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Thursday, June 30, 2011

The World May Never Know

I was doing some research the other day for my recent post on the New York vote to redefine marriage. One thing I wondered about in my meandering through ideas on the subject was the divorce rate. Here's what I was thinking. I would think that same-sex people are less likely to remain together than heterosexual people. Their culture is different. Monogamy doesn't mean the same thing to them that it does to straight couples. It just seemed reasonable to me. And, of course, if "same-sex marriage" is legalized, then "same-sex divorce" will be just around the corner. (That's a given, since it already exists.) So if these couples are divorcing at a higher rate, then logically the divorce rate will go up. If the divorce rate goes up, that would have an impact on marriage (genuine marriage), since the current "high divorce rate" already scares people considering marriage and already feeds the divorce idea because "they did it, so why shouldn't we?". (Fact: If people who were not allowed to call their relationship "marriage" are now allowed to do so, then the divorce rate must go up when they dissolve that relationship because prior to this change, they were not among the "married". And everyone knows the #1 cause of divorce is marriage.)

So I thought I'd try to see if there was any merit to this line of thinking. Is it true that same-sex couples have a higher divorce rate than heterosexual couples? What do the statistics say? Well, I found out that they don't. Not that they don't have a higher divorce rate, but that the statistics don't say anything. It appears that, while the government is keeping track of marriages and divorces, they are not keeping track of the "sexual orientation" of the people involved in the divorce. So while studies such as this tell us that homosexual unions have a much higher likelihood of dissolving and, consequently, boosting the divorce rate, you'll never know it because "marriage" has been redefined to mean "the union of whomever wishes to be unionized" or some such and inflated divorce rates will have a greater impact on genuine marriage. But, don't worry. What you don't know can't hurt you, right?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Free Speech

I'm sure you've all heard the news item by now, but here's the headline that says it all: "Free speech defeats ban on sale of video games". Briefly, the story is that the Supreme Court has struck down a California law that made it a crime to sell violent video games to children. It wasn't even a close vote. The court ruled 7:2. The court made a stunning decision: Make parents responsible for their children. Is there any doubt that our court system (and the nation that supports it) has lost its mind?

I'm fascinated by the "free speech" claim. What "speech" is involved in games of graphic violence, sex, mutilation, criminal behavior, and all that wonderful stuff? What are they "saying"? I've been wondering the same thing when the courts protected pornography on the same basis. What are they saying? What is the "speech" involved here? It is, first of all, lies, to be sure, in both cases. In both cases they're saying, "Doing what we're depicting is fun and entertaining" when the truth is that it is ... well, wrong. But "free speech" is not curtailed on the basis of its truth, or, as the most obvious example, political speeches would be banned. But as dishonest as political speeches may be, at least they're saying something -- making a statement. I cannot fathom what violent video games or pornography in all its extremes can be saying.

I'm fascinated by the inconsistency. It is illegal to sell pornography (remember, "protected free speech") to minors. It is illegal to sell alcohol or cigarettes to minors. Why is it legal (as a mandate of the Supreme Court) to sell violent video games to them? Is it some sort of God-given, inalienable right to be allowed to sell this kind of stuff to children or is it the divine right of children to be able to be sold it? This makes absolutely no sense to me at all. And I'm not saying that the court was right or wrong in this ruling. I'm simply pointing out that the ideas are inconsistent. Ban one, but not the other. On what basis? That was, in fact, the point of the two dissenting judges. Judge Breyer wrote, "What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman, while protecting the sale to that 13-year-old of an interactive video game in which he … binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?" I'm wondering the same thing.

However, it's that last point that I find most disturbing. The court has decided to leave the responsibility for regulating this to the parents. I don't find it disturbing that parents are to be responsible for it. I find it disturbing that anyone had to say it in the first place. Since when did it become the requirement of the State to raise children? When did the State become tasked with regulating what children can and can't have? Obviously I don't think that children should have pornographic material (in fact, no one should, but that won't fly any better than Prohibition did), but why is it the job of government to see that our kids don't have violent video games or pornography or cigarettes or beer? The very sad fact is that it became a function of the government when parents abdicated their responsibilities for their children. And, mind you, to a very large part, they have. I mean, for any responsible parent this ruling would have been a yawn. "Yeah, yeah, whatever; we already restrict our kids from that stuff." But the popular view today is that parents should be popular with their children. Their kids should like them. Their kids should be happy and do what they want. In the course of one week I heard from two different Christian sources who said that they didn't feel that it was right to teach their kids Christianity, but that the kids should come to that on their own. Self-professed Christian parents.

Well, I don't know if the court was right in its ruling. It wouldn't much matter if I thought they were wrong. They're not likely to reverse themselves because "We read Stan's blog and decided his opinion was of importance to us." Yeah, I'm not holding my breath there. They were right in calling on parents to be responsible. I'm only sad that it was required that they do so. That should have been a "duh" moment. And I do wish they'd be consistent. And I do wish that someone would figure out what "free speech" really is. I mean, you can't yell, "Fire!" in a crowded theater, but we protect the destruction of the moral fiber of our males and the consequent erosion of marriages caused by readily-available pornography? At what point do we limit "free speech"? We do. I just don't know where.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What Difference Does It Make?

Well, they've gone and done it. New York became the sixth state to subscribe to the non sequitur, "same-sex marriage". They've wrenched the longstanding, traditional definition of marriage from its moorings and twisted it to mean something else. "It's only the 6th of 50," some might argue, but New York ranks third in the list of state populations, containing within its borders more than 6% of the country's population. California (the most populous state) is on the verge of going the same way (when the courts declared it unconstitutional to call marriage anything but what the homosexual population wishes to call it) and that would add another 12%. With the other states combined, nearly 1 in every 4 Americans would reside in a state that has dumped "marriage" in favor of "same-sex marriage".

Still, what difference does it make? That's the question you'll almost always hear. What does it matter to someone who defines marriage as it has always been defined if someone defines it differently? You don't stop loving your spouse. You don't stop being married by your own definition. You don't do anything differently, do you? Why let it bother you? What's the big deal?

On the obvious side, it will certainly have an impact on the 29 states that have constitutional provisions that define marriage as marriage. Despite the self-declared denial of a "gay agenda", this move in New York is expected to provide impetus to overrun those states as well. Certainly the states who are only considering such a move, given that the courts have declared it unconstitutional and given that the tide is against it, will be in trouble. And as a resident of Arizona, trust me, I can say with certainty that the government has no compunctions about suing states for things with which they disagree. The President has already refused to defend marriage. When will the government go on the offensive? I can't say, but I don't think it's inconceivable. It will surely impact conservative politics. If the sense is that the pressure is on against taking such a stand, how many will stand? Based on the collapse of New York opponents in office, I'd say it doesn't look good.

But what difference does it make? Well, one prime issue in the modification of the definition of marriage by legal fiat is the affirmation of immorality. When the law is silent on a subject, it makes no moral statement. When the law forbids, as an example, murder, it makes a moral statement that murder is immoral. So now the laws speak in New York and Connecticut and Massachusetts and a few other states and, likely soon, in California that it is illegal to believe that homosexual behavior is a sin or that those who have such practices have a choice in the matter. The laws are now not silent on the practice, but making a positive statement. It is moral. The law has declared it. How long, then, until the laws regarding your opinions on homosexual behavior will follow the laws regarding racial discrimination? They like to draw that (erroneous) parallel. So how long until it's illegal for you to say, "I think homosexual behavior is a sin"? How long until churches and religious schools and other religious organizations will find themselves on the wrong side of the law on the basis of such things? Not long at all, I would suggest. It's already happening in some places around the world.

"Okay, fine, maybe you're right, but, really, how will any of this impact you?" That's all that really counts, isn't it? The reality that my country is working at not merely looking away from, but actually encouraging and embracing this isn't sufficient. The fact that finding a political figure who will support my views (can you say, "taxation without representation?") will become another step more remote doesn't matter. The removal of constraints and the legal support of sinning further, plunging more people into the downward spiral isn't a problem. How does it affect me? That's the only thing that I should care about. Does it change my life? Yes, it does. I will now have to swim upstream against a rising current to explain what has been intended for the past several millennia of human history. That whole "the lifelong union of a man and woman for the purpose of complementing and procreation" ... yeah, that's out. Marriage today will now be defined as a recreational joining, likely not for life, only possibly with children involved, based entirely on our urges. If we feel urges to remain faithful, fine. If not, fine. Stay that way? Maybe, maybe not. No big deal. Because marriage now will simply be a matter of how you feel at the moment. We've already pushed it to the verge of that precipice. How long before it goes over?

And it will basically annihilate communication on the topic. Words, you see, are symbols of meaning. They exist to express a thought in one person's head to the other person's head. If you try to explain to someone who speaks only German what green is, there won't be any communication because the symbol has no meaning in his head. So when I use the term, "marriage", and mean by it what marriage has always meant, I will be unable to communicate with others who have no such meaning in their heads, an idea I tried to get across in my post, A Failure to Communicate. "Never mind. I'd have to teach you a foreign language to understand, and even then it would likely be an entirely foreign concept."

They'll argue that it is little effect on me. They'll argue that what others do doesn't make a difference to my life. That law will support irrationality and quite literally destroy "marriage" is irrelevant. That politics will devolve further and those who take a moral stand on the subject of homosexual behavior will likely be further marginalized if not criminalized isn't any reason to be concerned. That I care about people shaking their fists in the face of God who Himself defined marriage for His own good purposes and made sexual relations for His own good purposes, instead calling evil good and good evil ... this shouldn't be a reason for me to be concerned. The best choice of action, they would tell me, is not to care at all. Now that's a negative impact.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Admittedly Clueless

My job is quite a distance from my home, so I'm keenly aware of gasoline prices. Thus, I didn't need the media to alert me that prices have been dropping. According to this article, prices have been dropping since last month both in the price of crude and the price of gasoline.
Why, then, is President Obama now releasing 30 million barrels of crude oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve? From what I read, 30 million barrels of crude oil is less than what we import in 3 days. Further, it appears that this oil is being added not to our available oil, but the the international pool of available oil. What's up with that?

Now, all accounts indicate that the news of this pitifully small, sadly late release has caused something like a 5% drop in oil prices, but, really, what's this all about? From what I heard on the news, experts expect that this move might drop the price at the pump perhaps a penny or two per gallon. As I've already indicated, the amount of oil made available is almost quite literally a drop in the bucket of world consumption. So what is really going on here? It's not likely to do any actual help. It's not being released for our needs, but for the world's needs. It comes after a month-long drop in oil prices while claiming that the Libya crisis (going on since March) has caused shortages. Seriously, does anyone have some idea of what could possibly be motivating this move?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Was Moses from Missouri?

For a large part of the book of Exodus, Moses is on Mount Sinai with God. He talks to God. He eats with God. He gets handwritten tablets of stone from God. So immersed in the presence of God was he that the Bible says his face shown with reflected glory. It shown so much that he had to wear a veil to avoid scaring the people. Now that is "practicing the presence". So when we get to chapter 33, we get a seemingly odd request of Moses to God:
Moses said, "I pray You, show me Your glory!" (Exo 33:18).
Really? "Show me Your glory"? What had He been doing up 'til then? And if it had been me, I would have wanted to ask, "So, what I've done up to this point isn't good enough for you?" But ... it wasn't me. It appears that God didn't find his request to be an affront or presumptuous. It appears that God thought his request was perfectly suitable.
And He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion." But He said, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!" (Exo 33:19-20)
So God protected Moses while giving him a passing glimpse of His glory. God let Moses see what he could grasp, that which wouldn't overwhelm him. Moses had already seen the glory of God in creation, and the glory of God in the human image of God, I would guess. The passage indicates that he saw God in His goodness and His grace and His compassion. It also indicates that He saw God's glory in the contrasting nature of God. If God will be gracious to whom He will be gracious and show compassion to whom He will show compassion, it is also true that God will not be gracious or compassionate to those whom He would not. And that was to God's glory as well. He saw God's glory in His sovereignty, choosing as He does both grace and mercy to some and justice to others. And He saw God's glory in the fact that He protected Moses from being destroyed at the sight.

Think about that. Moses was the guy who was chatting with God, but Moses needed protection from seeing God. It is like Isaiah, God's mouthpiece to Judah in his time. Sure, he was the voice of God to his people, but when faced with God Himself, Isaiah recognized that he was a man of unclean lips, worthy of immediate annihilation. There is no such thing as "good enough".

There is no doubt that the cleft of the rock in which God hid Moses from complete destruction at His presence was a parallel to the pierced Christ. There, hidden in the wounds of our Savior, we can be covered sufficiently to catch a glimpse of God's glory. Even the hiding place is part of His glory.

Oh, that we would daily long to pray in ever greater ways, "Show me Your glory!"

Saturday, June 25, 2011

When Government Crosses God's Line

It's probably wise to be circumspect and I'm sure this little news item isn't giving us the whole story and I'm certainly curious about aspects that they didn't explain but merely touched on ... but on the face of it this story is seriously disturbing. Apparently a Texas mother was punished for spanking her daughter. It's disturbing because it's in Texas, one of the more conservative states, which suggests that the problem is worse in more liberal states. It's disturbing because there was apparently no real damage -- no bruising or cuts or scratches or broken bones -- but it landed her in front of a judge. The judge's ruling was disturbing when he told her, "You don't spank children today. In the old days, maybe we got spanked, but there was a different quarrel. You don't spank children. You understand?" It was disturbing because I would imagine that 80% of the audience in that courtroom thought, "Oh, man, I got spanked and I spanked my kids. Am I next?" It was disturbing most of all because it stands in sharp contradiction to clear biblical teaching.

We have this judge (and many other voices) warning us that corporal punishment is child abuse. (Note that this mother lost custody of her children.) We have the fact that it is in direct opposition to God's Word. And now you have to decide. "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge" (Acts 4:19).

God isn't unclear on the topic. It's not like He stutters about it. There is no doubt that "The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother" (Prov 29:15). (I mean, seriously, walk through any grocery store where mothers and young children are present.) Solomon assured us that "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently" (Prov 13:24). The command from the judge, apparently, is "Thou shalt hate thy children." When the Proverbs say, "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him" (Prov 22:15), it may sound cruel in modern perspective, but they also assure us "Do not hold back discipline from the child; although you beat him with the rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with the rod and deliver his soul from Sheol" (Prov 23:13-14).

The Bible is quite clear. "What son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons" (Heb 12:7-8). Sure, "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant" (Heb 12:11), but we need to keep a longer view. "Later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." There is no question. The Bible indicates that parents who love their children will include corporal punishment in their disciplinary regimen.

So now we have the government warning us off. It is illegal to obey God here. Do not do it. And we must decide, do I follow God or do I follow the law? Perhaps most disturbing is when we find that we live in a country that makes it illegal to obey God. In the words of Taggart from Blazing Saddles, "I am depressed."

Friday, June 24, 2011

Love - A Parable

He was a loving fellow. He believed he should love all of God's children. One day he came upon some kids mixing a glass of milk with arsenic. Well, he was shocked, to say the least. But he had to admit that, while he had never considered it himself, there was no reason to say that they shouldn't do it. I mean, that would be narrow-minded, wouldn't it? So, because he loved them, he assisted them. When they ran low on milk or arsenic, he would get them more. When their parents threatened to show up and spoil their fun, he would intervene. When others said that it was just wrong and they shouldn't be doing that, he would defend their right to do what they pleased. "Who are you to say? It's merely your opinion that it's wrong. I mean, it's not against the rules, is it? Leave them alone. It's not hurting you."

He went on like this because he was a loving fellow and he believed he should love all of God's children. Even when the kids started to get sick, he took care of them. It bothered him, being a loving fellow and all, that they were sick. He started looking into the possible causes. And he was dismayed to find that arsenic was poisonous. It was bad for children. It was wrong.

He was a loving fellow, and he believed he should love all of God's children, so when he discovered that what they were doing was harming them, he set about to stop them. He stopped providing them their arsenic. He warned them to stop and notified their parents. He started a campaign to warn all kids about the dangers of arsenic. He did all he could to stop them from killing themselves, despite their apparent pleasure with their favorite snack.

And they didn't seem to appreciate his efforts. "Why are you being so narrow-minded and bigoted?" they asked him. "Are you some sort of food Nazi, a closet arsenic hater? Are you some sort of nutritional fundamentalist? A bigot against pleasure? Why are you so mean? Why are you so hateful?" Try as he might, he couldn't get across the fact that preventing them from doing what was wrong was, in fact, loving. So, he gave up. The kids died. End of story.

Oh, wait, that's not a very good ending. I suppose it's the ending that we're supposed to give, though. I wonder.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

End Times

I've been listening lately to a series of sermons by John MacArthur on why Calvinists should be premillennialists. You know, end times stuff. Now, I've I have a fairly ready grasp of most things biblical. I see Election spread from beginning to end and I believe it. I see the sure hand of God as the Sovereign of the Universe and I believe it. Many of the questions that bother others don't bother me at all. I have no question about God's justice when the topic of evil arises. I don't have a problem with the small seeming contradictions that trip others up. I don't have a problem with God causing calamity. You know ... all that tough stuff seems pretty straightforward to me.

And then there's eschatology. I'm talking about the study of "end times". What's going to happen in the future? Funny thing. Growing up I was unclear on Election and God's Sovereignty and all that stuff, but crystal clear on eschatology. I knew that the Rapture (with a capital "R") would occur prior to the Great Tribulation, a precisely 7-year period divided in half as a time of peace followed by a time of God's wrath. I knew that Christ would return at the end of that time, do the whole Armageddon thing, and establish a 1,000-year reign on Earth (not 500 and not 1,500 or any other nebulous number, but 1,000) at the end of which would come the New Heaven and the New Earth and ... well, it's all pretty straightforward. You know, the "seventy weeks of Daniel" and that whole Matthew 24 thing and Revelation and all. What's to question? But now ... well, it's all turned around and that other vague stuff is clear while this "clear" stuff is vague.

What's the problem? Well, first there is the problem of Scripture. The Bible seems pretty clear that all those end times predictions were supposed to be soon (Matt 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; 24:33, 34; Mark 1:17; 13:30; 1 Peter 4:7; Rev 1:3; 3:11; 22:7, 10, 12, 20). This concept, in fact, became a sticking point for skeptics who have said, as did the skeptics in biblical times, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation." (Of course, modern skeptics discount creation, but you get the drift.) For instance, while the Dispensation Premillennialists are quite sure that Daniel's seventy weeks are clear proof of their view and even have elaborate math to show how it works, there is nothing in Daniel's 70 weeks that includes a 2,000 year gap. What's up with that? There is the biblical problem of language. While the Pre-Trib-Rapture-Dispensational-Premillennialist folks argue that they're taking the Scriptures at their face value, I'd have to say that this isn't at all true. I don't know a single one, for instance, that actually believes that a star will fall to the earth and or that a dragon will sweep away stars or that some literal winged locust creatures with bodies of horses, heads of gold crowns, human faces, women's hair, lion's teeth, iron chests, and scorpion tails will come out of a bottomless pit. No one believes that. But the Dispensational Premillennialists look down their noses at the Amillennialists for "not taking Scripture at face value". Well, apparently, no one does when it comes to eschatology.

The second problem is history. As it turns out, the single dominant eschatological view for the Church through history has been ... wait for it ... Amillennialism, not Premillennialism. (Apparently Postmillennialism didn't even get a boost until the mid 1800's and Dispensational premillennialism didn't show up until then as well.)

And, of course, then there is the problem of variations. There are "full preterists" and "partial preterists" who are quite sure that the others are not taking the Word seriously enough. The Amillennialists believe that there is no 1,000-year reign, but not that there is no reign, and what occurs in that reign is a variable. There are pre-Trib, post-Trib, and pre-Wrath Premillennialists, and Dispensational and Classical Premillennialists. The Postmillenialists can't agree if there is a literal or figurative 1,000-year reign or exactly what form this reign takes (spiritual, political, religious?). It seems like every group has its own shades of meaning and variation while pleading to Scripture and assuring us that their view is correct and all others are heretical or, at least, really, really bad. So I'm stuck with biblical and historical problems as well as a lack of clarity of what the positions really are.

What I'd like to believe is the whole, down-the-line, Pre-Trib-Rapture-Great-Tribulation-Millennial-Reign thing since that's what I grew up with and know best, but I can't seem to settle there. And there is decent historical and biblical support for the Partial-Preterist-Amillennial view, but I frankly can't settle there, either. (I can't go with the Postmil view at all. Sorry.) I know that some of Revelation is figurative (I mean, seriously, is anyone going to really argue for a literal "four horsemen of the Apocalypse" or the like?), but I can't be sure of what is and what is not. Israel, the promises of God for her, and her outcome shift radically in these views. I'm completely lost when it comes to the suggestion that during the (literal) Millennial Reign of Christ there will be a reinstatement of the Temple and the Sacrificial System. (I mean, if Christ is our Pascal Lamb, wouldn't the return of that system be a slap in His face?) So I'm not settled. I tend toward a "both/and" view, an "already/not yet" idea where many of the Matthew 24 prophecies already happened ... and will happen again. It's the only way I can make any sense of the "soon" time references. But there has to be a Return of the King still pending, so there's that. Oh, it's all so confusing to me. I suppose I should just let MacArthur clear it all up for me, right? Or not.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Is Grace Enough?

Another blogger asked me to join in a conversation about whether or not grace was sufficient for salvation. The problem appeared to be that someone had claimed something like "You're not saved by grace alone if you still believe that gay marriage is okay." I didn't join in the conversation. Grace is sufficient. No question. I would have to disagree with whomever made such a statement. So I didn't think I could contribute to that conversation.

There is a separate conversation that would spring from such a statement, though. While belief that "gay marriage" is not "okay" is not by any stretch of the imagination a prerequisite to salvation, there is something else behind the question. In fact, I have a couple of follow-on questions.

First, while we are agreeing that a biblical position on "gay marriage" is not essential to salvation, is it the position that "all we need is faith" (or something like it)? James disagreed. He called faith without works, for instance, dead faith. It's useless. Martin Luther was a staunch advocate of "faith alone", but went on to argue that it was not a faith that was alone. Paul argued that those who are in Christ are new creations. So while I'm agreeing that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone -- not by adhering to a set of beliefs or perspectives or by performing a particular set of acts -- I am not willing to admit that such a salvation can occur without changing the recipient. As a new creation, perspectives change, actions are altered, beliefs are modified. The Holy Spirit, according to Jesus, "will guide you into all the truth." And while that is obviously a lifelong process, I have reason to wonder about folks that seem not to move at all. They're "saved" and they proclaim "faith" and they cling to "grace", but that's it. No change. That would seem to me to be problematic.

And that leads me to the second question. Is it ever a good idea to question someone's salvation? Or are we obligated by Christian virtue to nod and accept the statement of whomever wishes to make the claim that they are indeed "saved by grace"? Look, let's set aside the contentious "gay marriage" disagreement and go to something on which we can agree. Let's say it's a Jeffrey-Dahmer-type person who kills and dismembers people for fun. He claims to be "saved by grace" and claims that he has placed his "faith in Christ" and is offended that you would question his salvation. Of course, you know better than to go over to his house for dinner because you know he's still killing and dismembering people and even defends it. So, no, you shouldn't question this guy's salvation because he is "saved by grace alone through faith alone" and your petty little "what about capital murder?" kind of questions puts salvation on a works-basis! Heretic!

Me? I'd question. With the other's best at heart, I'd want to ask them to reconsider their claim of being a Christian. I'd be concerned, as Peter was (2 Peter 1:10), of self-delusion. I know that there are people who think they are among the elect but are not (Matt 7:21). I also believe that the Holy Spirit works in those who are His and that, allowing for time, change must occur in their thinking and behavior to become more in line with God's views and commands. I know that there are people who think they're placing their faith in Christ when it turns out that the "Christ" in whom they're placing their trust isn't the Christ of the Bible. That doesn't help. James warns, "Even the demons believe, and they have the good sense to be scared." So people who press on without any shift in perspective or behavior are in danger of being self-deceived, and if I care about them, it would be incumbent upon me to question their salvation.

Is grace sufficient to save? Certainly. Are we saved through faith alone? Absolutely. But if we stop there, then we are operating, in the final analysis, in a realm that is not populated by a Sovereign God who changes hearts and produces the results He plans to produce. His elect are predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. If there is no conformation, there is no confirmation. We are not saved by proper doctrine or perfect behavior, but God will accomplish what He intends in His own. If we care about one another, I think we should keep that in mind.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Not the Only Way

People object constantly to Christian beliefs, especially the affirmation that Jesus is the only way to the Father. The fact that Jesus said so is not sufficient reason for a follower of said Jesus to hold to it. "No, it's offensive and if you are going to be a good follower of Christ ... you must ignore what He said. 'All roads lead to Rome.' You know that. There are lots of ways to get to heaven. Look at how crazy you people sound with all your 'saved by grace' and 'Christ in you' stuff! Nuts! That's what you are; insane!" And not just for our claim of exclusivity (which almost any religion claims), but for all of our beliefs. They're crazy, you see, and no sane person could believe them.

Strangely enough, the alternatives are perfectly acceptable. The other day I watched part of a PBS show on the predators of the West. While ostensibly the topic was about grizzlies and wolves and mountain lions, the real conversation taking place was about "the circle of life", the unity of spirit and animal world, the whole Mother Earth concept with a vengeance. Several native American Indians expressed their spirit views with reverence and confidence and no one batted an eye. Yeah, yeah, the world was formed on the back of a giant turtle, brought into existence by the imaginations of the Feathered Serpent. Yeah, that sounds right. Of course, it's only right for the native American Indians, but we're okay with that. There's no need to question this kind of stuff.

Or perhaps it's not some turtle and a snake. It's Purusa. He was the primal man. His body was the universe. His lower parts became the Earth. So if the Hindus want to believe that the universe is comprised of the body of a man and the Earth is his lower half, that's perfectly okay. Hindus can and should believe that. We won't, of course, but neither will we call into question their beliefs.

Certainly the Buddhists won't. I mean, anything is okay with them. They're not exclusive. The fact that "everything emanates from the Primordial expanse of Openness Clarity Sensitivity and is illusion-like -- never really coming into existence, but the illusion is created by infinite intricate connections that are not anywhere and not in time" -- now that's reality! Like the sound of one hand clapping, it makes perfect sense and we ought to leave it alone. Point out that Christians are crazy, but leave those Buddhists alone because we're fine with that.

Or how about the modern most popular religious view? "Two billion-odd years ago, one of the most important meals in history took place. One bacterium swallowed another one. But instead of being digested, the swallowee survived. And it kept doing what it had always done: using oxygen to rip apart food molecules, and then using the energy released to make ATP. So the bacteria that did the swallowing suddenly had this little lump inside it that leaked ATP, which the swallower could use to power its own cellular reactions." There you have it! Rational! Understandable! Provable! Well, maybe not provable. Even they admit, "There's no single piece of killer evidence that proves the case for the bacterial origins of mitochondria and chloroplasts." But, hey, it comes from science, so it's good. Easily as good as the American Indian or the Hindu or the Buddhist. Perfectly rational, unlike that stupid set of beliefs that those dirty, rotten, bigoted, narrow-minded Christians have. Now those views have to go!

Christianity is not the only way ... to think. Quite obviously. But when people claim that theirs is much more reasonable and understandable and rational and defensible, don't believe them just because they make the claim. "Everything that exists came from nothing at all" is no more rational than "the universe is a primal man". And the myths of American Indian lore are certainly as colorful and amusing as some of the stories told by modern science.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Importance of Fathers

Edgar Rice Burroughs is best known for his Tarzan series, but he also wrote a series called Pellucidar about journeying to the center of the Earth. In this inner world, the dominant race is the pterodactyl (or something like it), except that these are intelligent creatures whose science has discovered how to impregnate females without the need for males. Thus, males became obsolete. Fiction? Sure. Maybe. But back in June, 2008, Britain's Daily Mail reported, "Fathers were last night effectively declared an irrelevance in modern Britain." That's right. The House of Commons decided that IVF babies could do without a male role model.And back in 2007 a report suggested that science was working toward making men obsolete by finding other means of impregnating women. Maybe Burroughs was just ahead of his time?

In the afterglow of Father's Day, I'd like to consider fathers. Just how important are they? Is Britain right? Are fathers unnecessary? Let's look at the questions.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, "Fathers are far more than just 'second adults' in the home. Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring." What kinds of benefits? By treating their wives with love and honor (you know, like the Bible says), they model proper marital relations for their children. (Interestingly and perhaps quite obviously, fathers who are married to the mothers are more likely to be good fathers than fathers who are not married, even if they are cohabiting.) Indeed, good fathers tend to produce sons who are less likely to abuse or show aggression toward women and daughters of good fathers learn how to relate in more positive ways with males. Children with good fathers tend to have better cognitive capacities, do better in school, have better verbal skills, and generally better educational outcomes. Children with good fathers tend to be better adjusted psychologically and socially. Interestingly, a good father with low income does not diminish these positives. In other words, modern science suggests that fathers are good for children, not unnecessary or obsolete, and it's not merely because they are sperm donors.

Of course, since I tend to try to conform my view of reality to the biblical view, we need to look there. Biblically, the father is the foremost parent. We know this beginning with the concept of God, the Father. God offers many motherly characteristics with His love and nurturing. Jesus described Him as a mother hen seeking to gather Jerusalem under her wings. But the predominant view is God as Father. Adam was the first one made and the one held responsible for sin. Fathers are commanded to instruct their children. Paul writes, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Eph 6:1). Biblically, no one can take the place of a father in the life of a child.

Scripture, then, sees fathers as the key parent in the lives of children. They are responsible for providing for and training their children. Sociologists concur that fathers provide many indispensable positive effects for children. Psychologists concur. The children with the best likelihood for a good outcome are children with good fathers married to the mothers. Science and Scripture agree. So now we just need society to quit messing around with this nonsensical, radical-feminist, anti-male stuff and get on board with reality. Oh, and it wouldn't hurt if more fathers would step up to their God-given responsibility as well.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Just the Right One

There are those who would argue that God takes a sort of "hands off" approach to human beings. He has no specific plan for people. His only aim is to allow them to do what they want and hope that they would -- even encourage them to -- love Him freely. When I read that God "works all things after the counsel of His will", that "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD," that "The LORD works everything for His own purposes", I can only conclude that the opposite is true. If God had every day of David's life written in His book before it ever started (Psa 139:16), then I believe that God has explicit plans for each individual. Indeed, in my mind, if God were to take a "hands off" approach -- the God in whom "all things hold together" (Col 1:17) -- the world would cease to exist.

The most difficult thing for me in realigning my earlier thinking to this kind of Sovereignty of God was the realization that I was the best possible choice on God's part as father for my children. I could accept a lot of things, but that was really tough to swallow. Since then, I have.

At the same time, it is wonderful recognizing that God gave me the best possible choice of father for me, as well. I'm quite sure that I would have had designs on something different if He had asked my opinion in earlier days, but today I'm grateful beyond measure for the father He gave me. Just the right one.

I'm grateful for the father who wasn't overly influenced by his emotions, but thought things through instead. I'm grateful for a father who openly wept in front of his children when convicted of his own sin. I'm grateful for a father who is still in love with my mother and not afraid to show it.

I'm grateful for the father that took us camping and fishing, even though it meant that he'd likely get in precious little fishing himself. I'm grateful for a father who taught me the value of work, of earning my own way, even when he had to pay for it. I'm grateful for a father who, day after day, lived as an example of the responsible life of productivity and integrity.

Watch TV or the movies and you'll likely get the impression that there are no good fathers. It seems like every character in every story had a drunk for a dad or a philanderer (or both). He beat his kids. He beat his wife. He failed to provide. He neglected his family. He left. Bad fathers abound in fiction. That's why it's so so easy for me to recognize as fiction. You see, my experience has been that of a great father, a father specifically chosen by God to influence my life specifically as God intended. I am so grateful to my Father in Heaven for the father on earth that He selected for me. Just the right one.

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Interesting. According to this site, my blog is banned in China. Now what's that all about?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Another Question

This is a question. This is only a question. If this had been a real statement ... well, never mind. I'm only asking.

I have many relatives who are missionaries to foreign nations. Some are translating the Bible into obscure languages. Some are doing that whole "Africa" thing. I know one particular family in the family who intentionally chose to go to somewhere "not safe". They couldn't tell us where they went. They used code for the location. The couple took their little children and went knowingly into harm's way to share the Gospel in a not merely ignorant place, but a hostile place. And I had to wonder, "Is that right?" I get when people risk their own lives to share the Gospel. But is it right to risk the lives of their children for the Gospel? A question, just a question, because I don't have a sure answer.

The answer, however, might have ramifications. Consider this. Many Christians today have decided to keep their children out of the public systems. They have decided that the sinners are prevailing in schools, for instance, and so, in order to properly educate and protect their children, they are homeschooling them. I admire such people and see both the concern and the value. On the other hand, if we are to be light in the world, if we are not to hide our light under a bushel, if we are warned against withdrawing from the world (1 Cor 5:10), and if your answer to the previous question is "Yes, it is right and necessary" or something like it, then wouldn't the same apply here?

Here's the question. If you're a believer with children and you're working at keeping your children out of the public influence and corruption, is this right? Or should we parents be training our children and putting them (in God's hands) in those places where they can be lights in the darkness even though they will be "at risk"? Like I said, just a question, because I do not have the answer here.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Consider Him

3 Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed (Heb 12:3-13).
I know. Long passage. "TL/DR". (For my mom not familiar with Internet lingo, "Too long, didn't read.") And maybe you didn't. But I'd suggest it would be worth your time. Because that's quite something powerful to get ahold of.

We all suffer at times. We all face discipline from God. I'm not talking about punishment. The punishment of my sin was paid for by Christ at the cross and I'm clean. No, I'm talking about discipline -- that sometimes-painful-but-always-necessary training process. And, look, we're not stupid. We all know, "No pain, no gain." It's not like God alone realizes this. C.S. Lewis said that pain was God's megaphone.
God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain).
Notice that the author of Hebrews assures us in verse 6, "The Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." He repeats this thought in reverse in verse 8: "If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons." We see, then, that 1) God's discipline is an act of love, not vengeance or anger or mean-spiritedness, and 2) if you aren't being disciplined from time to time, you're not in the family. I had someone tell me once, "God doesn't discipline me" as if that was a good thing. I saw it as a warning.

It is interesting (almost unnerving?) to note that the term used in verse 6, "chastises", is not a mild term. While the first term in that sentence, "disciplines", is a "suitable" term -- it references training a child, not necessarily an unpleasant thing -- the second term is not so kindly. It means literally to scourge, to flog. It's a genuine whipping. It's not just education or practice, but God-inflicted pain. If you're human and you're a Christian, the pain you encounter in life in whatever sense that occurs can be considered a gift from God intended to properly train you. The author of Hebrews says that "it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." Nothing in the text suggests that this is pleasant (indeed, it says the opposite), but what we see here is the certainty that the unpleasant things in life that we encounter are intended, in the life of the believer, for our good. That's quite a statement.

In the meantime, then, while we're waiting to arrive at perfection, you should "lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet." Don't let your nose get out of joint, "but be healed." This healing is the sanctification we all require, our being conformed into the image of His Son. It is the purpose of pain in our lives. As such, let us "not grow weary or fainthearted." The secret to that, of course, is to "Consider Him", to be "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb 12:2). (Really? "For the joy that was set before Him"? Now that's an unusual attitude to take in suffering.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Practical Atheist

The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened (Rom 1:18-21).
We've read that before, I'm sure. And we're appalled that those atheists deny God's existence when "His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived." We know that beyond mere arguments (apologetics), "what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them." And so, if we're compassionate people, we're concerned for them because the wrath of God is on them.

Funny thing, though. When I read this, there is something that stands out to me, and it's not about "them". Paul said that their failure to honor God had a specific symptom. They did not honor Him as God ... or give thanks to Him. The hallmark of this "atheist" is a lack of gratitude to God. And the reason it stands out to me is that I often lack that particular quality. I live in a wealthy country in a comfortable city in an air-conditioned house with a job that pays the bills. I have all my body parts and they work just fine. I eat meals every day -- perhaps too much at times. I have comforts and health and family and friends. I, too, am a witness to His eternal power and divine nature, and yet far too often I'm not nearly grateful enough. Indeed, far too often I'm not grateful at all. With all He has given me I still want more, nor am I thankful for what I have.

It's rotten. It puts me, too often, in the category of the practical atheist. I say I love God and I sometimes do, but there are too many times that I live or feel or think or act as if He's not there, as if all I have I managed to acquire, as if He owes me, as if it's all about me. Well, then, that's something to work on, isn't it?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


One of the big proofs to skeptics of the absence of God is the existence of evil. More accurately, it would be the existence of suffering. There is even a skeptic website titled "Why Won't God Heal Amputees?" I am not about to repeat the answer to this question, but I am going to approach the question of healing. Does God heal?

There are a variety of sub-questions here. First, can God heal? It is idiotic for any theist to answer that question with anything but a resounding "Yes!" If there is a God, and if He is the Creator, the All-Powerful One, then healing is certainly within the realm of His capabilities. Therefore, there is no question that God can heal. The next question, then, would be does God heal? Well, according to Scripture He has done it quite a bit. Jesus healed so many that He had to leave town because of so many coming for healing. Beyond that, there have been accounts throughout history of healings, even to modern times. A poll in 2004 said that 74% of doctors believed that miracles of healing still occur. Say what you will, all signs point to the answer that God does indeed still heal today. So ... why are there still sick and infirmed people? That, then, would be the last question. Will God heal? Ah! That's the real question. God can heal and does heal, but will He? Putting it another way, is it His will?

There are many who will argue that God wants (wills) everyone to be healed. If you're not healed, it's either unconfessed sin or a lack of faith. That becomes problematic when you look at the biblical accounts. As an example, in Mark 2 several friends of a paralytic brought him to Jesus for healing. This passage says that it was on the basis of their faith that the paralytic was healed. Mark 8 has another story of a centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant. When Jesus said He would come, the centurion said, "Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word and my servant will be healed" (Mark 8:8). This servant was also healed on the basis of another's faith.So apparently it's not necessarily a matter of the faith of the infirmed. Yet, to many it is a point of faith, a turning point. Either God will heal or they will not believe. It is a demand. God should heal, He is obligated to heal. If He doesn't, He's not God.

It's this that I find most disturbing. In his second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul wrote, "For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves" (2 Cor 4:6-7). We have a treasure. What treasure? It is "the knowledge of the glory of God". It is "Christ in you, the hope of glory". It is the presence of the Spirit. And yet, here we are, "earthen vessels", cracked and battered dirt pots with this vast treasure in us demanding of God, "If you don't make this cracked pot pretty again, I won't believe in You!" Crackpot indeed! We know we are the recipients of treasure, the possessors of heavenly mystery, the forgiven and saved, the gifted inheritors of God, the brethren of Christ ... but if He doesn't make us feel better, we're not interested, thanks.

David wrote, "Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart" (Psa 37:4). "See?" some might say, "If you delight yourself in the Lord, you'll get what you want!" True, but if you delight yourself in the Lord you'll want what the Lord wants. If you delight yourself in the Lord, then "feeling better" will become negligible to the joy of the Lord.

Does God heal? I know there are those who disagree, but I can't imagine thinking He doesn't. Will God heal? Again, if He does, He will. "Will He heal me?" Indeed He will. Of course, when is the next question, isn't it? But if "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9), if "It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes" (Psa 119:71), if we are to "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance" (James 1:2-3), then while we should by all means seek healing from the Lord, shouldn't we also rejoice when He doesn't? Or is the treasure in these earthen vessels not enough?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Little Sins

There is a perception among most that sins have degrees. Now, some Christians would argue against such a notion, but I'm not one of them. I think it is true, demonstrably true, that some sins are worse than other sins.

The best place I find this is in Jesus's words.
Then He began to denounce the cities where most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you" (Matt 11:20-21).
Note here two things. First, the point I'm trying to make: "It will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for ...". That is, for some it will be less tolerable. There is more intense judgment for some than for others. Thus, some sins are worse than others. Second, note what Jesus considered the worse sin. Tyre and Sidon were idolatrous nations. Sodom was idolatrous and licentious. That whole "homosexuality is a sin" thing? Yeah, they had that going on big time. And while most Christians are aware that this is a sin, it wasn't this that was the worse sin to Jesus. No, the worse sin wasn't idolatry or homosexuality, but failure to repent.

So, let's just say that, as appears in this passage, some sins are worse than others. What do we conclude from that? Well, the standard conclusion is, "See? I'm not so bad!" Unfortunately, that conclusion only goes so far. "Not so bad" may be true, but how bad, then, is it? According to James, "Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it" (James 2:10). That's the standard. One transgression = total failure. So, while some sins may be worse than others, the smallest infraction is justly due eternal damnation.

There is a secondary conclusion. If failure to repent was worse than homosexual behavior or worshiping false gods, what makes us think we can figure out the "lesser sins"? I don't think we have a firm grasp on that at all.

The final thought, then, is this. While some sin is worse than other sin, all sin deserves punishment, so don't think "I'm not as bad as ..." gets you any less damnation. And, bottom line, it's not wise to lay such important matters on your ability to determine what is less sin than another. You're just not that good at it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

God to Me

To much of our world the religion of choice is "God to me". Here's how it works. "Do you believe in God?" "Oh, sure," followed absolutely and necessarily with "God to me is ..." There are those who claim that God is a warm feeling or a spiritual sense. To some, God is "mother earth". "God to me" might be "goodness" or "love". Some even believe that "God to me ... is me. I am a part of the divine. We are all God, and God is in all." (There are even those who place themselves in the realm of Christendom who claim that God is making us all into little gods.)

These people don't realize that removing any genuine reality of what God is simply removes any genuine reality of God. On the other hand, the Bible isn't so vague. God has lots of definition in the pages of Scripture, including holy, love, just, sovereign, almighty, all-seeing, and on and on. Most interesting to me today, however, is what the Bible say that God is ... to me, to the believer.
"The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; This is my God, and I will praise Him; My father's God, and I will extol Him" (Exo 15:2).

He said, "The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge; My savior, You save me from violence" (2 Sam 22:2-3).

The LORD is my light and my salvation (Psa 27:1).
God is my strength and song, my salvation, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my refuge, my shield, my stronghold, my light. Contrast that with our world's perceptions. Strength is in muscles or money or power. Salvation is in "good living". Security is in a good portfolio. Light is in science or education or "self-discovery". None of this matches Scripture. All of this is found in God for the believer.

If it is indeed true that God is all of this to the believer, what difference will it make in his or her life? If God is your strength, if God is your security and salvation, if God is your refuge, your stronghold, your fortress, if God is your light, it seems to me that this would make a radical change in both your perspective and direction. It should certainly give cause for rejoicing on a Sunday morning.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Be at Peace

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men (Rom 12:18).
In light of a society seemingly driven by conflict so prevalent that it is a popular process even among Christians, this seems quite shocking. The basic injunction is "be at peace with all men." Not, "Beat them over the head until they submit" or even "Stand up for your rights" or "Defend your self-esteem." Very odd.

Oh, sure, there are caveats. There are what I term "weasel words". "If possible" and "so far as it depends on you" can be nice little tools to admit "It ain't gonna happen." But weaseling out of our responsibility isn't really the goal of the Christian, is it? So these phrases simply recognize that sometimes you do not have the capacity to be at peace with all men. Some men are ... oh, what was it that Paul called it ... "unappeasable" (2 Tim 3:3). There are just some people that will not allow you to be at peace with them. Paul gets that. So do we.

Still, how about that goal? "Be at peace with all men." When so many around me on the side of Christianity seem to be ready, willing, and anxious to "duke it out", to step up to the fight, to take on all comers, this seems to fly in the face of this seeming norm. This seems more along the lines of "love your enemies". Oh my, now I'm meddling again. But maybe, just maybe, we have room for improvement here.

Friday, June 10, 2011


One of the reasons that I find Christianity so compelling is the embracing of what might be termed "contradictions". I suppose, rather, that they are more accurately termed "paradoxes". These aren't genuine contradictions. They just appear to be.

Take, for instance, 1 Tim 1:5 -- "The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" -- compared with 2 Tim 4:2 -- "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction." Now, wait. If the goal is love then how do we "reprove, rebuke, exhort"? Aren't those contradictory? No, they're not. Paul told Titus in the space of a couple of sentences, "Avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning" (Titus 3:9-10). So, are we supposed to reject people or avoid controversies? Yes ... the answer is yes.

Take the characteristics of God such as justice and mercy. Justice is getting what you deserve and mercy is not getting what you deserve and God operates on both. Contradictory? It might seem so, but the Bible and Christianity embrace both without contradiction.

We believe without fail that we are saved by faith apart from works (Rom 3:28) and we must work out our salvation (Phil 2:12). We declare that God works all things after the counsel of His will (predestination) and free will, that God determines in advance what will happen and that Man makes choices and is culpable for those choices (Luke 22:22). We declare openly that God is one and God is triune. And we claim, without hesitation, that none of these actually contradict each other.

You see, if Christianity were a man-made religion, this kind of thing wouldn't work at all. It wouldn't have built on paradox. It wouldn't be so clear and yet so mysterious. It wouldn't be so easy to get and so hard to understand. You would either grasp it at once or never grasp it at all rather than the way it is so easily gotten hold of and then so long absorbed, always with new insights around every corner. It would be more ... well ... human. As it is, it is divine, as a true religion should be.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

God Does Not Exist

Talk to a skeptic and you're likely going to get a (small) variety of objections to the existence of God. They'll likely take on a number of forms and a host of variations, but I think this is the gist of it:

1. "If God existed, there wouldn't be no evil and suffering."

2. "We can't measure God."

3. "A just God would treat everyone fairly. Giving favor to some for 'believing in Jesus' and damning others simply because they don't believe or have never heard isn't fair."

4. "Who made God?"

Now, there has been a lot of time and effort spent on answering these types of objections. The field known as "Christian Apologetics" or, simply, "Apologetics" is devoted to this subject. They've done a decent job of it and I applaud it and I even engage in it myself. However, that's not where I'm going today.

What do these objections tell us about perceptions of God? The first one tells us that God is "omnibenevolent", that He thinks we are important and, if He exists, ought to be devoting time and effort to the care and well-being of human beings. He is (or should be), as we are, focused on us. The second tells us that God is like us. He is an entity with the same characteristics such as physicality and the like. The third tells us that, if God existed, He would be fair, equitable, answering to the human perception of evenhandedness and impartiality in His treatment of individuals. The last tells us, again, that if a God were to exist, He would be like us, a created being. After all, don't we claim in our Apologetics that "nothing produces nothing" and "everything must have a cause"? Thus, if God were to exist, He would have to have a cause.

Perhaps, if you were paying attention, you've seen a common thread -- "like us". Perhaps a more common thread would be "us". If God were to exist, He would be kind to us, have similar characteristics to us, have a perception of justice like us, and be caused like us. So let me say here and now, I don't believe in God. Well, I should be clearer. I don't believe in that God.

You see, in the biblical version that God doesn't exist. The biblical God is focused on Himself, not us. His glory is paramount, not our comfort. God says, "You thought that I was one like yourself" (Psa 50:21). Samuel told Saul that God "is not a man" (1 Sam 15:29). Indeed, the whole designation of "Holy" ("holy, holy, holy", lifting it to the highest sense) means "other" -- "not like you." Sure, there are points of commonality (or we'd never be able to recognize or comprehend anything about Him), but it is foolishness to think that God is like us, to use ourselves as the measure of God. No, the biblical version of God is not like us. We can't measure God because He is not physical. He doesn't conform to our sense of "justice" because He is not confined to "equitable". And that whole "everything must have a cause" thing only applies to effects, and God is no effect.

In the early days of the Church, the Christians were viewed by Roman emperors as atheists. These Christians didn't believe that the Roman emperor was God, so they didn't believe in God. In these latter days I have become an atheist. I don't believe in the God touted by atheists and misguided believers that can't be found in the pages of Scripture or in evident reason. I don't believe in a "hands off" God or a "milksop" God who has cut Himself off from intervening in the All Powerful Human Free Will or the oh-so-limited God who must conform to human understanding and values. That may make me an atheist in today's perspectives of "God", but so be it.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


Someone I know said, "In any relationship, if you can't live 'I love you', then don't say it." Wisdom for the ages. No, really, it makes a lot of sense. Don't tell people you love them if you're not willing to live it.

We joked back and forth a bit. "Hey, if you live across the country and I can't live 'love', should I tell you I don't love you?" That kind of thing. But in a serious moment he said, "I am fond of you. I respect you. But most likely, we do not love each other. If we did, it would not be a year between correspondences."

Well, I suppose it was my own fault for joking around and bringing up the reality. Still, it's worth considering. We all know "you should call your mother!" or the like. You know, we should keep in touch with people we care about. We all know that the whole "quality is more important than quantity" thing is a truism, but, let's face it, the reality is that spending a quantity of time with your spouse is much more likely to produce quality time than trying to end up with only "quality" time and neglecting quantity.

Or, let's say it a different way. "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt 6:21). Where is your heart? What moves you? To what are you dedicated? Where is your largest amount of time spent? What are your dearest aims and intentions? You see, these kinds of questions will serve you well in determining what you really treasure. In a recent article from the Daily Mail, a study indicated that 15% of women indicated that the reason for their divorce was video gaming. This is up by 10% from just a year ago. If a wife believes that her husband is more dedicated to his video gaming than to her, what does that tell you about what he treasures? I would guess that it's not her.

My friend's candor was helpful for clarifying things. We will focus on what we treasure. We will also lie to ourselves and to others about what that may be. Don't tell them you love them if you won't give them your love. And if you intend to really love them, do it. And, pause for a moment here and consider this whole thing in terms of God. You say you love Him. What do your actions say? As the old axiom says, "Actions speak louder than words."

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Comments on our Society

Whitney Houston sang, "Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all." We know that. Even Christians will tell you that if you don't love yourself, you can't love others as you love yourself. Never mind that it's a failure to understand "love" or that it contradicts Paul's assertion that we all love ourselves. From Oprah to the church, we know that loving yourself is important1.

The next important thing we need today is money. You can't make money without having money. Money makes the world go 'round. The biggest problem of the day is the economy. So much of our lives revolve around money -- having it, making it, keeping it. No one really doubts that money is important2.

Have you ever noticed that in today's society the general conception is that women are wiser than men, and children are the wisest of all? Watch any movie or TV show with children and you'll get the most sage advice from the little kids. We really like those stories about children who stand up to unbearable parents and make it on their own. That, in today's society, is "good"! If I gave you a quote from a young girl saying, "But, Dad, I love him!", you'd likely already believe that the evil parents are barring her from following her heart, and that she ought to ignore her parents and run away with him. It's just the way we see things3.

One of the biggest maladies of our day is the lack of gratitude. We are not grateful to parents for raising us. We are not grateful to our employers for giving us jobs. We are not grateful to our spouses for putting up with us, let alone being kind to us. We are certainly not grateful to God for His manifold blessings. Gratitude in our society is a rare element4.

It used to be that the phrase "America's Pastime" was a reference to baseball. It's not really appropriate anymore, not merely because baseball isn't as popular as it used to be, but because it isn't what Americans apparently like to do the most. It could be argued that today's favorite pastime is litigation. I can't even turn on the television without an advertisement that encourages me to sue someone for something they might have done. Class action lawsuits are on the rise. Medical malpractice suits seem to be routine. In the largest numbers ever the government is being sued for everything from birds endangering planes to the location of the border fences. That's okay because the government itself has engaged in suing its own people. Litigation is our national pastime now. We will not give an inch. We will not talk it out. We will not be appeased5.

One of the big conversations taking place is the problem of mean-spiritedness in our national dialog. They were quite sure that the guy recently ruled incompetent to stand trial for the shootings in Tucson was goaded by the slander and abusive speech of the right. It's a big problem, we're quite sure6.

One of the key elements in our debates today seems to be our freedom. No, not general freedom. It's the freedom to do whatever we please. It's the freedom to indulge our every whim. If you suggest that there is right or wrong indulgence, you're intolerant. If you recommend that self-control is an option at times, you're narrow-minded. No, no, we ought to be allowed to do what we please when we please however we please and no one should have the right to say otherwise7.

Despite all of this, it's an interesting fact that America is a "religious" nation. The Pew Forum says that 78% of American adults classify themselves as Christian and another 5% "other religions". Only 16% classify themselves as "unaffiliated" which includes less than 2% atheist and a little more than 2% agnostic and another 12% "nothing in particular" (which includes 6% "religious unaffiliated"). That means that something around 90% of Americans classify themselves as "religious". Yet, in all these vast numbers of "religious" people, it turns out that something around 5% hold that religion is something serious, something that affects their lives. Religion, it seems, is a good thing as long as it doesn't actually do anything8. We appear to have religion, but we deny its power.

Oh, wait ... that last phrase brings to mind a particular passage of Scripture.
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be 1lovers of self, 2lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, 3disobedient to their parents, 4ungrateful, unholy, heartless, 5unappeasable, 6slanderous, 7without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having 8the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth (2 Tim 3:1-7).
Oh, I don't know about you, but to me that sounds way too much like a vivid description of the norm today in our society. Arrogant, abusive, not loving good, lovers of pleasure, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Last days, huh?

Harold Camping's failed prophecies have touched off a whole new set of skeptics -- you know, like Peter writes about. "Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, 'Where is the promise of his coming?'" (2 Peter 3:3-4). Funny thing is that these scoffers are doing so in the midst of a dead-on description of the "last days". Just an interesting note.

Monday, June 06, 2011

What's wrong with this picture?

From a Facebook status of a self-labeled "Christian" friend: "Divorce court tomorrow. I'm nervous. Hope it goes smoothly." The replies from her friends included "Good luck!", "I'll keep you in my prayers", and "Praying you'll have peace". Scanning ... scanning ... no, not one, "What are you thinking??!! Don't you know that God hates divorce? Aren't you aware of the damage it does to yourself, your spouse, your children, to marriage in general, and to any sort of Christian witness?" Nothing even along the lines of "Oh, how sad." Nothing even remotely like it.

What's up with that? Why is it that the "support" people -- even Christian people -- tend to offer in situations like this is more along the lines of "You're better off" and "It will all be okay" instead of ... oh, I don't know ... the truth? Do they not know the truth? (It's biblical, sure, but it's also a matter of studies as well.) Do they not love enough to tell the truth? What's wrong with this picture?

Sunday, June 05, 2011

The Inverted Church

There's a funny thing going on at your local gathering of believers. There is an inversion happening. Here, let me explain.

In the world today, we look to the talented, the smart, the educated to lead us. Those are the ones we admire. Those are the "special" people. And, I suppose, to some degree it's understandable that this would be so ... in the world. On the other hand, the Bible says that something different is at work in the Body of Christ.

We learn, for instance, that "God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God" (1 Cor 1:28-29). That's not quite how the world would view it. We read that "the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another" (1 Cor 12:22-25). Now, that's a turnabout from the world. The greater honor, in the Body of Christ, goes to the less presentable parts, the parts that lack honor.

This is a running theme in the Church. He who would save his life must lose it. The one who gives all is the one who has the most. The least member is the highest honored. He who would be first should be last. And so it goes.

In the worship service, again, there is a turnabout, an inversion. While we tend to think of the preacher and the leaders in front as the preeminent components of the service, it turns out that they're just prompters. The audience there is not the congregation, but God Himself. And the performers are not the people up in front, but the congregation. You see? Inverted.

The Church is full of these sorts of things, seemingly unnatural turns and inversions of the world's perspective that God uses to keep us focused on Him, not ourselves. It glorifies Him and prevents boasting in us. The world tells us that we need to be "the best of the best." The "least of these", in the Church, is a good place to be. So, in whatever you're doing for the Lord, aim low.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Not All Have Faith

I've contended for a long time that faith is a gift. Those who disagree have argued that faith is something that we provide, the thing we bring to the equation. You have the classic "God has done 99.9% and you have to do the last 0.1% by coming in faith." You've heard that before, right? I've offered a pile of Scriptures that say that faith is a gift, but it just doesn't seem to sink in. One I've offered on more than one occasion is the one that appears to me to be completely incontrovertible.
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith (Rom 12:3).
There it is as plain as can be. "God has allotted to each a measure of faith." In what possible sense does that not say that faith is a gift?

In those rare cases that I can get those who disagree with me to admit that it is plain here, this is what I get in response. "Yes, it is clear that faith is a gift. However, it says that 'God has allotted to each a measure of faith.' That means that everyone is given faith, and we just decide what to do with it."

Now, I frankly don't see how that makes a lot of sense, but where do I go from there? I could argue about who the context is referencing when it says "each", but that ends up closer to an opinion than a certainty. And then I came across this.
Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith (2 Thess 3:1-2).
Oh, now that is interesting. While Romans 12 says that God has allotted to each a measure of faith, 2 Thessalonians 3 says that not all have faith. How does that work? Well, we could do a little dance here and say, "Well, God gave them faith, but they lost it" or some such. Or we could conclude that the "each" referenced in Romans 12 -- since Paul is writing to "brothers" (Rom 12:1), those who are saints (Rom 1:7) -- is a reference to believers and not all humans. But, then, if we did that, we'd be back to that whole "faith is a gift" thing and someone would have to change their view on the subject, so ... never mind.

Friday, June 03, 2011

No Hell Below Us

I've written several things on Hell, both in days gone by and more of late due to the "Rob Bell book incident". Obviously I stand by the longstanding, traditional, biblical view that Hell is a reality, a place of eternal torment, a place to be avoided. There are other voices out there, however, that hold a different view. These views vary in places. Some say that there is torment, but it's not eternal. These are the annihilationists. There are those who believe that Hell is a myth entirely, but these also tend to believe that Heaven and even God are myths. There are those who believe that everyone will get a second chance at it and, of course, when you're standing in the presence of the Savior looking at the flames of eternal torment and being offered eternal bliss, it's pretty clear what your choice will be. This particular group falls in two basic categories. One says that God gives Man free will and it is possible that, even in this situation, some may choose Hell. The other says that this would be ludicrous and no one, in the final analysis, will choose damnation. And, of course, there are variations within the variations.

The question I want to examine is what if Lennon was right? What if there is no Hell below us? What if, by whatever method it works out, Rob Bell and N.T. Wright and the entire Universalist movement and all those who are quite sure that, in the end, God redeems all men are right? Now what?

N.T. Wright argues that what we do matters. So does Bell. So do most of those who argue against Hell. What I have yet to hear is how? What does it matter? If all people in all walks of life are all, in the final analysis, redeemed, what does what we do matter? We can't be deceived and miss Heaven. We can't be right and obtain Heaven by it. There are no consequences for faulty deeds and no benefit for good deeds. Love wins! So what would it matter what I do now?

In fact, why argue at all? People like Bell seem to want to make Christ more "palatable". They want to paint Him in a more favorable light. But ... why? I mean, sure, that would be nice and all, but if seeing Him in an unfavorable light will result in Heaven, why would it matter? It's not like they hope to obtain the salvation of those who currently have a not-so-nice view of Christ now since that salvation is already assured. So what's the point?

The Bible is full of the "carrot and stick" approach. From the Old Testament blessings and curses to the New Testament rewards and unquenchable fire, the Bible consistently warns of the consequences of sin while promising blessing to the righteous. The whole "fire is not quenched" concept doesn't come from the Roman Catholic church; that's a line from the lips of Jesus Christ Himself. The description of a place of the dead where there is flaming agony is not a product of Dante, but of Jesus. It wasn't some mean-spirited religious zealot that taught "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it." Nor was it some narrow-minded right-wing nut jobs that held that Jesus was the only way, that no man comes to the Father but by Him, or that "there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." So the writers of the Bible from beginning to end -- and Christ Himself -- seemed to think that there was blessing promised to those who are righteous and fearful danger to those who are not, so we need to warn people about that danger. On the other hand, if all of that is a simple misunderstanding and everyone is saved in the final analysis, then why bother? Who knows? Maybe Jesus really was a mean-spirited religious zealot, a right-wing nut job trying to scare people for no good reason. If the universalist-types are right, I can't imagine what other conclusion I can come to. And if they are right, I can't imagine why they bother making any argument at all. "Don't worry. Be happy! It'll all work out fine! Can't we all just get along?" But if they're wrong ...

Thursday, June 02, 2011

God and Good

One of the bloggers that I like to read is Neil Simpson over at Eternity Matters. The other day he posted an entry entitled "Somewhere Greg Koukl is smiling" about the dangers of taking Scripture out of context. I am in full agreement about the concept and heartily opposed to taking Scripture out of context, but I had a slight disagreement about one particular example he used. He (and his commenters) argued that you cannot apply Jeremiah 29:11 to anyone today because it was intended for a particular group of people back then and not anyone today. I contended that the promise was to God's people in exile, and that, just like Romans 8:28, it was a promise that God works all things together for good for His own people -- His elect in the world. Well, of course, I was alone in that opinion, and, frankly, this is not about that disagreement. The question I have is regarding "good".

One commenter told me, "I don't think the Scripture says that God has a specific plan for each individual, other than allowing them to do what they want." He was quite confident that "Certainly we can’t say that God’s plan is for everyone to avoid evil when we have so many Christians martyred around the world." He affirmed, "We can’t assume every time there is evil directed at us that God intended it for good." This is in keeping with a large portion of Christian theology that argues (without using the words) that, just like Wesley from The Princess Bride was "mostly dead", God in reality is "mostly sovereign". The true Sovereign of our world is Human Free Will ("allowing them to do what they want") and God is just kind of along for the ride, working out whatever good He can manage with the only ultimate certainty being the salvation of His own (although, when you think about it, wouldn't that possibly violate their free will?).

So where am I going with this? The contention is that unbelievers certainly endure "bad things", especially if you consider "going to Hell" a "bad thing". The argument is that Christians certainly suffer uncomfortable things -- "not good". The question that comes up, then, is about what "good" is intended. More than one Christian has argued with me, for instance, about Romans 8:28. I would state it, "We know that God works all things together for good" and they would correct me, "To those who love God!" You see, it isn't good for those who do not love God. And I would tend to disagree.

Given the character of God -- God is Good; that is, God defines what good is -- and given the fact (despite the commenter's disagreement) that God is absolutely Sovereign, I would have to conclude that God works all things together for good in all cases. The problem is not the overpowering Free Will of Man, but the failure of human beings, even Christian ones, to properly identify "good". I bring this up because of another blog entry I recently read about how the doctrine of election provides comfort for those with lost loved ones. When a loved one dies without Christ, I contended, the doctrine of election is not comforting. What is comforting is the reality of the justice and holiness and righteousness of God. But, you see, this is a problem for most modern Christians.

It boils down to these two questions. Is God actually the definition of "good"? Is God actually Sovereign? You see, if God is genuinely good and genuinely sovereign, then I would have to argue that He works all things together for good ... period. To those who love God, what we see would be classified as "good" by us. To those who do not, what they see would not be classified as "good" to them. But the classification does not define whether it is genuinely good. God does.

Now, you may disagree with me. It wouldn't be the first time such a thing has happened. Still, since I am thoroughly convinced that God is both absolutely Sovereign and absolutely Good, I can only conclude that God works all things for Good. My problem, then, is simply a matter of realigning my definition of "good" to coincide with God's perspective. (As an example, consider this post from 2006.) Sometimes that's pretty easy. Sometimes it's not. But from my perspective it is not a problem with God but with me. And with that perspective the whole question of "bad things happening to good people" goes away. So I'll let those of you who disagree with me deal with that one.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


I just heard the word for the first time the other day. For those who are erudite, I have no need to tell you what it means. For those of us who are ignorant, it comes from the merging of the prefix, pomo, a shortened version of "postmodern", and sexual. Now, the primary essence of "pomo" -- postmodern thought -- is the removal of definitions. There are not grand worldviews. Words mean what you want them to mean (as opposed to what the author might have meant). Classifications are meaningless. Relativism is supreme. Never mind that such a concept is irrational. Rationality is irrelevant in the pomo view. So, a heterosexual is one who is defined as a person who is sexually attracted to the opposite sex and homosexual is defined as one who is sexually attracted to someone of the same sex and pomosexual is one who defies any definition of sexual attraction. The effect of this category is to include all categories as valid without allowing any categories at all. So now you end up with the LBGT categories -- Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgender. These are now all valid ... but meaningless. Then there is the LBGTF designation, where the F category, believe it or not, means "friends" as if "friends" is another "sexual orientation", another definition. Others list LBGTQ, where the "Q" is unclear, but may mean either "queer" or "questioning". "I just don't know what I am." And another group wants it to be LBGTFI, where the "I" references "Intersexual", a designation for people who have no clear sexual identity. No one has provided the necessary letters yet for the pedophile, the ones attracted to animals, or the omnisexual, a growing category of folks who are defined by anything at all that they consider sexually attractive. The function of pomosexuality, then, is to allow for all of these (and more) while removing any distinction of morality. "You are what you are. So be it. It's all good."

I don't know that there is any end to the distance these will go. There are classifications for adult males attracted to young boys. There are names for those who "feel like a gay man trapped in a woman's body" -- women attracted to gay males -- or guys who are attracted to lesbians. There is the "non-heterosexual" who considers it demeaning to be called anything at all. There are those who believe in polyamory and pansexuality. There are no limits, apparently.

The goal in the terminology is to give desires validity. The aim is to turn moral turpitude on its head. The purpose is to claim that whatever stirs our loins, whatever floats your boat, whatever gets your motor running is not merely acceptable, but good simply because it does. Like a nasty little spoiled child, "If I want it, it must be good and, therefore, I should get it." And today's lack of parenting skills, both real and metaphorical, leaves little with which to combat this idea. "Why do you want that?" "Because it's good." "What makes it good?" "Because I want it." "Oh, well, then your logic is seamless. I suppose we'll have to give it to you."

And the horrible question from Christ comes echoing back in my head. "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?"