common perspective.

So what do we do with this passage from 2nd Peter? What we do not do is dismiss it. And before we do anything else with it, we have to ask, "Why ask?" You see, when Jesus said, "No man comes to the Father but by Me" (as an example), we have no reason to ask, "What did He mean by that? Did He mean what He said?" So why ask about this? Well, there seems to be a couple of problems to consider. First, if the price for all has been paid in full, on what basis can God judge anyone? They owe nothing -- it's paid. Beyond that, though, there appears to be a contradiction here. These false prophets in question, if we're reading this correctly, have been redeemed by Christ ("the Master who bought them"). The result of denying the Master is their "swift destruction". In other words, it is possible to be redeemed and damned. This is problematic when you consider other passages like "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (John 10:29). Apparently Jesus was wrong, since they are able to do it. Paul said, "I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:6). Too bad, Paul. You were overconfident. There are those who are blood-bought sinners who God will not be able to complete. Or what are we to think when Jude writes, "Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen." (Jude 1:24-25)? If some stumble and do not end up blameless, was God unable or simply unwilling? There are some serious questions here that need to be analyzed. So we have to ask, "What does Peter really intend when he writes about 'the Master who bought them'?"

One of the most common answers is that it isn't a statement of truth, but a claim of the false prophets. They are making a false claim that they were bought by the Master and are refuting that claim by denying Him. That is, the text isn't saying they were actually bought, but that they are simply claiming to be bought and are not (as clearly demonstrated by their denial of the Master). That's a possibility.

Another possibility is found in the odd use of the term that is translated "Master" here. The Greek word here is not used elsewhere to refer to Christ. References to Christ as Master use kurios -- "Lord". This one is despotes -- "Master". It is not merely a reference to a master, but to a sovereign master, an absolute master. If this is the intent, then it could simply be referencing what Jesus said in Matt 28:18 -- "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me." Jesus bought the rights to all authority. This "purchase", then, would not be in terms of redemption (and the Greek word behind it is used in plenty of places to reference buying things without meaning "redemption"), but simply in terms of ownership. The Master "owns them" based on the price He paid.

A third possibility is found in cross-referencing the term. Deuteronomy 32:6 asks Israel, "Is not He your Father who has bought you?" In what sense did the Father buy them? He brought them out of Egypt. Peter knew that. And Peter wrote primarily to Jewish Christians. So these false prophets were typically Jewish false prophets. Now, in the New Testament, this term for "Master" is used almost exclusively to reference the Father, not the Son. If this is the case, then Peter is saying that these Jewish false prophets, by teaching heresies, have denied the Father who redeemed them out of Egypt.

If we conclude that Peter is making a statement about the extent of the Atonement, then we have two problems. First, we have a God who has already received payment for all sin and, yet, still judges people. Second, we have a contradiction of other passages that say that God will sustain His own. These together appear to make God both unjust and incapable. Maybe you don't like the possible answers. I offered three. But understand that it isn't a "Calvinist" problem if you reject those possibilities. It's yours as well. How do you deal with God's justice and His omnipotence if He judges those who are redeemed and fails to keep them redeemed? I definitely have a problem with that.

(Disclaimer: I am not suggesting that the Atonement was only for the Elect and that there was no benefit for the rest. Nor am I suggesting that the Atonement was insufficient to pay for all sin. I haven't, in fact, made any such claims. That's not the point of this post.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Who is taking care of me?

Years ago my wife went through a bout of depression. The pastor thought it was beyond his counseling skills, so he sent her to a Christian counselor. As part of this counselor's approach, she asked that I come in for an interview. In the course of the discussion, I explained to her my viewpoint on marriage.

Most people think of marriage as a 50-50 proposition. He gives 50% and she gives 50% and you have a whole marriage. I don't see it that way. The Bible tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. Christ didn't offer 50% and wait for 50% to make a whole relationship. He gave 100%. I told her that was my approach. I loved my wife 100%. Now, the question is how can you do that? The reason for the 50-50 proposition is that while you're giving out to another, you need to receive. You know, everyone has needs. If you keep giving and receive nothing, eventually you run out. But that, I told her, is taken care of in the love God has for me. I am already perfectly loved. I don't need more than perfection. So, since I am already perfectly loved by the Father, I can love my wife fully without requiring anything in return. So when I give 100%, the least I can expect in my marriage is a 100% marriage. If she gives in return, I can actually get more than a 100% marriage. It's a bonus! And I'm grateful. The Christian counselor told me I was crazy.

I admit it is a bit ethereal. We all know there is a bit of a disconnect between human love and God's love because, well, a human can give you a hug when you need it. I've heard it said, in fact, that we are to be the arms of God. I get that. So I can see how someone would think it's crazy to rely on God and not require anything from your spouse. I think they're wrong, but I can see it.

Funny thing. I have come to realize a previously unknown truth. The question, you see, is if I'm so busy caring for my wife, who's caring for me? You know ... "What about me??!!" The presumption is that love is sacrifice and that's it. But I found something different. I found that my greatest joy is in loving my wife. It's not a sacrifice. It's not a trial, a job, a task, a duty. It's a pleasure. That is, taking care of my wife takes care of me. When I work at pleasing my wife, it pleases me.

And then I found that I should have known that all along, shouldn't I? After all, Paul wrote, "He who loves his own wife loves himself" (Eph 5:28). No ... it's not crazy.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My Testimony

The dream sequence begins with swirling clouds and odd, nondescript voices. The mist clears and people start to come into view ...

We're all standing around in heaven when Angel Ed walks up to our group. Ed is a reporter for the New Jerusalem Gazette and wants an interview with me.

Ed: Stan, we're all excited about you being here. Everyone being here, of course, but we wanted to talk to you as a representative. You see, we angels have thoroughly enjoyed watching the Father's plan of redemption unfold. Still, having never sinned, there were certain components that were outside our experience. I'm hoping you can give our readers some insights.

Stan: I'm glad to do what I can.

Ed: Great! So, you remember that Saturday when that little group of people from the local church came to your door. You invited them in and they shared the Gospel with you. You got it and received Christ as your Savior that day.

Stan: Oh, yes! What a wonderful day that was! Of course, there were ups and downs, but that was the start of my life-giving relationship with Jesus. It's the reason I'm here today.

Ed: Yes, of course! But here's the part we don't understand. That same group of people left your house that afternoon and went to your neighbor's house next. There they gave the same presentation to your neighbor, Bill. Bill rejected the Gospel and is not in heaven today. So the question we all have is this: What was the difference? Why did you accept it and he reject it?

Stan: I've thought about that myself, Ed. It's not an easy question. Obviously God did a lot of wooing to get me there. You know, I went to a Billy Graham event and was intrigued and my mom was a Christian and kept telling me that stuff. I had that time when my daughter got sick and I didn't know where to turn. All sorts of things.

Ed: Sure, and we get that, but I'm pretty sure you're not saying that Bill didn't have any of that, are you?

Stan: No, no, not at all.

Ed: So what is it that finally made the difference?

Stan: Well, Ed, it sounds boastful, I suppose, but there must have been something different in me. Maybe I was more spiritually atuned or maybe I was in the state of mind where I could see things a little more clearly than Bill. I do know that I overcame insurmountable obstacles to receive Christ. I mean, when those folks from the church came in, I was dead in my sin and trespasses. I was intent only on evil. I was hostile to God. In fact, I was actually incapable of understanding the things of God since I was a Natural Man and those are spiritually-discerned things. So you can see that it was an amazing tale that I could push through my own spiritual death, overcome my own natural inclinations, set aside my hatred for God, and understand things beyond my understanding to finally say "Yes" to Christ. I have to tell you, it was really something, a real monument to human Free Will. I guess it shouldn't be surprising at all when you think about it that Bill didn't make it ...

... The mist gathers again and the dream sequence winds down into a haze. The last thing I remember is the angels standing around me patting me on the back for such a phenomenal effort ...

I don't know if you could tell but my tongue-in-cheek story is intended to remind myself of the amazing grace that God showered on me. He called me when I was dead. He gave me a new nature when I was beyond hope. He gifted me with faith and enabled me to choose Him and then granted me eternal life. Me, a sinner, without anything to recommend me. Certainly not that buffoon in the dream. That, I hope you could tell, was not my testimony.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rated R

There is a website that will, just for fun, rate your blog. I tried it out. According to their analysis, my blog is rated R. Why?
This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:
* hell (16x)
* dead (6x)
* gun (2x)
* hurt (1x)
Hey, my nephew has been known to read this stuff. Maybe my brother-in-law ought to stop the poor guy from reading such smut. I mean, I used the word "hurt" once. Fie upon me! "Gun" twice? What kind of a place am I running here? But, obviously, the worst is the use of the term "hell".

It's an odd thing. I've seen movies with PG or PG13 ratings that include worse language and even partial nudity and because mine uses the word "hell" (too many times or is it just because the word appears at all?), this is site ought to be restricted to people over 17.

Of course, it has always been my contention that the Good News is not good news without bad news. Telling you "Jesus loves you" all by itself might just feed your ego unless you realize that there are good reasons why He might not. Telling you "You need to repent" is pointless if you don't know why. Jumping to Paul's affirmation that believers are "vessels of mercy" doesn't have the same impact if it doesn't start with the certainty that we were "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction". In other words, without "hell", heaven isn't as sweet.

Well, I suppose I can live with an "R" rating. Only you and I will know it. I still think there is more dangerous stuff out there in the PG13 world than you find on my blog. But wouldn't want to infect those tender young minds with what I have to say, would we? Or maybe it's just that a lot of people under 17 wouldn't understand what I write? Nah! That can't be it.

Monday, May 10, 2010


It is so easy, in some minds, to put an end to the silly notion that God chooses some to be saved. Yeah, yeah, so the Bible uses terms like "the elect" or "the chosen" or the like, but, still, all you have to do is look at John 3:16 to see that it isn't true. Come on! What could be simpler?
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Can it be any clearer than that? I mean, look at it! On what is the verse premised? "God loved the world so much." What did that much love bring about? "He gave His only Son." To whom is this gift limited? "Whosoever." (No one.) Can it get any clearer?

Well, yes, actually. First, the verse does not say (despite all the claims to the contrary) that "God loved the world so much." That word is not a quantitative term, but a qualitative term. You know what I mean. We see it in the Sermon on the Mount. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matt 5:16). That's not "Let your light shine so much that ...", but "Let your light shine in such a way that ...". The same is true here in John 3:16. It's not a quantitative statement about how much God loved the world, but a qualitative statement about in what way God loved the world.

One thing to consider in this part of the thinking. We all like to claim that God loves the whole world and we will often point to John 3:16 to say so. There are problems with that line of thinking. First, James says, "Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). Now, wait a minute! How can it make me an enemy of God to love what God loves? There is an answer, of course, but it ought to set off alarm bells that something else is going on here. There are ways in which God does not love the whole world. Second, the text in question qualifies, not quantifies the love God has for the world. That is, He loves that "whoever believes in Him" group. That's what the text says. Now, I'm not suggesting that God doesn't have a general love for mankind. We know that "He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matt 5:45). He tells us to make the Gospel offer to everyone. He tells us to love our enemies, so it should be clear that in some sense He does, too. But don't think that God has this unlimited, all-encompassing warm feeling toward the whole world. Or consider it from this direction. We are the Bride of Christ. Would it be right for the husband of the Church to love everyone equally? Or is He supposed to have a particular love for His Bride and a more general love for everyone else? That's all I'm saying here.

Now the "whosoever". This obviously implies to whomever seems to be reading it that "anyone can". Why? I don't know. Here, let's give a fictitious news item that might help illustrate. "Headline Paris, France: Famous financier, Jean-Louis Bardot, has announced today an unprecedented offer. He is going to give €1 million to swimmers. Mr. Bardot said this in a phone interview: 'I love swimmers. I love swimmers in this way: I am going to give €1 million to whosoever can swim the English Channel in the next month.'"

What would we conclude from such a piece? Well, first, it's apparent that our artificial Mr. Bardot loves swimmers, but not in a universal sense. He specified in what way he loves swimmers -- it's those swimmers that can swim the English Channel. Second, although he clearly stated "whoever" in his offer, do we conclude "anyone can"? Not at all. We would easily first eliminate those who cannot get to the English Channel in the next month. Probably something over half the Earth's population. We just eliminated 3 billion people. "Hey, wait!" you object. "He said 'whoever'! You can't eliminate people." And, of course, my representation of your objection isn't reasonable, is it? You can see quite obviously that "whoever" in no way requires "anyone can". It doesn't even require that the offer be made to everyone. It is simply a generalization. We would eliminate those who can't make it. We would eliminate those who can't swim. We would eliminate those who can't swim 26 miles. In fact, we'd likely end up with a very small number of people (I don't think more than 50 people have made that swim) in that "whoever".

The verse in question is a marvelous verse. It speaks of the quality of God's love for people. It tells of the extraordinary gift of His only Son. It tells of the excellent offer of eternal life for those who believe in His Son. It is really, really good stuff. But let's not make it say what it doesn't. It doesn't say that God loves everyone equally. It doesn't say that everyone has the same capacity to respond to that offer. It doesn't even speak of capacity to respond. Let's lay that one aside, okay? It doesn't work here.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mother's Day, 2010

Let me share a small tribute to my mother.

Watch the news much and you'll find a rising number of mothers who see their children as liabilities. They'll ignore them ... at best. More mothers are in the mode of trying to be their kids' best friend. They ignore discipline because the little tykes wouldn't like her if she was "mean" to them.

My mom never ignored me, and she never tried to be my best friend. She wasn't too concerned if I liked her. She never acquiesced because I complained. Mom was better than that. Mom never tried to be my buddy, but she was the best that a friend could be because her primary concern was always my best interest. Sometimes that meant that I would be unhappy while she taught me hard lessons. Sometimes it meant that I didn't get to do the things I wanted to do. Sometimes it hurt. Sometimes it made me mad. But Mom was single-minded. She raised us with love and truth and didn't waver. And she modeled for her kids what she believed. She actually lived it.

Funny thing. Today my mother is one of my best friends. We enjoy lengthy discussions on deep topics. We analyze our favorite passages of Scripture together or talk about current events and what's behind them or whatever else is pressing. We bounce ideas off each other -- "I wonder if this verse means this. What do you think?" We learn from each other. She is a truly great friend.

I love my mom. I cannot imagine a better mother. She loved me enough to endure great pain on my behalf. She loved me enough to pray for me when I was running the wrong direction. (I still remember that cake you left on my doorstep for my birthday that one year when I lived somewhere you were afraid to visit, Mom.) She still loves me enough to correct me when I'm wrong and I know so well that she loves me that I can appreciate it when she does. Hey, sometimes I even ask for it!

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I know, I know, you don't feel like the best mom ever. That's okay. I'm still entitled to my opinion. So I'll continue to hold you in the highest regard. I love you, Mom.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

To What Extent?

A friend of mine wrote, "Jesus bought the whole world’s debt. There are too many verses that state this. Buying the ticket does not automatically put a person inside the gates of Disneyland. A person must use the ticket. A person must believe the ticket is good in order to use the ticket." I don't think this is in any way a revolutionary view. It's probably the most common perception about the Atonement. "Jesus paid the price for all sin. Now you have to claim it." That's the most common view, I think. It's just that ... well ... with all due respect to my friend and the majority of Christians who hold this view, it makes no sense to me.

First, the basics of the Atonement. Humans are sinners, indebted to God. We cannot pay that debt. God's justice demands payment. So the Son of God took on human form, lived a sinless life, and paid the debt on our behalf. Clear enough. Not particularly complex. That's the essence of the Atonement. But the question is to what extent does that Atonement reach?

Well, that should be pretty easy, right? I mean, we have clear Scripture on it. We know that John the Baptist said of Jesus, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). At the famous story of the woman at the well, after meeting Jesus for themselves, the people told her, "Now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world" (John 4:42). Paul assures us that Christ "died for all" (2 Cor 5:15). He wrote Timothy that Christ "gave himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tim 2:6) and that He "is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe" (1 Tim 4:10). Now, we might be able to do some pretty little dancing around "To whom was 'all' referring?", but John leaves little question when he writes "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). There you have it. Dance around that.

There you have it -- insurmountable biblical proof. In fact, why would you want to surmount it? It's in the Bible! Well, there are actually a couple of answers for that.

One is the problem of Scripture. While that is indeed a plethora (sorry ... I just like that word and had to work it into a sentence at some point) of verses that make the point that the Atonement encompasses all sin ... there is also a pile of passages that deny it. We know, for instance, that God told Joseph that Jesus would "save His people from their sins" (Matt 1:21). Why the limitation? Jesus said, "I lay down My life for the sheep" (John 10:15). Remember, that whole discussion of "sheep" dealt with " I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved" (John 10:9) and "I am the good shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me" (John 10:14). He says (to our everlasting benefit) "I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd" (John 10:16). So the concept of the "sheep" and "flock" is a limited concept. Paul said that "Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her" (Eph 5:25). Hebrews says that He is coming a second time "to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him" (Heb 9:28). And, bottom line, we know that not all will be saved. There is absolutely no doubt about that. So how do we correlate the all-inclusive language about the Atonement above with this limited language?

Another problem is the problem of logic. The well-known English puritan, John Owen, wrote a famous piece entitled "For Whom did Christ Die?". He lays out the logical problem there. Christ died for one of three logical possibilities: 1) All sins of all men, 2) All sins of some men, or 3) Some sins of all men. If the third case is true, then all men are still in some sin and no one is saved. If the first case is true then all men are saved, right? "Oh, no," you would answer, "they are not saved because of their unbelief." So ... Christ died for all sins of all men except for the sin of unbelief?

Beyond Owen's logic is the problem of the justice of God in all this. If all sin is paid for, then God's justice is satisfied. No further punishment is possible. Any further punishment would be unjust. The example is often offered of a prisoner on death row being pardoned by the governor. The warden goes into his cell and tells him, "You're free! You've been pardoned! You can go." But if the prisoner doesn't believe him, he's still not free. He's still in the cell. He's still in prison. Here's where the example falls down. If the warden, then, based on the prisoner's refusal to believe, executes the man, the warden is now guilty of killing an innocent man. It's called "murder". He was pardoned by the governor and there was no lawful reason to put him to death. If Christ died for the sin of all mankind and all sin is paid for, then God has no just cause to hold anyone responsible for their sin. It would be double payment. He would be guilty of punishing people who have no crimes on their rap sheet. It doesn't matter if the payment is accepted. The payment was made.

The question is a sticky one, and I'm not offering any answers here. What I said at the beginning is that the view that all sin has been paid for makes no sense to me. I've tried to explain my difficulty. I've done my research. When those who argue for unlimited atonement are asked, "How can a just God send people to hell who have been forgiven?" they simply answer, "He doesn't." Apparently they hold that all sin but unbelief is covered. And it should be stated that there is far more agreement than disagreement here. We all agree, for instance, that the blood of Christ was sufficient for all, but efficient for some. Unless you're arguing for Universalism, we're all clear on that. I do know, also, that there are some answers out there. For instance, when Paul told Timothy that Jesus was "the Savior of all men", that's not so tough to figure out. Jesus is the only Savior available to all men. That doesn't mandate that He saves all men. (That's why He is especially the Savior of those who believe.) So there are some ways to correlate the two.

So I leave you with the question to ponder. Did the Atonement actually pay for all the sin of all men? Or did it pay for all sin except unbelief? Or did Christ's death, though sufficient to pay for all sin, ultimately only cover the sin of the elect? How would you correlate the passages that limit the atonement with the passages that don't? Welcome to my sticky questions.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Illegal Immigration

The protests keep rising even though 70% of Arizonans and 60% of Americans are in favor of the new law that instructs the local police to enforce federal immigration laws if the need arises. A growing list of people from the stupid to the sublime are calling for a "boycott" of Arizona. The stupid ones are the Arizonans like U.S. Rep. Raul M. Grijalva and others within the state. "Please, please, cut my throat to stop this law!" What are you thinking? I guess it's not too surprising that Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, would protest the law, but it's still not too bright to call it "the country's most retrogressive, mean-spirited, and useless anti-immigrant law" when there is nothing in the law against immigration and, apparently, it isn't entirely useless.

And the precedent is set. If Sacramento or Los Angeles or Austin or Denver doesn't like the laws of another city or state, the right thing to do is to act to destroy that city or state economically. "Boycott!!" No local government, be it city or state, should be allowed to pass laws that are not appreciated by everyone in the country. What is wrong with you, Arizona??! So, here's the deal. Either violate the legislators and the voters and the public opinion or die a sure economic death ... your call.

Of course, the grand hypocrite of this pile of complaints is Mexico's president, Felipe Calderón. It's wrong! It's racist! He said it "opens the door to intolerance, hate, discrimination and abuse in law enforcement." This while his country is known for some of the most corrupt law enforcement organizations and while his country has some of the more strict laws against illegal immigration. In fact, here's what I found for some of the rules of some of the countries on the topic:

Mexico: An illegal immigrant caught can be fined $450 and deported, and if they’re caught entering illegally a second time, they can spend 10 years in prison. Furthermore, local Mexican police must assist the Federales in apprehending illegal immigrants, just like the Arizona law requires. (Of course, it's only "intolerance, hate, discrimination" if it's done outside of Mexico.) (On a side note, it’s illegal in Mexico for non-citizens to protest government actions.)

China: Can officially result in a fine or incarceration for up to 10 days followed by deportation, but often results in the offender being charged with spying.

North Korea: Minimum 8 years in jail, longer if the charge is spying.

Italy: $13,000 fine. If you can't pay, you stay and work it off.

France: $5000 fine, a year in prison, or both.

Great Britain: 10,000£ fine. If you can't pay, you stay and work it off.

United States: Employment with greatly decreased tax loads, money to send home, medical coverage, education, and a loud group of defenders. Drive without a license or insurance. Access to public housing, unemployment benefits, welfare, and workers compensation. If arrested for a crime, they often receive suspended sentences so they can be deported. Worst case, it seems, would be free transportation home.

Dirty, rotten, racist Americans ...

What we should do is adopt Argentine laws for immigration. Their law? Anyone who wants to can live there legally. Oh, sure, they have some undocumented aliens, but no illegal aliens. That's good! Since President Obama has come up with all sorts of new funds to pay for health care and bailouts, I'm sure he can come up with more funds to pay for whoever else wants to live here. And I don't think we need to worry about that whole pesky problem of Nazi war criminals living in our country like they were happy to do in Argentina. After all, why would criminals want to live here? And, hey, wouldn't that make terrorists like us much more? Well, I'm sure it would ... one way or another ...

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Romans 9 and Election

To me the absolutely clearest passage of Scripture on the topic of Election is found in chapter 9 of Romans. To me it is unavoidably manifest: God chooses whom He will choose on the basis that He desires (not on the basis of either human effort or human choices) for the purposes that He desires. I cannot fathom how anything else could be concluded from this passage other than that.

Of course, I know that not everyone is so convinced as I am. What other options are offered? Well, there is one primary alternative. This view says, "Paul is not talking about individual election; he's talking about groups." What groups? "Well, there are the Jews and the Gentiles. God is going to save people out of both Jew and Gentile. He's talking about Israel and the Church. He's talking about groups of people ... not individuals."

I have a hard time with that concept. I have a hard time because there seems to be a distinction without a difference. What is it that makes up a group? Individuals! So the argument is that God intends a group ... without actually intending individuals?

I have a hard time with it because the primary mode of explanation in this passage is in terms of individuals. Paul's premise is that, despite the fact that so few Jews are among the saved, God has not failed (9:6). Why? Because the "descendants of Abraham" are the children of promise, not the flesh (9:8). How does Paul demonstrate that? "Through Isaac your descendants will be named" (not Ishmael) (9:7). And we're talking about individuals. He goes on to talk about Sarah and Rebekah, Jacob and Esau, Moses and Pharaoh -- individuals. Jacob and Esau were specifically predestined apart from any works "so that God's purpose according to His election would stand" (9:11). The "proofs" that Paul offers for his arguments in this passage are not in terms of groups, but in terms of individuals.

I have a hard time with it because the language doesn't fit. God tells Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion" (9:15). Is that a group? Seems like individuals. Paul says, "It does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy" (9:16). Is that groups or individuals? Paul concludes, "So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires" (9:18). (Paul's "proof text" is God's treatment of Pharaoh, an individual.) As a group? And when he does talk about a group -- "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" (9:22) -- it is only meaningful if those vessels are individuals to whom God shows mercy. Being merciful to a group does me little good, but being merciful to me, a sinner, is a magnificent event!

I have a hard time with it because of the objections. This is one of the key interpreting components to me. Paul's approach is very clear, very methodical. He lays down Scripture and then argues it logically and biblically (you know, like we're supposed to do). He starts back with the promise and tells how Jacob was selected over Esau apart from works. What is the very first objection I would expect if I thought Paul was talking about individuals elected apart from their works? "That's not fair!" And that's the first objection Paul faces (9:14ff). He explains that God chooses whom He will choose, that He has mercy on whom He has mercy and hardens whom He hardens. What would the obvious next objection be if Paul were talking about individuals? "Well, if God does all that, then how can we be held accountable? If it's all God's will, what have we to say about it?" And that's exactly the next objection Paul faces (9:19ff). Now, rewind. Let's assume that Paul is talking about groups, not individuals. Paul says that God chooses groups not because the group is special, but because God chooses them. Since this isn't personal, on what possible grounds would we object, "That's not fair!"? And when Paul says that God chooses groups of people apart from the choices of the group, why would there be an objection, "Why does He still find fault?"? He still finds fault on the basis of individuals, right? Not groups. In other words, the objections Paul answers make no sense at all if he was talking about groups, not individuals. There is no reason to object if it isn't about individuals.

What are groups without individuals? Why would Paul use examples of individuals if his concept is of groups? Why is so much of the language itself in terms of individuals if groups were in mind? How do the objections make any sense if Paul was simply saying that God has chosen a group of people? None of this makes any sense to me. In fact, it seems like a whole lot of effort to make this speak of groups when the most obvious explanation is that it is about individuals. Could it be that this "group defense" approach is a product of a preconceived objection rather than a good examination of the text?