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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Faith or Works?

Christianity often suffers from an apparent dichotomy. While all other religions are essentially moral structures providing the path to heaven, Christianity alone claims "By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph 2:8-9). Really? Yes, indeed! Christianity stands alone in this concept of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. "Not of works." That's the phrase. Still, we can't seem to get away from this stunning need to do good works. So ... what's up with that?

There are a couple of terms that we are possibly familiar with. One is "contradiction" and the other is "paradox". A contradictory statement is a statement that is ... contradictory. A paradox is "a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true." So, is this tension between "not of works" and the demand for good works a genuine contradiction, or is it a paradox?

First, we cannot avoid that Christianity teaches that we are saved apart from works. Any step toward "saved by works" is a step away from Christianity and a step into heresy. On the other hand, what does the Bible have to say about good works? On the command:
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:16).

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works (Titus 2:7).

[I desire] that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness -- with good works (1 Tim 2:9-10).

And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works (Titus 3:14).
Okay, so it shouldn't be a question. Good works should accompany Christians. It is commanded ... repeatedly. (Repetition is the biblical method of highlighting, italicizing, or using an exclamation mark.) No doubt at all. So we have what looks like a contradiction because the Bible makes both statements. We are both saved apart from works and required to do good works.

But, how does that work? Is it a contradiction or a paradox? Well, let's see what else we can find.

Paul tells Titus, "The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people" (Titus 3:8). So, here we see that devotion to good works is a matter of 1) excellence and 2) "profitable". It's good for you to be devoted to good works. Of course, we already knew that it glorified God. So there's one thing we can see that is distinct from "salvation by works".

The Bible goes beyond this, though. In the very verse that follows the famous Ephesians 2:8-9 passage we read this: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10). Did you get that? We are "created in Christ Jesus for good works." That is a primary purpose of our salvation! And, of course, if you think it through, it makes perfect sense. Our purpose is to glorify God. Good works glorify God. So ... well, you can do the math. We see the same thing in Paul's letter to Titus. "... who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14). His purpose in giving Himself and redeeming us was to obtain a possession "zealous for good works". Again, a purpose statement. In fact, James asks, "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?" (James 2:14). What good is faith without works? None. It's dead faith. So Christ came to provide salvation through faith, and the purpose of that salvation was that we would do good works. Living faith produces good works.

But, then, is it faith or works that saves? No, we're clear on that. Faith saves. Works follow. So how important are those works? Paul says, "12 ... work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil 2:12-13). Works, then, are the out-working of our salvation ... and we do those works because God is at work in us giving us both the will and ability to do them.

You see, when you follow it through, you find that it was a paradox, not a contradiction. We are saved by faith apart from works. We are, however, saved for the purpose of good works. These good works are the out-working of our salvation. They are a primary means by which we can glorify God. So when you hear folks say, "You need to work to get to heaven", be sure that they are confused. And when you hear folks say, "Good works don't matter", you can be equally sure that they are confused. Saved apart from works, to be sure, but saved for the purpose of good works. Let's try to keep that straight.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power (2 Tim 3:1-5).
Years ago I taught on this passage. As I prepared to teach it, I was thinking, "Yeah, the world sure has grown to resemble this list of sins, hasn't it?" And then it dawned on me that it wasn't just the world. It wasn't hard to find this list in people in the church. Sin, it seemed, was becoming more and more acceptable in church, let alone in the world.

Of course, those of us who are trying to be diligent followers of Christ stand up and say, "No!" We point our fingers at the sin and urge people to avoid it if possible and repent if not. And we do so not out of some arrogance or self-righteousness. No. We do it out of love. These things are both morally bad and bad for people and, if we care about them, we will encourage them to avoid doing what is bad for them.

It seems that Christians are known for pointing out sin. We're known for being "judgmental and intolerant" even though judging people for that is judgmental and intolerant. We're told we are too divisive even though the truth, by its very nature, divides. We're told we're wrong for saying that sex outside of marriage is sin and we're told that we're wrong for saying that marriage is the union of a man and a woman and we're told that we're wrong for saying that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior and ... well, it goes on and on. But the Bible isn't unclear on what sin is and it doesn't fail to be both judgmental and intolerant ... of sin.

It occurs to me, though, that we tend to get narrowly focused at times. You will find, for instance, Christians condemning homosexual behavior. (It is important to note that condemning sin is not the same as condemning sinners, that God offers salvation to sinners, that we need to be careful about the distinction.) What you will rarely hear is a Christian who warns against being "lovers of self". In fact, they encourage it. We might warn against being "lovers of money" (although too many of us are), but how often do you hear Christians condemning the sin of "disobedience to parents"? We are against brutality and treachery, but are we against ingratitude? And how often do we shout warnings against the appearance of godliness without the power?

You will hear that the sin of Sodom was not homosexual behavior. Oh, no! It was ... inhospitality. (Seriously, they make that argument.) Jude argued that the problem of Sodom and Gomorrah was indulging in sexual immorality and pursuing unnatural desires (Jude 1:7). And I wouldn't argue in the least that we should shut up about sin. In fact, it is natural and reasonable to be where the fire is, so to speak. As the world tries to "normalize" what God calls "sin", we need to be there. I understand that. Never call evil good. I get that. But let's not get too focused on a sin when God is opposed to all sin. Let's be careful about pointing fingers at "those who are sexually immoral" while we're, perhaps, "lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful" and so much more. And it isn't hypocrisy to say, "Those are wrong and I'm guilty of them." Let's just be fair and equitable in our condemnation of sin (as opposed to sinners), both in ourselves and in others, both in the current fads and in all sin. After all, holiness is our aim, and if all we achieve is "I'm no longer sexually immoral", we've missed a ton of other problems to face.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Willful Ignorance or Simple Malice?

The amount of failure to comprehend what others believe can sometimes be staggering. As an example, I saw a sign in a protest against SB1070 here in Arizona. It was held by a small boy and it read, "Mommy, why is my skin color a crime?" Now, I was totally stunned by this question. I was unaware that anyone in Arizona was arguing that we ought to charge anyone with brown skin with the crime of having brown skin. I haven't heard of anyone going to jail with a charge of being brown (or black or white or whatever other color you may choose). I don't know anyone (I'm not saying they don't exist; I just don't know any) who are arguing, "All Hispanics ought to be arrested and deported." The sentiment on the sign, then, is ... a lie. No one is making any suggestion that everyone of a particular skin color is guilty of violating a law against that skin color. So either it is a stunning failure to comprehend a law under protest, or it is an intentional, bald-faced lie. Preferring to think the best of people when I can, I have to assume supreme stupidity over malicious false witness.

A blog I usually enjoy linked to A Quiz for your Calvinist Friends located on a site called "Evangelical Arminians". It was specifically labeled (on the site) as satire. Fine. It was very difficult to read it through with the words "Calvinist Friends" in the title because it was intended to be unkind. Like the small boy with his sign, it presents a horrible failure to comprehend the Doctrines of Grace. I mean horrible. The author, Kevin, didn't include a single truthful representation of anything "Calvinist", as if this kind of misleading satire proves any kind of point.

Here's the funny thing -- and I find it over and over and over in so many of these debates. It seemed to me that while he was laying down clever landmines for his "Calvinist friends", he forgot to mark them down very carefully because it looked like he was in just as much trouble as his intended targets.

Consider some of the standard objections in these debates:

1. According to Ezekiel 18:23, how much pleasure does the Lord take in the death of the wicked? Now, the "Calvinist" is assigned* the answer, "No revealed pleasure, but lots of secret pleasure." (I haven't heard a Calvinist offer such an answer.) But if the Lord takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (as it plainly says), then what does the Arminian do with it? "Well, God takes no pleasure in it, but His hands are tied." Isn't that a problem?

2. According to Romans 11:32, God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on all men. The "Calvinist" is assigned some nonsensical response about "the first 'all' refers to everyone and the second 'all' refers only to the elect". But ... does the Arminian argue that "All means all" and, therefore, all men will receive mercy from God? Sounds like an argument for universalism to me, and I'm quite sure that the Arminians would not agree to that. Looks like there's a problem there for them as well as Calvinists.

3. According to 1 Peter 1:1-2, the elect "have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God". Now, how this contradicts anything "Calvinist" I don't quite know. In this little scenario, the "Calvinist" is assigned the answer, "Who are you oh man to talk back to Piper?" (Seriously, how is a "friend" supposed to take that?) But since Arminans like to argue against predestination and election, aren't they kind of stuck here? I mean, regardless of the means God uses (foreknowledge or divine edict or whatever), if some are "elect" in advance (you know, like "foreknowledge" would require), then some are chosen in advance and the rest are ... not. Haven't you just agreed with predestination?

If I were to lay out Arminian doctrine from these three examples, here's what I would (wrongly) conclude. "We deny the sovereignty of God. He is a gentleman, a deity that won't interfere in His creation without permission. Many things occur on a daily basis outside of His control and will. Too bad, God. Fortunately, God's plan is to show mercy to all, so while we affirm that some go to hell, we also affirm that God will show mercy to all, so at the same time in the same sense God will save all. Isn't He amazing? And we deny predestination explicitly. Just because God knows what will happen in advance doesn't mean it will happen in advance. Oh, wait ... hold on ..." (Let me repeat, that's what I would wrongly conclude based on this quiz.) I'm not so sure you want to go there.

Those were just a few examples. The entire quiz is intended to be a cruel misrepresentation of anything "Calvinist". I don't like it when Calvinists make their arguments by misrepresenting Arminian views. It doesn't work any better for me in reverse. More likely, however, is the possibility that lots and lots of Arminians are protesting what they think Calvinists believe ... but don't. It goes back to my calls in the past. Before you start arguing against something, be sure you understand it. Otherwise you'll just make yourself look foolish -- at best.

Post Script: Before I leave this quiz, I do need to comment on the "Bonus Round" question in the quiz. He quotes Revelation 3:20 -- you know, "Behold I stand at the door and knock ..." -- you know that verse. He shows three pictures. One is the famous picture of Jesus standing at a door. The second is a picture of a soldier (apparently in Iraq) kicking down a door. The third is a picture of a soldier pointing a gun at a father and his son. (I'm not sure if he's trying to take the son, trying to keep them subdued, or trying to position them all to shoot them.) The question: "Which one best depicts that verse?" I know lots of people really like that first picture and lots of people see that verse in the light of Jesus gently offering Himself to anyone who wishes and, frankly, I'm not opposed to the concept. But, please, if you're going to be true to Scripture, go back and read that passage. The context is a letter to "the church in Laodicea". The letter is the harshest of all the letters sent to the seven churches. It is a blatant call not for salvation, but for repentance. And the door outside of which Jesus is standing and knocking is not the unsaved, but the church in Laodicea (or any church of the same type). It is a call for believers to repent, not for sinners to be saved. The call for sinners to be saved is throughout the Bible, but this isn't one of them. Please be careful about how you read the Bible.
* I used the term "assigned" for the answers for Calvinists. If you read the quiz, you'll find that "C" is the answer that labels you a "Calvinist", so all "C" answers were the "assigned" answers for Calvinists.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Another Sunday Hymn

Originally posted back in May, 2007, I thought a reminder about one of my favorite hymns would be in order ... you know ... because it's Sunday.

It Is Well With My Soul
Horatio Spafford

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll -
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Tho' Satan should buffet, tho' trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And has shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin - O the bliss of this glorious tho't -
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more:
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll:
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend,
"Even so" - it is well with my soul.
The hymn has quite a story behind it. Perhaps by understanding some of the events surrounding it, the meaning will be clearer. Horatio Spafford was a lawyer in Chicago in 1871 when the Chicago Fire destroyed his lakeshore real estate and his finances along with it. Having already lost a son to premature death, He decided to take his wife and four daughters on a trip to England to join D.L. Moody on one of their campaigns and to get some much needed rest. Business forced him to delay his departure, so he had his family go on ahead, intending to join them as soon as he could. Soon Spafford received word that the ship had sunk. He waited anxiously for word of survivors and finally received a telegram from his wife that read "Saved alone." Spafford hastened to join her in England, and as he sailed past the spot where his four daughters had drowned, he wrote, "When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll - whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’"

Horatio Spafford knew God. It could only be an abiding relationship with the Almighty that would enable a man enduring such loss to say, "It is well with my soul." He echoes the words of Paul who says, "I have learned to be content." (Phil. 4:11-13)

What did Spafford know of God that held him in such peace? His second verse tells us. "Let this blest assurance control, that Christ hath regarded my helpless estate and has shed His own blood for my soul." To him, knowing that God loved him enough to die for him was enough. God had no requirement to do so, and the cost to Him was great - His own blood. What greater love could there be?

I think Mr. Spafford tied greater weight to his sin condition than most of us do today. He saw the forgiven state of the Christian as enough from God. His third verse dwells on the bliss of that thought. He saw forgiveness as glorious, and complete. He regarded God's pardon as the end of the question, with sin no longer a concern. "Not in part, but the whole." Paul says the same. We are crucified to sin. "Do not let sin reign." (Rom. 6:12) Praise the Lord, O my soul!

So many Christians today struggle with sin. They see their shortcomings - which are real - as an obstacle to their relationship with God. There is even a sort of superstition mixed in, as if God will curse us if we sin but bless us if we don't. They see God as turning away when they fail Him, and in some cases their large numbers of failures amass such a perceived wall between themselves and the Almighty that they give up and walk away hopeless. But sin - "not in part, but the whole" - has been nailed to the cross. We bear it no more. It is forgiven, past, present, and future. God sees us as clothed in the righteousness of Christ. He stands ready to commune with us at all times. We need merely to confess, for our benefit, our failure to obey, and we can continue the relationship. Would that we saw our sin condition and its collapse at the cross in the same light as this hymn does.

Like so many of the hymn writers of the past, Spafford looked forward to the coming of the Lord. He longed to be home. While many today aren't sure they want Christ to return just yet, he asked that God "haste the day." When all is said, it is there that peace is finally ours. It is in the knowledge of the transcendent God, the God who is holy and just, who is able to make all things right, the soon and coming King, that we can ultimately rest. His faithfulness is our repose. And His return is our hope. As the hymn alludes, "even so, come quickly." It is God's presence that brings final peace.

We, too, can enjoy this response to difficult circumstances. We can learn, with Paul, to be content in all situations. The truth is simple. If we know the God we serve, "who can be against us?" If God is God (and we are not), what more can we require? We can agree with Spafford and say, "Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

An American Disaster

It's hard to miss. This epic oil spill just goes on and on. It has already exceeded any other oil spill including the massive Exxon Valdez spill. Dwarfing that catastrophe, this one is still spewing oil, damaging the environment, and impacting thousands of lives. It's a bad thing ... a very bad thing. What I'm hearing these days is something like, "This oil spill in the Gulf is the worst disaster I have ever seen."

I was wondering about that. What would classify as "worst disaster"? I found a variety of American candidates:
May 25, 1979: An American Airlines DC-10 crashed shortly after takeoff, killing 275 people.

March 18, 1925: The great "Tri-State Tornado" hit in Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, killing 689, injuring more than 2,000, and producing more than $16 million in property damage.

April 27, 1865: More than 1,500 died on the Mississippi River near Memphis, TN, when their steamboat exploded.

Oct. 8, 1871: A forest fire in Peshtigo, WI, killed more than 1,500 people and burned more than 3.5 million acres.

May 31, 1889: The South Fork Dam collapsed, flooding Johnstown, PA, killing more than 2,200 people.

September 11: Three aircraft hit the Pentagon and the World Trade Center killing almost 3,000 people.

April 18, 1906: An earthquake struck San Francisco, CA, leveling almost 4 square miles and killing an estimated 3,000 people.

Sep. 8, 1900: A tidal surge from a hurricane that struck Galveston, TX, killed an estimated 8,000 people.

1918: A nationwide epidemic of the Spanish influenza killed over half a million Americans.
I start to wonder about the concept of "the worst disaster" when it comes to an oil spill like this. Really? The worst?

Then I think about the fact that an average of about 3,500 children a day die in American abortion clinics. Again, I begin to wonder about the concept of "the worst disaster".

According to the statistics, something like 150,000 people die every day from a combination of all causes. That's a lot of people. How many of them know Christ? How many of them are facing an eternity of darkness? Again, I begin to wonder about the concept of "the worst disaster".

This oil spill thing is bad ... really bad. We need to fix it as soon as we can. I would imagine, though, that our classifying it as "the worst disaster" would depend on our priorities, wouldn't it?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Casualty of War

I'm not sure how to respond to this firing of General Stanley McChrystal. There are several factors to consider.

On one hand, the UCMJ -- the rules that govern the military (which are in some ways unique to the military) -- is quite clear. Article 88 says, "Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct." As much as this may disturb Americans, the truth is that those who are on the front lines defending our freedom do not enjoy all the freedoms they are defending. One of the first freedoms you surrender in the military is the freedom of speech. You are regulated for a variety of reasons, and it is just a given. One of those regulations is this Article of the UCMJ. Did the general violate the rules under which he is allowed to operate? I don't think there is any question. Now, many are calling it "insubordination", but I don't think that's accurate. If he failed to carry out commands, he would be insubordinate. Nothing indicated that. But he did violate the military rules.

On the other hand, the rule is equally specific. The general "shall be punished as a court-martial may direct". The general didn't get his "day in court". He was summarily dismissed, thank you very much, go away. No negative talk about this administration will be allowed. No questioning of the capabilities of this administration will be tolerated. Begone! And a decorated, four-star general who has served for some 34 years, who was credited with the death of Al-Qaeda's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and who was leading an effective new offensive to clean up Afghanistan is gone. His career is done. Thanks for your service. Go away. What happened to the court-martial? What happened to due process? I mean, sure, sure, military members don't get freedom of speech and all, but do they also not get due process? I guess not.

The president is being touted as "decisive" by the media. Anything less than handing the general his head would have been flinching on the president's part. No, no, he had to go. No mere reprimand. No simple demotion. Generals cannot disrespect presidents. The whole thing is being compared to Lincoln's problem with General McLellan who refused his order to fight Robert E. Lee's army. That, by the way, is definite insubordination. (I loved the quote of President Lincoln when he fired the general: "If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time.") But that's a refusal to obey a command, obvious insubordination, and a failure on the general's part to follow the orders of the civilian government that commands him. That was not the case with General McChrystal.

The other parallel is interesting. The media is comparing this event to that of Truman and MacArthur. For those of us too young to remember and too short on memory from school to recall, MacArthur led the American forces in the Korean War. MacArthur had great success, but when he criticized President Truman's "limited war", he got into trouble. You see, MacArthur thought that defeating the enemy was the goal, but Truman thought that just stopping the fighting would suffice. MacArthur wanted to push communism out of Korea and Truman just wanted to stop North Korea from attacking South Korea. (Consider where we'd be today if that nasty little Kim Jong Il never had a country in which to take power.) Well, our system is civilian control of the military, and in that case again the president chose to eliminate the problem.

I bring all this up because there is a factor here that no one seems to be addressing. Should the general face discipline? I'd say "Yes." He violated the UCMJ. Should he be fired? I don't know for sure. Maybe. All of that is up for debate, and that's fine. But no one is asking, "Is he right?" The leadership in the Vietnam era successfully tied the hands of the military so that we failed miserably to accomplish the mission. The general is afraid that it's happening again. He is afraid that the leadership is ignoring the guys on the ground with the best view of what's going on. When he asked for more troops, he was reprimanded. (It worked in Iraq, but, hey, that was Bush -- bad.) The general aside, is the civilian leadership directing the military in Afghanistan incompetent? Are they tying the hands of the military to the point of producing certain failure? No one seems to be asking whether or not the general had valid concerns. The fact that he expressed them seems to have dwarfed that possibility. That's a problem.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Purpose of the Penal System

There is a term out there that almost jars the mind. It is the "Prison Industry". That's right. Today (in fact, for years) we have an industry devoted to prisons. Various government entities are turning over (or building) prison facilities run by private organizations. They make a profit (as private organizations are supposed to do) by receiving payment from the government entities and, of course, controlling their costs. The thinking is that private industry is much more efficient than government industry and privatizing the prison systems will save the taxpayers money. Okay, fine. Whatever. I'm not questioning (approving or disapproving) the morality or wisdom of such a concept. My question is more at what their purpose would be. You see, any product on the market, from toys to prisons, has to have a purpose, a goal, a set of specifications to meet. You know. How do you determine if the private prison facility is a quality service? So ... what is the purpose statement of a prison? More broadly, what is the purpose of our penal system at all?

You'll likely find three distinct purposes for the penal system. First, there is rehabilitation. Second, there is protection. Third, there is punishment. That is, the concept is that prisons in particular exist to rehabilitate the criminal, protect society from the criminal, and punish the criminal. Now, I listed them in mostly random order. I think you'll find that most people don't actually hold to these three views, and they do that by changing their emphasis. We'll leave protection alone. Most people see that. And that one stands alone as something for society, while the other two are aimed at the criminal. So, is the purpose of prison rehabilitation or punishment? I think that, depending on your perspective, one will engulf the other.

One of today's most common views is that the purpose of the penal system is rehabilitation. In fact, we often call them "correctional institutions". The idea is to return these people to society as changed people, no longer criminals. To this view, the "punishment" aspect isn't so much punishment as incentive to not do it again. That is, if you make it unpleasant enough, maybe that will aid them in their rehabilitation. So, to this view, the purpose is to bring the criminal back to "normal" and return them healthy to society.

On the other hand, the other view sees the primary purpose of the penal system as punishment. They did something wrong. They have to pay. Now, once they get out again, it would be good if we didn't have them repeat the offense, so, of course, you'll want to rehabilitate them if you can, but the real purpose is punishment and the rehabilitation concept is just folded into the "protection" concept. They need to be punished for their crime, and if you can protect people from them repeating their criminal behavior by rehabilitating them, that would be good.

To determine which side you fall on, let's try a thought experiment. Suppose that modern science came up with a method whereby, in a thirty day procedure, a person would not repeat a particular crime. You know, some sort of genuine "rehabilitation". There would be no chance that they would come out after that 30 days and repeat the crime for which they went in. Would you 1) embrace that method and do away with extended sentences or 2) require that varying crimes include varying sentences? One is the rehabilitation side and the other is the punishment side.

I think that, for a large part, your choice of which of those two sides you take will be determined by an underlying premise. I think that if your basic premise is that people are fundamentally good, then your conclusion will be that we need to rehabilitate these fundamentally good people. You know. They're broken. Fix them. Criminals are maladjusted. They lack self-esteem and never learned the proper morality. They need work. Give them some means of better self-esteem, some job skills, some sense of moral values. We can rebuild them. On the other hand, if your view is that humans are inherently evil, then fixing them is literally an impossibility. You might try to correct those behaviors, but they will always be inherently evil. This side likes the term "criminal justice system" because it recognizes that crimes are acts of injustice and justice demands payment. Justice, you see, is "the concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, fairness, or equity, along with the punishment of the breach of said ethics." Thus, punishment is part of justice (ethics, fairness, equity); rehabilitation would be a side issue.

Of course, your view on these two points will largely affect your view on the quality of privatized prisons. We've gone a long way toward making prisoners comfortable. That's because the primary goal is not justice, but reform. Justice would want to make it uncomfortable; reform would want to make them feel better about themselves. If I am right about the premise of these two positions, I would also conclude that the prevalent view of the day is that people are basically good. Of course, that is neither rational nor biblical, but in this day and age neither of those are major concerns, are they?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Code Breakers

I'm sure you have noticed ... but maybe not. It seems as if the art of spelling is a vanishing art. I'm not talking about typos. Anyone can make a mistake. I'm talking about intentional ignorance. Carefully protected by the "shorthand" of the Internet, it would appear that fewer and fewer people are entering the working world with any real skills in spelling -- or grammar, for that matter. When I see it in kids, I'm not too appalled. They're kids. They're learning. Okay, fine. But when the world calls on them to intentionally misspell words, learning correct spelling and grammar is likely an impossibility.

What does that mean? Well, look around. There is the entire language base used on the Internet aimed at shorthand. You could laugh out loud, but today it's "LOL". Kids no longer have best friends; they have "BFFs". There is a website devoted entirely to this shorthand for Internet and texting. You see, it's far too much work to say, "My 2 cents worth", so they say, "02". In a long stretch, "I don't know" has digressed to "404" because, as everyone knows, a "404 error" is "not found" on the Internet ... yeah, okay. Some are less bizarre. "BBL" is "be back later", a pleasant little acronym. Not so bad. But "buhbye" replaces "bye"? For what possible reason? And does "BYOW" mean "Build Your Own Website" or "Bring Your Own Wine"? Can't tell.

The Internet and its sister, texting, aren't alone. "To", "two", and "too" have meanings, but far too often you will find "to" when "too" was intended. "Than" has a meaning -- used for comparing things -- but many people think of it as "then" -- a reference to time. I'm amazed at how many times I've seen "prolly" instead of "probably" as if the former is an actual word. While "its" is possessive and "it's" is a contraction, you'll most often see "it's" as a possessive because people don't seem to know the difference.

The problem is that people today haven't a basic clue about language and how it works. You see, the words on the page are simply symbols. They don't actually mean anything. They are standardized methods of transmitting the information from one person's mind to another person's mind. It is ... code. Without the decoding information (being able to speak the language), it is meaningless. With partial decoding information, it is obscure. And therein lies the problem. Knowledge of the decoding information appears to be waning. And with it, genuine communication is on the decline.

Beyond that, spelling is designed to be a way to put the sounds of words on paper. They had a word for it: Phonics. Now it's a joke. Have you ever seen the bumper sticker, "Hukd on fonix wurked fur me"? When I was in school they taught me, "It's spelled like it sounds" and that meant something. Today the whole concept is bizarre to most people. The simple connection between the sounds of letters and the sounds we make when we form words is gone.

In an actual email from an actual company the other day I got this: "It function better this way then doing it another way." What am I to make of this sentence? Stumbling over the "function" rather than "functions", I move on to the "then". Is it saying that it function(s) better by doing it first this way then that way? Or is it a mistake that should contrast two ways of doing things rather than sequencing them?

It's getting harder and harder to read these days. Spelling errors are everywhere. They're in blogs and in text messages. They're in official letters and on billboards. Communication is tenuous at best. It is one of the biggest problems in relationships. In fact, most other relationship problems include a communication failure factor. So are we really okay with this decline in our ability to reasonably and clearly communicate in print? I mean, do we really want Daniel spelling his name "D-e-n-i-a-l"? Is it really good for kids to be well taut? Do you really want your child to put on a résumé something like "I have a none track record and excellent experience with accurancy and fixing erors"? (Go ahead. Find all those mistakes.) Or are we doomed to being continuous code breakers?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Jesus and the Pharisees

The term "Pharisee" is pretty well-known among Christians and even more broadly than that. To call someone "Pharisaical" is not a compliment. No, no. We're all clear on this. It's a bad thing. Those overly pious, self-righteous, holier-than-thou, hypocritical Pharisees have come to represent this whole concept of, well, an overly pious, self-righteous, holier-than-thou hypocrite. Jesus reserved His harshest words for the Pharisees, pronouncing "woes", which isn't today's term. In His day it was a curse, the pronouncement of evil on whoever received it. There were, in the Hebrew mind, blessings and curses. This "woe" concept was the curse side of that equation. It meant, to them, that God would turn His back on them, truly a horrible concept. And Jesus pronounced multiple woes on the Pharisees.

So ... how bad were these guys? I mean, they must have been the "Hitler" of their day. You know. If you wanted to describe someone who is utterly evil, you could compare them to Hitler and everyone would know the depths of their depravity. Truly horrible. At least, that's how we see it. The Pharisee was the religious zealot, the evil hypocrite who heaped rules on the people without merit. I believe, however, that our understanding of the Pharisees is skewed today. Consider the biblical record.

Historically, the Pharisees started out during the intertestamental period, that 400-or-so years between the last of the Old Testament prophets and the arrival of Christ. They feared that the Scriptures weren't meaningful enough to the people (sound familiar?), so they decided to present them in a more meaningful way. When God said "Six days you shall labor, and do all your work ...", what exactly did He mean? I mean, what is "work"? Is it "work" to go visit your neighbor? To pull your livestock out of a ditch? Defining "work" became a little dicey, so the Pharisees tried to liven it up a little and make it clear. That kind of thing. Not a bad concept ... until their suggestions became rules and violation of their rules became sins and keeping all this straight became important. Then they were elevated to a position of power. That wasn't a good thing, right?

Well, if you read the words of Jesus, you might start to come away with a slightly different perspective. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 5:20). "Yeah," we say, "they weren't very righteous." No, that wasn't the intent. That would be a foolish comparison. That would be like saying, "Unless you become more righteous than your casual, everyday child molester, you'll never make it to heaven." No, what Jesus was saying was that they really did have a high level of righteousness. And if you wanted to get to heaven, you'd have to exceed that. Or consider His words in Matthew 23 where He actually pronounces those "woes" on them. Did you know that Jesus told His disciples to listen to them? "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses's seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you -- but not what they do" (Matt 23:2-3). That is, they had the position of authority and they had the right things to say. There problem wasn't in their theology, but in their practice. What else does Jesus say in that passage? Well, for one thing, it turns out that the Pharisees were serious about making converts (23:15). Are we? They held the things of God in high regard (even though they misunderstood the actual concept) (23:16-22). Do we? One of the things they were very well known for was tithing. They tithed on small spices! "Yeah," we grumble and point, "they were sure concerned about foolish things, weren't they?" Actually, Jesus is commending them for it. "These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others" (23:23). It wasn't that they were too concerned about little things. It was that they were concerned about little things as they should be but missed the weightier things as they should not. What about us? Are we concerned about the little things as well? (Don't even get me started on tithing.) The Pharisees were not in error because of what they said. The Pharisees were in error because they didn't do what they said. What about us?

The Pharisees were the teachers of the people (that's a good thing). They were known (rightly) for an above-average level of righteousness (that's a good thing). They tithed on the smallest thing (that's a good thing). Do you know what else they did right? They searched the Scriptures. Why? "Because you think that in them you have eternal life" (John 5:38). And that's a good thing! The truth is that the Pharisees actually had a whole lot going on that was good. The problem, of course, was their hypocrisy. They claimed a level of holiness they didn't have. They claimed to obey in ways that they did not. That, of course, is the famous concept of a Pharisee, but don't forget all the positives assigned to them.

The question, then, is not, "Are you overly self-righteous?" We're all pretty clear on that. It's a bad thing. Nor is it, "Are you a hypocrite?" We all know that's a bad thing. And (hopefully) we are aware of that and working to avoid it. But the question I have is about the reverse. Are we aiming at attaining the level of righteousness they had? Do we search the Scriptures with their diligence? Are we careful about tithing at all? Are we diligent about spreading the Gospel? Is our theology correct? The Pharisees were certainly self-righteous hypocrites, and we don't want to mimic that. On the other hand, there are things about them we ought to be copying. Are we?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Grand Canyon Tour

When I started this blog, I intended to have a focus on birds because, well, I just like them. I think they're an incredible part of God's creation. Of course, doing an entire blog about birds turned out to be not so feasible. Still, over time, I've sprinkled in a few entries.

Saturday my wife and I went with some friends to the Grand Canyon. (It's fun to live close enough to make it a day trip.) Lots of great scenery and all. The canyon itself is amazing. It is 277 miles long. It is up to 13 miles wide at its widest. From the rim to the floor is up to 5500 feet. (Note to those who have forgotten their distances from school: That's more than a mile.) The friends with whom we went had just finished a rim-to-rim hike last month. Walking from the north rim to the south rim took them 16 hours. (The official line is that this is not a day hike. It should be done in two days.) They weren't record breakers. That just gives you an idea of the magnitude of this canyon.

The canyon is home to a wide variety of animals. There aren't too many places you can go to walk alongside a bull elk. The javelina is native to the area. And there are indeed a variety of birds. One of the more interesting, however, is one of the newest additions ... or, should I say, reintroductions. In the late 20th century the condor was reintroduced into the Grand Canyon. We were fortunate to catch sight of one of these. (Number 23, as it turns out, has been there since 1997 and is the father of two living offspring.) Oh, sure, he's in the vulture family, so it's hard to think of him as cute, but he is certainly an amazing bird. Don't let the picture fool you. An adult male condor (like this one) can have a wingspan of 9 ft. (By way of contrast, a golden eagle can have a 7' span and a turkey vulture a 6' span. In fact, the condor is the largest flying land bird in North America.

Oh, I suppose I could regale you with descriptions and pictures of the amazing geology of the place. It was indeed a beautiful day at one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It was a great time sharing it with my wife and friends. And it was a wonderful opportunity to see the wildlife I enjoy so much. But I'll just leave you with this smattering. Enjoy.

(FYI, for the curious, I took the pictures. They aren't "canned" photos from other sources.)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day, 2010

Being a parent is not an easy thing. There is no actual manual. We get some ideas from the Bible, but how to potty train or how to respond in this situation or that is pretty vague. We might lean on others, either "professionals" or other parental examples, but ultimately the parent is the one that makes the choices and the parent is the one that is responsible. It is often a thankless job. It is often a painful job. And, of course, as is generally true, the more expensive something is, the more precious it is.

Knowing what to say and do and when are difficult things. Perhaps more difficult is knowing what not to say or do. This is particularly difficult for mothers, I think. Their natural nurturing pushes them to be there for everything. Fathers, on the other hand, often fall on the other side of that road. Between work, modern feminism, and other pressures, it's sometimes easier to take a more "hands off" approach. A good father, though, is a rare gem. He knows when to be there (and he's always there in some form or another) and when to take his hands off. You get the picture, I'm sure. There he is running behind his youngster as the tyke is learning to ride a bike. He's got his hand on the back the whole time as little Bobby pedals down the sidewalk gaining momentum and balance. And then, without telling Bobby, he lets go. Bobby is balancing and pedaling on his own. He's doing it! He's riding his bike. He doesn't even know it for some time until he suddenly realizes that Dad is not behind him anymore. And what a thrill! He's riding his bike!!

Being a father is a tough thing. Knowing what to say and do is tough. Knowing what not to say and do is perhaps more difficult. But children need both a "hands on" and "hands off" approach to learn. It's one of the things I deeply appreciate from my own father. He has always provided excellent guidance and training when it was needed and also knew when to let me get into my own trouble (or, less often, have my own success). To me it's one of the things that makes him a standout among fathers. It takes real wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent, when to act and when to watch. And, let's be honest, watching your kids do foolish things can be very painful. But he has done it masterfully. He has shared his wisdom and borne the pain and continues to be the finest example of a good father that I can find.

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

Recently on Facebook a friend's comment brought up (in my mind) the topic of a child's right to privacy. Now, the situation for this friend was somewhat different, but it made me think about what was a reasonable expectation of privacy for dependent children. Is it right or wrong for a parent to transgress the privacy of their children? Is it wise or unwise? (A different question.) The response you'll normally hear is "Don't do it!" Both kids and adults will say that it's their space, that you shouldn't violate it, that "trust is important" and other wise-sounding things. According to UNICEF, "Children have a right to privacy." Common perception is that we ought not violate their privacy. The common perception is that they should have the same reasonable expectation of privacy as any adult. My question: Is that true?

How does a parent balance concerns for the safety and welfare of their children with their children's desire for privacy? Under what circumstances is it acceptable/advisable to invade their privacy and under what circumstances is it not? How does a parent balance their own culpability (parents are legally liable for illegal items in the home, for instance) with their children's desire for privacy? Is it okay to monitor the Internet use of a teen or read their emails or monitor their texts or calls? Are the tracking devices being marketed today for parents to keep tabs on their kids an unwarranted invasion of privacy? Are there rules to follow, steps to take to do it right?

I can see arguments on both sides. I easily don't fall in the category of "Never violate their privacy", but I can see the pitfalls of completely disregarding their privacy. How does one strike the proper balance? I'm just wondering.

Friday, June 18, 2010


In yesterday's passage from Matthew we read, "It is not the will of My Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish." I commented that it must not mean that it wasn't God's will that children should perish because they do. I offered an alternative. Not revisiting that, I think it begs the question. Is it ever God's will that any humans at all should perish?

If you have the slightest smattering of Bible knowledge, you have already pounced on the parallel passage.
God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
Popular verse. Lots of people know it. It says right there that it is never God's will that anyone perish. Right?

Well, hold on there a minute. First, did you know that the ever popular sentence above is only a half sentence? The correct reference would be "2 Peter 3:9b" because it is only a piece of a verse. In fact, the phrase "God is" is added above to make a complete sentence. Second, yanking this out of context like that can be very misleading. Let me give you two examples to demonstrate.

Example 1: I saw an old movie recently in which the oldest daughter wanted her father to save the trees on their farm. He wanted to sell them. You see, she was unwilling that any should perish, but that all should be saved.

Example 2: We've all heard stories about some elderly rich lady with too many cats. She bequeaths all her wealth to her cats when she dies because she was unwilling that any should perish, but that all should be saved.

Now, consider these two examples. You will note (I hope) that there is a repeated phrase. In the first example, did anyone read it to mean that the daughter was unwilling that any humans should perish? Of course not. It was clear from the context that she was unwilling that any trees should perish. In the second example, did you think she was concerned about people? Obviously not. She was unwilling that any cats should perish. No, that's not accurate. She was unwilling that any of her cats should perish. Is it clear, then, that the context of the phrase determines the reference to "any"?

So what is the context of the phrase from 2nd Peter?
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
There's the complete verse. You see, in the Matthew reference Jesus was quite clear about "any" -- any of "these little ones". Whether or not you agree with me about who "these little ones" are, He wasn't saying "anybody at all." It was a limited statement. In this verse, we require the surrounding elements to determine what "any" is referring to. The context (starting in verse 1) is that there were scoffers who were saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation." Peter was trying to reassure them that God was not slack in keeping His promises. He would return. Don't listen to the scoffers.

So, when he says that God is "not willing that any should perish", what is that context of "any"? Well, clearly it's not "trees" or "cats", but is it mankind? That would be a leap given the context. You see, he says that God "is longsuffering toward us." "We" are the context. Who is "we"? Well, it would be those to whom he was writing, "those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours" (2 Peter 1:1). It would be believers.

Now, look again at the content in context. God is now slack in keeping His promise. He is just being very patient toward believers. Why? Because He is not willing that any believers should perish. Now, since the existing believers were already in repentance, to whom would Peter then be referring? Who was he referencing that were delaying Christ's return? What was/is God waiting for? To me, the answer is clear. You?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

These Children

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" 2 And calling to Him a child, He put him in the midst of them 3 and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me, 6 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. ... 10 See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. ... 14 So it is not the will of My Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish (Matt 18:1-6, 10, 14).
This really is a popular passage. You know, it has such warmth. "Jesus loves the little children." That sort of thing. It is the origin of the concept of the "guardian angel" that each child is supposed to have. Really a nice passage.

Me, of course ... I have to ask questions. But first, I want to make it clear. We are not being told to become childish, but child-like. Trust easily. Believe. Set aside skepticism and enjoy. That's the idea.

Now to the content. I don't intend to suggest anything bizarre or even negative. I just need to ask a question. Who are "these little ones"? He uses that phrase in verses 6, 10, and 14. Who are "these little ones"? The common idea is that it refers to literal children. And we like the idea that "it is not the will of My Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish." But that's problematic if you think about it ... because they do. Children, sadly, die. So is Jesus saying that God's will doesn't happen. Or is He talking about something else?

I think that once Jesus establishes "unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven," He has established a group of people. These people are child-like. They are part of His kingdom. They believe in Him (v 6). I think that when Jesus speaks of "these children", He is speaking (after verse 3) about believers ... of any age. That would have some ramifications. It would mean that deceiving any believer would be a dangerous thing to do. It would mean that His followers all have guardian angels. It would mean that it is not His will that any of His followers perish.

Now, like I said, I'm asking questions. This is what I see. It's not a hill I'll die on. I just think that this is what Jesus had in mind. You can work through the ramifications of the ramifications at your leisure. Or ... you can just disagree. Like I said, I'm at best a know-it-some.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


I've been accused of being an arrogant know-it-all. While I'm not sure actually knowing it all is a bad thing, I'm pretty sure that being an arrogant know-it-all isn't meant as a compliment. Of course, to be fair, I don't know where the accusation comes from. You see, there are a lot of things I don't understand.

I don't understand the correlation of predestination and free will. I affirm both and perhaps a lot more of it seems clear to me than to a lot of others I know, but I can't really put it all together in a nice, neat package.

I don't understand Quantum Physics. Not even a little.

I don't understand the Trinity. Oh, I believe it and I can explain a lot about it, but ... it's God and I'm not.

The other day I was waiting with other pedestrians at a street corner waiting for the light to change. A woman waiting with us became very agitated. A motorist across the way had part of his car in the crosswalk while he waited behind the bus that had stopped in front of him. She started to yell at him. "Don't you know that it's illegal to stop your car in the crosswalk??!! What's wrong with you??!!" And then she crossed ... against the light. I don't understand people like that.

Some of what I don't get isn't nearly as serious. I work in a "weapons-free zone". So why can't I get free weapons?

I bought a bottle of water from a vending machine and followed the instructions, "Get change here." So why am I still the same?

Why are some people lack toast and tolerant?

What exactly is a pullet surprise and why are people happy to get them?

Oh, the list goes on and on. I'd have to say that I'm not much more than a know-it-some. I think the better people get to know me, the more likely they'll think I'm a know-very-little.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Contend with Contention

In a comment yesterday from Jeremy he said, "I have no problem arguing a point and defending the gospel and the truth, but we must interact, most especially in areas where we disagree in a public forum like blogging, in a respectful and intellectually honest fashion." To many Christians this may sound like double-speak. How can we "defend" (a militant word) with respect (a peaceful word)? "This is all too lovey-dovey," some might say. Too often I've seen "righteous indignation" as the excuse for harsh language and cruel comments in "defense of the faith". But ... is Jeremy right?

I didn't read it first from Jeremy. When I asked myself, "Is it important to defend the faith?", I did my research. I came across these words in Scripture.
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).
In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame (1 Peter 3:15-16).
In the Jude passage there is an interesting introduction. Jude intended to write about "our common salvation" ... you know, warm, friendly stuff -- stuff we all have in common. However, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he was forced to write about contending for the faith. Why? "For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" (Jude 1:4). The truth is always being infiltrated by the lie. God's people are constantly intermixed with tares. Most of the New Testament, in fact, was written to counter heresy already creeping in. So, to Jude, to Peter, to the Holy Spirit it was important -- vital -- to "contend for the faith." Note, also, that Jude is specific about "the faith". It is the faith that "was once for all delivered to the saints." It doesn't change. It doesn't vary. It isn't shifting with time. And it is today as it always has been.

It's easy to see, then, that it is important to contend for the faith, to be prepared to make a defense. If you are not doing that, you are not honoring Christ (Peter's words) and you are not obeying Scripture. But what about Jeremy's position that it ought to be done with respect? Well, it's not Jeremy's idea originally.

You see, Peter says quite clearly to do it "with gentleness and respect". I know, I know, there are always those of you that feel that righteous indignation, that outrage that Christ is being demeaned. And you want to respond in kind. Notice, however, Peter's argument on the subject. If you defend the faith with gentleness and respect, "when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." You see, the message is important, but so is the messenger. How it is said is just as important as what is said. And, in all honesty, this makes sense since the primary motivation is love -- love for God and love for your neighbor. It isn't to "be right" and it isn't to "defend God" (because God doesn't need your defense). It is love.

I suppose there are rare times in life that righteous indignation (real righteous indignation, not the excuse we use too often) is needed. I suppose there are very real instances when a slap in the face is the only way to get their attention. Based on Jesus's life, I would say it is real ... but rare. He did it in the Temple. That's the only account I can find. Further, based on the commands in Scripture, we are not commanded to rise up in anger and defend the truth; we are commanded to do it with gentleness and respect. Remember, to honor Christ the Lord as holy, we must both make a defense and do so with gentleness and respect. We must both have the right message and the right heart. It wasn't Jeremy's idea. It was God's.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Division and Division

It has been said that "Experience unites; doctrine divides." Okay, it has been said "Love unites ..." or "Christ unites ..." or "Service unites ...". It's hard to find the exact quote. But we all know the idea. Doctrine divides. And people who use that kind of phrase are not intending a compliment.

Interestingly, it is true that doctrine divides. It divides between truth and falsehood. It divides between orthodoxy and heresy. It divides between right and wrong. And, this division is good, right, and necessary. So if you say "Doctrine divides" in an attempt to demean doctrine, I'd have to say you're not thinking it through. Beyond that, doctrine is biblical. Paul warns, "I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them" (Rom 16:17). One of the prime purposes of the Church is to make mature Christians "so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Eph 4:14). Timothy stayed in Ephesus to "charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine" (1 Tim 1:3). Why? Because he was "trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine" (1 Tim 4:6). In fact, "If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing" (1 Tim 6:3-4). Titus was commanded, "Teach what accords with sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1). The Bible, then, is quite happy with doctrine.

Look, doctrine isn't that big of a deal. It is simply principles, positions, or policies. Biblically it is that which is taught. Doctrine, then, is simply the truth of Scripture. It is the body of belief that is Christianity. On what possible basis would someone calling himself a Christian wish to ignore the truth? Indeed, then, if you find people who wish to ignore the truth when we are assured that the Spirit will "lead you into all truth" ... if you find people who teach a different doctrine or create obstacles contrary to sound doctrine, the command is "avoid them". And, in that sense, too, doctrine divides.

But I want to also consider that shady area. (I don't say "gray", as I don't actually believe in "gray". But that's a different topic.) What about, oh, I don't know, Calvinism versus Arminianism? What about the non-essentials? Roman Catholic doctrine and Protestant doctrine have differences. Would you conclude then (depending on your starting point) that one is not Christian? Or are the differences on matters of non-essentials? And what do you do with non-essentials?

Paul warned the Romans to "watch out for those who cause divisions". That is something different than the division I've already mentioned. Doctrine divides between truth and error. This division divides people. When we're speaking about differences between, say, someone who believes that God chooses whom He will save based on His own good pleasure over against someone who believes that God chooses whom He will saved based on His foreknowledge of their choice, it's true that one or the other is wrong. Is it equally true that there must be division between them? Do we have to separate over that? I think that kind of division is something to avoid.

If you look around, you can find some pretty nasty infighting between Christians that should be united. We are not Christians by means of perfect doctrine (or we would not be Christians). Differences will always exist. Personally, I have no problem fellowshipping with people whose doctrine differs from mine, even if I think they're mistaken. Speaking here about non-essentials, I don't mind at all spending time with someone who differs with me. We're fellow heirs with Christ -- they're just a little confused about the details. (That was intended to be humorous. Please smile.)

There is, biblically and practically, a time for division. We must be "rightly dividing the word of truth". It's important. Orthodoxy is important. Theology is important. We are commanded to "contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3). There are matters on which no compromise is possible. Without certain elements of Christian doctrine it ceases to be Christian. But there is much, much more which doesn't require that rigid stand. Do we really want to create division in the Body of Christ over non-essentials? Do we really need to present disunity to the world over matters that don't rise to the level of absolute necessity? It's silly, I know, but "Can't we all just get along?" Tell me, what do you think is worthy of fighting about?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Worship Song

I did a series way back when on some of my favorite hymns. This was one of them. It's Sunday. I think I'll bring it back.

How Firm a Foundation
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

"Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid.
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand."

"When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine."

"The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no, never, no, never forsake!"
The actual author of this hymn is unknown. It was published in a book of hymns by Dr. John Rippon in 1787. Dr. Rippon was the pastor of Carters Lane Baptist Church in London, England, for 63 years. The hymn has been called "the unofficial hymn textbook for Baptist Churches." Andrew Jackson requested it near the end of his life, and Robert E. Lee asked that it be sung at his funeral service in tribute to his God.

The hymn is actually a sermon. The first verse states the intent, while the following verses present various promises from Scripture. So what is the premise of this hymn-sermon? We saints stand on a firm foundation laid on God's Word. So complete is it that there is nothing more to be said. This is, on the face of it, not a remarkable view, but when we scratch the surface, there is a depth beneath that we may not have seen.

How complete is God's Word for our lives? The author of this hymn believes that in matters of faith, the Bible is complete, lacking nothing. In fact, God has said to us all He needs to say for our lives. Is that what you believe? Modern critics have arisen that claim otherwise. The Bible is no longer considered the infallible Word of God. Most mainline churches and seminaries have altered their statement of beliefs to varying extent to remove that odious claim. After all, what did the authors of old know about us and our culture? How could they possibly have understood our "no-fault" divorce laws, our concepts of living together before marriage to wisely test the waters, so to speak, or our problems with crime, teenage pregnancy, abortion, drugs, etc.? Times have changed. But the hymn-writer claims otherwise. Perhaps he understood the concept of God's omniscience and immutability. He definitely had a larger view of God than our present day does. And it is on the basis of this concept of God that the inerrancy of Scripture is claimed.

Now, if Scripture is the Word of God (no light claim), it must alter the life of anyone who believes that to be true. The views of our society become radically wrong. Rampant divorce in the Church becomes an affront to God. Premarital sex is no longer an option. It is called "sin." Homosexuality is no longer an alternate lifestyle. It is called "sin." Further, our attention to Scripture would necessarily increase if we actually believed that it was words written from the heart of God. It would drive every facet of our lives, transform every set of choices, and radically revise our thinking. "What more can He say than to you He has said?"

Look next at the passages from which our "sermon" comes. The first reference is Isaiah 41:10. It almost comes word for word from the verse. "Fear not," God says, for "I am with you. I am your God, and I will give you the aid you need. I'll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand. You are upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand." Imagine! Our strength is His hand! It is the constant presence of God that makes unbearable circumstances bearable, even joyous. God Himself has promised to walk with us, even in the valley of death. He has the capacity and determination to use our worst experiences for His glory and our best gain. If God is for us, who can be against us?

Verse three refers to 2 Corinthians 12:9. "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness." The hymnist continues with the subject of suffering. (Why do we struggle so much with suffering in our modern world, as if it is a surprise? God has promised it. The writer of this hymn recognized that.) What is God's answer? "My grace is sufficient." It is when we understand the character and intent of God that we can accept this answer. Perfect love casts out fear. When we see that He loves us perfectly, we can begin to see His perfect intentions. He is purifying us, making us lights in a dark world, making us holy, as He is holy. "K" puts it much better than I. "The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine." We cling to the dross, almost missing entirely the gold. But God has better ideas in mind for us!

The hymnist seems to have had training in Greek. He displays a real knowledge of Hebrews 13:5 in the final verse. In most Bibles it reads, "I will never leave you, nor will I ever forsake you." However, we lose something in the translation. "Never," in the Greek, is a double intensified word. It is stressed. More accurately, it should read, "I will never, never leave you." The hymn says, "I will not, I will not . . ." The phrase "nor will I ever" is triple intensified in Greek. Perhaps it would read, "I will never, never, never forsake you." The hymnist writes, "I'll never, no, never, no, never forsake!" Now, the writers of the Bible used repetition in much the same way we do today. It was for emphasis. Jesus, for instance, always spoke truth. He was a rabbi. So when He said, "Verily . . .," it caught the disciples' ear. When He said, "Verily, verily . . .," the disciples would have paid utmost attention. This was ultimate and important Truth. So when the author of Hebrews says, "never, never, never," it is a serious statement.

Think about that. God, the Creator of the universe, has promised to never, with paramount emphasis, leave us alone or stranded. This is too wonderful to comprehend! God is always with me! What does that do to my view of life? How do I perceive the events of my existence when the Sovereign Lord is always at hand? How does that alter my choices knowing I am always in His company? What does that do to fear and worry?

Paul wrote to the Colossians, "Let the peace of God rule in your hearts." The word "rule" means literally "to arbitrate." In other words, let God's peace in your heart be the arbitrator of your well-being. Do you have a sense of God's peace? If not, it is not a failure on God's part. He is with us. He is sufficient. He will never leave us. What room is there for agitation? Why fret? What could possibly bring any distress? Are you anxious? Let God's peace arbitrate. Recognize that anxiety is your refusal to believe God. Reaffirm your faith. The answer to anxiety is not harder work. It is renewed faith. We need to look hard at our failure to trust the God we claim to have trusted. He is, above all, trustworthy.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Racial Profiling

On my walk to work I came across a sign pasted on the side of a building that called out for us all to "Stop racial profiling." I got it. I've heard it hundreds of times. And I've heard it over and over of late with this whole SB1070 thing. "It will cause racial profiling!!" And that's bad. Why is it bad? Well, because, as they're all very careful to assure us, it's racism! This, however, is a fundamental lie.

Before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, let me explain. I'll do so by way of illustration. A friend of mine is a brilliant engineer. He is, however, not your typical-looking engineer. He has a scruffy beard and his hair is typically too long and he's not concerned with dressing up. He drove for the longest time his precious old Dodge Dart. The car was rusty brown partly because it was painted brown and partly because it was rusty. It was a raggedy car, but it got him where he needed to go, taking his daughter to school in the nicer part of town on his way to work. Well, one day, after dropping off his daughter, he got pulled over by the police. He wasn't pulled over because he was speeding or running a stop sign. He was pulled over because in that part of town he and his car didn't fit. In a part of town where nicely coiffured people drove expensive cars, his bearded visage and ratty automobile didn't fit in. It did fit the typical appearance of a shady character that might come into this part of time to perpetrate a crime. In other words, my friend was profiled on the basis of his car and face and the policeman, in due diligence, checked him out. Of course, he was shortly on his way again with a minimal amount of inconvenience because he was not a criminal, so it was only amusing to him.

Profiling, in this use, is a method of constructing a outline of what a particular criminal would look like in terms of appearance, behavior, thinking processes, etc. The idea in law enforcement is simply this: People with certain characteristics fit the profile of a particular type of criminal. Thus, if you see someone with these characteristics, you might want to check to see if they are that particular type of criminal. The TV show, Criminal Minds, tells the story of an FBI profiling unit, a group of agents who develop a profile of a particular criminal so they can decrease the number of candidates from which to select the perpetrator. While the show is fiction, the concept illustrates what profiling is. Typical law enforcement profiling includes the BOLO (Be On the Look Out) and the APB (All-Points Bulletin) where persons of interest are highlighted and sought as possible suspects. The profile will typically include the characteristics of the person, often including distinguishing marks, height, weight, hair color, and even race not because it is racially intended, but because it is descriptive. Thus, "profiling" is not "racism". "Racial profiling" is simply noting that people of x race are often associated with y crime in this area and a wise police force will take that into account.

Now, consider anti-American terrorism from 1975 to Sep. 11, 2001. A listing of these events along with the perpetrators will tell you, statistically, that more than 60% of the time these attacks are by Middle Eastern groups. There have been a couple of others. We have, for instance, Timothy McVeigh as a stand out example. But the majority are Arabic people. Is it wrong, then, to profile on that basis? When they showed films of people in Arab countries receiving the news of the attack on the New York Trade Center, the response was overwhelmingly positive. They cheered! If there is a vast majority of people from Arab countries who hate America, would it be wrong to profile on the basis of national origin? The ACLU says "Yes, it's wrong!" and it isn't allowed here, but Israel (as an example, but certainly not alone) does it all the time and their airport security is considered the best in the world for it.

There are, of course, problems associated with racial profiling. The most obvious problem is the problem with profiling in general. If you limit yourself to that profile, will you miss other possibilities? If 95% of the people coming into this country illegally across the southern border are Latino and law enforcement, therefore, looks at Latinos, they will miss 5% who are not. If Arab terrorist groups realize that law enforcement is profiling on the basis of Arab descent, then they'd likely (and, according to the news, already have) recruit non-Arabs to do their dirty work. So profiling in general can cause law enforcement to miss possibilities that fall outside the profile. That's a problem. Still, if the majority of people perpetrating this crime or that crime fall within this profile or that profile, then, logically, profiling (whatever the profile is) will increase the possibility of catching the people doing the crimes. The second problem and, I think, the one that causes the most concern, is when individual law enforcement personnel employ racial profiling from a personal basis of racism. That is, they're already racist and then they employ this useful technique. In this instance it is likely that, instead of merely determining the status of the individual in question, they would go on to harass or harm the person in question. We would all agree that this is a bad thing. But I need to point out that harassing or harming people on the basis of race is already illegal, and racial profiling is not to blame for that; racism is. That is, racial profiling is not racism, but racism can make racial profiling an excuse to harm people.

So, let me summarize. The cry these days is against racial profiling. Racial profiling is mistakenly equated with racism. There are logical reasons that profiling on the basis of race might occur. Profiling of any type and racial profiling specifically has potentially negative aspects. Racism, however, is not one of them. That would simply be an underlying problem that is exacerbated by racial profiling. So here is my question (okay ... questions). Why is racial profiling immoral? If, for instance, the vast majority of illegal entries into this country are perpetrated by a particular racial group, why would it be wrong to simply ask about the status of people in that particular group? (Ask, not harass or harm. Remember, that's illegal.) On what basis would we eliminate racial profiling as a law enforcement tool? And is that basis sufficient to eliminate all profiling? If not, why not? I ask because it seems to me like profiling is a legitimate tool of law enforcement and I'm not at all sure why it is not allowed.

Friday, June 11, 2010

It's Not In There!

I love this line of thinking: "Well, Jesus never said anything about it!" The suggestion, of course, is that it must be okay. And, of course, this is a seriously nonsensical position to take. I mean, Jesus never said anything about genocide, child molesting, bestiality, or a myriad of other horrors we all agree aren't perfectly okay. But if you are going to be consistent in your thinking, if you argue that "Jesus never said anything about it and so it's okay", you will need to agree that all those other things (and more) are equally okay.

Next to this one is the "If the Bible is silent on a subject, we should be, too" line. On the surface that one sounds quite reasonable. And, to be honest, for the most part it is. But, just like Jesus's silence on some subjects, just because the Bible is silent on some subjects is not a reason to conclude that it's okay (let alone, as some allege, blessed by God).

There are a few considerations to take into account on subjects on which the Bible is silent. Sometimes the Bible is silent because there is nothing to say. Take, for instance, circular squares. The Bible is silent on that subject, so it must be perfectly okay to have circular squares, right? And, of course, that's just silly. The Bible is silent on circular squares because they don't exist. The Bible nothing to say on anything that doesn't exist.

Sometimes a specific isn't mentioned because the principle involved is already taken care of. For instance, there isn't a word in the Bible about speeding. Thus, we can rightly conclude that it's perfectly okay to speed ... well, as long as you don't get caught, right? But the fact is that the principle behind this concept is covered.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment (Rom 13:1-2).
This covers a multitude of things the Bible doesn't talk about. Is it okay to smoke marijuana? The Bible doesn't say. But it is illegal (in this country, at least), so there's your answer. How about if I cheat on my taxes? The Bible doesn't say I can't cheat on my taxes. No, but the authority that God has established says it's illegal, so the Bible is not exactly "silent" on the issue even though it is not specifically mentioned.

Here's another example. No one can argue that the Bible directly addresses abortion. It's not in there. It does, however, address the sanctity of life and the sin of murder. So just because there is no verse that says "Thou shalt not abort your baby" does not mean that the Bible is silent on the topic.

There are certainly things on which the Bible is actually silent. Is it a sin to watch TV? The Bible doesn't say. There are considerations (wasted time, perhaps, or sinful content, certainly), but a blanket "It's a sin to watch TV" is not in there. There is a lot of room for Christian Liberty that gets closed up by well-meaning but misguided Christians falling into the trap of Eve. (God said not to eat of the tree, but she said not to touch it.) I remember hearing about "no dancing" and "no movies" and "no card playing" because it might be misconstrued. But the Bible says no such thing, and on these things we might be better of remaining silent ourselves.

The most recent one I've heard is "The Bible is silent on gay marriage." Seriously? You want to stand on that? I mean, certainly there is no mention of "gay marriage" in the Bible. (Well, actually I think there were some happy weddings, but ...) Does that mean that this falls into that third category -- let's keep silent on it? I don't think so. First, the Bible has nothing to say on "same sex marriage" because the Bible defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. As such, it wouldn't comment on two people of the same gender marrying, the marriage of a man and his dog, or any other such nonsense. It doesn't exist. Second, the Bible is not unclear on its views on homosexual behavior. Argue if you want, but it cannot be said that the Bible is silent on "a man lying with a man as with a woman" (and vice versa). So the activity is a sin. Now, would I anticipate that the Bible would need to explicitly forbid a man marrying a man? No. It falls outside the definition of "marry" and it falls within the definition of sin. I wouldn't expect the Bible to talk about a man marrying his dog, either, for both of the same reasons.

This whole "The Bible is silent" issue seems to me to be disingenuous most of the time. On one hand, there is so much about which the Bible is not silent that one has to ask, "Are you doing those?" So many people ask, "What is God's will for my life?" Too often the answers are ignored. It's God's will that you do justly, that you love your neighbor, that you love mercy, that you love God ... tell you what; when you get all that done, we'll get back to your question. Far too often the ones touting "The Bible is silent on ..." are ignoring what the Bible does say. On the other hand, in most cases that I hear "The Bible is silent" I find that the Bible really isn't silent and the goal is not to rightly determine what God wants, but to simply legitimize a pet sin. Are we really limited to the exact words of the Bible? Is our real goal to obey to the minimum level? Are we afraid that we might end up, in the final analysis, obeying too much? I don't get that at all.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Eschatology Enigma

I was born and raised a Pre-millennial Dispensationalist. Don't know the term? No problem. You certainly know the concept. It is by far the most prevalent view on end times (eschatology) today. Here's the basic package. Jesus came once, lived, died, and rose again. The Bible is certainly clear that there will be a Second Coming. (Yes, we even capitalize that term because it's so big.) While views vary on that event, the most common is this Pre-millennial Dispensational one. The idea is that at some point in the future (most of us believe in the near future) there will be an event commonly referred to as "the Rapture" where all Christians (true believers, mind you) will be taken up out of this world. This will start the period known as "the Great Tribulation" (which, again, is so great that we capitalize that term, too). We know a lot about this time. There will be 3 1/2 years of peace and 3 1/2 years of horror. There will be a character called "the Antichrist" (who is, in some way, different than John's references to "antichrists") who will be the one-world leader. As "the Beast" along with Satan as a God-the-Father mimic (the Dragon) and the False Prophet, he will be a major part of the unholy trinity that rules the world during this 7-year period. We know that there will be 144,000 Jews saved during this time, that all sorts of wrath from God will be poured out during this time, and that it will end in Armageddon, the ultimate battle between Christ and the Antichrist. Then begins the Millennium (thus the concept of "pre-millennium"), a thousand-year period of Christ's reign followed by a showdown between Satan and Christ that ends in Satan's defeat and brings on the Great White Throne Judgment ... end of story. Well, of course, not the end. More like beginning. But you get the idea.

This is what I grew up with and this is what I believed. We had lots of information about it. We knew, for instance, that the "locust" with "lion's teeth" and "tails like scorpions" would likely be some sort of modern attack helicopters. We had a pretty detailed time line of what would happen when and, while the accounts were vague (because they were largely written by a 1st century guy looking into the 21st century), we had a pretty good idea of what it all meant. It is, to this day, the prevailing view.

Atheist Bertrand Russell wrote Why I Am Not a Christian. In it he offers what he considered to be a great problem for Christianity -- the Second Coming of Christ. You see ... it didn't happen. It is clear in Scripture that the authors and Jesus thought it would be soon, but we figured out that terms like "quickly" didn't actually mean "quickly", but something different. I understood that when Jesus said, "This generation will not pass away ..." (Matt 24:34), He actually meant "the generation that is around when it starts". But, to be honest, even C.S. Lewis identified this as "the most embarrassing verse in the Bible".

So I was interested one day when someone (I can't remember who) challenged me to read Gary Demar's Last Days Madness. In it, Demar lays out what I have learned is the Partial-Preterist Amillennial view. This view holds that (most of) the events of Revelation and Matthew 24 have already happened. (It is "partial-preterist" because the full preterist would say that all have occurred, a position I cannot fathom.) Now, while the Pre-disp (so I don't have to type out that whole long name every time) would say, "Those preterists are taking Scripture as analogy rather than literally true like we are", the truth is that the preterists are taking some Scriptures as literal and others as analogy while the pre-disps are taking those literal Scriptures as analogy and the other as literal. Note, also, that one of the keys to the pre-disp position is the dating of the Revelation (you know, that last book in the Bible). If, as Demar (and others) argues, the book was written prior to 70AD instead of closer to the mid-90s, then the prophecies would more likely be about things reflected in 70AD instead of some distant future.

Well, as I said, I was grew up as a pre-disp. Changing that was not going to be easy. After reading Demar's book, I concluded, "Huh ... now I'm not sure anymore." He made the point that all those repeated references to "soon" and "quickly" and "near" really seemed to indicate "soon" and "quickly" and "near". So I was no longer convinced of either. Lately I have been reading in Matthew. In Matthew 10 Jesus is sending His disciples out on their first "missions trip". He specifies, "Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans", so this is a limited (as opposed to global) mission. He tells them, "Truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes" (Matt 10:23). Now, that's a bit more specific than "quickly" or "near" or even "this generation". And it isn't the only place. In Matthew 16, Jesus says, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." Again, this is pretty specific. He references "some standing here", much more clear than "this generation". And the event they would see was "the Son of Man coming in His kingdom".

Now, there seems to me to be only a few possibilities. First, it could be that Jesus was wrong. Of course, we have to throw that one out if we want to retain Christianity at all. So we'll move to the second. It could be that He didn't mean what He said. No, no, I don't mean that like it sounds. Maybe He meant "some standing here" to mean something other than that or "the Son of Man coming in His kingdom" to mean something other than that. Some, for instance, have suggested that He simply referenced the next event -- the Transfiguration. The third possibility would be that He meant exactly what He said. No dodging about. No allegorizing. Some of those standing there at that time would see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. Of course, then we'd have to figure out what that meant. The preterists would argue that this is a reference to the events of 70AD when the Jewish Temple was destroyed. (Preterists, by the way, explain that there actually was an event in the sky that would have corresponded to the event in Matt. 24:30 that says, "the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky.") Of course, if this is true, then the popular pre-disp concepts that I offered at the beginning begin to fall apart. Anyway, something to think about.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


The earth is the LORD'S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it (Psa 24:1).
In a recent comment someone noted that "It's not 'my' property. It's not 'your' property. It belongs to God." The comment was in context of whether or not he would be fine with having strangers come into his home against his will and take whatever they wanted and he'd be required to give them whatever they wanted. It was an argument about illegal immigration. As such, I questioned his position. "In your understanding of truth in general and Christianity in particular, the concept of 'private property' is not allowed?"

This post is not about the illegal immigration arguments or about his comments (or mine). This is about the thought process of "It belongs to God." Given the quote from Psalm 24 (a repeated statement in Scripture, in fact), it is clear that in reality it all belongs to God. We often tell parents, "Your kids are on loan from God." It is a biblical and Christian fact. Still, what does it mean?

You see, I've known lots of people who rented apartments or cars or whatever other things you might think of and, because "It doesn't belong to me", they did nothing to take care of it. Indeed, many trashed these things. Why not? It wasn't theirs. Why should they care? And that's not an uncommon perspective. I need to take care of those things that belong to me, but those things that don't belong to me aren't my responsibility.

That is not the biblical perspective. Take, for instance, the parable of the talents. (Please don't get caught up in the coincidence that the New Testament word for a particular piece of money is the same as an English word for a marked innate ability.) The master gave servants varying money to manage. Stop! Whose money was it? It was given to the servants, but it belonged to the master. Now, going on, the first two doubled their money and were rewarded. The last one did not. He simply returned the money he got. And he was punished.

Now we have two facts in front of us. 1) God owns everything. Whatever we have is on loan. 2) We cannot mistreat what we have. We are required to take care of what we have even though it doesn't belong to us. It's called "stewardship". So ... what now? What does that look like? I've seen arguments in both directions. Do we take steps to protect what we have because that is good stewardship? Or do we simply let whatever happens happen because that's faith? Is it good stewardship to leave your door unlocked when you go away on vacation because someone might want to get in and take what they need, or is it good stewardship to lock the doors and ask a neighbor to keep an eye on it because that is good stewardship? Is it poor stewardship to develop a career instead of going to the mission field? Is it poor stewardship to get into so much debt that you can't get out easily because God may want you to move on at some point? What does good stewardship look like?

(Contrary to the opinions of some, I do not have all the answers.)