Saturday, March 31, 2012

Heartbreaking Relationships

The topic of divorce in Christian circles is hotly debated. There are those who say, "There is no biblical reason for divorce." These are, necessarily, in an extreme minority. There are others who say, "God allows divorce for sexual immorality and desertion ... and that's it." Of course, then the whole definitions of "sexual immorality" and "desertion" come into question. Is it "sexual immorality" if the husband looked at another woman? "Well, Jesus called that adultery!" Is it "desertion" if it's emotional separation? "Well, he's still here, but I feel deserted." And there are even more who say, "God doesn't want you to be miserable, so if you're in a marriage that makes you miserable, God would allow you to divorce." That "miserable" could be from anything from abuse to neglect to "I can't stand the way he squeezes the toothpaste."

On one hand, examining the question from the input of Scripture gives a particular view. On the other hand, examining the question from those in the midst of the fray gives a different view. Russell Moore writes to a questioner who asks, "Should I divorce if I’m miserable?" And, of course, the question gets more questionable in the comments. You see, it is heartbreaking to hear of the pain some people are in. So, here's the question. Do we maintain a biblical view or do we subjugate the biblical view to the personal view? And if we maintain a biblical view, how do we do so in the face of such pain and heartbreak from people about whom we care deeply?

Friday, March 30, 2012

How Do We Get There From Here?

There is a common, basic core in most spiritual beliefs. There is "God" and there is "us" and there is "a gap". Common. Most religions recognize that "the gap" is our failure to meet "God's" standards and we need to work really, really hard at doing just that. Be good and you'll be okay. Be bad and ... well, we know that won't end well. That's "God", "us", and "the gap". A few religions make the gap out to be in us alone. That is, we're not in some violation of God or some such. We're just not who we ought to be. Meditate, divest yourself of worldly stuff, that sort of thing, and you can elevate yourself to the point of "God". But it's still "God", "us", and "the gap". And then there are those who think that the "us" are too far gone to be of any help in crossing "the gap" and it takes a divine, one-sided effort to cross that gap.

There are theological terms for these three positions in Christianity. They are Pelagianism, synergism, and monergism. Pelagianism was taught by (get this) Pelagius (Who would have thought?) back in the 2nd-3rd century. He opposed Augustine who claimed that perfection was impossible for humans (Original Sin and all that). "Not so," Pelagius assured his listeners. "If you work hard enough and drum up enough emotional response, you can 'arrive'." "Not so," Augustine warned his listeners. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Silly Augustine, taking the Bible literally and all. While Augustine argued that Natural Man was incapable of being good (you know, like Paul taught), Pelagius taught that your free will was sufficient to correct your ways and make you a good person. Pelagianism isn't particularly popular today among genuine Christians. Oh, there are a few. It was the teaching, for instance, of the famous Charles Finney. Mormons are also sold on the idea. But not genuine Christians.

We're left, then, with the other two possibilities: Synergism and monergism. Note, first, the similarity in the words -- "ergism". The suffix is based on "erg", a word of Greek origin that we use today to reference energy (See it in there? "Energy"). The question these two seek to answer is "If we do not contain sufficient energy to bridge the gap between us and God (which the Pelagians deny), where does that energy come from?" The difference, then, between the two energy sources is in the prefixes. "Syn" means "with", and "mono" means "one". "Synergy", in fact, is a fairly common term today denoting the concept of combined energy. It is the joining of potential from multiple sources that produces a more powerful output than one alone could have produced. Monergism, obviously, would be the output of one power source. Setting aside Pelagianism for the heresy it has already been declared since the early days of Christendom, we're left with two possibilities. Either we combine our power with God's power to bridge the gap between God and us, or God's power alone does it for us. These are the only options.

As it turns out, the most popular view today is the former, synergism. Here's how it works. God has expended a lot of effort to save us. His efforts, however, fall short. Just short. I mean, almost there. But whether God lacks the power or simply is unwilling to use it, it doesn't quite get there. He requires one thing from us. In order to actually accomplish our salvation, He needs for us to agree. If we don't agree, He can't save us. ("Can't" either in the sense of "incapable" or "unable due to His own choices".) In the final analysis, then, Human Free Will is the key that either accesses or denies the salvation that God has enabled. (Now, those who favor synergism avoid the "God is not Sovereign" charge here by saying that God has sovereignly decided to limit His salvation to those who choose to accept it, so they still affirm the sovereignty of God, albeit not the Sovereignty of God.) Since "synergism" is the combining of abilities or power such that the outcome is more than either individual source could/would provide, this is classic "synergism". That is, God alone does not finish salvation and Man alone cannot attain salvation, but together their combined efforts accomplish salvation. Synergism.

Monergism operates a bit differently. In this approach, Man is, well, not an option. That is, he is powerless, ineffectual, without anything to offer. His "good" is not good enough. His spiritual condition is "dead". His only natural inclinations are always only to evil. Natural Man, in this view, doesn't have any "erg" to offer. Thus, the initial crossing of the gap between God and Man occurs purely by God's power alone. All by Himself, God changes the spiritual condition from "dead" to "live", modifies the natural inclinations to allow for something other than evil, and endows the person with faith. Monergism -- one power source providing all that is required.

Well, there they are. You may detect some underlying stuff in there. "Hey, isn't that Calvinism?" Or perhaps, "Yeah, that's Arminian thinking." And there are very likely those who will even protest, "Hey, wait! I thought Finney was a good guy!" One or two might even suggest I've raised a false dilemma here. "Oh, no, there are certainly more options than that!" I don't think so, but feel free to think up some. In the meantime, you'll have to figure out what you believe. Does the Bible teach that we are the final arbiters of our own salvation, or does it depend "not on human will or effort, but on God, who has mercy" (Rom 9:16)? Maybe you think it's not "not of works lest any man should boast" like the Pelagians. Maybe you agree that God has limited His sovereignty and enabled spiritually "dead" Man to make the final decision. Or maybe you have some new, creative concept that goes around all three possibilities. I've laid them out as fairly as I know how. You decide.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


I don't often post twice in a day, but I read this news item and had to point it out. Seriously? Words deemed "upsetting" (like "birthday", "divorce", or even references to wealth) should be removed? (Note, by the way, that they are literally trying to ban "religion".) You see, we have a right not to be "upset". Sigh.


For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matt 6:14-15).
There are a lot of famous passages in Scripture. A lot of people know John 3:16. More popular, likely, is Matt 7:1 -- "Judge not" ... you know. And who doesn't know the famous "Lord's Prayer"? "Our Father who art in heaven ...", you know. In fact, most of us know it in King James English. And while some of us lean toward "trespasses" and others lean toward "debts", we've pretty much got the same thing going there. It's almost universal. The passage above, however, is not one of those well-known ones. Oddly enough, it begins with "for" because it is an explanation of one of those famous passages. Indeed, it is Jesus's postscript on the Lord's Prayer. Why do we pray, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us"? This is Jesus's answer to the unspoken question. "If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Ouch! Apparently, then, forgiveness is a big deal. A really big deal. On the other hand, I think the concept of forgiveness can be one of the most difficult ones for us to even grasp.

What is forgiveness? How does it work? Exactly what are we supposed to do? You see, what we've been told is "forgive and forget". Especially Christians. "You know, God forgives and forgets, so we should, too." I don't believe, in fact, that the statement is true as we typically mean it, and I wrote about it recently. "Forget" in the human "loss of memory" sense is not what God does. But ... should we? I think, given the importance that Jesus placed on forgiveness, some attention ought to be paid as to what it is and what we should be doing.

Most people define forgiveness almost in a circular fashion, like the dictionary does. "Forgiveness is the action or process of forgiving or being forgiven." Ummm, thanks. Now give me something that works. It's almost humorous, except that I think it's very much how many of us think. "It's just ... well ... forgiving someone." Yes, but what does that mean? "Okay, okay, don't get so touchy. How is this? It means to grant pardon, to cease to feel resentment for, something like that." See? That's what I'm saying. You see, "grant pardon" means "forgive", and we're back in a circle. What does that mean?

Well, let's see if we can figure it out. Forgiveness, it would appear, is a conscious choice. It's not a feeling or emotion. It affects them, but if we are commanded to forgive, it must be something we can choose to do. Conscious choice. We are repeatedly told to forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. A command that we must be able to obey. So apparently the "cease to feel resentment for" descriptive is a result of forgiveness, not a definition.

One definition offered for "forgiveness" includes this idea: "to give up all claim on account of". Perhaps now we're getting somewhere. There is a necessary prerequisite to "forgiveness" that is often overlooked. The requirement is that a claim must exist. There must be a violation, a theft, a loss, a debt. (You know, "... as we forgive our debtors.") For anyone to forgive there must first be something owed. As such the very popular idea of forgiveness being a sort of "Ah, forget it, it was nothing" is not forgiveness. There has to be something before it can be forgiven. If it was nothing, forgiveness is not required and cannot take place. In fact, we know this, don't we? I mean, if we do not forgive, what do we do? We "get even". You see, forgiveness requires some sort of "unevenness" that must be leveled.

So, here's where we are so far. Forgiveness is mandatory. Without it you do not get forgiven. Second, forgiveness is commanded and, therefore, it is something we choose to do. The emotions involved, such as no longer bearing resentment, are the results of forgiveness, not the definition. Third, forgiveness is not possible if a debt is not owed. Forgiveness is a possible response to something owed.

Now here is where it gets interesting. That's because a misunderstanding of forgiveness will make it not merely difficult, but ludicrous. You've seen this before. Someone does something horrible to someone. I mean, horrible. A rape or a murder or some other terrible thing. On one hand, kindly outsiders might suggest that the victim "forgive", but the world at large would protest such a thing as wrong. Why? Because a debt is owed and just setting aside such a debt would be wrong. In fact, in cases like these -- cases of huge debt -- very few think that forgiveness is the right thing to do. Beyond that, if a victim of such a wrong declares that he or she has forgiven the debtor, many think the victim is a nut. We understand that a debt owed requires payment. We get that. Dismissing the payment is not justice. And without justice the entire concept of right and wrong will collapse.

And, yet, we are commanded to forgive. So how does that work? How do we obey and "give up a claim" while retaining justice? I would suggest that there is a two-fold answer to this. If we are to retain justice while forgiving, there are two aspects to consider. First, we are commanded not to "get even". Why? "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'" (Rom 12:19). Getting even, then, is God's task, not ours. Or to put it another way, for me to "get even" over what someone owes me would pale in comparison to what God would do. I needn't bother. The author of Hebrews says, "For we know Him who said, 'Vengeance is mine; I will repay.' And again, "The Lord will judge His people.'" (Heb 10:30). Thus, we can "let it go" without surrendering justice because God will make it right.

But in purely human terms, there must be something else going on. And I think we've already seen what it is, even if we haven't yet apprehended it. Remember, we're talking here about a genuine debt. Something is owed. Forgiving a debt doesn't make the debt go away. When you seek "debt forgiveness" in this world, it doesn't mean that the amount owed simply ceases to exist. What happens to that debt? It doesn't vanish; it gets paid in full. In the case of repayment, the debtor pays it in full. In the case of forgiveness, the creditor pays it in full. But in all cases the debt gets paid.

When we forgive, then, we say, "Yes, you owe me, but I'll pay for this one." That is forgiveness. A forgiven debt doesn't vanish. It is paid. When Jesus died on the cross, His last words were the words of debt payment: "It is finished." It was "tetelestai", an accounting term meaning "paid in full". Jesus paid it all. We are commanded to forgive as we are forgiven. We are forgiven by God's Son paying the very real debt. The debt wasn't simply eliminated; it was tetelestai" -- "paid in full". We are to pay the debt ourselves for what others owe us and rely on God to ultimately make it right. That is forgiveness. Feeling better about it is just the response to the proper process. And genuine forgiveness does not nullify genuine justice. Forgiveness mandates full payment.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Justice for All

You have to have been living under a rock if you haven't heard about the Trayvon Martin case. It has been in all the news. There have been rallies in multiple cities over the injustice. The catchphrases on signs and t-shirts du jour are "I am Trayvon" and "Justice for Trayvon", phrases the family is aiming to trademark, apparently. "Justice for Trayvon." That's what everyone is seeking. Justice.

I don't know if that's the case here. Imagine, for instance, that the rallies and protests and unrest all force the police to arrest and the courts to try the villain, George Zimmerman. Imagine that the judicial system examines the testimonies and evidence and determine that Mr. Zimmerman is innocent. Imagine that a jury of peers concludes that Mr. Zimmerman acted within his legal rights. Would the crowds cheer? "Justice has been served!" Is this an acceptable outcome? Neither you nor I can imagine this.

No, we know what is expected. Based purely on the media's leaks of evidence, hearsay, and unsubstantiated testimony, we have already determined that George Zimmerman hatefully murdered this unfortunate young man who was minding his own business and did nothing at all to cause this cold-blooded, racially-motivated execution. Couldn't be anything else. If the courts determine that it was, the courts are wrong. No, no, justice is jail time as a minimum and, certainly more satisfying, a soon and public hanging. No, these crowds calling for "Justice for Trayvon" aren't mainly a justice mob; they're a lynch mob.

"Oh, sure," I'm hearing already, "protect the white man. Racist!." I'm tired of the racist card myself. I would like to see Zimmerman arrested, put in front of a judge and jury, and tried based on the evidence and verified testimony. I'd like to see what people with all the available facts conclude on the case. If a jury of his peers tells us that he's guilty, I'd like to see him punished to the full extent of the law. If they find him innocent, I'd like to see him released. You know, "justice for all."

But we don't live in that world anymore. Well, I'm not sure we ever have. In 1992 when a jury acquitted four police officers in the Rodney King case, we didn't get a "Whew! Glad that's cleared up." We got the 1992 Los Angeles riots. When CHP Officer Lee Minikus attempted to arrest Marquette Frye for drunk driving, he didn't get the support of the community to try the man in a legal court hearing. He got the Watts riots of 1965. Who knows how many black Americans were put to death by white activists for crimes for which they were accused but never convicted simply because of the color of their skin? The lynch mob was an unpleasant part of American history and it hasn't stopped yet. And it's not merely a racial issue. Herman Cain was forced to drop out of the presidential contest not because he was guilty of something, but because he was accused of something. I would venture to guess, in fact, that most people hearing the accusation that a male committed some sort of sexual crime -- anything from harassment to rape to pedophilia -- assumes he's guilty before any evidence or trial occurs.

American jurisprudence is founded partly on a basic principle: "Innocent until proven guilty." It carries with it a host of concepts such as the right to trial, the burden of proof on the prosecution, and proving guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt". Founded on a presumption of innocence, the American justice system is tilted to sparing rather than convicting people. On the surface it seems like a good idea -- very civilized and mature. But we're not much for civilized and mature when the emotions kick in. So in the name of "justice", the crowds want Zimmerman to hang and the nation proves again that we haven't moved much beyond the old fashioned lynch mob mentality. If truth-in-advertising laws applied, we'd have to be crying, "Justice for some!" or, more likely, "Make the legal system do what we feel like at the moment and call it justice!" Of course, that's way too many words. Let's just call it "Justice for Trayvon" and know that's not really what we mean. Overgeneralization? Perhaps. But not much, I fear.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Truth and Practice

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil 1:21).
I have this secret that I haven't told just anyone. The reason that I haven't told just anyone is because it sounds so ... wrong. Now, I don't believe that it's wrong. Still, most of the people I know, even Christians, are likely to chide me for it. "Oh, you shouldn't say that!" Some told me that word for word.

What's my little secret? I have this hope -- a quiet hope, not too big, but just there -- that I will die before I retire. Beyond that, I have this tiny little fantasy, this tenuous wish, that I won't live beyond tonight.

"Oh, that's just horrible!" some will say. "Christians shouldn't talk like that! We should be full of life! We should be joyful! 'Rejoice evermore' Paul said. That's just wrong!" Yeah, that's what I would expect. The more circumspect would say, "Is life so terrible?" And they've all missed the point.

For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. To die is gain. For me, to leave this world with all its pleasures and joys and find myself eternally and sinlessly in the presence of my Savior forevermore is gain. For me, it's not that this life is so terrible. It's not. I actually have a wonderful life. It's that the next so far surpasses this one that I can hardly wait until my Father welcomes me home.

As it turns out, while I know that my view baffles many, I'm the one who is really at a loss. I honestly can't figure out why every Christian -- you know, those who claim to be followers of Christ, who love the Lord -- isn't of the same mind as I am. It seems as if most Christians are desperately clinging to life here. We are ambassadors, God's adopted children in earth suits taking care of God's business during our temporary assignment here in this short life until we can be sent home. Yet so many appear to be more intent on remaining on assignment than going home. I don't get that.

Jesus said, "You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt 7:16). James tells us that living faith produces genuine results (James 2:14-26). Or, to put it as others before me have, to find out what someone really believes, look at what they do. If we claim to believe, in the above example, that "present with the Lord" is the best possible thing but act as if leaving this world would be a bad thing, what do we really believe? In this and other areas, does our practice align with our truth?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Deep Nonsense

Most of us have heard of the wise monk who referred to something as "like the sound of one hand clapping". And most of us have thought, "Wow, that's really deep." Some of us have thought that only long enough to think, "Hey, wait ... that's nonsense." That's what I call "deep nonsense". We're captivated by it because it sounds really deep, really profound. It must be of genuine significance even if we can't quite put our finger on why. Or maybe we can and we're just enamored with it even if it isn't actually true.

I think we live with these kinds of things all the time. One obvious phrase might be "women's reproductive health". Oh, awesome, important. We're really for that. Really. That is, we're for it until you realize that the term is being used to indicate not merely "women's reproductive health", but "the trump card for life." That is, you either favor killing babies if a woman wants to because it's a matter of "women's reproductive health" or you are against killing babies and are, by default, opposed to "women's reproductive health". Now, wait! That doesn't make sense! That's not right! And a lot of us have bought into a pit of deep nonsense.

I recently exchanged emails with a couple of people over the Atonement. I claimed that Christ's blood was efficacious for the forgiveness of sin. They claimed that God was bigger than that. "God is powerful enough to forgive sin by His sheer will." Oh, yeah, that's certainly much bigger than my pitiful "atonement" clause. Surely an omnipotent God doesn't need a sacrifice to pay for sin. He's much bigger than that. It really does sound good, right, deep. But when you stop to think about it, you run into a problem. In order for God to forgive sin by an act of will, He would need to violate His justice. If Abraham was right and God is indeed "the Judge of all the earth", He would disqualify Himself from the position of Chief Justice by violating His own justice. He would, in fact, violate His own nature. And now we have a god who contradicts himself. Why shouldn't we have God's Word which contradicts itself (as some claim)? He does it to Himself.

The ramifications of this god would be that justice does not prevail. While we like the idea that grace and mercy prevail over justice, perhaps, it won't bode well for us if that's the case. You see, down deep at the base of the concept of morality is the concept of justice. There are things that are morally right and wrong and those morally wrong things must be dealt with justly or the basis for morality is shaken. Further, if God can override His own nature to set aside justice in favor of grace and mercy, why wouldn't He do so for everyone? Is He playing favorites? Well, I suppose that would be expected since He has already set aside justice. So why not fair play? Beyond that, if God can set aside justice for grace and mercy, why would He cruelly send His Son to die? I mean, that kind of torment just wasn't necessary, was it? So this god who sets aside justice for mercy and grace is, simultaneously, really, really mean. He tormented his own son for no good reason.

It begins to pile up after awhile. We've waded, I think, into some really deep nonsense. It sounded good and it seemed right, perhaps, but only a little bit of thought makes it a really big problem. Like "the sound of one hand clapping."

Go ahead. Think about it. I bet you can come up with a lot more "wisdom" that sounds so good as it rolls off the tongue but turns out to be really, really deep nonsense if you think it through. I think the world is full of that kind of stuff. Makes sense, I suppose. The "god of this world" is also "the father of lies". Why would we expect anything else?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Going to Hell?

Over at the excellent Stand to Reason blog, Alan Shlemon asks and answers the question, "Are Homosexuals Going to Hell?" His answer? "Why, yes! Why do you ask?" Okay, almost. The answer is we're all going to hell. All sin deserves hell. Homosexuals don't have a corner on the sin market. It's a good entry and I recommend you read it, but it made me think down a different line.

In normal human thinking today, our default position is "Humans are basically good." By normal human standards, everyone is going to heaven unless, of course, they do something really bad. Now, we Christians know better ... or we should. We know that the Bible teaches unequivocally "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." We know that "the wages of sin is death." We know that "No man comes to the Father but by Me" (Christ speaking, of course). It wasn't some narrow-minded Bible-belt pastor who said this, but our Lord and Savior: "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matt 7:13). How many people are destined for heaven? "Few", according to Jesus.

We catch a lot of flak when we say people are going to hell. It's rude, unkind, intolerant. We stand at the "Bridge Out" sign and point and we're mean-spirited, hateful, and bigoted. In fact, we struggle with the idea. "Why do so many people go to hell?" Indeed, it cannot be true that God plans for anyone to end up there, right? Show me a Christian who affirms that God plans for people to go to hell, and I'll show you a rare breed indeed. So we're bad for saying it and God is sad (or bad?) for allowing it and it's all a terrible mistake, but it appears that it's true that few go to heaven and many go to hell.

I'd like to point out, however, that our evaluation is faulty. First, God doesn't damn anyone arbitrarily. People don't spend eternity without God by accident. They earn it. They work hard for it. C.S. Lewis suggested that people in hell, in a sense, triumphed over God. Beyond that, I think we're asking the wrong question. As Mr. Shlemon pointed out, the question is not "Do homosexuals go to hell?" All sinners are headed for hell. And we get that. But what we very often miss is the reverse. Not "Why are people going to hell?", but "Why would anyone not go to hell?" You see, we've all earned hell. We've all shaken our fists in the face of God and declared, "I will be like the Most High." We've all joined the Revolution against the Creator. We've all earned the eternal death penalty. So the question isn't "Why would God send homosexuals to hell?" or anything so trite. The question is "Why would God save one?"

"The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." That's the evaluation of Christ. We shouldn't presume otherwise. When Paul spoke of the concept he said, "What if God, desiring to show His wrath and to make known His power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory" (Rom 9:22-23). The question is not "Why do so many go to hell?" The really astounding question is "Why would God save anyone?" It is in that question that we see God's mercy magnified.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


The disagreement arises fairly often these days. "Orthodoxy or orthopraxy?" Okay, maybe not in those terms. But the question remains, "Is it more important to be doctrinally sound or to live a godly life?" (As if there is some sort of contradiction there.) You will hear people say, "That guy is too heavenly minded to be any earthly good." People will complain if you're too oriented around theology and not concerned enough (to their satisfaction) with "practical application". Is this a valid concern? Is it possible to be too concerned about theology?

In a sense, I suppose it is. There is a sense in which knowledge puffs up. That sense occurs when we value knowledge for knowledge sake. It is a problem when we accumulate information purely because of the information. That kind of theological concern is without much point.

On the other hand, if the primary point of being a believer is having a functioning relationship with God, and "theology" is the study of the nature of God, it cannot be possible to be too concerned about knowing God. Paul warns in 1 Cor 8 that knowledge can cause arrogance (1 Cor 8:1), but he goes on to contrast arrogant knowledge with the important knowledge: "But if anyone loves God, he is known by God" (1 Cor 8:3). He contrasts the arrogant "You know, eating food offered to idols is evil" with "There is no God but one". Knowing that God is the knowledge we need to possess.

There are two basic senses of "knowing". One is to have to perceive, to see, to have the data. In this sense we know facts and information. The other sense is to experience, to know by doing. It is a more intimate "know". Applying these two concepts, for instance, to a husband and wife, if a husband knows his wife only in the first sense, he would be a good student but a poor husband. He would know what colors she likes and know what foods she doesn't like and know her favorite books. He wouldn't know her. A good husband would know his wife experientially. He wouldn't simply know about her; he would know who she is, how she feels, what she thinks. Two different concepts of "knowing".

Theology is the study of God. To know God we need to know about God. We must know His nature, His characteristics, His likes and dislikes. But if all we have are data points, we don't yet know God. This surface kind of knowledge puffs up. On the other hand, using that information to know God has a radically different effect. It humbles you. It changes how you live. It produces godly living. So which is more important? Knowing the truth about God to the end of knowing God will produce right living. Right living without true knowledge of God will produce ... nothing. Theology is not a minor issue to the true believer.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Good Fight

I know that there are lots of Christians -- mostly men, I suppose, but not only men -- who wrestle with pornography. They're tempted, they succumb, they hate it, they repent, and the cycle repeats. What to do? What to do? Well, that's easy, right? Throw out the computer. You see, if you get rid of the computer, you get rid of the problem. And while that seems extreme, didn't Jesus say to cut off your hand if your hand causes you to sin? Well, if your computer causes you to sin, cut it off!

I know that there are lots of Christians who wrestle with television. Well, maybe not "wrestle". But they watch too much and somewhere back there they know they watch too much and it certainly does have an affect on their thinking and we know that Scripture says, "I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless" (Psa 101:3). Still, the idea of decreasing TV time is tough and the suggestion of getting rid of it is outlandish. Why? Didn't Jesus say to cut off your hand if your hand causes you to sin? Well, if your TV causes you to sin, cut it off!

I know, in fact, that there are lots of these types of things. Sometimes it's that particular woman you work with that tempts you or that particular guy you work with that just makes you so mad. For some it's politics that just get you so agitated that you build up the wrath of man that does not work the righteousness of God. For many it's food -- what the Bible calls "gluttony". Just the term makes you uncomfortable, a bit edgy, and perhaps a little defensive. "I'm not a glutton; I'm just big boned." Lots of people suffer from the seeming need to gossip. They join social media sites just so they can find out who is doing what to whom. They might cloak it in "prayer requests" or even "righteous indignation", but it's gossip, and we all know that God doesn't hold a positive view of gossip.

We all, it seems, have pet sins, temptations that we face and fail, trials that we come up against often and to which we lose too often. We also seem to have mechanisms for those pet sins. Maybe it's Internet access for pornography. "You know, without that I don't think I'd fail as much." Perhaps it's the television. "If I cut off the cable, I might not waste so much time. (Because, seriously, can anyone expect me to get rid of the television(s)?)" Maybe it's your job or your coworkers, your refrigerator or your social media. There always seems to be some sort of mechanism. And we often think that if we could just manage that particular mechanism, whatever it might be, we could eliminate the sin problem it causes.

I would beg to differ. Oh, eliminating those mechanisms may be a good idea, but here's what James says on the subject:
Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers" (James 1:14-16).
Sure, there is the devil and there is the world. They conspire together to drag you away. We get that. But our big problem is not typically either of these. We have met the enemy and he is us. It's our own flesh. It's the problem that Paul bemoaned in Romans 7.
I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members (Rom 7:22-23).
That's right, a war. We aren't dueling with mechanisms. We're waging a war against Satan, the world, and, most intimately, our own flesh.

How is that accomplished? How can we win in this epic struggle? Well, of course, it would be wise to set aside those things that cause you to stumble. That is biblical. However, it would be foolish to think that the computer or the television or the refrigerator makes you sin. No, that would be missing the point entirely, wouldn't it? Eliminating the mechanism is not the complete answer. The fight that has to take place is in you. It is accomplished by God's power (Phil 2:13). It is warfare. It is a process of renewing the mind (Rom 12:2), of taking every thought captive (2 Cor 10:5). It is not simply removing the apparatus of sin; it is changing the origin of it.

As a kid, I used to play this silly game. "Don't look over there!" They always look. "Ha, ha! Made you look!" It is the same in life. "Don't think about that!" You won't be able to think about anything else. "Don't go there!" You can hardly go anywhere else. In driver's training they taught me, "Don't look at the cars parked along the side of the street. You will always go where you look." In the same way, we are commanded to be "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith" (Heb 12:2). The "good fight" is replacing our foolishness with wisdom, our crass desires for godly desires, our stark lust with love for Christ. It isn't simply that we will sin less in a vacuum. It is that there is something there that we need that is far better than the sin we're indulging. "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil 3:8). That's where we need to be. The fight is not simply to remove the mechanisms of sin, but to replace the fleshly thoughts and desires with godly ones. It is to find our ultimate satisfaction in Christ. That's when we are sanctified. That's what our processes should be aimed at. That is the good fight.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ignorance Ain't Bliss

Messing with a friend one April Fool's day, I sent them a letter that included the quote, "'The children of your youth make you quiver' (Hezekiah 127:4)." My friend objected. "Hey, that's not what it says. It says that 'the children of your youth are like arrows in your hand.' It wasn't until later that I realized you had quoted Hezekiah." Hezekiah was my favorite Old Testament book, and 3 Peter my favorite New Testament book. They sounded "Bibley" without actually existing and I could get away with a lot with them. "You know," I could say, "The Bible says, 'This too shall pass' -- Hezekiah 12:3", and people would feel obliged to believe me because, hey, it's in the Bible. Of course, it wasn't.

Modern Christians have all sorts of options for Bibles in modern translations or versions. Why is it, then, that we suffer so pitifully from Bible ignorance? Ask your everyday church-going type if these quotes come from the bible and you'll likely find that most of them believe they do:

"God helps those who help themselves." (Actually attributed to Ben Franklin)

"God works in mysterious ways." (Actually from a 19th century hymn)

"Cleanliness is next to godliness." (Apparently something from John Wesley)

"Moderation in all things."

"Once saved, always saved."

"God loves you and wants you to be happy."

The problem is that they're not in there. Some of the popular-but-faulty quotes are close, but not quite. You'll find, for instance, the quote that "Money is the root of all evil." No, what it says is "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils" (1 Tim 6:10). Note the two errors. It is not money, but the love of money. And this love is not the root of all evil, but all kinds of evil.

A popular near-miss is "Spare the rod, spoil the child." The words aren't there. The idea is. "Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him" (Prov 13:24). "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him" (Prov 22:15). Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol" (Prov 23:13-14). So, yeah, pretty close, but not quite.

How about this one? Surely this one is in the Bible. "Pride goes before a fall." Oooh, close again, but still not accurate. The quote is actually "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Prov 16:18). So the idea is present here, but not the text.

Other ideas are unbiblical though quite popular. Did you know, for instance, that there is no reference to Eve eating an apple? She ate the fruit of the tree. The apple was popularized later. Everyone knows about "Jonah and the whale", except the Bible doesn't talk about a whale. It talks about a "great fish". And while we all know that there were three wise men in the stable at the birth of Jesus (and we even know their names), it turns out that there is no reference to the number of magi (it is believed that there were three because there were three gifts listed), there is no reference to a stable (just a manger), and there is good reason to believe that these magi didn't show up for at least a year after Jesus's birth.

The near misses aren't quite so bad. There are, however, others that are a dangerous ignorance.

"God helps those who help themselves" is a lie. God helps those who cannot help themselves. Indeed, the basic biblical premise about the nature of Man is "There is none good; no, not one." Worse, if "God helps those who help themselves", the logical conclusion is "God ultimately saves those who save themselves." That is, if you help yourself by being as good as you can be, God will see that and help you out.

"God loves you and wants you to be happy." Derived somewhat, I suppose, from the "blessings" mentioned often in Scripture, this idea is scurrilous. (Just had to throw a vocabulary word in there.) There is no such reference or inference in Scripture. We know that "God works all things together for good to those who love God", but that isn't a promise of happiness. We do, on the other hand, have promises for suffering and discipline. This notion that God loves everyone and wants us all to be happy is the route to all sorts of sin. "I'm not happy in my marriage and God wants me to be happy, so I will divorce the bum." "I will be happy if she and I move in together and God wants me to be happy, so it must be right." ("If loving you is wrong, I don't want to be right.") In this form, "God and happiness" form a gateway drug, so to speak, a dangerous slope that simply feeds self.

"Wait a minute!" I will hear some say. "Sure, that 'once saved, always saved' isn't actually in their, but the idea is." I'd tag that as another dangerous misquote. The concept of "once saved, always saved" suggests that we can get saved and never change. There is no necessary fruit. There is no reason to suggest that the new birth produces a new life. James would have to be mistaken, however, because he assured us that faith without works was dead. Avoiding this error with the premise of "once saved, always saved" is very difficult.

It's sad, I think, that we have so many translations and so many forms of the Bible available, yet we seem to know it so poorly. If it is true that Scripture is the sole authority on matters of faith and practice, I'd think we'd want to be familiar with it. Vastly more important, however, if the Bible is the Word of God, any follower of God would need to be wrapped in the letters that God has provided for us. We ought to be reading it voraciously. We ought to be memorizing it and meditating on it. We ought to be talking about it and living it. Cute mistakes and sloppy errors aside, the dangers of failing to rightly handle the Word of God are too varied and too big to be ignored. Sometimes ignorance is not bliss.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Saved by ... What?

Recently an article was written that affirmed that Calvinists do not believe that we are saved by faith alone. "Wait, wait," someone is sure to protest, "doesn't that mean that Calvinists are wrong? Doesn't that violate their own 'five solas'? You know, 'faith alone'. Isn't that what Calvinists believe?" Actually, no. We believe we are justified by faith alone, and even that is misleading. We mean faith ... apart from works. Salvation, we hold, is 1) by grace 2) through faith 3) in Christ. Each of these is distinct from other errors (and, therefore, "alone"), but none of them are separate from each other. We are not saved solely by faith (without grace or Christ), by grace (without faith or Christ), or even by Christ (apart from God's grace applied via faith).

"Okay, then," someone is sure to ask at some point, "if we're saved by grace through faith in Christ, then what's all this talk about blood? Why bring the whole 'blood of Christ' thing into it?" The question is about the vehicle of salvation. Are we saved purely by God's grace with some nod to faith in Christ, or is there actually a genuine basis for our salvation? On what basis are we saved?

I'd be happy to give my opinion, but we know what opinions are worth. (It's funny, but despite inflation, it's still 2 cents, isn't it?) We'd be better off looking at what the Bible says about it. And the Bible isn't silent. Isaiah is famous for his 53rd chapter. (No, I won't quote it all.)
1 Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For He [the Messiah] grew up before Him [God] like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. 4 Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed (Isa 53:1-5).
Look, here's the situation. Adam (and all Man) sinned. The situation is separation from God. Now, God is lots of things. He is kind and merciful, loving and gracious, lots of good things. But He also despises sin. The Bible is not unclear about His wrath toward sin and sinners. And God is just. That's key. So, while God would like to save everyone, He must also be righteous in His judgment. Simply turning a blind eye to sin would be unjust. So God came up with a brilliant plan. Send His Son to live a perfect human life, then die on behalf of humans, so that His death on our behalf becomes the basis on which we are allowed to be saved. Isaiah said, "Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed. The author of Hebrews says, "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb 9:22).

The shed blood of Christ is the premise on which we are saved. By this blood, God becomes both just and justifier (Rom 3:26). The Gospel, the "good news" for sinners, begins with "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3). The basis of our salvation is our redemption. Our "buy back" is Christ's propitiation by His blood (Rom 3:24-25). We are justified by grace as a gift, but that gift could not be applied without the payment being made. God could not nullify His own righteousness.

There is currently an intentionally offensive comment going around. Lots of Christian blogs have gotten it. It actually points to the offense of the cross. (I won't repeat it here. It is intentionally offensive.) Even some who call themselves "Christians" are offended by the cross. "We're saved by grace," they warn us, "not by some blood shed on the cross." They affirm what Paul assured us they would. "We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:23-24). I've always loved such hymns as Isaac Watts' When I Survey the Wondrous Cross or Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed.
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
It brings tears of gratitude to my eyes. Fanny Crosby's Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross begs us to stay near the cross. Indeed, the hymns are full of the cross. "But we're moving beyond that now. We're not going to focus there. We like God's kindness much more than God's wrath." Please let me urge you not to go there. Don't play God's character against God's character. Don't surrender God's justice for God's mercy. Don't minimize the shed blood of Christ which is so deeply a part of the Scriptures. Don't, in the final analysis, surrender the basis of our salvation. We are justified by grace, but the basis of that justification is the punishment Christ endured on the cross on our behalf. Never let it be any less than that.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Taking the Name of the Lord in Vain

Anyone with a passing knowledge of the Bible knows that one of the "Big Ten" Commandments is this one:
"You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain" (Exo 20:7).
And we're pretty sure what it means, too. "Thou shalt not cuss." That's what it means. Of course, many today have surrendered that understanding. Mild expletives (and often more) are acceptable today. "I mean, look, it doesn't talk about cussing; it talks about a vain use of the name of the Lord." So we're clearer now. It's only when we use the word "God" as a cuss word that it's bad, right? Clearly all those TV shows and movies where characters say rude things like "God damn it" are using God's name in vain, right? Or is that right?

There are a few problems here. First, the Bible uses the idea if not the phrase. God, in fact, damns some. So the phrase itself can't be the problem. Second, as it turns out, "God" is not His name. Did you know that? The term "God" is a reference to His title, not His name. His name is YHWH. When was the last time you heard that name "used in vain"? In the case of Christ, His title is "Christ" and His name is Jesus. So "names" are an issue. Third, there is the whole problem of using God's name in vain in the sense of using it without meaning it. That would mean that every time you say "God bless you" to someone who sneezed and didn't actually mean a blessing from God, you were using God's name in vain. If it wasn't a prayer, it was "vain".

So what does it mean? If it isn't the use of the word "God" (or, of course, Jesus), then what? Well, our problem is we're moderns trying to understand an ancient concept. Beyond that, we're Americans trying to read back American independence into a different culture entirely. Worse still, we're modern Americans whose mantra is "Question authority" trying to understand the ancient concept of the authority of a name. Satan has certainly done his work here.

The concept of "the name" in biblical (and later) times was not a simple, woodenly literal use of a word that designates something or someone. I came across this concept in my reading of 1 Kings. Ahab wanted his neighbor's vineyard. His neighbor refused. Ahab's wife, Jezebel, told him she'd take care of it. "So she wrote letters in Ahab's name and sealed them with his seal, and she sent the letters to the elders and the leaders who lived with Naboth in his city" (1 Kings 21:8). That's the idea. In fact, this concept occurs all over Scripture.
"But the prophet who shall speak a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he shall speak in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die" (Deut 18:20).

So David sent ten young men, and David said to the young men, "Go up to Carmel, visit Nabal and greet him in my name" (1 Sam 25:5).

"For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many" (Matt 24:5).

"If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it" (John 14:14).

"Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 2:38).

"I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene--walk!" (Acts 3:6).

Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" (Acts 16:18).
Perhaps now you begin to get a sense of "the name" concept. It isn't a term. It is an authority. Surely you've seen it in those movies about the days of kings when a rider arrives declaring, "I come in the name of the king." What is the point there? He isn't coming on his own authority. He has the authority of the king. Even so, "in the name of" means "by the authority of". Using God's name in vain, then, would be falsely appealing to God's authority as your own. It would be the false representation that you are operating under the authority of God.

How does that work, then? I'm sure you know people who, while fastidious in their use of the term "God" as a casual word, are happy to tell you, "God told me that you should ..." Did He? Especially when the command is opposed to Scripture. One woman told me, "The Holy Spirit told me that it was okay to conduct a seance because that was an Old Testament prohibition and we're not under the Law." Really? That would be a vain use of the name of God. How else do we use His name in vain? Well, since we are His representatives -- ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor 5:20) -- our actions reflect on His name. In the most trivial example I can think of, how did you feel when that car that cut you off in traffic nearly causing an accident had a "Jesus" sticker on the back? That would be using the name of the Lord in vain. Claiming to be a follower of Christ while living as a worldling would be using the name of the Lord in vain.

"Oh, good," I'm hearing some say. "That means we can swear to our hearts content." Well, that would be problematic. Paul warned that we should "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Eph 4:29). James says, "No one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be" (James 3:8-10). We are to put aside "abusive speech" (Col 3:8) and, instead, "Let your speech always be with grace" (Col 4:6). "There must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks" (Eph 5:4). While I have tried to dissuade you from thinking that the Third Commandment is a ban on cussing, I don't want you to think there is no such concern. But our higher concern must be the proper use of the authority of God and the best possible representation of Christ in the world. That is the bigger problem. That ought to be our primary focus.
Follow Up Question: If part of "using the name of the Lord in vain" includes claiming to speak for God when He didn't actually say it, would it also be considered "using the name of the Lord in vain" when God actually says something and we deny it? Is it "using the name of the Lord in vain" when we ask "Did God say?" when God clearly said? Is it "using the name of the Lord in vain" if someone claims "We can't actually know what God said [about this]"?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Peter on Apologetics

The word doesn't sound right. "Apologetics" is not the art of apologizing for what you did wrong. Before it moved to "I'm sorry", it originally was the defense of one's position. Plato wrote Apology, the record of Socrates defense at his trial. In 1531, Philipp Melanchthon wrote Apology of the Augsburg Confession, a defense of Lutheranism. Thus, in this context, "apologetics" is simply the system of defense of a position and Christian apologetics is the defense of Christianity. We get it from the Greek. Peter wrote, "In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15), where "defense" uses the Greek apologia. Yeah, there it is.

This passage, in fact, has become vital to some. Indeed, I've actually seen people ask, "Can a person be a committed Christian while ignoring Apologetics?" (And, of course, by "Apologetics" it is meant the entire defense of the faith, often specifically without the Word or even personal works. It is by reason, logic, science, etc.) But is this what the verse suggests? Is Peter saying that every Christian ("committed Christian" to the previous questioner) be capable of defending the whole Christian religion by argument and reason on every point? I don't think so. Let's look again.
Who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame (1 Peter 3:13-16).
Note first the topic. Do good. Chances are if you do good there will be no one to harm you. Chances are if you do good that is sufficient defense. Or, as Jesus put it, "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt 5:16). Thus, the first "defense" a Christian is to give is good works. Indeed, if you examine the 3rd chapter of 1 Peter, he lists many of them. "Wives, be subject to your husbands." "Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way." "Have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind." "Do not repay evil for evil." Yeah, that kind of "good works". That's the kind of stuff for which the world has no answer. "She was subject to her husband? That jerk?" "Look, man, everyone knows you can't understand women. Why are you trying to live with her in an understanding way?" "Seriously, are you really going to return good for evil?"

Of course, Peter isn't blind. Bad things can happen anyway. It is entirely possible that we could suffer for righteousness' sake. What then? First, have no fear. Most importantly, "in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy". How is that accomplished? The concept is not to make Christ holy -- He is. The concept is to put Him in a sanctified place in your heart. He is set apart, the prime focus, the One deserving honor and praise, the whole point. Dwelling on His perfections and focusing on His glory changes your perspective when trials come. That is the central command of the passage.

Subsidiary, then, to that idea, is the notion of "make a defense". Notice, first, that it is not a corner you claim or a website you put up where you argue the fine points of science and philosophy to prove the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. First, the "defense" is "to anyone who asks you". Second, the question is not "Why do you believe?", but "anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." And, third, it cannot be the battle you often see in Christian Apologetics where both sides are snide and angry because this defense is characterized by "gentleness and respect". Always at the base of this defense is "a good conscience" -- good works, again. Or, to put it another way, my question when I suffer shouldn't first be, "Why have they been so mean to me?", but "What did I do wrong?" And my "defense" in this case would include total disclosure if I, in fact, don't have a "good conscience" in the case in question.

I believe that we should always be ready to make a defense. I believe we should "contend for the faith" (Jude 1:3). I believe that some people have a special calling to do this in a special way. I believe that all Christians, on the other hand, should be ready to explain why they believe what they believe. Why is God uppermost in your life? It is not to be out of a fear motivation. Nor is it a superior position approach. Peter says "with gentleness and respect." And it isn't a matter of finely honed arguments and philosophical debate. What is the reason for the hope that lies within you? It's that Jesus died and rose again to pay for your sins. That was Peter's argument (Acts 2), Stephen's argument (Acts 7), and Paul's argument (Acts 17). It is the argument of Scripture. It is the beginning of the Gospel. We are called to be witnesses for Christ. Witnesses don't tell everything; they tell what they know. That is the beginning of Christian Apologetics.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Not Under the Law

One thing we Christians know for sure from the Bible is that we are not "under the Law". That's clear as glass. We have that down. Just reference some Old Testament Law and you'll likely get, "We are not under the Law" in response because we are not under the Law. Look. It's simple. The Bible says without ambiguity, "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law" (Gal 5:18 ). Interpret by the explicit, right? And that's pretty explicit.

So, we are "lawless", right? We are no longer "under the law". We don't care anymore about the law. We're free to do as we please. Now, the second I make that implication, any genuine Christian is going to slam on the brakes and step back. "No, that's not right. That's not right at all." So what is right? I mean, are we objecting because we're refusing to accept the Word at face value? Or is there really a reason to think there's something wrong with that conclusion?

Well, the Bible would disagree with the conclusion that we are lawless. Indeed, John wrote, "Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). So, while we are clearly not "under the law", we are also not lawless. So what are we? Paul wrote:
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law (1 Cor 9:20-21).
In his description of what he became to reach certain people, Paul also claims two facts. First, he affirms that he is not "under the law". That's what we've already affirmed. But when he goes on to those who are "outside the law", he says that he was "not ... outside the law of God, but under the law of Christ*." That's what we are.

Christians are not under the Law. The Law was provided as the standard to be met to enjoy an unbroken relationship with God. The Law tells us what sin is (Rom 7:7). The Law tells us what God values. But as a perfect standard to be met, it becomes an unbearable burden to those of us who cannot meet that standard ... which would be all of us. Now, thanks be to God, we are no longer under the Law. Neither are we outside the Law. We are under the law of Christ. We seek to please our heavenly Father out of a grateful heart and see His laws as a perfect guide for doing so rather than an unbearable standard we cannot meet.

There are voices that would like to tell us that we are no longer connected in any way to the Law. They point to the claim that we are not "under the Law", and they are correct. But, while we are not under the Law, neither are we outside the Law. It is God's perfect guide. It's like a bridal registry that God filled out. "These are the things I'd like." Anyone who would want to please Him would want to fulfill them. While radical types like the Pauline Dispensationalists will tell you that the Law is pointless, Paul tells us that "The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good" (Rom 7:12). To anyone seeking gratefully to please our Lord, that makes perfect sense.
* Lest you think that "the law of Christ" which we are under is a much easier row to hoe, think again. The "law of Christ" includes things like "love the Lord your God" with all that you have and are and "love your neighbor as yourself". This is more difficult because 1) it is more nebulous and 2) it is more comprehensive. It includes "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2). We know that "the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Gal 5:14). While the Law demanded 10%, the law of Christ demands 100%. Oh, yeah, "the law of Christ" is a big one. You're not getting off easy with that. It's good to be forgiven, isn't it?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hard Lessons

I've been reading 1 Kings for my time in the Word of late. Really? Kings? I mean, seriously, Lord, how is this helpful? I try to "observe and apply" when I read. What does it say? What does it mean? How does this apply to me? And reading through 1 Kings can be a real challenge in that last question.

So, here I am, reading along, finding all about how Solomon was the wisest guy and ended up falling away, so God promised to take the kingdom from his offspring. The kingdoms divided and most of the kings of Israel "did what was evil in the sight of the Lord" and paid the consequences. Their monarchies ended. Their entire families were wiped out. It wasn't pleasant for them. And little by little the lifestyle of idolatry and consequential immersion into other sin stopped being "present" and edged toward "the norm". In the end (beyond 1 Kings, of course), there was a larger result than the removal of kings and their monarchies. There was the removal of Israel and, eventually, Judah as well. When did they get removed? What was it that ended these nations as nations and put them in slavery to other kingdoms? It appears that they were overrun when the sin that was present became the sin that was normal.

We know that "it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb 9:27). Sure, there may be discipline (Heb 12:5-11) for believers and temporal judgment for all (Luke 13:1-5), but right now I'm not talking about individuals. Right now I'm not talking about you and me. Right now I'm talking about nations. Nations are made up of individuals, but they are not people. Nations are organizations of people. Nations, then, do not face a final judgment somewhere. The Bible, in fact, is full of God's judgment on nations. No, seriously, full. From Sodom and Gomorrah to Canaan, from the Amalekites to Babylon, from Egypt to Alexander, the Bible is full of God judging sinful nations. Revelation is about God's temporal judgment of a sinful world. Individual judgment takes place at the end, but God judges nations in their lifetimes. When? When their moral structure has so violated His commands that the violation is the norm rather than the exception.

And all of the sudden the Book of First Kings has become applicable to me. Oh, sure, there are lessons to be learned in there. Lots of good things that I can apply. But one big thing is that God judges nations, and when nations embrace sin as a national pastime, expect that judgment soon. Ask Sodom. Inquire of Nineveh. Check on the Canaanites. Look at Israel itself. It isn't pretty. When the iniquity of America is full, expect unpleasant results from God. That's something I've learned from 1 Kings. Reading the newspaper, watching the news, and following the Internet all suggests that it's not too far off. That's something I learned from the media.

Friday, March 16, 2012


One of the wonderful promises that we have from God is that He forgives and forgets sin. "I am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins" (Isa 43:25). How wonderful! So while I am pretty good at remembering my own sin, God inflicts Himself with some divine form of Alzheimer's, with some sort of supernatural selective recall where not only does He not remember my sin, but He also doesn't pay attention when I remember my sin. "Dear God," I might pray, "I still feel so bad for that particular sin. Please, please, forgive me." And He says, "What sin? I don't know what you're talking about." Right? Oh, wait ... that doesn't really make sense, does it? So do we have an addle-brained God with selective amnesia or are we failing to understand what these kinds of statements mean?

In Hebrew, the word for "remember" is zakar and means "To mark or, by implication, to mention." In the Hebrew usage, remembering is not our version of "calling to mind". Instead, it means to focus attention on and to act. Take, for instance, this example: "But God remembered Noah ... and the water subsided" (Gen 8:1). Whew! Lucky thing for Noah! God had forgotten Noah for awhile and then, some time after the flood had started, God was sitting over a cup of tea and suddenly called to mind Noah! Who knows what would have happened if God hadn't remembered him? No, that's silly. When it says that God "remembered Noah", it means that He focused attention on Noah and acted. But particularly in terms of "remembering sin", the term is not in reference to "calling sin to mind", but always punishing sin, like this example: "Thus says the LORD concerning this people: 'They have loved to wander thus; they have not restrained their feet; therefore the LORD does not accept them; now He will remember their iniquity and punish their sins.'" (Jer 14:10). We see here that God didn't forget their iniquity for awhile and then, suddenly, called it back to memory. No, His "remember their iniquity" was to "punish their sins". That is, the idea is to mark sin and act on it. It is not a matter of recall.

God does not "remember sin". That means that God does not focus on our sin or punish it. It does not mean He cannot recall it. Look, we have a similar version of "remember" in English. Perhaps it's a little archaic, but I'm sure you would understand if I said to someone, "Bob, remember me to your wife." Does that mean that Bob's wife didn't recall who I was or that I existed? Not at all. It simply meant that I was asking Bob to remind his wife of my good will. God doesn't recall our sins by pointing them out and acting on them. He doesn't dwell on them and He doesn't bring them to our attention. They're put behind Him. That's the idea. They're gone, as far as the east is from the west (Psa 103:12). And that's simply marvelous!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wrongful Birth

You've heard of "wrongful death" lawsuits. Well, in other news, "the Arizona Senate has approved a bill that would shield doctors and others from so-called 'wrongful birth' lawsuits." Apparently, "If the bill becomes law, Arizona would join nine states barring both 'wrongful life' and 'wrongful birth' lawsuits."

The phrase was actually stunning to me: "Wrongful Birth" (and, from the story, "wrongful life"). The definition is "A medical malpractice claim brought by the parents of a child born with birth defects, alleging that negligent treatment or advice deprived them of the opportunity to avoid conception or terminate the pregnancy." What is the malpractice? "Negligent treatment or advice deprived them of the opportunity to ... terminate the pregnancy." This is not simply "Gee, I wish I would have known so I could have avoided this discomfort." It is a statement that this birth -- the life of this child -- is wrong. It is immoral. It never should have happened. The doctor is sued (and, in fact, may lose the suit). This life is the result of malpractice.

The first suit was brought in 1975, two years after Roe v Wade. The doctor failed to diagnose rubella in the mother. Because the doctor failed that diagnosis, the Texas Supreme Court allowed damages paid by the doctor for the expenses of the care and treatment of the child's impairment. Today more than 20 states recognize this as valid. The presence of birth defects in a fetus is grounds for murdering that fetus and a doctor who fails to detect the defect or inform the mother (in a timely manner) is guilty of medical malpractice, of wrongful birth. According to the news article above, "wrongful birth" lawsuits are "lawsuits that can arise if physicians don't inform pregnant women of prenatal problems that could lead to the decision to have an abortion." How's that for vague? "I wanted a boy. If my doctor had told me in advance that it was a girl, I would have aborted. Now I have this girl and I'm suing my doctor for wrongful birth." And it would be legal.

I've complained in the past that pro-life advocates are too sloppy in their labels. Sure, the other side is equally sloppy. I'm not "anti-abortion" or "anti-choice" and labeling me as such isn't reasonable. And from my side, labeling everyone who wants to keep abortion legal as "pro-abortion" isn't reasonable either. On the other hand, when I read things like this -- that it is possible to have a "wrongful birth" and that eliminating such lawsuits "would infringe on reproductive rights", I do have to wonder. Is it reasonable to call those who are "pro-abortion" (because some really are) or "pro-choice" as "anti-life"? I'm not really convinced that it's not actually accurate. It seems to be true in the cases of those who wish abort and those who wish to defend it. I don't know. Perhaps "pro-abortion" and "pro-choice" aren't quite as useful terms as "anti-life".

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

We've all heard the description "a wolf in sheep's clothing". Do you know where it comes from? There are modern references to a "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing" fable from Aesop, the famous fable teller, who lived presumably somewhere around the 6th century BC, but no record of such a fable exists prior to the 12th century AD. Thus, the earliest record of this concept comes from none other than Jesus Himself. "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matt 7:15). And we get the image, don't we? The guy looks like a prophet, a believer, "one of us", but in fact it turns out he's not.

Have you ever wondered, "Why a wolf?" Frankly, it only occurred to me recently to ask the question. I mean, are we really looking at predators here, or are we just saying that there are those who look like us but aren't, you know, like tares among wheat? That was another of Jesus's illustrations along the same lines. Is there predatory lines in that? I mean, He used "sheep" and "goats" in another parable. Couldn't that be just as good? "A goat in sheep's clothing"?

As it turns out, it would appear that Jesus used wolves in His description because He intended to point at predators. False believers and false prophets aren't on the scene as benign, misguided folks just mistaken in their beliefs and floating along in the crowd. They are predators.

"Oh, sure, says you," some are bound to say. Just a false alarm. Just conspiracy theory. Is it?

The "wolves" Jesus warned about were "false prophets", people who claim to speak for God. The false prophets of the Old Testament were devastating. In Lamentations we read, "Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen for you oracles that are false and misleading" (Lam 2:14). The error? "They have not exposed your iniquity." The result of exposing sin? "To restore your fortunes." Instead? False and misleading "words from God". In Matthew 24 Jesus warns, "Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray" (Matt 24:11) and "False christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect" (Matt 24:24). This is not benign. This isn't simply misguided. It is predatory. Peter warns of false teachers "who will secretly bring in destructive heresies" (2 Peter 2:1). That is, not merely heresies -- mistaken deviations from what is correct -- but destructive heresies -- false doctrines that destroy. This is not benign. This isn't simply misguided. It is predatory. John calls them "antichrists", one "who denies the Father and the Son". Paul warned Timothy of "those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions" (2 Tim 3:6). Paul said, "These men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith" (2 Tim 3:8). Notice that they aren't simply wrong in their understanding. They oppose the truth. "Well, now, how do you know he's not just talking about unbelievers?" Because he says that they are "disqualified regarding the faith," which requires that they present themselves as qualified for the faith.

"Okay, so false prophets are predators. Surely not all unbelievers among believers are predatory. I mean, doesn't 'tares among wheat' suggest merely that they look like us?" Not if you understand what a "tare" is. Tares are weeds. They certainly do look a lot like wheat. That's what makes them such a problem when among wheat. They're hard to spot. But it wouldn't be any big deal if that was the end of the story. Unfortunately for the wheat, it isn't. Instead, tares are a destructive form of weed. They take nutrients from the planted crop and often harbor poisonous fungus. When Jesus gave the parable of the sower, he spoke of some seed that fell among weeds that "grew up and choked it" (Mark 4:7). Weeds are not merely unwanted or unsightly. They're predatory to other plants. In fact, the "tares among wheat" phrase comes from a parable Jesus told about a farmer who planted wheat and was then attacked by an enemy who sowed weeds in his field. "Enemy" is not "misguided", but predatory.

So what's my point? The Bible assures us that we will have "wolves in sheep's clothing", false prophets, antichrists, "weeds". Expect it. But don't be mistaken. These aren't merely misguided folk. They are predators in amongst the flock of Christ intent on doing damage. They may know the damage they're doing or they may not, but it is damage. The Church has lots to offer -- grace, forgiveness, mercy, love -- lots of things that people would want. As people they would want them for themselves, but as enemies of God they want them without submission to God. So they come in to steal. They come in to steal innocence, to steal blessings, to steal power. They will say things like, "I believe the Bible" and then blatantly violate the Bible. (I recently saw a news piece on a separatist group called the Sovereign Citizen movement which uses, among other things, the Bible to make its case in rebellion against the government. How can a Baptist preacher -- because it was a Baptist preacher they interviewed -- say, "The Bible tells me I don't have to pay taxes or obey the government" when the Bible says, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God" and "Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed" (Rom 13:1,7)?) Jesus warned us to be aware. The Bible is full of warnings that these predators will be among us. We're seeing in America today that they are effective at tearing down the church in the name of Christ. Don't be fooled. Be vigilant. That was Jesus's advice.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Is Pro-Life the Answer?

I have long held that I am not anti-abortion; I am pro-life. What's the difference? I believe in the sanctity of human life. As such, I believe that murdering babies, whether outside or inside the womb, is a violation of that sanctity. I am not opposed to abortion, but opposed to murder. Look, if they came up with a medical procedure that would allow a woman to terminate her pregnancy without terminating the life of the baby, I'd have little room to complain. If the baby continued to live while the mother went on her merry way, my "anti-abortion" position would be gone. The issue is life, not terminating pregnancies.

When I expressed that to a friend, however, the response was ... disturbing. "What makes you think," he asked me, "that women who had the option to terminate their pregnancy while allowing the baby to live would take that option?" Indeed, what would make me think that?

In a recent article at The Witherspoon Institute, they cited the fact that "Mothers who have terminated following a prenatal diagnosis overwhelmingly (97 percent) report that these are wanted pregnancies. Furthermore, they say that they consider themselves to be, in fact, mothers, and that their fetus is not simply a fetus, but their child. Yet they still go through with aborting their child." These are not unwanted children. These are not foolish women who don't recognize their pregnancies as babies. These are women fully aware that they are carrying a child and even want the child, and still opt to kill that child. Why? Well, in this article it was due to a Down syndrome diagnosis.

I believe the same is true in the question I asked. Most of us think that women who have abortions do so to terminate a pregnancy. It's not a wanted baby. It will be too expensive. There's something wrong with the child. It's an inconvenient time. Of course, none of this explains why they don't simply deliver and give the child up for adoption, does it? No, the standard list of reasons is not about life, but about convenience. And it would be inconvenient if a woman with a pregancy she didn't want for whatever reason would have to live her life knowing that the baby she didn't want was alive and well somewhere, wouldn't it?

We still try to get out the pro-life message. Human life is sacred. We still meet opposition. Sometimes it is inane opposition. "Yes, human life is sacred, but I wouldn't want to stop a woman from having the choice." "Ummm, okay, in what sense is that reasonable?" In some cases it is hardcore. "Human life is not sacred. It's only as meaningful as you make it." "Well, then, you won't mind if someone concludes yours isn't so meaningful and terminates it, right?" Most of the time it's just a matter of ignoring the facts. "No, it's not human life. It's ... tissue. Yeah, that's the ticket." I suppose if we're going to ignore science and logic, that will do fine. But I have to wonder how much of all of that is a smokescreen for "I want to do what I want to do and I don't want anyone to suggest otherwise." If that's the case, it will turn out that "pro-life" is not the answer because the question is not, "Should we protect life?" but "What is most convenient for me?", and life is not the question.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Inalienable Rights

It's quite clear that we have the perception that humans have certain "inalienable rights". That is, there are apparently certain rights that all people are assigned that cannot be taken away. The Declaration of Independence considered these rights inalienable because they were "endowed by their Creator" -- God gave them to us. As such, no human entity has the right to intervene. Just what these rights are seems to be unclear, however. Several have tried to explain it.

The U.N. created a document titled, "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights". I wrote about it here. Listed as universal human rights were things like "a fair and public hearing" (so that concerns like national security are outlawed), "the free development of personality" (so that sociopaths and child molesters should be left alone), and the right to marry whomever you choose (making God's earlier version of arranged marriages a violation of universal human rights). This helpful little document ruled out all governments except democratic ones by confirming that the will of the people is the only proper basis for government. (And, remember, it was God who established a monarchy in Israel.) Those are just some examples. Now, remember, the Founding Fathers assumed that rights were inalienable because they were given by God. Now we have God violating human rights. Where does that leave us?

One assumed "inalienable right" is "equality". The Fourteenth Amendment to the Bill of Rights says that "No State shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." From that, apparently, we extrapolate that all people are due "equal rights". And from the term "equal rights" we extrapolate something like "everyone must be treated the same". Assuming that all of this is well and good, however, now we immediately step into unclear territory. "Marriage equality", for instance, means to me that anyone who wants to should be allowed to marry, but to others it means that anyone who wants to redefine marriage should be allowed to do so. But, look, let's not go to the firestorm that this discussion will start. I just want to illustrate the difficulty of the question. So let's go here. If we agree that everyone should have the same rights, would you agree that everyone should have the same rights to your money as you do? If not, why not? If not, aren't you opposed to "equal rights"? Now, I think there are answers to these kinds of questions that make sense and that can be fed back to, for instance, the "marriage equality" question, but for the most part people aren't thinking beyond the term, "rights".

One of the unspoken but most certain rights that seems to be assumed in most circles today is the right not to be offended. The LGBT crowd is offended that anyone in the Christian crowd would consider their behavior (behavior, not "orientation" or "preference" or "lifestyle" -- behavior) a sin. They are taking steps to eliminate that option for Christians. Some have been sued for taking that position. Mostly the steps are in the realm of public opinion. "Label those folks as 'bigots' and 'haters' and our will will be done." You see, when someone in the Christian crowd says "That behavior is sin" without a single step toward actually ruling out the behavior, it's unacceptable not because it's intolerant (Tolerance requires a difference of opinion and the willingness to endure the opposing position) -- it is tolerant -- but because it's offensive. "You called me a sinner!" And we appear to believe that we have an inalienable right not to be offended. Look, again, let's back off the "gay" question and look at something else to get the point. Recently Frito Lay played a commercial for Doritos during the SuperBowl. The ad was about a dog who apparently killed and buried a cat and was covering it up by bribing his owner to keep silent with Doritos. Humor. That was the intent. "Doritos are so good that it will keep this guy silent." And the world was offended. There is a petition now to remove it from the airways. It was "offensive to cats" (although, apparently, no cats have signed the petition) "and cat lovers". People are outraged. Boycotts are marshalling. Law suits? Not yet, but why not? (Interestingly, USA Today's poll rated this offensive commercial in the top 10 of 2012.) You see, we have an inalienable right not to be offended.

It seems as if we've developed a really healthy (or, perhaps, better identified as "meaty" or "bloated" or "obese"?) sense of "inalienable rights". They include such previously unheard of things as education (through college, apparently), all types of personal sovereignty (which, when you think about it, will collide with others), "affordable housing", "decreased reliance on fossil fuels", "affordable gas", and a host of other "rights" that God apparently endowed without letting anyone know. Of course, there is the problem that many who argue for these "inalienable rights" do so while directly denying the existence of any such Creator (and thus nullifying any sort of "inalienable" nature to these rights). But we won't let that stop us. And there is the problem that we don't appear to need to be grateful for endowed rights, genuine or assumed. We might even be willing to fight for the right to party. Why? Well, that's simple. "I will be like the Most High." It's part of sinful human nature. So I'd like to urge Christians, at least, to be very cautious when demanding their "rights". "Privileges" makes more sense from a biblical worldview. It certainly makes it easier to retain an attitude of gratitude. So choosing between being grateful for what we have or fighting for what we don't, I'll let you consider what looks more Christ-like.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

What is Man?

1 O LORD, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth,
Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!
2 From the mouth of infants and nursing babes
You have established strength
Because of Your adversaries,
To make the enemy and the revengeful cease.
3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
4 What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
5 Yet You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
6 You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
7 All sheep and oxen,
And also the beasts of the field,
8 The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth! (Psa 8:1-9).
We really like that stuff. We eat it up. "You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings, and You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet." Oh, yeah, we're something, aren't we? "How majestic is Your name in all the earth!" Absolutely!

I suspect, however, that we really love that kind of thing not because we're starting from the same place that David was. Why is the Lord's name majestic? Why is it so marvelous that we have been made a little lower than the heavenly beings? Well, typically we think it's because we should be. I guess God figured out our true worth, eh? David begs to differ. It is truly remarkable not because we deserve it, but precisely because we don't. David started with the premise of the majesty of God contrasted with the worthlessness of Man. "What is man that You take thought of him?" David wasn't glorifying God because He recognized Man's worth. He was praising God because He assigned worth where there was none.

The closer we get to realizing that God has no obligation to Man, that we don't deserve God's favor or even God's attention, that we're really not so valuable on our own, the closer we get to realizing the vast majesty of God.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Why Are Gas Prices So High?

We operate primarily on a "supply and demand" system. Well, to be fair, it is more accurately "the perception of supply and demand". (Think, for instance, of someone who hoards a large quantity of X in order to drive up the price. "Oh, my," people begin to think, "there is an X shortage!" Then he pulls out his supply and charges premium prices, not because there was a supply shortage, but because there was a perception of a shortage.) To figure out why gasoline prices are so high, one would think that we simply need to figure out why the supply does not meet the demand. Not so simple, I guess.

The first place we go is to the oil companies. Those dirty, rotten, greedy oil barons are trying to get rich off of us. According to studies, subtracting for the cost of doing the business, oil companies make 4 cents a gallon off the gasoline they sell to you. The gas station owner needs to make some, so that adds to it, but not much. And, of course, the government has their hand in it (far more than the oil companies). According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, each gallon of gas includes 76% of the price for the crude oil, 6% for refining, 6% for distribution and marketing, and 12% for taxes. Look again. The biggest cost is the oil itself. The rest is 12% for the government and 12% for the profit of others (oil companies, truck drivers, gas station owners, etc.). Thus, given the current U.S. average of around $4.00/gallon, just over $3 goes into purchasing the petroleum while just under 50 cents goes to the government and 50 cents to the rest. Now, let's just say that the refiners absorb their own cost and the station owners, government, and oil companies decide not to take any money at all. Now you're paying $3.00 a gallon -- still high by last year's standards. It's not, you see, just the oil companies here.

The bigger problem is supply. Oil producers are charging a premium because the supply is not keeping up with demand. Some of that is due to the president's policies of solving our energy problems by improving our environment (see the government plan). Therefore, improving the supply locally is out of the question. Drilling permits are denied. Pipelines are denied. Off shore drilling is denied. The supply is out there, but we are not allowed to get to it. But if you think the president is to blame, think again. That's a single factor. Another is the sword rattling going on in Iran, threatening to shut down the Strait of Hormuz. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Martin Dempsey told the media that Iran certainly did have the ability to block the Strait of Hormuz. Since 20% of worldwide oil goes through that strait, that would constitute a decrease of supply. Prices go up. But Iran is also not alone in the blame. One of the biggest problems is simply the information I just gave you. Armed with the very same information, Wall Street prepares oil purchase contracts betting that the price will go up. It's called "speculation" (because, as you can see, it is). Speculating that the price will rise, they contract to buy oil at a higher price, and your basis price -- the price of petroleum -- goes up. It didn't have to, but speculation makes it so. Again, perception, not reality.

So far we have oil companies and profiteers, an environmentally-minded president not interested in your daily commute, a nut-job president of Iran threatening the world, and Wall Street speculators artificially driving up prices. These are major inputs to the amount of money you dump into your gas tank on a regular basis. There is, however, one more. Can you think of what it is? You should. I just said it. You see, on the other side of supply is demand. The price of oil has been going up not because we've decreased the demand for it. Instead, it appears that we've spiked the demand for it. Oh, sure, some of that spike is sharp rises in oil use in places like India and China, but we're not helping much here. We're not very willing to change our demand, are we? You see, we're not mad at oil companies because they're raising prices. We're mad because they're threatening to block us from doing what we want. We want to drive. How dare they profit from that? We don't want to share rides or bike or walk. We want to drive. So as long as we continue to provide a high demand for their product, in essence agreeing to pay what they ask, why would we expect any change in the price? So while there are lots of places to lay blame, in another sense "We have met the enemy and he is us."