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Friday, November 30, 2012


Perhaps you've heard. The Church of England decided some time ago to ordain women as priests. Recently, however, they voted to refuse to allow women (priests) to be bishops. That, you see, would be going too far.

There are, of course, debates going on over this. Douglas Wilson over at Blog & Mablog has been writing about repeatedly. (Great line from Wilson's essay: "The pig, once swallowed by the python, has to move on down the line.") Theologian N.T. Wright stepped in to explain how stupid it was. Denny Burk has responded to N.T. Wright and Scott from Prodigal Thought has countered Wilson. Well, you get the idea.

The question is not merely "Should women be allowed to be bishops?", but "Is there a difference between men and women?" The question is about egalitarianism or complementarianism. Did God create us to be the same -- coequals in value and role -- or complementary -- equal in value but different in role?

Well, of course, it's quite clear, isn't it? "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28). So what's the question? We are all one in Christ. National origin, birth lines, and gender have nothing to do with it when we are "in Christ Jesus" because in Christ Jesus we are all one.

This, of course, begs the question. If this is so, why did Paul say, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet" (1 Tim 2:12)? And, while we're at it, Paul, what's up with the "I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Cor 11:3)? And the questions don't stop there. Why are wives told to "respect" and "submit to" husbands but husbands are told to "love" wives? If there is no difference in role, why are the commands different? Why did Paul list "the husband of one wife" in the qualifications for elder/bishop/overseer if male was not an issue? And how in the world could he connect his 1 Tim 2:12 position to Genesis 1-3 if he knew it was changed? He, after all, wrote Galatians 3:28 as well as 1 Timothy 2:12-14. Was he, perhaps, forgetful ... or schizophrenic?

I think it's quite odd that women in the Church of England can be priests, but not bishops. The logic eludes me. If they can exercise authority over a man as a priest but not as a bishop, it's simply confusion ... at best. But the issue is not, again, that of priests and bishops. It is the ongoing and deepening question of whether or not God intended male and female to be equal in value (something all sides agree upon) but different in roles (the primary disagreement). Today's feminist-driven, egalitarian society would argue heartily from Galatians that clearly there are to be no gender differences. Oddly enough, they indicate that suggesting otherwise from those few verses I listed is poor exegesis. The good Bible student would see that the single verse on the subject proves the point that the multiples that disagree are not what they mean. That, you see, is good exegesis.

I'm not going to decide for you which is true. (Go on. Take a guess. Which do I favor?) The texts are there. And so are the adherents of both views. You can decide whether the historical position taken in the Church is exegesis or eisegesis1. You can decide whether the Church succumbed early on to male domination instead of biblical egalitarianism. Are the rare and sporadic references to female leadership in Church history a product of errors or a product of misguided male leadership? (Note that seriously asking the question of women in ministry didn't occur until the 1800's.) But however you decide, you should ask the questions. And however you answer them, it should not be on the basis of popular feminist perspective. That would be eisegesis.
1 Exegesis is the analysis of a text to interpret its meaning. Eisegesis is the reading into the text one's own meaning.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

That's Entertainment

Some time ago I read an article on the problem of porn (for Christians). The illustration went something like this. Imagine that your next door neighbors visit with you and your spouse and say, "Look, we like you. We're swingers and practice an open sexual relationship. Why not join us for sex?" "Oh," you tell them, "I'm sorry, but we can't do that. We don't engage in sex outside of our marriage." "No problem. We understand. Not everyone is like us. So how about this? Why not come over and just watch us have sex? No participation. How about that?" "No," you tell them, "that wouldn't be right either. It's too much like being involved, you know?" "Oh, sure," they say. "We understand. So, how about this? We'll video it and send you a copy."

You see the problem. We know we're not supposed to participate and we know we aren't supposed to be there, but watching it on a video is okay? The difference between participating and watching the video is too small to justify it. Big problem.

It makes me ask another question, though. If it's wrong to have another couple entertain you with their sexual practices, is there other entertainment that is wrong? Who is coming into your home to entertain you?

I know Christians who routinely tell me, sometimes in hushed tones because it's not "nice stuff", about the TV shows they enjoy that offer hardcore contradictions to biblical thinking and godliness. Often it's presented as humor. Sometimes not. For instance, GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) is happy to report that nearly 3% of all regular characters scripted for TV shows represent the homosexual community, with FOX leading the pack with 7%. One report said that some 80% of shows have pro-homosexual themes or stories. Is that how we should be entertaining ourselves? Leaving "gay" out of the picture, it seems that the standard television programming fare is pretty straightforward. Whatever the theme is, the storyline will be "People having sex and occasionally engaging in the theme." So you'll have hospital themes where doctors and nurses are engaging in sex and occasionally treating patients or lawyer themes where lawyers are are engaging in sex and occasionally defending clients or cop themes where police officers are engaging in sex and occasionally stopping crime or ... well, you get the idea. Is that the kind of thing that we should find entertaining?

There are people on my television that I would not want to spend time with in my house. They are rude, cruel, mean, unkind, immoral, and all the time treated as royalty. Why is it that I invite them into my home as entertainment? Perhaps as ministry, but I'm not able to minister to the people on my television.

Is this wise behavior? Or do we need to rethink this? I have a feeling that we Christians will condemn behavior as sin on one hand while watching it as entertainment on the other. It may include porn, but even "family programming" has jumped wholesale to the dark side. And I have a feeling that this isn't likely a good thing. But perhaps that's just me.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Calling Out Christians

I have, on more than one occasion, offered the phrase "genuine Christians" in my writings. In case the implication is unclear, what I have meant by prefacing the noun "Christians" with the adjective "genuine" is that there are folks that call themselves "Christians" who are, in fact, not genuine. They are lying or they are deceived, but they are not genuine.

Is this a fair thing to say? I would argue that it isn't merely fair; it's biblical. We are told repeatedly in the New Testament that false teachers would be the bain of the Church. They would "come out from us" (1 John 2:18-19). John calls them "antichrists". They would cry, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name?" (Matt 7:22). Tares among wheat. Judaizers. Heretics. They are not a matter of question. They are a biblical certainty. The Bible is abundantly clear that there will be false "believers" in the Church. For me, then, to suggest the same is not revolutionary, but simply submitting to the Word of God.

Last month Peter Heck wrote a piece arguing that it's a sin for Christians to vote for Obama. Understand that he did so in response to a Roman Catholic bishop who said the same thing. When the candidate supports killing babies in and even out of the womb, when he discards what Jesus defined as "marriage" and considers Jesus's view as discriminatory, when he embraces as moral what the Bible clearly calls sin, this writer considers it unchristian to vote for that candidate. He considers the term "Christian Democrat", considering today's Democratic Party platform, an oxymoron.

Is this a fair thing to say? Again, on the surface, given the Scriptures and the facts, it is a general truth. There are fake Christians -- people who perhaps believe themselves to be genuine -- whose choices and words (1 John 2:19) demonstrate that they are fake. It is fair, biblical, and rational. But let me say this. I do not aim to be the one to point fingers at individuals. It is one thing to say "There are false Christians" and it is entirely another to say, "and you are one." Using Heck's example, it is entirely true that the Democratic Party holds large swaths of anti-Christian values. That's a general fact. But arguing that everyone who votes for the party holds the equivalent values is questionable. The same is true in the Roman Catholic Church. Roman Catholic theology has some serious problems. It equates to "saved by works". It violates the concept of grace apart from merit (and does so explicitly). It eliminates imputed righteousness. If you hold to pure Roman Catholic theology, you do not hold to Christian theology. But I can say with absolute certainty that individuals in the Roman Catholic church do not subscribe (or even know of) that theology even though they're in that church. As a generality, then, the theology is wrong, but in terms of real individuals, I would not be able to say blindly, "All Roman Catholics are false Christians." It just isn't the case.

And, look, this isn't limited to "genuine Christians". I would, for instance, continue to stand on the certainty that homosexual behavior is a sin. On the other hand, beating my neighbor who is practicing homosexual behavior over the head with his sin would be pointless. Hunting down those in such behavior to shake my finger in their faces and warn them of God's wrath for that act wouldn't be of value. There are better approaches and, frankly, bigger concerns. (Trust me. No one is going to Hell because they committed a homosexual act. Rather, committing such acts is the product of a sinful life that needs Christ.) So declaring a general truth is not the equivalent to beating an individual over the head with the particulars.

Is it right to call out other Christians or to differentiate between "genuine" and "fake" Christians? Since Jesus did it, I'd have to say it is likely a good thing to do. Am I likely, then, to walk around pointing to people and telling them, "You know, you're not a genuine Christian"? No, not likely. I frankly don't know. So I will call out "genuine" versus "fake" in general, point to the differences, suggest that people in "this" category might need to check themselves, that sort of thing. Since God has not made me privy to the heart, so I cannot know. But for those who would argue that we should keep quiet about such things entirely, I would suggest that you'll need to take that up with Christ ... and the authors of Scripture ... first. You can give me your arguments after you straighten them out.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The New Normal

A woman I know is a single mother, the mother of two children whom she has spent most of her adult life raising. Her youngest just graduated from high school and she's on her own now, so to speak. She and her live-in boyfriend packed up and left big city living for the rural life. Maybe, some day, if they get settled enough, she might even marry the guy. Who knows?

The mother classifies herself as Christian. When her boyfriend was seriously injured in a freak accident, she called out to God. "Why would God do such a thing?" I, of course, didn't want to say, "Why wouldn't He? You aren't exactly living in sin on His behalf." But the guy has recuperated and she's not concerned any more. She is still concerned about her kids. When her 18-year-old son asked if he could have his girlfriend over to spend the night, she was aghast. "You don't get to do that!" "Why?" he asked. "You do." Her rationale? "This is my house, not yours. When you have your own house, you can decided what to do in it." Her older daughter is working full time and going to school full time to become a nurse. Mom is very careful to warn her repeatedly and publicly not to get involved with relationships with guys. "You've got your schooling to take care of. There's plenty of time after that."

This mother is not the point of this discussion. This mother simply illustrates a large number of parents offering an almost unified moral landscape. "I can do what I want and no one can tell me it's wrong. You know I know it's wrong because I keep telling my kids not to do it, but I'm going to indulge even while I tell them not to."

This parenting message is in contrast to the other side which, while certainly wrong, is at least more consistent. Like the story of the 50-something mother of 5 daughters who was upset that her 14-year-old daughter did not want breast implants. Outrageous! Mom had them. Her four older daughters had them. Why wouldn't the youngest daughter??!! But, no, this rebellious black sheep of the family wants to go to university and travel the world. Big breasts are necessary. Loser. In this scenario, mom has horrible issues ... that she is inflicting on her daughters as a good thing. Wrong, but consistent. "I do it; you should, too."

Indeed, parenting is not the point. What I find fascinating is the double standard that first single mom carried around. It's wrong to have sex out of wedlock ... unless, of course, I'm doing it. Or, it's fine to do it ... unless, of course, it's one of my kids who are. Like the double standard our country carries around on such issues. A president who commits adultery in office (and I mean literally in the office) is okay, but a general who did should resign. Adultery in theory is evil but if you actually do it it's not so bad. We all know that cheating on your spouse is dastardly, but there are websites dedicated to facilitating it and ... hey, look! ... Phoenix (my part of the world) ranked third in married men with mistresses. Reportedly some 31% of married men in Phoenix have a mistress. (And isn't it odd that a married man with a woman on the side has a "mistress", but a married woman with a man on the side has an "affair"? Why is one "evil" but the other just "an affair"?)

And we've nurtured these double standards for a long time. Men have a lot of sex with a lot of partners because that's what men do. They want "easy women", but they surely wouldn't marry one because no one wants to marry an easy woman, you know. So women need to be virginal. That, at least, was the case for some time. Of course, today it ain't necessarily so. Now men are evil for all their philandering and women that do it are feminists, leading the charge for equality.

A lot of time is spent disagreeing over what's right and wrong, it seems. "Oh, sure, you think that this behavior is wrong, but I think it's fine." I suspect it's not really as difficult as that. I suspect it's more of the same issue. We know what's right and wrong, but if I'm doing it, it's okay. We determine morality moment by moment instead of submitting to an actual standard. And we expect that God will surely agree with us on our current moral code, right? Well, He'd better! Or we're going to complain!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hollow Man

Hi. My name is Hollow Man. I am not gender-specific. You’ll find me in men and women alike. The specifics may vary, but the underlying characteristics will remain the same. Let me tell you about myself. Who knows? You may know me better than you think.

My primary concern is for the individual. Of course, the individual I primarily have in mind is me. I determine right and wrong, good and bad, worthwhile or a waste of time by what best pleases me. I may take drugs because it makes me feel better or I may refuse to take drugs because it’s bad for me, but, bottom line, my evaluations are based on me. America loves individualism, and I am the personification of individualism. My goals, values, and interests are all oriented to what suits me best.

Older generations had this sense of "selflessness". They were willing to sacrifice personal gain and pleasure for the good of others – family, work, God, and country. I am not plagued with that malady. I know what is important. How I look is important. What I own is important. My comfort level is important. I may realize that what I have isn’t quite enough, so I will continue to strive for more. I am a lover of pleasure. I disdain the notion of delayed gratification and believe that we should seek pleasure wherever we may find it. The old "if it feels good, do it" is a reasonable motto for me. The reverse is also true: if it doesn’t feel good, it’s probably not worth doing.

Some have described me as narcissistic. I may be preoccupied with my own needs and desires, but isn’t self-esteem the number one priority? Some say that truth is important; I ask, "What is truth?" I subscribe to the notion that truth is relative – that there is no such thing as absolute truth – not recognizing that this is a statement of absolute truth. I disdain those who are intolerant and judgmental, not realizing that I am being intolerant and judgmental in this view. I will do all I have to do to obtain what I deserve. I will manipulate my friends, family, even God to get what I think I should have. There is, after all, no one who is more important than I am.

Entertainment is important to me. It comes in many forms. However, I don’t think I need to really do a lot to obtain it. I think that I should be entertained. If the show I’m watching isn’t entertaining, I’ll switch to another. If the game I’m playing isn’t entertaining, I’ll go to another. If baseball isn’t exciting enough, I’ll watch football or basketball. When I get tired of this music group, there’s surely another around the corner that will bring new excitement. I don’t realize, of course, that excitement doesn’t last, and, unfortunately, the things that entertain me today are boring tomorrow. But it isn’t my job to amuse me. It is the job of the entertainers – the media and the musicians and the actors and the sports stars and the amusement parks and . . . well, our society is clearly built on this concept, so it must be true.

Some have tried to push us beyond the here and now, but I understand better than that. The clearest presentation of the world we live in is the senses. Religion may try to impress God on us, and that’s fine as far as it goes, but there’s nothing like science for the truth. Science tests things and proves things and demonstrates things. Pictures are worth a thousand words, so why read if I have the TV? I live in a world tuned to the senses – I should indulge them. What I feel is all that’s ultimately real. To go beyond the senses is to venture into the unknown and unproveable . . . and therefore the irrelevant. The deep thinkers, philosophers, theologians and the like are really unimportant to real life. Fortunately these days there are few of that type.

School may be of some importance to me, but only so far as it gives me a better life. If I can make more money, I might pursue an education, but why do some schools require all that History and English and the like? I might even go so far as a Masters degree if it means a larger income, but you’ll rarely find people like me with more than that because, frankly, it serves no purpose. Reading is not a priority with me, either. If I do read, it will undoubtedly be fiction, since that can provide some form of distraction. Frankly, reading is not entertaining enough, when I can get the images fed to me on the TV or movies screen.

I have been accused of having no heroes, but that’s simply not true. My heroes are the rock stars or the movie stars or the sports stars or the fashion stars of the day. I admire their looks or their abilities or whatever currently strikes my fancy. I am not the least bit concerned about their virtue. Character is not an issue. Good is defined not as that which is virtuous or right, but as that which gives me the most pleasure.

It’s a funny thing with me, but I hate quiet and solitude. I will always have a radio or TV going or be surrounded by friends. I may, for instance, keep myself in good shape (because looking good is important to me), but even while I exercise I’ll have the headset on with music going. A vacation is a good thing not because I can think more, but because I can think less when I vacate. Anything I can do to avoid real contemplation is a good thing. Noise is better than quiet, activity better than rest, and anonymous crowds better than solitude. It is much better to do than to simply be.

I am Hollow Man. Perhaps you know me. Perhaps you are me. I certainly believe my shallow beliefs and pursuits are important, and I will never, never ask "Why?" or "Could I be wrong?" or "Is there more to life than me?" I wonder if you don’t identify with me.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

One More Day

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened (Rom 1:21).
It appears that sinful humans have, at their core, a fundamental flaw. We suppress the truth (Rom 1:18). The result of this bottom-line error is that, although we know God, we do no honor Him as God or give thanks.

Failing to honor God and failing to give thanks -- two key elements in the downward spiral that is human sin. As a remedy for this, we have set aside one day a week to honor God as God and one day a year to give thanks. There. Problem solved. And I'm pretty sure you can see the inadequacy of our solution.

It's Sunday, a good day to honor God as God. Of course, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, in fact all of them are also good days to do just that. How would you go about doing so? Will you?

Thanksgiving was just this last week, a good day to give thanks. Of course, every day is a good day to give thanks. How about trying it today?

How about thanking God for that great job you have or the mediocre job you have or the lousy job you have or, if necessary, the lack of a job?

How about thanking God for excellent health, poor health, or anything in between?

How about thanking God for friends and family, those you have or don't have?

How about thanking God for being able to read, even if it happens to be this poor blog?

Whether strength or weakness, comfort or pain, ability or disability, pleasant or unpleasant, have or have not, we have very much to thank God for. Let's not limit it to one day. I don't plan to limit it to one lifetime.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The American Dream

On Wednesday, ABC News reported that the National Labor Relations Board had not yet decided whether they will stop the Walmart strikes. "Oh," you might say, "I wasn't aware that Walmart employees were union members." And you'd be right. They aren't. But the UFCW is organizing a picket against the stores.

I'm a bit confused myself. Apparently the union's strong arm euthanasia of Hostess didn't teach any lessons. "We need to stand up for our rights even if it costs everyone else theirs!!!" Apparently, despite all the laws in place protecting workers, Walmart is violating them. No, as it turns out, they aren't. So I suppose if you take a job at a company agreeing to work x hours for y pay, the company is wrong and even immoral for giving you x hours for y pay and you have the right to assault the company and their customers with your complaints.

Seriously, I'm not getting it. I don't recall living in a country where people are assigned jobs at low-paying companies. I don't recall living in a society where companies can prevent you from looking for a different job. So get a different job! Oh, you can't? So the fact that the company doesn't give you the hours you want at the pay you want means that the company is bad?

Maybe Walmart doesn't give its employees the hours they would like. Maybe Walmart doesn't pay them the wages they would like. Maybe Walmart, in its efforts to both make money and remain competitive in the discount market, isn't paying the wages and benefits the employees would like. Does that mean that the right answer is to move the company out of the discount business (and, let's face it, on to going out of business because without giving the best prices in town, who's going to shop Walmart?) in order to meet the demands of the workers? Is it the job of the corporation to accede to the demands of employees, especially when we're not talking about illegal or even immoral labor conditions? If we are going to give the rights to the employees to determine their own wages without concern for the company, why would anyone want to run a business?

Clearly, with all these questions I'm just baffled by the idea. The unions killed Bethlehem Steel and subsequently the city of Bethlehem, PA, because they weren't interested in maintaining the business; they were interested in getting more for themselves. The unions assisted management problems at Hostess to nearly end their existence because they didn't care if the company stayed in business; they were interested in getting more for themselves. Walmart employees don't care if shoppers are inconvenienced or what the company would have to do to meet their demands; they are just interested in getting more for themselves. I suppose it's just a reflection of our national attitude. Take from the rich to those who have in order to give it to me. "Right" is determined by "what I want". "I don't care what it costs everyone else just as long as I get mine." The new American Dream, I suppose.

Friday, November 23, 2012

But Is It Good?

At Tufts University a student-led club attempted formal club recognition. You know, be able to schedule events, use space on campus, that sort of thing. The campus chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship included a requirement that those serving in leadership of the Christian organization must embrace "basic biblical truths of Christianity". Well, such a requirement would violate the diversity and non-discrimination requirements of the school. Thus, in order to remove that particular diversity and in clear discrimination against the group, the university banned them.

You see, there is something we know for absolutely certain. Diversity and non-discrimination are good, and their opposites are bad. No one doubts it. No one. Well ... almost. Because I'm not seeing it. Some silly examples. Diversity in the women's locker room is likely a bad idea. You want women in there, not mixed gender. No one would suggest that a physics course should include English and History and Social Sciences because when the focus is physics, you want ... physics, not "diversity". And if you're really hard over in favor of non-discrimination, I really want visit your store. Because you could charge me $20 for something and I could pay with a $5 and if you protest I'd say, "You're discriminating!" And, of course, you are. You're discriminating between a $20 and a $5. You'd better be.

The point is not that diversity or non-discrimination are bad. My point is that you need to think about it. As the example above illustrates, defending diversity and non-discrimination by eliminating diversity and discriminating is ... well, insane. Think about it. It's like the guy who is yelling at you for being intolerant and judgmental without recognizing that he is being intolerant and judgmental. It doesn't make sense. Or how about Liberty University (you know, Jerry Falwell)? They banned the Democratic Party club because "we are unable to lend support to a club whose parent organization stands against the moral principles held by the university". Oh, now that's evil. That whole banning of Christian groups is okay. Azusa Pacific's banning of a conservative political organization is probably a good thing. But banning a Democratic Party group? Wrong! You see, folks, it just doesn't make sense.

Here's a big one these days: Bipartisanship. With the reelection of the president, the big call is for the conservative members of Congress to lay down and die in favor of "bipartisanship" because, as we all know, bipartisanship is a universal good. Oddly enough, when the Left refuses to budge on principle, that's a good thing. When the Right does it, however, it's "politicking". It's a refusal to compromise. What we need is a compromise like the President gave those religious organizations that opposed the demand that they violate their beliefs by requiring them to pay for contraceptives for their employees. "Okay," they were told, "you just have to have your insurance pay for it." But ... that's what the original law stated and that's what the original problem was. In what sense is that a compromise? Well, it's in the sense that the President called it such, so it must be. Bipartisanship. It's a good thing! Or ... is it? Would we really be better off if everyone in Congress simply thought the same thing, made the same decisions, walked the same path? Or do we need multiple, differing voices to stand without bending when something is not right? Would the left want their side to "go along to get along" with the right? Or does bipartisanship only work one way? From all that I've heard, that seems to be the case. And that's not a good thing.

I'm sure you could come up with a longer list than I have of things that are certainly and universally considered "good", but when you think them through they don't quite work that way. "Equal opportunity" is another example. Who could disagree with that? Well, in Sweden in order to obtain "equal opportunity", a school has banned gender. Yes, that's right. No use of male or female pronouns. You won't find "Cinderella" or "Snow White" in their library because that serves gender stereotypes. The aim is to eliminate gender role thinking and gender differences and provide "equal opportunity". You know, of course, that the opportunity will be equal in only one direction. Girls, for instance, will be allowed to play on boys teams, but you won't soon be seeing boys allowed to play on girl's teams. That just wouldn't be fair! So some people are more equal than others and "equal opportunity", as good as it sounds, comes into question.

You know, sometimes what we think is clearly and obviously good may not be. Do you suppose we're just as confused about "bad"? Why do humans find it so difficult to think these things through? I'm pretty sure you can supply your own answers.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Day, 2012

Perhaps it's passé to do a Thanksgiving Day post about thanksgiving. I mean, everyone does it, don't they? We know how it works. You're thankful. Yadda, yadda, yadda. And, being somewhat of a latent nonconformist, I might agree. However, coming here at the tail end of the election results with so many dark portends and rising fears and concerns, I thought that perhaps thanksgiving at Thanksgiving would be just what the doctor ordered. You know: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" (Phil 4:6). I've let my request be made known to God. I think some thanksgiving is in order.

First, in all the standard lines about giving thanks, it is so often unsaid to whom you are grateful. "I'm grateful for ..." is all well and good, but atheists celebrate Thanksgiving Day as well as believers. They're just not grateful to the same provider. So let me say up front and without equivocation that what I'm grateful for I'm grateful to God for. So while I'm grateful for the income, for instance, that comes from my job, I recognize that it ultimately is provided by God. While I'm thankful for my wife who is kind and loving and gives me so much and does so much for me, I recognize that it is all ultimately provided by God.

I am, then, grateful for lots of the "ordinary" things. You know. Enough to eat, a comfortable place to live, the clothes on my back, a job, a great family, a good church, all that stuff. I have a very pleasant life and I am very thankful for it. It is, in fact, so "ordinary" that sometimes it's easy to forget to be grateful, so I acknowledge that, repent of that error, and once again thank God for all that He has so graciously provided in those things. In, oh, so many ways, God has been very, very good to me. Mine is an extraordinarily pleasant life.

Beyond the ordinary, however, I'm grateful for the "unusual". I'm grateful for the blood condition that requires constant medication and monitoring. I cannot be complacent. I cannot fail to pay attention to what I eat or do. It's a good thing, a "weakness" that is a gift from God to remind me to be always and utterly dependent on Him. Thank you, God.

I'm thankful that God has put Barry Obama back in the White House. Not because I expect pleasant things. Indeed, I don't. Not because it reflects well on my nation. Indeed, it doesn't. But I am grateful because in all situations God is in charge, God works all things after the counsel of His will, and God will always does good. That may mean comfort or judgment. It will mean what's best.

I'm grateful primarily for my God Himself. Good times or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, blessings or problems, I can always be confident that He will do what's right. There is always purpose and always good in God's works and plans. When times don't look so good and circumstances look bleak, it's good to have a God I can trust. For that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Christian Duty to Vote

Now that it's past, I think I'll put this out there. That way I can do it without undue pressure or guilt while still making a plain statement and you can conclude what you wish. Nor can I be accused of partisanship. It isn't a call for you to elect my favorite candidate (especially since I've made it abundantly clear that I didn't have one). If you think my position is sound and you have something to remedy, there will be future voting opportunities and you can certainly register to vote now.

Maybe you didn't vote. Fine. But, is it the Christian's duty to vote? That's the question I want to examine.

First, let me be perfectly straightforward. Voting is not biblical. I mean ... duh. Governments of the Bible were not "of the people". What we take for granted as foundational today was unheard of in biblical times. Governments were by right of power or divine appointment and were kings, lords, sovereigns. So you won't find anything in Scripture that says "Thou shalt vote" let alone how Jesus would vote or guidance on the proper candidate to lead a country (or a state or ...). Thus, I would have to argue that failing to vote is not a sin.

I would argue, however, that the Bible has other things to say on the matter and, if you follow my thinking, I believe you'll conclude that it is the duty of believers to vote. First, we know that "there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (Rom 13:1). There is in many Christians a sense of the sacred and the secular. Some things are sacred -- the Church, worship, godly living, that sort of thing. Some are secular -- the car you drive, work, entertainment, and the like. Human government falls in the "secular" category. And this is false. The division is false. If God cares when a sparrow falls and numbers the hairs on your head, it cannot be suggested that some things just fall outside His areas of concern. And since the question is that of government, and governments "have been instituted by God", don't fall into the lie that government is secular and not your concern.

Beyond that, the Bible has more to say on voting than you might have realized. Take, for instance, Deuteronomy 1:13. "Choose for your tribes wise, understanding, and experienced men, and I will appoint them as your heads." Now that's interesting, isn't it? Notice the last statement. "I will appoint them as your heads." This is in perfect keeping with the Romans 13 verse. All authority is from God. "I will appoint them as your heads." And yet, the command is to choose them for yourself. Thus we have God commanding His people to choose leaders that He will ultimately appoint as authority. In other words, God uses means in what He does. Our method of government calls on us to do precisely that: Choose wise, understanding, and experienced men for our leadership. God establishes their authority, but we choose.

We know that "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people" (Prov 14:34). Now, for individuals, "righteousness" comes from God and is reflected in how we align ourselves with God's values. For nations, righteousness is not the same animal. It is a product of the leadership. Thus, a "righteous nation" would be the product of leadership that most closely aligns the laws and actions of a nation to God's moral values. It's a different concept. Thus, in order for a nation to be more righteous, it requires leadership with more righteous values. Similarly we know that "When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked rule, the people mourn" (Prov 29:2). Simple statement of fact.

So if righteousness exalts a nation and if "when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice" and if we are commanded to love our neighbors (and I would hope that no one would begin to doubt a single one of those premises), then it seems to me that while it may not be a sin for Christians not to vote, it would certainly be a duty to vote. If we love our neighbors and see that righteous leadership produces joy in our neighbors, it would be required of us to try to obtain righteous leadership for our neighbors, would it not? (Please note, by the way, that "the lesser of two evils" argument so often floated against voting at all is really stupid. All elections and all leadership for all time since Adam left the garden of Eden has been, at best, the lesser of two evils since there has never been a truly righteous, sinless human leader. Don't fall for that line. And national leadership is not church leadership, so don't buy into the religious litmus test: "I will only vote for a Christian." The aim is to elect people who share the closest values to God's values.)

Voting records indicate that genuine Christians in America are really poor voters. They have historically been split between Republican and Democrat. On one hand, that's no big deal because neither "Republican" nor "Democrat" is defined as "Christian". On the other hand, the Democratic Party has for decades espoused values antithetical to genuine Christianity. But beyond the splits between the two parties, the sheer numbers (or lack thereof) of genuine Christians voting has been dubious. One estimate I read suggested that less than half of evangelical Christians voted in the 1996 election. Worse, Time Magazine reported that in 2008 Barack Obama "captured 53% of the Catholic vote" and 44% of the votes of "voters who attend religious services". "Voters who worship at least once a month preferred Obama 53% to McCain's 46%." In Michigan Obama won 33% of the white Evangelical vote -- 30% in Indiana. Thus, those who classify themselves as Christian and with a little more strength than in name only voted largely in favor of the most pro-abortion candidate ever to run for the office.

If you believe that "righteousness exalts a nation" and if it is true that "when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice" (you know, like the Bible says), then it would seem obvious that it is indeed the Christian's duty to vote. Abstaining is not an act of love for your fellow man. It is an act of selfishness. I don't know how much of the Christian vote elected our current president either directly or in absentia, but surely you can see that voting is a privilege and a duty for anyone who is sincere about biblical values. Don't let another one go by.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The End of the World as we Know It

The Huffington Post has reported that Hobby Lobby has sued the government to block the portion of the new health care law that requires coverage for birth control. Hobby Lobby is a Christian-owned company (closed on Sundays) who holds that some of the contraceptives are abortifacients -- they kill babies -- and being required to provide them violates their freedom of religion.

The government, of course, disagrees. Abortifacients don't cause abortions. Don't be silly. (I'll come back to that in a moment.) And, besides, corporations aren't people. People have religious freedom; corporations don't.

Hobby Lobby is facing daily fines of $1.3 million if they fail to comply. Their alternative would be to drop health care insurance entirely for their employees. They would face $26 million in fines per year for this choice, but you can do the math. Or, of course, they can violate their own beliefs. This would be the demand and expectation of most people, I suppose. Oddly enough, in these bad economic times, Hobby Lobby has been growing. They've been hiring. Their minimum wage is 80% above the national average. So the government is planning to penalize a job-producing company in order to kill babies.

The result of the news of the suit is a strong outcry from the American people standing for religious freedom. Oh, wait ... no ... that's from a dream. Didn't happen. No, it's a boycott. The right thing to do, to the American public, is to eliminate religious freedom if it contravenes the right of women to choose to kill their babies.

They tell me the "doom and gloom" reports coming out from this most recent election aren't fair or reasonable. You draw your own conclusions. I did want to get back to that argument the government has offered about abortifacients. You see, they argue that abortion is a termination of a pregnancy. Pregnancy requires the fertilization and implantation of that fertilized egg. Abortifacients simply prevent the implantation of that fertilized egg, so no abortion takes place. This, then, illustrates my problem with the "anti-abortion" position. I have claimed all along and will continue to claim that I am not "anti-abortion". I am pro-life. You see, a fertilized egg is the first stage of human life. An unfertilized egg is not. Simple as that. Splitting hairs about "implanted" or the definition of "abortion" misses the point. I believe in the value of human life. Human begins at fertilization. Ergo, anything that intentionally ends the process after fertilization is killing a human.

As for your freedom of religion, surely you're not surprised about that, right? When we shifted from "Under God" to statism, where the State determines our moral values, we surrendered "inalienable rights endowed by our Creator". When we clung to "Separation of Church and State" as a mantra, we eliminated any basis for God-given rights. Your right to religious freedom has been on the chopping block for a long time. Don't be surprised (1 Peter 4:4, 12; 1 John 3:13).

Monday, November 19, 2012

Bible Study

I was talking to a friend who had been traveling ... for a couple of years. (Must be nice.) He told of staying in a small, out-of-the-way place for several months while visiting out-of-the-way family. He told me about the little church he and his wife attended while there and about getting a few people interested in a small Bible study. Frankly, that's exciting stuff. God has done a lot of work on my friend's heart. Of course, it wasn't easy getting them interested at first, but they came around. And he really overcame their resistance to the idea by going to the local bigger city for a Christian bookstore where he could buy books for the study. You see, "I wanted to be sure to get some good Bible study books because you don't want to get this thing wrong."

I heard a few interesting things in that comment. First, studying the Bible is good, nay, important, and getting it right is very important. Getting the Word wrong is a bad thing. I can think of a few people (types of people) who would benefit from such a perspective. Second, the Bible is difficult to get right. Studying it for yourself is, perhaps, okay, but studying it yourself for teaching more than yourself is likely unwise at best and dangerous at worst. Better leave that to the professionals. Third, if you can get it in a book, that's likely a good thing. I mean, they don't print books with false teaching in them, do they? Look, if someone has taken the time to write the book and someone else has invested the money to publish the book, surely there is some ... reliability there. Published Bible studies are far superior to just reading the Word and teaching it yourself.

Of course, my friend said no such thing. But it's what I heard. He may not believe a single thing I heard, but it's what I might infer from such a statement. And I would infer such because I think there is more than a small number of Christians who believe such. So, no reflection on my friend, but I do think this is a common view. Bible study is good ... but don't try to do it on your own. Leave that to the professionals. If you're going to be part of a small group studying the Bible together, it's probably best if you study a book about the Bible because those guys are professionals and you're not.

Does anyone see a problem with this?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Faithful Word

I'm sure you've heard by now about Rachel Held Evans's book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. She decided to live a year under the biblical mandates for wives. Ultimately, of course, her aim was to demonstrate how foolish they are, at least today. So, when she read, for instance, "It is better to live in a corner of the roof Than in a house shared with a contentious woman" (Prov 25:24), she understood that to mean "When I am a contentious woman, I need to go on the roof." Of course, that's not what it says nor even implies. The text obviously means that the husband would feel better on the roof if his wife was contentious. But, hey, let's not bother ourselves with details there, okay? To Rachel Evans, it is what it is ... even if it isn't.

Evans did a spectacularly good job at her aims. She aimed to ridicule any genuine reading of the Bible as written, and she did. She aimed to ridicule the biblical view of women and wives, and she did. She aimed to ridicule anyone who would suggest living by biblical guidelines, and she did. Beyond that, she accomplished a live demonstration of a popular belief: You cannot take the Bible for what it says and anyone who does so is either being dishonest, naive, or stupid.

Look, quite clearly the Bible is not a monolithic set of truth, rules, instructions, and guidelines for God's view of what we should believe or how we should live. It's ... a moving target, an evolving set of notions. It is applicable here for people here and not applicable there for people there and certainly not solid at any given point except perhaps in the most general of understandings of the concept of "solid". So, for instance, when marriage is defined by God in Genesis 2, you can't take that as a standard definition. Things change. And when Paul argues that there is "the faithful word" and "the teaching" as if there is such things, you can't take them as either "faithful" or "the teaching" as if such things exist. One thing we know is that everything changes and any claim to the contrary is stupid.

Except, of course, that claim comes from Scripture. God Himself claims about Himself "I do not change" (Mal 3:6). And Scripture claims about itself that it is God-breathed. As such, it cannot change. And logic demands that if there is indeed a God who is omniscient and immutable, His Word would be an accurate, faithful, one, single, God-approved set of truth. The only question remaining at that point would be the failure of humans to properly understand that truth. You know, like Rachel Held Evans.

So, for example, when God commands (both Old and New Testament) that we love God with all our hearts, it isn't a suggestion, a variable, a rule for a time but no longer, a guideline that we may or may not follow depending on circumstances. It's a monolithic, unchanging, faithful, and accurate command for all God's people for all time. And that is only the beginning of such truth and rules found in Scripture ... post-modern meaninglessness not withstanding. Anything else is an echo of Satan's first attack: "Did God say ...?" When you hear that query in whatever form it comes, remember that the father of lies has children. Remember, when someone stands against historical, biblical orthodoxy and suggests something new has superseded it, just such a thing was promised, and it's not from God. And you can relax just a little bit because it's not you in question at that point. It's God who is being attacked. Even by those using His own name.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


What do we want? Gender equality! When do we want it? Now! It's only fair. No gender is better than the other! All genders are ... well, equal! Generally speaking, I'm pretty sure most Americans agree with that notion. Our response to it, however, appears to vary.

In the 1960's and '70's there was a backlash to institutionalized racism that produced the "remedy" of "quotas". In order to fix the problem that non-whites had been unfairly treated over the years, institutions of higher learning and employers decided to unfairly treat whites. No, of course that's not what they decided. They just decided to, well, give non-whites preferential treatment. No matter how you slice it, that is not "racial equality". In the name of racial equality, then, the nation decided to be racially unequal because that is the best solution to racial inequality. No, wait ... well, that's what they did. We're still dealing with it today.

Gender inequality is an equal problem. The Feminism of that same era has produced a feminist backlash in its efforts to promote a "gender equality" that is nothing less than unadulterated gender inequality. Women are not equal to men; they are superior. Men are not simply as good as women; they are evil. Women do not deserve the same rights as men; they deserve special rights. Obviously, then, men deserve far less than women do.

This concept has become part of the fabric of our nation. Men are told to "get in touch with your feminine side", but women are never told to "get in touch with your masculine side." "Testosterone" is a synonym for negative aggression, but no such correlation occurs with female hormones. "Feminization" is typically considered a good thing, but have you ever heard of "masculinization"? (It exists.) Women in our society are important and valued; men, not so much.

In an article by Christina Hoff Sommers of the National Review, you can read some of the particulars. But think about it for a moment. When was the last time you saw a "Wear Blue for Prostate Cancer Research" advertisement? What? Never??! How can that be? Prostate cancer is the sixth leading cause of cancer-related death in men. I mean, we see lots of "Pink for Breast Cancer research" ads. That's great! Prostate cancer? No, not important.

It's not opinion. Obama's Affordable Care Act mentions "breast" 44 times and "prostate" zero times. "Women's health issues" are important. No programs for men's health issues. Why is that?

In 2009 when the president announced his stimulus package, he called for a "two-year 'shovel-ready' plan" for upgrading infrastructure. The outcry was tremendous. "Where are the jobs for women??!!" (Apparently feminists believed that women cannot do certain jobs.) Note the outcome of the loud and frequent protests. Even though men were losing jobs 2:1 to women losing jobs during that recession, the protests achieved their aims. The president's plans were massively modified. Men and infrastructure took the hit. Women were offered assistance. Yeah for gender inequality!

Our culture and its leadership continue to push for gender inequality in the name of its opposite. More men are at risk for cancer than women, but women are getting the emphasis. The number of women in higher education is rising while men are declining, but no one is working to change that. Women continue to get the emphasis. "Male favoritism" is under attack. The administration is pushing more Title IX reforms to fight it. And fewer and fewer men are receiving sufficient support and education to get advancement. This is not equality.

The backlash to racial inequality produced racial inequality in reverse and we still haven't righted that boat. "Affirmative action" still reigns, an action that treats one particular group with indifference in favor of another group. That's not equality. The voices are loud today for "marriage equality", by which they mean "strip marriage from its current definition to mean something new so that a limited group can now label themselves 'married' and, therefore, 'normal and moral'". It's not equality. Women's rights have been an issue for more than 100 years in America. The answer to that problem is to strip the rights of one gender and call it "equality". It's not. And, of course, to a large portion of Americans "economic equality" would mean taking as much as possible from those with more and give to those with less. That's "equality". We keep using that word. I do not think that word means what we think it means.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Making Things Right

Seriously, folks? I mean, seriously?

A U.N. report is calling for and international decriminalization of prostitution. Why? Here's what the story said:
The report called for the decriminalization of prostitution because it found “no evidence from countries of Asia and the Pacific” that outlawing the sex trade has prevented HIV epidemics among sex workers and their clients.
What? I was not aware that laws against "the sex trade" were aimed at preventing sexually transmitted diseases in general, let alone HIV specifically. Well, of course, that might be the case if laws (and morality) are predicated solely on the principle of harm -- we only outlaw that which does harm and harm is whatever we define it regardless of our constant failure to actually comprehend it.

The story goes on to say, "The terms 'prostitution' and 'prostitute' have negative connotations and are considered by advocates of sex workers to be stigmatizing." That, you see, is a no-no. Stigmatizing ... is bad. Stigmatizing, in case you weren't completely clear on this, means "to describe or regard as worthy of disgrace or great disapproval." And at no time ought we consider anyone worthy of disapproval. So calling a prostitute a prostitute suggests disapproval of prostitutes and, as such, ought not be used. "The term 'sex work' is preferred." Yes, that helps. I mean, who doesn't like sex?

"I would like to be a sex worker in New Zealand," said Mandeep Dhaliwal. She's the director of the U.N.'s director of the HIV, Health and Development Practice group of the U.N. Development Program. Nice.

"There is no evidence that anti-prostitution initiatives reduce sex work or HIV transmission, or improve the quality of life of sex workers," the group has reported. And, indeed, that alone should be sufficient reason to legalize prostitution, shouldn't it? Oh, wait ... I mean "sex work". Because the primary and only viable function of the law is to "improve the quality of life" for people. Now, I'm pretty sure "rapist", "child molester", and "pedophile" are certainly stigmatizing terms. Can't we come up with more approving language? And while we're at it, can we talk about the rotten "quality of life" that thieves, murders, and other criminals have to endure?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Tax for the Ages

According to the Christian Science Monitor, based on Census Bureau info, there are approximately 6 million American families that make over $200,000 per year. (The information didn't give an "over $250,000 per year" number.) The combined income of this "rich" sector of American families in 2011 was roughly $3.5 trillion per year.

Now President Obama is calling for a $1.5 trillion tax increase to fix our problems. "Wait! Did you say $1.5 trillion?" Yes, but don't worry. He only plans to tax that "over $250,000 per year" group. So, if he can just convince Congress to change their tax rate to ... let's see ... 3.5 divided by 1.4 ... 40%, it should all work out fine. That, by the way, is a 5% (or so) increase over the current rates, so the difference between what they now pay and they will pay will be a huge $34 billion. No, not much. But it will surely be our salvation. Yeah, that seems fair.

No, no, you "middle class" folks don't need to worry. It won't affect you. As Investors Daily explains, while 3% of small businesses make up Obama's "rich", they employ 54% of the total private American workforce. They are, as it turns out, America's job creators. Ernst & Young report that this tax increase would likely cost 700,000 people their jobs while these hard-hit entrepreneurs cut costs and hold off hiring and investing due to a hostile tax environment. But, trust the president. He said it won't affect the middle class or small businesses and you can rest assured that 97% of them won't be affected. Let's just hope that you're not working for that 3% that are. And since the government has decided that taxes are the answer to money woes, are you sure they'll stop at "the rich"?

But, hey, not to worry, because at least the poor won't be affected. But wait! The president's plan would be to reduce the tax benefits for the wealthy in things like mortgage payments and charitable contributions. Do you think that will have no impact on charitable giving from the rich? And who loses when they don't contribute?

But, not to worry. It's just the evil wealthy in the crosshairs here. As long as you have yours, you can wag your finger at those rotten rich and taunt, "You thought that you had yours, didn't you?" We who aren't rich can take a much higher moral ground, you see. And we who make less are safe. I think. Right?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why do the Wicked Prosper?

It is, perhaps, a long quote, but necessary. Written by Asaph:
1 Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. 2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. 3 For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. 5 They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. 6 Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. 7 Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. 8 They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. 9 They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. 10 Therefore His people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. 11 And they say, "How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?" 12 Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.

13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. 14 For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. 15 If I had said, "I will speak thus," I would have betrayed the generation of Your children.

16 But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, 17 until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. 18 Truly You set them in slippery places; You make them fall to ruin. 19 How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! 20 Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when You rouse Yourself, You despise them as phantoms.

21 When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, 22 I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward You. 23 Nevertheless, I am continually with You; You hold my right hand. 24 You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will receive me to glory.

25 Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 27 For behold, those who are far from You shall perish; You put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to You. 28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works (Psa 73).
In view of current events, in view of the election outcome, in view of the tragic illustration of America's stupidity and sin, in view of God's judgment on this country, I thought this entire passage was quite illuminating.

We tend to think of "the rich" as "them". It's that 1%. It's those really, really rich guys. You know. In truth, America is "the rich". Our poorest people outrank most of the world in income and comfort. And we tend to think of "the wicked" as "them". You know, the rapists and murderers, the rich and the powerful, those types. This, of course, falls horribly short of God's definition. The dictionary defines "wicked" as "evil by nature and in practice." Biblically that would include all of us; some of us simply have the benefit of assigned righteousness not our own. But as a group, "the wicked" would encompass all who make a practice of sin, who stand against God's moral values in favor of their own. Putting this together, then, America as a whole stands as the rich wicked. As a nation we've rejected or diminished God's values such as marriage, family, and human life. We've embraced perversion, theft, even fiscal responsibility. As a nation we've moved away from God and toward the State as god. As a nation, we are the ones Asaph wrote about.

Americans in general don't have guilt. They are known, instead, as "fat". They don't seem to suffer the troubles others do. Pride, to Americans, is a virtue. Decade by decade they multiply their follies. Oppression is threatened and malice against those who disagree is encouraged. I myself have almost heard the very words from them, "How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?" Behold, America. "Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches."

The danger is in envying them rather than praying for them. Why do the wicked seem to prosper? And why shouldn't we? What value is there in being good if they can get ahead without it? Only the good die young, right? Seems like too much work and too little reward.

The cure is Asaph's cure. It is twofold. First, "I discerned their end." Isn't it pointed that he says they are "swept away utterly by terrors"? We need to see the slippery spot in which wicked, rich America stands and recognize that God will not endure it forever. Second, "Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Recognizing that true value, true worth, true reward, true purpose is not found in comfort or pleasure. It is found in God alone. It cannot be found anywhere else.

In light of current events, for me there is great comfort in difficult times knowing "I am continually with You; You hold my right hand." It may not be pleasant, but it is comforting.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Is God Omniscient?

Any historically orthodox Christian with half a brain will look at that title and say, "Huh? Well ... of course He is!" If you do that too readily, I would suggest you haven't closely examined the question.

Here's what we know. We know that God "knows the secrets of the heart" (Psa 44:21). We know that David was certain that "in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them" (Psa 139:16). "Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord" (Psa 139:4). King David told his son, "The LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought" (1 Chron 28:9). Quite clearly "The eyes of the LORD are in every place" (Prov 15:3). The disciples prayed "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men ..." (Acts 1:24). How many times were there incidents like when David asked God if his enemies would surrender to him and God told him they would (1 Sam 23:12)? Or who could forget the story of Jesus when they brought the young paralytic to Him. He forgave his sin. The scribes were reasoning in their hearts, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" The text says, "Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them ..." (Mark 2:8). Jesus was quite sure "Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Matt 6:8). He claimed that a sparrow doesn't fall without God knowing it and that "the very hairs of your head are all numbered (Matt 10:29-30) (suggesting that no knowledge is too small for God). In fact, Jesus knew what people would have chosen had their circumstances been different (Matt 11:12). The author of Hebrews tells us, "There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Heb 4:13). And John was not ambiguous when he wrote, "God is greater than our heart and knows all things" (1 John 3:20). And then there is the pile of biblical prophecy where God and His prophets made predictions about all manner of things that all came true.

Here's what else we know. We know that God asks questions. Typically questions are asked because we lack information. God asks questions. He asked, "Where are you?" when Adam and Eve were hiding (Gen 3:9). He asked Cain, "Why are you angry?" (Gen 4:6) and "Where is Abel your brother?" (Gen 4:9). When the woman with the issue of blood touched Jesus's garment, He asked, "Who touched My garments?" (Mark 5:30). Questions.

In other places there is the very clear implication that God is discovering something new. When Abraham lifted his hand to sacrifice his only son, God stopped him and told him, "Now I know that you fear God" (Gen 22:12). On multiple occasions in Jeremiah God says of Israel's sin, "Nor did it ever enter My mind" (Jer 7:31; 19:5; 32:35). When the centurion told Jesus just to order his servant well, it says "Jesus marveled at him" (Luke 7:9).

So, which is it? Is He omniscient or isn't He?

Without actually trying to correlate the apparent contradiction, many will assure us that God is omniscient but doesn't know what Man will do. Pure, unmitigated cognitive dissonance. He knows everything but doesn't know everything. "Man has Free Will," they tell us, "and in order to have Free Will God cannot know what we will choose or we are not free to choose." Some take it beyond that to Open Theism, where God knows all that can be known ... but that doesn't include Man's choices. They redefine "omniscient" to mean something different. "See?" they say, "He knows all things ... that can be known." Still, traditional, historical, orthodox Christianity sides with the Scriptures that indicate absolute omniscience rather than contradictory or limited omniscience. Which is it?

The Genesis 4:9 reference gives us a hint about God and His questions. He asked Cain where Abel was, but it is explicitly clear that He knew the answer. Cain gave the classic denial, "Am I my brother's keeper?", but God answered, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to Me from the ground" (Gen 4:10). This is a repeated thing in God's dealing with people. He asks not because He doesn't know, but because He does know and needs them to recognize it.

There is another factor to consider. While we understand "know" to mean one basic concept -- "knowledge" -- the Scriptures use the term in a few different ways. One is the same as ours -- to mentally apprehend something. But far more often it is used in a rather different sense. When Adam "knew" his wife, it was not a mental apprehension of a fact. When Jesus "never knew" those false prophets, it was not a failure to have knowledge. Greek, in fact, includes two basic ideas of "know". One is ours. The other is more at experiential knowledge. So you may "know" what it means to jump out of an airplane by watching films of it, but your knowledge of it will not be the same as when you actually do it. In this sense, then, God can know that Abraham feared Him and still, in a different sense of the word, "experience" it when he offered his son as a sacrifice. That is, it moved from "know" to actual practice, not requiring any change or new information for God.

There is another concept that is sometimes at work here. In many places in Scripture God deals with His creation in terms that His creation can understand. It is called "anthropomorphism" and sometimes "phenomenological language". We know, for instance, that "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Gen 6:8), but we also know that God is spirit. You see, a spirit doesn't have eyes. Nor hands. Nor feet. Nor a head. Nor a nose. Yet all of these components (and more) are used in varying descriptives of God, not because He has them, but because we understand them. Anthropomorphisms. And phenomenological language refers to those types of things that are described as how they appear without necessarily meaning what actually happens. An obvious example is "sunrise". It appears that the sun rises. We all know it doesn't. But we use the term. We know, for instance, that God doesn't change His mind, yet some passages are worded to say that He "repents" (or "relents" or ...). That's what it looks like. That's the phenomenon. That's not what actually happens. So when it appears that God doesn't know something, it may be merely an appearance without a reality. When Jesus marveled, it wasn't necessarily because it was new information. The language describes the phenomenon of Jesus experiencing the truth He already had. And we are to "make known" to God our petitions (Phil 4:6) even though He already knows what we need (Matt 6:8).

God is omniscient. The massive weight of Scripture makes that clear. There is nothing that God doesn't know. His knowledge, in fact, isn't like ours. We know by acquiring knowledge. He knows it by His nature. Certainly there are passages that imply that God might not know something. For those, you have a few options. You can decide that Scripture is unreliable, no such God exists, and be done with it. You can hold contradictory views in tension, believing that God knows everything but doesn't know everything. Or you can read them in such a way that aligns the two views rather than placing them in competition. I choose the latter.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Getting What You Bought

A majority of Americans reelected the most pro-abortion, anti-religious freedom president in history. Sometimes you get what you paid for. Americans wanted him. We got him. Be prepared. We can expect changes.

Look for a decrease in religious freedom, an assault on your right to bear arms (as well as the notion of national sovereignty), a decline of good doctors, a loss of jobs both from his reelection and from his "tax-the-rich" strategy, and higher energy prices (as if they weren't already high enough) ... as promised.

And this is just beginning. He's bringing the change he promised. I hope you like it.


Today we celebrate Veterans Day. It's a day we celebrate all Armed Services veterans who have served in the grand task of defending our independence.

The dictionary says that independence is "freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others." Think about that for a moment. Freedom from ... control, influence, support, or aid. You're on your own, folks.

We think of independence as the freedom to do what we want. That's not quite accurate. With a minimum of thought it should be abundantly clear that "independence" is the opposite of "dependence". And when it's put that way, I have to wonder ... is that a good thing? Oh, of course, we Americans are almost pathologically independent. We don't want anyone telling us what to do or asking anything from us. It's almost not freedom that we want, but anarchy -- the right to do anything if we so desire.

But I don't think we're made for independence. As we know from common sense (and John Donne), "No man is an island." Human beings do not thrive in isolation. You've heard the famous (and oft-misquoted) quip about bells, haven't you? That was part of the same quote from John Donne. He said, "Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee." The reason he said that was because he said, "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde." Independence? Maybe not as good of an idea as you might think.

Me? I don't actually want independence. I want absolute dependence. Some argue that "God doesn't want robots." Maybe. But there is nothing I'd like better than to be God's robot. Not going to happen, I know. But I can still recognize the actual fact that "in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). The more time I spend working on "independence", the more irrational it is. Me? I want utter and complete dependence on God.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Holding Fast the Faithful Word

According to Paul, he sent Titus to Crete for a purpose. He sent him there "that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders" (Titus 1:5). In that first chapter, Paul goes on to spell out the necessary credentials for an elder. One of the tasks of the elder is "that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict" (Titus 1:9). (I find that interesting, given the number of church leaders who aren't too concerned about rebuking those in their care. But that's not where I'm going with this.) He gives a reason that the elder will need to do this: "There are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers" (Titus 1:10). Paul apparently was of the opinion that the church would be infused with "many" who would be "deceivers" by means of "empty talk" and "insubordination". Imagine that! (Or, should I say, "so true"?)

Paul does not, however, hang that requirement out in the air. He gives a method, a basis, a mode of operation whereby the elder can do this. Do you know what it is?
He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught (Titus 1:9).
In order to qualify as an elder, a man must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught. It is the means by which ("so that") he will be able to both instruct in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict -- those insubordinate, empty-talking deceivers.

Okay? So here's the idea. First, an elder, who must not be a young Christian (1 Tim 3:6), has to have been taught the Word. The text, in fact, literally says he must hold fast the faithful word "according to the teaching". One teaching. A common teaching. It is the sound doctrine Paul entrusted to Timothy (1 Tim 4:6) and told him to pass on to faithful men (2 Tim 2:2). An elder must know the Word and have sound doctrine. Second, he needs to cling to the Word and be able to apply it in order to demonstrate sound doctrine. It is the basis for sound doctrine. (Note, by the way, that the sound doctrine that Paul was referencing was present then and being passed on then. That means it isn't something new, isn't something changing, isn't something recently discovered. Sound doctrine is historical, biblical orthodoxy. Don't let anyone convince you otherwise.) Additionally, he must have a firm enough grasp on the Word to be able to recognize error when he sees it and address it.

An elder's job includes both instructing sound doctrine and rebuking those in error. These are both predicated on a firm and continued grasp of the Word. While we may not all be elders, it would be wise, I think, to seek to hold fast to the faithful Word for purposes of sound doctrine and rebuking error. We don't all need to be elders, but we all need the Word, sound doctrine, and response to error.

What are you doing today to improve your grasp of the Word and sound doctrine?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Woe" is Not a Positive Thing

Oh, now, come on!

So, while NYC's Mayor Bloomberg is hard over in favor of murdering babies in the womb, he is compassionate enough to ban sugared drinks from the city's fast food outlets. Bad, you see. Ought not be. And now I come across a CBS report that he has outlawed food donations to homeless shelters. What??!!

"Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness" (Isa 5:20).

Just ... wow!

(Ironically, on the side of the story when I was looking at it was an ad inviting donations for people affected by Sandy. Sorry. Not gonna happen. The city can't evaluate the quality of the donations. It would be interesting to see if he'd try to be consistent on that. I'm not expecting it.)

About Us

With the reelection of a president who brought about more national debt in his first term than any other president in two terms, who is the most adamant supporter of all levels of abortion, who is openly hostile to people with money, who has come out in favor of redefining marriage and pushes rules that edge out the freedom of religion, and so many more difficult views, we have moved to a new philosophical location as a country. America has shifted.

It was interesting (or maybe that's not the right term) to read about the demographics of the vote. For instance, men voted more for Romney than Obama. Married women voted more for Romney than for Obama. Single women, on the other hand, voted more for Obama. People in rural areas were more for Romney. Cities were more for Obama. The larger the city, the larger the percentage. Whites were more likely to vote for Romney while Blacks, Hispanics, and even Asians were much more likely to go for Obama. Older people preferred Romney over Obama. Younger people (18-29) by far favored Obama. Interestingly the 30-to-44-year-old age group shifted in this election to more Obama than Romney. Religion was an obvious factor. If you attended church, you were more likely to vote for Romney. If you were Evangelical, you were more likely to vote for Romney. If you were Protestant, you were more likely to vote for Romney. On the other hand, those without religion, Jewish folk, even Catholics were much more likely to vote for Obama.

Add to that the rest of the vote. Two states legalized marijuana. No, not for medicinal use; for recreational use. Both Colorado and Washington now allow marijuana for personal use. Three more states redefined the concept of marriage to include couples of the same gender. Beyond that, public polls indicate a continual shift on that score. While something like 33 states currently have laws defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, given the federal appeals court ruling of the unconstitutionality of DOMA -- the Defense of Marriage Act -- and the support at the top for stripping the concept of its meaning, it shouldn't be long for those other states to cave in either by popular vote or by judicial legislation. In Massachusetts the measure to legalize assisted suicide barely failed. Don't expect that to continue to hold up. In Arizona a self-avowed anti-theist (as opposed to merely an agnostic or even atheist), bisexual, socialist openly opposed to stay-at-home moms is on the verge of going to Congress. In Wisconsin the first openly gay has been elected to Congress. In Nashua, NH, the first openly transgender was elected to State government. Times, they are a-changin'.

We're not looking at a presidential campaign. We're looking at a paradigm shift. The demographics tell the story. Christians want to retain former values ("conservative") and the rest do not. Married people want to retain former values and the rest do not. Older people want to retain former values and the rest do not. White people want to retain former values and the rest do not. Who is in the decline, then? Christians, married people, older Americans, and white people. Who wants to change to newer values -- to eliminate marriage as it was, to rule out drug rules, to tax the rich and share the wealth rather than simply earn what you can, to eliminate the rights of the unborn and the rights to freedom of religion? Those who have no Christian values and who have no investment in the traditional, longstanding concept of marriage. Those who have less, feel slighted, or are too young to think it through.

Face it. If you're a Christian, you're now in the minority in America. If your values are informed by the Bible or by the church, you're not going to have the popular view. If you're white, you're not right. If you're married, that definition is losing its meaning. (Don't let them try to tell you that the meaning of marriage doesn't matter. The voting results say otherwise.) If you're older than 45, you're views are not helpful. If you're satisfied with your life, you have no place at the table of ideas. As one man from China said on the Internet, "Warm congratulations to the American people. Under the wise leadership of the Party Central Committee headed by the wise and brilliant Obama, you have crushed the attempted usurping of power by the counter revolutionary group led by Mitt Romney." Welcome to the new America.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Three Wills of God

I thought I'd written on this before, but I can't find it. If it's there, it's just embarrassing because ... it's my own blog! Well, since I can't find it and since it continues to be an issue for a lot of people, I thought I'd write it ... again?

The question is regarding the will of God. Years ago when my youngest son was in high school, he asked me, "Dad, how can I know the will of God?" "That's easy, son," I answered. "Everything that has happened up to this moment in time has been God's will." Well, of course (as my kids came to know about their dad), it was not the answer he expected or wanted. "No, I mean in the future!" "Oh, that. Yeah ... that's much harder."

Seriously, what do we know about the will of God? Now, remember, we need to operate from the revealed rather than from what we want or think or premise. Let's not impose on God that which He hasn't given about Himself. So, working from what we know from Scripture, what can we tell about the will of God?

Well, there are different senses of the use of the word "will". We can say quite definitely, for instance, that it is God's will for us to be perfect. Perfect obedience. Sinless. Why? Well, He laid down commands and instructions. He clearly wills that we follow them. One of those comes from the lips of Jesus Himself: "You are to be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matt 5:48). Clear enough. Got it. But ... we aren't. And if anything is clearer in Scripture than the fact that God wills us to be perfect is that we are not. Thus, we can clearly see that God's will is not accomplished in this sense.

Another use of the word "will" would include "desires". The Bible talks on multiple occasions about God's "will" in the sense of "desires". We know, for instance, that "God is not willing that any should perish" (2 Peter 3:9), and while we could discuss who "any" referred to, it is clearly His "will" in some sense. A parallel would be God "will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4). That's pretty clear. God desires "all men to be saved." That's ... His will. And while there may be some outlying disagreement, I think the Bible is abundantly clear that not all will be saved. Indeed, narrow are the gates that lead to life. Conversely, "the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many" (Matt 7:13-14). Again, here is a sense in which God's "will" is stated clearly and, yet, certainly does not come to pass.

So we have at least two senses of the use of the word "will" in which God's will is not accomplished. And that gives us a bit of a dilemma. Job was confident that "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2). He knew that God "is unchangeable, and who can turn Him back? What He desires, that He does" (Job 23:13). Solomon contrasted Man and God by saying, "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand" (Prov 19:21). Paul assured us that God works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11). He referred to God as "the only Sovereign" (1 Tim 6:15). Heaven itself declares Him the "Sovereign Lord, holy and true" (Rev 6:10). So, which is it? Does He will perfection and desire the salvation of all and His will is blocked, or does He actually accomplish His will? Well, to make sense of it, the answer would be "Yes". That third use of the concept of "His will" would be a third sense. That third sense would be what actually happens. Nothing good happens without God willing it. Nothing bad happens without God willing it. All that happens occurs because of this Sovereign sense of God's will.

There are, then, three perspectives from which to view God's will. Theologians offer handy names for these three. There is His "preceptive will" -- that which He commands. There is His "will of disposition", that which He desires. These two are violable. The third is God's Sovereign or "decretive" will. That one happens ... always. Nothing happens outside that one. There isn't one maverick molecule. Some refer to His "permissive will", His "preceptive will", and His "decretive will" (like here). Others refer to His "intentional will", God's ideal plan, His "permissive will", that which He will allow and use, and His "ultimate will", that which occurs, good or bad, that He ultimately uses to accomplish His good purposes (like here). Lots of names. Same concepts.

Quite clearly, the names are our own inventions, but the concepts are not. They are straight from Scripture. Without these quite biblical concepts about God's will, you cannot arrive at a reasonable perception of God's Will in any rational or complete sense. On the other hand, understanding that God intends some things, permits others, and ultimately accomplishes His own plan will, when properly considered, produce a great deal of comfort, especially when faced with trials and troubles. It is ultimately true then that God does work all things together for good. And that's a good thing.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Something to Think About

I think it's pretty clear that I do not think that electing Obama for a second term (or, in fact, a first term) was a good idea. If I left that in doubt, let me clear it up. Not a good thing. The president's agenda thus far has included advancing the cause of abortion, diminishing marriage, increasing sexual sin, theft through unwarranted taxation, and so on. These are not classified as "good". Indeed, I think it is clear that they would be classified as "evil" in my book.

However, you must remember: I stood and still stand on the Sovereignty of God. I believe, in fact, that nothing happens without God's express permission -- His will. I do believe that God ordains evil, allowing it in order to accomplish His purposes which, by definition, would be good. Evil remains evil, but God is able to use it ("intend it") for good. Indeed, I am convinced (because my Bible is abundantly clear on this point) that "there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (Rom 13:1). Taking the worst possible evil government that comes to mind, then, I would conclude that Stalin or Mao or Hitler were all "instituted by God". Just because Obama's agenda is less egregious than theirs doesn't diminish the fact that God put Him there.

One objection might be, then, "Why are you cast down?" You know, if it's all God's will, why be upset about it? Well, rationally, it is perfectly reasonable to understand and concur that God's will is at work and will be for good while still recognizing that it will be painful and difficult and ... upsetting. If you disagree, I'll stand in line behind Jeremiah and Jesus for you to correct. Jeremiah wrote Lamentations knowing that the judgment on Israel was God's work. It still hurt. Jesus prayed in the garden, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me," while still relying on God's will. It's human to hurt. It's not a bad thing.

I know, then, that God is Sovereign and has even instituted another round of leadership for a president that is proving himself to be an agent of evil. I know that it is, in the final analysis, good. I don't know what that final good is. But consider this. Generally speaking, when the authority that God institutes is an evil authority, He does it for purposes of judgment. It's not "blessing" or "joy", but judgment. It may be a temporary judgment or the demise of a nation, but it is judgment. So, what is the proper response when God brings judgment to a people?

Is it "Let's get out the vote next time!"? No, not really. Is it "Let's rally our cause and take back Washington!"? Can't find that in Scripture either. There is a singular proper response to God's judgment. That is repentance.

Repentance is not "feel bad". It is a change of heart. It is a change of direction. It is an awareness of genuine sin in our lives that cries out to be addresses, repudiated, and removed. What sin? Well, that's your concern. I can see potentials. We didn't care enough about our neighbors to be lights in the darkness. We didn't shine the Gospel in our corner of the world. We have been too much "friends with the world". Our good works have not reflected glory on our Father. Just some starters to consider. But we all have them and the proper response is not to rally the troops. It is to get ourselves right with God and to urge all around us to do the same. The Lord told Solomon, "If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chron 7:14). This was a promise made to Solomon, to Israel. I'm not suggesting we have the same promise. It should be obvious, however, that if we, as adopted children of God, humble ourselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from sin, it could only be a good thing. On the other hand, if we see the current government (instituted by God) as a reason for pride, a reason to rally, a point of contention, and a possible cause for questioning God's wisdom, surely it's clear that this would not be a good thing.

Repentance for judgment or rally for rights. You choose. Something to think about.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Election Response

The elections are over (for which I am deeply grateful). Your candidates ______(won/lost). (Fill in the blank.) You are ________ (glad/depressed). We are looking at ________ (salvation/disaster). And no matter who won and who you wanted to win, the answers will vary.

You may have thought your vote helped determine who was in power. You may have felt vindicated on that notion or suffered a loss. But remember,
There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God (Rom 13:1).
For those of you who were appalled by the outcome, remember. God is Sovereign and Jesus saves. The government is not and does not. For those of you who were delighted by the outcome, remember, "It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes" (Psa 118:9). Delighted or worried, always keep in mind that "The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes" (Prov 21:1).

To all the Christians in America, then, I'd like to recommend a course of action. Regardless of whether the outcome was what you hoped or not, I would suggest this:
I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity (1 Tim 2:1-2).

America's Choice

Romney Concedes is splashed all over the place as President Obama wins a second term. Beyond Romney's loss, America loses. It loses in its fight for the lives of babies. It loses in its fight for the freedom of religion. It loses its weakening grasp on a workable or even logical economy. Marriage is on the way out by way of defining it into meaninglessness. It loses in this and more not because President Obama won, but because they voted him in.

The headline reads, "Minnesota voters reject marriage amendment." While 30 other states have just such an amendment, Minnesotan voters "opened the way for backers to push for legal same-sex marriages in Minnesota." Like someone told me in disgust after California's Prop 8 passed, "How would you feel if someone told you you couldn't marry who you wanted to?" The logic falls apart, of course, indicative of the whole problem. "How would you feel" is not the question to be asking, and "do what you feel" is not a good moral mandate.

There is a lot of what the president says and stands for with which I disagree to varying degrees. One thing I agree with him on wholeheartedly. America is not a Christian nation. "When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked rule, the people mourn" (Prov 29:2). And we Christians should remember that Americans have voted for the unrighteous leadership and positions. They weren't forced on us. We should rightly realize that we are not being the light in our world that we ought to be. And while the final judgment of humans is at last day, judgment of nations is temporal -- done in real time. There is no reason to expect continued mercy from God on a nation that has turned her back on Him.