Friday, December 31, 2010


Word origins can be fascinating to me. So when I looked at the word, "resolution", I wondered, "Is there a 'solution' in 'resolution'?" And I was right; there was. But that was only the beginning.

Resolution - n - the act of resolving or determining upon an action or course of action, method, procedure, etc. Thanks, Mr. Dictionary. "Resolution" is the act of resolving. Nice. Then I read of the origin, "1350–1400; ME < L resolūtiōn- (s. of resolūtiō ), equiv. to resolūt ( us ) resolute."

Okay, so, resolute - adj - firmly resolved; set in purpose or opinion. I was about to take a swing at Mr. Dictionary again. Seriously ... "firmly resolved" is a definition of "resolute". But, okay, "set in purpose" is better. Thanks. Then the origin caught my eye. "1375–1425 for earlier sense 'dissolved'; 1525–35 for current senses; late ME < L resolūtus, ptp. of resolvere to resolve." "Dissolved"? What's up with that?

So I looked at "resolve". Resolve - v - 1. to come to a definite decision, to determine. 2. to separate into constituent or elementary parts. Oh, now that's interesting. And the origin gives similar insight. "1325–75; ME resolven (v.) < L resolvere to unfasten, loosen, release, equiv. to re- re- + solvere to loosen; see solve." To unfasten or loosen? Hmmm. See "solve". That, you see, was the original question, wasn't it?

So, solve - v - to find the answer or explanation for. (Yeah, like that was news. But wait!) The origin? "1400–50; late ME solven < L solvere to loosen, free, release, dissolve." Okay, you see? Here's the idea. You take a problem, you break it down into its smallest parts, and you figure out how it goes together. You figure out what's wrong and you fix it. You don't band-aid it. You don't patch it. You find what's really wrong and you fix it.

New Year's resolutions rarely work. While some 52% of us make New Year's resolutions, only 12% of us actually achieve them. Not that there isn't value in them. I mean, clearly setting goals is the only way to actually achieve goals. Or, as we all know, 100% of us who did not make any resolutions last year achieved none of them ... or all of them. But the real problem, I think, is our failure to comprehend the nature of "resolutions". The idea is to break down the problems of life into its smallest parts, figure out what's wrong, and find a solution. The solution is likely not a commitment to quit smoking or to lose weight this year. The problem is much deeper, and so is the solution. And "solution" is the whole idea behind "resolution".

If you want to see some genuine resolutions, see what Jonathan Edwards resolved. More than making simple "get a better job", "go back to school", or "travel" resolutions (which, I would suggest, are not solutions), Edwards opted for serious choices starting with "I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God's glory." Edwards has, in fact, 70 resolutions on his list, and he begins with a note to self: "Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week." Edwards, you see, was looking to solve life's big problems -- his sinful self.

How about you? Making any resolutions this year? Do you expect them to actually be solutions, or just something to make you feel better? Do you expect to achieve it? How?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Insufficient Evidence

It has been suggested by many that the only effective method of preaching the Gospel to the unsaved is via apologetics, the rational defense of Christian doctrine. Now, of course, there is some truth to that. I mean, it is circular. The only way to preach the Gospel is to preach it rationally. Sure. But that's not what's in mind here. The idea here is that the only way to preach the Gospel to the unsaved is to approach the truth neutrally -- without the presupposition that Scripture is true -- and defend the faith via secular means. Authoritative declarations like "Thus saith the Lord" or, more likely, "The Bible says" aren't going to cut it. You have to explain rationally and evidentially why it's true without the use of the Bible because, after all, unbelievers ... don't believe. If they don't accept the Bible as authoritative, making authoritative claims from the Bible is useless. And, in a "secular" world, that would make sense. That is, if we are talking about a world where the five senses provide all the input and the mind is all there is, then that's what you have to deal with.

There are a couple of problems here. First is the historical problem. The Gospel of John, for instance, is full of what you and I would call "miracles" but what John calls "signs". The miracles are signs because they served as evidence of the truth claims of Christ. So Nicodemus said, "No one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." That was the idea. Miracles proved who Jesus was. I've heard this multiple times from skeptics. "If God would do a miracle in front of me, I'd believe." Well, you'd think that was the case, but it wasn't so, was it? In the story of Lazarus and the rich man, the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers. Abraham said, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead." In standard prophetic manner, this is exactly what happened when the Jews saw the real Lazarus raised from the dead. Jesus waited until he was dead for four days (no doubt about his "dead" status) and then, in front of the Jewish mourners, commanded Lazarus to come forth. When he did, their reaction wasn't, "Oh, we've seen it for ourselves! You are the Christ!" No! "From that day on they planned together to kill Him." (And Lazarus, too! John 12:10) Evidence, you see -- even the best of evidence, irrefutable evidence -- is not sufficient to persuade.

The second problem is the notion that the Gospel is received by means of persuasion. It is true that we come to a variety of positions by means of persuasion. A teacher can show you enough times that 2+2=4 and you will be persuaded. It doesn't take a lot of effort to demonstrate that dropping a bowling ball on your foot is painful. These things don't take spiritual insight. We get them. In a secular world where the five senses are the primary input for the mind, these things work just fine. But Paul said that Natural Man doesn't accept the things of God, that Natural Man has been blinded by the god of this world. Jesus said that belief is granted from God, not acquired by argument. Paul wrote "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by proper apologetics." No, that's not what he wrote. You see, the second problem is that the apologetics approach assumes a natural world -- a world ruled by the senses evaluated by the mind -- but Scripture assumes another force. That other force is the Holy Spirit, the work of God. Thus, the Gospel isn't just a well prepared, well defended, well executed presentation, but "the power of God". Scripture is not just another truth statement we need to defend; it is the living Word of God. We're talking about a different dimension here that bypasses the sensory input and logical brain not because it is illogical, but because sinful man is broken.

I'm not suggesting that we abandon apologetics. We are commanded to make a defense. We are required to contend for the faith. In Athens, Paul took his logical defense to the Areopagus and presented it. That was apologetics. Indeed, God used that to bring some to faith. So I'm not suggesting that it's useless or that we should abandon it. On the contrary, we must embrace it. But Paul said that in Christ "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col 2:3). Since we're dealing with people who cannot understand the things of God (1 Cor 2:14) and since we have the Word of God -- a power itself -- and the power of God Himself at work, it makes no sense to rely simply on rational defenses and secular reasoning in evangelism. Remember, the basic starting structure of sin is "Did God say?" Ignoring what God has said doesn't help resolve this problem. Relying on the reasoning capacity of fallen man doesn't help much either. Evangelizing with apologetics alone is like going hunting with a well-oiled, properly maintained, perfectly-sighted rifle ... and no bullets. God said, "So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it" (Isa 55:11).

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Some of the statements from Scripture are hard because they are so absolute. Unless you're willing to disregard the plain context and chalk it up to unclear communication, some of these things can really shake your perceptions. That is, if these statements are real, our normal view of things likely needs to change. I'll give some examples for you to consider.

Anyone who has read much from me will certainly see this one coming. "There is none who does good, there is not even one" (Rom 3:12). Hyperbole? Some have said so, but if hyperbole was intended, "none who does good" would be sufficient. No, the writer added a second phrase as if to say, "I'm not using hyperbole here." "Not even one." It's intended to tell us that there isn't one. It's in the same sense as "all have sinned" just twelve verses later. It's intended as a universal negative, not mere hyperbole. And if we were to take this as it appears to be written, how would that alter our view? Well, we know that there are good people everywhere. Most of us would willingly admit that even atheists do good, right? I mean, come on! We would, in fact, be hard-pressed to admit that there is anyone who does not do good at some point or another. But Paul (quoting David in Psa 14) is raising his hand here. "Ahem," he seems to be saying, "you have that completely turned around. It is not that everyone does something good; it's that no one does anything good." The result? Apparently we need to revise both our perceptions of humans and, more to the point, of "good". Our standard, I would suggest, is way too loose. What we consider "good" God considers ... how does Isaiah put it? ... "filthy rags". That ought to shake your views.

I've talked a lot lately about the statement in 1 Cor 2:14. "Natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." It's hard to turn that to mean something else. It's hard to push it toward hyperbole. And it's impossible to soften it. Paul uses two terms -- "does not" and "cannot". It says that Natural Man lacks the willingness and even the capacity to accept or understand the things of the Spirit of God. Now, if you're like most of us, you're going to object. "No, no," you'll assure us all, "humans are fully capable of understanding the things of God." That, of course, is the common perception. The only problem with that position is ... it's opposite of what the Bible says. So, if we're going to have a biblical worldview, it seems that we have to reevaluate that viewpoint of ours. Because Paul is not ambiguous. He didn't stutter.

One that struck me the other day was this one. Prepare yourself. It's quite harsh. I mean, we already have "none who does good" in spite of our mistaken belief that most people do good and "cannot understand" even though we're pretty sure that almost all humans can understand. Now we have this one:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love (1 John 4:7-8).
Now, I'm walking carefully here and it is entirely possible that I'm wrong, but it seems to me that this statement of absolutes is quite broad. It seems to me to say that love is from God (at least, it seems to me it says that) and that those who love are born of God and know God. So I have to ask, what about ... let's go to the extreme ... an atheist mother? I mean, surely she loves her children, right? And I wouldn't want to suggest that she does not. But John seems to say something here that would contradict that. It seems to be black and white, "yes" or "no". If you love, you know God. If you don't know God, you cannot love. You can do something similar, something that appears to be love, something that we accept as love, but, like the "good" that people do that Paul says they do not or the "understanding" that people have that Paul says they do not, it appears that what we call "love" is not what God considers love.

Now, like I said, I'm open to being wrong here. I'm open to considering alternative perspectives on the "good", the "understanding", or the "love" being spoken of here. But if I take the Bible seriously and allow it to shape my worldview, I'm currently stuck with these absolutes. I'm open to suggestions, but it seems like a worldview that aligns with some of the absolutes of Scripture is not going to coincide with the worldview of most everyone else.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


It's interesting how, without even being spoken, presuppositions can have large ramifications. Let's look at a few examples.

The inerrancy of Scripture is quite a big one. Now, remember, the premise is regarding presuppositions without being spoken, so I'm not going to defend or attack the inerrancy of Scripture. I'm going to assume it (or not). The one that assumes it will read the Bible differently than the one who does not. One will read every word as if it's accurate and, in those cases where there appears to be a contradiction, will work at trying to figure out what is actually intended rather than merely dismissing it because, after all, the Bible is inerrant. The one that assumes it is not may take the Bible seriously, but has no problem with apparent contradictions. These contradictions may be internal -- within the pages of Scripture -- or external. If this guy sees an apparent internal contradiction, it's a simple thing to either reject both of them or to pick the one that is more in line with his beliefs. If he reads something that contradicts what he believes, he has no problem dismissing it because there is no presupposition of inerrancy. And while both will "take the Bible seriously", they are not taking it in the same sense and some sort of common ground becomes impossible. But these two have a hard time sorting out the reason for the failure of common perspective because the presupposition -- the inerrancy of Scripture -- goes unspoken, but touches everything.

Presuppositions on the Nature of Man taints all sorts of perspectives. Is Man basically good or basically bad? If bad, how bad? And there are shades here. The "Calvinist" will say that "There is none who does good; no, not one", that Man is "inclined only to evil continually". The more moderate (read "Arminian" perhaps) will say that Man is basically a sinner, but that whole "no not one" thing is hyperbole. Natural Man does good deeds all the time. And take babies, for instance. They're not "sinners", not "intrinsically bad". They're innocents! Come on, anyone can see that! And, then, of course, there's the more common presupposition of the day: Humans are basically good. They turn bad because of environment and circumstances and other things, but humans are good at their core. I don't think you need much expansion beyond that. Each presupposition regarding the nature of Man will take you down a completely different road. The first requires regeneration before faith. The second places Christ as the Savior of all ... all who are willing. The third potentially removes the need for a Savior at all. Just be good enough and you'll be okay. (Of course, there is another underlying presupposition for that one -- "good enough". Don't even begin to examine that one.) Different roads.

A lot of Christians believe that Man is "Spiritually Dead", but the presupposition of what that means will give them varying directions. One side tends to think of it is something mostly "future tense", that if something isn't done about "it" (whatever "it" really is), it will be bad. Damnation or something, you know? But it isn't something real at the moment. No, no, not quite that. It's just that it isn't something actually dead. "Dead" means inactive, incapable, not living. This "dead" doesn't mean that. Man is a spiritual being as well as a physical being and there's nothing dead about his spirit. So that's not what it means. Of course, the other side would argue that "spiritually dead" means ... dead. In this view, Man's spiritual capacities are short-circuited, he is unable to understand the things of God, and he is spiritually incapable. He operates only in "the Flesh", the biblical euphemism for sinful self, and not in "the spirit" ... because he is spiritually dead. And you can see how this would shade the rest of the conversation. Can Man come to Christ on his own? If the former presupposition, of course! If the latter, "What are you thinking? Of course not!" You can see how this would create all sorts of differences in its ramifications.

One I've seen recently is "the Kingdom of God". We don't discuss it. We assume it. And it turns out our presuppositions become key without ever being examined. One view is that the kingdom of God is certainly future tense. It may be heaven itself. It may be at the end of the events of Revelations. But it's not now. Another view says that it is most certainly here and now, that Christ is reigning, that His kingdom exists around us, and while it may not be as visible as it will be in the future, it is certainly as real. The kingdom of God, in this view, is all that has to do with God. I think those two are quite prevalent views. So, let me lay out a well-known verse. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). I think, without any grand explanation from me, you can see that your presupposition regarding "the kingdom of God" will shape your understanding of this verse. If "the kingdom of God" is future tense, then you understand that "born again" is the prerequisite to ... getting to heaven. If you it is present tense, then obviously "born again" is the prerequisite to "seeing" ... to getting it, to being aware of it, to (in Paul's words) accepting or understanding the things of God (1 Cor 2:14).

I wonder how often our presuppositions -- unmentioned -- shape our discussions without us even being aware of it. Coming from different origins, we can't figure out why, although we seem to be using the same language, we're not coming to the same conclusions. "We're talking about the same thing. It's plain as day. How can they not see it?" How often do you think it boils down to an underlying definition that remains unspoken or unexamined and we just don't know it? I think it's much more often than we realize.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Useless Creeds

There are those who would argue "No creed but Christ", a self-refuting statement because it is a creed. There are those who would argue that creeds are helpful in laying out basic biblical doctrine. There are those who would argue that creeds are necessary in pinning down what people do and don't believe. "Do you agree with the Westminster Confession of Faith? Okay, then, you're a Calvinist." Or something like that. Me? I see real value in creeds. They do indeed break down complex biblical doctrine and set it in helpful formats to give clear statements. I think that creeds are biblical -- you can, in fact, find them in Scripture. I am absolutely certain that doctrine itself is biblically mandated, and creeds are simply a support of biblical doctrine. So, to me, creeds are a good thing.

And then I read something like this. Apparently two professors at Calvin College (located in Grand Rapids, MI, it touts itself as "Distinctively Christian, academically excellent, always reforming") have decided that "Adam and Eve are strictly literary figures -- characters in a divinely inspired story about the imagined past that intends to teach primarily theological, not historical, truths about God, creation, and humanity." "Strictly literary figures", you know, like Sherlock Holmes, Gandalf, or Fagin. Certainly not historical characters. And, of course, since they were figurative -- not literal -- neither is the theology they spawn. "They propose that Adam and Eve are purely symbolic literary figures, that there was no historical fall into sin, and that the doctrines of original sin, Christ’s atonement, election and eternal punishment need major revision." They recognize, of course, that Paul regarded Adam as an actual, historical person, but, well, he was just wrong. We know better now. Original sin, they say, is simply a product of evolution. Evolution has predisposed us to selfishness and, thus, to sin. Strike that whole "fall of Adam" thing. And since there was no actual "fall", the whole "atonement" concept is out. One writes, "These intuitions about grace have very important implications for Christian thinking on the matter of eternal damnation, which is very hard to integrate well into theology as integrated with evolutionary science, and is also very difficult, if not impossible, to sustain within successful Christian theodicy." Throw out "eternal damnation" and embrace universalism. And, of course, that whole concept of biblical inerrancy has got to go. That's a given.

That there are those who would stray like this is no news at all. Scripture itself promised it. That it would come from the world of academia is equally not surprising. It has been thus for a long time. What disturbs me is neither the heresy nor the source, but the environment. Calvin College is a self-professed Christian college. Further, it is a Calvinist college. For instance, Rule #1 of their Faculty Membership Requirements says this:
Calvin College faculty members are required to subscribe to three historic Reformed forms of unity -- The Belgic Confession, The Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort -- and pledge to teach, speak, and write in harmony with the confessions.
Good creeds, all. But these creeds mandate a historical view of Adam and Eve and the Fall. That is, it is not possible to both "subscribe to three historic Reformed forms of unity" and deny them at the same time. So, in this environment -- Calvin College which requires faculty to subscribe to specific creeds -- we have two outspoken professors denying the creeds.

At this point, creeds become useless. Like recent cases of pastors of Christian churches who are atheists or the ongoing cases of churches whose denomination upholds traditional creeds but whose pastors deny fundamental truths like, oh, I don't know, the historicity of Christ or the fact of the Resurrection and the like, we have a good thing (the creeds) made useless. There are no consequences. There is no accountability. There is, in fact, precious little reasoning. "Yes, yes, I can completely subscribe to these creeds while denying them entirely." Yeah, that works -- NOT.

Creeds are good things. The fact that we don't care at all is a bad thing. I suppose, however, that the fact that we too often don't much care if the pastors of our churches are believers or the professors of our seminaries and Christian colleges actually subscribe to the beliefs we are expecting is a really bad thing. The failure of the college is one thing, but the failure of the church to provide the discipline mandated by Scripture is a shame. The purpose of such discipline is love. The failure is one of love. That's a very bad thing.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


We know that name (Matt 1:23). "God with us." It was the divine name given to Jesus before His birth. It would be the explanation of His life on earth. God with us.

At Christmas time it's particularly moving to realize.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:5-8).
God, in the flesh. God with us. What we often forget is that He didn't have to do it. God was under no obligation to save His creation. We weren't so lovable that He was overcome with us and just had to act. It was a voluntary act on the part of the Son out of His own good will toward us.

Another thing that is often missed here. We tend to think that it was "Plan B", that the first idea was a perfect existence, but Adam blew that plan, so God came up with a new one -- His Son would become flesh and live among us, dying on our behalf. But the Word tells us that it was the original plan, that it was all planned out before time began (Titus 1:1-2).

So we're celebrating now this remarkable event where Christ -- God -- cloaked His glory, took on flesh, and made Himself Immanuel -- God with us. He endured the same temptations we do, suffered the cross on our behalf, and lives in us today. Immanuel.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Christmas Story -- A Compilation

I wrote this years ago. Okay, I compiled it. It's my version of the Christmas story. I posted it back in 2006. I like it and you likely haven't been reading since 2006, so I'm offering it again. And ... Merry Christmas!

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth1. And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good2. But all of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way3. "There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one."4 All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God5. The wages of sin is death6.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us7, sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins8.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men9. Although He existed in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men10. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth11. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God12.

Unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace13.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn14.

1 Gen. 1:1
2 Gen. 1:31
3 Isa. 53:6
4 Rom. 3:10-12
5 Rom. 3:23
6 Rom. 6:23
7 Eph. 2:4
8 1 John 4:10
9 John 1:1-4
10 Phil. 2:6-7
11 John 1:14
12 John 1:10-13
13 Isa. 9:6
14 Luke 2:7

Friday, December 24, 2010

Swaddling Clothes

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2:7).
You know that one, right? I mean, who doesn't? I'd bet that if you gave that quote to a large segment of secular America they'd be able to tell you the subject at hand. It's the birth of Christ. We all know about Joseph's trip to Bethlehem for the census, his pregnant wife-to-be going along with him. We all know that when they got there she was ready to give birth, but they couldn't find a place to stay. We all know that they ended up in a stable. It's likely that someone in your neighborhood has a decoration up somewhere that shows the little baby in a manger. Very common story. But ... did you ever think about the swaddling clothes? What is the significance of that?

Swaddling clothes were the garb of infants of the day. New parents would take a blanket and wrap the baby from feet to neck in it with some sort of binding strips to tie it on. It would keep the baby warm and safe and dry. In fact, Ezekiel 16:4 references the lack of swaddling clothes as an indication of being abandoned. And, of course, this swaddling concept isn't merely an ancient practice. It's practiced, nay, recommended today. Studies suggest that the practice can decrease the number of SIDS in infants. At least it seems to improve your little one's sleep.

Yeah, yeah, all good info, but what's the point? The point is that Jesus, the Son of God, God Incarnate, was swaddled. The point is that Jesus needed to be kept dry and warm. He needed to be diapered and fed and kept safe. He needed to be cleaned after He soiled Himself and he needed to be dressed. I know, I know, perhaps it sounds odd, even boring, but doesn't it strike you as somewhat amazing that the One who was God in the flesh had exactly the same humanity as you or I? I don't know. I was reading about this swaddling thing and it struck me because we tend to think of Jesus -- God With Us -- as somehow above all that. He didn't poop His diaper. He didn't make a mess when He was being fed. He didn't fall and skin His knee as a little boy. He wasn't ... human. And, of course, that's not true. As obscure as it might seem, the swaddling clothes tell a story of a very human being that housed a very Divine God, "one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin." At this time of year I find that to be a truly awesome thought.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What's Wrong with Christmas?

Christmas Day, as most people know (or should know), is not the actual birthday of Christ. The day came from the rival pagan festival, Saturnalia, a Roman celebration of the god, Saturn, around the winter solstice (December 25 on the Julian calendar) and the rebirth of Mithra, the sun god. In order to celebrate the birth of the Son of God (sorry, it's an English pun, so it wasn't in their minds) while covering their practice (since it wasn't quite legal) and in order to contravene the pagan nature of it, they chose this time and incorporated (read "subverted") many of the practices of the time with the idea of "redeeming the culture".

Santa Claus is the product of the tale of Saint Nicholas, a 4th century bishop, who saved some children from slavery by dropping some money down the chimney that fell into socks left there to dry.

Christmas trees appear to be from a story from the 4th century of a missionary named Saint Boniface. Facing the druidic Germans who believed in spirits in their mighty oak trees, he felled one in defiance. The tree fell on a small fir sapling. The sapling was undamaged, so he pointed to it as "the Christ tree". In the 16th century these trees were decorated with various colorful items. Martin Luther is credited with being the first to light a Christmas tree. Seeing the stars twinkling through tall pines on his way home one evening, he put candles on the tree at home to show them the glory of God's handiwork.

Holly, oh, by gosh, by golly, originally was part of the pagan belief that it had special magical powers to withstand the demons of winter. It did, after all, remain green when everything else died. Christians adopted it because the sprigs of red berries symbolized the blood Christ shed, and the thorny leaves symbolized the thorn of crowns He wore.

What's wrong with Christmas? Well, it's all there, isn't it? And I could go on and on. There is no doubt that Jesus was not born on December 25th. Sorry to let anyone down who thought so. It's not true. It's also quite certain that many things we see as traditional Christmas practices today are of pagan origin. The Puritans of England and early America outlawed Christmas due to its pagan origins. I mean, how can any true believer condone this kind of nonsense? Trust me ... look around a little and you'll find websites pounding their pulpits saying just this.

And then I read Paul's comments on food offered to idols. Is it pagan in origin? There is no doubt. But Paul says that it is of no real consequence. Just because pagans saw it as religious -- as "offered to gods" -- did not make so. "Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience." Now, of course, Paul was saying not to do things that offend the conscience of weaker brethren. But I have to ask how far that would go? As I said before, there's very little that doesn't offend someone's conscience. I can offend someone by simply reading my Bible if it's not King James 1611 edition. So how far does that go?

And when you think about it, how much of every day living is tinged with sin? Cars are used to transport drugs. Should we stop using cars? Guns and knives are used by murderers to kill. Should we stop using knives? Buildings are used by prostitutes to do their work. Should we stop using buildings? Is there any validity to the concept of "redeeming the culture", of taking what is used for sin in the world today and converting it to godly use?

What's wrong with Christmas? Sure, there's a lot. But I wouldn't wish to suggest that it's in the traditions of Christmas. I'd suggest that it's in the hearts of those who celebrate it. Is it a celebration of Christ or a celebration of self? If the latter, no amount of "non-pagan" solemnity will make it any better. But I'm all for celebrating the coming of our Lord and Savior.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Santa Christ

I know them -- good, Christian folk who love the Lord and honor Christ at Christmas, but who have small children and, in the "spirit of the season", teach their kids that there is indeed a Santa Claus. "It's harmless fun," they tell me. "Besides, it gets the kids to try to be good for a few weeks." All good, right?

Frankly, I can't figure it ... at all. Seems to me that it runs diametrically counter to honoring Christ. And I'm not simply talking about recognizing that "Jesus is the reason for the season". I mean, it seems to me that the whole concept is problematic.

First, there's that whole "be good" thing. Christ doesn't say, "Be good." Christ says, "Be perfect." Santa offers a level in line with worldly thinking that is "good enough" and presupposes that you are basically good and only the really, really bad kids would fail at this. Indeed, as it turns out, I'd guess that the number of kids being taught about Santa who do not get something nice for Christmas (as opposed to a lump of coal) is nearly zero. So the message, contrary to Jesus's call for perfection, is "The standard is low enough that anyone can make it!"

Then there's the problem of make-believe. Here I am, teaching my child on one hand that there is indeed this jolly, over-sized elf who lives at the North Pole and manages somehow to make and deliver toys to every child on the planet in one night, one at a time, by magic. Then I tell them that there is a God who sent His Son who came as a child, grew up, died, and rose again and now lives in heaven. "No, no you can't see them. No, not either one. No, you can't actually talk to them either. Well, maybe Santa ... you know, at the local store. But, what I really want you to believe is in the one you can't talk to, see, or physically realize in any way." How is that going to go over? And when they discover "You lied to me about Santa!", how are they going to view Christ?

It seems to me that teaching your kids about Santa (as if he's real, not in some "fictional character" way) is teaching them things that are not harmless. It seems to me that teaching them about Santa reinforces a works-based view of salvation and offers them a known lie while you're trying to teach them, in similar realities, an unseen truth. So ... why do that?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Making a Church a Home

There have been debates for quite awhile now about how to get people in the doors of our churches. You know, "seeker sensitive" or not, "are we competing with secular entertainment?", "the marketing of the church", "How do we measure success -- by numbers and income, or by spiritual maturity?", all that sort of thing. And I've been in the discussion myself. But this question is a little different. I'm not asking what is the best way to get people in the door. I'm asking what makes a house of God a home?

I don't believe in going to church. (Keep reading before you leap to conclusions.) I believe in being a part of church. While most people seem to be attending their churches, I think that the Bible calls for ... immersion. Further, from what I've seen, it's pretty easy for people to come and go from church. Our church population seems pretty mobile. They'll go to this church for awhile as long as it pleases them and then, if something is disturbing or just not entirely pleasing, they'll go to that church next. "Church hopping" they call it. And, of course, then there's "church shopping". Time did a piece last year about how Americans aren't so much losing their religion as much as simply changing it. We tend to go from church to church, from denomination to denomination, from whatever doesn't quite interest us to whatever does. And no one is too disturbed. "At least they're in church," they'll say with relief.

Of course, that's not biblical. The Church is described as "the Body of Christ", with each component doing its job so that the whole can be functional and healthy. There is the descriptive term "fellowship" applied to church, a concept that is contained in the Greek word, koinonia. It means more than simple association. It means joint participation, partnership, community. Biblically, then, churches are not supposed to be places to visit, get your fill, and go home. No, they are to be places where we join together in shared lives and direction to encourage, disciple, exhort, and enable one another toward godliness and maturity. So ... how do we do that? How do we stop church from being a pit stop and make it into a home?

One of the primary problems that I see in accomplishing this task is the impediment of ministry. By "impediment" I mean that a faulty perception is likely in your mind when you hear the term. We think of a "minister" as a member of the clergy, a pastor, people specially set aside for "full-time ministry". These are the ones that do it, you see. If you're really dedicated, you might help them at their task, but it is, at the end of the day, their task. And we don't let any silly fact like it's not in the Bible get in our way of thinking that way. So we are detached from ministry. And we are detached from koinonia.

The other primary problem is that of the brotherhood. The Bible is full of references to the family nature of Christianity. We all know that if another person is a fellow believer, he is your "brother in Christ". We casually refer to our "brothers and sisters in the Lord". The terminology is common to us. It's just that the mindset is not. You see, family is a different level of relationship than acquaintance or even friend. Family requires more attention, more dedication, more involvement. Family gives grace where friends don't have to. Family meets needs where acquaintances wouldn't be expected to. I know, I know, I may be talking about an outdated sense of family, but it is still the case in some societies and it certainly was the case in our own culture in the past. So don't let Satan's successful efforts at disassembling "family" throw you off here. Family is thicker, closer, more binding. And we who are in Christ are family.

You see, what makes people show up for church when they're not really in the mood? For some it's sheer dedication or even habit. Fine. But I think there are other reasons for most. Some will say, "I don't really feel like showing up today, but they need me." You know how that goes. You have an obligation. You're going to set up chairs or teach a class or do the usher work or whatever. Maybe you don't feel like going today, but you feel like you're expected to show up because, well, you're preaching the sermon. Ministry. That's one thing that makes for the committed. The other is family. "Well, I don't really feel like showing up, but then they'll want to know where I was and if I'm okay and, well, I'll go anyway because they're expecting me." Hopefully, of course, it isn't so negative. Hopefully it's more like, "I don't feel up to it today, but I'm certainly going to go because I know there are people there who care about me and they will cheer me up."

Imagine, then, a church filled with ministers and family. Each has a job, a task, a ministry. Some may be "full time" and some may be part time. Some may be obvious -- the preaching, the teaching, leading singing, that sort of thing -- and some may be less so, like the couple who invites a visitor over every Sunday after church for dinner and getting acquainted. Whatever it is, no one who calls this church "home" shows up without a ministry mindset. They're not there to be served, but to serve. And they're dedicated to that service because it is, after all, their own family members that they are ministering to. Paul wrote, "If anyone does not provide for his family and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Tim 5:8), and these people take that quite seriously. So they provide care and concern, encouragement and exhortation. "Felt needs" aren't met by pastoral staff encouraging special programs because it's the function of family. In a church like this, people would be less likely to attend and more likely to fellowship, less likely to "church hop" and more likely to make it a church home. Which, of course, is the main idea.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Is Tithing for Today?

Usually it goes something like this: "Is tithing for today, or is that an Old Testament concept?" Me, personally -- I'm always stunned by the question. It's very hard to read it without hearing, "You see, I don't want to do more than I have to for God, so please tell me I don't have to pay 10% of my income. I'd much rather keep that for myself." And, sure enough, if you ask around, the most common answer is indeed, "No! That's not for today!" Good news! You can keep your stuff! Yippee!

I suppose you catch the sarcastic tone behind that. Here's what I see.

Biblical tithing does not have its origins in a command from God. Did you catch that? The first tithe was not paid because God commanded it. We first read about the concept in Genesis.
So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. And Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions (Gen 4:3-4).
Keep in mind that no command for sacrifices for sin was yet given, no sacrificial system yet implemented. This was just what they were supposed to do: Give of the first of their produce (whatever it was) to God. Now, of course, this wasn't technically a tithe. The tithe is technically 10%. The first tithe was given by Abram. He gave it to Melchizedek, the king of Salem, the priest of God Most High (Gen 14:18-20). What command was issued that caused Abram to give that? None. Not one. You see, to Abram the tithe was given to God as an act of gratitude.

Of course, eventually the tithe became codified. God commanded it in Leviticus 27. In Deuteronomy 12, He instructed Israel on the tithe after entering the Promised Land. Nehemiah made a point of restoring the tithe when they were restoring Jerusalem (Neh 10:37-38). And both Amos and Malachi have warnings from God regarding the tithe. Malachi is the most ... disturbing.
"Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, 'How have we robbed Thee?' In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this," says the LORD of hosts, "if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows (Mal 3:8-10).
Associated with the tithe are curses and blessings. God promised that He would open the windows of heaven for them if they tithed. Most disturbing, though, is the phrase God uses. "Will a man rob God?"

Well, of course, we're all okay now. That was then. This is now. We don't have all those nasty ol' OT laws to worry about. It's no longer robbing God to refuse to tithe. It's ... godly now, right?

You see, maybe it is and maybe it's not. Maybe it is true that we no longer have a legal (as in "commanded") obligation to tithe. That could be the case. But we are told that the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil. We are quite clear that tithing is intended as an act of worship, a response of gratitude. And, look, let's face it, as believers it is not strictly true that we have anything. No, what's strictly true is that we have died with Christ, and that the life we now live is "Christ in you". What's strictly true is that, while we may not owe Him 10%, we certainly owe Him 100%.

Maybe it was robbing God to fail to obey Him by paying the tithe He commanded. Is it any less robbery to withhold from Him the 100% He now deserves? And if He deserves all, are we really going to quibble over 10%? "Is tithing for today?" Maybe, just maybe, there is no command. Surely, however, gratitude still makes its demand. Or is gratitude no longer applicable either?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The God Who Sees

This name of God, El Roi, is one of my favorites. Oh, sure, it only appears once (Gen 16:13). But it has some serious implications.

Remember the story? Sarai was upset that Hagar was pregnant (Go figure, Sarai. Wasn't that your idea?), so she mistreated her and Hagar ran into the desert. Alone and discouraged, God found her and told her to go back to Abram and Sarai. Ishmael would be her son. In response, she said, "You are the God who sees" -- El Roi.

The term has positive and negative connotations. She was awed that God found her where she was. She was awed that He promised to take care of her, that He saw her and cared about her and her unborn baby. Positives, all. And she was amazed because she had remained alive.

A similar concept is found in Psalm 139.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O LORD, You know it all (Psa 139:2-4).
David sees this as "too wonderful" (Psa 139:6). That the God of the universe would be watching me that closely is truly wonderful.

Of course, unless you're perfect, you can also see the ominous side of "the God who Sees". He sees what you do wrong as well. We've heard "God is always watching you" as a means of deterring sin, but we rarely really think about that. Perhaps we ought.

Why is it one of my favorites? I tend to think of God as transcendent, as far above, as "something other". He's really ... out there, so far above me that I can barely even perceive Him. This title, "the God who Sees", brings back the immanence of God. He's not only "out there". He's right here. He is indeed concerned about the here and now, a God who sees me. It's an intimacy I need. And what about that negative factor knowing that He's watching when I sin as well? Well, I can really use that, too. That is a good thing. Win-win! Yes, one of my favorites indeed.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Problem with Theonomy

Your word for the day: theonomy. It is a term for "God's law" and a viewpoint about applying it. According to Dr. Greg Bahnsen, "The position which has come to be labeled 'theonomy' today thus holds that the word of the Lord is the sole, supreme, and unchallengeable standard for the actions and attitudes of all men in all areas of life." According to Dr. Van Til, "There is no alternative but that of theonomy and autonomy." That is, we can rule ourselves or we can have God rule us. The question is the source of authority. Is it us, or is it God? Theonomy is linked to Christian Reconstructionists. A reconstructionist is "a Christian who believes it is his or her responsibility to challenge the anti-Christian character of society and culture. The reconstructionist sees it as an obligation to seek to change society in ways that will bring it into conformity with the teaching of Scripture." Well, without going into the connections to post-millenialism and all that, I think you get the basic idea. Theonomy can be about the question, "Are Old Testament laws still in effect today?", but that's only a lighter side. The real question is should we, as Christians, aim to have God's law as our civil law?

For a long time in Christendom the answer was an unmistakeable "Yes!" If there weren't Christians in office, then the civil government was answerable to the Church. It's easy to point to Calvin's Geneva as a prime example of the Church running the State. It was fairly common. America started with it. It was a requirement in most places in the earliest days of America. I found this fascinating Article in the Delaware state constitution of 1776:
Art. 22. Every person who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place of trust ... shall ... make and subscribe the following declaration, to wit: "I ________, do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, Blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scripture of the Old and New Testaments to be given by divine inspiration."
Yeah ... try that one on today. The point, however, is that the idea isn't as outlandish as you might wish to think.

Today, of course, this is an abhorrent idea to most. It is inconceivable to the secular society, obviously, but also to most Christians. And I have to ask, "Why?" I can see a lot of value in the concept. While our society -- Christians and non-Christians alike -- are horrified at the idea of outlawing adultery, of making sex outside of marriage a civil offense, of making homosexuality a capital crime, I have to wonder why. God made these rules. They were the laws He handed to Israel. Setting aside for the moment the question, "Are they still applicable today?", we Christians need to ask, "Was He right?" Many Christians are appalled at the prospect of any capital crime, any crime with the death penalty. But God prescribed it. What I'm asking here is on what basis you (those of you who call yourselves "Christians") would call God out as a faulty Lawgiver? Because if you argue that the death penalty is wrong or laws against adultery are wrong or some such, that's exactly the call -- God is a faulty Lawgiver.

Now, I do need to say that I'm not entirely on the theonomists' side. I can indeed see the logic in it and the value in it, but I'm not at all sure of the undertaking of it. Here, let me give a parallel to illustrate. The Early Church practiced what can only be described as communism. They shared all things in common. As such, I'd call it good. On the other hand, I would certainly not be in favor of a Communist government today. Why? Well, it's the humans, you see. We've demonstrated time and again that we can take a good idea and run it into the ground. In the same way, it is my suspicion that a nation like America run as a theocracy (with, necessarily, humans at the helm) wouldn't remain a biblical theocracy for long. While I believe that it would be good for America to have laws premised on biblical principles, I neither see it happening any time soon, nor, if it did, would I expect it to be done biblically. Nor would I see it solving the basic problem of sin and the need for salvation. At best it would make a "more moral" country.

I'm not, then, in favor of a theocracy for America. I will pray for such laws. I will vote for biblical principles. I see the theory as a decent one. I just don't see it as mandated by Scripture (no one seemed to be aiming to take over Rome or Greece or any of the New Testament world) and I don't see it as practical. But I'm tired of hearing folks who classify themselves as Christians saying that we should not have biblical laws. The insult is not to me or the theonomist or even the Bible. It's an insult to the Lawgiver who doesn't make mistakes.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Two Forms of ID

How do you know if someone is a Christian? The question was actually asked, "How can I know if I'm among the elect?", but the idea is basically the same. Some would argue, "If they claim it, believe it." On one hand, that's anti-biblical. Jesus said that many would claim to be His followers whom He never knew. On the other hand, it doesn't answer the real question: How can I know? I would like to suggest two forms of ID.

The first form is purely biblical:
Applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble (2 Peter 1:5-10).
Peter's answer may be a little lengthy, but here's the gist. If you are living a life of ever-increasing godliness, you can "make certain about His calling and choosing you". So, if you're one of those who thinks, "Well, I prayed the prayer and they told me that I'm saved and it doesn't really matter if nothing ever changes 'cause I'm saved", be afraid ... be very afraid. You see, a changed heart makes for a changed life. We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. If you are conforming more and more to biblical godliness, that's a good form of ID.

The second form is more experiential. I can't support it from Scripture, but I have also never seen an exception in my experience. It seems to me that those who have the surest salvation are the ones that are most concerned about their salvation. Read that sentence again, because it's likely counter-intuitive. It's not the ones who never consider that they might not be saved that should be completely confident. It's the ones that are deeply concerned that likely are saved.

You see, here's how it works. In a genuine, vital relationship with God, we become more and more aware of two factors in life. First there is the majesty and holiness of God. And then there's our continual failure to match it. The more we mature in Christ, the deeper the gulf between the two becomes. So if you are pretty sure that you're not doing badly at all and you're likely accepted by God, or if you never really think about it much, I'd suggest you reexamine yourself.

The Bible is quite clear. "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness'" (Mat 7:22-23). Note that Jesus said "many". It is a common thing to convince ourselves that we're saved. It's an easy thing to claim to be a Christian. It's even fairly easy to claim godliness in today's watered-down view. While Scripture offers evidence and reasons for assurance, it also warns against false assurance. I'd recommend, then, that you start with at least two forms of ID.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Against Christmas Trees

It always amazes me when Christians pull out this shotgun and try to blast away at it. "You know," they tell me in hushed, conspiratorial tones, "Christmas trees are of the devil. They've been around since the Old Testament and they're banned by the Bible." Sigh.

I remember the first time I heard this. He was sincere and trying to help me out, so I looked it up.
Thus says the LORD: "Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are vanity. A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move. Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good" (Jer 10:2-5).
Well, there it is, by golly! Plain as day! We get a tree cut from the forest and we decorate it with silver and gold and we fasten it so it can't move! Well, they did have Christmas trees before Christ!

Hey, wait a minute! That's a problem, isn't it? "Christmas trees before Christ"? So I have to stop and step back and think for a second. And, of course, it becomes abundantly clear. These are "idols" (the word in the text, not mine). They make idols out of wood. (You see, if it was a Christmas tree, I'd be a bit confused by the "worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman" thing before it is decorated and secured.) Oh, I get it! God is telling His people not to make idols, not that they shouldn't have a Christmas tree for decoration. One guy in this whole conversation even told me, "You know, you worship those trees." "No, we don't," I countered. "Yes, you do! On Christmas morning you get down on your knees in front of it to get the presents out. See? Worship!"

It is my firm conviction that it is possible to misuse just about anything at all that God has given us. We know, for instance, that God has given us sex as a good thing for the unity of a married couple and the procreation of the species, but we also know beyond the shadow of a doubt that misuse of that good gift is a serious problem. We know that having a biblical view of the sin of homosexuality is a good thing, but that whole Fred Phelps thing is a real abuse of the concept and a problem. Kindness is a good thing, but I'm sure you've all heard the phrase, "Kill them with kindness." Just about anything can be misused. Even Christmas trees.

Don't buy that nonsense, folks. Jeremiah was not writing about Christmas trees. He was writing about making idols of wood. Don't worship your tree and don't miss the point of Christmas and you should be just fine. I'm in favor of avoiding misuse of God's gifts, but let's not get ridiculous about it, okay?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Aware Again

I am from southern California. I no longer live there, but I was used to it. I was used to the pace and the traffic, the crowds and the climate. I was used to the brats, the proper description for essentially every child I came across from 2 to 22. It's just the way it was. I live in Arizona now, not California.

I took my lunchtime walk the other day. Nice day. 72° and sunny. Narrow sidewalk, but no problem because there wasn't much foot traffic there ... ever. I heard a noise behind me and turned around. There was a young boy, maybe 10 or 11, on a bicycle moving slowly toward me. Now, I didn't mind that he was on the sidewalk. There was no bike lane and I didn't see any point in him risking life and limb to avoid getting in the way of the single pedestrian visible for miles. So I stopped and moved off the sidewalk to let him by. He looked up at me and said "Sorry" followed by a "Thank you" as he pedaled past me. Being from SoCal, I was shocked. Courtesy? From a child?! Without parental prompting?!!

It reminded me of an event a few years back near my house. A gaggle of young boys were playing in the wash behind my house, doing their best to kill and dismember a dead tree. Now, the wash is federal land, protected from abuse. So I went out there and told the boys, "You know, it isn't my problem, but this land is federal land and it is illegal to damage anything out here." Being even closer to SoCal then, I was not in the least expecting the response I got. I was used to the 4-year-old who would stare at me for such a statement as if to say, "You're daft, old man. Get out of my way." I was ready for these preteens to give me the standard, "Who cares what you think?" What I was not prepared for was their actual response. "Really? Oh, we're sorry. We didn't know that. Gee (yes, "gee"), we could really get into trouble for this. Thanks for telling us. It won't happen again." And they headed off, never to be seen in there again.

These serve to remind me that all is not black. I believe in Total Depravity, but that doesn't mean "Man is as evil as he can possibly be". And while it is my nature and even nurture (from southern California experience) to be cynical, I am reminded from time to time that not all kids are brats, not all parents are irrelevant, and not all courtesy is lost, even if it's no longer as common. Thanks, kid. I'm aware again.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I like humor. Those who know me in real life know that. I see humor just about anywhere. Some suggest I'm rarely serious about anything. (Silly, I know, but some have said it.)

What is humor? What is it that makes us laugh? Humor is basically incongruity. Humor occurs when our minds take us down Path A and suddenly find ourselves ending up at B. The Three Stooges acted outside of the norms and that made them funny. A joke makes us laugh because it turns the expected into the unexpected. We might laugh when someone makes an unexpected mistake or when a tense moment in a movie suddenly takes a relieving turn. Still, it's the "sudden turn", the quick shift that makes it humorous, the "didn't see that coming" sensation.

We can see this when a joke is repeated multiple times. The first time you may be doubled over laughing. The second time it's funny. The third time it's amusing. The fourth time you've heard it enough, thank you very much. You see, the first time you get the benefit of the unexpected turn, but after that you see it coming, so it's not so funny anymore. You may still enjoy the joke, but mostly because it has either left your consciousness or perhaps you enjoy passing it on and seeing the reaction of others. (Laughter is, after all, somewhat contagious.)

This whole concept has brought about a change in comedy over the past decades. In earlier times, the jokes kept coming because no one had heard them before. As the masses learned them, they had to change, adapt, expand. The chicken who crossed the road to get to the other side (not the answer you were expecting) was funny once, but is passé now. We've been ... inoculated against that joke. So modern comedians have found the need to spice up their humor. Coarse language wasn't expected before, so sprinkle that in there and you get laughter. Throw in a joke about sex or body functions and it's a sure giggle because that's not supposed to be there. And so it goes. After awhile we become inoculated to those kinds of humor -- "Been there, heard that." So it has to get more outlandish.

Like our problem in comedy, we've managed to inoculate ourselves against surprise in life. It has been a slow process, but we've managed it. We know "who dunnit" pretty early on. Genuine "surprise endings" are really fairly rare and notable when they do arrive. The fact that "these two jumped into the sack together" might have been shocking at one point but no longer. "Doesn't everyone?" Foul language, rude images, gratuitous sex and violence, and so on. Our whole society is getting inoculated to surprise, requiring more outrageous inputs and making is far less observant of the bad things around us. No, not too funny, I guess. My bad.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Taken for Granted

The Greek word is didomi. It's a verb. It's primary meaning is "to give". That can include "to give something to someone" as "to bestow a gift" or "to supply" or "to pay wages". It can include "to give much" or even "to cause to come forth". But the basic meaning is clear -- "to give". In the NASB it is translated some form of "give" 144 times.On 27 occasions it is translated into a form of "grant" ("grant", "granted", "granting"). Same thing. Or is it?

In thought it certainly could be, but in our more common usage it may not. We use it often in the sense of "give". The dictionary lists the first couple of meanings as "to bestow" and "to give". Same thing. Of course, we also use it in a slightly different sense when we say "I grant your point" in an argument. In that sense we're not really giving them anything they didn't already have ... except, perhaps, our agreement.

So where does this come up in Scripture? There are a few places of note. A recent case was discussed in John 6:
And He said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father" (John 6:65).
Another is found over in Philippians:
It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake (Phil 1:29)
And then there's the third interesting use in Paul's second epistle to Timothy:
The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will (2 Tim 2:24-26).
Three very interesting places. The suggestion has been made that this use of "grant" in these cases merely means "allows what they already have" in a sense similar to "I grant your point". But there's a problem with that. It doesn't fit the language. What then? Well, the language is clear. These three places reference things given by God that we don't normally associate with being given. The first tells us quite clearly that the only way anyone can come to Christ is if it is given by the Father (and as I pointed out before, this was in answer to the question, "Why are there some who do not believe?"). That is, "no man can" come to Christ without that power being given, which is why some do not.

The second gets lost, I think, in the somewhat disturbing delight over suffering. "Good news!" Paul says, "God is giving you the opportunity to suffer!! Yippee!" So we tend to gloss right over that our believing in Him was also "granted" -- given to us. We didn't produce it. We didn't supply it. It was given.

The third seems disturbing on its own. While the topic is what the Lord's servant ought to be doing, Paul is explaining a possible outcome -- "God may perhaps grant them repentance." That is, God may gift them with repentance or He may not. The only way that they will "come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil" is if God gifts them with repentance. Otherwise, they operate as the devil's slaves, "captured by him to do his will."

These three things are commonly thought of as belonging to us already. We generally believe that we have the capacity to come to Christ, to believe in Christ, and to repent all on our own. We typically think that these three things are our basic contributions to the process we call "salvation", the rest of which God has already accomplished. Not big things, perhaps, and we likely don't consider them "works" by any means, but we're still pretty sure that they come from us, that they are potentially present within all humans. So does it give you pause to read that, instead of being present in all humans, these are gifts supplied by God (and certainly not to all)? It does me. It says that not even that small little part of coming by faith to Christ in repentance, that last little key to engage all of God's grace and mercy, was supplied by me. That's no small deal.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Lord of Hosts

Sabaoth ... that's the Hebrew term. It means "hosts". (No, not "the one who hosts the party", but lots and lots of people, often amassed for war.) This term is used some 285 times in the Old Testament with both YHWH and Elohim. In Amos 4:13 we read, "Behold, He who forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is His thought, who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth-- the LORD, the God of hosts, is His name!"

The term is not likely to make you feel warm and gushy. It isn't a term that would inspire "the man upstairs" thinking. The imagery is that of a Master of a massive army. Not the kind of thing one takes trivially. It's not trivial when you read "Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways" (Hag 1:7). You see, when a parent says, "I want you to think about what you're doing," it has one effect. When the Commander of an army does it, it's not the same effect.

Of course, it can have the opposite effect. When David went up against Goliath, here's what he said.
"You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied" (1 Sam 17:45).
If your not paying attention, "the LORD of hosts" will slip on by. But David is answering that classic question. Goliath says, "I'm going to feed you to the birds of the air" and David assures him "I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air." You can almost hear it, can't you? "Oh, yeah? You and what army?!" And that's David's answer.

You see, if you are opposed to the Lord of Hosts, it's not a pleasant place to be. But if God is for us, who can be against us? And, really, what more would you need than that?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Goodness by Compulsion

Just came across this in Philemon:
I prefer to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord (Philemon 14).
Now, given the bunches of voices from the "Christian sector" that call for national health care, higher taxation for giving aid to the needy, and the like all in the name of "Christian charity", how does this fit in? Wouldn't it have been better for Paul to say, "I will compel you to be good if I have to, regardless of your agreement"? Wouldn't that be more in keeping with this notion of "enforced charity" as a Christian virtue?

(Note: The questions here are rhetorical. I'm not looking for a debate.)

And as if by magic, here is an article written by a professor from Chicago Theological Seminary that says what I was questioning. She argues that the moral thing to do, the way to return to "Christian values", is to redistribute wealth via taxation. She says that Jesus taught this. There ya go.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Love of God

One of the big sticking points for people investigating these "wild claims" from the Reformed side that suggest that God chooses some and not others and that God gives faith to some and not others and that regeneration precedes faith -- that sort of thing -- is the issue of the love of God. "Wait a minute!" they will say. "God loves everyone. Your view would diminish the love of God!"

Underlying this position is an apparent premise that for God to love everyone ("the universality of the love of God"), He must do so equally. As was pointed out in a recent conversation, "If a man gave his three children locked boxes, each one containing wonderful gifts, but he only gave one child the key to her particular box, I don't think we would say that he simply loved the other children less." So there is a sense among many (most?) that for God's love to be real, it must be universal and equitable -- applied equally to all. If this is the case, Reformed theology is dead.

The proof of this concept is typically John 3:16. "'God so loved the world,' it says," they will assure me. My attempts to point out that the "so" in that sentence is not a quantitative statement -- "God loved the world so much" -- but a qualitative statement -- "God loved the world in this sense". So I'll leave that alone. And, of course, there is always the idea "God must love everyone equally because He is no respecter of persons!"

What, then, would I offer in the consideration of this claim that God must love everyone and He must do so equally? ("And, please, Stan, be sure it's biblical, not mere opinion.")

Well, first, we have this interesting warning in 1 John: "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). Whatever it means, there is some sense in which we are warned not to love the world, so certainly there is equally a sense that God doesn't do the same. Second, we read in Rom 9 "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." Now, we can get into lengthy discussions about exactly what this means, but for our purposes I don't think we need to go there. I think it is clear, regardless of the nuance, that here is a clear statement (a quote from God) that there are differences in the ways that God loves people. Take, for instance, Pharaoh. We have it on biblical authority that God hardened Pharaoh's heart (e.g., Exo 10:1), and Romans 9 tells us that He did it "that I might show my power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth." Whatever you conclude about all that these things entail, I don't think that it's possible to conclude that God treats everyone the same or that He loves everyone in the same way.

Of course, in our own experience we know this to be true. I love my wife and I love pizza, but I certainly don't love them in the same way. Take that idea to the idea of the Church being the Bride of Christ. "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church." Imagine, then, that it is said of me, "My, how Stan loves his wife! In fact, he loves everyone's wife in the very same way! How marvelous!" And, of course, it would be sick, not marvelous. No, we expect (even require) a husband and wife to love each other in a way that is not equal to the love for family, fellow believers, friends, or food. Each varies. Because I give myself fully to my wife and do not give myself fully to my friends is not an indication that I don't love my friends. (Sorry, I can't even think in terms of "give myself fully to my food".) There are various levels and types of love and one does not negate the other.

So, on the lighter side, our experience tells us that love does not need to be equal to be real. On the heavier side -- the hard biblical facts -- we know that Scripture tells us that God doesn't treat everyone equally, that He actually loves some and "hates" others.

So, in what sense does God "love the world"? The first answer is easy: "Whoever believes in Him has eternal life." That is, 1) not everyone will believe, and 2) God is not obligated in any way to give anyone eternal life, so the fact that He offers it at all is an act of love for all. In fact, the reality that God sent His Son at all is demonstration of His love for all (Rom 5:8). Behind that, the fact that God delays justice in favor of mercy is an incredible act of love. So God certainly loves everyone. But let's be clear here. While I wouldn't suggest that God loves His people more than He loves the world, I think it is abundantly clear that the love for His own is certainly of a different quality than the love for the world. We find this in Jesus's own command to His followers. "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). Just as the Father had a special love for the Son (John 17:23) and just as the Son prayed for His own and not for the rest (John 17:9), we should expect that on one hand God will love the world in its entirety, but on the other hand that the quality (the nature) of that love will vary.

God, like us, is not obligated to love all humans equally. Nor is love diminished simply because it is not equal. We would find it diminished if a wife loved all men in the same manner she loved her husband. In the same way, we shouldn't expect God to love all people in the same way. In that great complaint against this idea -- "God is no respecter of persons!" -- we find this very fact. "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to Him" (Acts 10:34-35). The very sentence proves a difference between those who fear Him and do what is right and those who do not. Love need not be equitable to be real. The Bible tells me so.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Problem with Sin

In the many discussions with me and around me regarding sin and biblical morality, I find an underlying perspective that seems to me to be a problem. Most people today will tell me that it's perfectly okay for me to have my own private view of morality, but don't try to foist that on anyone else because it's not right. This is considered "the rule of the day", the right way to think, "tolerant". And it comes from this underlying perspective that seems to me to be ... well, I think I said that ... that seems to me to be a problem.

The problematic perspective is that morality in general and biblical morality in particular is, well, somewhat arbitrary. "Right and wrong," we tend to think, "is primarily a thrill-kill, a necessary 'evil' (Catch the irony?) that we need in place to just get along." So we tend to think that we have to have a common idea of what is moral so we can avoid harming one another, protect those who need protecting, and that sort of thing. You can see, then, how this "don't try to foist it off on anyone else" kind of thinking would come from there. We need common morality, a shared view of what is harmful or not, right or not, not some arbitrary "biblical morality" or some such.

So we'll allow those biblical morals that coincide with the current common morality and relegate those other less appealing ones to the "private morality" bin. We'll agree to consider murder and stealing (especially if it's my stuff that's stolen) to be wrong, but not all that ... oh, I don't know ... that stuff we like so much. So we will disagree that abortion is wrong and keep our mouths shut or that sex outside of marriage is immoral and remain silent on it. That whole "submit to the government" thing went out in America a long time ago, so that kind of "biblical morality" would fall in the "private morality" category and you had better not bring that up in public. And so it goes.

For me, of course, this is all quite confusing. You see, I start with a couple of premises. First, I believe that God is good. Odd, I know, but it's my starting point. Second, I believe that the Bible is an accurate representation of God's Word. Even more bizarre, I know. But with those two points, I can only come to one conclusion regarding biblical morality: It's good. I don't mean merely that it's moral (which would be vain repetition -- "biblical morality is moral"). I mean that it's good for us. For me, then, those things that God says are "immoral" are not so because He's intent on destroying our fun or choosing arbitrarily to restrict our freedoms. Instead, as Creator of the human being, He is telling us what works best for the creature. "Do this and it will be good for you; do that and it will harm you. Oh, by the way, you may not recognize that it will harm you, but, trust Me, it will." Given a good God and a reliable Bible, that's the only conclusion I can come to.

With that perspective, then, you can only imagine how strange it is to me to have this oh-so-common notion that morality is private and don't try to foist it off on anyone else. To me you're saying, "Just because you know this is acid I'm drinking is no reason to tell me not to drink it. Keep your opinions to yourself and let me destroy my internal organs." It's not a matter of "moral outrage" or "righteous indignation" for me. It's a matter of compassion. "Don't do it!" I might cry out, "It will hurt you!" But what seems to be heard is some weak moral gibbering about how naughty it is for you to do bad things. "Really, Stan, you ought to keep my silly, narrow-minded, backward opinions to yourself."

So, I see the problem with sin as one of doing harm to people. I see it as real harm, as ongoing harm, as serious harm. I don't suggest I've got some "moral high ground". Simply based on a good God and reliable Scripture and my firm belief that sin hurts people, I think I need, out of genuine compassion for people, to say something. So how am I to deal with this? There are many who would prefer me to keep silent. There are many who don't see it as love. How is that to be handled? How is that to be expressed? How can I be a loving person and keep quiet? And why would anyone demand that I do?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Asking the Right Questions

Let's be honest. There does seem to be many things in life that are not addressed in Scripture and, therefore, hard to deal with. I mentioned one the other day -- playing video games (specifically violent ones). I joked with a commenter elsewhere about the "evils" of shopping at Walmart or driving a car. I'm pretty sure you won't find the passage that says, "Thou shalt not shop at Walmart" or "If thine hand be upon the joystick controller of a violent game shown to the eyes, it would be better if thou were to tie a millstone about thy neck and be thrown into the sea." Yeah, not in there. It does, sometimes, seem like there can be some real difficulty in these types of things.


Because I think that there are blanket statements in Scripture that, if taken to heart, would largely answer a host of these "gray areas". Take, for instance, "love your neighbor as yourself" and ask yourself, "Are the things I'm doing loving my neighbor?" I think you'll find that many times they are not.

In that whole arena of what may or may not be sin, it should be pretty simple to at least ask yourself "Does it glorify God?" because we are commanded "whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31). (Of interesting note is that this verse is offered particularly on the subject of "gray areas". In this instance it was eating meat offered to idols.) And I think you'd have to admit that a lot of what we choose to watch, to listen to, to participate in, to indulge doesn't actually have any dimension of glorifying God.

Or take that whole violent video game thing. Without even looking for the "Thou shalt not" verse, I think we can easily find a passage that answers the question.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Phil 4:8).
The passage is clear. It tells us what to let our minds dwell on. Try as I might, I can't imagine how blowing people up for the fun of it with as much realism as you can find falls in any of these categories.

Now, mind you, I don't mean to suggest that all "gray areas" are answered here. And I think that it is entirely possible that someone can find "glorify God" in something that others wouldn't see it -- legitimately. It's just that I don't think that life is nearly as "gray" as we'd like to paint it. I suspect that it's much more "black and white". It's just not the same black and white for each person. Still, I'd argue that neither is it nearly as vague as we'd sometimes like to think. I'm not really confident that we're asking the right questions. Like, "What's wrong with ...?" rather than "What's right with ...?"

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Why am I a Calvinist?

I don't like the term. Long before I stood where I now stand, I classified myself as a Calvinist because I knew those dirty, rotten Arminians believed you could lose your salvation and I knew "once saved always saved". Then I came to find out that I was a four-and-a-half point Arminian. I don't like the terms "Calvinist" or "Arminian" because they reek of "followers of" some guys that most people have forgotten and shouldn't be following. As I've said in the past, I arrived at my current doctrinal position not on the basis of some writings from John Calvin, but on the basis of what I find in Scripture. So I don't like the term "Calvinist" ... but I accept it. I mean, it turns out that the term essentially describes the doctrines I believe, so it is an essentially accurate description of what I am in terms of doctrine. So be it.

But why? What Scripture leads me to believe -- and as strongly as I do -- that God is the Absolute Sovereign, that He chooses whom He will save without regard to their merit, that He intended to save some and actually accomplishes exactly that, that those whom He intends to save will certainly be saved, and that none of those will be lost? Well, it's a lot, really. And I don't intend to actually lay it all out here. I can later. Maybe you might be interested. But not here. You see, when I consider the questions (plural), I start with what I consider to be an abundantly clear situation in the Bible -- the condition of Man. If this condition is accurate, then it serves as a massive roadblock to a whole lot of other possibilities. Where does faith come from? Is salvation the result of Libertine Free Will? Does God choose whom He will save, or do we choose (and maybe He agrees)? Are there those who lose their salvation? If God chooses to save someone, can they ultimately refuse? Just how free is Man's Free Will? So many possibilities, but it is this one starting place that prevents me from going there and directs me down the path I'm on.

That starting place is the biblical description of Natural Man. It isn't a minor description, an obscure conclusion based on eisegesis (reading into Scripture what I think it means) or, frankly, even clever and careful exegesis (reading out of Scripture what it means). It seems blatant. It was this starting point that, when I was faced with it, forced me to change my perceptions ... that made me a "Calvinist". How does Scripture describe Natural Man, the unregenerate human in his natural habitat? Let's look.

In Genesis 6 we read, "The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen 6:5). We might think that this was only the bad people and that God wiped them all out with the Flood, but at the end of the Flood we read, "The LORD said in His heart, "I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the inclination of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen 8:21). The solely evil inclination of the heart of Man from childhood, then, is a given. This is why David wrote, "The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one" (Psa 14:2-3). "None who does good" is an absolute statement, and "not even one" is a repetition that explains it to be completely absolute, not mere hyperbole. Paul saw it as the "great bad news" (my phrase) that precedes "the Gospel". In Romans 1:18-3:23 he lays out the serious condition of Man, both Jew and Gentile. In his roundup of the problem (both Jew and Gentile) he quotes this very passage (Rom 3:9-18). So the first thing we learn about Natural Man is that his heart is inclined only to evil, and that the concept of "good" then is outside his operational parameters. This is a constant theme in Old and New Testaments.

The Bible doesn't stop there. We understand a common use of the term "the flesh" to be a reference to our sinful nature (as opposed to simple physical bodies). The Bible talks a lot about "the flesh". Jesus said, "The flesh profits nothing" (to which Luther responded "And that's not a little something"). Paul said that "The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom 8:7-8). The alternative to "the mind that is set on the flesh" is "those who live according to the Spirit" (Rom 8:5) which, I would assume, is not a reference to Natural Man. Only one who is born again can live according to the Spirit. Thus, Natural Man is, by nature, hostile to God.

Paul uses the phrase "children of wrath" in Eph 2:1-3. Same thing -- hostile to God. But there is a more in that passage. "You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked" is one phrase. Of course, that can't mean "dead" in the sense of physical life, so it must mean spiritually dead. This explains the 1 Cor 2:14 reference that says, "The Natural Man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." I didn't say it; he did. "Not able to." It is the same kind of phrase Jesus uses when He says "no man can" when talking about believing in Him (John 6:65).

Another concept Paul uses in that same Eph 2 passage is the idea that Natural Man is "following the prince of the power of the air". This is a repeated theme as well. In 2 Cor 4:4 he writes, "In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." You see, the biblical picture is not that we are "free agents" in some sense, but rather that Natural Man is a slave to sin (Rom 6:16-23). We don't get some free choice here. The options are "slave to sin" or "slave to God", and the choosing is outside our capabilities.

You know, I've only scratched the surface here, but what do I have to deal with so far? I have "inclined only to evil", "none who does good", "the flesh profits nothing", "hostile to God", "unable to please God", "dead in sin", "not able to understand the things of God", "no man can", "following the prince of the power of the air", "slave to sin", "blinded by the god of this world", and so it goes. Now, I understand that we'd like to believe that we come to Christ in faith that we produce and that all seems rather nice and proper, but to me this litany of the problems of the condition of Natural Man makes that an impossibility. It isn't unclear or obtuse. It seems quite clear. Unless someone can offer me a (clearly quite expansive) explanation of how all of this does not mean at all what it appears to mean regarding the condition of Natural Man, I'm forced to be one of those dirty, rotten Calvinists. "Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason, I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me."

Monday, December 06, 2010

Godliness with Contentment

We're just coming off of Thanksgiving -- a day designed to be a national day of gratitude -- and heading toward Christmas -- a day set aside to celebrate the birth of God's greatest gift to mankind. Put that way, doesn't it seem odd that we're headed into the biggest "gimme" time of all? What do I mean? The standard question of the day, spoken or not, is "What do you want for Christmas?" Eartha Kitt recorded a famous Christmas tune in 1953 entitled Santa Baby where she outlines all the things she wants for Christmas. Simple things like a sable coat, a yacht, the deed to a platinum mine, just the simple things that a girl might like. I recently heard a fairly contemporary Christmas song where the lyrics essentially said, "I want it all, and I want it now." For far too many of us, that may be an exaggeration, but it's Christmas.

In Paul's first letter to Timothy he warns of people with doctrines different than what he was teaching. He tells of their mistaken thinking which includes this: They "suppose that godliness is a means of gain" (1 Tim 6:5). I suppose that I could point to modern day folks self-identified as Christians who think that they can claim great health and economic gains from God. Others who are, perhaps, less offensive see Christianity as a way to obtain things like love, joy, and peace. That's less offensive, of course, because there is some truth to it, but when it is from the position of demand rather than being grateful recipients, it still falls in that category of thinking that godliness is a means of gain. Paul lists this as a mistake in the thinking of people who are not aligned with Christ.

Paul further confuses the issue with the next statement:
But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment (1 Tim 6:6).
"Well, there you have it, Stan. Why don't you just back off?" Before I do, let's look at what he's saying.

Paul is confirming that there is great gain in godliness, to be sure. So why did Paul say that these false followers of Christ were wrong in their view that godliness is a means of gain? I would say that there is a missing link in there. It's the one that Paul mentions -- "when accompanied by contentment." Contentment, then, is the catalyst of gain in godliness.

In Philippians Paul writes, "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am" (Phil 4:11). He goes on to say that he is content with little ... and with much. You see, what he has does not define his level of contentment. In the Philippians passage, he explains the source of his contentment in all circumstances. "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13). That is the secret of contentment -- resting in the hands of the One who provides all things we need, whether that is "stuff" to get by or comfort when we don't have "stuff". It is an "other world" view, an ambassador's view. "This world is not my home; I'm just passing through."

You know what I want for Christmas? Less of me and more of Him. I know, I know, to those of you (you know, like family) who are wondering what to get me for Christmas, that's not helpful at all. But it's the truth. I want to stop thinking about "What do I want for Christmas?" and settle into the contentment that makes godliness truly great gain. Now, if any of you know where to buy that for Christmas, please let me know.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Names of God - El Elyon

What are these names all about? I mean, look ... I don't have a lot of names. I have one. So what exactly is all this stuff about "names of God"? Well, the names revealed in Scripture are one of the ways that God reveals Himself to us. They tell us His nature, His character. Anyone who loves God and wants to worship Him would want very much to be familiar with what He has chosen to tell us about Himself.

So take this one, for instance -- El Elyon. Now, if you've been following at all, you already know the name, "El". It is His "generic" name. It is, in fact, more of His title. Elyon is a Hebrew word for "high". According to Strong's, as a title it means "the Supreme" (the highest). That's the sense of it. God Supreme. Oh, okay, see if you recognize this one: "The Most High". That one should ring a bell. Very common in Scripture.

We read, for instance, that Melchizedek was "priest of God Most High" (Gen 14:18). We see that nations are determined by the Most High (Deu 32:8). Do a search of the Psalms and you will find repeated references to the Most High. One that really strikes a chord with me is Psa 21:7 where David writes, "The king trusts in the LORD, and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved." Why is that so thrilling? Well, the steadfast love of a good woman or the steadfast love of a good parent is as wonderful thing, so imagine the awesome security of the steadfast love of the Most High. Psalm 47 says "The LORD, the Most High, is to be feared ...", a sentiment we don't hear much these days when it comes to God. "Oh, no," we are assured, "He's a God of love. No need for fear." Nice sentiment ... just not biblical. Jeremiah assures us, "Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?" (Lam 3:38). And it was this term, "Most High", that was part of the whole original concept of sin: "I will make myself like the Most High."

I particularly like this title of God. When government and economics and society and even the Church look bad, I have something higher to which to appeal; I have the Most High. David, fleeing from Saul, wrote, "I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills His purpose for me." You see? That's the idea. Remembering God, El Elyon, the Supreme, the Most High, reminds me that He alone is Sovereign, that He alone is Master, that there is none like Him. Circumstances become less significant, less frightening, less troubling. I read stuff about the dangerous rise of Islam in the world or how the government plans to do this or that horrible thing and I don't need to fear because I cry out to God Most High who fulfills His purpose for me. We know that "the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom He will" (Dan 5:21). Resting in the hands of the One who is over all, the one who steadfastly loves me and is Most High -- there is no safer place to be.