Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Praise and Worship

Jamie Smith is a Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College. He recently wrote an open letter to praise bands. It's an interesting read, but, more importantly, an interesting thought exercise.

1. Do you appreciate the time and effort that people put into leading music at church? My church, for instance, has two services. We aren't a big church, so that means that those who lead the singing will be doing both services while us "normal" people will only be there for one. Add to that the time to practice, the dedication to quality, the preparation both in content and in heart, and it becomes quite an investment. They deserve our appreciation.

2. Is it worship leading or is it performance? I've been in front in the past. I've led singing, played music, that sort of thing. I stopped for a variety of reasons, but one that I don't typically mention is the fact that the entire task of leading music coupled with the popularity of entertainment lends itself to the sense of performance rather than worship leading. Drawing the line between "quality" and "performance" is difficult. Fighting off the quite natural human desire to be noticed and appreciated ("I just love our music director; he sings so well and really puts us in the mood.") tends to feed more of the ego than the attention to the divine.

This problem is typically reflected in the congregation as well. We think of the front platform as a "stage" (often because that's exactly what we call it) and the people on it as "performers" and we appreciate a "good performance" and aren't thrilled with a "bad performance". We applaud (quite literally) skill and technique, but don't really pay as much attention to lyrical content or the direction the music takes us. (How often, for instance, do worship leaders practice Col 3:16?) We often make the most skilled musician the worship leader without regard to spiritual qualification. Some churches even make the worship group a paid position because we want the best talent. As such, the congregation feeds off a sense of performance which the worship leadership has to fight in itself. Problem.

The problem is the worldly mindset. The people up front are the performers. The congregation are the audience. And we have a concert going on. Not nearly accurate, of course, but it's how we tend to think. There is indeed an audience in church on Sunday. It's God Himself. And there are indeed performers on Sunday. They are each and every member of the congregation. The worship leaders (and pastors and all), then, have the task of leading, not performing. They direct the performance of the congregation to provide God the best possible pleasure. That, of course, is not the standard thinking of the world and it is too often not the standard thinking of the congregation.

In the article, Smith writes several suggestions for "leading worship" for the band. He tries to avoid making it a performance by encouraging less volume from the band, by choosing songs that people can sing (rather than simply hear), by making the band less than the center of attention. Good things, I'm sure. And he tries to avoid making it an issue of preference or stubbornness -- not about style or form. It's not about "I don't like that kind of music" or "Should we really have drums in church?", but he asks instead two basic questions. "Is it about pleasing us or pleasing God?" "Is it worship or performance?" We need to be careful about importing worldly thinking into church and calling it "worship" because it tickles our ears. I would recommend, also, that you read his postscript to the open letter. There are certainly things in the open letter as well as the postscript worth considering. And since we consider worship our highest task, perhaps we ought to give it some careful thought.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Keeping a Promise

Those of the more conservative ilk complain about President Obama a lot. He's too liberal, too socialist-leaning. He's too pro-abortion. He's too eager to raise taxes, encourages class-conflict. He's increasing our national debt while touting his economic plans. He's not even a genuine American. Okay, maybe that last one is for a lesser number of conservatives, but you get the idea. Barack Obama rode the anti-Bush wave into the White House with promises to the people that they dearly hoped he would keep, and most (even some previous supporters) don't think he has kept them.

Now he is complaining about the narrow-mindedness of the Republicans and their energy plan in the face of skyrocketing prices at the pump. "Their plan is to drill, drill, drill." Not him. He has a comprehensive plan. Check it out for yourself. Stop climate change. Protect the environment. Stop climate change and protect the environment by getting off oil. "Yes, we can!" ("Excuse me, Mr. President, but exactly how will this get me to work on Monday with the gas prices going past $5 a gallon today?")

The natural response of his detractors is to point to another promise not kept. I beg to differ. Check the record, folks. Here's what Barack Obama told the San Francisco Chronicle back in January 2008: "Under my plan… energy rates will necessarily skyrocket." Now, that's pretty clear. And with his dedication to the environment that blocks new drilling and new energy sources, I think he is working hard at keeping that promise. So back off, you detractors. The man promised to skyrocketing prices. He is succeeding. You may not like his policies or politics, but give credit where credit is due.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Coming Soon

Coming soon to a country near you. Maybe even your own.

How long did you think it would take? Well, probably a lot longer than this. I mean, there is no homosexual agenda, right? It's a lie, a myth, a fable, foisted off on people by homophobic rightwingers trying to raise the alarm on something that simply doesn't exist. So, how could this happen?

According to Donna McColl, the spokesperson for Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, "Under Alberta’s new Education Act, homeschoolers and faith-based schools will not be permitted to teach that homosexual acts are sinful as part of their academic program." Welcome to the new regime in Alberta, Canada.

"You can affirm the family’s ideology in your family life," she said, "you just can’t do it as part of your educational study and instruction."

Welcome to the fringes of genuine control, the start of the thought police. Education of all sorts will be required not merely to educate, but to require "honour and respect" of diverse beliefs. Interestingly, this would necessarily preclude honoring and respecting the beliefs of those who hold that homosexual acts are sinful. And that is the rub, isn't it? Someone is deciding "This diversity is good and that is not."

I personally know of no one who advocates the outlawing of homosexual acts. I've heard many Christians (genuine Christians) agree with the Bible that it's sin, but I have yet to hear of one in recent years who sought to make it illegal. I call that "respect". I call that "tolerance". "We believe it is sin. We don't approve. Please feel free to do so; just don't expect us to honor your activity." On the other hand, that position is called "homophobic", "hate", and now a violation of law.

Most disturbing, perhaps, is the fact that this will reach into the homeschooling realm. While they assure homeschooling families that they can surely teach what they wish during "family time", it is not really possible to distinguish "teaching time" from "family time" in a homeschoolers environment. Beyond that, Christian homeschoolers often use the Bible in teaching. The Bible isn't limited to "honouring and respecting diversity". That means that 1) families will no longer be able to teach their children their values and 2) the government will be coming into the home to find out what you're saying.

"Oh, such overreacting," some are saying. "That's Alberta, not America." Yes, perhaps, we are not quite there yet. But given the number of voices urging "marriage equity" (defined as "steal marriage from its original definition and then give it to another group but only that group that we deem worthy") and the number of people that classify simply holding a biblical view of homosexual behavior as offensive, hateful, and homophobic, how long do you think it will be before it comes knocking at our door? We're the international leaders, aren't we? We can't let Quebec and Alberta get ahead of us! Let's get more repressive. We're already going to demand that those who are opposed to contraceptives on religious grounds be unable to have the freedom to practice their religious views. Why stop there? Let's get out and be really invasive and oppressive to religious beliefs. After all, the sooner we can throw off this whole "God" thing, we can eliminate a whole lot of pesky "God-given rights". Think how nice that will be!

(Only obliquely related, I found this political cartoon way too close to home.)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sovereignty

If Christianity is actually a religion that is spawned by God, it would be expected that there would be concepts in it that are not quite ... human. And, of course, it doesn't take long to find them. "Count it all joy when you encounter various trials" is not quite the standard human thought. "Blessed are the poor in spirit" is not the kind of thing that would naturally spring to mind. There are, in the Bible, concepts for which new words or uses of words were invented because it wasn't the standard human idea. We all know, as an example, the phrase, "He knew her ... in the biblical sense." That's because our version of "knowing" someone is not the biblical sense as when "Adam knew Eve" (Gen 4:1). But that's just a phrase, almost a euphemism. There are real changes elsewhere. Take, for instance, the Greek for "grace" which meant in Greek simply "favor" but which was redefined as "unmerited favor" because that wasn't the norm, but that described God's favor towards us. There is the highest form of "love" which meant in Greek a real intimacy, but in biblical terms it went beyond that to a revolutionary concept of loving without receiving anything in return -- unconditionally. Definitely not a normal human concept.

Sovereignty is one of these concepts. It's not a typical human concept because, well, it doesn't exist in the human environment. We can have a "sovereign" in human terms. He would be someone in power, someone with supreme authority, that sort of thing. But, let's face it, if he was a "sovereign" like the biblical concept, it would never stop. He couldn't be overthrown. He couldn't be removed. He couldn't be replaced. If he was sovereign in the biblical sense, no one would have the ability to oppose him. And, of course, in human terms that doesn't happen.

God, on the other hand, is called the "only Sovereign" (1 Tim 6:15). He is not the Lord and King, but "the King of kings and Lord of lords" (1 Tim 6:15; Rev 17:14; 19:16). There are kings and there are lords and there are sovereigns, but our God falls in a different classification, the only Sovereign. Unlike human sovereigns, He is absolutely Sovereign. What He wills is what happens ... always (Eph 1:11). A sparrow doesn't fall without His approval (Matt 10:29). Satan operates within His command (Job 1:12). People cannot even sin without His allowing it for His good purposes (Gen 50:20; Prov 16:4, 9; Acts 4:27-28). This, my brothers and sisters, is not human sovereignty. This is something else. This is a Sovereignty that only God possesses.

This kind of Sovereignty is truly unique. It is truly divine. It is truly supernatural. As such, it is unnatural. Thus, it is highly likely that you and I will question it from time to time. I've never met a person who didn't, at least on occasion if not regularly, deny it entirely. "God is not in charge of the weather, the buildings that fall;" (Luke 13:4-5) "or the evil that men do" (Luke 13:1-3). "That stuff is outside His control." You'd think so, wouldn't you? And you'd be mistaken. But that's because God's Sovereignty is unique and divine and supernatural. You won't find it in your local neighborhood or city or government. It is His alone. So it may not be clear or fully understandable to you and me. That's okay. That's what you expect from the divine. The finite cannot encompass the infinite. I would recommend, however, that even if you don't understand it, you enjoy it. There is no safer place to be than in the hands of the only Sovereign, the King of kings, the Lord of lords. That's a good place indeed.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Delegated Authority

A couple of times in the last week this verse has come up: "There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (Rom 13:1). I started giving that some thought.

Of course, the primary topic -- the context -- is submission to governments. Paul describes government as "what God has appointed" and warns us not to resist, but to serve. Indeed, Paul commends paying taxes, "for the authorities are ministers of God" (Rom 13:6). Didn't know taxation was biblical, did you? In an election year when we're faced with "Look at how bad our current president is!" contrasted with "Is there anyone better running?", this is a good thing to recall. "There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." While we indeed must serve by performing our civic duty to vote and must do so according to conscience and all that, the outcome, pleasant or otherwise, is in the hands of the Lord. Whether blessing or judgment, "There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." And in all cases we are to pray, intercede, and give thanks "for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim 2:2). Note, of course, that our "kings" are now "presidents". Are you praying for them?

The language of the verse, however, goes far beyond the election-year politics or the government of America. "There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." Thus, all authority is delegated authority, and everyone is under some authority. In a culture where personal freedom is the god of choice and "Question authority" is the mantra, this doesn't sit well with many. It is, however, the clear presentation of Scripture. Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me" (Matt 28:18). "All" includes ... all. The only authority that the president has is delegated authority. The only authority that your boss has is delegated authority. The only authority that your pastor has is delegated authority. The only authority that anyone has (and that would include Satan) is delegated authority. And everyone is under authority. As such, it should come as no surprise that Paul would write, "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 yet I cannot tell you how many Christian women have said, "Me ... submit to him? Not a chance!" I cannot tell you how many Christians I know who have denied the biblical command for wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord or have discarded the biblical command to submit to the leadership of the church (Heb 13:17). We seem to make an art of finding ways to worm out of submission to authority delegated by God. If we are not avoiding submitting to the God-given authority over us, we are failing to exercise the God-given authority delegated to us. That's why we live in this upside-down world where children rule their parents, wives rule their husbands, workers rule their employers, and no one willingly submits to authority.

Of course I'm exaggerating. It's called "hyperbole", an overstatement to make a point. The point is that "There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." Do you recognize those in authority over you? Are you accepting the responsibility of the authority God has invested in you? All authority is delegated authority. All of us are under authority. Each of us has responsibility both to submit to the authority God has placed over us and to exercise the authority God as assigned to us. It's part of being a creation of God. The alternative, of course, has a name. It is missing the mark. It is sin. Not a good alternative.

Friday, February 24, 2012

At Gibeon the Lord Appeared to Solomon

I'm reading in 1 Kings these days and came across this little story. You all know it, I'd guess. Solomon had settled the kingdom. God shows up and says, "Ask me for what you want." You remember Solomon's answer. "Give me wisdom." God likes his answer so much that He gives him wisdom, long life, and riches. Nice. But there's something in that story that I never noticed before.
Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father, only he sacrificed and made offerings at the high places. And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place. Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night ... (1 Kings 3:3-5).
Okay, let's see. Solomon loved the Lord. Got it. He was "walking in the statues of David." Good. And then there's an exception. "Only he sacrificed and made offerings at the high places." The previous verse suggests an explanation. "The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the LORD" (1 Kings 3:2). "Oh, see?" we are tempted to say, "They didn't have anywhere else to sacrifice." Except they did. The tabernacle was still there. It was still in place. It was still the right place to sacrifice. So good ol' Solomon who loved the Lord and walked in the statutes of David had one little problem -- the violation of the first commandment.

And this is where it gets interesting. "At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon." God didn't show up to correct Solomon. He didn't even mention it. He didn't point out, "You know, Solomon, this is not the place to be sacrificing to Me." Not a word about it. Just, "Ask what I shall give you." And He did.

There is, in my mind, one clear explanation. According to the text, Solomon's wisdom was the discernment between good and evil (1 Kings 3:9). Knowing Solomon's heart ("Solomon loved the Lord"), the gift of discernment between good and evil would correct Solomon's error here. And, in fact, it did. He built the Temple and sacrificed there.

Like C.S. Lewis's Aslan, God is not a tame lion. He doesn't do things the way you and I expect. He has His own methods. They aren't necessarily the ones that we think up. Giving the gift of wisdom to a man in the midst of idolatrous sacrifice may seem a bit strange to us. It appears to have been God's idea of a good thing. I'm glad that God is not limited by the abilities of His people nor limited to the ideas of His followers.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Right Questions

I write to Christians, for the most part. We are "people of the book". That is, our sole authority on matters of faith and practice is the Bible. We are not the same "people of the book" as Islam. To Islam, the book itself is sacred. As we know, to disrespect the Qur'an is to disrespect their God. It is not, for us, that the Bible itself is a sacred book, but that when God speaks we are to listen.

Since we regard our Bible as important, it is a good thing to read with questions. What does it say? What does it mean? That sort of thing. One tendency we have, however, is to ask, "Why did He say that?" A common reason for that question is because we don't like or don't agree with what is said. Therefore, if we cannot find a satisfactory "Why did He say that?", we can disregard the content. And that is the wrong question. Or, perhaps, the wrong conclusion.

"What does it say?" is an excellent question. Finding the content the important first step. Sometimes that requires a bit of digging. What word is used? Why is that word used? What is the original language? That sort of thing. Good first question.

"What does it mean?" is an equally critical question. The concept is called "hermeneutics", the study and practice of interpretation. You need to have good principles if you're going to have good hermeneutics. Things like "Interpret the implicit from the explicit" would seem like a given, but many miss it. You certainly need to take into account the genre of the content. Poetry, for instance, uses poetic language. Expect it. Historic narrative does not necessarily offer commands as much as explains what happened. (For instance, expressing in an historical narrative that so-and-so lied does not mean that the Bible contains errors.) Wisdom literature gives advice. And so on. An important rule of hermeneutics is to have regard for the literal meaning. By "literal", of course, I include the concept of "as intended" or "as written" (remembering the genre of the text), but we have to understand the Bible as written as opposed to how we'd like to see it or as some ancient text no longer really working today. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics is a helpful guide in assisting us to answer "What does it mean?"

That third question, though, can quickly become problematic. "Why did He say that?" often delves purely into the realm of conjecture. Unless there are contextual clues (and, to be sure, there often are), the best you get are guesses and personal ideas. "Well, you see," they will tell you, "the reason Paul did not allow a woman to teach men is because women were not educated in those days." Pure conjecture requiring first that you disregard the textual evidence. The goal of this conjecture is to eliminate Paul's command here. We don't like it. Get rid of it. I recently heard this same approach on another of these kinds of passages. "Paul wrote, 'The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church' (1 Cor 14:34-35). What was that all about??!!" Indeed, the outrage is evident. (Try today, for instance, to suggest in any way that Paul meant what he said and you will be met by voices, female and male, shouting you down. "These things cannot be!") "Why did He say that?" quickly becomes "If I am not given a satisfactory answer, I do not feel any need to follow it." And this happens a lot. Why did God give instructions on tattoos? Why did God order the deaths of the Amorites? Why did Paul forbid women in authority over men? Why did God give instructions to slave masters (rather than ban slavery)? And the implication always seems to be, "If you cannot give me an answer that satisfies me, I will disregard these as not genuine/applicable/real in some sense."

May I make a suggestion? If we believe that the Bible is God-breathed -- exhaled by God through the authors He ordained to present His timeless message to us -- then "I will disregard these as not genuine" is not an option. If we believe that the Bible is our sole authority in matters of practice and faith, then "I will disregard these as not applicable" is not an option. More to the point, if the Bible actually teaches that "it is shameful for a woman to speak in church" (as an example), we would be violating God's instructions to dismiss it as no longer applicable or not genuine. And "violating God's instructions" has a well-known name: sin.

We need to read the Bible for all it's worth. We need to know what it says. We need to know how to faithfully interpret it. We need to understand the text, the context, and the intent. We need this. We cannot afford to dismiss as irrelevant what God has stated. We need to figure out what God has stated and follow it wherever it leads. And if God is God (and He is), that will very likely and necessarily lead us to places that are not natural or comfortable for us. "Not natural or comfortable", however, are not reasons to disobey. Ask Abraham who was commanded to kill the son he received by promise from God. His actions in that event are called "faith", not "woodenly literal".

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Aretha Franklin sang, "R-E-S-P-E-C-T, that is what it means to me." That is what what means to me? What is respect?

The regular starting point for answering that question is the dictionary, of course. There isn't a lot of variation here -- "deference", "esteem", "honor", "regard for", that sort of thing. It's pretty clear. Not a lot of controversy. Unless, of course, you examine the idea rather than the simple definition. Unless, of course, you examine the biblical concept. Now that is something different.

In Eph 5:31 husbands are commanded to love their wives as their own bodies and wives are commanded to respect their husbands. The biblical word there is just ... well ... wrong. No, not wrong, but certainly unexpected. The word is phobeo. It is rooted in -- get this -- genuine fear. It is our root for the word "phobia". It is fear. Now, the word can be used of terror or that sort of paralyzing fear, but consider that just prior to this wives were commanded to "submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord" (Eph 5:22). Thus, this "fear" would be the same type of fear afforded God. In fact, if you look up the New Testament use of the phrase "fear the Lord" or the like, you will find the same word there. Now, clearly we're not called to be paralyzed in terror of God. So, what? Most Bibles are happy to translate this concept as "reverential awe". And lest "awe" be diluted by today's mindless "totally awesome, dude", the dictionary will tell you that "awe" means "an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc.". "Awe is "an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime". In biblical respect, then, there remains a sense of dread or fear, but not one that stops you from functioning. Instead, it informs your emotional response. It is a fear of violating the desires of the one respected. That kind of thing.

Now, down to the application of this concept. You see, I started this because I've heard from husbands, "I don't feel like my wife respects me." It appears fairly common, in fact. It even exists in cases that I think the wives would say, "But, I do respect you." So I was all set to write this to correct wives for failing to respect their husbands. Notice that I said "I was ..." No longer.

Look, guys, read the passage. Show me the portion that says, "Husbands, make sure your wife respects you." Funny thing. It's not in there. And I don't know about you, but I'm already pretty busy trying to plug the holes I have in my own responsibility of "love your wife as Christ loved the Church". Oh, that's really big, guys.

Having said that, it appears to me that women and men do not have the same vision of "respect". Lots of women say they respect their husbands. So why don't husbands feel respected? Is it possible that the two concepts -- women respecting men and men feeling respected -- are not the same thing? So, Christian women who are interested in being what God commands you to be, may I suggest something? Find out what "respect" looks like and do it.

There's an interesting little fact down here at the bottom. If you examine the needs of most women, their highest desire is to be loved. If you examine the needs of most men, their highest desire is to be respected. Isn't that funny? Okay, maybe "funny" isn't the right word. Maybe God is just really, really smart. So, men, if you'd like to have a more smoothly operating relationship with your wife, love her. No, not the way that you think of love. Love her the way that she thinks of love. And wives, here's a little secret. The husband that feels as if his wife respects him is the happiest, most loving, most responsive husband you'll ever see. Just a helpful hint to both.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Math Dilemma

Enough seriousness for the moment. This one is just for fun.

Okay, there is an error in here (obviously), but see if you can find it. (Note: The "^" symbol means "to the power of", so that "a^2" means "a to the power of 2" or "a squared".)

Let a=b

Thus: a^2=ab

Add a^2 to both sides: a^2 + a^2 = a^2 + ab

Or: 2a^2 = a^2 + ab

Subtract 2ab from both sides: 2a^2 – 2ab = a^2 + ab – 2ab

Or: 2a^2 – 2ab = a^2 – ab

This can be factored to: 2(a^2 – ab) = 1(a^2 – ab)

If you divide both sides by a^2 – ab, you get: 2 = 1

Monday, February 20, 2012

Being Consistent

I've been having dialogs in various places with various people who believe it is their job to correct me where I'm wrong in various places. I don't mind for the most part. I want to know if I'm wrong. I have been before. I might be now. I will be again. Of course, most of what I stand on today has been examined at great length from multiple perspectives with lots and lots of study, prayer, reason, and so forth, so getting me to shift at this point on some of those issues won't be easy. They'll have to undo all that study, prayer, reason and so forth. They're not. I'm always open to a good, biblically supported, carefully reasoned argument against my position. In fact, just the other day I decided that my original position that when God told Eve "Your desire shall be for your husband" (Gen 3:17) He was saying that she would desire to rule over him was likely incorrect. I've heard it before. I thought it was reasonable. I don't anymore. Change isn't all bad.

Still, in most of the dialogs in which I engage where people are trying to correct me I find a stunning consistency ... in a complete lack of consistency. Take, for instance, the constant complaint that Christians are intolerant and judgmental. Isn't that an intolerant and judgmental complaint? That's inconsistent. And that's common.

Some time ago I wrote about Jesus's command to "Sell all your possessions" and what I thought it meant. (I thought it meant that we ought to be stewards, not owners, that we ought to not be tied to our goods, that we ought to divest ourselves of all of that in the heart.) I've had more than one complain that I'm not taking it at face value, not taking it literally, and that we ought to. Oddly enough, I'm pretty sure that all of those who complained owned computers (as an example). So ... what's up with that? Inconsistency.

Anyone who is on top of this stuff knows that one of the fundamental problems with atheism is that it removes grounds for transpersonal morality. You might be able to retain your own moral values, but to suggest that anyone else must have the same ones is without basis in an atheistic approach. And still atheists protest that Christians are immoral and that God is not good. Not good on what basis? Inconsistency.

There are voices on the left that like to raise the cry against wealth. The wealthy are immoral. Rich people are the problem. They need to be forced to help the poor. Some like to clothe it in "godliness". "The Bible says that the poor are blessed." Oddly enough, it appears as if these voices never take into account the fact that they are among the wealthiest people on the planet. Why aren't they surrendering their wealth? If the poor are blessed simply for being poor, why are they trying to take away that blessing? Inconsistency.

A large portion of the secular world agrees with Darwinian Evolution. The universe that we know happened by chance. No amount of logic can shake that. Everything came from nothing and only a fool would believe otherwise. The secular world (that part that is devoted to a materialistic view) will, on the other hand, protest the execution of murderers or the killing of Syrians by the government of Syria. "That's wrong!" they assure us. Why? If all we are is a skin-bag for a biological computer, on what is this protest based? And if we wanted to experiment on rabbits or humans to try to solve medical problems or make our hair color different, why would that be wrong? You don't hear complaints when you take a can of Raid to an anthill, do you? Why, when a Syrian government decides to stop an uprising by whatever means they want, is it a bad thing? Inconsistency.

I've offered a few examples. Consider, then, the other side. If a Christian believes that God is the Ultimate Authority and states, "God believes X is a sin", that will not likely be appreciated, but it is consistent. If a Christian understands that Jesus commanded us to judge rightly and attempts to judge rightly, that will obviously be labeled as "judgmental", but it is consistent. Being intolerant of sin and judgmental about evil is consistent with Christianity. A moral code that applies to all humans is consistent with a Christian worldview. Recognizing that it is better to give than to receive without forcing it from others is consistent with Christianity. Protecting people over tyrants or science is consistent with Christian values.

People complain a lot about Christians. I get it. Jesus promised it. We should expect it. I'm not complaining about it. I am just pointing out that when a Christian makes a declaration against sin or a call to repent or any of the various other demands that God makes on His creation, it is a function of consistency. In fact, if a Christian says "The Bible says X is right" and someone points out "But, you don't do X", we haven't lapsed into inconsistency unless that Christian tries to defend X for himself. Because, you see, the premise of Christianity is that we are sinners and recognizing that "X is sin" right along with "I suffer from X and need to change" is consistent. The opposition, far too often, opposes from the position of inconsistency. That's a problem. If you'd like to help correct my thinking, I'd recommend consistency. It works much better.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

In the Promised Land

The parallel has often been offered that the story of Israel in Egypt, moving through the desert, and into the Promised Land is the story of us: Slaves to sin, baptized, live life in the desert, and end up in heaven, the Promised Land. It's a fine parallel, isn't it? Except it doesn't quite work itself out. You see, when the children of Israel got to the Promised Land, they did not enter a land without weeping, a place of eternal bliss, "the happiest place on earth", like heaven is supposed to be. No, they went to war.

The Bible does indeed use the story as a parallel, but I would like to suggest that when we draw a connection between heaven and "the Promised Land", we miss the biblical point. I suspect it is due largely to our propensity for our love and demand of comfort. "If God is a good God, He will make things comfortable for us in this life." Well, it ain't necessarily so.

Let's take the story of Israel coming out of Egypt and see what real parallels there are. The Bible refers to slavery in Egypt as a parallel of slavery to sin. Good. Paul speaks of their passing through the Red Sea as "baptism" (1 Cor 10). That's okay. But we err when we think that living the Christian life is "the desert experience" while "the Promised Land" is heaven. So, what can we draw from those?

Well, first, let's recall Jesus's experience. In Matthew 3, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. What happened next? In Matthew 4, He was "led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil" (Matt 4:1). That was a genuine "desert experience". So let's go with that. What did Jesus face immediately after His baptism? He faced temptations. He faced, in fact, the temptation. Whom would He follow? Whom would He trust? And like Israel in the Sinai, His responses to these temptations decided the rest of His ministry. Their choices resulted in death; His resulted in salvation.

Is the desert the rotten experience that we tend to think? I suggest it is not. There are valuable lessons learned there. There is dependence. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God." There is clarification. "You shall worship the Lord your God and Him alone." Jesus came out of the desert and started His ministry. Israel came out of the desert with the dead weight lost ready to do battle. The desert may not be pleasant, but it is also neither useless nor dispensable.

In Scripture, "faith" means "to be convinced" (not "to believe something when there is no reason to"). Israel's shared experiences beginning at the Red Sea and carrying on through God's sustaining of them in the desert built the reasons they needed to trust God when it came to doing battle in "the land of giants". Thus, the "desert experience" was the necessary and indispensable preparation to doing the tasks God had assigned. In Jesus's case, it was ministry and ultimately death. In Israel's case it was war and ultimately conquest of the Promised Land. And that is our parallel. The Promised Land is not heaven. It is Christian living. It is the course of the victorious Christian life. Learn in the "desert experiences" to rely on God and then enjoy victory in Christian experience. We'd like to skip that desert stuff, I know. Jesus didn't. Followers of Christ shouldn't expect it. But, oh, the sweet rewards of learning to trust in God. Christian life is a war (Eph 6:13ff). How often do you get to go to war when you can't lose?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Dilemma

I run into this same dilemma every 4 years. No, that's not an exaggeration. As long as I've been voting, I've been running into this same question over and over and over. How to vote? First and most obviously (perhaps), the option I have not had is to pick someone on the ballot with whom I agree. Such a person has apparently not yet run for office. No such person has ever been on my ballot. Or, I suppose, they have run, but not made it to my final list of choices. So, lacking someone whom I can wholeheartedly endorse, my options are few. What approach should I take?

Practical

The single most common approach that I am offered -- that I am practically ordered to take -- is the pragmatic. "Sure, sure, you don't have a candidate you can endorse, but don't choose someone that will cause the guy we don't like to win!" It is ABS, the "Anybody But" Syndrome. "You may not like the guy you're voting for, but it would be better for anybody but the guy we don't like to get in." A non-stance, so to speak. No, I don't think that Candidate A is a good candidate. No, I don't like his positions on the issues that concern me most. No, I don't think he'll take the country in a good direction. Candidate A may be bad, but he's better than Candidate B. And voting for Candidate A might get Candidate A elected while voting for anyone else might get Candidate B elected. You wouldn't want that, would you?

Principled

The higher road, to me, is the principled approach. If I cannot find a handy candidate on the ballot that I can support, find one off the ballot. Maybe the Constitution Party that doesn't show up in my state as an option. Maybe a write in. There are people that I could endorse. Pragmatism may be more practical (how's that for circular logic?), but principle demands that I don't support someone I don't support, even if that means that the person I support less gets elected. Bottom line in this approach is "I'll do what's right and leave the outcome to God." Of course, if the dreaded Candidate B gets elected, do I blame God or myself for standing on principle rather than pragmatism?

Quitter

This is the easy one. "Look," I tell myself, "in truth your vote will not make a difference one way or another. They try to tell you it will. It won't. It never has. You have never gotten anyone elected. You have never prevented anyone from getting elected. It just doesn't matter. So ... don't. Don't vote. Don't support a bad candidate to prevent a worse candidate from getting elected. Don't bother voting for an impossible candidate because you can support him. Both are wasting your vote. Don't vote." Yeah, much easier than the other two. Not necessarily right or good, but much easier.

So, look, I'm looking for some input. I obviously can't vote for President Obama. The damage he has already done will be magnified in another 4 years. The moral assault alone -- in the areas of homosexual rights, religious freedoms, and abortion rights, for instance -- are staggering. The damage to the economy, the attack on the rich, the mindless political games ("Their side is playing politics but my side is operating on principle. To not play politics you simply need to agree with me without reservation."), the lies and deceit and ... well, you get the idea. Bad stuff. I can't go there. But I can't vote for Romney. He's a richer version of Obama as far as I can tell. Slightly more conservative, which isn't saying much since Obama is the most liberal president we've ever had. Gingrich is only slightly better. "No, trust me, I'm a reliable man." Your first two wives don't think so. And it only gets worse from there. I can't vote for him. Definitely not Ron Paul. Maybe Santorum, except that it still looks doubtful that he could actually end up on my ballot. So I'm stuck. I'm back to the "no one I can endorse" ballot option. Which approach, then, would you recommend? Or do you have a better option? 'Cause I'm stuck here ... again.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Single-Issue Voters

(This is repeated from a post back in 2007, but I think, in an election year, it is appropriate to bring up again.)

The accusation -- from both conservatives and liberals -- is that many Christians are "single-issue voters." I would have to confess that likely in many cases this is true. The issue of abortion is a deal breaker. And I am one that would have a hard time (read "nearly impossible") voting for a pro-choice candidate despite the alternatives. I am not, however, a single-issue voter. Let me explain.

Meet Tim. Tim is a fictitious wannabe candidate for the presidency. Tim is an excellent candidate. He supports everything you support. He is opposed to everything you oppose. What a guy! Oh, one little thing ... Tim is a drunk. Tim is, in fact, always drunk. He may do outrageous things when he is drunk, as drunks are prone to do. He may just pass out. But, hey! Let's not dwell on that! Tim is an excellent candidate!

Is he? If you chose not to vote for Tim because he was always drunk, would you be a "single-issue voter"? I don't think so. You see, Tim's drinking would have large ramifications. He couldn't be relied on to run a country. He doesn't have the self-control required. He would be signing or vetoing bills under the influence and who knows what he'd do in those situations? He could easily be passed out when he is needed in a crisis. He would be an unacceptable representative of our country to the world. That kind of a problem provides many reasons not to vote for Tim.

The same is true in my mind with the topic of abortion. The primary role of government is to protect its people. If a person who is trying to occupy the highest office of the land refuses to protect the most vulnerable, the unborn, then on what basis would I think that he/she would do the job in other applications? If murdering babies is acceptable, what other atrocities would he/she allow? If the person that I am considering for office doesn't care about protecting -- the most important descriptive for the job -- why would I think that he would care about other important issues? And the questions just keep coming.

Maybe I am a single-issue voter. I want to elect someone to the presidency who will do the job. Someone who doesn't care about doing the job at the outset is not someone that I think I should vote for. Perhaps it's a single issue, but it's not as small as "the abortion issue". It's a matter of doing the job that government is supposed to do. That's my primary "single issue".

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cutting Costs

Here's a news flash for you. According to a 2004 study by the Guttmacher Institute (the research arm of Planned Parenthood), "The large number of infections acquired by persons aged 15-24 and the high cost per case of viral STDs, particularly HIV, create a substantial economic burden." Yeah, I bet you didn't know that, eh?

Considering only 8 of the STDs currently on the market (HIV, human papillomavirus (HPV), genital herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), hepatitis B virus, chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis and syphilis), the study estimated "The direct cost of STDs, including HIV, among all age-groups was estimated to be $9.3–15.5 billion in the United States in the mid-1990s, adjusted to year 2000 dollars." For the 15-24 age group alone they estimated the cost at $6.5 billion. At this point, we're talking only about 8 STDs (there are over 25 different known kinds) and only about the financial burden.

Move on to abortions. According the CDC, more than 80% of all abortions are performed on unmarried women. The average cost of an abortion is about $500. (The Guttmacher Institute puts it at about $468.) Working from an estimated 1.3 million abortions a year and considering that 80% of them are on unmarried women, the abortions for the unmarried population (at $500 average) account for another $520 million.

Abortions and sexually-transmitted diseases -- that's all I've looked at here. Together they cost an estimated $10-16 billion in the U.S. alone, and that's with existing prevention efforts (which, by the way, cost money) and available birth control. That's without considering the other costs of these two items. There are other costs. There are emotional, societal, spiritual, social, and physical costs involved, things that can't even be measured even though they are certainly quite real.

Here's another interesting consideration. According to an article in the U.S. News & World Report, there is an existing method that is 100% effective in preventing both unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases. It is, in fact, the least expensive of all -- free. The existing, free, perfectly effective method is, of course, the one that God prescribed: Saving sex for marriage and marriage for fidelity. Odd how that works out, isn't it?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Rule of Public Opinion

This one probably won't make your local news. It seems that Jaime, a 5th grader in Maricopa County, Arizona, has filed a lawsuit against Arizona Governor Jan Brewer intended to compel the State to prevent global warming. The suit "has been called one of the most remarkable legal actions that has the potential to halt human-induced climate change." According to the story, she is "petitioning the court to require the State of Arizona develop a climate recovery plan that will protect Arizona’s resources for future generations." Well, I live in Arizona, folks. Good thing Jaime is here to straighten out our state. While the rest of you all go down to global warming, we'll have all we need to continue because the State will have developed a climate recovery plan to protect our resources. Too bad for the rest of you.

Recently CBS Sunday Morning News did a piece on how the Internet is revolutionizing revolutions. The story was about how the world is moving from a world governed by governments to a world governed by public opinion broadcast instantaneously over Twitter and Facebook and the like. You don't like it that your bank wants to charge you for their services? No problem. Launch a Facebook campaign and they'll buckle. You don't think your phone provider should raise their rates? Not in issue. Shut them down with a Twitter complaint. You think your government isn't fair? Well, stop complaining and launch a revolution via social media. This, they say, is good.

What else has been accomplished of late? Well, the tide of public opinion managed to terminate PIPA, a law designed to prevent theft of intellectual property, and SOPA, another law aimed at fighting copyright infringement and counterfeiting. Good thing the public got involved in a big way. There's no way they want to put an end to IP and copyright theft. Hey, where else are they going to get their pirated movies and music? No! It's our right to have that stuff and if we band together, we can keep our access to stolen property! Were they bad or good laws? Who knows?? Hail the tide of public opinion!

This kind of activism is predicated on a fundamental premise that human beings are basically good (and, of course, we know what we know ... like "the truth" about global warming). Give people the opportunity to "vote" and they will vote for what is right. Give them their voice and what will come out first is a cry for justice and fairness. In fact, people in general know what's best in almost all cases. Take, for instance, the story of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Bethlehem was the center for steel production in the U.S. from the late 19th century. Those steel mills made the town the thriving place that it was. They made the first "I-beam", the standard in skyscrapers everywhere. They provided armor plating for the war efforts in both WWI and WWII. They made the steel for the Golden Gate Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, the Chrysler Building, and the Hoover Dam, just to name a few. In the '80's, however, they ran into problems. Japan started shipping cheaper steel. The management of the mills begged the unions to decrease salaries and benefits to allow them to continue in business, but the union workers said it was not their problem; it was the government's problem. They, you see, knew better. They knew "fair". They knew that they weren't going to make sacrifices; that was for someone else to make. As a result, the steel mills closed in 1995 and the city almost collapsed entirely. Oh, wait ... that's not a good example of how good people make good decisions for everyone concerned, is it? No, I'm sorry. That's an example of what human beings do by nature.

A world ruled by "what the media tells me" and "how I feel about it" sounds rather appealing to some. It neglects the fundamental problem from Scripture: "The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked; who can know it?" But, then, if we can mitigate the whole problem of our standard of "good" versus God's standard of "good", we should be okay, right? I don't think I'd want to face God with that one in the final analysis. "Why should I let you into My heaven?" "Well, I was good according to my standards. Too bad about yours. Now step aside, old man." Let me know how that works out for you.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Celebrating Love

It's Valentine's Day, so of course we have to talk about love. And I'm Stan, so of course I'm not going to go in the direction you might expect. Or, maybe you've come to expect the right thing.

We all know what love is. It's that warm, gushy feeling we get when we feel affection for another. Oh, sure, that's too vague. The dictionary puts it like this: Love is "a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person", "a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend", or "sexual passion or desire". Yeah, that's the love we all know and love.

The Bible does include some of that. The Greek eros, for instance, refers to that third definition. It is the origin of our word, "erotic". It's not actually found in Scripture, but the idea is. The Song of Solomon includes that kind of love. Many believe that when Paul wrote, "It is better to marry than to burn", he meant "burn with passion" -- eros. It is a common human condition. It is, however, purely animal and is not a good basis for a lasting relationship.

Another version is storge. This concept is also not technically used in Scripture. Unlike eros, however, a form of the word is used. In 2 Tim 3:3, deep in a list of how people will be in "the last days", Paul warns that they will be astorge -- "heartless" (ESV) or "without natural affection" (KJV). (The "a" there at the beginning of the word is "not".) That's the idea of storge; the natural affection one feels for family and such. (And given the number of parents abusing and abandoning their children or even their parents, I think Paul was exactly right in his astorge -- not loving.)

The two more common versions are, as you all likely know, philia and agape. The first is "brotherly love" (as in "Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love"). It is the standard human version of love. It is the "Barney" version. "I love you; you love me." It is the most common marital version. "I'll give 50% and you give 50% and we'll have a 100% marriage." And when he/she fails to give that 50%, she/he feels free to stop hers/his. "You scratch my back; I'll scratch yours." We get that. It's normal. It's the love that Peter professed when Jesus asked, "Peter, do you agapao Me more than these?" He replied, "Lord, you know I phileo You" (John 21:15-16). It's a good love, but it's not the highest.

The biblical highest is, of course, agape. What most don't know, however, is that the word did not mean to the Greeks what it means in Scripture. This isn't a first. The Greeks, for instance, had a term, charis, that meant "favor". It's the word translated "grace" in the New Testament. But while charis in Greek could mean any sort of favor, earned or otherwise, the Bible defined it specifically as unmerited (Rom 11:6). You see, this concept was not a normal human concept. Showing favor to someone who didn't deserve it in some sense? That's not reasonable. Maybe, but it is biblical grace. The same was true for agape. The Greek version would be our "true love" ("twue wove" to the Princess Bride enthusiasts). The Christian usage would be something outside of the normal concept. It is a selfless love. It is the love described in 1 Cor 13. It is an unmerited love. This version of love dwarfs every human definition the dictionary can offer. There is no "50-50" in this version. And it isn't human. Humans can't operate like this. This love seeks the best for the one loved without concern for recompense or return. It is the love commanded of husbands when Paul wrote, "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her" (Eph 5:25). It is a love that gives 100% without concern for the 50% return. It is a love possible only from God Himself (1 John 4:16) and only possible to those who know God (1 John 4:19). This love is something else entirely from the other forms.

Natural Man can certainly love in a variety of ways. We are all aware of some degree of eros. We come by storge naturally. We've all known philia. But it seems to me that on a day set aside to celebrate love, the love we ought to be celebrating is the only one that can stand forever -- agape. It is the one that never fails (1 Cor 13:8). It is the one that is greater even than faith and hope (1 Cor 13:13). It is the one that secures marriages against the tides of human failures and the one that ties us directly to God. That is the love to celebrate every day.

And to my beloved wife, let me just say, "I agape you." (You know, that just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it? Well, it'll have to do.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

What's the Church to do?

Some of you may have heard of John Loftus. His first book was Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity. That was followed by The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails. And now he has produced another, The End of Christianity, which should, by all accounts, spell the end of Christianity. Well, not all accounts. Just those who, you know, would like to see the end of Christianity.

Loftus isn't alone in that thinking. At the turn of the century the Barna Group, a marketing organization aiming to serve Christian ministries, warned that if the Christian church didn't change, it would vanish. And Barna isn't alone. All along the front lines the alarm is being sounded. "You're losing your youth!" "Churches are declining!" "If you don't change, you will become irrelevant!" So, like the atheist antagonist, Loftus, those "within" are sounding the death knell. So I thought I'd offer some thoughts on that.

First, the Church is not ours. We didn't make it. We don't sustain it. Jesus said, "I will build My Church" and ended that "and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt 16:18). While people I know and love may become worried about the Church -- "Will it collapse? Will it disappear? Oh, my, look at the state of the Church today!" -- let me just say, "It ain't gonna happen." Regardless of the anti-theists without and the antichrists within, the Church is not a human institution and, as such, is not subject to collapse.

Second, the stories of losses are greatly exaggerated. It is true that mainline denominations are declining. As it turns out, the reason they are declining is because they are so all-encompassing. Their message of "Can't we all just get along" coupled with the "social gospel" is warm and inviting and ... completely unnecessary. What I mean is that if there is nothing about the message of a church that makes it stand out, there is no reason to stay there. If a church is preaching that we're all loved by God and all accepted and all under grace, then why should the young people stay there? On the other hand, there is something about the "hardline" that keeps people there. On the phenomenon that conservative churches were growing despite the odds, David Brooks wrote, "Rigorous theology provides believers with a map of reality ... Rigorous theology allows believers to examine the world intellectually as well as emotionally ... Rigorous theology helps people avoid mindless conformity ... Rigorous theology delves into mysteries in ways that are beyond most of us ... Rigorous codes of conduct allow people to build their character." He writes of "religions that thrive" as possessing "communal theologies, doctrines and codes of conduct rooted in claims of absolute truth." (Emphasis mine) So while mainline denominations try to be all-inclusive and end up losing their numbers, it turns out that conservative churches with their rigorous theology and doctrines and codes of conduct are actually growing.

One other thought. Let's say that none of this was the case. The Church could vanish. Let's say that taking the hard line for Scripture and for truth might push people away. I know, I know, none of that is reality, but let's just say that it is. Here's the next question. Do we amend our message in order to draw in people? Do we stop speaking the truth if we are on edge of becoming "irrelevant"? If young people are leaving, do we shift our stance on "marriage equity" in order to draw them back? "Oh, no, I suppose we don't really need to stand where we thought the Bible said we were to stand. Here, let's stand somewhere you'd be more comfortable." Is that the course we should take? Do we surrender the truth stated plainly in order to become more acceptable?

Some have said so. Many have done so. Jesus wasn't one of them. He didn't soft-pedal His words in dealing with the scribes and Pharisees. Peter wasn't one of them. He didn't say, "Yeah, you're right, guys. Maybe we should stop sharing the Gospel if it is so offensive to you and illegal to boot." He said, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Act 4:19-20). Bad move, Peter. That's not going to help you get along in your culture. Paul wasn't one of them. His harsh "You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord" (1 Cor 5:5) wouldn't fly in most conservative churches today. Assuming that Christ is not sustaining His own Church, and assuming that the myth that the Church is declining and becoming irrelevant is not a myth, I don't think the correct choice would be to compromise the message or the Truth. If, for instance, in the next decade society has determined that the Christian definition of marriage is no longer applicable, that will not change the Christian definition of marriage just like society's current acceptance of sex for whatever or no reason whatsoever as moral has not changed God's condemnation of all sex outside of marriage. And in all cases standing outside of God's Truth is a dangerous place to stand. I'd much rather become irrelevant than to oppose God.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The God Who Isn't There

A lot of people who call themselves (and even are) Christians seem to think like deists. The deist view, in shorthand, is the idea that God made the universe and sent it spinning and now we're mostly on our own. There are, of course, varieties of this. There are those who hold it just like I stated it. God is mostly not there at all. There are those that think that God intervenes at times, but mostly the world runs on natural laws and such. There are those who think that God is much more involved but draws the line at Human Free Will. That's where He won't intervene. But all of these are still, to some degree or another, the deist view.

I'm a theist. I believe that not a sparrow falls that God is not aware of (Matt 10:29). I believe that He is actually involved in the number of hairs on my head (and that is a very work-intensive job, considering the constantly declining number) (Matt 10:30). I believe that God owns all that is, so all this is is part of His concern (Deut 10:14; Psa 50:12). While Christians (genuine Christians) would agree that Christ is the creator of all things, I believe that in Him all things hold together (Col 1:17). I believe that God is love (1 John 4:16), that God is Sovereign (even over Man's Free Will) (1 Tim 6:15), and that all He does is good. I believe that there is nothing outside of His control (as Sproul puts it, not one "maverick molecule"). I believe that God is good (Mark 10:18) and that anyone who does good does it because God is working in him (3 John 1:11). I believe that all power belongs to God (Psa 62:11). I even believe that, while we certainly have the ability to make choices, in the final analysis God decides what does and doesn't get done (Prov 16:9; 19:21). I believe that all things come from God, through God, and are for God (Rom 11:36). I'm a theist. A theist believes that God is absolutely involved in the tiniest components of this universe through the biggest events. Without God, nothing would have existed and nothing would continue to exist.

Now, a lot of people are deists because they don't know better. A lot of others are deists because they are more comfortable with that. Me? I cannot even begin to imagine a world in which God was not intimately involved in everything. Only in that is there comfort. Oh, but in that there is great comfort. You can keep your God who isn't there. I'll take the biblical version that places Him in the middle of everything.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Bible on Sex III

This will be the third (and hopefully last) in the series. In the first article I offered what I considered the "obvious" even if the world today doesn't see it that way. First, sex outside of marriage is forbidden by God. Not for a trial period. Not to verify compatibility. Not if we "really, really love each other". Marriage. Second, God is in favor of sex within marriage. That ought to be good news (given the Victorian Era misconceptions offered as "Christian"). In the second installment, I asked (and, let's face it, didn't fully answer) the question, "So, what can we do in the marriage bed?" What we do know is that each of us must "know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God" (1 Thess 4:4-5). Apparently, then, there are "passions of lust" that are not counted as "holiness and honor". Don't be like that. And I recommended heartily that the Bible favors pleasure in sex. Oh, yeah, that was the sticking point, wasn't it? I got some argument on that point.

I would, then, like to address that point. Here's what I'd like to tell you. Forget about pleasure. Forget about passion. Forget about how much we can get away with in being "like the Gentiles who do not know God". Here's why. Although I can point to passages that indicate that God is in favor of pleasurable sex between married couples, that is never the focus of Scripture. Your pleasure -- or even your spouse's pleasure -- is not the point. It is, in fact, this particular issue, I think, that has caused so many problems. We've missed the point.

What is the point of sex according to the Bible? Of course there is procreation, and I would hold that procreation precedes recreation in importance in the marriage bed. But we know that procreation is a primary point. So what else? Well, we can get that from Paul or we can get that from God -- who do you prefer? (Sorry ... trick question.) In Genesis we learn:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Gen 2:24).
Note, first, this is not Adam talking (as in the previous verse). It is the God-breathed author. Second, notice that it is a "therefore". Because Eve was "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Gen 2:23), because "the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man" (Gen 2:22), therefore the union of man and woman was proclaimed. As such, it would be the only God-ordained union. Woman was made for Man. That was the "therefore". "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (Gen 2:18) was the reason and marriage was the accomplishment.

But this is mostly an aside to my main point. Remember the question: What is the point of sex according to the Bible? The author tells us here, "they shall become one flesh." I can hear it now. "Oh, now, how do you know that means sex? I mean, husband and wife become 'one' in a variety of ways. How do you know it doesn't mean 'in heart' or 'in effort' or 'in spirit'?" Fair question. So while we have God saying, "they shall become one flesh", we also have Paul's God-breathed interpretation.
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, "The two will become one flesh." But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him (1 Cor 6:15-17).
Here Paul warns against sex outside of marriage. Technically, he warns against sex with a prostitute. (He rounds it up a little later with the more generic, "Flee sexual immorality" (1 Cor 6:18).) What is his warning? The sexual act joins people. There is, according to Paul, something far more than mere physical going on in the act of sex. There is something much more, something deeper. There is a very real union, even if it is not merely physical. The act of becoming "one body" produces a joining. Paul proof-texts his statement, then, with the Genesis reference. Thus, according to Paul, when Genesis said, "The two shall become one flesh", it was referring to the sex act that involves a deeper union than we are immediately aware of. There is, according to Paul, one other consideration. Like so many other things that God has ordained, the marriage bed constitutes an earthly image of a higher, spiritual truth: "He who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him." Messing with that image is not a good idea. (Ask Moses who ruined the picture of the Rock providing Living Water upon request after first having been struck once. It cost him his visit to the Promised Land.)

Okay, maybe I've been too obtuse. Let's finish this up. God has ordained that sex is for marriage only. God favors marital sex. God designed sex to be pleasurable, but you are not designed to be seeking your own pleasure, but the pleasure of your spouse. Most importantly, the primary purpose of sex in marriage is 1) procreation and 2) union. As such, it reflects reality -- "the two shall become one flesh" -- as well as what Paul calls a "mystery" in the union of Christ and the Church (Eph 5:31-32). It is my suspicion that many of us think of sex in all the wrong ways. Outside of marriage it's "dirty" or certainly "evil". Inside of marriage it's for pleasure. If we're really godly, it's for the pleasure of our spouses, not ourselves. But at the end of the day, it is about pleasure and, as such, not a very spiritual endeavor. The Bible begs to differ. If we understand sex in the terms that the Bible portrays it, sex becomes an act of worship, a celebration of the union of Christ to the Church. It is illustrated in this human mystery of the spiritual union of two people in a physical act. It is, if it is true that we are supposed to do everything to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31), a shared activity between husband and wife that glorifies God along with pleasure and mystery. If you think in terms of "What can we do in the marriage bed?" with the realization that it is an act of worship, that ought to change your thinking. And, you know, I bet if you think about it you'll find that a lot of what God asks of us glorifies Him along with providing us with both pleasure and mystery.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Unlikely Commands

As followers of Christ, we are required to be obedient to the commands of God. We are not required to understand the "whys and wherefores" of those commands. We are required to obey. Conversely, our inability to understand all the reasons and ramifications of a command don't give us license not to obey. We are obligated to obey.

I was struck recently by commands God has given His people that were, well, just plain wrong. No, not wrong in actuality, but wrong to anyone just watching. It would have been easy -- perhaps even reasonable -- to say, "That is not the right command to give at that time."

In Joshua 1-4, the children of Israel had conquered the eastern side of the Jordan. They were in relative peace over there with a natural barrier of the river to protect them. Okay, so it wasn't perfect. Still, it afforded some defense. So God ordered them to cross the river in preparation to attack the western area. They had that marvelous thing where God stopped the river for them and they crossed on dry land. In Joshua 5, it was even reported to everyone around so that their enemies were all terrified. Now, assuming a smart general, given that your enemy is terrified and you have all your armies there fresh and ready to go, what do you command? Well, you command an attack, right? Not God. As soon as they had crossed the river, God made this command.
At that time the LORD said to Joshua, "Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time" (Josh 5:2).
"Ummm, okay, God, just a minute of Your time, please? Look, we've seen this trick pulled before. In fact, our ancestors did it. They talked an entire town into incapacitating their men by circumcision and then killed them all while they were in pain. So, are You sure You want us to incapacitate our entire army right now, right here where we are most vulnerable?"

God wasn't finished. You can almost hear this exchange. "Oh, I wasn't really thinking. Thanks for asking. I forgot to mention. While you're at it, don't forget to keep the Passover." (Josh 5:10).

"Whoa, wait a minute, Lord. You mean, first we incapacitate ourselves and then we sit down for a sacred meal? Are you sure this is your plan?"

You see, sometimes God makes commands that don't make much sense to us. In fact, it didn't get much better after that. At the end of Joshua 5, Joshua ran into the captain of the hosts of the Lord who passed on God's instructions for taking out the heavily armed, walled city of Jericho. What was this fine military plan? You'll love this one. March around the city once a day for six days. On the seventh, have your priests blow their horns and the people shout and you'll win (Josh 6:2-5)! "Wait ... wait ... that's Your battle plan? Really? Is that the best You can do?"

Of course, we know the outcome. They didn't get attacked while they healed. They finished their Passover. They carried out the plan to the letter. And they didn't have to attack a walled city; the walls "fell down flat" (Josh 6:20). Absolute victory!

Sometimes God's commands don't make sense. Be a cheerful giver ... even when your resources are short. Love your enemy. ("Really? Him??!") Turn the other cheek. Rejoice in suffering. Oh, there is a long list of very strange, rather unlikely commands. We can certainly do what we can to understand them, but we do not get the option of refusing. At least, not if we are followers of Christ. Even the unlikely commands need to be obeyed. Perhaps especially the unlikely commands.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

But I Regress

I don't know if the old "frog in the water" analogy actually works, but you know how it goes. Put a frog in a pot of water, slowly turn up the heat, and if the change is slow enough, the frog won't know he's being cooked until it's too late. Real? I doubt it. But you get the idea.

Our lives today are full of living examples of that warning. In the '50's, only "bad" people had sex outside marriage and pornography was located in hidden, out of the way places. By the '60's, the younger generation's "free love" movement had shifted that away to, as Marvin Gaye said, "Giving yourself to me can never be wrong if the love is true" and pornography was found in more mainstream magazines like Playboy who had the remotest of possibilities of being read for the articles. Today? The current younger generation believes in "friends with benefits" and are horrified at the suggestion of "wait until you're married". "That's crazy!" (I put that in quotes because it was a quote from someone I know who heard that a young man had saved himself for marriage.) Pornography is freely and readily available to children on the Internet. And now we no longer know what sex is for, no longer know what love really means, are quite sure that delayed gratification is evil (if we can actually define the term), and believe that anyone should indulge in anything they so desire. Well, not child porn or child molesting or ... okay, one or two things, maybe. That the fringe has moved from "bad people have sex outside marriage" to "bad people are involved in child molesting" is no big deal. We frogs don't feel the heat.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has offered another example. In their ruling on Prop 8, they've determined that "All that Proposition 8 accomplished was to take away from same-sex couples the right to be granted marriage licenses and thus legally to use the designation of ‘marriage,’ which symbolizes state legitimization and societal recognition of their committed relationships." Interesting. The issue here is "the right to be granted marriage licenses". It wasn't the issue back in May, 2008, when the California Supreme Court struck down the California law that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. Back then it was about definition. And (get this) it wasn't unclear. The Court understood that "the longstanding and traditional definition of marriage" is the union of one man and one woman. They didn't question that. They decided, consciously, that it should be changed. So notice the way it changes. It moves from the definition of marriage to the re-definition of marriage to "marriage licenses" and "marriage equity". And now we're dancing out here on the fringes of an argument where you can't actually get at the real issue (the definition of marriage) because we're talking about "unequal treatment". According to the court, defining marriage in the longstanding and traditional way "serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples." And how many of the frogs feel the heat now?

But look how far we (Christians) have come on this. The biblical prescription for marriage was the union of a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation and companionship. My making that statement will undoubtedly raise objections ... from Christians. Prior to 1960 (remember, the "sexual revolution"), the vast majority of Christians, Catholic and Protestant, believed that contraception was against God's will. To even make such a suggestion today is met with strong Christian opposition. And what has contraception bought us? It was the "gateway drug" so to speak for "free love", for removal of the limits of sex within marriage, and for even viewing procreation as an issue. Contraception is the reason today that almost all of the "more civilized" nations of the world have reached the effective reproduction rate of nearly negative, the point at which the number of children per family is less than what is required to sustain the population. So in a mere couple of decades Christians have moved from "Contraception is not God's will" to "How could you even suggest such a thing?". This has been a key step in the process of redefining marriage, and we are complicit. How about us frogs? Feeling it? No, I don't think so.

Look around you. I suspect you will have a hard time seeing it. The effects of the "youth culture" of the '60's that has made the biblical concept of wisdom with the elders seem foolish. The radicalism of the Feminist Movement of the '70's that has stripped the biblical concept of male and female roles pointless. The "sexual revolution" that has stripped sex of any meaning but recreation and eliminated any biblical morality on the subject. The evolution of the term, "Evangelicalism", which was once a means of identifying those who held to Scripture but now has little meaning. Even the notion of the purpose of the church, which was biblically to build up believers, then moved to "sharing the gospel", and is now closer to the "social gospel". It's called devolution. And we are regressing -- moving away from morality and toward the more base human depravity. Another "frog in the pot" moment? We're calling that "progress".

Side Note: Based on my comments about contraception, I have been asked, "Do you think contraception is against God's will? Do you think contraception should be outlawed?" I've answered the first question before quite awhile ago and I have a few times since. The second, I suppose, is a little baffling. I think it is God's will that everyone repent and turn to Him. Do I think that should be the law? I don't think that everything I think is God's will should also be the law.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Abusing the Bible

Islam is a religion of the book. They believe that their book itself is sacred. They frown on translating it because it's sacred. Physically disrespecting or abusing the Qur'an is blasphemy. Beware the consequences. Christianity, too, is a religion of the book, in a sense. We, of course, differ from Islam, however, in that we don't recognize the physical book to be sacred. We value it because God breathed it, but it is "the breath of God", so to speak, that is sacred, not the text or the paper or ... well, you get the idea.

This does not mean that the Bible does not get abused. It does. And I'm not talking about physical abuse. It is painful sometimes to watch the abuse that people apply to the texts of Scripture.

One of my all-time favorites is John 3:16. What we have here, apparently, is failure to communicate. While most English-speaking readers are understanding Jesus to say, "God loved the world so much ..." -- an affirmation of God's great love for every single human being on the planet -- Jesus actually said, "God loved the world in this way ..." The "so" in the text is like the English phrase, "You must do this task just so." It isn't a matter of quantity -- "so much" -- but a matter of quality -- "in this way". Jesus said most literally, "God loved the world in this way" followed by a description of the way in which God loved the world: He sent His Son for those who would believe. I'm pretty sure you can see that this is not, then, a grand expression of God's deep and abiding love for each and every human being equally. It just isn't in the text.

Philippians 4:3 is an ever popular verse, especially among the positive thinkers. "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." Nice "yank-out-of-context" verse. It is not about doing whatever I set my mind to. It is about doing something most people wouldn't even consider possible -- "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content." Paul says that as hard as this is to imagine, Christ gives him the power for ("can do all" = "have all power for") that which Christ wants him to do. Not "whatever I set my mind to." Sorry, but this verse does not support the ever-popular notion that God is our divine butler.

One that I really need to hit is 1 Cor 6:19. You know that one. "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit ...?" What do we know from this? Well, we know "Thou shalt not smoke cigarettes" and "Thou shalt not get tattoos" and certainly "Thou shalt not smoke pot" and any other pet peeve of the day you might want to deal with. Of course, that requires a serious yank out of context ... and a seriously bad place to end up. The context is not smoking cigarettes or the like. The context is sexual immorality. The prior verse says, "Flee sexual immorality", and this one is telling you why. Why? Because your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and "Do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her?" (1 Cor 6:16). The bad place you end up if you try to take this one in the popular sense? Well, if it is saying that you need to treat your body like the temple of the Holy Spirit, then we are in for radical changes to our lifestyles. No more Twinkies, that's for sure. Is your body weight optimum? Do you live in a city? Do you know that almost all cities are bad for your health in terms of pollution, stress, etc.? Do you drive? Isn't that an unwarranted risk of the temple? Oh, this is not going to be pretty if you really want this verse to go there. It doesn't.

From the skeptic side there are a host of really happening verses with which to beat Christians over the head. I'm sure you know them. In the past few years, for instance, John 3:16 dropped from the position of most recognized verse of the Bible and was replaced by Matt 7:1 -- "Judge not, lest you be judged." I don't doubt you've been dealt a blow or two from that bat. Little hint here. That's not what it means. We know this because Jesus goes on to describe how we should judge (Like "Take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (Matt 5:7) and "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matt 7:15ff) -- both explanations of judging.) Jesus wasn't saying not to judge. He was saying not to judge wrongly -- that you will be judged by the same standard you use (Matt 7:2).

In today's political climate, an ever-popular one is 2 Chron 7:14. You know that one: "... 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." Interesting that no one seems to ever put the beginning of that sentence in the quote: "When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people ..." (2 Chron 7:13). The promise is to the people of Israel when God promised drought and locust and pestilence. Interesting also is that we appear to be most interested in the "heal their land" part and not really so dedicated to the "humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways" part. But the point is that this was a promise to Solomon at a particular time for a particular purpose. It is not a universal promise. We can be sure that if God's people (not the nation, God's people) "humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways", God will do what is best for us. We do know we are forgiven. But counting on "heal their land" from that passage isn't reasonable. Count on "He will do what is right".

We all know the Great Commission. "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt 28:19-20). We have all seen it abused. Note that the Great Commission is not about evangelism. Sharing the Gospel is in there, but if that's where you stop, you didn't read the Great Commission and you end up with a "sort of nice" commission. Jesus commanded His disciples not to "spread the gospel", but to make disciples. He outlined how that is to occur. 1) Go (literally "as you are going"). 2) Baptize them. 3) Teach them to observe all that Christ commanded. If that's a "share a tract and run" commission to you, you're missing the biggest part. We are not commanded to make converts. We are commanded to build disciples.

Or how about 1 John 4:18? "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." See? It is wrong to fear God because He loves us perfectly. Yeah? Are you sure you want to go there? The Bible is full of warnings about the failure to fear God. More importantly, the context doesn't support it. The text is not talking about God's perfect love. It is about our love for God. It is speaking about perfecting His love in us (1 John 4:17). When we learn to love God perfectly, we will have nothing to fear from God "for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love" (the rest of 1 John 4:18). Now, if you believe you have arrived at perfect love for God, you might have an argument. (Might.) Until then, this is recommending you have a holy fear of God (see also Heb 12:5-11). Here's a little hint, though. When you find a verse that appears to contradict the bulk of Scripture, be very careful in settling happily on that contradiction.

Some are less common. The "prayer of Jabez" (1 Chron 4:9-10) has been touted as a universal formula for riches. Really? Where does that come from in the text? He prayed. God blessed in the way God blessed. That's the story. That doesn't equate to "It works this way for everyone." I've heard some suggest that the Mormons are guilty of Rev 22:18. "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book..." Come on, folks. The LDS have added their own book of "Scripture", but this warning is specifically about "The revelation of Jesus Christ", the book in the Bible that occupies the last spot in our Bibles. Perhaps the Hal Lindseys of our age might want to take note and be cautious, but this is not about adding to (or taking away from) the Bible. Or how about Matt 18:20? That warm bit about "when two or more are gathered, there I am in the midst of them." It's good, but it's not about your local Bible study. It's about church discipline. The "two or more" are meeting to remove the one who has refused to repent. Jesus's presence is for the authority required to do the discipline. After all, God is omnipresent. Do you really think it's about His "presence"? And then there is Luke 18:25. "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." The singularly most common explanation is that there was a gate in Jerusalem called "the eye of the needle" and camels couldn't get through this man-sized gate without removing their load ... like rich people have to do to get into heaven. Problem #1: No record of any such gate has ever been found. Problem #2: If it was just hard, why did the disciples react the way they did? "Then who can be saved?" (Luke 18:26). Jesus would have said, "Well, I just told you. The camel who gets on his knees and drops his load. Come on, guys, keep up!" Problem #3: Jesus didn't say it was hard (like it would be to unload a camel); He said it was impossible (Luke 18:27). The text is not about the difficulty, but the impossibility of getting into heaven. The only answer, according to Jesus, was, "What is impossible with men is possible with God" (Luke 18:27).

Those are just a few. See how many you can come up with.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Pro-Life?

In the afterglow of the "Susan Komen Foundation for the Cure v Planned Parenthood" conflagration, where a foundation dedicated to women's breast health gave in to the pressure of an abortion organization, I think there is something to consider. Not that the Foundation caved to the baby killers. No, the question for the church in America is "Will you follow suit?"

So, you pro-life Christians, it's time to step up. Specifically, churches in America. Time to stand or fall. Time to state at possible cost "We value human life because Man is made in the image of God." No more playing around. This can quickly become expensive.

On January 20 the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services issued a press release. Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, under direction from the president, has announced that "non-profit religious employers that offer insurance to their employees" can no longer limit that insurance to preclude either contraception or, ostensibly, abortion. Does your faith hold that contraception or abortion is a sin? Too bad. No choice. The government has spoken. Your religious freedoms in this regard are terminated. Sebelius has "kindly" offered to add a year to that requirement because, I mean, it must take time for churches to comply with this law. And, of course, that's the only reason that churches would not comply, right?

Why? Well, "Scientists have abundant evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women and their families, is documented to significantly reduce health costs, and is the most commonly taken drug in America by young and middle-aged women." Thus, the only reason churches might oppose such rules is either ignorance ("Hey, we didn't know that killing children in the womb, either by abortion or by contraception, was good for women's health.") or malice ("Yeah, we knew, but we didn't care."). In either case, our benevolent government has determined that you no longer have that First Amendment right. (Let's not delve into the fact that abortifacents are known to increase the risk of cancer and such -- See things like the New York Times on Yaz and Yasmine, the U.S. government on contraception and cancer, womenshealth.gov on the risks, or Science Daily on the dangers. Let's not go there, okay?) No, because "young and middle-aged women" commonly take contraceptives, you, dear church, will provide coverage for it. Now that we think about it, since young and middle-aged women are known to drink alcohol quite a bit, we might consider adding that, too. Well, not yet.

Tongue in cheek? Only a little. That's the declaration. Those whose faith preclude it don't get the right to practice their faith. Too bad. So it is time to decide. The Catholic Church has already stated, "We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law." What about the rest of us? Will we cave (again)? Or will we count the cost and stand our ground? Now is when we begin to find who is and is not pro-life. "We're pro-life! Unless, of course, the government says we can't be. In that case, we're pro-life ... in word, at least. Pay no attention to that hypocrite behind the pulpit." We don't want to go there.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Does God Care About Football?

The season is over. The Super Bowl is finished. The outcome is known. But back when Tim Tebow was all the rage, the question was, "Does God care about football?" Tebow didn't think so. Most Christians would likely say, "No." I would beg to differ. It was Jesus speaking:
"Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered" (Matt 10:29-30).
According to Jesus, God cares about sparrows and the hairs on your head. In the words of one detractor, God is "hyper-interventionist". He is involved in every single event on the planet.

"Okay, okay," some might acquiesce, "He's 'involved'. But does He affect the outcome of a football game?" The question is essentially repeated because we don't really believe that God cares about the outcome of the football game. The question is repeated because we think that God likes to operate remote from Man's Free Will. Let it fall where it will. ("Will" ... get it? Oh, never mind.) Let me refer you to Matt 10 again.

"Alright," even fewer might give, "He cares. But does He care about Tim Tebow and football?" Ah! Now we get a little closer to the real question. You see, if God loved Tim Tebow and God cares about football, well, then, why wasn't Tim Tebow in the Super Bowl? That's an obvious dilemma, isn't it?

Well, it is from a narrow, not-really-thinking perspective. Yes, God does indeed care about football at least as much as He cares about the hairs on your head. Yes, God does indeed love His own, even much more than He loves the world. Yes, I would even go so far as to say that God cares about Tim Tebow (or any other believer) and football. The problem is that we think, then, that this must mean that God will make sure that every believer in football will have a pleasant outcome. And that isn't very wise thinking.

Think about it for a moment. Assume a human parent who really loves her child. Because of her deep love for her dear child, when it comes to sticking needles in her little one's arm, that's not going to happen because if you love someone you only want pleasant outcome, right? Discipline? No way! That's unpleasant (Heb 12:11). A loving parent would never discipline her child. Right? I think we can agree that saving your child's life with necessary albeit painful inoculations is love, and the Bible is quite clear that the parent who loves his or her child disciplines that child. Thus, love does not always seek a pleasant experience for the loved one. Love seeks the best. And sometimes the best is not pleasant.

I think Jesus was quite clear that God cares about His own people down to the very hairs on their head, so He certainly cares about football. We would be mistaken, however, to assume that this means that believers will always win. They will always have the best outcome.

One other consideration in this question, though. If we're thinking that a God who loves His children will always want a pleasant experience for them, we are way outside God's reality. Notice the exchange when Joshua meets "the captain of the host of the LORD."
Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, "Are you for us or for our adversaries?" He said, "No ..." (Josh 5:13-14).
To Joshua, as, perhaps, to Tim Tebow, it was pretty cut and dried. Here is a warrior. "Are you for us or are you for our adversaries?" We could ask God, "Were you for the Giants or for the Patriots?" Plain. Simple. Even obvious. The pre-incarnate Christ in the form of the captain of the hosts of the Lord answered, "No." Hey, now that's not the right answer. We asked which one. You said, "No." And, of course, it was the right answer. Whose side was the captain of the hosts of the Lord on? The Lord's side, of course.

In the end, Tim Tebow, Eli Manning, the NY Giants, the sparrow that falls, the hairs on your head, all this plays out to God's glory. The first priority is not the comfort of the players or the winning of the game or the pleasant circumstances for the believers. Whatever works to the glory of God is the prime concern. Football can do that. Sometimes it can do that when believers lose. It doesn't mean that God doesn't care. He certainly does.