Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Just War Theory

To the pacifists among us, relax. I'm not going to discuss the Just War Theory. On the other hand, to the "judge not" folks, you might not like this.

In the late 14th or early 15th century BC, it appears that the rumor mills were in working order. Israel under Joshua had finished conquering Canaan and the land was all divided up as it should be. Joshua told the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh that they had done well, thank you very much, and they could go to their homes (Josh 22:1-6). They were going to be living on the east side of the Jordan, you see, but they had crossed the Jordan with the rest to help them take Canaan. That accomplished, they headed home. Unfortunately, before they crossed the Jordan, they stopped and built "a large altar" (Josh 22:10). Then they went home. Why "unfortunately"? Well, as soon as the rest of Israel heard about it, they took up arms. No, I'm not exaggerating. They weren't just filled with righteous indignation.
When the sons of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the sons of Israel gathered themselves at Shiloh to go up against them in war (Josh 22:12).
Now, of course, we don't get it today. "Really, guys? War?" If it had happened today, we would have said, "Hey, live and let live. Let them do what they want. It's not our problem." To those who got upset, we would have said, "If they want to degenerate into what you consider sin, what business is that of yours? Judge not! Let's just agree to disagree." And we would be wrong. War, in this case, could be just. War, in this case, would be right. If Reuben and Gad and Manasseh had set out to rebel against God and Israel, a war was exactly the right prescription.

Now, if you read the rest of the account, you'll find out why. Before the shooting began (so to speak), they (wisely) chose to send a delegation to find out what in the world was going on! Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the priest, and a delegate from each of the 10 tribes went over and confronted their fellow Israelites on the east side of the Jordan. "What are you doing??!!" they said. "Why are you being unfaithful to God? Don't you remember Peor?" (Num 25 -- where they joined themselves to Baal and turned away God's anger by killing everyone who did ... and Phinehas was part of it.) "Don't you remember Achan? Look, guys, Achan's sin didn't only cost Achan. It cost all of us along with him and his family." In other words, idolatry hurts. It hurts everyone. And it cannot be faced with ambivalence or apathy. It demands a response.

Fortunately, Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh agreed. They hadn't built the altar for sacrificial purposes. They built it to remind everyone that they were the Lord's, that they worshiped on the west side of Jordan, that they were part of Israel (Josh 22:21-29). It was okay. It was good. The dialog managed to avoid the war. Fine. Good. Happy ending.

The story serves as a great example of managing conflict. Tell the other what you think the problem is. Listen to their response. Work together at solving the conflict. All good things. But I really want you to come away with the passion for the glory of God and the hatred for idolatry that they had. It's not "a bad idea", "a sin", "a bad thing". It's horrible, dangerous to everyone around, worthy of doing battle. Our modern "Let's not say anything and maybe it will go away" approach isn't working. I'm not advocating taking up arms, but we can see in the decline of the country and the decline of the church that we lack the passion for God that we must have. "Do nothing" is not working well. Perhaps we ought to consider a more biblical approach (like, for instance, Rev 2:2; Matt 18:15-17; 1 Cor 5:9-13).

Monday, July 30, 2012

Food Equity

I don't like guacamole. I'm sorry. I just don't. It's not a choice, really. I just don't like it. I don't like the texture or the taste or even the color. Guacamole has no appeal for me. Peanut butter, on the other hand, is really good. I like peanut butter on bread and on sandwiches and on crackers. It's good in candy bars and even right out of the jar.

It would appear, then, that I am being discriminated against. All those places offering guacamole are refusing to serve me a guacamole that looks and feels and tastes like peanut butter. They tell me that my rights aren't being violated. I can eat their guacamole any time I want. But I don't want guacamole. I want peanut butter. So telling me that I can eat their guacamole when they know I don't like it is not the same thing as saying I have a right to guacamole.

In view of the Fourteenth Amendment, I think I have had my civil rights violated. I think that I need Equal Protection. In my quest for Food Equity, I think they should be obligated to make a guacamole for me that looks and tastes like peanut butter. Until they do, I am a victim, a displaced citizen of American society, set aside and abused because I don't fall in the category of "normal guacamole lovers". It's unfair and I think there should be compensation for my distress. Let's see if we can get the laws changed. Let's see if we can redefine guacamole so it's fair to people like me. Where's my equal rights? Who will stand up for the misunderstood and discarded ones like me?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

God is Good

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting (Psa 107:1).
It's a simple little prayer that so many little children have learned. "God is great, God is good. Let us thank Him for our food." Okay, so "good" and "food" don't really rhyme. But the idea is sound. God is good.

"Good" is generally a relative term depending on a standard. A good meal is not the same as a good dog, and a good dog is not the same as a good man. The standard used determines "good". In the case of God, however, this is not the case. Jesus said, "No one is good except God alone" (Luke 18:19) because we all have standards to meet, but God is the standard. His character defines the standard by which "good" is measured ... and we all fall short (Rom 3:12, 23).

When it comes to God and "good", in fact, "good" appears to be the whole of His character. When Moses asked God, "I pray You, show me Your glory!" God answered "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you" (Exo 33:18-19). God's glory and His goodness appear to be synonymous. Good, then, is defined by God and resides in God. That's why David said, "You are my Lord; I have no good besides You" (Psa 16:2). That's why James wrote, "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow" (James 1:17). That's why your good works bring glory to God (Matt 5:16).

God, then, defines good. He defines what is good behavior. He defines what are good circumstances. He defines what are good outcomes. All that is genuinely good is defined in who God is. Conversely, as the definition of "good", all that He is and does is good. That's how we can be quite certain that "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Rom 8:28). Good is not defined, then, as "pleasant circumstances", "health and wealth", happiness, or that promotion you wanted. God defines good.

As a result, we can be confident that what God does is good and that He works all things together for good. We can be sure that both suffering and pleasure come from the hands of a good God for our good and His glory and nothing can separate us from the love of God. His goodness gives us a resting place, a foundation.

God is good. God is good all the time.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

That's Good

By Dan

Someone proved recently that cats have nine tails. This is how he did it:
Imagine before you two boxes. In one box is nothing and in the other a cat. The primary premise is posed that “no cat has 8 tails”. Everyone agrees that no cat has 8 tails. The second premise is that a cat has 1 tail. Since no cat is in the first box and we agree that no cat has 8 tails, and since 1 cat is in the second box, and we agree that a cat has one tail, then we are left with a simple math problem: 8 + 1 = 9. So, cats have nine tails.
We can see here that the words used, while not changing in their meaning, nevertheless become twisted so that they convey absurdity. While the absurdity is easy to see in this example, it isn’t always quite so easy to discern. Words convey realities. But as the meanings of common words twist and meander absurdity can sometimes overtake reality and even begin to seem plausible... if you don't look too close. It is for this reason that I have identified a handful of words for myself as “neon words”. They appear in my thinking like the neon "open" signs we see in storefronts. When I hear or read them I pay special attention so that my discernment may be sharp.

The word “good” has earned this distinction because when it is used, at least in certain discussions, it reveals a deception along the order of nine-tailed cats. The source of the problem it seems is twofold.

First, the word “good”, when you think about it, is appealing to a standard of some kind. No confusion there just yet. The problem enters when we consider the source of the standard, whether it is a subjective or an objective standard. For example, if someone says: “Chocolate ice cream is good” the word appeals to a subjective standard. It does not imply that the goodness of chocolate ice cream is, or ought to be, universally accepted by all people. But imagine if it did, or if the speaker, or hearer, or even thinker wasn’t sure. When we’re talking about ice cream such is easy to discern. But it’s not always quite so clear.

How about the sentence: “I am a good person”. Unlike the goodness of ice cream, this sentence appeals to an objective standard. While ice cream is subject to personal tastes, whether or not I am a good person is dependent on another standard completely; a standard that is independent of, and outside of, myself.

With a little thought we can see here how, if we confuse the source of the standard, not only will our communication suffer but so will our thinking. Consider for a moment the statement: “Mr. Smith is a good teacher”. What is most likely heard is that Mr. Smith conforms to some objective standard of good as it applies to the discipline of teaching. But the person saying this might well be communicating that Mr. Smith makes him feel good about himself while in Mr. Smith's class. Mr. Smith may well not be a good teacher at all but rather good in the art of personal relations. There’s no way the hearer can know without exercising a little curiosity by asking questions like "Why do you say that?” Or maybe you’ve heard something this: “If he’s a good teacher then what does a bad teacher look like?” Such questions are seeking to understand the standard being used.

We’ve all probably heard the phrase “God is good”? Does this statement appeal to a subjective or objective standard? Is He “good” because His character aligns with a definition of good derived from my personal desires? For the reality that these words represent to be successfully conveyed these questions must have answers. Does it perhaps appeal to a higher standard than even God? If so what standard does one appeal to in order that God might be judged as having measured up to it? Our own personal standard? What if, as I believe to be true, “God” is the standard? In that case we can rightly say with Job “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him”1, and it would make sense? But if God’s goodness is subject to our own personal preferences, then not only is God diminished, but so is the word "good". In such a case we can only say “God is good” when we get the promotion. But we can’t then also say “God is good” when we are subsequently fired for incompetence; that is unless God is unable to prevent it, which would not only mean that he is not sovereign, but also brings into question his ability to have orchestrated the promotion in the first place. It only stands to reason that if He was not able to cause the promotion He couldn’t very well be judged good for bringing it about could he? But that’s a different post. Suffice it to say for the sake of this one that if we believe that God can’t stop bad things from happening then it only follows logically that he can't cause good things to happen, and so therefore he can't really be good, at least not in the sense that we've generally understood "God is good".

Second, it doesn’t help that we live in a time in which all standards are relative. The idea that an objective standard exists has been rejected because it is believed that there isn’t one, or if there were one there might as well not be for we can never know what it is. With this view we need not examine our own lives according to any standard other than the one we create for ourselves… which would of course be subjective. Using this sort of reasoning a mother, having just been convicted of abusing her children, could still proclaim loudly to the court that she is a good person, as happened a few years back here in Arizona. Why shouldn't she say it? To what objective standard would anyone appeal to argue differently? We are all, after all, little cocoons wherein our own self-created reality, and its standards, aligns with our own desires. We can see why any suggestion that there is a "good" not subject to our personal tastes is met with fierce reaction, for it threatens our cocoonish little alternate realities.

But it gets more confusing yet. We are told that it is not good to impose our own standards onto others, and we are not to judge others either, as if the world outside our cocoon is now somehow subject to the subjective standards that exist on the inside. The fact that we feel better about ourselves because we are living up to a standard we create ourselves, for the purpose of making ourselves feel better about ourselves, hides the fact that we are now twisting ourselves into logical pretzels and are in reality functioning in the absurd world of 9-tailed cats.

In in such a world the very word “good” is obliterated and in many cases -- according to any given person's subjective framework -- it is no longer distinguishable from "bad" so that good for some becomes evil for others2. Yet in the cognitive dissonance of the contemporary mindset its destruction is not realized. The word lingers in our language as if there still were a standard from which its meaning could be derived, while at the same time that standard’s existence is denied. The language therefore becomes confused and communication between souls breaks down so that we live in a modern-day kind of Babel3.

In such a world it is then pondered, why are people these days so isolated? Why can’t we all just get along? Why is there such division and loneliness? One reason is that we have killed and dismembered a key and core concept. We have treated a foundational thing like "good" as if it were a pre-born child and ripped it from the womb of thought, and having thrown it into the trash bin, we celebrated the freedom to do so. But such freedoms are not free. They come at a price that apparently very few even realize we are paying.

________
Notes:
1 Job 13:15.
2 "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes And clever in their own sight!" (Isa 5:20-21).
3 "Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth" (Gen 11:9).

Friday, July 27, 2012

What You Cannot Say

I started doing some digging into this whole Chick-Fil-A kerfuffel and I am now thoroughly confused.

First, the story as we "know" it. Someone asked the COO of the organization, Dan Cathy, what their position was on gay marriage. He was opposed. Now several cities are preventing Chick-Fil-A from opening stores in their communities because they don't share the same values ...

As it turns out, no such story took place. On July 16, the Baptist Press ran a story about Dan Cathy as COO of Chick-Fil-A. Cathy admitted in the interview of being "guilty as charged" in standing on biblical and family values. "We don't claim to be a Christian business," he told the Biblical Recorder in a recent visit to North Carolina because Christ died for people, not corporations. "But as an organization we can operate on biblical principles." So they do things like not opening on Sundays ... because that would be a biblical principle. And they invest in WinShape. WinShape is so named because their goal is to help "shape winners". So they have camps and retreats and foster care programs and marriage programs (helping people prepare for marriage, etc.) and such. So far, a non-story. Where did Cathy get himself in trouble? "We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that." That's it. No, seriously, that's all.

It was CNN's report on this on July 19th that started the fireworks. Here's what they said. "'Guilty as charged,' Cathy said when asked about his company's support of the traditional family unit as opposed to gay marriage." Is that what the Baptist Press reported? No, here is their line: "Some have opposed the company's support of the traditional family. 'Well, guilty as charged,' said Cathy when asked about the company's position."

Odd ... really odd. For some reason there wasn't a single word in the entire Baptist Press story that referenced "gay marriage". Not one. There were comments about "traditional family" and "the biblical definition of the family unit", but not a single word about "gay marriage". In a radio interview, Cathy was quoted as saying, "I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.' I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think we can try to define what marriage is all about."

So where do we stand now? It is "anti-gay" to support the traditional family. And apparently everyone (despite the lively and full disagreement that it is so) knows that "the biblical definition of the family unit" is "the union of a man and a woman" to the exclusion of "same-sex" unions. If you believe that the Bible is accurate, you are anti-gay. If you believe that the Bible is true, you do not share the values of Chicago or Boston or a host of loud protesters who want Chick-Fil-A out of business and out of sight. If you support the traditional family, you do not share the values of the majority and you are a narrow-minded, hateful bigot. So while people like Boston Mayor Menino are assuring everyone that "We're an open city, we're a city that's at the forefront of inclusion", they do not mean the inclusion of the traditional family, the inclusion of biblical values, or the inclusion of people who hold a different view on whatever topic they have chosen to be their "intolerant" and "bigot" topic of the day. The dichotomy is seen in Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel who embraces Louis Farrakhan and ignores his blatant anti-semitism, but rejects Chick-Fil-A despite their affirmation of non-discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation. And the "NOH8" ("No Hate") group is turning their hate on the company by calling for a total boycott.

And the cognitive dissonance just gets worse and worse.

Update
In today's CNN story, you can read about a comment on the story. "'How backward and ignorant ... how sad,' CNN reader Joe Brown said. 'No more Chick-fil-A for me. I am not in the stone-casting business as a Christian.'" Excuse me, Joe, but isn't boycotting a restaurant because their COO has a particular view that doesn't affect the restaurant and doesn't attack anyone exactly casting stones???

Update #2
As expected, San Francisco is joining in the mindless hate, but isn't it sad that "the city of brotherly love" is, too? From the letter written by City Councilman Jim Kenney to Chick-Fil-A, "Take a hike and take your intolerance with you. There is no place for this type of hate in our great City of Brotherly and Sisterly Affection." Seriously, folks, do you not see the dichotomy of "take a hike" and "City of Brotherly and Sisterly Affection"???

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Yes, Virginia, There is a God

Perhaps you've heard this report about a victim of the Aurora shootings. Petra Anderson, age 22, was at the movies that night when the gunman opened fire. She took three shotgun pellets in the arm and one through the nose, riding straight through her brain and lodging at the back of her skull. The doctors were not optimistic. She might survive, but she would likely have serious impairment of speech and motor and cognitive abilities.

Contrary to medical science, Petra is now out of the ICU. She is speaking, walking, and doing quite well, thank you very much. Why? As it turns out, Petra had a brain anomaly of which she was quite unaware. It didn't cause her any problem -- never would have. There was a tiny channel of fluid running through her brain. And the shotgun pellet entered this defect and followed it through her brain to the back of the skull, causing no brain damage.

Call it what you will. Anti-Christians are calling it "random". Skeptics are calling it "luck", "chance". Believers are calling it a miracle. Her pastor is calling it "prevenient grace", "God working ahead of time for a particular event in the future." I, of course, can't help but see the hand of God.

Now, before you raise your hands in praise to the Almighty and thank God that He saved this girl in a most amazing way, you need to ask yourself some very important questions. If you believe (as I do) that it was the hand of God, what about the other 12 ... the ones who died? What happened there? Did God intend for them to die? Or was He only able to save those He liked more than others? What about the others who were shot and injured? Couldn't He have prevented it? Or are His hands tied by Human Free Will? Look, even now Petra's family is not out of difficulty. Her mother is battling terminal breast cancer. God can save Petra, but not her mother? Before you play the "miracle" card here, you need to be able to answer these questions.

Me? I believe that everyone who died was part of God's plan. I believe that those who were shot were part of God's plan. I believe that God works all things according to the counsel of His will and not a single aspect of this event serves as an exception. I wouldn't even venture to guess what God's plan is in all the details of this event, but that doesn't mean I have to question God, His Providence, His goodness, or His omnipotence. I don't have any problem with those questions. I know, however, that a lot of Christians do. So while I'm rejoicing that God wonderfully saved this young girl in a remarkable way and I'm continuing to pray for the other victims and their families (as well as the gunman and his family), I can say with certainty that God is still on the throne, that He is still at work, that He will still work all things together for good.

You? You'll have to figure out where you stand. Events like this tend to produce three types of people. There are people like me who see it as an affirmation that there is a God in heaven who is still at work even in the worst that humans can do. There are those who live with cognitive dissonance: "Yes! God saved her miraculously! No! God didn't intend for any of it!" There are those who end up skeptics. "Wait a minute! Sure, it looks like a miracle, but what about the rest? Maybe there is no God." Comfort, confusion, or cynical hopelessness. Which are you?

Update
I just wish those guys over at Pyromaniacs would quit copying me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why?

The other day I overheard two college students discussing a particularly difficult course. They were plotting together on various means by which they could avoid the serious amount of work required while still completing the class and getting a decent grade. I wondered, "What is the aim here?"

"Why?" is a favorite question of mine. That's what I was wondering about these two. You see, what they were doing was simple. "We're trying to do the best we can to pass this class with a good grade." But why they were doing it would determine what they would do and how they would go about it. You see, if the "why" was "In order to learn all I can about this particular subject", then "the serious amount of work" would not be avoided because the goal was to gather the information, not merely to "pass the class and get a decent grade". Why you do something has a huge effect on what you do and how you do it.

I have always delighted in asking people why they believe what they do. Even when they agree with me on something, why they believe what they do is very enlightening. "Oh, you believe Jesus is the only way to heaven? Why do you believe that?" "Well, I heard it from my pastor." You see, that's radically different from, "Well, I heard the Gospel and God opened my eyes and I realized that it was the truth, so I submitted to it. Since then, my life has changed in marvelous ways." Both of these two imaginary people hold the same belief, but one will necessarily be much more tenuous than the other. Why you do something has a huge effect on what you do and how you do it.

"Let all that you do be done in love" (1 Cor 16:14).

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, He gave really only one answer. It took two directions, but it was one thing. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and ... love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt 22:37-39). It is the hallmark of being a Christian (John 13:35). It is the fulfillment of the law (Gal 5:14). Why do you do what you do? If it is not for love, then I would suggest it's going to fall short. If you encourage someone for something other than love, it's "a tinkling cymbal". If you give to the poor for some reason other than love, you gain nothing. If you correct your child's behavior without love, you're wasting your time. Love is the singular "why", the ultimate proper motivation. You can sing praises to God without love and it profits you nothing. But, motivated by genuine love (rather than the poor imitation we see so often today), you can do the smallest thing and it is an act of obedience, a moment of worship, a sweet fragrance to God.

Why you do something has a huge effect on what you do and how you do it. Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons won't work. But love is the right thing, the right reason. And when that is the motivation, all sorts of problems are solved and questions answered. Let all that you do be done in love.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sex

I figured the title would get your attention ...

Greek philosophy always had a low view of the physical. The physical realm was meaningless at best and more likely evil. What was really important was the spiritual realm. Plato spoke of things like the "chairness", that spiritual reality that gave the physical chair its value. Some Christians, then, took their cue from Greek philosophy. Some keyed off the problems the Bible sees with "the flesh" as if physical was evil (not the biblical concept at all). Extremists like Mary Baker Eddy (and others) argued that our physical reality is merely what we think it is. Are you sick? It's just because you think you are. Reality is merely what you believe it to be.

The Bible never took that approach. After all, it was God who formed Adam -- gave him his physical nature. We know we die, but a resounding message of the Scriptures is that we will be resurrected, and that isn't just a spiritual thing. We will return to physical bodies. While "the flesh" in Scripture is a reference to the sin nature, our physical bodies actually have value to God, starting with the fact that we are in His image and concluding with the fact that we will always have physical bodies -- before and after this life.

Enter the problem of sexual immorality. Christians, apparently in large numbers, are succumbing to the world's sexual perspectives. "After all," they appear to reason, "it's what's in the heart that matters. If we love 'in the heart', what we do with our bodies is of little consequence." Paul, of course, disagreed. "Do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, 'The two will become one flesh'" (1 Cor 6:16).

Sex and the body operate in a world that includes but goes beyond the mere physical. Sex is designed by God as a mystical union for you and one-and-only-one other person. It is a real image of the mystical union of Christ and the Christian -- the Christian and only Christ. It is designed as a creative union where the joining of the two actually produces something. In the spiritual union of Christian and Christ, it produces "fruit", a changed heart, "good works" that cause others to glorify God. In the physical union of humans, it produces "fruit", a union of heart and mind as well as actual offspring. Sex is designed to be a total investment. It is a union that is "'til death do us part". Breaking that union is like ripping off a body part (part of the real problem of divorce). Sex is a complete and irrevocable gift, an exposure of self in absolute nakedness without defense or protection, a lifelong uniting of two bodies and two souls. The "two will become one flesh" nature of the union makes it permanent, even if it isn't intended to be.

As a picture, then, of Christ and a Christian -- of the union of the Christian to Christ and Him alone for eternity -- and a living example of God at work in His creation and as an actual complete surrender and joining for life, sex is much more than recreation or pleasure. That it would be pleasurable, given its real significance, would seem to be a given since God is good, but to merely see the pleasure without the real significance is blindness.

Why should we wait for sex until marriage and then keep the marriage bed holy? Waiting tells yourself and everyone else of the real value of the body given by God for God's purposes. It tells everyone else of the genuine worth of the union of Christ to Christian, of the value of joining man and woman until death. It takes into account both physical and spiritual realities missed by those who indulge their lusts and whims for mere pleasure. Both chastity before marriage and fidelity within marriage tell a strong story of the unspeakable worth of knowing Christ and our great gratitude for His gifts of bodies, soul, and spirit and the marvelous, mystical union of husband and wife. It's a picture worth showing, a story worth telling, and one all too rarely seen or heard, even among today's Christians.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Price of Conviction

Dear Christian, if you thought you were safe because you were in a country founded by Christians, premised on God, and framed in Christian values, you were mistaken. And for those of you who are quite sure that we're over-reacting, at some point you must open your eyes. I've heard from some who say, "I'm opposed to your viewpoints, but I will fight for your right to hold them and your freedom to express them." Well, we'll see.

The headline: "Chick-Fil-A to be Blocked from Boston City, Vows Mayor.

Perhaps you've heard. Chick-Fil-A is a restaurant run by a family who are Christians. They are closed on Sunday. They try to charge fair prices for decent food. They not only call themselves Christians; they try to live it. So when they were asked, "What is your stance on same-sex marriage?" (and why the management of a restaurant chain is required to express their view on whether or not the concept of marriage needs to change is beyond me), they stuck with the biblical perspective. "Marriage is between a man and a woman."

In the spirit of American tolerance and our Constitutional right to exercise our freedom of religion, "Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has made a solid vow: to block Chick-Fil-A, a fast food restaurant known for its chicken sandwich, from the city." He won't block any other food chain; just this one. Why? "Chick-fil-A doesn't belong in Boston. You can't have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population." It is "discrimination" to believe that for as long as there have been humans in all societies and in all religions marriage has meant the union of a man and a woman. It is not discrimination if you pick out one restaurant and ban it because you disagree with its management on a topic unrelated to the business.

Don't worry, Christians. You live in a free country where your right to practice your religion cannot be infringed. Unless you cross the lines of the popular move at the moment. Unless you disagree with the viewpoint of some. Unless you wish to express an opinion that has no bearing on the business you run but runs counter to the authorities in your particular town. Christians, remember to count the cost. And count on it; there will be cost.

I'll be interested to see the protests lodged by the tolerant, non-Christian folk who believe that those who run Chick-Fil-A should be allowed to believe and express whatever their religious convictions require on a subject that has no bearing whatsoever on the business they run. I'll be interested to see, but I won't be holding my breath. That would just be stupid.

Update
Boston threatened to block Chick-Fil-A. Chicago is succeeding. "'Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values,' the mayor said." No, Boston and Chicago values appear to be "We will not tolerate CEOs who have a point of view that differs from ours. That is our value." Is that a shared value of Bostonians and Chicagoans?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Old Testament Salvation

"I like Jesus, but I'm not very fond of that God of the Old Testament." Ever heard that before? Or how about this? "Today we are saved by grace, but in the Old Testament they were saved by works." I'm sure, if you haven't heard that, you've seen it, understood it, or, perhaps, even thought it. But ... is it accurate?

As it turns out, the Bible has one, single message -- Jesus, the Christ. According to Paul, that was the promise "before the ages began" (Titus 1:1-3) ... which is before time. At the Fall (Gen 3) we see the promise of Christ (Gen 3:15) as an offspring of Eve. After that, the Old Testament is full of prophecies about the coming Messiah. But that's not actual presence. Was Christ present?

John wrote, "No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, He has made Him known" (John 1:18). "Now, wait, John!" I can hear the protests. "We know better than that. Adam walked with God in the garden. The Israelites in the desert saw the cloud and the fire and saw God on Mt. Sinai. Didn't Moses see God? I mean, it says he did, right?" Well, it appears that John has a different perception of what actually took place. According to John, any time anyone "saw God" in the Old Testament, they were actually seeing Christ. "He has made Him known." Those who spoke with Adam and Abraham, Noah and Moses, the prophets and the people, were all "the only God who is at the Father's side," God, the Son, the Christ. And, look, don't we know that Jesus Himself confirmed this? Who was it that spoke to Moses at the burning bush? "God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM.' And He said, 'Say this to the people of Israel, "I AM has sent me to you"'" (Exo 3:14). What was it that Jesus said that made them want to stone Him to death? "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). No, they weren't going to stone Him for bad grammar. They knew what He just claimed. The One speaking in the Exodus account was none other than Christ Himself. And this shouldn't really be much of a surprise, since we know quite clearly that Jesus is "the Word" (John 1:1).

Beyond this there is the Old Testament character called "the Angel of the Lord". This particular entity shows up quite often. Unlike other angels who refuse worship, this one accepts it. Unlike other angels, this one is referred to as God (e.g., Gen 16:7-13). (Compare Exo 3 with Acts 7:30. Turns out the one in the burning bush was "the Angel of the Lord".) Look into this one some time. This is none other than the Pre-Incarnate Christ.

The fact is that Christ was throughout the Old Testament. Indeed, if you want to properly understand the Old Testament, you must look at it through this filter. The whole Bible is about Christ. Repeatedly in the New Testament Christ is found in the Old Testament. When the prophet wrote about Israel coming out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1), Matthew found Christ (Matt 2:15). Where the prophet warned of a "stone of stumbling" Paul and Peter found Christ (Rom 9:33; 1 Peter 2:7-8). Where Moses saw a sacrificial lamb and a scapegoat (Lev 16), the New Testament sees Christ (John 1:29). Over and over and over, Old Testament images and characters turn out to be Christ. The physical form, Jesus, appears on the scene at the beginning of the New Testament, but Christ has existed from before time -- eternally.

How, then, were those in the Old Testament saved? They weren't saved by obedience to the Law. The New Testament affirms that this could not happen (Rom 3:20). We might think they were saved by the sacrificial system, but the New Testament tells us that the sacrificial system was just an indicator, a pointer. Hebrews says, "It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Heb 10:4). Paul says instead of God that "in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins" (Rom 3:25). That is, He put on hold the actual punishment of sin until the propitiation of Christ was in play. Then He applied that payment to those who trusted in God's propitiation for their sin. In Revelation we see it from the reverse perspective. There we read of "the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world" (Rev 13:8). That is, the God who is not bound by time already had His Son, "the Lamb", classified as slain before the world began. Thus, the sacrificial system of the Old Testament pointed to a future event in time that was already an accomplished event to God and was the single event that provided salvation (by grace through faith) to all.

Still not buying it? How about this? In Acts 4:12 we read, "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." If it is true that there was a large period of time in which men were saved by means other than Christ, then this statement is not true. Indeed, there will be many in heaven who can claim, "I am here because I followed the divine prescription of sacrifices and obedience." So it is not only those of us since Christ, but all who are saved by grace through faith; "And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph 2:8-9). Abraham (Gal 3:8) was saved by the same mechanism that you were; by faith in Christ (Rom 4:3-8). His faith looked forward and yours looked back, but it is the same faith and the same focus and the same Person, the Lamb that was slain before the creation of the world. Now that's amazing grace.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Making Sense of the Numbers

According to the government, the United States is currently (according to the June report) at 8.2% unemployment. That's down from a nearly 10% peak a couple of years ago, so that's good, right? Well, it appears that mostly what we Americans do is accept numbers and go on nodding. Unfortunately, we rarely ask where they come from or what they mean. As a result, we accept, dare I say, lies.

Where do unemployment figures come from? Well, according to the government, there is a process. You might think it's something as simple as "How many people are on unemployment?" divided by "How many people are there?" But that would be naive. There are, for instance, people who are not in the work force who shouldn't be classified as "unemployed". There are farm workers who fall in an entirely different category. There are some fabulously wealthy with no employment and there are children and homemakers and retired people. You have to determine what your labor force is first. On the other hand, there are unemployed people who are not on unemployment. They never applied or their benefits ran out. So the numbers receiving unemployment benefits are not accurate for this. So, what do they do?

First, they don't ask everyone. It's a poll, a survey taken of 60,000 households. A quarter of these are changed out every month to keep the survey random. They ask in some 2,025 geographic areas to keep the survey broad enough. And what do they survey about? Well, they ask about household members over the age of 15 (children under the age of 16 are not classified as part of the labor force). They ask about employment, joblessness, and job-seeking status. A person who is not employed and is not seeking a job is not unemployed. These persons are simply not part of the labor force. Thus, you use "unemployed" (defined as 16 or over and less than retirement age without a job but actively looking for work) divided by "labor force" (defined as "employed" plus "unemployed") (times 100) to get your unemployment percentage.

Perhaps you can see the problem here. People lose their jobs ("unemployed"). They receive unemployment benefits and look for a job. As time goes by and people drop out of unemployment benefits and into no income at all, if they haven't found a job in all that time, they give up. Now they drop off the "unemployed" status and, therefore, off the "labor force" status. They are not employed, but they no longer count toward the unemployment figures.

In June, the employment-to-population ratio (that earlier, naive version) was at 75.6%, down from 80% in January of 2008. So while the unemployment rates continue to fall and new jobs are being created, the hard numbers indicate something different. Less people are employed.

Beyond that, chronic unemployment is peaking. In January of 2008 the average time an individual was unemployed was 17.4 weeks. Currently it's at 39.9 weeks. The longer you're out of work, the harder it is to find a job, and this is becoming more ... average. Indeed, this jobs recession has gone on for 53 months, the longest since the Great Depression.

Another concern is the future. The numbers of startup businesses are plummeting. In 2006 there were 747,278. That number is down 26%. Factor in new taxes, "taxes" (read "healthcare requirements"), and other business-limiting laws, and it's not going in the right direction.

But what about those new jobs? What about the companies hiring people? Well, while some are indeed hiring, others are laying off. That would be net job gains. But in terms of simple gross hiring, the numbers are down, the lowest since a year ago. This indicates cautious companies and simply makes the unemployment problem last longer.

You are being told that things are on the rise. In a spectacularly political move, the president announced a decrease in the unemployment rate in April. As it turned out, the primary reason for that decrease was the removal of a large segment of the chronically unemployed from the labor force. Or, to call it what it is, it was a lie. Unemployment hasn't changed like they say it has. They simply altered the labor force numbers. Let me put it this way. Some 350,000 Americans dropped out of the labor force in April, dropping the unemployment rate from 8.2% to 8.1%. I would guess, however, that those 350,000 still consider themselves unemployed. They aren't working. They don't have incomes. They aren't part of the private sector that is "doing fine". No, we're being lied to -- part of a numbers game. What's the truth? You figure it out.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Jesus Never Said

How many times have I heard it? "Jesus never said anything about homosexuality being a sin!" The conclusion? Well, obviously it must not be!

Of course, that's clear rubbish. He never said anything about rape, pornography, or child molesting either. I suppose you'd classify them as perfectly good since "Jesus never said anything" about them? No, of course not.

But is it actually true that Jesus never said anything about it? I might beg to differ. In Matthew 19 the Pharisees came to test Him. Their trick question? "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" Jesus wasn't falling for it. Without offering possible reasons for a valid divorce or enumerating the good versus the bad causes for divorce, He simply offered the longstanding, traditional definition of marriage: "A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh" (Matt 19:5). His conclusion was that this union is binding and splitting it up is a bad idea.

So far we have one statement from Christ on the subject. We know what Christ thinks is the definition of marriage. It is "man" and "woman" and "one flesh". Try, if you will, to fit "man and man" or "woman and woman" into that structure. It won't fit.

Jesus wasn't finished. His disciples were a bit dismayed. "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry" (Matt 19:10). Jesus offers two possibilities here. First, there is "man and wife in union". If not, there is one other option: "eunuch". (Interesting that some of these "eunuchs" are born that way (Matt 19:12), isn't it?) So Jesus says "Marry or be a eunuch" or "Be a husband or a wife or be celibate."

Again, it appears that "man and man", "woman and woman", or any other combination except "husband and wife", in terms of sexual relations, do not fit into this arrangement. You can try, but it won't work.

Jesus did not say, "And I hope you understand that it's not okay to have sex with animals, either." He didn't have to. He didn't say, "It should be abundantly clear, then, that adultery would be wrong." He didn't need to. He didn't say, "Clearly sex between men and men would fall in the category of sin as well." That was already understood.

No, Jesus didn't mention explicit options of various sexual practices. On the other hand, it is abundantly clear that Jesus laid out 1) what He considered to be "marriage" and 2) in what context sexual relations of any sort were moral and, outside of marriage, no sexual relations were moral. Please, by all means, draw your own conclusions. But I'm not at all sure that it's really fair to conclude that Jesus "never said anything about" this question.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Spreading the Blame

The First Great Awakening was a revival that swept Europe and America in the 1730's and 1740's. This revival was not aimed at the unsaved; it was a call for Christians to be Christian. The movement had huge impacts on the nation and the world. First, it personalized Christianity, making it a matter of personal interaction with the Holy Spirit rather than a cold religion. It removed the classic divide of "clergy and laity". Of course there was increased religious activity, but this went far beyond religious effects. It forwarded puritan ethics which included evangelism as well as a solid work ethic. Self-sacrifice, cooperation, benevolence, and giving to the needs of others were natural outcomes. Education was furthered with the establishment of major universities like Princeton. It was in this revival that slavery first came into question. One of the lead names in the Great Awakening, George Whitefield, was accused of encouraging a slave conspiracy in 1741 because he was preaching to them. This revival laid the roots of the American Revolution by suggesting that authority ran from God to people to rulers and by unifying the people as a nation.

In the 1890's, Christianity came to Mizoram, India. The effects were spectacular. To this day, Mizoram stands out from all other Indian states. While the vast majority of India is Hindu, almost 87% of Mizoram is Christian. It has a 91% literacy rate. There are no homeless in Mizoram. The state includes a Reformed Church with a membership of 600,000 and supports over 1,700 missionaries. This is quite remarkable since the average per capita income in Mizoram is $400 a year. But in 2007 the congregation gave $12 million to the church of which nearly $5 million was applied to world missions.

In the Welsh Revival of 1904, Wales became a God-fearing nation. Pubs went empty. Giving to the church for charitable purposes increased. Crime decreased, almost eliminating the need for judges. Work production increased. Bills were paid and loans repaid. Look it up sometime. The Welsh Revival had some of the most far-reaching effects in history.

Elsewhere, a revival in Denver, Colorado, so depleted the criminal element that they laid off police because the crime rate was so low. Christianity brought about hospitals and aid organizations, the abolition of slavery, improvements in education, child welfare, workplace conditions, medicine, and on and on.

These stories could go on and on. What's my point? The point is that Christianity -- genuine Christianity -- has an effect on its society. You'll find that in history. You'll find that in Scripture. "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt 5:16). "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). According to the protesters in Acts, the disciples of Christ "upset the world" (Acts 17:6). You see, Christianity is not a religion in the corner, a quiet belief that can be shared or not. Genuine Christianity has a necessary impact on the believer (Phil 2:13; 1 John 3:9). We may be affected to different degrees at different rates, but all believers are affected because Christianity is, at its core, a new life.

So ... what's my point? I've made my first point. Christianity affects the world around it. If you have no effect, you need to do a reality check. But there is another, larger point. When we look around us and see the decline of morality in the world and the rise of calling evil good and good evil, it is easy to blame the sinners. The truth is "Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4). So a good part of the blame lies with the Church. Instead of standing with God on His principles, we've suffered the erosion of biblical principles for sinful, social values. Instead of living godly, Christian marriages, we've succumbed to worldly perspectives and now marriage teeters on the brink of oblivion. Instead of standing as godly husbands and wives, godly parents, godly workers, and godly citizens on God's principles, we've eased off into worldly spouses, worldly parents, worldly workers, and wordly citizens. Oh, we comfort ourselves because we're not as bad as "them", but that's quite the wrong standard, isn't it? Being more moral than the world which opposes God at its core would be a given. Possessing the same values that the Scriptures call on us to possess is something else entirely. We've bought, for instance, the welfare state instead of leading the way by caring for our own. As our society has embraced sexual immorality in so many forms, we should have evidenced chaste lives and held the marriage bed in honor rather than winking at sin in our camp. We bemoan the surge of socialism when we should have been leaders as givers and helpers and aid for the needy.

My point? We need revival. We need another Great Awakening. I'm not talking about some Pentecostal/Charismatic event or some tent meeting. I am talking about a return of Christians to Christian living and Christian conduct and Christian attitudes and Christian values. I'm talking about Christians who so shine in their good works that people notice and praise God. I'm talking about a group of people marked by their shared love for one another. I'm talking about believers so altered in the way they live that skeptics have nowhere to argue. Until we see changed lives that correspond to genuine Christianity, we will need to continue to list us as major contributors to the decline of modern society. They are their own problem. We need to address ourselves in this.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sinful Tendencies

This is one of my question posts. I'm not trying to prove a point or make a statement. I'm asking. Because I don't know. I just wonder. Maybe you Christian readers can help me out here. (Christians will likely give me a different answer than secularists.)

In my experiences I've seen a lot of what appears to be inherited sinful tendencies in people. A father with a tendency toward alcoholism, for instance, very likely had a father with the same tendency and his children may as well. A child whose parent was an addict may tend more toward addiction. Those are simple examples. It appears that there are categories, areas of sin, that at least appear to carry on. It may be a tendency to overeat or a tendency to covet or a tendency to walk around with a negative attitude or all sorts of possibilities. This is not to say that everyone with a tendency gives in to that tendency. This is not to suggest that there is no escape. But it appears, from experience, that people can inherit tendencies to particular sinful behaviors.

Everyone has their weaknesses. I, for instance, haven't the slightest desire to do drugs or imbibe alcohol. Others do. That's not to suggest that I don't have my own crosses to bear in the arena of temptations, but drugs or alcohol are not among them. Others, on the other hand, don't have my own weaknesses and can't figure out why I would struggle with them. I note, however, that I seem to share similar weaknesses that my father has and it appears that my children tend toward the same ones as well.

Of course, there is the obvious element of nurture. A child growing up in an alcoholic home would seem likely to tend toward alcoholism because that's what was modeled. A boy that grows up with a father that abuses his wife might think that abusing women is normal behavior. Surely nurture plays a part. I'm not discounting that. However, I've seen far too many cases where the parent with Tendency X was not a part of the child's life. There was a divorce, a separation, a distance, perhaps even a death, and the child of this particular parent grows up without the "nurture principle" from this parent. Still, as he or she matures, they seem to develop the same tendencies as the missing parent and not the tendencies of people outside their families. Some I know of have developed the tendencies from missing parents even when they've grown up without them and in the nurture and admonition of good parents instead. I've seen this apparently inherited principle in matters of sin or just personality. "He's just like his father" does not require that he grew up with his father or even ever knew his father. There does appear to be some inherited behavioral tendencies.

Now, I don't really know. I do know that a child is not punished for his or her parents' sins (Eze 18:20). Doesn't happen. Got it. No problem. But that doesn't preclude inheriting tendencies, does it? And there is certainly the fact that we all have the sin nature in us, so we will all sin. That's not what I'm talking about. Nor am I suggesting either an excuse or an inevitability. All types of sins can be overcome in a believer's life. Having a tendency toward specific sins doesn't excuse the sin nor does it mean that it cannot be dealt with (1 Cor 10:13). What I'm wondering about -- what I seem to see -- is the possibility that tendencies to particular sins or sin groups (e.g., addiction, sexual immorality, pornography, etc.) might be inherited from parents, giving a child a greater inclination toward that particular sin or sin group. Is that possible? If not, why not? If it is possibly the case, what might be the mechanism? You see, if it is possible -- if it does happen -- it might be helpful in assisting our brothers and sisters in Christ in dealing with particular areas of difficulty knowing that they inherited this particular tendency, very similar to anticipating cancer in a child whose family line has a tendency toward cancer. It would make you more watchful.

Again, I'm just wondering here. Anyone with any insight on this?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Just a Question, God.

Readers, I didn't write this, but I liked it enough to share it with you. I think you'll like it, too.
________

Me: God, can I ask You a question?

God: Sure.

Me: Promise You won't get mad.

God: I promise.

Me: Why did you let so much stuff happen to me today?

God: What do you mean?

Me: Well, I woke up late.

God: Yes.

Me: My car took forever to start.

God: Okay.

Me: At lunch they made my sandwich wrong and I had to wait.

God: Hmmm.

Me: On the way home my phone went dead just as I picked up a call.

God: Alright.

Me: And on top of it all, when I got home I just wanted to soak my feet in my new foot massager and relax, but it wouldn't work!!! Nothing went right today! Why did you do that?

God: Well, let Me see, the Death Angel was at your bed this morning and I had to send one of the other angels to battle him for your life. I let you sleep through that.

Me: Oh ...

God: I didn't let your car start because there was a drunk driver on your route that would have hit you if you were on the road.

Me: (ashamed)

God: The first person who made your sandwich today was sick and I didn't want you to catch what she had; I knew you couldn't afford to miss work.

Me: (embarrassed) Okay ...

God: Your phone went dead because the person that was calling was going to give you false information; I didn't even let you talk to them so you would be protected.

Me: (softly) I see, God.

God: Oh, and that foot massager ... it had a short that was going to throw out all of the power in your house tonight. I didn't think you wanted to be in the dark.

Me: I’m sorry, God.

God: Don't be sorry; just learn to trust Me ... in all things, the good and the bad.

Me: I will trust You.

God: And don't doubt that My plan for your day is always better than your plan.

Me: I won't God. And let me just tell you God, thank You for everything today.

God: You're welcome, child. It was just another day being your God, and I love looking after My children.
________

I liked it. The notion that God has protected us from things we will never realize is marvelous, really.

I suspect, however, that if I was God, I would have responded differently. "Are you asking Me about when you woke up late in that bed I provided and when the car I provided that so many on the planet don't have didn't start on your cue? Did you really want to ask Me about that the sandwich that took longer than 5 minutes when millions don't get sandwiches? Do you really want to know about a phone that you've never thanked me for or about a foot massager (of all things), a luxury you don't recognize? Are you sure these are the questions you want to ask? 'Cause I can tell you, but I'm almost baffled by these shallow problems you're bringing up."

I suppose that might be the reason that my kids don't ask me these kinds of questions, eh?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Gay Christians?

Recently Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, an evangelical organization that is dedicated to assisting homosexuals to get out of that lifestyle, said in an interview with The Atlantic, "When it comes to someone who is a believer, we all still struggle. We're all still human. Some of us choose very different lives than others. But whatever we choose, it doesn't remove our relationship with God." He has come under a great deal of Christian criticism for such a remark. Christianity Today reports he is accused of antinomian theology. (Antinomian theology suggests there are no rules for Christians. You do whatever you think is best. How you act is irrelevant.) That's a bad thing.

So, what about it? Can you be a Christian and go on freely practicing homosexual behavior? And do you see the problem with the question? You see, if you say, "No!", then you're saying that salvation depends on what you do. If you say, "Yes!", then you're saying there are no rules for Christians. It's a classic Catch 22. Or, you could say that it's a classic "false dilemma".

Remember, first, that I will always derive my worldview from Scripture before experience. If Scripture is clear on X and my experience says Y, I'm going to have to go with X. If X isn't clear in Scripture, then there is lots of room for discussion, but when it's clear, X is true regardless of experience. So ... what does Scripture say on the subject?

Well, there is almost no one on the planet who has examined the question and concluded that the Old Testament is unclear on the subject. "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (Lev 18:22). Of course, the complaint is that we're not opposed to football (pigskin, you see), so we're being inconsistent. The response is that it's also contained in the New Testament. (I'm not favoring either the complaint or the response; I'm just telling you what they are.) The New Testament is really unavoidably clear as well. Jesus made the point in Matthew 19. Paul wasn't vague when he wrote, "God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error" (Rom 1:26-27). And, of course, both Old and New Testaments have more. Say what you want; it is biblically sinful.

Does it address the question of salvation, however? Paul seems to think so. He wrote, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Cor 6:9-10). Notice first that "homosexual" is only one of the sins listed, so don't get it in your head that this is the primary topic. On the other hand, he is not unclear. These people ("the unrighteous") "will not inherit the kingdom of God." Is that unclear? No, I don't think so.

But let's go to another place that makes the point abundantly clear. John writes this stunning statement:
No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God (1 John 3:9).
Now, look, do with that what you will, but it seems absolutely certain that "no one born of God makes a practice of sinning." Not only does he not, he cannot, as in "lacks the ability". Having established, then, that homosexual behavior is sin and that those who practice it will not inherit the kingdom of God (along with those who practice all sorts of other unrighteousness), John affirms here that the fundamental problem is not that they aren't performing up to standards in order to be let in, but that they are not born of God. To put it another way, if they are able to practice sin like this, they are doing things that geniune Christians cannot do.

So, am I saying, then, that a Christian cannot sin? No, that's not what it says. It says "make a practice of sinning". Am I saying that a Christian must meet certain behavioral standards? No, that's not what it says. (And that's what made my "Catch 22" actually a false dilemma.) Based on Scripture, one who is born of God cannot blithely continue in a particular sin. They interrupt it. They struggle with it. They need to stop it. It is not comfortable, happy, pleasant, a good place to be. They cannot continue in that behavior. Not simply "will not", but cannot. So when someone says "I'm a Christian" and continues comfortably and happily in sin -- any sin -- the Bible indicates that they are not born of God and will not inherit the kingdom of God. That's not legalism. It simply says that those born of God are changed people with changed capabilities. Repentance and changed lifestyle is an indication of an inner reality, not a cause. But it is a sure indication. It will happen. Don't be fooled.

When someone who is sexually attracted to the same gender is born of God, will they stop struggling with sin? No. Not at all. Not that sin. Not any sin. The struggle goes on. When the struggle stops and the result is the practice of sin, any sin, the Bible suggests that the "born of God" event never happened. Our task, then, is to "bear one anothers' burdens", to assist fellow believers in their struggles. We don't reject someone because they struggle with alcohol or covetousness or greed. Why would we reject someone because they struggle with homosexual feelings? We mustn't. All believers need shared support because all believers struggle with sin. That's just one of them. True fellowship of believers must go beyond the barrier of confessing sins to one another into mutual support. Until it does, we are not fellowshipping. And we are not being obedient followers of Christ. Loving fellow believers, Christ indicated, is the hallmark of a follower of Christ. Let's do that.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Draw of Deism

In a debate on Facebook over homeschooling or not (actually over an originally innocuous comment that was taken to a logical if unintended conclusion), one person said, "I think public schools increase children's chances of going to Hell." On a recent blog of a fairly well-known Arminian apologist he wrote, "God makes himself dependent on our wills." A Christian apologist argues that what is really needed in order to impact those around us is a good argument with solid evidence and clear reasoning, not the Bible because, after all, unbelievers don't accept the Bible as true. Many of us are concerned as socialism creeps into our system and morals drop and the church loses its savor. "Is there any hope?" I'm seeing a trend here, and I think it's fairly common to Christians, orthodox or not.

Whether we're bemoaning the decline of the church in modern America or pointing out the decay of Christian theology or pointing sadly at the plummetting morality of our nation or worrying about the stumbling economy, we seem to think in a vacuum here. We look at circumstances and think "God makes himself dependent ..." or "chances are ..." when reality is nothing of the kind. We think of the world according to natural laws, indisturbed by outside influences, but we serve a God who "works all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph 1:11).

We aren't telling ourselves the truth. So what's the truth? The truth is "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Prov 22:6). The truth is that our children are not saved by giving them a homeschooling education. Instead, "it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy" (Rom 9:16). The truth is that God is not dependent on any of us. The truth is that the Word of God has power that exceeds its own content and outshines human logic, that "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ" (Rom 10:17), not by the intervention of human logic. The truth is that the Church is not built by human hands, but by Christ Himself. The truth is that "there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God" (Rom 13:1). And so it goes. It all depends on God.

We are tempted -- sorely tempted -- to think that what we see is all there is. We calculate "chances" and question God's presence in human events because we don't see God present. He is. We lean on human reason and worry about the decline of the church and the country because we don't see God present. He is. It's true that public schools can be tough on kids and human free will seems to counter God's divine will. It sounds like a reasonable statement to say that using the Bible on people who don't accept the Bible as true is a foolish thing to do. Things in our country are not headed in a good direction for the most part. And this is why I stress to myself and to you the Sovereignty of God. Give that up, even an inch, and all you're left with is "chance", "nature", and, worst of all, "us". On the other hand, I choose to see it another way:
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Selah (Psa 46:1-3).
(I wonder why that sounds so familiar.)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Have You Been Brainwashed?

By Dan

Boy: Yea, I see your point; I just haven't seen anything compelling enough to make me believe that there was once nothing and now, after millions of years of evolving, we have ... me.

Girl: Well how else could we have gotten here?

Boy: We were created by God, of course.

Girl: Yea, I thought you'd say that. You're probably hopeless because you've obviously been brainwashed.

Boy: I don't see how I've been brainwashed. Would a person know it if he's brainwashed?

Girl: No, I wouldn't think so.

Boy: Well then how do you know you're not brainwashed?

Girl: Oh, I know I'm not brainwashed. I see things the same way everyone else does.

Boy: What difference does that make? Here, I'll tell you what; I know how we can solve this.

Girl: How?

Boy: You tell me what the non-brainwashed position on everything is, then we can see how that compares with our own viewpoints. Think you can do that?

Girl: Oh, that's easy. The non-brainwashed position is everything I think is true ... today.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Biblical Politics

We are, first, Christians. Some would have us believe we are, first, Americans or Republicans or something else. There are those who place their emphasis on politics. I would suggest that it's not biblical to do so. Politics are just fine, but not the end of the story.

Does that mean that Christians should avoid politics? Not at all. Okay, does that mean that the Bible has nothing to say about politics? Again, certainly not. I suspect, however, that very few even pay attention to the biblical perspective, so I'll give it to you here for your enlightenment.
A wise man's heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man's heart directs him toward the left (Eccl 10:2).
There you have it, straight from the mouth of the wisest man who ever lived. You know where you need to go, now, so ...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

For Your Perusal

I came across this little piece of news. According to the article, the president, by executive order, has just made himself king of all communications if he so chooses, including your television, phone (wired and wireless), and Internet. Now, perhaps it needs more research -- I'm not raising the "Run for the hills!" alarm -- but given his restriction of freedoms thus far, I don't know that it can be passed off as alarmist, either.

Out of the Closet

I read recently (I don't recall where) about one of Bruce Willis's daughter's "coming out" party. We know what "coming out" means, right? So apparently his daughter was identifying herself as a homosexual. As it turned out, they were using the older concept of "coming out", that of being presented to society, the "debutante" concept. No, she wasn't telling the world she was a lesbian. She was just turning 16.

Anderson Cooper, on the other hand, announced to the world that he was indeed a homosexual. Hollywood, of course, was in an uproar. If you are "like that", you keep it quiet, you keep it on the down-low. Don't tell anyone. The studios will keep it off the public radar. They'll pay off people and keep the press away and ... oh, wait ... that didn't happen, did it? No, as it turns out, Cooper is being praised for his "coming out". CNN is not threatening to dismiss him. The world is not shocked. No one is particularly disturbed at all.

How would that work in reverse? How about, say, a Tim Tebow who comes out and says, "I'm a Bible-believing, convinced-and-living-it, evangelical Christian"? How does the world take that? Well, of course they applaud and appreciate it! After all, look at what genuine Christians have done in our world. They are, as a group, the most generous and giving people. They formed the basis for the strongest nation on this planet. It was their morality and selflessness and their puritan work ethic that made this country what it is. Their residual effect is still echoing through the halls of Congress and on the streets in the form of hospitals they founded and homeless shelters they built and food for the poor that they've distributed. Why wouldn't the world ... oh, wait ... that didn't happen either, did it? While it's okay to be a "Christian" like Katy Perry or Amy Grant (who was once quoted as saying, "I'm a musician first and then a Christian."), by no means are you allowed to be a Bible-believing Evangelical Christian. That's just crazy! Look, if you're one of those, keep it quiet, you know? We'll try to keep the press off you and you stay silent about that stuff and we'll just keep it on the down-low. It'll be alright.

There have a been a very few that have gotten away with coming out of the Christian closet. Kurt Warner has remained consistent and outspoken, but he's retired. Stephen Baldwin was still acting up until a couple of years ago. Chuck Norris is still honored as a tough guy even though he's an outspoken Christian with several Christian books under his belt. (He wrote an interesting piece about the "Chuck Norris mania" on the Internet that you might enjoy here.) And he's pretty much retired, too. Yes, it's very few.

When Kirk Cameron said that he believed that homosexual behavior was a sin, they coined a new term. Now when you "come out" as a Christian in public, you'll be "Kirk Cameroned". That is, if you stand up for genuine Christianity, for biblical Christianity, for Christian virtue and Christian values, you can expect to be sidelined, scorned, ridiculed, and eliminated. Sarah Palin's biggest sin was not that she was a woman, but that she was a Christian. While Al Gore and even Obama made the same claim, Palin seemed to mean it and that meant she was out of the race. Tim Tebow has been ridiculed and mocked openly and loudly for his position. We can expect that those in the public eye who "come out of the closet" as Christians will likely receive the same treatment today that homosexual stars would have expected to receive in former times.

If you've ever wondered what it means to "do a 180", this is it. Our nation and our culture have done it. What was "sin" is now commendable and what was "good" is now evil (Isa 5:20). So, "Christian" is the new "gay"? Has it come to this in a "Christian nation"? Times, they are a-changin'.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Upside of Porn

We (Christians) all know that pornography is sinful. Clear enough. Nor am I, in the title, offering a defense of pornography. But I have a few suspicions on the subject and I hope to address them. I think that there is a natural revulsion that kicks in if someone, male or female, admits to a problem with porn. Generally the revulsion tends not to be toward the pornography, but toward the person. I suspect, however, that most people don't understand pornography, or, to be more accurate, the reasons for the problem of porn. We think they're just weak or sinful or dirty or perverts ... yuck, pooey, blech! Indeed, I'd think that Christians who suffer from this problem feel that way about themselves. And I would think that, if these two suspicions were accurate, this kind of thinking would make it very difficult to address the problem.

So, why do people (men generally, but not always) like porn? I'm talking here about the regenerate, those who actually have a relationship with Christ, those who have "died to sin" (Rom 6:1-14). We "have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2:16). We have God at work in us both to will and to do His good pleasure (Phil 2:13). Why do people in this category still suffer from the likes of pornography?

Luke Gilkerson, in a series in partnership with Covenant Eyes, has written a piece giving "4 Reasons Men Like Porn". There is insight here. In short, he says:
1. Porn is easy, but relationships are hard.
2. Porn is comfortable, but life is stressful.
3. Porn is exciting, but life is boring.
4. Porn makes men feel powerful, but real life makes them feel powerless.
None of these are valid excuses. None are intended to be. But I think you can begin to see that it is something beyond being a weak, dirty pervert. Wives of men who suffer from this problem tend to think, "Am I not enough?" That, in my view, is really not the case. It's not the question. It's not the problem. And if we're trying to correct a problem where it isn't, we won't succeed, will we?

Gilkerson suggests accountability questions based on the four points he offers. The aim of these questions is not to engender guilt, but to "stir up one another to love and good works" (Heb 10:24).
Has there been a relationship in your life recently that has been unusually difficult?
Have there been any stresses in your life recently which have brought on a feeling of pressure or strain?
Have you found yourself bored or itching for excitement? Do you feel like your life is mundane?
Have you been in any situations recently that made you feel belittled, unimportant, or disrespected?
I think you'll find that the source of the porn problem is much deeper than a simplistic "dirty old men" issue. It's an internal problem. It's likely not even understood at all by those in the midst of it, let alone onlookers. It is due to a variety of factors, the sin nature as the starting point. It is fed by a society that tells men that they're useless and pointless and a culture that worships ease and comfort and excitement over biblical values. It's nurtured by the lack of resources for men and women too ashamed to seek help and too shunned to get it. It thrives in the anonymity of the Internet and grows in the modern culture of sexual immorality as a virtue. It is watered by the isolation that most who suffer from the problem feel -- as if he or she is the only Christian around suffering from this struggle.

There is no upside of porn. Only downside. It is an escape from what ails us. And we, as members of one Body, cannot afford to continue this way. We need to provide a place where we are bearing one another's burdens (Gal 6:2), confessing our sins to one another (James 5:16), restoring fallen brethren (Gal 6:1). Rather than shooting our wounded, we need to lift drooping hands, strengthen weak knees, and make straight paths "so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed" (Heb 12:12-13). As those saved by grace, forgiven by Christ, joined in one Body, you'd think we'd be the best at this sort of thing. I'm looking around and it just doesn't seem like that's the case. Isaiah prophesied of Christ, "A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench" (Isa 42:3). We, on the other hand, seem far too quick to break and quench fellow reeds and wicks in trouble.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Google on the Offensive

dot429.com is reporting that Google is launching a campaign to flush marriage down the tubes and redefine it in favor of same-sex couples. Oh ... wait ... that's not what they said.
Google is launching a new campaign called "Legalize Love" with the intention of inspiring countries to legalize marriage for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people around the world. ... Google intends to eventually expand the initiative to every country where the company has an office, and will focus on places with homophobic cultures, where anti-gay laws exist.
I have a feeling that very few are paying attention to the words they are using.

1. "Legalize Love." When did "love" become illegal ... anywhere? Since when did love have to be legalized? Now, certainly certain expressions of what is loosely called "love" will be illegal. "I only beat my wife because I love her," the guy will say as the police haul him off in handcuffs. "I eat my cats because I love them so much," the cat lady told officials when she was arrested. "I love my daughter, so I lock her in her room so she won't get in trouble," says the father accused of child abuse. They're calling it "love" and they are expressing it in a manner that is not legal. However, actually loving is never illegal. And the suggestion (which I have actually heard) that "Christians think that loving someone of the same gender is a sin" is absolute nonsense. We are commanded to "love one another". Love is legal. Such nonsense!

2. "... legalize marriage ..." Marriage is already legal for heterosexuals, lesbians, gays, and bisexuals. Of course, if you're going to redefine the concept, then say so. But there isn't a country in the world of which I'm aware that would prevent a self-professed lesbian from marrying a man or a self-identified homosexual male from marrying a woman ... because marriage is the union of a man and a woman. It's already legal in all countries for everyone. No, legalizing it is not the aim. Reconstructing it is the aim.

3. I was fascinated at the claim to want to "legalize marriage for ... bisexual people." Really? Taking your "legalized marriage" in the spirit that it is intended -- allow people to define marriage in a new way that simply expresses the desire to be in a committed relationship with someone for whom they are very fond -- are they really seeking to make it legal for someone who is inclined to sexual relations with both genders to marry ... both genders? Are they seeking to make polygamy or polyamory legal? I haven't heard of that much in the mainstream yet. They tend to deny that. Are they finally admitting it?

4. As always seems to be the case, the perception is that the only possible reason that anyone would think that the concept of marriage is the union of a man and a woman is because they hate people of the homosexual persuasion. There can be no other reason. "Defense of marriage" is a euphemism that means actually "hating gays". Seeking equality for all in "the longstanding, traditional definition of marriage" is only a cover story for seeking to keep the gay man down. The only possible motivation is hate. And the only reason for "defense of marriage" is "anti-gay". Indeed, you can't put "defense of marriage" anywhere without including the "anti-gay" tag. Such drivel!!

Christians, here's what's coming. You will be verbalized out of the mainstream in the foreseeable future. Part of it is your silence. Most of it is the control that pro-gay and anti-Christian influences have on the media. They've eliminated thinking in schools and we've obliged their efforts by largely eliminating thinking in churches. The culture has normalized explicit sexual immorality and the churches are following mere steps behind by accepting said immorality without comment. And, having redefined marriage in the direction we've already let it go, you can expect the end of the prevalence of anything resembling biblical marriage, the decline of parenting, and the continued slide of morality. We've assisted it by following along. Why would we expect anything different? And, of course, having redefined "marriage", "sexual immorality", and some of the mainstays of society (like "family" or "parents"), you can expect very soon to see the end of religious freedom as well. Think what you want; just don't act on it ... ever. There will be consequences. And Christians -- the genuine ones -- will need to determine if they're willing to pay the price. Because, for the most part, we've already surrendered. And I'll be counting on a Sovereign God here, not society, the media, the government, or even the churches.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Converts vs Disciples

By Dan

Something caught my eye in Scripture today. It was in the book of John, third chapter, verse 22:
"After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing"
Of interest to me were the words "He was spending time with them". This resonated with a thing that I've been pondering of late concerning "convert" vs. "disciple". So I did a little word search on these two words in the NASV. "Convert" showed one reference in the OT and eight in the NT, four of which were in "headings".

I then searched the word "disciple". There were two references in the old OT and 266 in the NT. Of course disciple was used to describe the 12 and so we would expect a difference. But I think there's more to this than meets the eye at a glance.

For one, nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to make converts. The word is used generally as a verb or a noun derived from the verb. It always refers to a thing that happened in a point in time, but never as an identity.

Disciple, on the other hand, is an identity. I am a disciple, not a convert. I was converted some years ago. After my conversion someone much older than myself "spent time with" me. He was compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient (Col 3:12). I was his disciple.

At some point in the history of the Church the idea of becoming a disciple, or making disciples, I fear, was lost to a game of numbers. Success became dependent on the number of converts and warm pews which has, and had, no relevance to discipleship. How arrogant it is, in my opinion, to conclude that the sermons in our Churches are so good that sitting under them once a week will have life changing effects.

The truth is that discipling is hard work. It requires time. It requires men of God who are chewing on solid food themselves. It is expensive. No wonder we quit doing it, and in so doing quit requiring it, and in so doing began to die.

But making disciples is worth the effort. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul, after painting for us the picture of his struggles, "to live or to die", goes on to make his case for living. In the column entitled "live on" he put "fruitful labor" (1:22).

Also, in his letter to the Thessalonians, after reminding them that they (Paul and his company) had given them, "not only the gospel of God but also [their] own lives" (2:8), and after he had left them for a while, and upon inquiring again as to how they were holding up in the faith under suffering and persecution, and then after receiving a favorable word, he proclaimed his joy ... in them.
"For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account..."(3:9)
No Church leader is sad when he sees those who belong to his Church growing in the faith. But we receive joy beyond thanksgiving when we receive a good return on our expensive and substantial spiritual investments into the disciples placed under our care when they flourish in the faith. How drab it is, the comparison of converts to disciples. Obedience demands discipleship.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Selah

You'll find that term, selah, in the Psalms. There are a variety of possible meanings for the term. It is a musical pause. (The word means "pause".) It may indicate a change in the music or a musical direction of some sort. It may be an "Amen!" Some suggest a "forever!" I like to think of it as "Stop and think about it."
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Selah (Psa 46:1-3).
Stop ... and think about it.

The president and the Congress and the Supreme Court are not our refuge and strength; God is. The proper passing of laws protecting biblical morality and amendments defending marriage are not our refuge and strength; God is. A good job, a good spouse, good kids, a good place to live, financial security, or a gun in the drawer are not our refuge and strength; God is.

Though the earth should change and the mountains slip into the sea, though the Supreme Court uphold Obamacare and Mitt Romney or, worse, Obama get elected, though the immigration problems continue or continue to decline, though I get in an accident or suffer from cancer or lose my job or my wife or my dear child ... I will not fear.

Why? Not me nor my circumstances nor my politics nor my government are my refuge and strength. God is. It doesn't get any better than that.

Selah.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Making The Movies Jealous

By Dan

If you haven't seen the video entitled "Making The Movies Jealous" it's worth the few minutes I think. It's right here if you're interested. If you don't want to take the time, it's basically a marriage proposal made through a homemade movie trailer. The young man conspired with his fiance's friends and the theater to have the trailer shown while she was there.

I wonder though if this is not a kind of a metaphor of the blurring of the lines between entertainment and real life. It's already impossible to know the extent to which our thinking is impacted by what we watch. What is the impact of these images that jerk us quickly from one scene or situation to another, one emotional state to another, and from one thought process to another; all to retain our increasingly prone-to-wander attention. This young couple will be learning soon enough that producing a clever marriage proposal is much easier than producing a wonderful marriage.

At last look this video had been viewed over 22 million times. I couldn't help but wonder how many older folks with a couple of decades under their belt felt about this. I wondered if they were perhaps a little nervous for this young couple, after such a public production of a proposal, on how they will fare as they encounter the thousandth episode of "We're Out Of Money Honey". The young man said that they would "make the movies jealous". They will soon learn in a very real way that their lives are nothing like the movies and that movies are nothing like life. For the young man to achieve his goal, at least as far as longevity is concerned, his marriage will need to last longer than 120 minutes.

Don't get me wrong. This article is not as much about this couple as it is about the blurring of the lines between entertainment and life. I was honestly impressed, not only for his cleverness, but by the fact that he asked the dad and the words he used when he asked. I sincerely hope that they do make the movies jealous with a marriage that becomes a beacon for marriage in a culture that doesn't seem to care very much about the institution any more.

Friday, July 06, 2012

More Cognitive Dissonance

If you think about the concept of cognitive dissonance -- holding two contradictory ideas at the same time -- and then look around you, I would suspect that you might begin to think that we are living in a world defined by the concept. We seem to live there rather than touch on it from time to time.

Take, for instance, those spiritual folks who say, "I'm spiritual; I just don't believe in organized religion." What are the options? They don't believe in organized religion, so they are in favor of disorganized religion? It's like the teenagers these days who rebel to be "individuals" ... just like all their other friends. Religion to these people (and there seems to be a lot of them) is only good if it is "individual", not "organized". That, of course, would make it contradictory in itself, but, look, we're preferring cognitive dissonance here, so be quiet about that, okay?

There is this whole problem of having a view on a particular moral question. In today's society, it is considered evil to point to the danger of evil. Really? Isn't considering it evil a moral question? And aren't they, then, doing that which they consider evil? On the other hand, if something is evil, wouldn't it be good to hold the view that it is and warn people from the consequences? "Watch out! There's a snake here!" "Why don't you just keep your evil views to yourself??!!" Cognitive dissonance.

Indeed, in today's moral climate, it would appear that it's worse to judge sin than to commit it. Sure, sure, you may think that homosexual behaviors (or adultery or fornication or a host of other "acceptable sins") are sinful, but it's far worse for you to point it out than it is for them to commit them. And pointing out that violating God's commands is a dangerous proposition won't make it any better. "Yes, I know you think I'm drinking poison here; but you're definitely bad for suggesting it." Cognitive dissonance.

Quite closely related, then, is the position that judgment is evil and intolerant and I will judge you and be intolerant of you doing it. Why is it that this doesn't collide with the thinking processes? I remember doing it once myself and hearing myself say (fortunately only to myself), "If there's one thing I can't tolerate it's intolerance." Hey! That's crazy! Wake up! Cognitive dissonance.

Then there's the whole problem of absolutes. So many will hold that morality is relative, not absolute, but will insist that their morality is correct and yours is not. Like Pilate, they will scorn the idea of truth and make such a position a truth statement. "Absolutes? They don't exist! Absolutely!" Cognitive dissonance.

We seem to get more and more comfortable with holding contradictory beliefs in opposite hands and fighting valiantly for both. Even Christians. "I believe that the Bible is the Word of God ... but I'll gladly take on the world's contradictory viewpoint as my own when I am so inclined." (Just an example.) It is indeed crazy, but we do it. And as I mentioned before, it clearly seems to be a symptom of the mind tainted by sin. You see, sin rots the brain (Rom 1:28) and we humans just seem to keep stepping up to prove it.