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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Old Year's Thoughts

If the New Year is the time for making resolutions on how to improve, I wonder if New Year's Eve wouldn't be a good time to reflect on the last year. More to the point, I wonder if, in order to make useful, profitable, and viable resolutions, it might not be a good time to reflect on ... failures. If we are going to make resolutions to improve ourselves, shouldn't we first examine our shortcomings? And, look, we all know that "confession is good for the soul" or, if you prefer, we know that the Bible commands, "Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed" (James 5:16). Therefore, in light of the biblical command, I'll start. You can go next.

I don't doubt that some of what I write appears to be finger-pointing. "You are doing this wrong and you need to correct that!" Some of it is actually pointed outward. The truth is that more of it is inward. I, for instance, do not have a problem with the sin of homosexual behavior. On the other hand, I can be ungrateful, unkind, combatitve, too friendly with the world, too set in my ways (as opposed to God's ways) ... lots of things I've pointed out in these articles. It's me, you see. It's me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.

But it's worse than that. The single command -- the big one, the one that forms all others -- is one in which I lack. I am to love God with all that I am and have and I tend to love so many other things. The ramifications are many, of course, but the most obvious is that I would also fail to love others as I should -- Command #2. It's me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.

I will continue to rail against the suppression of truth in ungodliness and unrighteousness. That problem rates up there with most anything else you'd care to name, a source problem. But I struggle with that problem myself. I don't tell myself the truth. I ignore the truth. Sometimes I find that I'm just way too close to the world, standing dangerously close to the warning of 1 John 2:15. Like so many, I struggle with the pain and death of the world, the sadness of those who "died too young", even the perplexity of eternal damnation. Why? Because I'm closer to the world than I am to God and His truth. Too often I am more conformed to the world than transformed in the mind.

You know, at some point I begin to realize that "a New Year's Resolution" isn't going to solve these problems. Perhaps I should just seek the Lord while He may be found. That, and walk by the Spirit, because "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (Gal 5:22-25).

Friday, December 30, 2011

Economics and Politics

Words have meanings. Sometimes, however, we lose sight of what they mean. If you're like me, sometimes we operate on what we think a word means without actually knowing what it means. As you can imagine, this might cause no end of confusion. In this time of economic unrest and political wrangling, I thought it might be a good idea to ... figure out what the terms "economic" and "political" mean. I suspect that 1) we're often operating off of what we think they mean and 2) we're wrong. I also suspect that figuring out what they really mean might help us in our current conditions and views.

The first I'll examine (simply because it fell first in the sentence above) is the concept of economics. Economics is the science that deals with the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, or the material welfare of humankind. We understand that "the economy" is "bad" and that it has something to do with money. That's only partially correct. Think about the word for a moment. When we "economize", we practice being frugal. Words you will hear in this concept is to "avoid waste" and "reduce expenditures". Why? Because we are operating on a set of limited resources. (Think about it. If you had unlimited resources, you would have no need to "economize".) Economics, then, is the management of limited resources. When I realized that, it helped me understand the concept of "the economy", an "economic crisis", and other uses of the term. We are running up against the limits of our resources. There is not an infinite amount. We can't all have everything we want. It is limited. The question then becomes, "Am I going to be satisfied with the limited amount of goods and services I have, or am I going to require someone else to be satisfied with less?" You see, all of the sudden "economics" becomes a heart problem, not a resource problem ... because resources are always limited.

Next up is "politics". We most often think about politics as something to do with partisan governmental entities. That's an extremely narrow view. Politics is the aggregate of relationships of people in society, especially those relationships involving authority or power. It is the process by which a group of people make decisions. Here, try this. What kind of politics go on in a party of one? None, right? That's because "politics" requires "group". And, of course, in any group there is a competing set of concerns, goals, and values. Thus, politics is the give-and-take, push-and-pull, of a body of people. This would, obviously, include a government (as long as that government is not a party of one). But it also includes any group dynamic. You know that it happens in churches. You know that there are "office politics". Politics occurs anywhere there is a group. (Thus, a dictator doesn't worry about politics.) So how does politics work? Well, in a group of two -- you and me -- we look at what you want in Situation X and we look at what I want in Situation X and we come to some sort of compromise. You want Y and I want W and you're bigger than me, so Y it is. Nice compromise! That's politics.

Oh, now wait a minute. Look at "economics" and now back at "politics". Do you see a parallel, a connection? Economics is the management of limited resources. Politics is the management of power. Oh, now that's interesting. So the question becomes "Am I going to look out for my own best interests or for the interests of others? Am I going to be most important, or am I going to consider others as more important than myself?" Those questions work in either the use of limited resources (economics) or the management of power (politics). I would suggest that Christians would find that answer in Philippians 2. I would also hope that you would see that both economics and politics at this point cease to be mere principles and means, but an indication of heart. The problems in both are not resolved by policy or force, but by changed hearts. And that is a job bigger than my vote or your dollar.

(Thanks, Danny.)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Christmas Gift

Yes, I know, Christmas is over. Yes, I know, Christmas is not about "gifts". Yes, I know, this is entirely too late. And, yet, I'd beg to differ.

Everyone has heard the advertising phrase, "The gift that keeps on giving." It has been used from the early days of the Victrola through Kodak's cameras and, of course, into less savory "gifts". Well, how about this one?
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Now, that is a gift that keeps on giving. It is eternal life. It is given eternally in Christ. And then you cross reference "eternal life" with Jesus's definition.
"And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent" (John 17:3).
Oh, now this gift gets even bigger. Not only is it life eternal, but it is an eternal relationship with God the Father and God the Son.

Now, that is a gift that keeps on giving. That is a gift that gives eternally. That is a gift you keep on getting. Well, well, I guess it's still a merry Christmas, eh?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sovereignty and Free Will

I recently wrote about God having to "play the hand He's dealt". In that article I stood firm on God's Sovereignty. To me, God's Sovereignty is both absolutely paramount and sadly misunderstood. I'd venture to guess that I don't even understand it well enough. I'm certain that a good number of Christians have a minimalist view on the topic.

The problem with the Sovereignty (I keep using that uppercase "S" for a reason) is that many (most) believe that it makes God responsible for our problems, and that just can't be. Now, the concept of "our problems" has two sides to it. First there is the "natural" side. Those are things like illnesses or disasters, layoffs or traffic accidents, those kinds of things. "Those might be caused by God," some admit, but they aren't really comfortable with that admission. The other side is the problem of sin. If God is responsible for our problems ("Sovereign") and we have a problem of sin, then doesn't that make God responsible for our sin? And while we might be uncomfortable with allowing God to be responsible for natural problems, we cannot allow Him to be responsible for sin problems. I mean, we know "God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone" (James 1:13). As the commenter in that article said,
Complete sovereignty entails complete responsibility. If scripture says that humans are miserable sinners, and if scripture also says God is absolutely sovereign over us non-sovereign sinners, then whatever we do that wins us the label “sinner” is ultimately done by God, and so He is responsible for it in the final analysis.
So we will tend to back off of Sovereignty in favor of sovereignty, and that extremely limited. It may be limited in Middle Knowledge sense where God knows "all possible worlds" and works to achieve it while being unable to do what He really wants all the way to the Open Theism sense where God cannot know what humans will choose to do, so He is really limited by Human Free Will (again, not a frivolous use of uppercase letters).

I am not here to clear it all up for you. I'm here to make a couple of suggestions. First, there is a difference between "Hard Determinism" and "Soft Determinism". These are two viewpoints out there regarding predestination. (Please note that "predestination" does not require a theistic view.) The first, also known as fatalism, is the one offered by our good commenter above. All things are caused; free will is a myth. I say that theism isn't required for this because it happens to be the view of some atheists like Richard Dawkins who argue that biology and chemistry -- materialism -- determine all our choices without our "free will" being involved. You choose what you choose because your body makes you. Of course, in a theistic fatalism, it wouldn't be your body; it would be God. In either case, this is the elimination of free will.

Soft Determinism is also called compatibilism. Compatibilism has some nuances and variations, but the basic idea is the suggestion that people could make a choice. The choice is real. Compatibilism concludes that the choice is caused by the chooser, not by an external coercion. That the choice was preknown or even influenced doesn't nullify that the choice was made without coercion. In other words, a compatibilist defines "free will" as the uncoerced freedom to act. Whether or not a person would have chosen differently in the identical situation is irrelevant as long as the person does choose. Thus, critics complain that the definition of "free will" is incorrect. "Free will", to the incompatibilist, requires genuine alternative possiblities, while the compatibilist requires only the possiblity of alternatives without them being actual. Compatibilism looks like this. I hand you a box and tell you it could or could not have a cat in it. The fact that there is only one real answer doesn't change the fact that there are two possibilities. Similarly, while you have real options, there is only one actual option you will choose. (Oh, and the other alternative to fatalism or compatibilism is indeterminism -- Human Free Will as Sovereign.)

So, the first point I would suggest is that it is possible logically and philosophically to hold to determinism (compatibilism) without eliminating free will (fatalism). The second point, however, is more important to the Christian. This point is that the Bible teaches both the absolute Sovereignty of God and free will. The biblical view is not either Divine Sovereignty or Human Free Will as we are often offered, but Sovereignty and free will -- "both/and". We know, for instance, that God claims Sovereignty for Himself both in the realm of the natural and the moral.
"I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things" (Isa 45:6-7).

Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (Rom 9:21).

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps (Prov 16:9).

"Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?" (Lam 3:37).
But it doesn't stop there. We also know that God holds His creation responsible for their choices. So while we know, for instance, that God knew Adam would sin at the beginning and that all would sin and fall short of the glory of God, we also know that He put that plan into place -- He went ahead with His project. So while we are morally responsible for our choices, we also know that "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps." An absolutely clear picture of this is found in Luke 22:22. Jesus was speaking during the Last Supper: "For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" Both are there. Judas's betrayal of Christ "has been determined", and he would be held responsible for his choice. Another prime example is in the Crucifixion. It is clear in Scripture that Herod and Pilate made their choices and were responsible for them. Even Pilate knew that he was convicting an innocent man and sought to distance himself from the guilt. And then we read the prayer in Acts 4 that includes this: "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur" (Acts 4:27-28). So, which was it? Were they culpable for their choices or did they act in accordance with what God predestined? The answer is "Yes!"

I'm stuck with this position, personally. I'm stuck with it because I can't avoid it biblically. The Scriptures all point to both God's Absolute Sovereignty and Man's Moral Responsibility. The Bible embraces both God's predestination of all that occurs and Man's free will. I have to reject indeterminism because God works all things after the counsel of His will. I have to reject fatalism because God holds humans responsible for their moral choices. Fortunately for me, I like this position that holds to "both/and". I like that it is compatible with Scripture. I like that it leaves God as Sovereign. I'm not delighted with the fact that it leaves me culpable, but I have the comfort of being a forgiven child of God, so that works for me as well. You'll have to figure out your own view.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Tragic Act of Kindness

Meet Kaley Mitchell. Kaley is a remarkable 9-year-old. For her birthday she received money. When she went to the store to buy things, she made an amazing choice. Instead of buying stuff for herself, she decided to buy toys for needy children. Quite a story, truly. Touches your heart.

In the version I saw, the talking head said, "The most amazing part of the story is that Kaley's mom received gifts the year before from the same organization that Kaley donated to this year, and Kaley didn't know it." Yes, that's quite a coincidence. To me, the most amazing part of the story was Kaley. "I thought it would be sad to get up Christmas morning and not have any gifts," she said empathetically. Then, looking completely confused, "I don't understand why Santa doesn't bring them gifts."

What a twist! Santa is a failure, so Kaley needs to step in and fix it. Either these kids were bad kids and aren't receiving gifts because they don't deserve them (and Kaley is circumventing that), or Santa is just incompetent (and Kaley is fixing that). I'm wondering, then, where it goes from there. I mean, Santa can only mess things up once a year. What about God? From Kaley's perspective (and, quite obviously, the perspective of a lot of cynics), there is a "right thing" and the powers that be (God or Santa) will not be able to do "the right thing", so we have to. This is the glorious truth that Kaley (et. al.) is learning from this wonderful story of Satan Claus. Oh, look ... I spelled that wrong, didn't I?

I think it's wonderful that a little girl thought enough of others to give her own gift opportunity to them. I think it's amazing that parents teach their kids lies like that on purpose. I think it's sad that an act of kindness can be subverted like that because of a lie like that. But, I suppose I should expect it.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Love and Respect

In summing up one of the most controversial passages in Scripture, Paul says, "Let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband" (Eph 5:33). Now, I'm not going to address the "controversy" regarding wives submitting to husbands here. (I mean, that is what it says, so what's to address?) It's this summation I'm wondering about.

Have you ever wondered why? Why did Paul focus on these two factors? Why did he tell husbands to love their wives without mentioning respect? Why did he tell wives to respect their husbands without mentioning love? I mean, it is true, for instance, that wives are to love their husbands (Titus 2:4). And husbands are to live with their wives in an understanding way and give them honor (1 Peter 3:7). So why did Paul pick these two factors for husbands and wives?

Obviously, Paul didn't tell us why. That means that you're just going to get my opinion. Take it for whatever it's worth. I think that the answer is twofold. First, these two characteristics seem to be the first to go in a marriage. Husbands tend to express less affection and wives tend to show less respect. These, then, are not natural. It is, for instance, in the nature of women to be nurturing. Loving their husbands, then, is part of their nature. You can see this in the women who love men they shouldn't. So commanding women to love their husbands could be, in a sense, like commanding them to breathe. It's generally second nature. So Paul was pressing to have wives submit when submission wasn't natural -- to respect when respect wasn't a given -- and He was urging husbands to love when love wasn't a given.

I think, however, that there was a second reason for these two characteristics. It seems to me that these are the very two items on which each gender thrives. Women typically function best when they feel secure in love. If they are confident that their husbands love them, most of the rest of life runs much more smoothly. And husbands desperately need respect -- far more than than they need to feel loved. Men need to feel significant, the upshot of respect.

Marriage is a complex relationship requiring real though rewarding work. Read through Proverbs 31:10-31 to read a biblical version of "an excellent wife". It's not simple or easy. And the biblical version of a godly husband is much tougher and complicated than most men realize. Both are roles assigned by God. Both have a host of requirements including love and respect. I would just like to urge you husbands to love your wives because love is the nutrient-enriched soil in which they grow and I would beg you wives to respect your husbands because respect is the solid footing on which they can be what God calls them to be. Or, here, let me put it this way. "Let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband." Yeah, like that.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Real Christmas

What is Christmas really all about? It's about white. You know, "white Christmas", like the one I'm dreaming about.
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Psa 51:7).
Yeah, white ... like snow.

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without trees. Trees symbolize Christmas.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us -- for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree" (Gal 3:13).
The tree is an important component of Christmas.

It's not possible to think of Christmas without thinking of Christmas lights. They sparkle and shine and light up the darkness.
Jesus again spoke to them, saying, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life" (John 8:12).
Lots of lights.
"There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man" (John 1:6-9).
Lights are a key part of Christmas.

And, as the commercials are quick to remind us from way back in October, Christmas is very much about gifts.
Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water" (John 4:10).
More gifts.
The free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many" (Rom 5:15).
Lots of gifts.
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (1 Peter 4:10).
Oh, yeah, very much about gifts.

Of course, the real reason for the season is Christ, His birth, His coming.
While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:6-7).

There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. 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 God" (John 1:9-13).

5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:5-10).
Yes, that's Christmas, in the end. It's the coming of Christ, His adoration "to the glory of God the Father". It's the gift of God's Son, the gifts He gives, the Light of the World who became a curse for us on the tree so that our sins can be made white as snow. I love that Christmas. Merry Christmas to all!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Message of Christmas

What messages do we get from Christmas? There is, I would surmise, more than one. In fact, I think there are quite a few.

There's that whole thing about the real meaning of Christmas -- Santa Claus. The biggest thing about Santa is that we know Santa is watching you ... but he doesn't really care what you do. You see, he knows if you've been bad or good, but there is no justice because bad kids certainly get good gifts. Idle threats. You deserve good things all the time.

Beyond (but certainly part of) Santa is the fundamental principle that bigger is better. A Christmas card is nice, but where's the gift? A gift is nice, but is that all you're going to give me? He/she got more than me. I deserve more.

Underlying all of this, of course, is that it's all about me. We don't (typically) teach our kids that Christmas is about giving because we don't expect kids to give. Instead, we teach them that it's about getting, and we cater to them. It's all well and good, you see, because we love our kids and want to please them. But they're take-away lesson is, "It's all about me." (Doubt that? How hard is it to teach a kid to be grateful for the gifts they get?)

More generally, one thing we can see as a fundamental truth for all of life is that colorful decorations make for cheerful people. The more colorful, the more cheerful. Lots of lights and bright colors. I think, in fact, that if we think about it we can probably see that genuine happiness comes from pretty, shiny things. I'm sure we can see that in the rest of life as well.

Now, of course, I'm being a little too simplistic (and perhaps pessimistic). Since Christmas is about so much getting, it is equally about giving. I mean, if someone gets, someone gives, right? But, given the amount of debt that people tend to go into at Christmas and the stress levels that people encounter in obtaining those gifts, I would think that another obvious message is that it is good to mandate the giving of others. I mean, look, what kind of person would not give at Christmas? Would not give whatever he/she/it wants? As much as they want? Could you really face the anger of that one that didn't receive what was demanded? Extortion works.

Of course, Christmas isn't simply about all that stuff. We're Christians. Christmas is about Christ, about our celebration of His birth. The public does not have the right to change the name to "holiday trees" or to strip "Christ" off "Christmas" and make it "Xmas" or to prevent our kids from recognizing it in school or to suggest that Christmas is about materialism. It's our holiday. We have the right to require you all to recognize our religious celebration that is not biblically commanded. That is indeed an important Christmas message.

I know, I know, that's not what Christmas is about. But it sure is hard to avoid these messages, even if they're not explicit. On the other hand, finding the real message of Christmas seems really difficult these days. It's not about being nice to people or being good or about love and joy for all. It's not about giving or even feeding the hungry. It's not about turning over a new leaf like Scrooge or the Grinch did or helping Santa keep Christmas alive. They may be good lessons, but that's not what Christmas is about. They're just trappings, decorations, sufficient amounts of wrapping to end up obscuring the real message of Christmas. The message is that God the Father, sent His only child, God the Son, to take on human form, live a perfect life, and take on God's curse on our behalf so that we can be restored to a relationship with God. Seriously, that is so much better than bright lights, cheerful songs, and an imaginary pot-bellied man with toys.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Bible on Sex

Mark Driscoll and his wife, Grace, have just published a book entitled Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together. Their goal was to help people with the seemingly endless questions Christians have about sex, friendship, and life together. One chapter is devoted to "Can we ___?", the burning question in many Christian bedrooms where believers are torn between the porn they've seen (or whatever other sources they may have for a host of bizarre sex acts) and the sense they have that the Bible is really opposed to sex. Now, not having read the book, I will make no attempt to review it. (Makes sense, I think.) But being a husband and a father and a brother in Christ and a Christian who is deeply interested in all things biblical, I thought it might be interesting to look very briefly at what the Bible does say about sex. You might be surprised.

First, let's start with the easy stuff ... the stuff that won't surprise you. Despite various sources who are trying to tell us that the Bible isn't clear on the topic, I think most can agree that there are some pretty clear guidelines in the Scriptures. Who, for instance, doesn't know the popular biblical term, "fornication"? And it doesn't even take a Christian to guess what God's view of fornication is. It's bad. Or how about adultery? Yeah, bad. Bestiality? Bad. There are some things that the Bible is not silent on in the realm of sexual relations and there is no ambiguity. Simply put, sexual relations of any kind outside of the sanction of marriage is biblically forbidden. That would include unmarried-unmarried, married-unmarried, human-animal, and, of course, same-sex. These things are explicitly stated as overt sin in the Scriptures. No surprise, right?

"Fine," you say, "but we are married. So, what does the Bible have to say about sex in marriage?"

First, despite false ideas about the Puritans and the ridiculous notions perpetrated by the likes of the Victorian Era, God is in favor of sex in marriage. I wonder how many people find that surprising. There are things in Scripture that God tolerates, like divorce or some forms of slavery. Sex is not in this list of "God tolerates". No, if you read through the Song of Solomon, for instance, you will see that it is not merely tolerated, but indulged exuberantly. It's a good thing. Beyond being a delightful gift that, from all appearances, was only given to God's human creations, it is biblically mandated. Did you get that? The Bible requires it of married people. I would guess that this one might be a bigger shock, so I might need to give you the text to show it.
1 Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 But because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. 3 Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Cor 7:1-5).
It doesn't take a scholar to see that 1) sex outside of marriage is a sin (v 1), that God endorses marriage partly because of the joy of sex (v 2), and that sexual relations between married couples is the duty of husbands and wives (v 3) (since the topic was avoiding immoralities and physical contact between males and females). Plain as day. "Stop depriving one another."

The question, then, becomes, "So ... what can we do?" Some will even cite 1 Corinthians 6:12 -- "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything." "See?" they will finish, "We can do anything we want in the bedroom, right?" (where "in the bedroom" is used as a euphemism to mean "when we engage in sexual relations ... wherever that might be"). Is that true? Can we do anything? I'd be careful about that.

First, there is the obvious. The biblical requirement for moral sexual relations is that it be between a husband and a wife. Therefore, it cannot include anyone else. That should include anyone else in video (for instance). (If you need the rationale for that, ask.) So we are not free to do anything we want. And the Bible says more about it. Paul's statement is "Not all things are profitable." We ought to ask if it's profitable. Paul's statement is "I will not be mastered by anything." We ought to ask, "Will it 'enslave' us in some way?" There are things that can go on "in the bedroom" that are not profitable in any way and that could enslave you. Avoid them. Indeed, the question should not be "What can we do?", but "Why should we do that?" Profitable, you see?

The other passage carries a little more insight that I believe is seriously lost today in the Christian bedroom. Paul states, "The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does." What does that mean? Well, as we all know, men are pigs. They want their own satisfaction and they expect their wives to give it to them. (I'm overgeneralizing; don't miss the point.) Husbands, your body is not your own. Your purpose in the bedroom is to please your wife with your body, not acquire your own pleasure. That is a mistake. And we're all aware of that to an extent. But notice that Paul didn't start there. "The wife does not have authority over her own body." This is a biblical mandate for wives to use their bodies in ways to bring pleasure to their husbands. So while it is wrong for Christian husbands to approach the bedroom expecting pleasure from their wives, it is wrong for wives to withhold it from their husbands.

So, let's see where we are. God forbids sex outside of marriage. Of course, we all knew that, didn't we? I mean, sure, society finds it acceptable, even recommended, but Scripture says something different. On the other hand, God celebrates sex inside of marriage. It is a gift of God, even commanded. Each is required to give himself or herself to the pleasure of his or her spouse. And, really, when you think about it, isn't that really the best way? See? The Bible isn't as much of a killjoy as you might have thought.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Solving Problems

Good news! Unemployment is dropping! Well, that's what they said. Of course, figuring out exactly what "unemployment rates" are is really tricky because you have to figure out who the employed are, who the unemployed are, who is in the labor force, and who doesn't count. I mean, clearly your 10-year-old is not employed, but also not counted in the unemployment figures, right? And that was an easy one. And, of course, actually getting the data is not easy, either. It's not a hard number. It's a survey the government uses of about 60,000 households from which they derive their numbers for "employed", "unemployed", and "not in the labor force". Very tricky stuff.

But, hey, the government is going to fix that for you. Don't you worry about it. The current president or the next one is going to get right on that. Because, you see, it's one of our biggest concerns these days and so they need to get that moving. Have you ever asked yourself how, exactly, they would do that? You see, it's far more complicated to create jobs than it is to calculate unemployment rates. That's because employment is a complicated thing.

What causes unemployment? "Job losses, dummy" might be the snarky reply, but hang on. What causes job losses? Job losses in the private sector occur when companies aren't making enough money to employ people. And what causes that? Well, the demand for their product drops off. And what causes that? Oh, that's a tough one. Look at this latest crisis.

We have the housing crash where lenders loaned money stupidly. No, not merely ignorantly or unwisely. It was plain stupid. Lend it to people who cannot pay it back and guess what happened? They couldn't pay it back! Go figure! Now the lenders are in trouble. Wall Street bankers don't help. There is a scare, the government jumps in with a "rescue plan", and what happens? People realize there is a problem and stop buying. Well, of course, there were already problems with products like American automobiles. So they had to be bailed out, too. And now the public is more frightened. Buying drops off. As demand for goods drops, jobs begin to shed. As jobs begin to shed, the public gets more frightened. Well, you see where this is going, and it's not good. And it's not even that simple. There is the problem of minimum wage. A company will pay to hire someone to do a job that is worth X, and if X is less than the minimum wage, that job won't exist. There is the cost of taxes, where employers have to decide whether hiring people is worth the taxes they have to pay to do it. There are all the regulations and licensing laws added to the cost of business, money that can go to an employee ... or not. The more employees, the more regulations. Thus, limiting the number of employees can save a company money. And, of course, there is the problem of "corporate greed". No, not that evil kind. The normal kind. Any business at all is in business to make money. No profit, no business. No business, no jobs. It's that simple.

The problem, then, is much larger than a bailout. It's much larger than stupid banks or government taxes or Wall Street big wigs. It's a human problem. It includes fear and greed, want and need, regulation and deregulation, wise practices and self-centered efforts. It's about the need for income versus the attitude of entitlement. And this is where the bad news is found. The way to fix the economy, you see, is to change the hearts of the people. The way to solve this mess is to stop theft, eliminate greed, and correct self-centeredness. How much money, for instance, would go back into the economy if doctor's weren't required to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in malpractice insurance? Why do they pay so much? Two reasons. On one hand there are greedy doctors without conscience who don't do their jobs right. On the other hand there are greedy patients or their surrogates who believe they have the right to perfection or payment. People. That's the problem.

I hate to break it to you, but a Republican president will not be able to solve this problem. The problem is not a government problem. It's a people problem. Changed hearts. That's what's necessary. Changed lives. That's the solution. And the government is not in the business of changing hearts. The good news is that we know Who is. I would think that we'd want to be putting more effort into that solution. That one is an eternal solution.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


The dictionary defines "harmony" as "a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts". That probably is as good of a definition as any. Whether the parts are musical notes or various people, it is when these parts are structured in an orderly, pleasing arrangement that we call it "harmony".

There is a fairly recent addition to the contest shows that are so popular these days like American Idol and the like. The show, The Sing Off, is a music competition, just like that other one, but it has a couple of different components that make it interesting. First, it is not a competition between individual singers, but a competition between singing groups. Second, it is a cappella. That's right. No instruments, musicians, or bands. It is just a group of people using their own voices. And since I like music and I like a cappella music, I have enjoyed some of what has come out of that competition. The competition is about ... harmony.

It's interesting, when you think about it, what harmony requires to exist. First, harmony is not unison. Harmony is not "everyone doing the same thing". In fact, if everyone is doing the same thing, it is not harmony. On the other hand, harmony is not everyone doing their own thing, either. That wouldn't work. No, the parts of harmony are doing something different, yet they are working on the same thing toward the same goal. That is harmony.

When you think of a choir (which uses harmony to obtain its effect), it expands the concept a little. I mean, sure, you can have a barbershop quartet and each person sings their own part, but when a choir sings, it takes on a different sound. You might have the same four parts, but you have a group of people singing in unison on each part. The effect of this unison, however, is not sameness, but richness. That's because, while each voice is singing the same note, the tone quality of each voice varies and the result is a harmony of tone qualities around a harmony of parts.

In The Sing Off recently there was one group that was formed just for the competition. They gathered several solo singers together to form this a cappella group. It was interesting how difficult it was for them to do their job. Why? Well, in order for there to be harmony, there is one other key component required. For harmony to exist, the participants must not be interested primarily in their own glory. In a good harmony, you might hear various parts, but sometimes you're wondering, "So, who is that voice?" because good harmony is not about the individual. It's about the group. It won't work when the individuals are all aiming at being heard above the rest. It's called "blending", and it's key to good harmony.

Harmony, then, acts as a wonderful lesson in Christian living. We are not called to be the same. We are each given our own tasks to perform. Neither are we to operate in a vacuum. We are part of a whole, working toward a common goal. You know, kind of like a body. Sometimes we work with others on the same tasks. Sometimes we work alone. Always we are arranged in an "orderly, pleasing arrangement". And it's not about us. It's about the whole, the group, the overall effort, and, ultimately, about the One for whom and through whom we work. "To sum up," Peter writes, "let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit" (1 Peter 3:8).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Birthday Party

Some of my closest friends came by one day and told me, "We've decided to celebrate your birthday." I was a bit baffled for the moment, but they explained further. "Well, you never told us when your birthday actually was, but we are very grateful for your friendship. Therefore, we've agreed -- your friends -- to mark May 3rd as your birthday and celebrate your arrival on this planet. We'd love it if you came."

Well, I was touched, really. It was such a kind gesture. Such a warm sentiment. So I arrived on May 3rd as previously arranged. Several people noticed me and wished me a happy birthday. Most were caught up in the experience, but that was okay. It was really quite a crowd, and that indeed seemed like a real statement of gratitude. They had some good food and a nice cake (no candles) and they sang some songs and then came the gifts. I looked around the room and it looked like just about everyone was holding something. "Oh, my," I thought, "this is amazing." I had no idea just how amazing it was. One by one they came up with their gifts ... and handed them to one another. "We do this in remembrance of your birthday," they told me warmly.

This went on for a few years. I was torn between being flattered that they would gather every year just for my birthday and being confused about the gifts they gave each other without a single though to me. But, okay, that was how they chose to do it. Fine. It wasn't my celebration; it was theirs. They liked party hats, so party hats became part of the event. A bunch of them enjoyed horses, and horses liked sugar cubes and apples, so sugar cubes and apples became part of the event. An extremely popular fictional character on a TV show loved balloons at his birthday, so they became part of the event. Eventually, they couldn't even imagine my birthday celebration without sugar cubes and balloons, even though I've never expressed favor for any of it. It was their celebration.

One year, however, I invited them all to my house on May 3rd. "Hey, everyone," I said, "why not come over to my house? I have the room. I'm naturally there. Seems like it would be a natural place to celebrate my birthday." Well, they hemmed and hawed. Several said they'd come, but most kicked at the ground a bit and complained that if they came to my house, they wouldn't be able to meet with their friends and family. No, it would be better if they celebrated where they wished because, after all, getting together with friends and family and exchanging gifts like that was really what celebrating my birthday was all about, wasn't it?

You know, it has been years and I still haven't figured out this "birthday celebration" thing yet. It gets more and more elaborate. Sometimes I don't bother showing up at all. Doesn't seem to disturb them, though. They still say, "Happy Birthday!" to each other and give each other nice things. I frankly don't get it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

God is Dead

The story is told of a pastor who was in a deep depression for days over a difficult circumstance in his life. Finally his wife went into her room and came out in funeral attire.

"Are you going to a funeral?" he asked.

"I'm in mourning," she answered.

"Who died?" he asked.

"God is dead," she replied.

"No, He's not! Don't be ridiculous!" the pastor asserted.

"Well," she said, "I know that but you don't appear to, so I thought I'd mourn with you."

He got the point.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Worship as a Gift

I love my wife. She may not be "God's gift to mankind", but there is no doubt that she is God's gift to me. She is suited to me. We talk about just about everything, enjoy each other's company, share with each other, appreciate each other. We don't seem to suffer from the same maladies that so many others endure like conflict over finances or sex. We are just right for each other. I love her dearly.

Sometimes when I'm away from her I'll find myself pining for her. Perhaps that's not the right word, but that's how it feels. I long to be with her. I just want to be in her presence. I want to touch her hand and tell her that I love her. It engrosses my thoughts, almost mandating that I do so. You see, my love for my wife is not complete, not fulfilled, until it is expressed. I need to let her know that I love her to satisfy a necessary part of my love for her. And it's not that she doesn't know if I don't tell her or show her. It's not "news". It is something in me that requires it. I have to tell her.

God demands that His creation praise Him. To many, that sounds like egomania. Even believers sometimes struggle with this idea that God demands worship. At least we, as believers, do worship Him, but there can be this nagging question in the back of our heads, "Why does God demand worship? Isn't it some sort of megalomania? Is God really the ultimate egomaniac?" According to the dictionary, megalomania is a mental illness marked by delusions of grandeur. Egomania is an obsessive love for oneself and regard for one's own needs. God, then, cannot be a megalomaniac because, well, His grandeur is no delusion. He is an egomaniac in a sense because His love for Himself is well documented. That is, God is indeed self-centered because He is the center of all that is. We are not, so we must not be. He is, so He must be. We are to be God-centered because He is the center. So in Him and in Him alone is egomania accurate and correct.

But I don't think that's the end of the story. If we are His creatures created to bring Him glory, then isn't it in our best interest that we ... bring Him glory? If He is rightly God-centered, ought not we also to be God-centered? And if, as in the example of loving my wife, I am not fully satisfied until I express my love, is it not in my best interest to do so? As such, isn't our act of worship, commanded by God, an act of satisfaction for us? Isn't that command, then, a loving command to give us the best? Doesn't that make the worship of God a gift to us as well as to Him? Well, I'll tell you what. Try that out in church today. See if worshiping God doesn't bring you a deep sense of joy. Then you think about these questions.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Declining Trends

According to the latest Pew Research report, the marriage rate in America has set a record low. In 1960, 72% of Americans were married. In 2010, we hit a mere 51%. In fact, it dropped 5% in one year. In 1960, 15% of Americans had never been married. In 2010, that his hit a high of 28%. Unless something changes, clearly it won't be long before marriage will be in the minority. While the marriage age is rising, divorce rates are dropping. That, they surmise, is largely because marriage age is rising. Another critical revelation in the report? In the age group of 18 to 29-year-olds, 44% say marriage is obsolete (even though 61% say it's something they would like to do some day).

So how is this reported in the news? "The face of the American family is changing," they say. Well, I suppose that's to be expected. Since "marriage" has shifted its definition from "a man and a woman" and "for cooperation, commitment, and procreation" and "for life" to "whomever you wish" and "for whatever you want" and "for as long as you want ... or don't", it stands to reason that "marriage is obsolete". Strip this structure of its meaning and it's not surprising that it means very little. Apparently, then, while "family" used to mean people related by birth or marriage, it no longer means that, either. Now it means more of "household" or "group of people loosely related" or "whatever we want it to mean ... how dare you be judgmental?"

And, really, how dare you? Just the other day Paris Jackson, "the daughter of Michael Jackson", went on the Ellen DeGeneres Show to share "the best advice her father gave her". That was possible because "father" no longer means "A male person whose sperm unites with an egg, resulting in the conception of a child" and "daughter" no longer requires "female offspring". So, look, if we're going to change the entire definition of father, daughter, son, and marriage, we certainly have no reason to retain some sort of word that used to mean "family" and now means ... something else.

So what are we left with? God's image of His Son and His Bride can easily be discarded because, after all, marriage is obsolete. The biblical picture of "God the Father" is really no longer relevant because "father" is simply "the male figure in a person's life" (and, let's face it, likely a goof and possibly a pervert). No, no, that's too harsh. For most, the "father" is "the breadwinner" and a "good father" is the one who gives his "kids" everything they could want. Now that's a "God the Father" we could get behind, eh? Oh, wait ... that's Santa Claus. Okay, we can live with that.

Most people will read this as another rant. "Stan's complaining about nothing ... again. It's just the nature of things. Things change. That's the way it works. Get over it." Maybe. I just find it odd that the treasured images in Scripture like marriage, family, and father are all under simultaneous attack in our society today. You may think of it as inevitable change. I have to wonder. Who would benefit from undercutting all of these images God has created to express Himself and His relationship to us? Certainly not His allies.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Great Contentment

The banner at the sporting goods store read, "Now is the winter of our discount tents." Of course, that's not right. (I made it up.) It's not about tents. It's about discontent. I suspect that discontentment is a primary driving force for most people. We're not content with our lot in life, so we try to improve it. We're not content with our weight, so we go on a diet. We're not content with our job, so we look for something new. We're not content with our wardrobe, so we go shopping. We're not content with our spouse ... well, you get the idea. While this is certainly normal (in the sense that it is typical, average, the usual), it is contrary to what the Christian life should be.
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Phil 4:11-13).
Paul here has discovered the secret of contentment. No, that's not accurate. He has learned the secret. Paul says that he has "gone to school" in a sense and finally learned the secret of being satisfied with what he has whether he is rich or poor. Now that would be a great lesson for us to learn, wouldn't it? So ... what's the secret?

First, from the text, where is contentment not found? It is not found in circumstances. It is not found in having enough or having more. It is not found in abundance or comfort or possessions or even "the necessities". Contrary to our normal human thinking, genuine satisfaction is not found in what I have or don't have. So, where is it?

He states it right there. "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." It's really that simple. Jesus actually said the same thing, didn't He? "Seek first the kingdom of God ..." and you know the rest. David said, "You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound" (Psa 4:7). He wrote, "You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psa 16:11). There is nothing more than "fullness of joy". You can't get "more fullness". Full is full. And Paul says that there, in that place, genuine contentment lies. He told Timothy, "There is great gain in godliness with contentment" (1 Tim 6:6). While the Stones assured us, "I can't get no satisfaction", Paul would beg to differ. He had learned the secret.

Where, then, is there any room for discontentment? In what sense would or should we be dissatisfied? I would argue that there is a clear calling for discontentment in the life of the Christian. Where? That would be the discontentment of not seeing the power of God "who strengthens me". That would be when we fail to find our deepest joy in the presence of God. Our discontent would be in our shortcoming of being aware of God, His love, His power, His goodness, His mercy, His grace.

While many try to balance family and work and fun and church and all, I find I want more of Jesus. If I can learn that secret of finding my ultimate contentment -- my fullness of joy -- in Christ, I think that my work and my relationships and my fun and my life will be more properly ordered. I think that finding satisfaction there is the secret to godliness with contentment. And that is great gain.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Paul on Apologetics

Okay, this is nice. I finally came up with a short blog entry.

I'm reading in 1 Corinthians these days and came across this passage which, from all appearances, is Paul's commentary on the use of Apologetics in winning converts to Christ:
I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Cor 2:1-5).
No? Well, perhaps that wasn't his point, but it does appear that Paul's approach was not an Apologetics one. And, in all honesty, I share his concern when Christians get excited about this scientific discovery that backs our faith or that line of reasoning that seems to prove our point. Like Paul, my concern is that "your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." Do you see it another way?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Playing the Hand He's Dealt

I like Dr. William Lane Craig. He is a leading defender of the faith. He's not a casual defender like I might be called. No, he's on the frontline. When Dr. Craig speaks, the enemies of Christ run. In a recent trip to the UK, he offered to debate Richard Dawkins on the existence of God. Dawkins refused. Instead of picking up the gauntlet, he threw in the towel. Why? Well, Dawkins claims that it's because Craig believes the Bible. Of course, the Christian element saw it as an obvious ploy (it is, by the way, the logical fallacy known as "the strawman"), but even atheists accused Dawkins of cowardice. All this to say that Dr. Craig is a really smart guy doing a really good job defending the faith.

That being said, being really good at defending the faith doesn't make Dr. Craig infallible. I recently read this quote from him.
"The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him are outside His control. [God] has to play with the hand He has been dealt." — William Lane Craig
Now, before any William Lane Craig fans get their knickers in a twist, please understand that 1) I admire the man, 2) I am not intending to attack the man, and 3) I'm only using this quote to illustrate a broader point.

Setting aside the concept of "counterfactuals" (not the point here), I believe that Craig has laid out the basic belief that a vast majority of Christians (and the rest of the world) hold. Let me rephrase it to allow you to see the point: "Creaturely freedom is outside God's control. He has to play with the hand He has been dealt." Ten years ago Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of Billy Graham, after the September 11th attack, told the nation that God was a gentleman and wouldn't intervene where He wasn't wanted. This year she said, "As a country we have pushed [God] out of our government and schools, and it’s time to repent and invite Him back." We're saying, "Sorry, God. You tried, but our Free Will has blocked You. Try something else. Hopefully You can work Your way around another way. But at this time, Man's Will has prevailed. That's outside of Your control. You'll just have to play the hand You've been dealt." And I have to say that this is just not true. While most of the people who see things this way would strongly deny it, it is a blatant denial of the Sovereignty of God and a cold, hard contrast to explicit Scripture.

First, the pure references to "sovereign":

The Lord has established His throne in the heavens; and His sovereignty rules over all (Ps. 103:19).

1 Tim 6:13-16 is Paul's charge to Timothy which includes the phrase, "... which He will display at the proper time -- He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords ..."

In Rev 6:10 the martyrs under the altar cry out, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"

In Acts 4:24-30, the believers pray to God beginning with "Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them ..." They mention some of God's works which include, strikingly, "In this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place."

Beyond the word, "sovereign", in its various forms, the principle is held sacrosanct throughout the Bible.

We know God limits Satan (Job 1:12, 2:6). We know that fallen angels are under God's command (Psa 78:49; 1 Kings 22:17-23, etc.).

Who can forget the declaration of the multitude in heaven, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Omnipotent reigns" (Rev 19:6)?

But a serious number of references come from the Psalms.
For the kingdom is the LORD'S And He rules over the nations (Psa 22:28).

The earth is the LORD'S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it (Psa 24:1)

For the LORD Most High is to be feared, A great King over all the earth. He subdues peoples under us And nations under our feet (Psa 47:2-3).

God is the Judge; He puts down one and exalts another (Psa 75:7).

The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours; The world and all it contains, You have founded them (Psa 89:11).

Say among the nations, "The LORD reigns; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved; He will judge the peoples with equity" (Psa 96:10)

But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases (Psa 115:3).
(Get that? He does whatever He pleases. See also Psa 135:6.)

And that's without the many references to God as "King". (Do a word search sometime on "king" in the Bible as it refers to God. There is a lot there.) And, of course, it takes no time or effort at all to call up one of the most common terms we have for God, "Lord", and recognize its connotations in terms of sovereignty.

Not to be outdone, there is much more in the rest of Scripture. Isaiah says things like "It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless" (Isa 40:22-23) and "I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things" (Isa 45:6-7). Jeremiah tells the story of the potter (Jer 18:1-23) where the point is quite clear: "Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?" (Jer 18:6). Isaiah warns about the pottery disregarding its Maker (Isa 29:16) and prays, "O LORD, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; we are all the work of Your hand" (Isa 64:18). (Of course, Paul pipes in on the pottery issue, too. "Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?" (Rom 9:21).) One really pointed statement from Jeremiah is "Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?" (Jer 32:27). In Lamentations he writes, "Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, Unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That both good and ill go forth?" (Lam 3:37-38).

Look, there's way too much to list it all. It just keeps going and going. But the real question is "What about God's command over Man? Is Man's "creaturely freedom" something that God is "dealt", something "outside His control"? Does the Bible address that specific question? Yes ... it does ... repeatedly.
"Power and might are in Your hand so that no one can stand against You" (1 Chron 20:6).

"With Him are strength and sound wisdom, The misled and the misleader belong to Him" (Job 12:16).

The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He frustrates the plans of the peoples (Psa 33:10).

The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble (Prov 16:4).

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps (Prov 16:9).

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand (Prov 19:21).
Shall I go on? The Scriptures are not unclear on the topic. God is Sovereign. He is not merely sovereign like a human king. There is nothing over which God is not Sovereign. Nothing comes to pass that He did not plan. All that He wants to happen happens. Nothing that He doesn't want to happen happens. He works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11). Nothing in human existence falls outside of "all things".

Dr. Craig is a good guy, a smart fellow, a great debater, and an admirable defender of the faith. As such, I felt I needed to bring as much "fire power" to bear as I could. As it turns out, space prohibits it. Suffice it to say that wherever Scripture speaks to the question of whether or not God is left with dealing with the hand He is dealt, the non-negotiable, unequivocated, crystal clear answer is "No! God does whatever He pleases." Nothing (not one, no thing, not even a little something, zero, zip, zilch, nada) is outside of God's control. You may feel like it. You may hear it often. You may think it. But you do all this in opposition to Scripture. Scripture is clear; our God reigns.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I'll never forget good ol' Sosthenes. "Who's that?" you ask? Why, he's the guy who wrote the epistle to the church at Corinth, of course. "No, that was Paul!" Yeah, sure, but take a look at the first line of the letter and see what you find. It was Paul "and our brother, Sosthenes." What else do we know about this important fellow? Well, apparently he was the chief ruler of the synagogue in Corinth (Acts 18:17) who got beat up for ... being in the vicinity of Paul? Nice. What else? Nothing. Not one thing. We might take a guess. He might have been an opponent of Paul in Corinth (especially after the conversion of the Crispus, the other "ruler of the synagogue). But it seems unlikely that they'd beat up someone on their own side. So maybe he was also a convert? Or, maybe it's not even the same guy? Nope, we don't know much at all. That's why I'll never forget good ol' ... what was his name?

I'm a Sosthenes. I may be right up there at the front, right in the opening lines, so to speak, and most people wouldn't know I was there. I am one of the few people I know that can walk by a WalMart greeter without being greeted. I am, in a word, invisible. That's why I like Sosthenes. This guy is mentioned in the Bible as a co-author with Paul and no one knows who he is. Yet, he was used of God. He was important enough to God to have him mentioned in one of the books of the inspired Word.

I know I'm invisible much of the time. In fact, I like it that way, quite honestly. I know that almost everyone wants to be remembered when they're gone, but I mostly hope not to be noticed. So I'm quite delighted to keep Sosthenes in mind. My value is not in how many people remember me. I'm not a success if I make a name for myself. Being noted in history is not the point. Being where God wants me to be when God wants me to be there is all that really matters. Because He'll never forget ol' whatshisname -- me.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Keeping Christ in Christmas

We've heard this battle cry for decades: "Keep Christ in Christmas!" Often it's due to ignorance that produces moral outrage that those dirty rotten secular businesses would substitute "XMas" for "Christmas" and, "Look! Christ has been removed from Christmas!!" Piffle! The origin of the concept is seen in those handy dandy fish stickers on your local Christians' cars. You know, the one that includes "IXOYE"? That series of letters originated as a secret identification for persecuted Christians and stands for "Jesus" (I) "Christ" (X) "Son" (O) "of God" (Y), "Savior" (E), taken from Greek. Note that the "X" was "Christ". Thus, "XMas" is not the removal of Christ, but the secret identifier for those who really know Him.

Still, the cry has continued beyond this little bump in the road. It's a cry against the commercialism of the season, a cry against the materialism and the paganism (real or perceived) of the current culture's Christmas. It is a reminder. Christmas is first and foremost about Christ. We've pretty much forgotten that.

Ask anyone what Christmas means to them and you'll get a lot of standard answers. It's about "white" and snow. It's about decorations and lights, shiny baubles and animated snowmen. It's about Christmas trees and Christmas wreaths and Christmas mice. (Okay, maybe not that last one. I just know that we have Christmas mice.) It's absolutely about Santa Claus. No one can deny that. It's about TV specials and those classic shows that have survived the decades. It's about Christmas songs and Christmas cheer. It's about time with family and friends, gift giving, and, perhaps most importantly, gift getting. (Why else are there riots and fights that breakout on Black Friday every year?) Obviously, then, it's a time of debt, but delayed payment puts that off, right? Oh, and it's a time of food, to be sure. Yes, we know what Christmas is all about. So we cry, "Keep Christ in Christmas!"

There is a more accurate measure, however, than all of this as to whether or not our message is getting out there. This year Christmas falls on Sunday. Will your church have its Sunday services? The last time this happened was 2005. Big churches like Willow Creek didn't even open their doors that Sunday. One study reported (unofficially) that 20% of churches closed their doors for that day and 100% of them modified their Sunday routine. Drop extra services. Don't have Sunday School or the like. Shorten the service. That kind of thing. Certainly no evening service (like that's big news ... how many have evening services anyway?). All researchers agree that, while Christmas typically packs the house for churches, a Sunday Christmas has the opposite effect. The Chreaster Christians (those who only show up on Christmas and Easter) don't bother, and a good number of the regular attenders don't either. (Catholic churches, it seems, don't have the same losses on Sunday Christmases.) So it begs the question: "Why is it that sincere, weekly, church-going Protestant Christians (not just those nominal or marginal members) don’t show up at church when Christmas falls on a Sunday?" "What is more important than celebrating the remembrance of Jesus’ birth on Sunday – the Lord’s Day?"

This phenomenon of closing shop on a Sunday Christmas and seriously decreased attendance for those who don't tells us the sad fact that our churches are not getting the message out. We'll say we want to keep Christ in Christmas, but when push comes to shove, to many of us it really is more important to gather with family, get and give those gifts, have that wonderful meal ... do just about anything but recognize the real point of Christmas. So, as we wag a finger of rebuke at the world around us from the stores and the materialists and the TV ads to the "pagan influences" on Christmas or whatever other pet peeve we may have, perhaps it would be wise to check our own eyes for logs. It appears we have a big one right here in our own midst.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Danger of Tebow

If you haven't heard of Tim Tebow, you're obviously not a sports fan. Tim Tebow is a football phenom who is currently the starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos. "Oh, how nice," the non-fans are saying. "So?" Tebow is known, above all else -- get this -- as a Christian. Yes, that's right, an outspoken, unwavering, clear-as-day Christian. He began life as the son of Baptist missionaries in the Philippines. He was educated as a homeschooled kid. (That raises eyebrows.) Florida law allows homeschoolers to participate in local high school sports, so Tim played football. Turned out he excelled at football, so Tim and his mother moved into town and got him into the best high school football program they could find. There he became Florida's "Player of the Year" ... two years in a row. He went on to play for the Florida Gators and went to the Philippines during summer breaks to help his father out with orphanage and missionary work. He won the Heisman Trophy and graduated from college in 2009 despite being asked to be in the NFL draft that year. He was drafted by the Broncos in 2010 and started the 2011 season as the backup quarterback. The starting quarterback was struggling, so Tebow was sent in and the rest was history. (I know, not much, but, it's just a saying, okay?) Before Tim was put in, the team was 1-4. Now they're 7-5. If you didn't do the math, that's 6-1 in the win/loss column -- a good showing for a young quarterback. But that's not what makes Tebow a standout.

No, no, what makes him a standout is his clear faith. In a 2009 interview, he told the world that he was a virgin and planned to remain that way until he married. In 2010, the NCAA passed a rule dubbed "The Tebow Rule" that precluded players from having messages in their face paint (you know, that black stuff they put under their eyes) because Tebow was known for wearing messages there. According to ESPN, 94 million people Googled John 3:16 after seeing it on his face in a 2009 BCS Championship Game. And, of course, there is now a new term: "tebowing". What's that? It's when you take a knee and pray in the middle of what you're doing. Lindsey Vonn did it after winning her first World Cup race. It made Time Magazine's "The Top 10 Everything of 2011" list. He doesn't drink, doesn't swear, is saving himself for marriage, is not quiet about his faith ... Tim Tebow is a standout Christian.

So ... what's the danger here? That they'll make fun of him? Too late. In fact, it's a given. That some people won't like him? That, too, is a given. Charles Barkley is begging the Bears to shut him down because Barkley just can't stand the guy. "If I don't ever hear the words Brett Favre or Tim Tebow again it won't be enough." That's to be expected. Nothing new in the world's response to a person openly dedicated to Christ.

No, the danger is to Christians. It's easy for us to get sucked into this notion that because Tim is being faithful to Christ, God is blessing him with victory. It's easy for us to conclude that doing what is right and standing for the truth will bring us warmth and comfort and good times. It will absolutely bring us blessing, but let's not confuse that with pleasure. Here, check yourself. If Tim Tebow was to start losing for the rest of the season, would it make you think, "I wonder if Tim is in sin?" That's a clue.

We are blessed by God. We are His and He blesses His own. We are not blessed to some paltry, worldly level of blessing. Ours is a blessing that exceeds standard earthly measure. Don't get caught in that trap. It's much more than that! I'd hate for you to miss it because it's so much better than that.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tower of Babel

You remember the story of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11), right? Everyone, at one time, spoke the same language. After the Flood, people got together and decided to "build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens" (Gen 11:4). The goal was to minimize God and "make a name for ourselves" to avoid being "dispersed over the face of the whole earth" ... you know, like God commanded (Gen 1:28). God's "fix" was to confound their language (Gen 11:7). Being unable to understand each other, they split up and dispersed. Success ... at least on God's part.

This will almost seem like I'm changing the subject, but bear with me. If you look around, you'll find that the English language is headed toward being the "universal language". A friend from China told me that as young students there they were required to learn English because it was required for commerce with other countries. I got the same story from a friend from France. And Germany. Pilots have to learn English to have a common mode of communication with other planes and with ground control. Tourist spots in various countries typically mandate English because so many tourists speak the language. Just about anywhere you go you will likely find someone who speaks English because, due to the political and economic power of the United States, English is quickly becoming a universal language. And, let's face it, the most common language on the Internet is English, regardless of your native language.

Now, combining the first two paragraphs, do you see where I'm going? At the Tower of Babel, there was a universal language. This fact combined with human arrogance produced Cosmic Treason that required a confusing of the language. Confuse the language and that particular treason -- "We will not obey, but we will make a name for ourselves" -- was terminated. My question, then, is "Has America arrived at the same place?"

I've written more than once about the common confounding of the English language. "Lie" means "wrong", "love" means "sex", "gay" means "sex", "marriage" means "sex" ... okay, maybe I'm being too simplistic, but you know the drill. So much of our English has evolved or morphed or been co-opted that using it for communication can be nearly impossible. When "Do you love your mother?" gets understood as "Do you have sex with your mother?", we're looking not only at a misunderstanding, but more likely a fight. Some words have had to be discontinued because their meaning has shifted far enough to be offensive. It's not just that we're building new words -- "Internet", "LOL", "audiophile", "netiquette", to name a few -- but we're modifying existing words to mean something completely different. Who would have thought that the words "ear" and "worm" would combine to mean "a tune that keeps rolling around in your head"? We know "flame" and we know "war", so we should know that a "flame war" is a war fought with fire, but it's not; it's an angry exchange of rude email messages. "Optics" could mean things through which we look or it could mean the way a situation appears to the public. That's barely related. "Tweet" used to mean the sound a bird made, but now it's the communication mode du jour. And who would have thought that a "cloud" would be the hot new way of computing?

Some of it is understandable. Take "drama" and "queen" and put them together and you get a woman who is really tops at drama. I can see that. But now we have to come up with new words for deviance, like "polyamory" to explain how it's good to have group marriage or "serial monogamy" to highlight how people have sex with one person ... at a time. (Note how "monogamy" has changed from "married to one person" to "sex with one person" and "marriage" has changed to even make sense in a term like "group marriage".) The Oxford English Dictionary this year added "OMG", "LOL", and the heart symbol to its online dictionary. Now, come on, people!

The famous line from the 1967 movie, Cool Hand Luke, could likely be quoted by just about anyone. "What we got here is... failure to communicate." Well, it's here. "Liar" may mean "intent to deceive", but that's not how it's intended half the time. "Hypocrite" may mean "presenting oneself as having virtues one doesn't have", but that's not how it's understood all the time. "Atonement" may mean "amends or reparation made for an injury or wrong" or it may mean "just forget about it", depending on the circles in which you discuss the topic. "Faith" may or may not have any component of fact, evidence, or reason in it, depending on who is using the term. "Christ" may refer to the Savior of Man or may merely be a swear word without meaning. And slowly but surely we seem to deliberately be reproducing the Tower of Babel story. Language is being confused. Unfortunately, in the original story the outcome was a dispersal that replenished the earth. This time we're just likely to get into fights. "Do I do what to my mother??!!" "Who are you calling happy??!!" "I don't care if you thought 'retarded' was a nice way of saying 'not as mentally quick as others of the same age'; you will be sued for using that word." (Please, feel free to substitute "inmate", "niggardly", and so on.) This isn't looking like a good outcome.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Submit Not One to Another

There is no doubt that the Bible is full of commands to submit. Children are to submit to parents, slaves to masters, wives to husbands, and all of us to civil authorities. That's a start. The sense of a list like this is that Christians are to be, well, submissive. I'd like to suggest that this is a serious oversimplification. And this mindset (which tends to rule whether or not we recognize it) causes all sorts of problems.

There are categories of authority. Various authorities have various functions. We'll calm them "realms". Starting at the top, God, of course, is the ultimate authority. His is overall. That's why He is called "the King of Kings" and "Sovereign". As such, everyone falls under His authority and everyone is supposed to submit to Him. And that, dear readers, is the end of it. Under God, there are a variety of authorities. There is the civil government that has the authority to command our civil lives (Rom 13:1-5). There is the church leadership which has the authority to command our spiritual lives (Heb 13:17). In either case, however, they are under the authority of God and do not have the authority to countermand His authority. Thus, a civil government that commands contrary to God's commands is not to be obeyed. A church leadership that commands contrary to God's instructions is not to be heeded. And so it goes. There are a host of authority structures including parents, husbands, teachers, bosses, and so on. Each has their "realm". Each is under that higher authority of God. Each has their limited domain. None are allowed to counter God's commands.

Now, part of our problem these days is that we fail to recognize authority, its rightful role, and its right to command. We've been taught "Question authority" which only works if the questions are based around "Does it agree with God's commands?" rather than "Am I willing to obey those who are in rightful authority?" Part of our problem is that we often don't recognize rightful authority. Wives are not required to submit to their husbands despite the specific command otherwise. Most church members no longer vest any authority in their church leadership despite God's specific command otherwise. And, of course, in terms of civil authority the thinking is often, "If I don't get caught, it's not illegal." Submitting to authority is a problem.

On the other hand, submitting to authority is a problem. "Um ... Stan ... you just said that." I know, but we seem to have the reverse problem as well. We seem to willingly submit ourselves to authority that is not rightful. Young girls, in their search for affection, will submit to the authority of the boy who has their attention. No such authority exists. We will often dress to meet the approval of coworkers or friends even though coworkers and friends do not possess the authority to require it of us. (My mother has taught me, "You wouldn't be so concerned about what others think of you if you knew how rarely they did.") Some in the church have suggested that women should submit to men. Perhaps it's an easy mistake. Church leadership is male (1 Tim 2:12-13; 3:2; Titus 1:6) and husbands are male, so women should submit to men, right? That's a submission to authority that doesn't have the role. Wives are to submit to husbands, not all men. Men typically submit to the tyranny of macho, feeling a need to do what other males without genuine authority apparently demand from them. Many men, confused by egalitarian voices and expecting to get what they think they want, submit to their wives. Husbands are supposed to submit to their wives ... by loving them as Christ loved the Church, not by surrendering to them. How many of us have submitted to Hollywood as the shaper of common morality and culture, to Wall Street as that which defines our view of success, or to the advertising agencies which tell us what we need and how we should think? How many men have surrendered to the authority of pornography that has misshaped their view of intimacy? And, of course, we all have a real tendency to submit to Satan whenever we are tempted.

A failure to submit to the authority God has placed in the ways that God has prescribed is a serious problem in our world. An equally serious problem is our submission to authorities that have no right of rulership in ways that we were never called to submit. A failure to submit has left children without guidance and love, wives without direction, and families without proper leadership. A compulsion to submit when we shouldn't has led us into worldliness and confusion. We are commanded to submit one to another (Eph 5:24). Let's not misunderstand. That doesn't mean "submit to everyone" or "submit in the same way in all cases". It certainly doesn't mean "submit to those to whom God has not given authority" or even "submit to those in authority even if they contradict God's commands." We are to submit, but in the right way. We are not, then, always to submit one to another. We might want to reexamine to whom and to what we are submitting, because it looks like we have a real tendency to submit to the wrong ones and fail to submit to the right ones.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Church Growth Planning

On the Huffington Post of all places an article appeared titled, "How to Shrink Your Church". Pastor Tim Suttle argues that success in Church is not the same as success in business. While nearly all churches are aiming for "bigger and better", Suttle claims that the aim of the Church is not more people and more money, but faithfulness. The goal is not a greater reach, but to call people to godliness. That, he assures us, will not likely draw crowds. The double-edged error of the modern church, he says, is sentimentality and pragmatism. We are quite sure that the job of the church is to make people feel better, to affirm their lives, to grow, so we go with "what works". On the contrary, he says that the church is designed to die.

The Bible is full of contradictions. Not contradictions to itself, but contradictions to normal human thinking. "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all" (Mark 9:35). "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). "To you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Phil 1:29)."I die daily" (1 Cor 15:31). "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20). "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ" (Phil 3:8). These are things that we would call "counterintuitive". They appear contrary to common sense. We like when Jesus says, "I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly" (John 10:10), but can't figure out how to lay that beside things like "He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (2 Cor 12:9). "Wait, wait ... which is it? Abundant life or 'boast in weakness'?" We like all those happy "joy" verses, but how do we align them with the "suffering for Christ's sake" stuff? We are really looking forward to the blessings, but can't figure out how "Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives" (Heb 12:6) fits in. So we hope to waddle, fat, rich, and happy, into the presence of God and do our best to encourage everyone else to do so.

The call from God, however, is not for our temporal pleasure. It is not for "good", but godliness. We are not called to comfort, but self-sacrifice. We aren't called to be "whole" but to be holy. Ours is a "peace that passes understanding" rather than the far more common blind peace the world offers that doesn't see the storm behind it. We are called to "the joy of the Lord", not a passing fad of pleasure or comfort. To some, even suggesting a life of sacrifice and obedience is tantamount to Phariseeism and the ultimate evil, but it's not my suggestion.

Pastors, try this. Preach consistently "I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service of worship" (Rom 12:1) and see how your church grows. Practice the Matt 18 (Matt 18:12-17) kind of church discipline and see what happens to the numbers. Urge your congregation to embrace suffering, appreciate discipline, work at discipleship, bear one anothers' burdens, count all things as loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ, aim for total surrender and genuine obedience and see if your membership swells. I suspect that two things will happen. First, numbers would tend to dwindle. We are promised "they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths" (2 Tim 4:3-4). Preaching the whole counsel of God including the "less savory" parts will not likely increase your numbers. It might decimate your church. Second, however, is that those who remain will be a different breed of Christian than our standard model today in America. Not nearly as wide, but far deeper, these would be used of God in ways that today's shallow "I want to be whole and healthy" version couldn't imagine. Against such depth the world has no defense.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Crime and Punishment

In the American legal system we have two primary categories of crimes. There are misdemeanors and there are felonies. What's the difference between these two categories? The difference is in their seriousness. And what makes one crime more serious than another? The primary difference is the level of the value.

Take, for instance, theft. Theft is acquiring someone else's property. There is "petty theft" and there is "grand theft". The difference? The value of the property. So, while the theft of something less than, say, $500 might be "petty theft", stealing something worth $10,000 is "grand theft". It's not only about value. A person sneaking a $500 ring out of a jewelry store is not charged with the same crime as a person who obtains the same ring with a weapon. Now we've moved into robbery. The value of the item stolen factors in, but so does the fact that a person was threatened in the process. A person, you see, is more valuable than a ring.

And so it goes. Murder is murder, but there are degrees of murder. Typically, murder requires malice. Thus, a person that commits homicide (the killing of a human being) while defending himself is not charged with a crime because it is self-defense. And there are other forms of homicide that are considered justifiable. But most homicide is classified as murder. There is manslaughter which is an accidental death -- murder in the 3rd degree -- which is not as serious as murder in the 2nd degree, a murder that is not premeditated. The worst case, murder in the 1st degree, is willful and premeditated. Each of these carry increasing levels of corresponding punishment.

Various crimes -- misdemeanors and felonies, petty theft and grand theft, manslaughter and premeditated murder, and all the rest -- carry various penalties. These penalties range from paying a fine or doing community service all the way up to life in prison or the death penalty. The penalty for a crime is determined by the severity of the crime. The severity of the crime is dependent on the value the crime entails. The theft of a candy bar will not have the same penalty as the theft of a car. The killing of a cat will not have the same penalty as the killing of a person. And we know it's supposed to be this way. We know that the penalty has to fit the crime. The original method for this was "an eye for an eye", but we're more sophisticated today. Still, the penalty must fit the crime. That's what is called "justice".

It is, therefore, God's justice that is called to task when the Bible claims that the wages of sin is death, and that the penalty is not merely physical death, but eternal, living death, where "there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt 13:50), "where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:48). Now, how does that make sense? How is that fair? How is that just? The question arises because we fail to grasp the value included in the crime. We think in terms of doing a bad thing and especially in terms of limited sinning. We don't do these things forever. Why should we pay forever? It's a failure to grasp the object of the crimes in question. Sin is not the same as theft or robbery or murder. These are crimes against humanity. Sin is a crime against God. So our problem with understanding the justice of eternal punishment is due to our problem to grasp the incalculable worth of God. We understand that murdering a person is bad, and we understand that murdering five people is worse, and we are pretty clear that murdering 10 children is horrible. What we miss is that telling the Master of the Universe "No" is vastly beyond the horror of a child slayer because the value of the Creator of all is so far beyond anything temporal so as to be infinite. When that is grasped, we can start to see the sheer justice of eternal punishment.

I would suggest that when we do not see the justice of eternal punishment, it is not due to a failure of God's justice, but a symptom of our ongoing criminal activity of obscuring the infinite worth of God. Now, I know there are lots of people who would say, "So? What's the big deal?" As for me, even though my sins are paid for, I want to continually align my thinking with God's viewpoint. On this, I'm not there yet. That's something I need to work on. You guys go ahead and talk among yourselves.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Twitter Theology

There are things I want to know, things that I will likely never know. Some of them are just way over my head. Science and physics and biology and all sorts of stuff like that just elude me. Still, I see things and think, "I wonder how that works." It's not likely I'll find out in a lot of cases.

The other stuff, though, is far more complicated. It's how people think. I want to know what that mother was thinking when she did that to her kid. I want to know what's really going on in Herman Cain's head about all these allegations. I want to know what kind of thinking goes into some of the choices people make. I want to know how atheists I know construct a moral code that is coherent and reasonable. I want to know how people I care about rationalize their behavior. And so it goes.

Much of this is simply stuff I can't ask about. I'm really just curious, but most of these questions sound like I'm pointing a finger and suggesting they're evil or strange or something else. I'm not. I'm just curious. I want to know about other people and their theology, but if I asked the question (and started digging enough to get the answers I'm seeking), it would soon become a battle rather than an inquiry. And, of course, various people I'd like to ask are not people I can ask. Not too many pastors, for instance, will let me question their theology. I'm not suggesting they're unsure or anything. It's just that the questions I would have would feel like I'm questioning their character. I'm not, but those feelings are hard to push aside. Try asking a parent or a sibling something deeply personal or perhaps questionable and see how far that goes. No, too close, too personal, and way too defensive. So, I'm stuck with curiosity.

I'm pretty sure that things aren't going to get better in this failure to communicate in a world dominated by texting, Facebook, and Twitter. If our "social networking" is limited to 140 characters, exactly how deep are we going to get into a theological discussion or a moral investigation? Our "socializing" today is explicitly shallow and seriously surface. I can find out where you're eating or shopping, perhaps, but why you are in favor of redefining marriage to include same-sex couples? Yeah ... no, that's taboo. Too much thinking. Too many characters. Not going to fly on Facebook. Go away. "I just do."

My real concern here, of course, is that we're going to do the same thing with God. Let's interact with Him in a largely surface, extremely brief, completely shallow way. When pastors tell me, "I'm no theologian", I wonder what the hope is for those who are being told that right practice is far more important than right doctrine, and theology is not nearly as important as just loving God. You know, I wonder how that would fly in a marriage relationship. "Really, honey, I don't want to know much about you at all. I just want to love you." I don't think I'm looking forward to Twitter Theology.