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Friday, August 31, 2012

Lessons on a Diet

I think I have arrived. No, not in godliness. Or much of anything else, really. Let me explain. I carry around a bit too much weight. For years now I've been working on decreasing that problem. You know, increase exercise, decrease intake, watch what you eat, more healthy, less fatty, less sugar, more vegetables, "watch it now ... you might like something and that's likely bad for your diet!" -- that kind of thing. Count calories? Check. Increase fiber? Check. Decrease carbs? Check. Add to this certain medical conditions that have, of late, served to cut me off from other foods that I like such as strawberries or nuts, and I think I'm finally at the point that all diets hope you get to. I don't care. Feed me whatever.

Imagine, for a moment, a lineup of foods. On one end are all the tastiest morsels. On the other end are the items without flavor. At various points along that line are items I might like. You know ... everyone's taste varies. As everyone with any sense knows, the items over there on the "tastiest" end are, almost entirely without exception, bad for you. They're sugary or fatty or too something or other, and it is this that makes them so good, but they're not good for you. Cut those out. Now you've a list of things you still might like and a few things closer to that "tasty" end that still remain that you can have sparingly. Shift diets, and that list decreases. Now you have fewer things you will eat and almost none of the things you actually enjoy. That's the aim of all diets. Eliminate your genuine pleasure in eating and eventually you'll stop eating the stuff you like. You know, anything that's bad for you. That's where I am. Everything I like is off my diet, so I've arrived at the point of "It's mealtime -- tell me what I'm eating and I'll consume it on command. Don't ask if I enjoyed it. Pointless question."

I wonder, then, if this ought also not be the aim of all of life. In diets, it's those personal delights in food that get us into trouble. If you can get to the point that it doesn't matter anymore, you are satisfied with much less. It seems like it's our personal pleasures that get us into trouble in life. If you could learn to not enjoy anything anymore (primarily by putting an end to anything you enjoy), well, then, you'd be satisfied with much less. And isn't that a good thing?

I am, of course, kidding. I don't mean it. I'm joking about how bad dieting is. Or ... am I? Consider this. The reason I have arrived at this point in eating is because the value of reaching a healthy weight has exceeded the value of enjoying what I eat. Therefore, I am not without value. My values have changed. So consider Paul's words.
I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Phil 3:8-10).
Now, wait a minute! Isn't that what I'm doing with my eating? In view of the surpassing gain of getting to a healthy weight, I count the rest of eating as loss. And in life, in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ, we should count all things as loss. We are "strangers and exiles on the earth" (Heb 11:13), "knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one" (Heb 10:34).

So, maybe I'm not as far off as I sounded. Maybe, if I find myself so enamored with Christ, the pleasures of this world become meaningless to me in view of the surpassing joy of knowing Him. Minimizing the value of "tasty food" has the effect of easing the pain of dieting. Decreased value in the things of the world in favor of increased value in Christ ought to go a long way toward the work of leading a godly life unencumbered by the things that entangle us. You know, like it says in Hebrews 12:1-2. No, maybe not so far off after all.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


When I was in the military (and, I assume, it's still the case today), the vehicles we drove had governors. No, they didn't vote in a political leader. While the engines these vehicles had were certainly capable of driving down the road at 70 or 80 miles per hour, an internal device in the engine governed the speed so that it would never exceed 55 mph. Capable, but self-limited.

On the system I helped design we are using resistors as heating devices. These resistors are capable of heating up until they burn up. It became necessary, therefore, to put in thermal switches, devices that sense the temperature of the resistor and turn it off when it reaches the switch's setpoint. Capable, but self-limited.

Meet God. God is capable of anything ... anything at all. Nothing is impossible for God. But God, in His wisdom, has inserted a self-limiting device. This device (if I can call it such) prevents God from working to His full potential. It's not that He's not able; it's that He limits Himself to this device. "What device?" you wisely ask. Well, the human being, of course.

Think about it. God wants to save everyone. Clearly not everyone will be saved. Why not? Well, not everyone is willing to be saved. Some refuse. They resist. They deny. They will not be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the kingdom. So God woos and encourages, urges and hopes, applies influences and all that, but He does not intervene. He could save everyone, but limits Himself to the will of His creature.

This limitation goes beyond salvation, of course. We know that God's aim is that His people would be "conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom 8:29). "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10). This isn't a stretch; it's clear. And yet we know that God, while capable of carrying this out, does not. Instead, He limits Himself to the will of the Creature. If you're not willing to change, He's not willing to push it. If you're not willing to learn, He's not willing to make it so. If you're not willing to repent, He's gracious and merciful and doesn't make a fuss about it. He could -- He's capable -- but self-limiting.

These are just two quite obvious examples. In both salvation and in Christian living, God limits Himself. Instead of acting as King, as Sovereign, as the Lord of lords, He chooses instead to be servant and submit His will to the will of His Creatures. We all know this. It's quite clear.

If, however, you have been reading this and agreeing with the concept of a God who has limited Himself to the will of His Creatures, I need to point out that you're understanding of God is different than mine. The God I serve isn't limited by His creatures. He saves whom He chooses to save, producing the necessary alterations to their wills to bring them along. He supplies the faith they require to believe. He is at work in them to give them the will and power to do what pleases Him. His process of forming them into the image of His Son is not prevented by their wills. He takes His time, sure, but He is not slow nor is He deterred from accomplishing exactly what He intends exactly when He intends. The God I serve is not a self-limiting God, self-subjecting to the will of His Creatures. I don't really know that God at all.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lot's Colossal Failure

Do you remember Lot? He was Abraham's nephew (Gen 11:27). And he appears several times in Scripture with interesting parts to play. When Abraham responded to God's call to go to Canaan, Lot went with him (Gen 12:4). His uncle tried sharing land with him, but when the two groups of herdsmen fought, Abraham let his nephew pick whatever land he wanted, and Lot chose the greenest for himself (Gen 13:7-12). Living in Sodom, Lot got himself captured when Sodom and Gomorrah were attacked by a group of kings, and Abraham had to go defeat them and rescue his nephew (Gen 14:1-16). When the angels went into Sodom to "see if they have done entirely according to its outcry" (Gen 18:21), they stayed with Lot (at his own insistence). Despite his urgings, the men of Sodom threatened to rape the angels (Gen 19:5) and Lot and his family barely escaped with their lives before God destroyed the cities (Gen 19:17-25). In the end, Lot's wife didn't make it. Out there in a cave, Lot's daughters took matters into their own hands, got their father drunk, and managed to get him to get them pregnant (Gen 19:30-38). Their offspring? Moab and Ben-ammi. Do you know who they are? The Moabites and the Ammonites were Israel's mortal enemies in the days of their escape from Egypt and move to the Promised Land and after. Nice. It was the Moabites that hired Balaam to curse Israel. Gideon later had to fight them again because they dominated Israel. Ammon was one that God ordered Saul to totally annihilate for their absolute idolatry (at which he failed). Not a good relationship.

Okay, so that's pretty much what we know about Lot. So, with the title in mind, what would you classify as Lot's worst error? Maybe it was taking the good land instead of giving it to his uncle? That put him in Sodom, the start of all his problems. Maybe it was giving in to his daughters? I mean, surely he wasn't so far gone that he had no idea what was going on. Most would say that it was that horrible part where he offered his daughters to the men of Sodom. Disgusting, Lot, really! "Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly. Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like" (Gen 19:7-8). What kind of a father "protects" his daughters like that? Really bad!

I would offer a different answer to the question. In Genesis 19 we find Lot "sitting at the gate of Sodom" (Gen 19:1). Sitting at the gates. Abraham made arrangements to bury Sarah at the gates (Gen 23:10). Boaz made arrangements to marry Ruth at the gates (Ruth 4). The elders of the city -- its leadership -- sat at the gates (Prov 21:23). Court was held at the gates (Deut 16:18) and sentence carried out at the gates (Deut 17:5). Lot, then, was at the center of society in Sodom -- at the gates -- when the angels arrived. He wasn't an outcast, a loner, keeping to himself. He was a major part of Sodom society.

Now consider the previous information we have before the angels arrived. God visited Abraham. Eventually He had a conversation with Abraham, informing him of the judgment coming to Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham went into a bargaining mode. "Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city ... Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five ... Suppose forty are found there? ... suppose thirty are found? ..." Abraham got Him down to 20, in fact. Two cities; 20 people. What could be easier?

Now, it's not really possible, I suppose, to actually point and say, "That is your worst sin ever" or "Now that is your biggest failure of all time." Still, to me, Lot's colossal failure was this: God didn't find any influence at all of Lot on his neighbors. Indeed, his own family was immoral. Lot didn't sway one friend, didn't influence one neighor, didn't provide sufficient example or make sufficient noise to make one, single person in his life a believer, a "righteous" person. Not one. No. Lot "fit in". He went along with the crowd. He kept his mouth shut. He was non-judgmental, tolerant, silent before the sin around him. He didn't move them enough to repent nor irritate them enough to get himself expelled. Lot's colossal failure, to me, was his silence in a sinning society. In the end every one of his neighbors burned to death. In the end his wife turned to salt and his daughters committed incest. In the end, Lot's "can't we all just get along" attitude cost everyone around him dearly. That, I would say, was the biggest failure of his life. And I would hope that we would neither repeat it ourselves nor encourage it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

In, Not Of

In Jesus's High Priestly prayer (John 17) He prays specifically for a particular group of people. "I have manifested Your Name to the people whom You gave Me out of the world" (John 17:6). This particular group of people are those whom the Father gave Him. Now, there are a lot of observations possible about this group and Jesus's prayer for them, but I'm only looking at one piece here.
I have given them Your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one (John 17:14-15).
Here we see an interesting concept. Perhaps you've heard it before. If not, you will now. Those whom the Father gives to the Son -- the Elect, the saved, believers -- are "in the world but not of the world." You can see that clearly in Jesus's words. "The world has hated them because they are not of the world," He says. "Not of the world." But, He also prays, on this occasion of His soon departure from the world, "I do not ask that You take them out of the world." That is they are in the world, not to be taken out of the world. The prayer here is that the Father will protect His own while they remain in the world. In other words, it's not God's plan to save you and then remove you. It's His plan to save you then use you under His protection and with His power.

The phrase "not of this world", even though it is popularized by a Christian apparel company, is often lost on us. We know we live in the world, so we appear to take most of our cues from the world. We decide whether sex outside of marriage is fine based on whether or not the world says so. We determine what marriage is based on what the world says it is. We decide to choose a spouse, marry, and raise a family all based on the world's perspective on these things. Suggesting there might be another, different, better, biblical approach will likely get you laughed at ... at best. The world knows; the Bible doesn't -- even among Christians.

God's Word doesn't like this approach. Our command is "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom 12:2). The rather dire warning from John is "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). Now, we know we are to love our neighbors, so that's not what's in view there. What's in view there is the "things" -- the value systems, the "stuff", the belongings, the morality, the "things in the world". And yet so many of us -- all of us at some time or another -- if we are honest will find ourselves loving the world and the things in the world. We love our stuff. We love our belongings. We love their ways. Everyone knows, just as an example, that you go to school, go to college, get a good job, raise a family, work until you retire, then take it easy until you die. Why? Well, because that's what we do! We don't examine the source. We don't examine the motivation. We don't examine God's view on all this. We take the world's perspective and adopt it as our own. Why is it that surveys indicate that divorce is just about as prevalent in Christians as it is in non-Christians? They've adopted the world's values for marriage, for self-fulfilment, for personal pleasure and personal happiness. Our economics, our politics, our ethics, our family structures, our views of gender roles -- and on and on -- are so very often dictated by our surroundings -- the world -- rather than by God and His Word. We are working so very hard at being of the world as well as in the world.

May I make a suggestion? Just an idea, perhaps. Maybe just my own, if you will. But here's what I recommend to Christians. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." I'm just sayin'. You know, in the world but not of the world. It might be a good idea to reexamine your lifestyle, your premises, your value systems, your worldview and see if it is "of the world" or not. Just a recommendation from one believer to another.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Early Communists

Perhaps you've heard this before. "The early church was a communist society. The Bible supports communism over capitalism as evidenced by the church in Acts." And on what would this assertion be based?
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need (Acts 4:32-35ff).
That's communism, right? I mean, look, "no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common." Communism. "There was not a needy person among them." Communism. And, look at the result. "Great grace was upon them all." Now surely that's a biblical affirmation of communism over, say, capitalism, right?

Let's take a look. First, what is communism? Well, first there is Communism (capital "C"), that particular system from the Soviet Union in particular and others like them. That is "a system of social organization in which all economic and social activity is controlled by a totalitarian state dominated by a single and self-perpetuating political party." Now, I think it must be incredibly clear that Soviet-style Communism is not in view in the passage in Acts. There is no "totalitarian state". There is no "single political party". It is not true that they controlled "all economic and social activity". Not even close. So if you see (or hear it suggested) the passage in Acts as an endorsement of Communism, throw out that idea. It's just not there.

So what about communism (lowercase "c")? The dictionary's definition looks like this: "A theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state." That does sound closer to the biblical example. But contained in the concept is another idea: "Advocacy of a classless society in which private ownership has been abolished and the means of production and subsistence belong to the community." While at first blush that may sound the same, note that the concept of "private ownership" is abolished. That's a fundamental component of communism. It isn't capitalism. It eliminates capitalism. The two are competing -- not friendly -- economic systems. Is that what was going on in the early church?

Note, first, the example of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). This couple was taking part in this early church community. They "sold a piece of property", knowingly withheld some of the proceeds, and lied about giving the rest to the church. The outcome was their immediate deaths. But notice what Peter said: "While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?" (Act 5:4). Note, then, that private property remained private property. There was no system, no coercion, no "social organization". There was no call to share all things in common. They did it because they wanted to. When they did it for other reasons, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, it was worse than commendable; it was fatal. Indeed, if "private ownership" was abolished and capitalism was eliminated, the concept of selling property would also be eliminated since they couldn't own it and they couldn't sell it.

The key difference, then, between communism and the early church is that communism is a system while the early church's behavior was a purely voluntary, spontaneous response to the Gospel. It was an uncoerced response to the needs of the brethren, an act of love. It could be called communalism, but not communism. There was no "government" in mind here, no "organization". Indeed, the Bible affirms existing governments (e.g., Matt 22:21; Rom 13:1-2; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-14), not the creation of a new system.

The key differences, then, between communism and what the early church practiced were two-fold. First, it was a voluntary activity intended to meet the needs of those present and never under coercion. Second, private property remained private property. Some chose to sell property to help others, but there was never common ownership. And, of course, it isn't Communism either. There is no state control, no government, no "totalitarian state."

One other consideration. There is no indication that the early church remained in this condition. There is no mention at all beyond Acts 4:32 through Acts 5:11 of any such thing. There is no reference of any of the communities where Paul ministered going to this type of arrangement. It seems very likely, then, that this was a short term, very limited condition primarily brought about by the beginning of the Church. Remember, there was a bunch of people there from other places who just came to Christ for the first time and needed training. How better to accomplish this than to put them up for a few months while they learned from the Apostles? Beyond this supposition (based on the absence of text), there is the explicit teaching of Scripture. Paul told the Thessalonians, "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat" (2 Thess 3:10). That runs directly counter to a communistic approach in which everyone takes care of everyone. "Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living" (2 Thess 3:12). Even the phrases "do their work" and "earn their own living" require "own" and function as part of private property and capitalism rather than communism. In communism you "do the community's work" and "earn a community's living".

What are we to conclude then? Biblically, giving to the needs of others is a good thing, a commendable thing, an excellent thing ... a given. Loving your neighbor in general and brothers and sisters in Christ in particular is commanded. Communism, either as a system of government or as an economic and social system, on the other hand, is not biblical. Meeting the needs of those who cannot is good. Forcing it is not. Charity is good. Requiring it is not. The Bible doesn't teach it. The early church didn't practice it. And those who suggest it aren't paying attention to the text.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Is Church Necessary?


I wrote this (loosely) with someone in mind. It occurred to me that it might benefit others, so I'm putting it out here for all. Then it occurred to me that by saying that I wrote this with someone in mind, there might be a group of readers who start asking themselves, "Is he talking about me?" I suppose that's just fine. You go ahead and ask yourself.

We live in a day informed by radical Americanism. You know, that "Lone Ranger", rugged individualism, "I can make it on my own" kind of thinking. It seems to seep in all over the place although we've all heard that "no man is an island" and we are all innundated with "social networking" (which, by all appearances, seems to diminish social interaction rather than encourage it). So it is no wonder that more people are saying (not really asking), "Why bother with going to church?" The question today is "Is church really necessary?"

First, what is meant by "necessary"? If the question is, "Must I go to church to be saved?" the answer is a resounding, "No!!" Let's set that aside. But, for a parallel, is it "necessary" to exercise in order to live? Well, perhaps not, but the alternative isn't pretty. More importantly, is it commanded? Is going to church a biblical requirement? Well, let's look.

First, you will not find "church membership" in your Bible. It's just not there. There is "the Church", that visible and invisible Body of Christ comprised of all true believers. You must be a member of that in order to be saved -- or, rather, you are a member of that if you are saved -- but that's not the question. No, while membership does have its privileges, there is no biblical command to join a local church. However, the local church is a given throughout the New Testament. It is assumed. You can't go very far without running into the concept. I would guess, from the writings of the New Testament authors, that asking this question of them would have boggled their minds. "You have to ask? You want to ask??" But don't stop there.

The most famous verse trotted out on the topic is from the book of Hebrews:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Heb 10:23-25).
There it is, plain as day. We must not neglect to meet together. Next question? Of course, that's not clear enough. "I meet with other believers. I'm not neglecting it." Notice that "at church" isn't mentioned. Admittedly it is possible to read this without concluding that I must attend Sunday services or join a local church. I just have to "meet together". So?

Having admitted that this is not a definite command to become a churchgoer, let's examine the question more carefully. The commands in this passage are "hold fast the confession", "consider how to stir up one another to love and good works", not to neglect meeting together, and to encourage one another. Okay, so "meeting together" doesn't mention the local church. But notice the rest.

The life of the Christian is full of "one anothers". The vast majority of them refer to "believers". We are to love one another (John 13:34-35), confess our sins to one another (James 5:16), bear one another's burdens (Gal 6:2), teach and admonish one another (Col 3:16), encourage one another (1 Thess 5:11), serve one another (1 Peter 4:10), exhort one another (Heb 3:13), and, of course, stir up one another to love and good deeds. And that, dear reader, is an extremely abbreviated list. Now, if we are supposed to be doing all this and so very much more for fellow believers, exactly how would you do it without being involved with fellow believers? And where do we find fellow believers? Of course, everywhere, but the best place would be where fellow believers gather.

Now, mind you, this would make a radical shift in the thinking of a lot of believers if they viewed church in this manner. If many Christians went to church today for the purpose of doing for one another the commands from Scripture that we are to do for one another, attending a Sunday service would be pitiful in view of this vast effort. You wouldn't attend church. You'd be immersed in it. The notion of showing up Sunday morning, singing a few nice tunes, hearing a good sermon, and going home wouldn't even fit in this picture. It's so much bigger than that.

But, what about Sunday services? Are they covered in Scripture? Actually, yes, they are. The Bible speaks in multiple places of what is called "the communion of the saints". It is the joining of all believers in worshiping our Lord. Worship can occur, of course, in private, but there is also a huge benefit in community, in joining with other saints together to worship Christ. In fact, Jesus went every Sabbath to synagogue for this purpose. Even the Son of God wasn't above it. Private worship is all well and good, but joining with the saints in glory, gathering with other believers to praise God and listen to the preached Word (something highly prized in Scripture) is not to be missed.

Is going to church necessary? Not for salvation. But I can't see how a believer can practice the long list of "one anothers", exercise the gifts of the Spirit, and engage in the worship of God with the communion of the saints without it. It would be like trying to live without exercising. Oh, you may pull it off, but it won't be good and it won't be healthy and it won't be fulfilling. So I say to you, fellow believers, go to church. No, don't just attend. Involve yourself. Finding that "perfect church" is nonsense. You're going there to give, not get. Do not miss the gathering together of believers. For a healthy Christian life, it is necessary. Don't try to convince yourself otherwise. "So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith" (Gal 6:10).

I need to mention something here. I am not writing this as a perfect example. My father would likely be such an example. It hasn't been a Sunday if he hasn't gone to church ... preferably twice. And it's not church if he's not involved. Me? I'm writing this from the position of the failure. "Don't make the same mistakes I've made! Don't fall into the same trap I have." From a biblical perspective, church is necessary for the health of believers. From a practical, experiential perspective, church is necessary for the health of believers. And, in case you are of another mind, you may want to peruse some other Scriptures: 1 Tim 3:14-15; Heb 13:17; ACts 2:46-47; 1 Cor 14:12, 40. And there are more. One other consideration. The Bible refers to believers as family. You can't really have a healthy relationship with your family if you don't gather with them regularly, can you? Well, take it from me, it won't work.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


Whether you prefer "unalienable" or "inalienable", the term means "not to be separated, given away, or taken away." I suspect you knew that. And, of course, you know where I got the word. It's the one found in the Declaration of Independence regarding rights endowed by the Creator.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
There are a few problems with the concept, however.

First, by "not to be separated, given away, or taken away" we cannot mean that they are not able to be taken away. I mean, look, that happens routinely. Indeed, we see it in some circumstances and applaud. We are delighted when a dangerous felon loses his rights to freedom of movement by being sent to prison. That's good! We have, as a constant and obvious example, the First Amendment right to free speech, but we cannot use that freedom to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater and not be held liable for the ensuing damages if there is no fire. The concept here is that "Your rights end where my nose begins." And, we conclude, that is good.

However, it's not only that your rights end where my nose begins. The unborn, for instance, although being humans with "unalienable rights" to, say, life, do not have that right by force of law. If it is inconvenient for the mother to bear that child for whatever reason, the mother's "reproductive rights" take precedence over the baby's "right to life", his or her nose notwithstanding. Mom's rights override baby's rights. Sorry, kid. Consider your "right to life" alienated.

Indeed, even the most basic "rights" enumerated ever so briefly by the Declaration of Independence -- a list of only three examples -- are easily alienable. This year, for instance, the state of Arizona has already executed not just one, but two murderers. Their "right to life" was terminated -- alienated. The prisons are full of people whose liberty is alienated. And, of course, based on the "Drug War" concept and prostitution laws, we do not allow "the pursuit of happiness" wherever that might lead, even if it doesn't clash with your rights (or your nose). We do not have absolute, inalienable rights to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. By virtue of being part of a society, we only have limited rights.

Despite this clear fact, we have constructed our modern culture on the premise of our absolute rights. We have a right to happiness. We have a right to health care. We have a right to "reproductive choice". We have a "right to marry". We appear to have redefined "rights" as "that which I want". If I want it, I have a right to it. The concept of privileges never seems to show. The question of morality is not a valid question. Most people aren't even willing to ask anymore, "Is it good?"

So the fight rages on for "equal rights". No one seems to ask, "So, is this really my right?" No one seems to consider "Is it actually inalienable, or is it something I can lose?" And, in all honesty, for most fighting for "equal rights" in so many areas, taking "my rights" at the cost of "your nose" isn't really a problem. My rights don't end where your nose begins; they end where I say they end. And that's just not right.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Practicing Sin

I wrote recently about judging rightly. Not a particularly warm entry, I know, but it was a biblical one. One of the primary passages I mentioned was 1 John 3:9. You remember. "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."

The verse contains some things I was generally taught to avoid -- absolutes. "No one", "cannot", things like that. That is, "There isn't a single person who is born of God and makes a practice of sin. Why? Those who are born of God lack the ability ... 'cannot'. Why? Because God's seed resides in them." Rather absolute. That's a rather solemn and harsh judgment, but it's not mine, so I commend it.

The question comes up, of course, "What is 'makes a practice of sin'?" That is, are we talking about people who are simply mistaken or confused, or can we be specific? The answer is that there are indeed specifics available. You see, as it turns out, John isn't alone in his assessment. Paul says similar things in multiple places.

Perhaps you recall this phrase: "will not inherit the kingdom of God". Paul uses it in two places.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10).

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21).
Here are two lists of specific conditions for people who "will not inherit the kingdom of God." It's the same concept that John references. "Practice sin" is not "born of God". So, what specifics does Paul offer to help clear up what we're talking about?

Both lists reference sexual sin of various types. There are "fornicators", those who engage in sexual relations outside of marriage, "adulterers", those who engage in sexual relations with someone other than their spouse, and "homosexuals", those who engage in sexual relations with people of the same gender. Note that in the second list, the word translated "immorality" is the same word translated "fornicators" in the first list. Same sin. The word is porneia, a biblical word that covers all sexual sin. So in the final analysis, it is sexual relations of a man and a woman within the bonds of matrimony or ... sin.

The list goes on and I'm sure you can read it for yourself. But there is a key point I wish to point out. In the first list, Paul speaks less of deeds and more of character. The second list speaks of "immorality", for instance, but the first speaks of "fornicators." The distinction may seem small, but it's not. There is a lie, and then there is a liar. The difference is the practice. A person who is known for honesty and falls once into a lie wouldn't typically be thought of as a liar. That term suggests an ongoing condition -- a practice. The idea, then, is precisely the same as John's "practice of sin". Paul is not referencing people who sin (because we all sin), but those who make a practice of fornication, envy, stealing, or strife (to name a few). We can see this further indicated in the verse that follows: "And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6:11). This indicates an end to a practice, a change in character, a new path. Without occasional slip ups? No, not necessarily. But the ongoing practice is terminated.

There is one other key point to bring to your attention. "Can a person who is born of God continue in sin because he/she just doesn't know?" John says it cannot happen ("cannot" is his word). "The seed of God abides in him." That is, it isn't dependent on the believer's level of knowledge. Paul tells more. You see, that second list is part of an explanation. "I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please" (Gal 5:16-17). You see, the believer is indwelt with the Spirit, given a new nature, made into the "new man". Informed by the Spirit, directed by the Spirit, undergoing sanctification (1 Cor 6:11) and discipline (Heb 12:4-11), the one born of God, saved by Christ, truly born again is altered and trained, being shaped into the image of the Son of God (Rom 8:28-29). So it may go on for a short while, but rest assured that God won't let it go on indefinitely.

We like to think we're okay. We like to think that we should just keep our mouths shut and let people be. If, indeed, there are people who believe they are "born of God" but "make a practice of sin", and if these people will not inherit the kingdom of God, it seems to me that being silent is a cruel thing, a selfish device to save myself trouble at the expense of those who don't know God, especially when they think they do. So I feel an obligation, out of genuine concern for those around me, to be heard here, not mincing words, not keeping quiet, and not being politically correct. This isn't intolerance or judgmentalism. I need to examine myself against this list (and the alternate list of those who are filled with the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23)) to see that I'm not "mistaken", practicing sin. And I need to call others around me to that same standard for their sakes. But, look, I'm sure they'll thank me for it, right? Well, maybe not.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Oh, That's Not Right! -- Matthew 18:20

You've heard it. I know you have. If you've spent any time in Christian gatherings you've heard that heartwarming verse, "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst" (Matt 18:20). Ah, yes, that's so nice to remember when you're in a prayer circle of two or three holding hands and praying together. Jesus is there. Now, if you were by yourself, you'd be out of luck. Jesus clearly doesn't show up for that ... right?

This is one of those examples of popular uses without proper use. It's a nice passage yanked mercilessly out of context and handed over, bleeding badly, as an offering to you, the reader. Don't take it. Instead, let's look at what it really says.

Remember, context, context, context. What is the context of this verse? Well, Jesus is in the middle of an explanation to His disciples about church discipline (Matt 18:15-17). He has explained about the procedure of pursuing a sinning brother. You know how it goes. 1) Go to him in private. 2) If he doesn't repent, take one or two or more witnessses to call him to repent. 3) If he doesn't repent, tell it to the church. 4) If he doesn't repent, shun him. Very clear, methodical, and straightforward. Jesus, in the same line of thinking, goes on to tell the importance of how the church responds to unrepentant sinners from their midst. "Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven", He says.

And then ... oh, look! ... we run into another misapplied verse. "Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven" (Matt 18:19). Now, let's see. When do you hear that? Generally you hear it when you're being encouraged to pray. You may even have heard people pray that way, "agreeing" in order to make it so. Almost a way of twisting God's arm. But that's not the context. What is the context? Jesus is talking about those same people who agreed that the sinning brother needed to repent. When Christians work in harmony for the repentance of a sinning brother, God works.

It is, then, in this same context that we find the verse in question. Remember, we've already established the "two or three". It is required for calling a sinning Christian to repentance. It is the same group that are calling on God to work on the sinner's heart. The topic is dealing with a sinning believer and Jesus is telling His disciples, "When you do, I am there." Jesus is presiding. Christ is ruling. Church leadership may act on the call to repentance, but it is the Son's divine presence that gives it authority, substance, and hope for results.

To be honest, I've always had a hard time with the notion that Jesus was present when two or more were gathered. Where was He when I needed Him most, when I was alone? Why did He refuse to be there then? Wasn't He omnipresent? And, of course, the whole concept starts to break down in that light. No, Jesus wasn't promising to arrive at group gatherings but avoid private times. He was calling His own to accountability. "When you bring about church discipline, remember that I'm there. That should give you the strength and authority to do it when it is necessary. It should give you pause when doing it incorrectly. Remember who is in charge. It's not you." God calls us to serve Him, to perform His work with His authority and His power. That is what's in view here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Experiential Truth Test

I've noticed a trend in evaluation processes. Generally it's in evaluation of biblical content. Let me give you some examples and see if you can find the trend.

The argument is that Christianity is a bloodthirsty religion, responsible for much violence and hate and generally a mean-spirited religion. Why? "Well, look at history! There were the Crusades and the Inquisition and the witch hunts and the religious wars and the Christians taking life and land from the Native Americans! Isn't it obvious?" Or "If you question whether or not Christianity is a religion of hate, just look at the Westboro Baptist Church. 'Nuff said."

Ongoing now is a debate in Christendom between the complementarians and the egalitarians. The complementarians say, "There is a difference between male and female. Each is made for different roles. Both are of equal value, but God has made male and female for different tasks and purposes." This, of course, lends itself to patriarchalism. Indeed, one of the primary reasons for the term "complementarianism" is that it is not "patriarchalism" because that word carries a lot of negative baggage. "It's wrong," the egalitarians will tell us. "God has not made male and female with differing roles. They are of equal value and there is no difference between male and female in the eyes of God." Why? Well, we can all list problems that have occurred with patriarchalism. Men in charge treating women as inferior, without respect, without care. Bad news!

As more and more voices in the world call for "marriage equity" meaning "redefining the concept of marriage to include those who were not before ... as long as they are the ones we approve", more and more voices associated with Christians are rising to agree. Their objections are not biblical ones. They are experiential. "How would you like it if you couldn't marry the one you love?" "Christians have for too long abused the homosexual community." "Look at what Christians did in the name of Christ with interracial marriage. It's the same thing here."

Okay, a few examples. What's the trend? Well, the obvious trend is "Experience trumps text." That is, it doesn't really matter what the Bible says about it. If experience says something else, experience is right. But I see another underlying trend here. There seems to be a tendency to judge Christian doctrine and biblical claims not on their truth value -- "Is it true?" -- but by whether or not it has been abused. Think about it.

Christianity is a bloodthirsty religion not because that correlates with anything in Scripture or matches up with anything remotely "Christian". No, the primary command throughout Scripture for interpersonal relationships for Christians is "Love your neighbor." Not violent or hateful. No, it's a bloodthirsty religion because people have abused Christianity and Scripture, twisting it to say things it doesn't say so that they can do things "in the name of Christ" that don't match up with Christ. And here we are, much later, still carrying the onus of things that aren't Christian because someone abused Christianity. Complementarianism and its logical conclusion, patriarchalism is dismissed out of hand by so many not because it's not biblical, but because it has been so abused. "Well, maybe you can get that from the Bible," they may say, "but I've seen too many overbearing men as fathers, husbands, pastors, and leaders who abuse their perceived power and mistreat those around them." Yes, okay, I agree that people have abused it. But does that mean that it's not true, that it's not biblical? No, no, don't ask that. And it's clearly the same with the question of "same-sex marriage". Marriage itself has been so abused over the years that calling for its defense is becoming nearly as meaningless as the idea of marriage. It has been twisted, torn, gashed, cut, abused and dismissed by society in general and even by the church. "And now you have the audacity to try to keep a minority segment from having it?" Why? Because it has been so abused that no one seems to even know what it is anymore. Not, "What is the truth about marriage?" but how has it been abused and how have people incorrectly mistreated fellow sinners in the name of Christ?

It seems to go to a lot of the questions today. Should wives submit to husbands? Bad husbands make that a difficult question to answer in the affirmative. Should women be pastors? Bad pastors have made that harder to answer. Should children be spanked? Abusive parents unclear on either love or child-rearing have made that a tough one. And just because there are clear biblical answers to questions like these and so many more doesn't mean that people -- even Christians -- are going to accept them. "The Bible says" carries less weight these days than "I've seen too many bad versions" or "In my experience ...". Even for too many Christians.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Does God Hate?

I've already brought into question the notion that "God loves everyone equally" and even that God loves "unconditionally". Part of the certainty I have for questioning these assumed premises is that the Bible indicates that God hates. He hated Esau. He hated idolatrous nations. He hates sinners. (If you need any references for that, please look at the other articles.) God definitely hates.

The question, "Does God hate?", becomes problematic, of course, because of the numerous references to God's love. He "loved the world" (John 3:16). He is love (1 John 4:8). I mean, come on! Isn't this a contradiction? And it would be if we continued to use the terms that we are using. On the other hand, the terms that the Bible uses, "love" and "hate", as it turns out, don't mean the same thing that we do.

Here, look at this fairly well-known statement from Christ: "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26). "What??" you will (or should) immediately say. "Aren't we commanded to love? Indeed, aren't we commanded to 'love your neighbor as you love yourself'? If you must hate your own life and hate those around you, aren't we talking contradiction here?"

So let's slow down a little and look at the terminology. The word "hate" there is the Greek miseo (from which we get "misogyny", the hatred of women, "mysanthrope", someone who hates people, and so on). The word means "to detest".

Going to the dictionary, "detest" comes from two Middle French terms: de- + testari, where testari means "to testify, to bear witness" and de- means a reversal, a removal, a privation, a negation. "Detest" then, from its root, would mean most literally a negative witness, a denial of affirmation.

Proceding to commentaries, this is almost universally the concept here. John Gill's commentary on the verse says they are "not to be preferred to Christ, or loved more than He". Matthew Henry's commentary on the verse says, "Every good man loves his relations; and yet, if he be a disciple of Christ, he must comparatively hate them, must love them less than Christ." And so it goes

Does that work? Or are we simply making excuses? As it turns out, it's the common biblical concept. Compare Gen 29:30-31. "So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years. When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren." Note that the first verse does not say that Jacob abhorred Leah (where "abhor" is our equivalent for "hate"). It says that he loved Rachel more which does not require or even suggest that he hated Leah. Yet "the Lord saw that Leah was hated." That is, Jacob loved Rachel more. Note, also, that "He opened her womb." If Jacob hated Leah in the sense that we use the word, God's opening of her womb would have to have been immaculate conception -- pregnancy without sex.

This, then, would be the general biblical concept of hate -- to deny affirmation, to care less, to devalue. Thus, when God said, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated", He meant His love for Jacob far outshined His love for Esau. Esau, in God's view, was not as affirmed as Jacob. The concept of Luke 14:26 -- our love for family or self in comparison to our love for Christ might look like hate for family, not because we hate our family, but because the comparison is so far apart, because we so highly esteem Christ.

God does indeed love the world in a sense. He gives rain to the just and the unjust. He continues the lives of sinners. He sustains the righteous and the unrighteous. He even offers salvation of His Son to all. But the love God has for the redeemed so far outshines any love He has for the non-elect that it looks much like hate. "Hate" -- the denial of affirmation, a negative witness -- would be an apt description for these folk. At least, Scripture seems to think so.

Monday, August 20, 2012

God's Unconditional Love

I'm quite sure that this quote from a Christian article won't meet with much resistance: "The Bible says that God loves us completely no matter what we do." Yes, sure, we all know that. God loves unconditionally. Got it. Clear enough. We know.

But wait! Is that true? You see, we often pass off on some theological or doctrinal point without examining its veracity. Is it true? It sounds true, I suppose. But is it? If it is true, where in the Bible do you read it? Now that will be an interesting trick, because it's not in there. (Easy verification. Do a word search in the Bible for "unconditional" and you'll see.) Okay, so where do you acquire it? What in the Bible makes you think it's true? You see, I don't think most of us have even thought that far. So, why do I even ask? Well, while we are all quite sure that God loves us unconditionally, we read things like "Jacob I loved and Esau I hated" and I have to ask, "Huh??" You see, if Esau is loved unconditionally, why is he hated? And it's not just Esau. There are a lot of people whom God hates (e.g., Lev 20:23; Psa 5:5; 11:5; Hos 9:15).

"Oh, no," we will say, "God loves the sinner but hates the sin." Yes, you'll find that in Hezekiah 5:3. No, wait. That's not right. Hey, where exactly is that? You see, every time I read of God referring to sin and sinners, it appears to me that He sees the two as irrevocably connected. We're part of Adam's race, part of his sin condition, "by nature children of wrath". He calls sinners to repent. He connected the Pharisees with "your father, the devil". It seems too deeply connected -- the sin and the sinner -- to strip them apart.

Part of the problem is our hazy definitions. "Love", for instance, means "accepting, warm, affectionate". Or does it? Does love require acceptance? Does "unconditional love" mean "I embrace you in everything that you are and you do"? That certainly doesn't fit with biblical imagery (for instance, Jer. 18:7-11 or, say, Israel's 40 years in the desert for refusing to go into the land). Indeed, we read quite explicitly, "The Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives" (Heb 12:6). Further, "If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons" (Heb 12:8). So clearly the biblical version of love doesn't include "no conditions on how to behave or what to be in order to receive acceptance." That's not biblical love. In fact, Paul says that God's kindness, forbearance, and patience -- components of His love -- have a purpose; they lead us to repentance (Rom 2:4).

Now, clearly God's love is not earned. Moses told Israel that God chose to love them apart from any perceived merit in them; He loved them because He promised He would (Deut 7:6-8). God doesn't love us because we deserve it (Job 7:17). And we know that there are some conditions on God's love. Jesus said, "The Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God" (John 16:27). See that? "Because you have loved Me." That's why "the Father Himself loves you." Conditions. In fact, one of the all time favorite passages on the love of God actually lays out a key condition. John 3:16 says, "God loved the world in this way: He sent His only begotten Son so that those who believe in that Son will not perish, but will have everlasting life." (I rephrased it slightly to avoid a couple of very common errors in understanding what it actually says.) What is the condition? "Believe in Him." If you do that, you experience His love in the form of everlasting life. If you do not, you do not experience that love, but perish instead. Conditions.

God loves His own. Of that there is no doubt. His love cannot be earned. Of that there is no doubt. Indeed, God Himself defines love. Absolutely true. But I question the concept of unconditional love. Further, I deny the concept of unconditional love as it is currently applied -- that "I embrace you in everything that you are and you do" idea. God Himself chastises those He loves. There is absolutely no doubt that He punished Israel, the people that He loved, when they violated His laws. The ever-so-popular concept of unconditional love as an equivalent of unconditional acceptance is absolutely absent in Scripture. Love without consequences, in fact, is a contradiction in terms. Oddly enough, that kind of "unconditional love" might actually occur in human beings. It's wrong, unbiblical, a violation of the nature of God and the nature of love, but it probably does occur here and there ... you know ... as long as you aren't violating their particular threshold*. I would encourage you, on the other hand, not to look for that kind of illogical, irrational violation from God. You won't find it.
* I followed recently a discussion about "unconditional love" in terms of a parent "embracing and accepting" an offspring who "comes out" to a Christian parent. The suggestion of many commenters was that it was required. When one was asked, "So, what if they become intolerant bigots?", she replied, "I would send him out the door and tell him he wasn't welcome in my home if he was going to talk that way. I don't allow bigots in my home." Ummm ... what was that about "unconditional love"?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

God, the Omnipotent

If there is one thing that we know about God's nature, it's that He's "all powerful". He is omnipotent. As the Hallelujah Chorus quotes from the 19th chapter of Revelation, "Hallelujah! For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth." And it's not just thanks to Handel's Messiah. Everyone else knows it, too.

It has become a skeptics delight, in fact. "If God is omnipotent, does He have the power to make a rock too big for Him to pick up?" Nice. Stupid, but nice. "Aha!" they are saying, "We've got you now." And, in fact, if we're not careful, they would. So what does it mean to say that God is "omnipotent"?

The word in the text above is pantokrator, where the roots pan means "all" and kratos means "vigor, dominion, power". It's used 10 times in the New Testament (9 times in Revelation alone), always of God. Generally it's translated "almighty". Sometimes it's used as the very name of God -- "the Almighty". Pretty straightforward, then, right?

The Old Testament word was popularized by an Amy Grant tune, El-Shaddai. This one comes directly from God. In Gen 17 God tells Abram, "I am the Almighty God, walk before Me and be perfect" (Gen 17:1). Literally, "I am El Shaddai." The origin of shaddai is a little more obscure. There appears to be some roots in the concept of a mountain, but the best indications are that it is related, in fact, to the breast. The best translation, then, would be "all-sufficient", as a mother's breast is to a suckling child. And, of course, all-sufficiency requires all power.

Okay, interesting, but what does it mean? The principle of God's omnipotence is that God can do whatever He wills. Now that concept is abundantly clear in Scripture. For instance, in both Psa 115:3 and Psa 135:6 we read, "He does whatever He pleases." Ephesians 1:11 assures us that He works all things after the counsel of His will. Of course, that's Sovereignty, but to accomplish this He would have to have the power to do so. Job told God, "I know that You can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2). When God promised Abraham that he would have a son and Sarah laughed, God asked Abraham, "Is anything too difficult for the Lord?" (Gen 18:14). God has all power.

Let's be clear about that. God has all power. He does not have power that does not exist. He has power over life and death. All authority is His. Satan is restrained or loosed by His power (Job 1:12; Luke 22:31-32; Rev 20:1-3). Even the things we do are subject to His power (James 4:12-15). If a power exists, it's His.

The question then becomes His exercise of that power. You see, God will not violate His own nature, as an example. He is good and for an omnipotent being to be not good is a violation of His nature, so He will not exercise that power. Nor can He manifest nonsense. That power doesn't exist. So He cannot make a square circle, for instance. He doesn't do logical contradictions. So the ever-popular "Omnipotent means able to do anything whatsoever" is nonsense. Don't fall for it. Doesn't happen.

It is said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The bad news is that's generally true with human beings. The good news is that it is not true in the case of God. God can do whatever God wills to do. He has that power. He is, by nature, the definition of both "good" and "love". Thus, His exercise of the absolute power He possesses is always good and loving. Who better to trust than that God?

Saturday, August 18, 2012


When you blog for as long as I have, it is natural that you would get a variety of feedback. I have. There is, of course, the obligatory, "You're an idiot, a bigot, and a religious fool." When one takes a biblical view of the world, one must not expect everyone to be delighted. And, to be fair, the number of these kinds of responses have been relatively few. The larger majority are actually positive. And that's heartwarming.

There is one type of comment I've had in person and in email that has been by far the most dominant. It comes from family and friends, folk who are mostly believers and in agreement with my faith and even mostly in agreement with most of what I write. Not antagonists. Not antagonistic. The single most bit of feedback I get from a variety of people is, "You write well ... but I'm afraid I don't often understand what you're saying."

Now, I'm not entirely sure what to make of this. It would appear that the problem is not my writing. I write well, they tell me. And given the number of highly educated people that have told me this, it also isn't a matter of intelligence. I'm no super scholar (no actual scholar at all), and many of these people have more education than I do. So it's not that I'm a poor writer or that I'm just too smart for them. It's something else.

I work with computers a lot. It seems to come natural to me. It seems to be an aptitude. Many of the people I work with, however, don't seem to be able to grasp basics. Not that they're not smart enough. They're very bright, well-educated people with brilliant scientific minds. They're biologists and PhDs and the like. But I've had people with doctorates ask me, "How do I turn off my computer?" Really? So I've decided that it's not at all a matter of intelligence. It's a matter of aptitude. Some people are ... wired a certain way and others are not. Some are wired to be good at sports and others are not. Some are wired to be mathematically inclined and others are not. Driving seems to be a joy to some people and a curse to others. It's not intelligence; it's wiring.

I tell you all of that because I suspect it's the same sort of thing with my writing. I suspect that there are a group of people out there -- apparently a select few -- who are wired to get it, to understand. They're "tuned in" to what I'm saying. They don't see good writing as much as they simply grasp what's coming from my mind to my fingers to your screen. They're not smarter or less intelligent. They're not better readers or as dumb as I am. It's wiring. They're just ... tuned in.

Still, it makes me wonder at the end of the day. I have been doing this for more than 6 years. I average perhaps 600 hits a week on my blog. I have an entire 25 people that are classified as following my blog. These are not big numbers. I'm not some raving success in the blogosphere. Given that the largest perspective seems to be "I don't get it", I have to wonder if I ought to continue. Is there value in broadcasting my thoughts on this subject or that just because I can? Or perhaps I should try to change, to figure out how to make myself better understood. (I have to admit I can't imagine how to do that. I thought I was pretty simple as it was.) I'm not getting paid to do this and I'm pretty sure that no one's day will be ruined if it stopped. And those minority folk who are quite sure I'm an idiot for thinking the Bible is reliable and I can understand much of what it says would be delighted to see me stop. Hey, it might just make their day!

Anyway, I don't know. Just thinking out loud, so to speak. Should I stay or should I go? Don't know right now. I'm just wondering. You tell me.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Is It True?

Hate! That's it! Everyone knows it. Those right wingers, those religious folk who say that gay is evil and homosexual is perverted and all that sort of thing is sin ... just hate-mongers is all. Anti-gay, bigoted, narrow-minded, prejudiced. The list goes on and on. Doggone homophobes! And we all know it. Just ask anyone.

Except, it's not true. And that, as it turns out, is actually the question not being asked. "Is it true?"

On one side there are truth claims. "The Bible says homosexuality is a sin!" "Marriage is defined by God and it is solely a man and a woman." "Homosexual is immoral and it's bad for everyone." Truth claims. On the other side, there are others. "They're born that way; it's perfectly natural." "You're trying to block them from getting their human rights." "There's nothing at all immoral about it." Truth claims. Then come the counter claims. "You're just trying to justify your immorality." "You have an agenda to try to normalize your sin." And, of course, we've heard their responses. "You're haters, homophobes, anti-gay." More truth claims. And no one seems to even ask once, "But ... is it true?"

Here's the question for the "You guys are hateful" folk, for the Southern Poverty Law Group, for those who argue that Chick-Fil-A, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, every conservative Christian, and anyone else opposed to further altering marriage or convinced that homosexual is not normal, natural, or moral are haters: What if it's true?

What if it is actually true that God considers such acts abominable? What it it really isn't "normal"? What if it really is immoral and, as such, perverted and detrimental to society? (If God actually considers the behavior an abomination, then it cannot be good for a society that embraces such behavior.) What if it really is true?

If it is actually true, then is it accurate to suggest that saying so is hate? If it's really the case, is it immoral to oppose the behavior? Now, I'll agree that it is prejudice to say so, but that's because the term "prejudice" simply means "opinion formed beforehand" and those who, quite correctly in this scenario, get their opinions from the Bible will, consequently, have preconceived notions. In return, those who argue the reverse are equally prejudiced, assuming before the fact that such behavior is perfectly moral. No, "prejudice" is not a factor here.

If it is actually true that the Bible is opposed, that God finds it an abomination, that it's a bad thing, a perversion of God's intentions, then it isn't a matter of hate, bigotry, or homophobia. It's a matter of fact. And it's a point of concern for those engaged in the behavior and those embracing the behavior. But, then, no one is asking, "Is it true?", are they?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Crying "Hate!"

When Gabby Gifford was shot in Tucson, there was a loud uproar. The local sheriff, Gifford's husband, and others in the political arena assured us all that it was the fault of the conservatives. It was people like Sarah Palin who spoke of "targeting Arizona" as a state to win. There, see? Fomenting violence. Clearly. The obviously looney Jared Loughner was acting on conservative, right wing values. That was it. Those darn Tea Partiers. Hatemongers!

Yesterday a man (Floyd Corkins?) walked into the offices of the Family Research Council (FRC), made an unclear statement, was challenged by a security guard, shot said guard, and was wrestled to the ground and subdued. The Washington D.C. Police Chief said, "The security officer here is a hero as far as I'm concerned." Good job. What was the man doing? Well, they're not sure, but he had materials about Chick-Fil-A restaurants in his vehicle.

Now, what is the connection? Well, when Dan Cathy of Chick-Fil-A stood up for traditional marriage, some of the public, most of the homosexual community, and much of the media went to war. "Anti-gay!" they yelled. They falsely accused Mr. Cathy of making "anti-gay statements" and declared that he was "opposed to gay marriage" (although the phrase never once came out of his mouth). And when others stood up and said, "Hey, he should be allowed to exercise his free speech," they were shouted down. "It's not about free speech. It's about hate. Chick-Fil-A donates to hate groups!" Hate groups? Yes, apparently. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a self-appointed defender of tolerance and warrior against hate, has named organizations like Focus on the Family and ... wait for it ... the Family Research Council as "hate groups". According to their website, the "Christian Right" appears to be a hate group all its own. By their standards, anyone who classifies homosexual behavior as perverted are classified as part of a hate group.

So, now this guy, armed with Chick-Fil-A information and a 9mm hand gun, walks into an organization classified loudly by an arbitrary organization as a "hate group", prepared to start killing.

I protested when so many voices blamed the shooting in Tucson on conservatives. Made no sense. And I'd suggest it makes equal sense to pin yesterday's attack on the FRC on the Southern Poverty Law Center and the rest who have spread the intolerant classification of "hate group" on the FRC. On the other hand, I can much more easily see a direct correlation between the SPLC and this shooting than I can with the Tucson shooting and conservative banter.

My question, however, is this. Will we hear anything about this in the media? (I haven't so far.) Will loud liberal voices protest that the SPLC et. al has spread hate and fomented violence against conservatives? Will the LGBT community rise up and condemn the shooting? "It wasn't us! We aren't in favor of that kind of stuff!" I'm not holding my breath. Turn about may be fair play, but it doesn't generally look today like "fair play" is really very high on their list of priorities.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Judge Not Not

Is there an echo in here? No, that's a double negative ... for good reason.

It has been noted of late that the best known Bible verse (today) is Jesus's words from Matthew: "Judge not, that you be not judged" (Matt 7:1). I've pointed out in the past that this is a verse and a concept yanked horribly out of context and twisted to mean something other than intended. The subsequent sentence explains better. "For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you" (Matt 7:2). Jesus goes on (in the very next verse) to warn against taking a speck out of your brother's eye before removing the log from your own. Later in the passage he warns of the narrow and wide gates and then of false prophets ("You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt 7:16).). All of these require judgment. He doesn't say to not remove the splinter from your brother's eye. He does not say to avoid paying attention to the wide and narrow gates. He does not say not to determine what a false prophet looks like. He tells us to judge rightly.

When Jesus says "Judge not", then, He is not warning against judging at all. What He is warning against is judging swiftly, often, and, most pointedly, without self-judgment. "With the judgment you pronounce you will be judged." That's the standard for judging. Test yourself first, and be prepared for others judging you.

One popular complaint that you hear a lot is "I can’t know the mind of God, and it's not my place to judge your relationship with Him." There is a common suggestion that we just cannot know who is and who is not saved and it's wrong to make any statement to that effect. And, to be quite fair, to a large extent this is true. It's very hard to tell in many cases who knows Christ and who is just faking it. John said of antichrists from the church, "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). Clearly, then, while they were "with us", they were hard to distinguish. Jesus implies the same thing with His references to "the wheat and the tares" and such. Lots of people look like wheat but are actually tares, weeds, false Christians. So we ought to be cautious here.

I have suggested, on the other hand, that there are some clear biblical teachings on the subject. In light of the the question of "Is it my place to judge your relationship with God?", I see a a couple of biblical measurement tools that can be used here.

The first is so blatant as to almost be unnerving. "No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God" (1 John 3:9). Given someone who "makes a practice of sinning" -- who continues in and defends and "practices" (keeps at it until it is perfected) sin -- it doesn't take real effort to say, "That person is not born of God." It is, in fact, inexorable biblical logic. I'm not talking about perfection. As the saying goes, "No one is perfect, and I'm the perfect example." It is the concept of a practice of sin, a defense of sin, an ongoing refusal to repent, sinning without repentance. Acting out of "kindness" and "tolerance" and "non-judgmentalness" and saying, "Well, I can't comment on your relationship with God" when the Bible says something specific and clear here wouldn't be kindness or tolerance. It would be cruelty.

Beyond that, there is another. "They went out from us" according to John to demonstrate something: "They were not of us." That's a clear statement. It doesn't take a genius to figure it out. When someone, then, claims to be a Christian and then denies the faith, we are biblically obligated to treat them as unbelievers, non-Christians, people without a relationship with the living God. To do otherwise would be unkind.

Two conditions, then. One is sin without repentance (and we see that repeated in Matt 18:15-17 and 1 Cor 5:9-13) and the other is apostasy, a jettisoning or denial of the faith. Either of these are reasonable indicators of a lack of a vital relationship with Christ. These people, biblically, are unbelievers. Further, in light of Jesus's "with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged", I hope that's what happens. If I sin without repentance or deny the faith, I would hope and pray that those who I know genuinely care about me would exercise that painful form of love that starts with a call to repentance and could end up like the one that Paul exercised when he turned the sinning fellow over to Satan. I want to be judged by the biblical standard and warned if I go off that cliff rather than coddled and patted and informed, "Well, you are probably just fine" when I'm really not. That, to me, is not love.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

When Is Helping Not?

I remember a story I heard of a group of tourists who were watching the hatching of some sea turtles. They were overjoyed when one little turtle emerged from the sand and started hurrying toward the safety of the sea. Suddenly, a sea gull swooped down on the poor little thing. Well, one of the watchers leapt to her feet and yelled at the attacker who dropped its prey and fled. The little one scurried on into the waves and the beach erupted with more of these turtles angling for the water. They didn't make it. A swarm of sea birds descended, feeding off the defenseless babies in a horrible massacre. The guide then told them, "In nature, that first one out is an indicator. If he makes it, the coast is clear, so to speak, and it's safe for the rest to go. In this case, it wasn't. But because that first one made it, the rest thought it was safe." So, when is helping not helping?

You remember that classic parable of Jesus, the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). A glorious story of a father's love. A great story of revelry, repentance, and restoration. Even a warning against "the good son", the self-righteous who think "I never did anything like that; I deserve better." Good stuff, all. But I got to thinking about that prodigal who ran off to do what he wanted and really messed up his life.

The text says "he squandered his property in reckless living" (Luke 15:13). Then "a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need" (Luke 15:14). My, my, even God was against him, it seemed. The story tells how he hired himself out to a pig farmer, a horrible thing for a good Jewish kid. He was so hungry that he longed to eat pig food. Really, really bad. But there is an interesting phrase there. "No one gave him anything" (Luke 15:16).

Now, you know the rest of the story. He "came to himself" (I love that phrase), repented, and returned to his father to become his father's hired servant. His father, apparently waiting for him, ran to him "while he was still a long way off" and embraced and kissed him. He brushed aside his son's apology returned him to the family (Luke 15:22-24), and threw a party. And, then, there was the older brother's complaint which you should examine on your own.

I got to thinking. What would have happened to this kid if he was living today? Well, there would be a segment of society that would have been up in arms over his plight. "Eating is a human right. No one should go without food. We need to take money from the rich people and feed this poor soul." And the charitable Christian organizations would have put him on their commercials. "See this poor fellow who is in dire need? Won't you give some to feed him and others like him?" The soup kitchens would have provided him a meal and the homeless shelters would have given him a place to sleep. And he never would have hit bottom, repented, and been restored to his father.

Now, I am not advocating non-charity. I am not opposing giving to the poor or helping people in need. I am not opposed to taxes being used to help people in trouble. Not the point. In fact, since the story is a parable, not an actual event, and since we don't really know what would have happened to this fictional character in other circumstances, my conjecture is merely that -- conjecture. People who end up homeless, fed by soup kitchens, housed by shelters, helped by strangers can certainly hit bottom anyway. Not my point.

What's my point, then? My point is that we don't know. Sometimes doing for people is the best thing to do. Other times doing nothing is much, much better. Being nice to people is often the right thing to do, but sometimes being stern with them is much, much better. Sometimes meeting with people is the right thing to do, but the Bible indicates (as an example) that there are indeed people with whom we should not even eat (1 Cor 5:9-11). Sometimes embracing people is the right thing to do, but Jesus told us that there are times that we must shun (Matt 18:15-17). Feeding the hungry is often the right thing to do, but Paul said, "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat" (2 Thess 3:10).

When is helping not helping? It is not helpful when our "help" gets in the way of God's work in bringing someone to the point of repentance. It is not helpful when our "help" prevents people from learning what they need to learn. Sometimes pain is necessary. Sometimes hard times teach us valuable lessons. Sometimes hitting bottom is essential to further growth. Getting in the way of that by "helping" is not helpful. At the end of the day, preventing people from getting to the best by giving them help they shouldn't have is not love. Knowing when those times are, on the other hand, isn't always easy. But there are biblical instructions for some of these circumstances. Perhaps that would be a good place to start?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Affirm or Attack

The other day I was driving down the road, minding my business, when someone attacked California. Right there in the lane next to mine.

Let me explain. I live in a state that borders California. Now, most people are pretty patriotic when it comes to their homes, whether it be the U.S. against the world or their home state against all others. So it's fairly common to see stickers that are pro-the-state-we're-in. And, of course, since I live in a state that has a large number of immigrants from other states, it's not uncommon to see stickers in favor of the states from which they came. It's not hard to find a license plate frame that says "Native New Yorker" on a vehicle with Arizona plates, for instance. And, of course, there are a lot of pro-California stickers here since there are a lot of Californian expatriates here. Fine.

So, now we come to this brazen attack. It was on the car that passed me. It had a sticker on its back window. Written in a common script that often spells out something like "So-Cal" or "Nor-Cal" indicating someone from southern or northern California, this one said, "Not-Cal."

Okay, so I'm taking it too far. Fine. As it turns out, "Not-Cal" is the name of a brand of clothing. They sell themselves as "a REAL brand to show off the GREAT state of Arizona!!!" (Note: The capitalizations and exclamation marks are from their statement; they're not added by me.) So, you see, they are indeed attacking California.

I only point this out to illustrate the difference between affirming and attacking. Recently there was quite a battle over remarks that favored "traditional family" and "biblical marriage". These were labeled as attacks. They are not. I'm hoping that this example of bumper stickers can help you see the difference between attacking something and affirming something. Affirming A is an affirmation of A, not an attack of B. Saying, for instance, "I like cats" does not require "I hate dogs." Saying "I favor biblical marriage and the traditional family" is not the same thing as saying "I hate gays." This is a simple logical fallacy, an error in thinking, a lie when it is pointed out as such and ignored and repeated.

But, I suppose this won't go very far. Those who are so bigoted and hateful that they cannot see an affirmation of something other than their own position as anything but an attack on their own position won't likely read this, smack their foreheads, and say, "Oh, my! Thanks for clearing that up!" I'm hoping, however, that one or two can see the difference between affirming God's Word and attacking those who deny it, affirming biblical and traditional values and attacking those who deny it. And maybe, just maybe, some will make an effort to be less attacking and more affirming in their conversations. Is attacking always wrong? No, of course not. Jesus did it. Paul did it. Peter did it. God did it. Still, we might consider being affirming more than we are attacking. Sure, it won't stop people from being hateful and judgmental of people they deem hateful and judgmental, but at least it will serve to give us a cleaner conscience.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

His Inexpressible Gift

Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift! (2 Cor 9:15)
Taken completely out of context, this is still a fine thing to consider. Thanking God is a good thing to do. Remembering His gifts to us is a good and natural thing to do. All well and good. But Paul here references God's gift -- singular. Perhaps it would be good to look at exactly what the gift is for which Paul is thanking God.

The context of the statement gives the meaning, of course. What "inexpressible gift" had he been discussing? It is one of those things of which most would say, "It is too good to be true." And yet, it is true. The context of Paul's praise here is originally on the topic of giving. The church at Jerusalem was in dire need. The churches about the region wanted to help them out. So Paul was gathering contributions from other areas to take to Jerusalem.

Paul tells in chapter 8 of a remarkable generosity. Of the churches in Macedonia he says, "In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord" (2 Cor 8:2-3). This isn't a case of taking from the rich to give to the poor. It is a case of those in "extreme poverty" overflowing in "a wealth of generosity", giving "beyond their means" and, of great importance, "of their own accord". Paul says they were "begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints" (2 Cor 8:4). Think about it! These people weren't complaining about the "1%" or bemoaning their miserable financial condition. They were willingly and eagerly giving more than they could afford to assist fellow believers in their need. And the context of Paul's reference to God's inexpressible gift is in the midst of this giving.

You see, Paul anticipated that if the Macedonian Christians in their poverty gave generously, surely the Corinthian Christians in their riches would give even more. And that is what he was telling them here. Sure that they wouldn't embarrass him or themselves (2 Cor 9:4), he encouraged them, "Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully" (2 Cor 9:6). He assured them that giving was not compulsory, but from the heart. "Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor 9:7). And then he rounds this off with a somewhat staggering statement.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work (2 Cor 9:8).
Note, first, "and" at the beginning of the sentence. This is tied in to giving and the cheerful giver. Note, second, the number of "alls" in that sentence. "All grace", "all sufficiency in all things at all times". "All" covers just about everything, doesn't it? You give all and God provides more. So, "You give cheerfully," Paul indicates, "and God is able to make all grace abound to you." That is, you give out of God's grace. You have sufficiency to give to others out of God's sufficiency. You do good works out of God's provision. "He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness" (2 Cor 9:10).

That, you see, is the "inexpressible gift" for which Paul is giving thanks here to God. So let's be clear. The gift for which he is thanking God here is this: God gives to us so that we can give back to Him and to others; as a result of our giving to others in resources and good works, we bring glory to God (2 Cor 9:13) and are rewarded by God. This, then, is that "inexpressible gift". God gives to us so that we can give to Him and for which we are rewarded. Now that is surely too good to be true. And yet it is true! He gifts us with faith (Rom 12:3; Phil 1:29; Heb 12:12) and then counts that as righteousness (Rom 4:3). He gifts us with spiritual gifts and then counts that as service to God. He gives us new life and then gives us rewards for it (James 1:12). He gives us the ability to give to others and then rewards us for giving to others. How can it get any better than that?
Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift! (2 Cor 9:15)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sins of the Fathers

I know. The title references a topic I discussed a couple of weeks ago. This is not related to that. Please, if that earlier discussion is still in your memory banks, don't allow that to taint your thoughts on this ...

We face a host of problems today. There is the general decline of morality in the country. There will always be deniers, but it can hardly be argued with any rationality that the moral values of America today are much lower than they were in the 1950's let alone in the 1850's. Yes, yes, we've made some improvements. We have less racism and more fair work conditions and so on. However, the sensuality, selfishness, greed, and arrogance that rules the day are an ever-increasing condition that troubles every corner of our society. Church membership seems to be declining. Hate against Christianity seems to be increasing. Sexual immorality is the norm and marriage is being pushed off the cliff favor of a brand new concept labeled "marriage" with very little connection to the longstanding, traditional understanding of the notion of actual marriage.

Where do we go from here? How do we fight against these forces? How can we shore up education, push politics back to a kinder and more moral day, correct the church's apparent failings, staunch the discrimination we see rising, and defend marriage and the family? The answer depends on where you think the conflict lies. If you think it is a conflict of our day, then you'll need to use the tools and means and conditions of our day to go to work on it. I would suggest that much of what we see is not rooted in today. If I'm right, battling today's conditions would be pointless since the problem is not here, but elsewhere. I would argue that our current conditions are found in the sins of our fathers (so to speak).

Take, for instance, discrimination. Back in the '60's our society (rightly) decided that discriminating on the basis of race was wrong. The remedy for that problem ... was legislation. Laws were enacted to deny racists the ability to practice their racism. Obviously no laws were enacted to stop them from being racist; they just couldn't practice it. Precedent: If you want to fix a problem, pass a law. Nothing, you see, was done to fix the problem. No private effort was expended in changing minds, bringing to bear market forces (for instance), or facing the problem in general. Today, then, we have a host of racists (on both sides) who stay within the law while hating those of another race. Problem not solved. But we do understand that passing laws to fix problems is the best way to go.

Take, for instance, feminism. Motivated predominantly by a large sense of self without regard for non-females and a rebellion against the existing authority (which was largely male), this movement burned bras, pushed the glass ceiling, and informed women that making a home, supporting a husband, and raising the next generation of humans was not good. No, not "not good enough"; not good. Men shouldn't be in charge. Women shouldn't be at home. Some argued that married women were rape victims at best and prostitutes at worst. Men either needed to get out or become female. Today? Well, lesson learned. Women are everywhere -- everywhere that used to be their venues as well as everywhere that used to be male dominated. They're pastors now despite the direct contradiction to Scripture. They're in combat of all places. Men, on the other hand, are declining in homes, families, fatherhood, jobs, education, even church. Churches have almost entirely lost the concept of manhood, denied the fundamental patriarchal structure of family and church leadership prescribed by Scripture, and abandoned just about anything in their structures that appeal to men. They are, after all, not supposed to. Remember? Men either need to get out or become female! Come on! Keep up, guys. Get in touch with your feminine side. Give up those testosterone functions. It's no longer fitting. Biblical, yes, but not fitting.

And, of course, there is the obvious concessions and surrenders offered in the area of sex and marriage. Sex before marriage was unacceptable. Now? Quite normal -- in the church. Marriage was about a man and a woman forming the basis for a family. Now it's about finding personal satisfaction and interpersonal compatibility. Suggesting today that marriage is the only biblical place for sexual relations, and that marriage is designed, largely, for procreation is tantamount to claiming that the Earth is flat. "Come on! We know better now! Get with the times!" So we surrender to the losses allowed by our recent forebearers and begin to evaluate truth, God, and the Bible from a non-biblical, culturally-based, worldly perspective.

And, of course, these things interact with each other. Contraception in the '50's was considered wrong, embraced in the '60's by feminists who no longer needed to "bear the burden" of having children, and moved to separate sex from reproduction. Marriage died a little. No-fault divorce spread in the '70's and feminists rejoiced that divorce was no longer primarily a male achievement. In fact, in 1980, the ratio of men divorcing their wives to wives divorcing their husbands was 600:1. By 1990, that ratio had changed to 1:12. For every man that divorced his wife, 12 women divorced their husbands. And marriage died a little more. Now the children of single mothers are approaching equilibrium with the children of married mothers, and marriage dies a little more, all due to creeping "sins of the fathers" in accepting early sin until it was codified and normalized.

There is a tendency to think "As it is today it has always been." Of course, that's an unconscious thought, because simple examination will tell you it's just not so. Sometimes things get better. Sometimes they get worse. Accepting what we see today as "normal" simply because we see it today would be a mistake. Suggesting that today's problems are the problem would be shortsighted. Unraveling the mess we've inherited from "the sins of the fathers" isn't easy. That's why it's so important to have a solid rock, a bottom line, a firm basis from which to draw a picture of reality. That's the Bible, God's Word. We can get skewed by worldly thinking, cultural perspective, "what is". It's not always based on truth. That is why the psalmist wrote, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psa 119:105). And "How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word" (Psa 119:9). A good approach to all of life.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Christians and Politics

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20).

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth (Heb 11:13).

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one (Heb 10:32-34).
There is a recurring theme in Scripture. The repeated concept is that we, as believers, are strangers in a strange land, visitors just passing through, "ambassadors for Christ", "exiles" waiting to go home. So I keep running into this mental conflict. Are Christians supposed to be involved in politics or not? If we are, how do we correlate that to the passages (and others) that I've listed? If not, why not?

So, what do we know? We know that Jesus said, "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" (Luke 20:25). I've seen accounts of people coming from a Christian position and arguing that we ought not be required to pay our taxes to the government. Jesus disagrees. Now, using legal, political means of controlling taxation, limiting taxation, and the like are probably something we are allowed to do. But it would appear that Jesus would argue against tax revolt.

What else do we know about the Bible and politics? Well, we know that God cares about politics. We know that "He removes kings and sets up kings" (Dan 2:21). We know that "there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (Rom 13:1). We are clearly told "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He will" (Prov 21:1). We know that God is intimately involved in human power and politics, and rightly so. The Bible even includes recommendations for what the character of a leader should be. "Look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people" (Exo 18:21). And, of course, if it is true that "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight" (Prov 9:10) and we want wise leadership, it would be natural that we'd want to have god-fearing people in leadership.

We also know that God uses people to intervene in politics. He called Saul and He called David to be kings over Israel. When the Jews were in jeopardy in captivity, Mordecai asked his cousin, Esther, in a position to influence the king, "Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14). We know that Joseph appeared on the scene (via evil means but by God's plan) to regulate Egypt and guide her and his family through a 7-year famine. Thus, the involvement of believers in the political arena is often guided by God, not excluded. And we can say with absolute certainty that there is at least one area where all believers ought to be involved in politics: "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim 2:1-2). I would suspect that many Christians are more involved in political activism than prayer for those in leadership positions. Over against that, prayer is commanded while political activism is not. That would seem to be backwards.

Wayne Grudem wrote a book entitled Politics - According to the Bible in which he tries to lay out a biblical perspective on Christians and politics. In the beginning, he warns against five false views:
1. Government should compel religion.
2. Government should exclude religion.
3. All government is evil and demonic.
4. Do evangelism, not politics.
5. Do politics, not evangelism.
If you think about them, I think you can easily agree and, further, see how recognizing them would encourage balance. His position is what he terms "significant influence".
The "significant influence" view says that Christians should seek to influence civil government according to God’s moral standards and God’s purposes for government as revealed in the Bible (when rightly understood).
So there is stuff taken right out of Scripture and there is helpful input from a believer. Still, I'm not clear. Are Christians supposed to be involved in politics or not? If so, how much so? Influencing civil government toward God's moral standards is a nice idea, but how far do we go with that? I notice, for instance, that the New Testament saints didn't appear to attempt to influence their civil governments. Indeed, in early Church history there was almost a universal distancing of Christians from politics. On the other hand, we are indeed commanded to be "salt" and "light". We are to pray for those in leadership. We are to live our lives in accordance with biblical principles and biblical morality and encourage others to do so as well. (That is, if "biblical morality" is God's version of "good" and, by extension, "good for you", why would we not want to encourage others to align themselves with His standards?)

In the end, I'm not sure I can align myself with those who say, "It's a sin not to vote." I'm certain I cannot align myself with those who say, "It's a sin not to be involved in politics." Political activism, as good as it may be, is not a biblical command. We are commanded to pray for our leaders. When we substitute activism and voting for prayer, that would be a sin, since one is commanded while the other is not. On the other hand, if we are to be light and salt in a world that badly needs it and if we believe that God's version of "good" is good indeed, it would seem like abstaining from all such activity would be a mistake if not a sin. Living it would be most important. Praying about it would be a command. Voting on it would be adviseable. Perhaps you can see that I'm just not entirely sure how far I can go with all of it.