Monday, February 28, 2011

God on His Knees

According to CNN, 7 of our 50 states do not have budget deficits. Seven. That means (I can do the math) that 43 states are looking at millions of dollars of deficits in the coming year. Some of these deficits are stunning. California leads the way with a $28 billion deficit with Texas closely behind with a $27 billion deficit. Illinois has a mere $15 billion shortfall and New Jersey is looking at a $10.5 billion problem. Of course, compared to the federal government, this is peanuts. The feds are looking at a $15 trillion of red ink -- 1,000 times that of Illinois.

Now, over in Wisconsin there is a battle going on about the topic. Wisconsin has a $3.6 billion deficiency. That's "billion" with a "b". So the governor wanted to cut the problem down. It's too big. Something has to be done. But, of course, not by the teachers or police or fire departments. No, get it somewhere else. Not from the goverment. "No, we don't know where else to suggest. Just not us." New Jersey is looking at a similar problem. Where to cut? "Not us!" So ... what?

While I sit here and think, "Well, what do you expect?", I suspect the whole thing is inconceivable to the Democrat mind. The primary thrust of the Democratic approach is "Let the government take care of you." They've produced a host of social programs to take care of folk. The latest is perhaps the health care initiative, but that's only the latest. The programs range from Welfare and food stamps to Medicare and Social Security. Mind you, I'm not saying, "Those dirty, rotten Dems; they're so evil!" I'm just pointing out that this is the primary approach of the Democratic mind. Like a benevolent god, they sit there with arms open encouraging all to come and put their trust in them. so ... what happens when god runs out of money?

"No, no," the thinking seems to go, "that simply cannot happen. While you and I can easily run out of money, the federal government is able to print more. Why can't the states? How is it possible that our Caretaker can fail to take care?" So when the news is shouted, "The state is out of money!", the response is, "No, it's not!" And the conclusion is obvious. "They're just trying to rip us off!" Because, you see, we've been told for almost a century that the government is our caretaker, the god who will tend to our needs when problems arise. And, big government has tried. They really have. But now they're running out of other people's money and the god goes to his knees.

What now? If the government is broke, where do we turn? The concept of cutting Medicare (like they plan to do in Arizona) or restricting social programs or decreasing the wages and benefits of government employees is unthinkable. So ... what? The alternatives aren't pretty, even to conservatives, but if we don't start looking at them soon, it just won't matter anymore.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The God I Love

We love God. He's a nice guy. We love a nice God. We can recount many warm things that He has done for us. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound! Unconditional love. Joy. Peace. Oh, lots of good stuff. We love God. He's nice.

Of course, if God isn't as nice as that, we may not be quite so convinced. I know people who, presented with a different view of God, have said, "If God is like that, I don't want anything to do with Him." The discussion will inevitably revolve around a concept of God that differs from their own. Maybe you're pointing to the biblical doctrine of election. It's in there. I didn't make it up. Someone once asked Jesus, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?" His answer? "Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (Luke 13:23-24). Jesus's words, not mine. "Oh," I will undoubtedly hear, "if God is like that, I don't want anything to do with Him."

It makes me wonder. If you were to find out that "this" was the true nature of God and "this" was something that you found distasteful, what would you do? Would you side with the skeptics? "If God is like that, I don't want anything to do with Him." Or would you adjust your taste (so to speak)? You see, if this is so, then "the God I love" is "the God of my choosing" rather than "the God who is".

I've had to adjust my view of God many times in my time as a believer (which is not a short time). Some were large adjustments. Some were fine tuning. Some made me wonder, "Am I willing to go with a God like that?" Of course, as my understanding has changed and my perceptions matured (some say "rotted"), that question has all but vanished. (Hey, what does "all but vanished" mean? I mean by that "It's essentially completely vanished", but "all but" would suggest that it did everything but vanish. English -- a strange language. Anyway ...) I've surrendered my view of God to whatever He is. If it's comfortable, good! If it's not, so be it. Because I'm convinced that whatever He is, it's good. Thus, any discomfort is a failure on my part, not His. And, to be quite honest, even though my initial hesitant steps in new perceptions might have been uncomfortable, I've never found a course correction that I didn't eventually embrace. That is, my perceptions of God just keep getting better and better. On the other hand, I know plenty of people who view my perceptions of God as both heretical and horrendous. So be it. My aim is to love the God who is, not the God I love.

What about you? Is there something out there, some potentially Christian view of God, that you would say, "Oh, no, if God is like that, I don't want anything to do with Him"? Are you loving the God who is, wherever that leads, or are you requiring the God of your choosing, the God of your design, the God who makes you feel comfortable? You know, I hope, that such a God is, by definition, not a God, but an idol. And I'm pretty sure you're aware of God's perspectives on idolatry. Today is a good day to worship the God who is for who He is. In this case, we can truly say, "It's all good."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Doing the Obama Shuffle

Since the 2010 election cycle when the president's political party took a "shellacking" at the polls, it has seemed that President Obama has been shifting toward center. He has made motions of "reaching across the aisle". He compromised with Republicans to allow the richest Americans to retain their Bush tax cuts. He tried to reverse what the business community called his "anti-business" stance. It was starting to look like a "new and improved" President Obama.

In the last week, the president has done his own version of the shuffle. Lest you think that he has shifted toward center, he has let us all know that he is still firmly on the left. First, he removed protection for medical workers whose consciences wouldn't let them perform certain activities. "Sorry. You lose. That whole 'freedom of religion' thing? Forget it. Your freedom to act by your conscience ends at your nose ... not mine. If it means that you won't do what someone else wants you to do, you do not have that freedom." And now he has instructed the Department of Justice not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Now, remember, back in 1996 the Senate voted 85 to 14 and the House voted 342 to 67 (how often are there such lopsided votes?) to officially define marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. But the president has decided not to defend marriage.

So, let's recount. While appearing to move from far left toward more center in the wake of a stinging defeat at the polls, it now seems that President Obama has clearly marked his territory. What is his "left" territory? Well, you folks who believe that marriage is defined as the union of a man and a woman -- you know, the traditional, longstanding definition from the beginning of time -- you're all wrong. And you silly religious folk who think you have a conscience? Yeah, you're all wrong, too. We are the government. We determine what is real and what is not, what is right and what is not. Not you, not history, not tradition, not even the majority. Enjoy your freedom, folks! We're on your side!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Loving Sinners

Neil at Eternity Matters has a commentary about a Houston event called "Bring your gay teen to church". Neil has good things to say. But the article about the event struck me and I had to comment.

The article is ostensibly about a 15-year-old kid named Jaxn Hussey (seriously, mom, "Jaxn"?) who announced to his mom that he was gay. She assured him that she loved him unconditionally and then set out to find a new church.

Does that strike anyone as odd? First, the connection to "find a new church". You see, the poor kid had heard at church that homosexuality was a sin, and he was afraid that he was going to hell. Now that must not be. The way you fix that problem is ... stop going places where they say it. All fixed!

Second, the idea of "loved him unconditionally" baffled me. Not that it was wrong, but that it was a given. Why say it? Well, apparently, here's how it works. Someone you love unconditionally is doing something that you think is wrong. In order to continue to love them unconditionally, you must not tell them that it's wrong and, indeed, you must not even think that it is wrong. If you actually think that the thing that they're doing is "a sin", well, then, you're not loving them unconditionally. That is, thinking that someone is sinning is not loving them.

You need this background to understand the whole article, you see. I mean, what gathering of genuine believers would not want to include "gay teens"? They need the gospel like anyone else. If we care about them, we need to pray for them, tell them the truth about sin, call for repentance, all of that. It is the basic entry point for Christianity. We want people to get saved. But that's my confused outlook, you see, because I'm clearly unclear on the concept. It is not possible to call sin "sin" and love, not possible to reject the sin and love the sinner, not possible to agree with God and recognize sin. This whole problem becomes a serious difficulty, of course, because I sin. I know of no one who does not sin. As such, the only possible conclusion is that I do not love anyone, including myself, unconditionally.

I'm not saying new things, I'm sure. We know that stating "homosexual behavior is a sin" is considered "bashing" (according to the article). From all indications the high suicide rate among self-identified homosexuals is because we agree with God that it's sin, and the solution is to not agree with God that it's sin. Research suggests that "fewer than 20 percent of Americans believe places of worship do a good job on the issue [of homosexuality]." Religion's message is "negative" on the topic. So that's clearly "bashing", "bad", something to avoid.

Well, of course, Mrs. Hussey had no problem finding a church that tickled her ears. A couple of decades ago several mainline churches shifted from the standard, 2000 plus years of understanding what the Bible says on the topic and re-interpreted the texts to be more "friendly". Nonsense, I say, but that's not my point. My point is that when it becomes "unloving" to say that "God says such and such is sin", then it isn't the sinner that is the problem. It's the one who chooses to side with the sinner's sin that's the problem. When Mrs. Hussey finds it so easy to find a "church" that consciously chooses to disregard God's view of sin and consider that "love", it's a symptom of a bigger problem. And when we are told that "unconditional love" means "you cannot recognize sin as sin", it is completely twisted around. You see, "God is love", and it is God who identifies sin as sin. When we choose to ignore that in the name of "love", it is a contradiction ... and it is not love. On the other hand, inviting a "gay teen" to church to hear that, without repentance, he is indeed going to hell, but Christ has provided a remedy ... now that is love.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Christianoids

I just read this (undefined) term over at Pyromaniacs and liked it: "Christianoids". So I googled the word and clearly a lot of others had heard it and used it before. And it meant to them what it meant to me ... sort of.

You see, I've been trying to figure out (in my mind) how to classify the "ground" types in the Parable of the Sower. I get the first one. The "side of the road" ground was never a believer, never even inclined to it. I get that. And I get the last one. The "good ground" is the true believer, the one bearing fruit, the genuine. I get that. But there are two in between that somehow have evaded my classifications. They embrace the Word ... but not. They're not the true believers of the last category but also not the unbelievers of the first category. Oh, and they end up fizzling out. You know, like "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19). Yeah, exactly like that.

But what is a Christianoid? Well, like the term "humanoid" (we sci-fi fans like that term), it means that they may resemble the thing and may even call themselves the thing -- may even believe they are -- but they are not the thing. In this case, "the thing" is "Christian". How does a Christian differ from a Christianoid?

A Christian believes that God is love and, as a consequence, loves his neighbor. A Christianoid believes that God is love and, as a consequence, loves himself. "If God loves me, so should I!" He may do so by indulging his desires or his own worldview or his political beliefs or his quest for riches or power or whatever self-aggrandizement he may wish. But it is not a self-sacrificing love.

A Christian believes that God is good and, therefore, wishes to follow what a good God commands. "Whatever it takes, Lord." If she comments on others who fail to follow God's commands, it is because she is concerned about others missing out on God's goodness. A Christianoid believes that God is reasonably good but, when He crosses the line and suggests things contrary to her own wishes, should be marginalized. If God condemns an act that she wishes to indulge, then God is being "mythical" or "epic" or is using "an analogy" -- whatever it takes to evade it because it can't be genuine, not if it contradicts her position. Cross that idea and face the Christianoid's "righteous indignation".

A Christian believes that God is sovereign. As such, a Christian will hold fast in tough times, will experience peace in trials, will act with boldness even in the face of opposition if it's what Christ would have him do. A Christianoid believes that God is sovereign, meaning that God has sovereignly limited Himself to Man's Free Will. This means that it's wise to avoid the heat when times get tough, crazy to suggest "forgive others" when he's been wronged, or battle any opposition except, perhaps, that which comes from people claiming to be "Christians".

A Christian is, in Jesus's terms, a "sheep" following her "Shepherd". A key factor for this "sheep" is that she recognizes the voice of the Shepherd. So a Christian, recognizing the voice of Christ in the Scriptures, longs to follow that voice. It may take her to places that might seem uncomfortable or dangerous, but if that's where the Shepherd leads, she may be sure that He'll keep her safe and that's where she'll go. A Christianoid is a "wolf in sheep's clothing". They resemble sheep, but are certainly not going to go where the Shepherd leads just because the Shepherd says so. That whole "book" thing? Yeah, that's not even the Shepherd's voice. No, no, the Christianoids know much better than that and ridicule those who follow that voice for being ... sheep.

A Christian believes that Christ is the truth, that the truth shall set you free, and that the Holy Spirit is given to lead him into all truth. A Christianoid is confident that confidence is bad, that truth is personal, and that "you're certainly entitled to your opinion and I'm entitled to mine" because truth is never a solid thing.

There are, of course, many more examples. There are many more facets. This is, by no means, a complete explanation or description. But you get the idea. This "Christianoid" category, then, would be the category between "unbeliever" and "believer", "non-Christian" and "Christian". The "Christianoid" will often resemble the "Christian", will likely even call itself "Christian". It will almost certainly belittle the Christian who questions its Christian-ness. The Christianoid is the shallow ground that sprouts up in delight at the gospel but can't take the heat. The Christianoid is the weedy soil that grows up into the gospel but finds itself choked out by the world. Instead of submitting to the Word, they succumb to their culture. They may last awhile or they may be a flash in the pan. Matthew 7 describes some that go to Judgment not knowing they were Christianoids rather than Christians. But there is a difference. The difference is real, important, and, when on the Christianoid side, tragic. As such, one other thing that differentiates a Christian from a Christianoid is that a Christian would have the compassion to try to warn the Christianoid.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why is that?

Strange. Over the last election cycle the Tea Party has been consistently ridiculed and mocked by the media. The Tea Party is a populist movement. It is a call for a return to "We the people". It is a throwback to the Boston tea party where the people told the government, "No taxation without representation." It's an attempt to stand up for everyman. It is not "Republican" or "conservative" on its own. It's just a group of people who share the same frustration with government. And they're nuts, bone fide wackos, right-wing crazies. Just ask the media.

On the other hand we have a growing voice in various state capitals who are standing on their rights with louder and louder voices. They have a right to entitlements. They have a right to benefits. They have a right to high pay. So what if the state has no ability to maintain that? Who cares if the government is about to go bankrupt? What is it to them that there is not enough money to maintain their demands? It's their right. For sex offenders, it's "NIMBY" -- not in my backyard. For unions it's "NOMB" -- not on my back. No, no, let someone else pay for the state's problems. For that matter, why not just print your own money? Hey, the federal government is doing it! These, you see, are valiant warriors, standing for what is right, holding the line against evil.

Why is that? Why is one group crazy and the other brave? Why is one group outlandish and the other mainstream? Why the disparity in media portrayal?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Biblical Dichotomy

I saw this the other day in my Bible and was intrigued and a little confused. So, being the kind and sharing fellow that I am, I thought perhaps I could share my confusion with you. Hey! What's a little confusion between friends, right?

The prophet Obadiah wrote a prophecy from God regarding the nation of Edom, Esau's descendants. It's not a pleasant prophecy. In the message from God, is an indictment against Edom. "Judgment is coming on you and here's why ..." The list of charges begin in verse 10.
10 "Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever. 11 On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them. 12 But do not gloat over the day of your brother in the day of his misfortune; do not rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their ruin; do not boast in the day of distress. 13 Do not enter the gate of my people in the day of their calamity; do not gloat over his disaster in the day of his calamity; do not loot his wealth in the day of his calamity. 14 Do not stand at the crossroads to cut off his fugitives; do not hand over his survivors in the day of distress. 15 For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head" (Obadiah 1:10-15).
Here's the deal. As Habbakuk has already informed us, judgment was coming on Judah, Edom's northern neighbors. And as Psalm 137 tells us, when it did, Edom laughed. No, they cheered. "Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem, how they said, 'Lay it bare, lay it bare, down to its foundations!'" (Psa 137:7).

In the list of charges here, God lays this out. They were charged with multiple crimes. There was violence done to Israel. There was standing aloof when judgment came. There was gloating over Jacob's misfortune. There was the entering of the ravaged lands and taking spoils for themselves. There was looting. They even blocked the escape routes of survivors and turned them over to Babylon. For all of this God says, "As you have done, it shall be done to you."

So what were they supposed to do? Obviously they should not have carried out violence against their brothers. Okay. We get that. They should not have stood aloof. Instead, when Judah was being attacked by Babylon, Edom should have stood with Judah. They should not have gloated. They should not have looted. They should not have blocked escapees. And all of this seems fairly clear and understandable. I mean, we're human, right? If you're doing the speed limit and a mad driver blows by at twice your speed, you're delighted to see him a little way down the road getting his comeuppance from a policeman with a ticket. We do that. If you live in one of the neighborhoods around my part of the world, you just might see a raid on a drop house. And if you see one of the illegal aliens jump out of the back window and head across your yard to escape, are you going to stop them and turn them over to the police or let them go? Well, if you're a law-abiding citizen, you're likely to stop them. You see, it's all pretty straightforward.

So what's my confusion? First, it would appear that God disagrees. Edom gloated over Judah's judgment, and Edom was wrong. They blocked escapees, and they were wrong. "But ... but ..." And my confusion only gets worse. Edom was supposed to side with Judah and help them escape. Side with Judah when what happened? When God sent judgment on Judah! Now, wait! If God is just and right and you want to side with God, wouldn't you be siding against God by siding with Judah and helping them escape? Wait ... wait.

It's all very confusing. Maybe there's an answer found in the fact that, while God sent the judgment, it was the evil Babylonians that were the apparent judgment, so opposing the evil Babylonians was the right thing to do (as opposed to opposing God's judgment). I don't know. There appears to be a dichotomy here. Surely you want to be on God's side, but God appears to desire both the judgment of Judah and for Edom to side with the judged. Maybe it's that Edom wouldn't have known that it was God's judgment and, as such, they should have provided aid and comfort to their northern neighbors. Or maybe there are some fine distinctions, some language problems I'm missing. I don't know for sure. I only know that Obadiah wasn't wrong. Edom is gone ... completely. There is not one known Edomite today. No modern person traces their heritage to that group of people. There are those who trace back to Ishmael and those who trace back to Isaac. There are remnants of the Persians and even the Babylonians. But God promised "There shall be no survivor for the house of Esau" (Obadiah 1:18), and that is the case. Since God seems to think this is serious and since I want to understand, maybe some of you can help me figure this out. How much are we supposed to side with those under God's judgment and discipline, and how much are we supposed to stay out of the way on the position of "siding with God"? Or how much am I just confused and missing the point? Any help?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Questioning Scripture

The numbers of folk even among Christians -- even among "evangelical" Christians -- who claim that the Bible is the Word of God, a God-breathed, inerrant, infallible text handed down to us through the centuries and protected by God for our use today is dwindling. There are a variety of views, of course, but that particular one is passing away. What other options are there?

The Bible is not applicable for today. You seem to think that this book can still be applied to the life and times of the 21st century. You think that because some 1st century guy wrote against, say, "fornication", that we shouldn't commit "fornication". Some of you nonsensical types think that just because some guy wrote, "I do not allow a woman to teach or usurp authority over a man" that it means that women shouldn't teach or usurp authority over men. Clearly that was a reference to the culture of the day and today women are much better educated and much more capable. But that's just an example. It's all over the pages of the Bible. The Bible preaches slavery and sexism and puritanical sexual morals and all sorts of obvious errors. It has been used to invade countries, repress races, kill suspected heretics and witches, and all sorts of immorality. We are much more advanced today, both in knowledge and in morality. We know that there is no difference between blacks and whites, males and females, gays and straights. The simple fact that the Bible did not seem to see this kind of obvious truth proves that it is irrelevant for today.

The Bible does not mean what it appears to say. Sure, sure, maybe the Bible is the "Word of God" (whatever you may mean by that), but, look, it's abundantly clear that it is necessarily interpreted by fallible readers. Frankly, it takes a whole lot more information than the common reader has to really understand what's going on in some of it. There are cultural issues in view that are not readily obvious and there are social issues in mind that we may not know and there are certainly language barriers to overcome and, well, it's all very difficult. It may say, for instance, that it's an abomination for a man to lie with a man as with a woman, but what does that mean? You may say that it means that it's an abomination for a man to lie with a man as with a woman, some ancient text version of "gay sex". But scholars suggest that it references illicit sexual behavior in pagan temple worship. And we're all agreed, I think, that performing pagan temple worship is against God's law. So, you see, it's a matter of private interpretation. The Bible doesn't always mean what it seems to say. And while we might agree that it is "inspired by God" (whatever you may mean by that), we will also agree that human interpretation is flawed ... at best. So certainty about meaning and texts and contexts is questionable at best and more likely unwise.

Since it's not actually written by God in any sense, it shouldn't be viewed as "inerrant" or "infallible" in any sense. The Bible is an ancient text. It was obviously written by humans -- and we all know that "to err is human". And, look, let's be honest ... you can't read the Bible with any thoroughness and not know that there are obvious errors and contradictions. Besides, it was written from the perspective of ancient cultures with outdated notions and outmoded values. Look, maybe there is some value to the book. It has nice things like "love your neighbor" which might be helpful. It has commonly understood morals like "Don't do to others what you don't want others to do to you." We're good with that. But the useful stuff is more rare than you realize and, frankly, the entire structure of the book is too weak to form opinions about what to pass as laws, what a "moral society" would look like, or whether or not my pet project should be completed (because the fact that I want it makes it "moral") or terminated (because you have some obscure belief in some dubious, ancient writings that suggest that some vague "deity" thinks -- in your highly questionable and bigoted opinion -- my pet project is "immoral"). It's a book. Get over it!

"Did God say ...?" That pretty much summarizes them all, doesn't it? If you're aware of the origin of the quote, you know that the originator used some truth, some shaded truth, and some lies to produce doubts and, ultimately, rebellion in the minds of his listeners. It isn't a new trick, then. But it sure is popular today. The fact that it's popular in the world (which we are promised will be opposed to us) isn't surprising. The fact that it is popular among those self-identifying as "Christians" and even "conservative Christians" (in some sense or another) is sad. The growing attempts at "new understanding" and revisionist interpretation is appalling. The suggestion that we, some 2000 years later, have finally come up with the truth that God Himself could never seem to get across to us in all those years is mind-boggling. But we know the source of the problem -- he who asked at the outset, "Did God say ...?" It does not bode well for Christendom and it does not bode well for those who go down that path. It's the kind of thing that I look at and say, "Thank God He is Sovereign!" But, then, that would only come from a view that answers, "Yes! God did say ...!"

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Why Birds?










When I first started this blog back in 2006, it was called "Birds of the Air". (Thus the address -- birdsoftheair.blogspot.com.) Since I would certainly not be able to make an entire blog about birds, I shifted the name to "Winging It", which, if you're paying attention, still connects to the birds. A friend recently asked me, "Why birds?"














I really like birds. To me, these are the epitome of God's "gotcha!" to the Evolutionist. They are a large, obvious example of irreducible complexity. That's a fancy word that says that you can't make sense of them using the concept of evolution. You see, evolution calls for gradual changes, little shifts here and there that, through natural selection, fine tune various parts so that the "fittest" make it through while those who are not don't make it. But irreducible complexity argues that some things just won't work that way. In the human being, an obvious example is the entire cardiopulmonary system. Without blood, there's no need to have a venous system to carry it. Without a venous system, there's no need to have a heart to pump blood. Without a cardio system, there's no need for lungs. And on it goes. Remove one piece (like in "gradual change") and you've got nothing at all.

Well, birds are like that. They hold too much mystery, too much wonder, too many changes to be gradual. There is nothing in between. They have so many unique structures. They have beaks for eating (and it seems like each has a beak uniquely suited for its needs). They have hollow bones so they're light enough to fly. They have feathers which are remarkable structures in themselves. And, of course, birds fly.

Consider some of the facts about birds. The fastest animal on the planet is a bird. The Peregrine Falcon doesn't fall on its prey; it dives. In a power dive, the falcon can reach speeds in excess of 200 mph! Or look at the Osprey. The Osprey is a fishing bird. It will fall on its meal and then haul it out of the water. When it does, it holds the fish in its claws one in front of the other to make the fish aerodynamic.

No one teaches birds to fly. They don't spend hours in flight school getting trained and certified. They just ... fly. And what flight! Our best aircraft can't approach their maneuverability or precision.

In Australia there is a bird that, when ready to create offspring, will go into the forest and dig a hole in the ground. She will then lay her egg in the hole and cover it with leaves. After that, she's gone for good. The compost that is produced by the leaf barrier provides the necessary heat for the egg to hatch. Once hatched, the baby will eat its way through the compost until it is free and then is off to live its life. Females, at some point, without training or instructions, will repeat the process.

Or how about Cardinals? These birds mate for life. They develop their own language between the mated pairs. They will make several nests in a season and populate each. As the mother is sitting on one nest, the father will go make another nest. As the eggs hatch, she will move on to the next to lay more eggs and so on.

Lots of people dislike vultures, but they're a necessary bird. Vultures can fly incredibly high. (A Ruppell's Griffon was recorded at 7 miles in the air.) Yet they have the eyesight to tell if their prospective meal is dead. They are born gliders, catching currents and thermals to simply float around in the sky. In fact, they rarely take wing on still days. Their heads are designed (a word that's hard to avoid when you speak of birds as it is with the rest of nature) for sticking into dead carcasses.

Throw in all the variations. There are high fliers and skimmers, water birds and runners, tiny hummingbirds and huge ostriches, carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores. There are birds that are suited to night hunting and birds that are only out in the daytime. There are scavengers and ground feeders. Some travel phenomenal distances to lay their eggs under seemingly impossible conditions. Some actually fly over the Himalayas. They have special blood cells that absorb the oxygen better because of its scarcity on high altitude. Some fly from Alaska to Hawaii, thousands of miles over water without any place to rest. There are some powerful enough to lift small antelope. Each type of bird is specially designed, carefully equipped for their own particular function and lifestyle.

I like birds. They are graceful. They carry that wonderful mystery of flight. They are unique. They are varied. They are intricate. They are beautiful. And they scream the glory of God. Why birds? That ought to be good enough.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Who's Gonna Pay?

The right is tense because those left wants to tax the rich to pay for the poor. (Okay, to pay for more than the poor, but you get the idea.) We have expenses, you see, and we want the rich people to pay. "Socialism!" some cry, and it does make us wonder.

Last year we got a notice from our employer. Our insurance premiums were going to go up significantly? Why? Well, it was because of the president's health care plan. "It won't raise taxes," he assured us, but that was because we're going to pay for it in other ways. So even though I've had medical insurance for my entire work life and have used precious little of it, I'll be paying for others to have insurance because the president says so.

But this isn't about the president ... or even the left. I just heard a news item a few weeks ago that all the major cellphone carriers are going to boost their prices. Why? What is getting more expensive that they would need to do that? Well, it's all those precious little apps for smartphones. They have to pay for them somehow. So how are they going to do that? They're going to make me -- someone with a simple, stupid phone and no apps at all -- pay extra so everyone else has them.

And then I heard the other day that movie theaters are raising their prices. For what reason? Well, it's those 3D movies. They're expensive! So they're not going to charge people who want to go see those movies to pay for them. They're going to charge everyone.

It's an increasingly common theme. Make everyone pay for it, even if they don't use it or need it. Sure, I don't have to go to the movies (and I will, in all likelihood, make even less of the rare visits I do today), but much of this is not optional. Spread the cost out for a relative few to have privileges. Make everyone pay for it. You may call it economically savvy or good business or wise government. To me it seems a lot more like injustice, making people pay for things they don't want, don't need, don't use, and can't afford.

Friday, February 18, 2011

What's up with Watson?

(How about this? A second two-entry day in a week. What's up with that?)

I noticed that Watson beat the best two human competitors at Jeopardy. Nice. The Internet has been buzzing over this. Is it good news or bad? Are computers catching up with humans? Is the Terminator just around the corner?

Who is Watson? Well, Watson is an IBM product, a room-sized supercomputer who can push the button faster than humans can and recall more data at will than its competitors could. Impressive, really, but not so much.

Let me tell you what Watson cannot do. The other day I was taking a walk and heard a bird. In the instant that the sound reached my ears, without conscious analysis, I knew that I was hearing a cardinal. In the next instant my brain had moved the necessary muscles to orient my gaze in three-dimensional space to the direction and height of the bird where my eyes located and confirmed the identification. The only conscious thought was "Cardinal". Nothing more. We take it for granted, but that's just amazing. Using two ears and associated controls and memory and, finally, two eyes, my brain was able to identify and locate this bird in less than a second. Watson can't do that.

If Watson loses a memory cell, it's a lost cell. My body is constantly replacing lost cells.

If Watson gets damaged, it remains damaged. My body repairs itself.

Watson cannot use intuition. Probability, certainly, but not intuition. Humans do it all the time.

Do you know what else Watson cannot do? Watson cannot pick up an egg. Silly, I know. Watson has no hands. But consider the complexity of the problem. You have to be able to tell the strength of the item you are about to pick up and know how much pressure you can (or can't) apply. You have to sense its surface to know that it will or will not slip. You have to monitor it as you lift it to be sure your grip remains firm without doing damage. All of this occurs without a single conscious thought. Getting a machine to do it? Not so easy.

More than that, without being consciously aware of how or why, I can look at my wife and tell if she's happy or sad. Watson can't do that. I can thrill from her hand on mine. Watson can't feel, let alone enjoy it.

Some are wondering if machines are getting nearly human. It talked, after all. It recognized speech, didn't it? (Well, sort of. As it turns out, the questions were fed in electronically, not spoken.) It could call on vast information. Very impressive. It was indeed an awesome display of human ingenuity. Still, the human brain operates faster than any computer can to date and does more than any computer can to date and much of it without conscious effort on the part of the owner. You can detect nuance, body language, feelings, impressions. And, remember, Watson was a room-sized computer. We do it all in these compact, highly mobile (and even attractive) forms. Machines are getting better and faster, but humans still have the edge.

Something else that is of vital importance. Watson can't glorify God. I, on the other hand, was built to do just that. There's something that machines will never be able to do.

Giving Up

Plenty of folks have discussed (from both sides) the content of Romans 1. One side says, "It's quite clear that God classifies homosexual relations as 'dishonorable passions'." The other side retaliates with, "It says that the problem is unnatural relations, and if you're homosexual, it's natural." Despite what you might think ... I'm not going there.

Instead, there is something very interesting in the text that is typically overlooked. I've never heard a message on it, never seen a commentary about it. No one has ever pointed it out as particularly significant. It's pretty much ignored. See if you see it:
Rom 1:24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity.
Rom 1:26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.
Yeah, yeah, we all know that there is a progression here. Fine. We might even see that the second event is a response to the first, that the "dishonorable passions" of the second event is a sort of judgment that results from the first. Fine. But there is an interesting premise lurking in the background of both of these statements and, therefore, in Scripture -- "God gave them up ..."

On the one hand, the Calvinist claims "Total Depravity"! In this condition, humans are rotten to the core. On the other hand, there is the cry for "Free Will!" We are as bad or as good as we choose to be. The final determining factor is our own choice. This passage has something to say to both sides.

You see, it is apparent that God is holding us in check. By "us" I mean "all human beings". From the text it would seem that before God "gave them up" to a particular condition, they weren't going there. They couldn't get there. They arrived, in the first instance, at exchanging the glory of God for images. They did so against God's work of making Himself evident to them. They got there all on their own. But before they could progress from idolaters to perverts, it required God giving them up to it. And having sunk into "dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, they arrived at serving the creature rather than the Creator, of exchanging the truth for the lie. Only then were they able to sink to the condition of "dishonorable passions."

Now, clearly, someone might argue that it's one event. It's entirely possible that the worship of images and the worship of the creature are the same thing, and that the lusts of their hearts and the dishonorable passions are the same thing. Not my point. My point is that human beings were not allowed to get there until God let them get there.

Lots of us look around today and think, "It just gets worse and worse." The economy is bad. The morality is rotten. The church itself is in trouble. It just gets worse and worse. Is there any hope? There is a principle here that we need to keep in mind. The world around us can never get any worse than God, in His wisdom, allows it to get. It is for His purposes. It is never as bad as it could be. It will never be out of His control. Thus, "Total Depravity" is not total (as bad as we can be) and "Free Will" is not absolute. It's all about God, not us.

I was wondering if, after the post, Reading Yourself as Others Read You, if anyone saw this title -- "Giving Up" -- and thought, "Uh, oh, Stan's throwing in the towel." For those of you who thought that and were glad, too bad. For those of you who thought it and weren't glad, rejoice!)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wolves and Sheep

You don't have to go far to hear "You know, you're not supposed to judge!" It isn't hard to find people, both outside and inside the church, that will tell you, "Don't be judgmental. You should only be concerned about your own ways." It isn't only the skeptic that assures us that, for instance, calling homosexual behavior a sin is bigoted and mean-spirited. "What we really need to do," we are told from within and without, "is to love everyone. You should be an advocate for everyone. That's what Jesus was all about, wasn't it? 'Neither do I judge you.' That's what Jesus said."

I saw this the other day.
To show love to wolves is just another way of hating sheep. To love sheep, as all good shepherds must, is to hate wolves (Sola Scriptura, Creeds, and Ecclesiastical Authority" in When Shall These Things Be?, p. 273).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Elect According to Foreknowledge

"Come on, guys," some have suggested, "this just isn't that hard. Look, Peter clearly said that we 'are elect ... according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.' It was Paul who said, 'Those whom he foreknew he also predestined ...' This isn't rocket science. God is omniscient. He knows everything that will occur. Looking down the corridors of time, He saw who would choose Him and then, from the beginning of time, chose them. There you go! Election and Free Will. It's just not that hard!" And there are some very bright, respectable believers who go with that. It's quite popular. I should know -- I used to believe that, too.

Let's think that through for a moment. What does it take to "choose Him"? What does it take to become one of the saved? Well, there are three basic ingredients that all of us agree about. It requires coming to Christ in faith and repentance. Slower. It requires 1) coming to Christ in 2) faith and 3) repentance. Not that hard, really, and we're all on the same page! Doesn't get much better than this, right?

Hold on. (You knew that was coming, I'm sure.) Where do these three components come from? The Bible is not silent on this. According to Scripture, believing is a gift from God. It doesn't come out of our own efforts. It's given to us. As much as we'd like to think otherwise, we're just not up to the task of placing our full confidence in Him as long as we're dead in sin. So He grants it. Jesus said it (John 6:65). Paul said it (Phil 1:29). It is, despite our preference to the contrary, a repeated concept in the Bible. Oddly enough, so is repentance. Paul told Timothy to keep on "correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim 2:25). Note that repentance is granted by God, and note especially that He may grant it ... or He may not. The Jewish Christians thought that the Gentiles were not going to get salvation until Peter told them about his experience with Cornelius. They responded, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life" (Acts 11:18). As for coming to Christ in the first place, Jesus said categorically, "No man can." Thanks be to God that He didn't end His sentence there. "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:44). Now if it's a given that the Father draws everyone, then we have two things to consider. First, why make the statement? It would be like saying, "No man can walk unless he has bones." But ... we all do have bones, so what's your point? Worse, according to Jesus, those whom the Father draws will be raised up on the last day. So if this is a universal drawing, you've just subscribed to Universalism.

As it turns out, salvation is quite simple. It requires only three components. And from there it gets even easier. We don't drum up those three parts; God gives them to us. How nice!

So, back to the original concept. Here's the suggestion. God will give to the elect the necessary pieces to be saved. Knowing that they will then come to Him (because He drew them) in faith and repentance (because He gave these to them), He will choose them. Well ... I suppose so ... if that's how you wish to phrase it. Seems a little odd to me. It would be like a team captain thinking, "I'm going to give this kickball to Timmy and then, because he's holding the kickball, I'm going to choose him for my team." Did Timmy get chosen because he was holding the kickball? Well, yes, but it wasn't Timmy's "free will" that got him there, now, was it?

One other thought here on the foreknowledge according to which God elects to save. The word is simple in Greek -- prognosis. (Yes, the forefather of our modern "prognosis".) It's a two part word with "pro" meaning "before" and "gnosis" meaning "know". And if it were a simple English translation we'd be done. But it isn't. You see, there is a fundamental difference between "knowing" facts and "knowing" people. Surely, even when I say it in our own English vernacular you see a difference between the two. When Jesus told the false prophets, "I never knew you; depart from Me", He was not telling them "I have no knowledge of you." He was not suggesting ignorance. No, when used in terms of people, there is more than being cognizant of; there is familiarity. When Adam knew his wife, it wasn't an "Aha!" moment. It was intimacy. And when the Bible talks about God knowing us, it would be redundant to speak of an omniscient being who knows us. No, when the Bible talks about God knowing us -- as in prognosis -- it is not "prescience", but familiarity, friendship, intimacy, connection ... in advance in the case of prognosis.

Are we chosen on the basis of His foreknowledge? Absolutely! But that doesn't mean that we're chosen because He saw in advance what we would do. It means that before we existed He had laid His affection on us and determined to provide for us all that would be required to be saved. He didn't do it because of our lovable nature. He did it in order that His purpose of election might continue (Rom 9:11). We weren't just so adorable He couldn't help Himself. In fact, He chose the losers, the foolish, the ones who wouldn't have any room to say, "He chose me because I'm so valuable." It's grace alone. Yes, it's His foreknowledge, but it's His prior love and awareness of what He would do. Yes, it really is all about Him.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Logical Conclusions

Sometimes we don't follow a thought to its logical conclusion. In 1 Cor 15, for instance, Paul traces the argument, "There is no resurrection from the dead" to its logical conclusion -- our faith is useless. You see, someone held a position they didn't think through. Bad thing.

Sometimes, though, we like to take things to their logical conclusions when we should not. You see, sometimes it is logical to go down a path with a thought process, but it's wrong. A prime example of that would be the faulty choice of many churches in the 17th century when they decided, "Well, if God chooses whom He will save, then we don't need to send missionaries." I mean, it is a possible conclusion to come to ... but it's the wrong one. How do we know that? It's not because the premise is faulty. It's because we are specifically commanded to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

There is a paradox that occurs in Scripture where, if we only look at one side, we can do this error of the logical conclusion that is, in the end, the wrong place to go. On one hand, look at all the multiple passages that tell you to "work, work, work!" You need to "work out your salvation" and you need to "bear fruit" and you need to "remain in the faith" and you need to obey Christ and ... on and on and on. The logical conclusion is, "Well, then, I suppose that my work is what determines if I'm saved." And that is a possible, reasonable conclusion, even if it's patently false. How do we know? Well, look at all the passages that tell you that it's God working. We have His sovereignty and His plan and His Holy Spirit at work and His promise that we won't fall and His power to save and ... on and on and on. Oh, then, the logical conclusion is that it's quite clear that what we do is irrelevant and God will save regardless of what we do. And that, again, is a possible, reasonable conclusion that is, again, patently false.

You see, Scripture holds both concepts in careful tension. You need to work; God is at work. You need to plan; God has a plan. You are responsible; God is sovereign. It's a very fine line, this truth. Off of one side of the line is legalism ("saved by works") and off the other is antinomianism ("works don't matter") and both are errors. We aren't saved by works but we must work. God is at work in us, but we are responsible to work. A very fine line.

We are commanded to love the Lord with all our mind. We are commanded to think, to examine, to reason, to renew the mind. We are required by God to use the brains that He gave us. Just remember that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, and it's an easy thing to stray off of some of the carefully laid out truths that God has given us. Think through what you believe and see if it holds up. On the other hand, just because it's logical doesn't mean it's correct. Test everything. Let Scripture be your guide. It's really your best defense against yourself.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ego Te Absolvo

It's the classic line from a Roman Catholic priest who is remitting the sins of a confessor. It is absolution, the act of being absolved of sin -- forgiveness. Seems like we really want absolution. But I wonder why.

At first blush, you might suggest "guilty conscience". And I wouldn't really disagree. That's the truth. We know we're guilty and we want to be absolved of guilt. Not a real question. But ... why?

I know someone who did something that she knew would thoroughly disgust her mother. It wasn't a spur of the moment thing. It was a prolonged effort. She knew it would upset her mother and she was under no obligation to do it, but she chose to do it anyway. Having accomplished the deed, she exhibited no remorse for having done it. But what she was concerned about was that her mother forgive her. Now, you might think, "Well, she was concerned about the relationship." And that would be a good reason ... if her mother exhibited any indication that the relationship was at risk. She didn't. Her mother treated her like she always did, welcomed her over whenever she wished to visit, proceeded as if nothing had happened. Except, of course, that she didn't approve of the choice her daughter had made, and, although it didn't come up anymore (because nothing could be done to remedy it), it was never absolved. This girl worried about her mother's forgiveness until the day her mother died. It was her big concern. And she was greatly relieved at the funeral when her father told her, "You know, your mother did forgive you."

What had she gained? She didn't repent of the action. She didn't lose anything of her relationship with her mother. She wasn't about to change what she had done. She wouldn't want to. Still, she wanted absolution. Why?

I suspect that sometimes (certainly not all, but possibly far more often than we might think) we seek absolution as a means of feeling justification. "If I can get her to forgive me, what I did won't be so bad. In fact, if she forgives me, she is as good as saying, 'What you did was fine.'" I suspect that sometimes we seek absolution because we want to feel okay about what we did wrong rather than because we feel remorse.
See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears (Heb 12:15-17).
He found no place for repentance even though he sought the blessing with tears. When is repentance not repentance, and when is absolution not absolution? It's when we are seeking the blessing without actually repenting. It is when we don't seek absolution, but approval. It is my suspicion that any one of us could fall into that trap.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Lord GOD is my strength

Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines; though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food; though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord GOD is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds' feet, and makes me walk on my high places (Hab 3:17-19).
It is always questionable to draw big conclusions from small things in Scripture. You may not want to make a statement when the backing is a single verse. Not like, say, the sin of homosexual behavior, which is repeatedly mentioned throughout or the doctrine of "saved by grace through faith apart from works" which gets lots of print. On the other hand, when a concept does get repeated, it might be a good idea to pay attention ... especially if it doesn't come naturally. I mean, for the Bible to repeat something like "love one another", most of humanity would nod and, even if they're not doing it, say, "Yeah, that's a good idea." But when it's something tougher, like the repeated claim that Jesus is God Incarnate -- something that is a paradox on the face of it -- the fact that it's said repeatedly ought to make us look close.

This passage in Habakkuk is only one of the times that this concept is repeated. One of my favorites is in Lamentations. In the middle of all his trouble (it is called "Lamentations" for a reason) he says, "My strength has perished, and so has my hope from the LORD" (Lam 3:18). That's right, a prophet of God says that. But he follows that right up with, "This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness" (Lam 3:21-23). Notice that Jeremiah does not say, "Everything is going to be alright." It's not. He has been promised that God was going to judge Judah. It's not going to get pleasant; it's going to get ugly. So what is the principle here that was in the Habakkuk passage? It is not "Don't worry; everything is going to be alright." It is "Though the world around me goes to pieces, I can rejoice because of who God is."

We tend to think, "I have something good coming." We'd likely not voice it, but we actually tend to incline toward, "God owes us." From the testimonies we hear to the Christian movies we watch to the stories we tell, it seems like we're expecting things to get better. And, based on those testimonies, the truth is that sometimes it does. Sometimes things turn out well. But Habakkuk and Jeremiah had the same attitude that Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego had. "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Dan 3:17-18). God may make things pleasant for us, but even if He does not, we will serve Him. It's the same concept in Romans 8 where Paul describes that even creation is groaning under the curse, but "we know that God works all things together for good." It's not "to be pleasant", but for our best benefit. Or like James wrote when he told us to "Count it all joy when you encounter various trials," not because it will be pleasant, but because God can use it. Or when Paul told the Philippians his secret of being contented in either happy or unhappy circumstances: "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13).

That's really the principle that we ought to be living by. Not at all the health and wealth lies of the prosperity preachers. Not even the much more popular "God will solve your problems" idea. No. The biblical concept is "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil 3:8) -- and that's enough. You know the phrase. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. If your treasure is pleasant living ... well, you can see the problem with that, right? But if your treasure is in simply knowing Christ, well, then, circumstances become irrelevant, don't they? And all your left with is rejoicing.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Just Askin'

I don't normally post two in one day, but it's too timely to pass up.

The news reports, "Egyptians jubilant as Mubarak resigns. The media is all a titter. The talking heads are exultant. The loudest voices in America are matching the loudest voices in Egypt. "Freedom!" they cry.

What I'm not hearing anywhere is the question, "Is this a good thing?" Oh, sure, the media is asking the White House if they have any concerns. But it is assumed that the people of Egypt have won a great victory for freedom. And I'm just not sure. I know that a loud crowd of what they claimed was "a million" forced their leader to resign in just 18 days. But I also know that the vocal group is often not of the same opinion as the silent majority. No vote was taken. No one actually asked the people. All we know is that a large and loud group made enough noise and trouble that the president of a country felt he had to leave office -- leave office, you realize, to the military. Is that a good thing?

Now, mind you, I think freedom is a good thing. And, mind you, I'm not saying that what has happened in Egypt is a bad thing. I'm not saying that Mubarak should have stayed in office or defending him in any way. All I'm wondering is did the people want this, or did an angry, loud minority decide this for the majority? How will we know? Was it a good thing? I don't think we'll find out because I don't think anyone will ask. Was it freedom or was it anarchy? Just askin'.

Moral Imperatives

We don't use them this way very much anymore, but there is actually a difference between "ought" and "should". According to the dictionary, "ought" is defined as an expression of duty or moral obligation. In fact, "ought" can be a noun that means "duty or obligation". Now, to be real, "should" is generally a synonym for "ought", but technically there is a distinction. We typically use the two interchangeably, but the sense of "should" is less imperative. It is more advisory. So, while we might say, "You should love your spouse" and "You should get your flu shot", it might be more technically precise to say "You ought to love your spouse" and "You should get your flu shot." "Ought", then, is closer to "have to" than "should".

This concept of moral obligation is a given in the realm of humans. (I'm not so sure animals, on the other hand, have any sense of moral obligation.) To tell myself, "I should do the dishes" is a recommendation, but to say, "I ought to do the dishes so my wife doesn't have to" moves to moral obligation.

And we have no real problem with the idea of me imposing moral obligations on myself. Well, to a degree. I mean, if your moral obligations affect my choices, well, then, that's another thing entirely. No one cares if I say, "I really ought to read my Bible more often." "That's fine ... for you." But if owners of a bed and breakfast, for instance, believed that they ought not to rent rooms to unmarried couples, well, that won't do. That won't do at all. Now their view of what they ought to do is impacting unmarried couples!

It, of course, gets far worse when you try to move it from "I ought" to "You ought". I can certainly have convictions with which to tell myself what I am morally obliged to do, but suggesting that there is any such right to impose such convictions on others is not acceptable today. It boils down to a really basic question. Are there objective grounds for morality? If there are objective grounds, then it is not I who am imposing convictions on others; it is the objective grounds for morality. But if not, then we'll just have to keep our moral responsibilities to ourselves.

Here's the problem. While much of today's society is of the opinion that imposing moral obligations on people is bad, we do it all the time. They're called "laws", and we concur with "thou shalt not murder" and "thou shalt not steal", for instance. We generally agree that we all have moral obligations to care for our children, to help people in need, to protect the defenseless, that sort of thing. Even the people that aren't doing it agree that it's right (generally). These are "ought to's". So if we're going to say that moral responsibilities are an individual thing and "You don't have the right to tell me what I ought to do", then we're going to need to eliminate all those pesky laws. If, on the other hand, we can agree that there are indeed universal imperatives, then you may have to listen when someone suggests "you ought to" as a moral obligation. In that case, it may just be that you are failing to meet a genuine moral imperative. And if they exist, it's not in your best interest to fail to meet such things. So if you admit that there are real moral obligations, you may wish to temper your temper the next time someone says, "You ought to" because they may just be doing you a favor, not simply being judgmental.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Prevalence of Election

Sometimes when I discuss the doctrines of grace with people, they get agitated. They want to fight about it. I'm not interested, thanks. Enjoy together? Absolutely! Discuss? By all means! Fight? Not likely. The other option -- perhaps the more common one -- is the avoidance one. "Look, that whole 'election' thing is just minor. They couldn't figure it out in Church history. Why should we? It's no big deal."

I understand. They don't want to fight about it, either. I'm with you there. But I think that the suggestion that it's a minor point is shortsighted.

First, keep in mind that the notion of "the Chosen" was not a side issue or obscure up to the point that the Church began. It was ingrained in the mind of all Jews that they were the Chosen. "Never forget!" they would remind each other. Their lifestyles were prescribed to be a constant reminder. Ask a Jew in the 1st century AD, "Do you believe in election?" and they wouldn't offer a single objection. "Of course!" So solid was this that there had to be multiple statements from Jesus and the New Testament writers to assure the Jews that they were not the only ones. Jesus spoke of "sheep not of this fold." Paul wrote that in Christ there was neither Jew nor Greek. God had to give Peter a vision to shake his certainty that the Jews were the only chosen people. No, while they may have questioned whether there were elect among the Gentiles, there was absolutely no doubt that the early Jewish believers didn't even question the doctrine that God chose some out of the world to be His own, and the rest were not chosen.

But what about the New Testament? Sure, the Jews got it, but how big was this deal in the New Testament? A quick search is really enlightening.
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called ... to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:1,6).

Paul ... to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, (1 Cor 1:1-2).

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God (2 Cor 1:1).
(Note: Keep this in mind. The term, "the church", is literally "the called out ones".)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will (Eph 1:3-5).

Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We give thanks to God always for all of you ... knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you (1 Thess 1:1,4).

Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago (Titus 1:1-2).

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure (1 Peter 1:1-2).

The elder to the chosen lady and her children (2 John 1:1).

Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ (Jude 1:1).
The fact is that it's harder to find a single epistle in the New Testament that does not mention election than one that does. It isn't a fringe item; it is central. It isn't even a matter of discussion for the most part. No, it is assumed over and over and over. "God choose whom He will save. They are indeed saved. End of discussion. We all agree. Moving on." And all of that is without examining the passages that provide the arguments for the doctrine or all of the passages that are not at the beginning of an epistle that mention the doctrine or the claims of the Gospel that affirm it as well.

Election is not a doctrine in question in Scripture. Nor is it peripheral. It is a central theme, an assumed fact from Old Testament on, a virtual certainty. Oh, sure, we can find the passages that argue it, but most of the time it is thought to be a given. It seems like today's Christians who are relatively sure that this isn't the case need to do a lot of work to get there because the doctrine is foundational in the Bible.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ears to Hear

It's somewhat of a funny phrase that Jesus uses more than once in His ministry. "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." What did He mean? Well, it could have meant that some people were born without ears, so He was only addressing those who had physical ears. No, that didn't make any sense. No one really thinks that. So it must mean spiritual ears. When His disciples asked Him why He taught in parables, His answer was interesting. "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted" (Matt 13:11). While we tend to think that Jesus came to be as clear as He possibly could, it appears that Jesus had other ideas. More than that, it appears that He spoke in parables to intentionally hide "the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" from those who were not His disciples.

So we get to the "He who has ears to hear" question. There were, from what Jesus said, two categories of people. One category was "having ears" and the other was "not having ears". Now, on the side of the "having ears" category, it was possible to have them but not use them. Jesus was telling those who had them to use them. But what we typically ignore is the other category. Jesus's statement, "He who has ears to hear, let him ear," requires that there be a particular group of people who does not have ears. Or, to go with what Jesus said, we might add, "I'm not telling you who have no ears to hear. I'm only telling those who have ears to hear."

So ... what does it mean that there are some who have no ears? You see, those with ears could listen or not, but those without ears had no option to listen. They could not hear. So who was it that lacked the total capacity to hear? To hear most Christians talk today, the answer is "No one." This requires the conclusion that Jesus was confused. But in Deuteronomy Moses called Israel together and said, "You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh and all his servants and all his land; the great trials which your eyes have seen, those great signs and wonders. Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear" (Deut 29:2-4).

Based on this passage, it would be the reasonable conclusion that those who do not have ears to hear -- those who lack the capacity to hear -- would be those whom the Lord has not given eyes and ears. Two important observations, then. 1) There are those who cannot see nor hear in the realm of spiritual things. Oh, they can see the signs and all. It's not hidden from them. They ... just don't get it ... because they don't have "ears". 2) Despite what you might think or like to think, there are those to whom the Lord does not give the capacity to see or hear. That seems to be the intent of Jesus's words and the self-proclamation of God.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Virus

President Obama this last week issued a statement on the anniversary of Roe v Wade. In it he said, "I hope that we will recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights, the same freedoms, and the same opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams." He called the landmark Supreme Court ruling, "the Supreme Court decision that protects women's health and reproductive freedom, and affirms a fundamental principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters." Welcome to the 21st century, a century so shaped by feminism that we don't even notice it anymore.

Make no mistake. It was not "freedom" or "choice" or even "women's health" that was at stake in that event back in 1973. It was radical feminism. Now, to be sure, the basic concept of feminism is "equality", and no one would actually suggest that this is a bad thing, right? Unfortunately, the definition of "equality" in this case has shifted ... or, rather, has been tainted by sin. So "ensuring that our daughters have the same rights, the same freedoms, and the same opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams" by killing daughters and sons makes zero sense when looked at from the outside. But from within this culture we've built where "equality" means "egalitarianism" ("everyone is the same") and "equal rights" means "I deserve what you have" even when "what you have" is something that none of us should want, we can hardly see that nonsense.

In an interview Natalie Portman commented on her views on marriage. "The fact that marriage is a legal contract at all (is crazy). The fact that the word husband means 'to tame'* or whatever, (as in) 'animal husbandry' ... it's engrained in the language, the ownership and all of that of marriage." There you have it, folks. Hollywood has spoken. The entire system of marriage was set up as a way to keep women down. The structure, the contract, the terminology, the definition, all of these were put in place as a means to demean women. The fact that God formulated and started this institution simply proves that God was wrong. There you have it; the wisdom of the age.

In truth, what started as simply "equal rights for women" has become a radical departure from a host of biblical values including those that placed a far higher worth on women than today's feminists do. The push for "equal rights for gays" is largely an offshoot of the feminism movement. Peter Singer's "equal rights for monkeys" (I kid you not) is the logical extension. And when someone arguing for biblical values is attacked by Christians (let alone the obvious unbeliever assaults) because biblical values appear to violate our culture's values, it speaks of a bigger problem than "women's rights". It speaks of a virus started with good intentions that has infected the minds of most of our society, capable of possibly even deceiving the elect.

____________
* FYI, "husband" does not mean "to tame", even in its remote word origins. It means "to have a house" in its original. In terms of "husbandry" it means "to manage or use (resources, finances, etc) thriftily". Sorry, Natalie. Way off.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Inability

I have claimed (because the Bible uses the term ... often) that Natural Man is unable to respond to God. Jesus uses the phrase "No one can ..." in reference to both coming to Him and believing in Him. Paul says that Natural Man does not respond to the things of God because he cannot. Jesus told the Pharisees that the reason they didn't believe was that they were not His sheep (suggesting that "not His sheep" = "cannot believe"). Over and over there is a "cannot" in Scripture when it comes to Man's ability to come in faith to Christ or even to do good.

The objection to this, of course, would be human responsibility. "If you're saying ..." (No, I'm saying that the Bible is saying it) "... that Man is incapable of responding rightly to God on his own, then in what possible sense could God hold Man responsible for not doing what he was incapable of doing?" Reasonable objection. Let's take a look.

First, I start with a premise that I often start with. It is entirely possible that something is true that I don't get. That is, if God says it's true, I don't have the luxury of saying, "No, it's not" just because I don't get it. With that premise, I start out with the fact that the Bible holds both that Natural Man is intrinsically incapable and that Natural Man is responsible for his failure to do what is required. Technically, I could stop right here. The Bible says it; I'll go with that. Done, thank you very much. But, of course, I don't like to stop there if I can find some more satisfying explanation, so I'll see how much further I can go. But I do start there and would challenge those who deny it not to. It's in there. Denying it simply because you don't understand it will not make it so.

So how is it possible that Man could lack the ability to obey and still be responsible for not obeying? The question is "What kind of inability are we talking about?" In Jonathan Edwards's terms, there is natural inability and moral inability. Natural inability is the pure incapacity to do something. You want to do it, but you can't. This inability would be due to external circumstances. A man with no legs cannot run not because he will not, but because he cannot. You could command him, "Run!", and he would have to ignore you and would not be responsible for failing to obey because he lacked the physical ability. Moral inability is something different. In this version it is not that you are prevented, but that you don't want to obey. A kid in bed early on a cold morning may not obey when you tell him, "Time to get up." It's not because he lacks the physical ability to get out of the bed. It's because he is so enamored with sleep and warmth that his desire for these outweighs his desire to obey. Moral inability occurs at that point -- when one desire prevents another possible desire from being acted upon. You may have heard it in the positive sense. "I could have ignored her pleas for help, but I just couldn't. I had to do something." The language is (rightly) that of coercion, but it is not an external coercion. The desire to help overrode the desire to do something else, and he found himself incapable of failing to help.

This type of inability does not excuse. Failing to obey because my personal desires didn't incline me to obey is not excuse, even if there is certainly a sense of "inability". That is, if I don't want to do something, it would not be "free will" to choose to do it. For me to freely choose to do something, it has to rise to the level of "want to" -- and that over the level of "don't want to" -- before I can do it. And the claim that Natural Man "cannot" do all those things that the Bible does is a claim to moral inability, a lack of inclination, not natural ability -- something preventing the action. Thus, the inability based on disinclination is not an excuse, and humans are still responsible for failing to obey. At least, it makes sense to me.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Equality

Equality is something that we moderns are very big on. Equal rights, equal treatment, equal opportunity -- these are all important to us. Unfortunately, we have not taken the time to figure out exactly what "equal" means.

As it turns out, the word isn't as easy as it seems at first blush. The word implies, in actuality, a difference between two things, not sameness. For instance, if I were to tell you with all the seriousness and wisdom I could muster, "You know, 4 = 4", you'd laugh at me. Of course they are equal ... because they are the same. No, for "equality" to have any relevance, the things being compared must be different. But beyond that, there is a relativity that is involved. Consider two men, one 6' 4" tall and the other 5' 4" tall. Both weigh 200 pounds. "They're equal!" we would all exult, right? No, of course not! One is in good shape and the other is dangerously obese. "But ... wait! They're the same weight!" Yes, but "equal" doesn't necessarily mean "the same".

Of course, we aren't particularly concerned about trivialities like the philosophy of equality or how much two men weigh. No, it's more important stuff like equal justice. So let's consider that concept for a moment. Assume two men in the same city both drive unsafely and both run down ... oh, I don't know ... let's say they run down a telephone pole. Both are required to pay for the damages and both are fined $1000 for their recklessness. Equal justice, right? Well, perhaps, unless you consider that one owns a successful multimillion dollar business and carries the cash in his wallet and the other has been unemployed for 6 months and hasn't seen that much money in a year. Now how "equal" is the justice? If the purpose of the fine is to urge the perpetrator not to do it again, how effective is this justice?

Hopefully you can start to see that "equal treatment", "equal justice" -- any basic "equality" -- can get a little tricky. Consider a somewhat benign but very real example. A couple has two children. One is an 11-year-old boy and the other is a 3-year-old girl. Christmas is around the corner, and they want to treat them "equally". So, how does that work out? If it is a matter of spending the same amount of money, the truth is that the 3-year-old will likely make out much better than the 11-year-old because the little girl will get much more that she can enjoy on the same amount of money than the boy can get. So he gets the video game he requested and she gets a doll and a play tea set and a toy pony and ... well, you get the idea. It was equal spending; was it "equality"? Or should they go for equal enjoyment? Now that is much tougher to hit, anticipating what the older boy will like to what degree and being sure that the younger girl will receive the same degree of pleasure.

Keeping this all in mind, let's get even more complicated ... but real. Paul says that we are supposed to be "submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph 5:21). Today's exegete will interpret that to mean "submitting to each other in the same way to the same degree" or "equal submission". But Paul doesn't leave it that nebulous. He tells wives to submit to their husbands "as to the Lord" and husbands to "love your wives as Christ loved the Church" (Eph 5:22-33). These are, in fact, both forms of "submission", but they are not the same. They are equal, but not identical. Many have tried to argue that Eph 5:21-33 is (essentially) nonsense because of Eph 5:21. But this is the product of a failure to comprehend both submission and equality.

Perhaps now you can get a sense of how things might be askew in our world today. Feminists (both female and male) clamor for "equality". What does that mean? What they want is "sameness", but that's not necessarily "equality". (If you have any doubts about that, give both a man and a woman an electric drill for their birthdays and see if they react the same way.) The homosexual agenda pushes for "equal rights" and points to marriage and serving in the military as prime examples of inequality. This assumes that equality is "sameness". It's not. I believe in equality. I just know that equality isn't as easy as "same", isn't as simple as "alike". Today's egalitarians (those who believe in the equality of all people) try to make "the equality of all people" fit into "the sameness of all people". This just isn't right. It just may be possible that some of our current philosophies regarding women, men, "gays", children, married couples, and so much more breed inequality because we've bought into a simplified "equality means same". Maybe, just maybe, we ought to look to the Designer to figure out what genuine equality might look like.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Good Shepherd

"I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep" (John 10:11).
We love the "good shepherd" analogy. The image of a kindly man holding a little lamb safely in his arms is just heart-warming. The protection of the shepherd provides wonderful peace. "Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me." We get it, and we like it.

Of course, it does beg the question, doesn't it? Sure, the Good Shepherd is safety and peace to His sheep, but He is none of that to those who are not His sheep. So ... who are His sheep?

The Jews thought, of course, that they were. Jesus disagreed. "I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice and they will become one flock with one shepherd" (John 10:16). So it wasn't "the Jews." In fact, He let it slip right there. They are the ones who hear His voice.

So, we would say that those who believe are Jesus's sheep, and those who do not believe are not Jesus's sheep. We'd likely all nod and agree with that position. Sounds about right. We'd be about wrong.

The Jews pestered Jesus:
"How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father's name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep" (John 10:24-26).
Well, it appears that our formula of "believe = sheep" isn't accurate after all. According to Jesus, "You do not believe because you are not of My sheep." In other words, "of my sheep" precedes "believe".

Christ is indeed the Good Shepherd. This certainly does conjure up images of comfort and care, of safety and security. "I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand" (John 10:28). No safer place to be. But it would appear that in order to be a believer you must first be one of His sheep. Now, doesn't that turn things around?

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Reading Yourself As Others Read You

On more than one occasion in this blogging experience (and, in fact, in other online discussions) I've been told "You sound mad." The simple fact is that I am not an angry person and I rarely get mad. (I have a lot of other inappropriate defense mechanisms. "Mad" isn't my primary one.) Last year in one discussion in the comments section of one of my blog entries (I'm too lazy to go through them all to find it, so I won't reference it), I responded to someone (I don't really remember who it was; I'm not being evasive) who said that my response sounded mad. I was surprised and said so because I wasn't. My son, who was staying with us at the time, read the exchange. "You know, Dad," he told me, "you did sound mad." "Really?" I asked. "Do you think I was mad?" "Oh, no," he assured me, "I know you. You weren't mad. But it did sound mad."

I've found this to be the case more often than I can count. A question or a comment comes across as rude or unkind or angry when it wasn't intended as such in any way, shape, or form. I'm not thinking or feeling that way, so it doesn't occur to me that anyone would understand what I say to be that way. I am, for the most part, a pretty simple guy who is typically on the edge of smiling most of the time. Most of what I write I write with some humor, at least in my own sense of it, because I see most of life with some humor. Regardless of my mood, I always try to write as I speak, and no one has ever told me, "Your conversation is too hard to understand." As it turns out, however, I am often perceived as harsh and hard to follow.

In a recent Internet exchange with someone I asked what I thought was a humorous question. The response was acid and scathing. I responded with humor (because I had intended humor), but I asked via email, "Ummm ... where did that come from?" He told me that my "humorous" comment had come across as an attack and he responded in kind. To be helpful he said, "The trick I’ve tried to start doing lately is ask whether anyone is likely to read my comment in a way or tone different from the one I mean."

Nice sounding, I'm sure, but I haven't a clue how to do that. Since I write as I think and think I write with the tone I'm thinking I'm writing, how would I go about reading it from someone else's perceived tone? I mean, I already try to pick up on trip words, commonly misleading phrases, double meanings -- that sort of thing -- but to not read it as I wrote it but as someone else might understand it seems beyond me. Good advice, I suppose, but I don't know how to do that. Unfortunately, the regularity with which I am told that I'm thoroughly misunderstood makes me question whether or not this is such a good idea at all. Should I be in this medium of communication if I'm not able to understand what I write from my readers' eyes? People who know me understand what I write much better because they strain what they read from me through what they know of me and it comes out okay, but few of my readers know me beyond this point of contact. If I am not able to read myself as others read me, how wise is it to be hanging my thoughts and ideas out there to be completely misunderstood by the masses? If I had an idea of how to do that, I could correct myself, but I don't. And though a couple of people have told me "You ought to write a book", I'm not so sure that would be a good idea at all if I can't see what they see when they read what I write. Besides, basic sentences like that last one are too hard to understand anyway. Oh, I don't know.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Compatibilism

FoxTrot is a syndicated comic strip by Bill Amend. The strip revolves around the Fox family, but Jason, the youngest, gets most of the attention. He's a smart kid and a smart alec. In one strip back in 2006, Jason was going to play football with his friend, Marcus. "Go deep!" he tells him. Marcus responds with "How can free will coexist with divine preordination?" Jason thinks, then says, "Too deep."

It really is a problem. The Bible is not unclear; God has predestined stuff. We may debate about how much, but you cannot eliminate predestination at all and remain true to the text. And while "free will" is not mentioned in the Bible, it is certainly inferred. If nothing else, the fact that humans are held accountable for their choices suggests some measure of free will. So what's a biblically-minded Christian to do? You can't discard the explicit for the inferred, but you also can't eliminate human accountability by eliminating free will. Perhaps you go with Jason's answer: "Too deep."

Before you blow off the exercise, you should realize that this isn't "Arminians versus Calvinists". Growing voices in the world of the skeptics -- the New Atheists and modern neurologists and the like -- are suggesting that free will is a myth. They, of course, are happy to reject predestination, but they're also thinking that your quaint belief that you actually get to make choices is nothing but a trick of the mind. In reality, your biology is forcing the choices. And -- POOF! -- we're no longer responsible for our choices. So it's not a small problem at all, nor is it limited to Christians.

So here's the trick. Is it possible to allow both Divine Predestination and human free will? Is it possible for predestination to be compatible with free will? I think it's time to learn a new word: "Compatibilism". Determinism (aka fatalism) says that everything is predetermined and you get no choice. We're not willing to go with that one since we've affirmed free will, at least to some degree. Incompatibilism says that for the will to be free there can be no determination at all. We can't go with that one since the Bible is sure that predestination is a fact. Compatibilism says that both Predestination and free will exist.

Without offering a clear explanation of the mechanism, let's go to Scripture. Both Acts 2:23 and Acts 4:27-28 tell us an interesting fact. The Crucifixion of Christ was an event that occurred according to the predetermined plan of God. Predestination in this case is indisputable. However, does the fact that the events were predetermined require that Pilate and the Pharisees and Herod all acted without the freedom to choose? The accounts in the Gospels give no indication of forced choices. There is no hint of "well, they didn't really want to, but something just made them" in there. The historical accounts all portray the actions of the involved participants as their own free choice. No coercion required. Yet the Bible is clear that it was God's predetermined plan. That would be compatibilism. The participants chose freely, but their choices were perfectly in line with God's plans. They could have chosen not to participate -- God didn't force them -- but they didn't choose not to participate. In Luke 22:22 it says Jesus says that the plan was being carried out as it was determined, "but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" That is, Judas Iscariot chose freely to carry out the betrayal of Christ, but it was part of God's original plan that he do it and, as such, he was culpable for his choice to do it. Mark 14:21 adds, "It would have been better for that man if he had not been born." That's culpability.

Perhaps the coexistence of both Predestination and Free Will is a tough subject. Some would like to solve that problem by eliminating one or the other. The Bible won't allow it. It seems as if the only possible choice would be to redirect our thinking on the concept. I'm of the opinion that we place too much value on "free will", requiring some sort of Ultimate Free Will without any sort of influence or predetermination. Now, you're certainly free to continue thinking of it that way, but that makes it your problem when you try to maintain both God's predestination of all that occurs and Human Free Will without God's predestination of all that occurs. I may not be able to fully describe the mechanism of how it works, but I am forced to submit to the biblical record that says that it does.