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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in Review

As the year comes to a close, I have taken some time to review ... my blog. I know, kind of self-serving, but still something for me to consider.

As always, my aim has been one post a day (you know, as a minimum). I had 370. I met that goal.

This year I wrote a few series. I tried to maintain a worship theme on Sunday posts. In March there was a series based on Jonah because, after all, I was reading Jonah. In August I did a series on Essential Christianity discussing just what is Christianity and the necessary components without which Christianity could not survive. In September I did a four-part entry on whether or not one can lose his or her salvation. With the singular exception of the second entry on Jonah, none of these managed to grab much attention.

The discussions have been ... quieter. My most commented post was from 9/8 on the Two Wills of God with at total of 55 comments. The notion that God would will everything that happens was controversial. Second was Truth by Vote with 38 comments. The post was about how people often determine what is true by the numbers of people that believe it. Unfortunately, the example was the question of the existence of same-sex marriage. Thus, the concept of whether or not truth is determined by vote was lost in the disagreement over the morality of same-sex marriage. In A Baby Question I asked if the popular "we should wait to have kids until we can afford it" approach was biblical or wise. This one drew some discussion as you can imagine, topping out at 37 comments. To be fair, there was more than a couple of comments in that section because I mentioned I was considering ending my seven-year blogging stint and several people wanted to discuss that. As it turns out, 165 of my 370 posts had no comments. I don't know what that means, but it doesn't feel good.

Viewership has dwindled over the year. The entry of May 8, Where do you come up with this?, led the pack with 190 views. I discussed how I come up with the positions I come up with. Number 2 was Easy Writing for Christians where I suggested that the easiest way to get people to like what you write is to write what they like ... and that's not a good plan. A total of 184 people looked at that. Of the 370 posts of 2013, only 12 had more than 100 views. The average was 42. And I found it ... unpredictable. I mean, who would have thought that a post on giving thanks to the God of heaven would have received the same number of views as a post titled Is it a sin to be gay? I would have naturally thought that the latter would have had far more traffic than the former. Who knew that people were just as interested in giving God glory as they were in asking the question about sin and homosexuality? (See how statistics can lie?)

The reality is that my readership has been dropping since it hits its highest levels in May of this year. The week ending May 2, 2013, showed 685 visits to my blog and -- get this -- 1,527 page views. Imagine that! Of course, by mid-November it was bottoming out with 363 visits and 465 page views. This, along with other factors, makes statistics fairly useless, except that I planned to write 365 posts in the year and I met that goal. But when last year's highest views was at 524 and this year's was only 190, one does start to wonder.

So, what is my goal? What am I doing here? In May I was looking through my past writings and discovered that I was repeating -- often nearly word for word -- stuff I have written before. Maybe, just maybe, I've run out of things to say. On the other hand, no one notices that I'm repeating myself because no one remembers that I wrote it before (if they even read it before). So maybe it's not an issue. Primarily I'm writing to hear myself write, so to speak. No, not accurate. But there are things I'm thinking about and wish to express. Writing them out helps me think them through. (You have no idea how much stuff I've written, reviewed, and deleted because it was poorly thought out or just plain wrong.) I write, then, in the hopes of sharing helpful thoughts with my readers, but I also write to clear the cobwebs from my own mind. As readership dwindles (it has rebounded somewhat in December), then, perhaps the numbers don't really matter. Perhaps sharing what I'm thinking in order to help myself think better is enough. It would be nice if some of you were blessed, encouraged, even corrected in the process, but I'm not well known for being an optimist. So, for the moment, I'll keep clearing the baffles, so to speak, and offer whatever cogent theology, clear thinking, and Christian encouragement I can as we head into 2014.

Monday, December 30, 2013

What is Good?

How do we determine what "moral" and "immoral", "good" and "bad" are? A congressman who stood against "gay marriage" changed his mind midstream when his son announced that he was gay. Prior to this event, it was bad. Now it's good. In this case, "good" and "bad" are determined by "what's going on at my house".

A coworker told her daughters, "If you ever get a boyfriend and decide to live with him before marrying him, I will be disappointed." "Really, Mom?" She told me, "I felt bad." Because "good" and "bad" are determined not by what is actually "good" or "bad", but what's going on at my house.

A very popular argument is that good and bad are determined by the harm that it may or may not cause. If it causes harm, it is bad. If not, it is good. This fails to take into account a couple of really important considerations. First, is "good" simply defined as "not harmful"? Is that all it takes to determine "good"? I ask because it would seem patently obvious that "good" isn't merely that which does no harm, but that which does ... good. But the second aspect missed in this definition is the fact that we don't know. The notion is that we can tell if something does harm and, thus, can tell if it's good or bad. But the truth is that we often don't know. They made divorce "no fault" because it would not do harm and would make divorce easier. As it turns out divorce harms children with problems that often don't appear until later in life and can actually harm the physical health of the adults that do it. The effects are often silent but deadly, so to speak. We thought we were doing something good -- you know, "no harm" -- but, as it turns out, we have done irreparable and long lasting damage. We didn't know. (By "we" I mean society.) We know, for instance, that sticking needles in the arms of little children causes harm, but it is wrong to fail to do so when it is to give them immunity to future illnesses. Just a couple of examples. In these two illustrations we see that removing pain can cause real harm and that in inflicting pain we might cause real benefit. And these are ones that we can figure out.

Maybe, then, just maybe it is true that morality is well determined by the harm that it may or may not cause, but that's as far as we're going to get on that question. We're really bad at determining both harm and benefit. So if we're not good at this, what source should we use? The atheist would like to suggest that we use purely material means. Your DNA, your feelings, your view of the world, all these are reasonable approaches. Of course, if your feelings tell you that I'm a piece of genetic material with no real value or purpose and eliminating me will make your life easier, on what basis would someone else (like me, for instance) be able to argue that it was wrong? If you argue that Evolution is the answer and Evolution favors those who survive, then your survival at all costs is the only real good. Is stealing wrong? Not if it means you don't get to eat today, so in that case it would be not merely acceptable, but good. So while the anti-theist will argue that we don't need the divine to determine morality, it becomes absolutely impossible to determine morality without borrowing from the divine. You must consider "the good of society" and "consistency" and other things that, without some higher power in charge, cannot actually be defined as "good". They certainly can't be obligations laid on anyone but yourself.

But, look, I'm not trying to argue against the morality of atheism. That's for others to do (and others have done it quite well). My point is to ask you to consider how you determine good and bad. The standard rule in the world today is pure situational ethics. Gay is wrong ... unless it's someone in my family, and then it's not. Sex outside of marriage is immoral ... unless, of course, I or someone I care about wants to engage in it and then it's okay. It's evil to kill a child ... unless that child is an inconvenient pregnancy, in which case it is a "woman's right" to murder at will. Morality is purely determined by "what's going on at my house". And you have to know that 1) what's going on at your house does not determine what is moral for anyone elsewhere and 2) when what's going on at your house conflicts with what's going on at your neighbor's house, it can get a little problematic, to say the least. As long as you have a moral code that is arbitrary, you will have instability. Further, as long as this ethical system is of your own determination, you will have no basis on which to inflict it on others. You cannot argue "What you're doing or saying is bad" if your basis has no objective foundation (and "harm" is not an objective foundation).

So, you'll need to decide. Are you going with your own moral code? Welcome to the world in which we live. You are in the majority. Please, don't inflict that moral code on the rest of us. It is not reliable, it is variable, and it is not authoritative. Keep it for yourself, if you wish, but don't expect the rest of us to agree. Are you going with the moral code of the One who made us? Now that would be a reliable, solid, authoritative code to follow. I recommend it. However, if that is your position, know your code. Claiming to go with God's moral instructions while ignoring God's moral instructions isn't only irrational; it is immoral.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Reason for Hope

The year is ending. A new one is coming. It's often a time for reflection, for evaluation, for resolutions.

When Jeremiah reflected, it wasn't a happy consideration. Jeremiah was a prophet to Judah, warning them that the same thing that happened to their northern sister, Israel, would happen to them if they didn't repent. It was a sad task because Jeremiah, like Isaiah, knew that it was a task that would not provide positive results. He knew that they wouldn't repent and he knew that they would be exiled. And they were.

It's a difficult situation sometimes. We wonder, "Why am I here? Am I doing any good? Am I helping?" We hope against all the evidence that we are, but it just looks bad. We question ourselves. We question God. Like Jeremiah, we lament. Often, at the end of a year, our reflections may cause us to be sad over such things. So let me suggest Jeremiah's line of thinking as we consider the old year and the new one to come.
This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him." The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the LORD (Lam 3:21-26).
Jeremiah did not feel good. He didn't see any evidence of reasons to rejoice. He didn't feel any hope or pleasure. He was at the end of his rope. So it wasn't his feelings or his circumstances that would help him out. What was it?

"The Lord is my portion. Therefore I have hope in Him."

As you head into this new year, you can reflect on all the negatives around you. Times look bleak for Christianity in America. The world is growing more and more overtly hostile to us. It doesn't look like good is winning. And you ... you may feel like you're not accomplishing anything. You may feel like you're failing at whatever it is you believe God has asked you to do. Indeed, you may be. But remember: "The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning." Remember, it is His faithfulness on which we stand. It is His grace on which we rest. It is His power in which we operate. His mercies are new every morning ... and every year. "The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the LORD."

Something to count on. A sure thing.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Making Excuses

I'm sure you heard about the 16-year-old kid who killed 4 pedestrians while driving drunk and was given probation because he suffered from "affluenza". What's that? It's a jamming-together of "affluence" and "influenza" to describe the condition of being rich and sick. The boy was a victim of his parents' wealth and dysfunction who never taught him responsibility or consequences. According to one psychologist, his father "does not have relationships, he takes hostages" and the mother was indulgent. "Her mantra was that if it feels good, do it." So the boy didn't need punishment; he needed help.

It isn't new, of course. Remember Dan White? Maybe not. He was a supervisor in San Francisco, the guy who murdered Mayor Harvey Milk. His defense was dubbed "the twinkie defense." The jury convicted him of manslaughter rather than first-degree murder because he had an addiction to sugary junk foods which caused "diminished capacity". Or perhaps you never heard of the Crocodile Dundee Defense. Paul Dunn murdered his pregnant wife and chalked it up to insanity produced by the movie Crocodile Dundee where he tried to use the knife like Dundee did. In 2002 an Ohio woman shot her landlady in the head, and her attorney argued that "our world is just an illusion generated by our machine overlords" -- the Matrix defense. The jury bought it. Well, they bought that she believed it and that was enough. In 1987 a man drove to his in-laws' house, attacked them, and killed his mother-in-law. His defense was that he was sleepwalking. He was acquitted. Then there was the famous Lorena Bobbitt case. She was raped by her husband, got drunk, and ... well, you know. I think they call it a "penectomy". The defense? She was drunk and couldn't help herself. Oh, well, why didn't you say so? They let her go.

It just keeps going and going. "I couldn't help myself." You'll hear it in the kitchen. "Yes, I ate the whole thing. I couldn't help myself." You'll hear it in court. "Your Honor, it's not my fault. It was my parents' fault. They didn't raise me right. I just couldn't help myself." You'll hear it from the Human Rights Campaign. "Gay is not a choice. They can't help themselves." Any excuse in a storm. There is one place, however, that you will not hear it. That would be at the Final Judgment. No excuses there. Good luck with that.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Just Not Getting It

Mary Louise Bringle wrote in The Christian Century about the debate over hymns. Now, The Christian Century is "a progressive, ecumenical magazine", so you're not going to expect conservative, biblical positions being taken here. And this article was no exception. Mary Louise Bringle, you see, is the chair of the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song for the PCUSA. She was writing about changes to the denomination's new hymnal.

Deeply concerned about the lyrics of the hymns to be included in that hymnal, the committee encountered much debate. Of prime importance was the concept of "gender neutrality", so Be Thou My Vision had to change from "High King of Heaven" to "Great God of Heaven" because, after all, "King" was masculine. (Clearly, others were unsalvageable, like Faith of Our Fathers or Onward, Christian Soldiers.) Throw out the gender stuff.

The American folk hymn, Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley, was under fire for claiming that "nobody else" can walk the lonesome valley with us. Truly awful theology. Throw that out.

But the real offense was found in Keith Getty and Stuart Townend's song, In Christ Alone. Well, let me just put down the second verse so you can see for yourself what kind of offensive theology was laid out here for all to sing.
In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
'Til on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev'ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.
What? You missed the offense? Oh, come on! It's so obvious. Well, okay, the truth is that the PCUSA version had some changes to the lyrics that obscured the problem, so they missed it at first. Their version read, "'Til on that cross as Jesus died / the love of God was magnified." Not the original lyrics. But they were obligated by copyright laws to go with the original lyrics. So? Bringle writes, "People making a case to retain the text with the authors’ original lines spoke of the fact that the words expressed one view of God’s saving work in Christ that has been prevalent in Christian history: the view of Anselm and Calvin, among others, that God’s honor was violated by human sin and that God’s justice could only be satisfied by the atoning death of a sinless victim." So, it was an historically and biblically accurate reference to God's justice satisfied by Christ's death? Nonsense! So the song was removed because "a hymnal does not simply collect diverse views, but also selects to emphasize some over others as part of its mission to form the faith of coming generations; it would do a disservice to this educational mission ... to perpetuate by way of a new ... text the view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger."

It wasn't just that In Christ Alone was thrown out of the hymnal. What was ejected from the official PCUSA hymnal was the notion that the cross was primarily about God's need to assuage God's anger against sin. That it was the historical, orthodox, biblical view was irrelevant. Such a view damaged their "educational mission" and their efforts to "form the faith of coming generations."

Now if that doesn't give you a chill, you're not paying attention. Their lofty aim is to eliminate from the faith for future generations the historical, orthodox, biblical view that Christ died to save us from God's wrath. It's completely bizarre, in fact, since the PCUSA claims as part of its core beliefs the Westminster Confession of Faith which argues that sinners are "bound over to the wrath of God (Chapter VI, Para VI), that "The liberty Christ has purchased for believers under the Gospel consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, and condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law" (Chapter XX, Para. I), and refers to "Christ's one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect" (Chapter XXIX, Para II). And they also claim the Bible as their helpful source which claims that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith" (Rom 3:23-25). "Propitiation" -- that's the term. It means "that which appeases". Paul thinks that Jesus was that which appeased God's wrath. "By His blood" -- that's the method. It's a reference to the cross (the only biblical reference to Christ's blood being shed). Paul thinks that Christ's blood provided the appeasement for God's wrath. Or, you know, "'Til on that cross as Jesus died / The wrath of God was satisfied". Yeah, like that.

What is at stake here? The "progressive, ecumenical" types want to tell us that the "educational mission", "the faith of coming generations" is at stake here. I would, in fact, have to agree. If the Gospel is defined as the appeasement of God's righteous wrath by the Son of God's sacrifice on the cross (1 Cor 15:1-8; 1 John 2:2) and if that sacrifice that produced the propitiation for our sin is a product of God's love (1 John 4:10), then the removal of that concept is the removal of God's love and the Gospel for which we stand. No small issue. And when a church pushes this line of thinking, it tells me that the church in question is just not getting it. If their concern is "the faith of coming generations", that faith is not the Christian faith.

Thursday, December 26, 2013


The dictionary says that tolerance is "the willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own". Of course, society includes the sense that "willingness to accept" means "embrace". I mean, if a Christian believes, as an example, that homosexual behavior is sin, simply allowing it to continue would not be classified as "tolerance". No, in order to be classified as "tolerant", you must celebrate it with those who celebrate it. Interestingly, those who celebrate it are not obligated in any form to celebrate or even tolerate the biblical view that it is sin. So tolerance is a one-way item that all fair-minded people view as a way to celebrate less prevalent views that are currently in vogue.

Don't worry, the point here is not to find an equally amenable definition of the term, so if you don't like that definition, it's okay. It's not the point. No, my aim is not to find a usable term, but to ask "What would Jesus do?" That is, can we find a biblical text that gives Jesus's point of view on the topic of tolerance? And, as it turns out, we can.

You may remember that the first 3 chapters of the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ are mainly comprised of seven letters to seven churches from Christ. John serves as Jesus's secretary, taking dictation in a form of Divine Inspiration not normally seen. So we read, "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write ..." (Rev 2:1), and John is asked to write down what Jesus says to that church. There is a basic construct of these letters. There is an image of Christ that corresponds to the church. There is usually a "positive" section where Jesus tells them what they're doing right. There is typically a "negative" section where He tells them what they're doing wrong, the possible consequence of continuing, and how to fix it. And there is a "He who has ears to hear" section that tells the outcome.

So, Revelation 2:18-29 is the letter to the church at Thyatira. The imagery of Christ to Thyatira is the one "who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze." Okay. Fine. The positives are "your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first." Good. And then we get to the dreaded, "But I have this against you ..." phrase. Most of the letters have that. This one does, too. What is it that Jesus says He has against the church at Thyatira?
I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing My servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols (Rev 2:20).
Now, you can define "tolerance" how you will. You can say whatever you want about its meaning and its value. When you do, include Jesus's statement on the subject in your calculations. The thing that Jesus had against the church at Thyatira was ... tolerance.

The word behind the English translation is a Greek word that simply means "permit" or "leave alone." It is not "embrace". It is "tolerate". It wasn't that they celebrated Jezebel's sin; they simply let it be. They made no move to oppose it. They made no move to embrace it. Tolerance. And this was, in Jesus's eyes, a bad thing.

Jesus didn't say that the proper response was to attack this sin. He didn't say to kill Jezebel (literally or figuratively), to have her voted out, to evict her and those with her. Jesus said that He was working on that issue. "I will throw her on a sickbed," He says (Rev 2:22). What did He ask of the church, then? "I will give to each according to your works" (Rev 2:23). Do good. "Do not hold this teaching" (Rev 2:24). Reject the teaching. He commended those "who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan" (Rev 2:24). Avoid the sin and its "doctrines". "Hold fast what you have" (Rev 2:25). Stand firm. The correct response is to continue to obey, to reject the teaching, to avoid the sin and the teaching that supports it, and to stand firm. The correct response is not tolerance.

What does Jesus think about tolerance? It looks like He has something to say on the topic, and it doesn't look entirely positive. This is not to say that we need to campaign against sin. He didn't tell the Christians in Thyatira to campaign against Jezebel. By the same token, though, simply permitting it or leaving it alone is not, apparently, the right answer. Do good. Reject the teaching. Avoid the sin. Stand. Not an attack but also not tolerance. Now you have to ask yourself, "Will I go with Jesus's view on the subject of tolerance, or will I tend toward the world's preference there?"

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Real Christmas1

What is Christmas really all about? It's about white. You know, "white Christmas", like the one I'm dreaming about.
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Psa 51:7).
Yeah, white ... like snow.

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without trees. Trees symbolize Christmas.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us -- for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree" (Gal 3:13).
The tree is an important component of Christmas.

It's not possible to think of Christmas without thinking of Christmas lights. They sparkle and shine and light up the darkness.
Jesus again spoke to them, saying, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life" (John 8:12).
Lots of lights.
"There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man" (John 1:6-9).
Lights are a key part of Christmas.

And, as the commercials are quick to remind us from way back in October, Christmas is very much about gifts.
Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water" (John 4:10).
More gifts.
The free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many" (Rom 5:15).
Lots of gifts.
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (1 Peter 4:10).
Oh, yeah, very much about gifts.

Of course, the real reason for the season is Christ, His birth, His coming.
While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:6-7).

There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:9-13).

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:5-11).
Yes, that's Christmas, in the end. It's the coming of Christ, His adoration "to the glory of God the Father". It's the gift of God's Son, the gifts He gives, the Light of the World who became a curse for us on the tree so that our sins can be made white as snow. I love that Christmas. Merry Christmas to all!

1 This is a repeat from 2011, but I was in this mood, so I thought I'd repeat it.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve Address

Christmas and politics makes strange bedfellows.

In September of 2012 the Democratic Party was on the verge of eliminating God from their platform. Of course, the public outcry was too loud, so they recanted, but no one is really fooled. And when they voted to put God back in, delegates booed. Well, in truth, they booed the vote procedure, but this doesn't quite get them off the hook, does it? I mean, they were protesting that the votes weren't what they thought they should be because the vote to reinstate God was approved. So, in the end, it's the same thing. It's not really fair to suggest that God and the Democrats don't mix, but it does seem like a reasonable question sometimes.

It has not always been thus. It seems really odd to realize that a Democrat gave this Christmas Eve address in 1950. Wouldn't fly today, would it? Probably not from either party. Such a shame. So, on Christmas Eve, it's a real pleasure to get this kind of thing from the White House, even if it is from a Democrat in 1950.

May you all enjoy a blessed celebration of the Christ child.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas and Cats

I dutifully got out the Christmas tree and set it up this year. And then I kindly and lovingly left the decorations to my beloved bride who knows how to do that well and cares about it. So we have a lovely Christmas tree all set up and shining (you know -- when the timer turns the lights on at night).

Of course, one who is certainly more excited about it than I and likely more interested even than my wife is our cat. She's in heaven. There are all these shiny, dangling things there for the taking. They bob about when she bats at them and even, sometimes, fall onto the ground and roll about so well that she can make hours of fun out of it. At any moment at any time of the day or night we might hear some decoration hit the ground and skitter across the floor as our dear little cat has a blast with a ball from the tree. Oh, yes, my cat loves Christmas.

My wife, on the other hand, isn't so pleased with the kitty's version of loving Christmas. It isn't, in fact, Christmas that she loves. It is the fun. It is the decorations. It is the chance to play with what she likes to play with and obtain for herself the things she wants. She ... oh, wait ... this is starting to sound familiar ...

Isn't this an apt description of humans at Christmas? Is it about Christmas, or is it about the decorations and the gifts? Is it the trappings or is it the Incarnation that we celebrate? Aren't we closer to cats around a Christmas tree than shepherds around a manger? Well, aren't we?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

My Christmas Meditation

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in His word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior; to Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior (Titus 1:1-4).
How is that for a Christmas passage on which to meditate today? Really heart-warming, isn't it? What, you missed it? Here, let's take a look.

The text is an introduction of Paul's letter to Titus. So we get that it's from Paul and to Titus. Fine. We get that Paul is a servant of God and an apostle of Christ. We understand that Titus is Paul's spiritual "child in a common faith". Good. And we receive Paul's relatively uniform prayer for grace and peace (the standard greeting of both the Greeks -- grace -- and the Jews -- peace) from God. Wonderful. So?

There is, however, stuck in the middle of all that, an amazing statement. Paul speaks of the reason for his apostleship. It is "for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth." This knowledge, Paul says, "accords with godliness." All good stuff. But wait! What is the basis of this knowledge? What undergirds this godliness? It is the "hope of eternal life". Oh, that's good. And what does Paul tell us about that particular hope of eternal life? (Here's where we come to the Christmas meditation.)

According to this passage, God's plan of sending His Son to obtain our salvation was "promised before the ages began". Promised to whom? He doesn't say. But what can we figure out? Well, all created beings fall in the category of "the ages". God alone is outside of time. Thus, to whomever He promised it, the promise would have to be to a divine being. And this suggests, then, that the Father promised the Son before He made anything a Bride. A fanciful conversation might have gone something like this:

"Hey, Son. Here's the plan. I am going to provide for you a bride."

"Great! Thanks, Father! A bride from what?"

"Well, we'll create a race of people and we'll select a group of them to be your bride."

"Wonderful plan!"

"But there's a catch. In order to best display our glory, we're going to have to allow them to rebel."

"Oh, okay. And then?"

"Well, then I'll send You down as one of them and have you live a sinless life and then die for their sin. Those that receive that substitute payment for their sin will be your bride."

"Great! Let's start!"

Now that is a Christmas meditation. Regardless of whether you buy my imaginative version or not, Christ knew in advance that He would come to earth as a human. He knew in advance that He would take on human form. He knew in advance that He would live here and be crucified here. And He chose to do it. That was His plan.

See? Now that is indeed a heart-warming Christmas meditation, is it not?
Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Cor 9:15)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Saddest Christmas Story

My drive to and from work every day is a total of 2 hours ... minimum. A while ago I discovered several websites that offer free audiobooks. To be sure, these are not new books. These are old books, out of copyright. But it's been fun "reading" through classics to and from work. Several months ago I watched a classic movie and thought, "I wonder what the book was like?" because, well, I knew the movie but had never read the book. That started a whole series of books to devour that had created movies most of us know. The only book to date that had any real correlation to the movie (or movies) that made the story so well known has been the latest one I just finished -- Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The movies pretty much matched the book. However, reading the book gave me a whole new view of the story.

You all know that heartwarming tale. It's about Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserable old man who hates Christmas and is on the verge of eternal torment if he doesn't change his ways. His old partner, Jacob Marley, appears as a ghost and tells him there will be three spirits who will visit him. As you all know, they are the spirits of Christmas past, present, and yet to come. And going through these experiences Ebenezer changes from the epitome of the miser to the best darn Christmas keeper of all time. How nice!

Me? I came to the end with tears in my eyes. No, not because it was such a warm tale. It was because it was perhaps the saddest Christmas story I'd ever read. Think about it. What was Scrooge's problem? There was no place in his heart for either God or Man. His first problem, then, was a violation of the Great Commandment and its second -- Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself. Scrooge indeed stood at the abyss of eternal damnation. And what was the solution? Well, if he could just become a nice person, then all would be well.

We know, however, that this is not the case. It is the position of man-made religion, but not Christianity. (Dickens, by the way, was an Anglican -- a self-professed Christian.) Christianity says you can't make it. There is nothing you can do. The debt is too great and you do not have the capability to repay. The answer of Christianity, then, is Christ's death on the cross on our behalf. It was God's plan for salvation. And when did that plan begin to unfold? Christmas morning. It started in earnest the day that the Son of God arrived on Earth as a human being to become a sacrifice for us.

So, here we have a desperate sinner in need of salvation standing on the edge of the answer. It's Christmas. It's Christ's arrival. No amount of good works can save him; he needs the One who came on the day around which the story is told. And what do we get instead of a genuine solution? We get Christmas ignored, answer ungiven, and a lie as a reply. Right here, Ebenezer! Right in the day you're celebrating. It's in the coming of the Messiah, the birth of Jesus. The answer you seek is in front of you! And we pass off a "It's okay; just be good" answer and call it a heartwarming tale.

Some version or another comes up every year at this season. Everyone is warmed by it. It's a tradition, a "Christmas carol". So sad that the friendly outcome offered is a lie from the pit of hell. So sad that the answer required stood at the doorstep, only to be ignored. But, then, perhaps I just think too much. Better to let it lie. Right?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Bad Arguments

I can't tell you how many times I have come across people with whom I agree who have bad arguments. Let me just say, this isn't helping.

Take, for instance, the recent Strange Fire conference from MacArthur. One of the speakers was arguing against so-called "new revelations". He was arguing that the canon of Scripture was complete and those who are suggesting new truth from the mouth of God are false prophets. He spoke of a series of stories in the recent past of people who have gone to heaven and come back to tell about it. "As if prior to their information we didn't have a complete picture of heaven?" he argued. Now, look. I agree that those who offer new revelation as if it's from God are false prophets. But the argument that people received revelation from God that provided new insight into the truth is biblical. I mean, all of Scripture is progressive revelation. If the argument is that new revelation from God (which, by the way, occurred from Genesis through Revelation) is false, then all of Scripture is false. Did I disagree with the speaker? No. But that argument was poor. I would recommend dropping it.

Or take the recent kerfuffle over Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty. Robertson stated in an open interview that homosexual behavior was sin and sinners need Christ. Phil, I'm with you. Sinners need Christ. And the Bible is abundantly clear that fornication, adultery, homosexual behavior, drunkeness, bestiality ... on and on ... is sin. But Phil offered an argument in there that just has no place in this discussion. Phil decided to call up the "ick" factor. He pointed (in words too explicit) to female genitalia versus male genitalia and explained that no normal male would prefer male over female. Now, I know that there are a lot of heterosexual folk who think of the "ick" factor when considering the question. "Is that behavior moral? Well, no! It's icky!" But I need to point out that this is not a good argument. First, the temptation to sin doesn't constitute sin, so mere desire for someone of the same sex (or desire for someone of the opposite sex) does not in and of itself constitute sin. Second, just because you consider something "icky" doesn't mean that it's immoral. So quoting Scripture to demonstrate that God counts homosexual behavior (among other things) as sin is a good approach. Explaining that you find a particular behavior as distasteful is not a good approach.

I remember (and it appears to still be floating around) when the story was going around that NASA computers had located a time anomaly that correlated to Joshua's extended day. "There, see?" they argued. "Proof that the Bible is right!" Of course, the story was bunk and the reasoning was horrible and the whole thing didn't help the fact that the Bible is right.

It seems that bad arguments are actually really easy to come by. Christians will tell me that C.S. Lewis had faulty theology so what he said about something that is not related to his faulty theology is not to be considered. That's ad hominem. Tell me what's wrong with what he said, not what's wrong with him. Others assure me that the Doctrine of Election is the Christian equivalent of the KKK. "We're better than you because God chose us and He didn't choose you!" That's known as a strawman argument (since the Doctrine of Election specifically does not make that argument). Give me Scripture to show that God does not choose whom He will save and make it correlate with the Scriptures I offer that says He does and we have something to talk about. It just keeps going and going, like an Energizer bunny of poor arguments.

Whether or not I agree with your position, I'd like to just make a suggestion. Check yourself. Arguing poorly for something that is true is not helpful. Offering faulty proofs of the genuine article is not furthering your position. Even a heart for God and a passion for His Word is not aided by poor exegesis and mistaken proof-texting. We ought, instead, to "be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15). See? Not my words.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

This Question Needs Revisiting

I'm not a fan of Duck Dynasty, but I am a regular reader of Desiring God. So you can imagine how disappointed I was to read this piece calling on Christians to "Pass on this decoy". David Mathis writes, "Let’s lay down the weapons on this one." Why? "This is not something worth getting exercised about."

Now, I agree with Mathis when he says, "This is not our time to cry fowl about Christian civil liberties." As I said earlier, Phil got his chance to speak. His freedom to say what he thought was not infringed. I'm not concerned about civil liberties here. It's not about legislation or the courts. The question at hand is the Gospel -- nothing less. It starts with the "bad news" of Romans 1.
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error (Rom 1:25-27).
It swirls around Paul's dire warning in 1 Corinthians.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10).
This is not a good thing. This is not a "Let's pass" moment. It is the crux of the problem. Sin is the problem. "Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them" (Rom 1:32).

Here's where we're headed. We are agreeing with God on this. We are standing with God's Word here. We are saying that those who practice homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom of God (among other things), and we are offering a solution -- "You need Jesus." When this becomes "hate speech", "anti-gay", "gay-bashing", when speaking God's Word is classified as "lies" and the Gospel is demeaning, insulting, and discriminatory, then we're not looking at a problem of civil liberties anymore, are we?

I would also like to point out that, although I dearly appreciate the ministry of Desiring God, if you recall, last year John Piper refused to oppose the gay marriage amendment in Minnesota. I won't say that his silence caused it, but the measure passed. I can say that his silence did not help the problem. Remaining silent when the Gospel is under attack cannot be the right response. It's not Phil Robertson at issue here. It is sin, Scripture, and the Gospel on the chopping block. And for that I will not take a pass.

Duck! Oh, Too Late!

I'm not a Duck Dynasty fan. Never even seen one episode. Not even interested. But they're all over the stores in a host of Duck Dynasty products (including the Christian bookstores) and now apparently they've made the news for a bad reason.

One of the members named Phil Robertson gave an interview to GQ magazine in which he "compared homosexuality to bestiality". The network has placed him in indefinite hiatus for his "anti-gay" remarks in which he lumped homosexuals with adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, ... the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers." Hater! Oh, wait! That was Robertson's paraphrase of Scripture.

So what was Phil saying? He was saying that terrorists and fornicators and drunks and idolaters are sinners. He was saying that those who engage in bestiality and those who engage in homosexuality are sinners. You know, like everyone. You know, like the Bible says. Robertson wasn't able to redeem himself with his own disclaimer.
We never, ever judge someone on who's going to heaven, hell. That's the Almighty's job. We just love 'em, give 'em the good news about Jesus -- whether they're homosexuals, drunks, terrorists.
Hater! Claiming that people are sinners. Well, naming homosexuals as sinners. Because agreeing with Scripture is anti-gay, the Bible is hateful, and God needs to be put on indefinite hiatus. Like Phil. Not loving and non-judgmental and tolerant like Wilson Cruz of GLAAD who said they were "some of the vilest and most extreme statements uttered against LGBT people in a mainstream publication" and "his quote was littered with outdated stereotypes and blatant misinformation."

Wait ... "vilest", "extreme", and "outdated stereotypes"? You mean the part about how the Bible says that people who practice such things won't inherit the kingdom? You mean the part about how sinners need Christ? Or was the objectionable part the part where he said "We never, ever judge someone"? Don't do it, Phil. Leave that to GLAAD. Because they're much more tolerant. As long as you don't ... you know ... agree with God or anything.

Just to be clear, there is a serious misrepresentation here of what Robertson said. It's a form of "one of these things is not like the other", except in reverse. He said he didn't judge "whether they're homosexuals, drunks, terrorists." In what sense was he saying these were alike? They all kill people? No. They're mean? No. What? They are all sin. Remember, he stated the problem: "everything is blurred on what's right and what's wrong ... sin becomes fine." Then he illustrated the problem: "Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there -- bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men." He was listing sexual sin (of all types). He included a variety of sin of all types. How are these things alike? They are sin. That's the claim. Instead of attacking the statement for "outdated stereotypes", deal with the biblical claims. And then take the complaint to the Author, not the one who read it.

One other postscript
To be fair, there are a lot of people complaining in favor of Phil that his freedom of speech has been breached. This is simply not true. He exercised his freedom of speech. He freely stated his views and, in fact, they'll be published next month. The freedom of speech does not include the freedom of consequences. Let's just be clear about that.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Playing Santa

I'm not a fan of Santa. I think I've made that clear. So if someone said, "Hey, Stan, will you play Santa this year at ____?", I'd likely pass. On the other hand, who was the real Santa?

Nicholas of Myra, a saint in the Roman Catholic tradition, lived in Turkey in the 3rd-4th century AD. Nicholas, as it turns out, was an interesting fellow. His sainthood was procured by means of a miracle, they say. During a famine, a butcher killed three people and intended to sell them as meat, but Nicholas saw through the crime and resurrected the three.

When Diocletian ruled and ordered the end of Christianity, Nicholas kept preaching Christ and went to jail for it. Released when Constantine took power, Nicholas was at the Council of Nicaea when the debate raged over the divinity of Christ. Arius of Alexandria stood and explained that Jesus was not divine, but just a really good prophet. Nicholas ended up going to prison again, this time for striking Arius for his heresy.

There was, of course, a very famous legend around the saint from which we get the modern Saint Nicholas ("Santa Claus") story. A poor father of three girls had no money for their dowries. No dowry -- no marriage. He couldn't support them anymore, so he was going to sell them. The night before the eldest daughter was to be sold, she washed her stockings and hung them by the fire to dry. In the morning, a lump of gold was in her stocking -- enough for a dowry. Now, the legend gets a little vague here. Some versions say he returned on two subsequent years when each daughter came of age to repeat the gift and others say he did it on two subsequent nights, but all three were saved by this generosity. On the night of the third, the father stayed awake and caught Saint Nicholas throwing the gold into the stocking. Enter the legend of Santa Claus.

Other stories abound. He provided food to a starving city with two sacks of grain that didn't run out. He supplied baskets of goodies to families in need. He befriended a pine martin (a mean relative of the badger) who delivered his gifts to children.

No, no North Pole, no Mrs. Claus, no elves. Just an all-around nice guy giving gifts to people in need and standing for Christ.

You know, if that was the Santa they wanted me to play, I might just find it in my heart to do so. Let's see. Give gifts to people who need them. Smack people who defy Christ. Yeah, I think I could get used to that. But I would guess that if I emulated that Santa Claus, no one would ask me to do it again next year. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Slippery Slope Verity

"That's a slippery slope argument," they said. "That's a logical fallacy." As I have always liked to answer, it's only a logical fallacy if it doesn't happen. If it happens, it's an entirely rational argument.

The New York Times published an article on December 14th about a federal judge in Utah who struck down parts of Utah's anti-polygamy laws. The New York Times article links the "bolstered rights of same-sex couples" to this new judicial inroad. Prohibiting polygamy, the judge said, is a violation of the First Amendment (if you're a Mormon and believe in polygamy) and a violation of constitutional due process.

"If you radically redefine marriage so that it includes same-sex couples," we argued, "then you will open the door for polygamy, polyamory, and any sort of 'marriage' the public would like to indulge." Welcome to the headlines.

The judge cited Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 that struck down prohibitions of sodomy and the "unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private place" -- the unconstitutional but absolutely certain right to privacy. (By "unconstitutional" I mean that you won't find it in the Constitution; you will only find it by implication.) And it was none other than Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who warned that we were at the doorstep of legalizing "bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality and obscenity."

Slippery slope argument? Well, yes ... yes it is. But it's not a fallacy if it happens. And it's happening.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Christmas Carol Conspiracy

You know, just about every popular singer on the planet, past or present, has done some sort of Christmas album. I mean, it's almost unavoidable. Where else are you going to hear Snoop Dogg sing "Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto" or the heavy metal version of "O Christmas Tree"? (I didn't make those up. They're out there.) But it is almost an indispensable part of the season these days to hear folks like Frank Sinatra (suspected of mob ties) and Barbra Streisand (a Jew) singing lyrics like "He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love" or "Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love's pure light, Radiant beams from Thy holy face, With the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth"? Now, of course, these folk don't mean what they're singing and they may not even be aware that they're singing it, but it is, nonetheless, being sung, celebrated, recorded, sold, and heard.

Have you ever looked at the theology we've managed to slip into the widely popular Christmas carols everyone has heard? Very clever.

James Chadwick gave us the English version of the French hymn we know as Angels We Have Heard on High which includes, "See Him in a manger laid, Jesus Lord of heaven and earth; Mary, Joseph, lend your aid, With us sing our Savior's birth. Gloria, in excelsis Deo!" And we have popular singers declaring Jesus to be the Lord of heaven and earth and singing, in Latin, "Glory to God in the Highest!"

The traditional Hark! The Herald Angels Sing! gives us "Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings. Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die, Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give us second birth. Hark! the herald angels sing, 'Glory to the new born King!'" Did you get that? I mean, truly astounding! This comes straight from Philippians 2's version of "the Christmas Story" where "although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:6-8). And they're playing it on the store speakers for everyone to hear.

O Holy Night is a perennial favorite composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847. Translated by minister John Dwight, today's pop singers are happy to use it to remind us " O holy night! The stars are brightly shining, It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ‘Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices! O night divine, O night when Christ was born; O night divine, O night, O night Divine." In our current culture, reminding the world of sin is bad ... unless you do it in a cheerful Christmas carol.

A 19th century priest, Phillips Brooks, gave us O Little Town of Bethlehem. We all know that one. Good stuff. So we'll all join in and sing, "How silently, how silently The wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts The blessings of His heaven. No ear may hear His coming, But in this world of sin, Where meek souls will receive Him still, The dear Christ enters in." And we've admitted the bad news -- "this world of sin" -- and the good news, that those who receive Him can be joined with Christ -- the Gospel over the mall audio system.

One of my all-time favorites is What Child is This?. Written by William Chatterton Dix in 1865 and sung to Greensleeves, there are many variations of the lyrics. Still, in most versions you'll find this verse: "So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh; Come, peasant, king, to own Him! The King of Kings salvation brings; Let loving hearts enthrone Him! Raise, raise the song on high! The virgin sings her lullaby. Joy! joy! for Christ is born, The babe, the son of Mary!" Nested in this beautiful little poem with its simple tune is a wealth of truth. We have the King of Kings. We have salvation. We have the Virgin Birth. We even have the demand to bow to His Lordship -- "Let loving hearts enthrone Him!" So much very, very good stuff in a song you can pick up on any local radio station playing the music of the season.
Some ... are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love ... the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives .... What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice (Phil 1:15-18).
No, these secular singers aren't preaching Christ, at least not intentionally. No, they aren't even doing it from envy and strife. Well, yes, probably from selfish ambition. But it in a society increasingly hostile to Christians, the message is going out. When my kids were younger I'd ask them, "Are you paying attention to the words you're hearing?" "No, Dad," they'd tell me, "We just like the tunes." Yeah? Then why is it they were singing along? The words, even without their conscious effort, were sneaking into their brains. And at this time of year from just about every available speaker pop singers and the rest are absentmindedly smuggling God's truth into the minds of unsuspecting listeners, little seeds of the Gospel that God can cause to grow in His time. I think it's kind of cool. "In every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice!"

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Difficult Times

Look around. Marriages are in trouble. Indeed, marriage itself is in trouble. Church attendance is declining. Genuine Christians are harder to find. Gross immorality is becoming mainstream. We have bands of young men who think it's fun to randomly knock people down on the streets, crazy youth who decide to shoot up a school, vicious parents who abuse and kill their own children. We have a government that fails to protect its people and provides greater misery instead in the name of compassion. The only genuine source of any moral code is ridiculed in the streets and barred from the legislature. Things are not looking good. Here's the phrase that Paul used: "But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty" (2 Tim 3:1).

Notice that the chapter begins with a conjunction. "But"? What preceded his warning here? Paul is giving instructions to Timothy, the young pastor, as he goes forward. "Be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim 2:1). "Share in suffering" (2 Tim 2:3). "Remember Christ Jesus" (2 Tim 2:8). "Be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved" (2 Tim 2:15). "Avoid irreverent babble" (2 Tim 2:16). "Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart" (2 Tim 2:22). Then, just prior to chapter 3, Paul tells Timothy
Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will (2 Tim 2:23-26).
"God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth." Good news! "They may come to their senses." Yahoo! If we teach with patience and correct with gentleness, the good news is that God might -- just might -- give some repentance and save them from Satan's snares. That's great! "But ..." (2 Tim 3:1). That's is a signficant "but". "In the last days there will come times of difficulty." Really significant.

The description of the times of difficulty reads like a newspaper. People are lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to parents (2 Tim 3:2). Wait, "disobedient to parents"? Today's society seems to classify that as a virtue, not a difficulty. Our culture is populated by the ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, brutal ... well, you read it. It's a long list (2 Tim 3:2-5). And if you examine it, the list only gets worse. The ESV translates astorge at the start of verse 3 as "heartless". Most accurately, it is "not storge" where storge means "natural family affection". In the last days (our days) people will lack natural family affection. Yes, that's absolutely true, isn't it? And it goes on from verse 5 to the warning of false teachers who captivate weak women "led astray by various passions", an unmistakable description of our times.

What struck me, though, was the interesting emphasis on the religious. To tell a secular culture, "You are lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" seems pointless. To tell a religious culture the same is an indictment. And, as it turns out, that's what this is -- an indictment of the religious, of so-called Christians. Sure it describes the sinful world around us, but what do we expect? Tragically, this list is an apt description of too many who call themselves Christians. And Paul is not warning that society will turn bad. He's warning of false teachers who have the appearance of godliness but deny its power (2 Tim 3:5), the false "priests of God" who don't actually represent God at all (2 Tim 3:8).

Paul's remedy to these difficult times is essentially two-fold. First, he urges Timothy to follow his example (2 Tim 3:10-15) from his teachings to his persecutions. He includes a promise here: "All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim 3:12). Try to avoid it if you like, but Paul says it is certain ... just as certain as the rise of the imposters (2 Tim 3:13). So stick with the truth.

There is a second remedy here. If you've followed the verses I've listed and notice what verses come next and are familiar enough with your Bible, you know what that second remedy is. Just as certainly as night follows day, 2 Tim 3:16 follows 2 Tim 3:15, so we read
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).
The ultimate remedy to today's guaranteed difficult times -- the real support to avoid the moral and religious disarray in the church -- is Scripture. I get an image from Paul's list here of its uses. It is profitable for teaching, reproof correction, and training in righteousness. Teaching tells us the right road -- "This is the way; walk in it." Reproof says, "You've stepped off the way." Correction offers, "This is how you get back." And training in righteousness informs us how to remain on the right road. All that is required is found there. Scripture -- God's Word -- is profitable to complete you and equip you in difficult times. Welcome to "difficult times". Now, if you'll just be diligent about your handling of the Word, I think we can walk through these difficult times equipped to handle whatever comes. Let's begin.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

What do you do?

So, there you are at a joyous family gathering. You know, Thanksgiving, Christmas, maybe a birthday party, something intended to be pleasant and fun. And it's a good thing. You get to catch up with that brother who moved to Tucumcari or the uncle who you haven't seen for a couple of years or whatever. And your favorite niece, Jennifer, brought her new fiance. How nice! What a pleasure to meet you, young man.

So what do you do when Jennifer or Uncle Greg or Grampa Joe tells you, "Yeah, well, my significant other and I will be living together. We're very excited about it."? What do you say when cousin Bob tells you he's coming out of the closet and this roommate he brought is his lover. Maybe your eyes glass over and you nod vaguely, saying without words, "Oh, how nice" because you're certainly not thinking it. You know that God is not pleased with fornication. And you know that Jenny or whomever it was isn't actually a Christian, either. At least you know that a CINO -- a Christian In Name Only -- outs himself or herself by warmly and heartily embracing sin as if it is a good thing. So celebrating this with them doesn't seem appropriate. But you know on the other hand that even if the best were to happen and you were to call them on it and they were to avoid the behavior, avoiding a sin does not a repentant believer make.

In that moment, in that homogeneous crowd of sinner and saint, believer and pagan, heretic and orthodox, all with family ties, you have to make a decision. Are you going to call this sin a sin? Or are you not? You know it won't go well. If you're going to call it what it is, you're going to have to expect not to be asked to the next family Christmas. And it's not just that they want you to keep silent about it. They likely know you think it's a sin. No, being silent here is not sufficient. What they demand is celebration! You will not only not condemn the action; you will rejoice with those who rejoice. There, see? It even sounds biblical.

Look, it's a family gathering. Everyone is having a good time. Everyone is glad for Jenn or Grampa or whoever. You're not going to actually change anything by getting them not to commit this particular sin. Maybe, if you just smile and keep quiet, they won't ask you for your words of approval and you can sneak by in silence. Maybe, on the other hand, you feel the need to speak up knowing that you will neither accomplish anything positive here today nor grow any closer to a good portion of the family. Worse, maybe you're already on the outside as an in-law or something. Best just keep your mouth shut. Smile and nod. It's okay. You don't agree with the behavior. Just don't make waves. What's the point anyway?

It's a lousy situation, for sure. You can ruin today's celebration by speaking up or make sure you will never be comfortable with another family celebration by remaining silent. You can remain true to your conscience and exhibit genuine love by warning against egregious sin or you can keep peace in the family by remaining silent in the face of the conflict you know will occur by speaking up. What do you do? What do you do?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Do Me a Favor

People complain because we Christians like to throw the Bible in their face. They dislike our calling sin sin, disdain our offers of salvation, despise our attempts to introduce them to Christ. They just want us to leave them alone.

There is a sense, clearly, that we're not very good at explaining. We're not out to score numbers; we're out to improve lives. We have something really good to offer and something we really want to share because, let's face it, if you can get this, you have something unbelievably good. But we confuse the issues. We give numbers of decisions, suggest making converts, get bogged down in moralizing the world, and even lose sight ourselves sometimes that the good news is good news for a reason, and it's not because we benefit from sharing it.

There is a sense in which it's not our fault at all. I mean, we were told, "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you" (John 15:19), a message John understood well because he went on to write, "Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you" (1 John 3:13). Paul assured us that the message is foolishness to an unbelieving, blinded world (1 Cor 1:21-29; 2:14; 2 Cor 4:4). Look, it's good news to us -- really good -- but it isn't to the mind set on the flesh that is hostile to God (Rom 8:7). "Good news!" we offer, "You can be right with the being with whom you are at war!" Yeah, not such good news. So while it is indeed good news, it may not be perceived as such.

Maybe, then, I shouldn't be so surprised at the numbers of folk that come to me with offers of "good news" that do not appear in the least to be good news. John Lennon imagined a world without heaven, hell, or God. How nice! Except I would find such a world intolerable. Starting with the logic -- a universe that spontaneously produced itself from nothing -- and moving on to the undefinable "good" and "bad" and the complete failure of anything resembling "justice", I'm afraid this isn't a world I'd want to live in. No, Mr. Lennon, not good news. Atheists want to tell me that I can be free of religious beliefs and better off and I'm wondering "In what possible reality would that be 'better off'?" No moral code except what each individual conceives. No purpose for life. No hope for the universal reality of suffering and pain. This, they tell me, is "good news". I think that when I die I will be ushered into the presence of the Living God in order to live forever in His infinite, absolutely good existence and they tell me that when I die I can cease to exist, have my body stuffed in the ground and provide food for worms. How is this good news?

Others offered modified good news. "You know," they tell me, "if you'd just give up this rigid connection to Christianity, lots of religions offer good stuff." Fine. Except none of them make any sense to me. So your offer there is "Give up your rational thinking processes and surrender your mind to futility, and we can all be much better off." Or the constant, "Come on, Stan, there's no need to be so dedicated to a biblical worldview. An inerrant Bible? An actual 'Word of God'? Use your heart! I'm sure you can come to a better position if you'd just surrender than nonsense." A better place? If standing on a slimy rock in bare feet without any firm footing is "a better place", I'll consider it. If a Christianity that is pure relativity -- whatever I feel is right is right and no one can tell me otherwise -- is a "better place", I don't see how.

I care about people. The reason I talk about Scripture, share my faith, discuss truth, examine these issues of sin and Scripture and faith, is because I care. The Sovereignty of God, for instance, is something that they suggest I surrender and something that, if I do, is the end of any "good news" at all to me. A God who gave up His Sovereignty to His creation is no god at all to me and a God who takes a "hands off" approach is no comfort to me. Besides, it doesn't fit with everything I see in my Bible. And that's just an example. I care about people, think there is "good news" available, and want to give it to them -- to you. If you'd like to change my thinking -- to give up God or Christianity or my Bible or my reason or ... whatever you're suggesting -- you're going to have to convince me it would be a good thing. So far, no one on that side of the table is doing me any favors.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Right Formula?

Russ Ramsey wrote a moving and powerful piece entitled "Scowling at the Angel", an article about his wife and his open-heart surgery. I would encourage you to read it because it is quite good, but I urge you to keep tissues nearby because it will likely stir up some dust or allergies or something.

I'll let you read (or not) his article, but there was something that he wrote that I nwanted to address.
The Puritans used to say you got married in order to fall in love.
Now that has to be a shock to the 21st century American mind, doesn't it? I mean, we are all certain that marriage is first and foremost the result of love, that to marry for any other reason is foolish at best and more likely an actual form of evil. Whatever we know about marriage, we all know the simple formula "You marry for love" and nothing else will do. As it turns out, while this may be the current standard, it hasn't always been so. I suspect that it has been rarely the case.

Ramsey goes on to explain further:
They reasoned: How can a man and woman possibly hope to know the wonder, joy, and depth of real love — the kind where you are truly known and truly loved at the same time — without making those two lives into one thing?
I'm reminded of Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof asking his wife, Golde, "Do you love me?" She's miffed by the question. Why would he ask? It's irrelevant! She lists all that she does for him, so it doesn't matter. And still he asks, "Do you love me?" Golde realizes, after years of marriage, five daughters, and all that went into it that she did love him. It was a revelation to both of them. Because, you see, they didn't marry because they were in love. But they did fall in love.

These days marriage rates are down1, single-parent families are up2, births to unwed mothers are at an all time highs3 ... marriage is not in its heyday. Now, how is that possible? I mean, haven't we figured out the best possible formula -- marry for love? Doesn't that constitute our "marching orders"? So if we have the best possible structure for marriage, why are there so many divorces and why is marriage on the decline? What's up with that?

Could it be that our formula is wrong? Could it be that the Puritans (and so many cultures before our own "superior" one) might have had an idea worth considering? Could it be?

1 A study published this year says that current marriage rates dropped to 31 per 1,000 unmarried women. Compare with 92.3 per 1,000 in 1920. In the same story, "the Pew Research Center found that 51 percent of Americans were married, compared to 72 percent in 1960."

2 In 1981, single-parent families had doubled from 3.3 million in 1970 to 6.6 million. In 2010 the number was nearly doubled again at almost 12 million.

3 In the U.S., 18% of all live births in 1980 were to unmarried women. In 2008 the number was 41%.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Christmas Scheme

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others (Phil 2:3-4).
I read that the other day and thought, "Now, wouldn't that be a refreshing approach to Christmas for a change?"

Who says I don't know how to write short posts?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Free Thought

Have you heard that term? If you have, you know it is not what it sounds like. If you have not, let me fill you in.

The "definition" refers to those who are "inclined to form one's own opinions rather than depend upon authority, especially about social and religious issues." The original notion was that you thought for yourself and weren't required to follow the narrow paths given to you by society, religion, or the like. That all sounds mighty good, but, as it turns out, like so many other words in the English language today, it no longer means that ... at all. While they are certainly happy to call on "authority", they are required to ignore religion as a source of information even to consider. Take, for instance, the Secular Student Alliance at West Virginia University. They say explicitly, "Our purpose is NOT to promote intolerance towards any religion", but their address and email address include "darwinfish", an intentional atheist parody of the Christian fish symbol which the LA Times considered "religious bigotry". They're acronym, "FISH", stands for "Freethinking, Inquiring, Secular Humanists". But, hey, I'm sure it doesn't mean you can't be a secular humanist theist, right?

So here's the kind of thing that passes for "free thinking". "I have no evidence to support my claim that there is no God (because, frankly, it's pretty difficult to prove a negative), but I will state categorically and without question that there is no God simply because I say it is so. Oh, and all that evidence you offer? Not a problem. I just deny its existence and -- poof! -- there is no evidence for the existence of God." This kind of "free thinker" believes that by pointing out that a supernatural being cannot be detected by natural means and, as such, must be the equivalent of a "flying spaghetti monster" (or any other ridicule-worthy imagined term), he/she has accomplished a good line of reasoning.

Interestingly, free thinkers are not allowed to think freely about religion, God, Christianity, or anything that even smacks of religion. "You know," a quiet observer might point out, "if there is a God, then miracles aren't surprising." "No!" they will reply (usually with some venom), "Miracles cannot happen, so there can be no God." Like that is ... free thinking. You might point out how religion has contributed so much to art, democracy, science, medicine, philosophy, education, charities, hospitals -- the list just keeps going -- but the "free thinker" isn't allowed to consider those possibilities and, without regard for the facts, will have to simply shut you down. They are not allowed to think about those things. You can offer lists of great people throughout history who have stood on the shoulders of their Christianity to bring great things to the world. Men like Gutenberg who brought us printing, Leonardo da Vinci who was a Christian scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, botanist, musician, and writer, Nicholas Copernicus who brought back the heliocentric model of the solar system, George Washington ... well, this gets to be a long list. Doesn't matter. Outside of the realm of the "free thinker". Disallowed. Start over. "Don't bother me with facts; I know I'm right."

Or the ever popular "I've heard it, so it must be true" approach. Now, to be fair, this isn't exclusive to the free thinker. In fact, just about every side does this. They hear an argument, feel a kinship with it, and adopt it as their own. So some naive Christians heard the "NASA computers found Joshua's missing day" argument and snatched it up like it was worthwhile, not realizing it was utter nonsense. Well, free thinkers are just as good at it. Is it a good argument? Who knows? Is it a valid argument? Maybe; maybe not. But it ... "feels right". So the "free thinker" will offer so-called "Bible quotes" to prove that God doesn't exist and Christianity is a lie all while never actually having read the texts or examined the arguments for themselves. They'll call up their heroes who offered a particularly stinging rebuke to Christians (even if it was stinking logic) and accept with smugness someone else telling them how to think. Not free thinking. And they will belittle Christians for thinking alike while patting each other on the back for ... thinking alike.

On the other hand, they will wrench beliefs from the hands of theism and call it their own without batting an eye. They will complain about the goodness of this "sky daddy" without realizing that the absence of a universal source for a standard of goodness removes any standard of goodness about which to complain. Religion has a lot to say about how people should treat people, how to deal with suffering, reasons for hope, and so forth. "Free thinking" eliminates all those useful tools and then argues that materialism offers a lot on how to treat fellow chemical bags or how to deal with death. This isn't free thinking; it's theft. Christians are commanded to "love one another"; "free thinkers" like that and take it up without an actual reason on which to base it. It's not free thinking ... unless by "free" you mean "without basis".

Let me illustrate the problem. WikiHow has all sorts of "how-to's", including how to be a free thinker. Here are some of their helpful suggestions. Step One: Avoid joining groups of like-minded others. Do not consider the fact that this puts you in a group of like-minded others who are avoiding groups of like-minded others. Step Four: Become open minded and question everything. Do not question the suggestion to become open-minded and question everything. (Note that in this step they say, "Being a questioning person does not mean that you cannot be religious; it is fine as long as you truly believe in what you claim, and you were not influenced by others to espouse your beliefs." Is this not a belief that is influenced by others?) And I like the final tip: "That is the good part about being a free-thinker; you never have to worry about belonging to a group of individuals that are homogeneous in thinking." As if homogeneous thinking is a bad thing. Like those dreaded mathematicians that try to force the binary thinking on you that 2 + 2 = 4. I'm a free thinker! Why do I have to agree? I don't want to be stuck under some authoritarian, narrow-minded line of reasoning like everyone else! Because, you see, if there is truth, there will need to be homogeneous thinking if you wish to be true in your thinking.

From a religious perspective, thinking isn't a bad thing. Indeed, it is a good thing. Thinking outside of the box isn't necessarily a bad thing. I would even argue that thinking through all sorts of ideas isn't a bad thing. I've often believed that seriously examining opposing viewpoints to my own is beneficial. It will either correct my thinking when it's wrong or solidify my thinking where it's right. Not a bad thing. But when "free thinking" ends up a limitation to thinking and a call for "free thinking" means eliminating evidence, authority, religion, or the influence of others, it's simply no longer even rational to call it "free thinking." Even though it sounds a lot "holier than thou" to say it. (Oh, wait ... that's a bad thing, right?)

Monday, December 09, 2013


I'm always fascinated by the dialog of skeptics against Christianity. Now, atheists will tell you that Christians are skeptics in terms of every other god; atheists go just one god further. But, oddly enough, you rarely see (in truth, I have never seen) an atheist arguing on a Hindu or Buddhist or even Wiccan site regarding their beliefs. An Islamic site? Highly unlikely. But the kind of arguments that pass as arguments baffle me.

Most often is the argument that says, "There is no evidence ..." The rest of that argument varies. No evidence for God. No evidence for the existence of an historical Jesus. No evidence for the existence of the Apostle Paul or other biblical disciples. And so on. Now, consider a typical courtroom. In a standard criminal case, a prosecutor will present evidence that he or she believes proves the guilt of the defendant, and the defense attorney will present evidence that he or she believes proves the innocence of the defendant. Both present evidence. So if the Prosecutor stood before the jury and said, "There is absolutely no evidence that the defendant is not guilty", the Prosecutor would be a liar. And yet, this is the "proof" offered against theism, Christianity, Christ, Paul, or whatever.

The truth is that the skeptic simply chooses to reject the arguments and evidence. What I've actually heard from them is essentially "Your evidence is invalid because our evidence is valid." They (like anyone) will go to sources that agree with their view and cite them, as if this is all that is needed to prove the point. Citing sympathetic sources is all well and good, but I would like to point out that sources that deny (for instance) the existence of an historical Jesus will also admit that "Most scholars have little reason to doubt that Paul wrote some of them himself" referring to Paul's epistles. "But," I would ask, "didn't you just deny that there is any evidence for the existence of Paul?" "No, no," they will never say, "we're going to keep to our standard mode. We'll deny evidence when it suits us and accept it when it suits us." That is, however, what they will appear to do. (In the article I just cited, the author references the Epistles of Peter while discussing the evidence for an historical Jesus. He indicates that Peter couldn't have written the epistles because Peter was "an ignorant and illiterate peasant (even Acts 4:13 attests to this)." Acts 4:13 says, "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus." Are you sure you want to offer a biblical reference to Jesus in an article rejecting the existence of Jesus? That's the way it works.)

The truth is that there is evidence and reason for Christian faith. The truth is simply that not everyone accepts that evidence and those reasons as compelling, but this doesn't negate the fact that they exist. The truth is that the mainstream position is that Jesus existed. Even Bart Ehrman, an agnostic New Testament scholar (go figure), admits that "The view that Jesus existed is held by virtually every expert on the planet." (That's called "evidence from a hostile source", which is generally regarded as a good thing.) Although the primary sources for Jesus's life are the Gospels (which skeptics are required to reject out of hand), there are multiple references to Jesus in extra-biblical sources. And having admitted that there was an Apostle Paul and that he did write at least most of his epistles, since Jesus is his primary topic and Paul knew the disciples of Christ, it would seem necessary to conclude that Paul knew there was an historical Jesus.

Look, none of this will convince you that there is a God, that Jesus was real, or that Christianity is true. Not the point. What am I trying to say? I'm telling you that you will hear from those who oppose God that your beliefs are without evidence, rationale, or support. Please don't buy that lie. It is a lie. The evidence exists. The arguments are there. Faith and reason are not in opposition. And while you will certainly come to whatever conclusions you will come to on the evidence and arguments, please don't accept the lie that they don't exist. That is not true.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

The Approved Workman

Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15).
So ... do you?

Do I what?

Do you study to show yourself approved unto God? Are you a workman who, without shame, works hard to rightly divide the word of truth?

Umm, well, you know, that's old King James.

Okay. And?

Well, the modern versions say something like, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." (ESV)

Okay. Do you?

Do I what?

Do you do your best to present yourself to God as one approved? Are you diligent about rightly handling the Word?

Umm, well ...

It's not a complicated command. It's not a tricky command. Be diligent with God's Word. Is it a command you're working on obeying? No, not my theoretical conversationalist here -- you, the reader. Note that "once every Sunday" is not "diligent". Something to consider.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Determining Minimum Wage

They're at it again. Fast food workers are protesting the federal minimum wage ($7.25/hour) and demanding a much more livable $15/hour as the minimum wage. Now, I don't know about you, but I think that something akin to $100/hour would be much more livable, but, hey, I'm not protesting, so I'll keep quiet. Organized by, here's the idea. The wealthy keep getting wealthier, and your average McDonald's worker doesn't make enough to support a family of three, so it's time to boost the minimum wage. That's the rationale: a "living wage."

Let's examine this for a moment. There is a premise here that seems to be taken for granted. That premise is "It is the duty of all employers to provide a living wage to their employees." The fact that a minimum wage worker is typically part time and often not supporting a family of three is irrelevant. A similar view undergirding this demand is "We have a right to equal share of the income." The term is "economic inequality", and economic inequality is evil. The notion of economic equality is only valid in a socialist society. We are not ... yet. These, then, are false premises. So the question becomes how do we determine a minimum wage?

The question might be pointless. The country with the lowest unemployment rate is Switzerland at less than 4%. They have no minimum wage. The last time the U.S. saw that kind of unemployment rate was back just after they first instituted minimum wages. And, of course, that makes some sense since we can obviously see that a government imposing costs on a business might cause a business to cut costs to compensate by hiring less (or going out of business) which would not add to the number employed. But, assuming a minimum wage is a good idea, how would you determine it? A "living wage"? Inflation and cost of living? Standard economic indicators? The fact is there is no formula or set process for such a determination. It just doesn't exist.

According to the New York Times, a 2010 study on raising the minimum wage found that increasing the amount had no effect on state poverty rates. This is primarily because many who are in poverty are there because they don't work and many who are in minimum wage jobs live in non-poverty households. There was the expected outcome that less skilled, less experienced workers lose employment opportunities.

The Huffington Post is quite sure that raising the minimum wage is good for business. Their logic is obvious. Giving more money to workers gives them more money to spend. But the basic premise is the same: "Most Americans agree that workers who toil full time shouldn't be stuck in poverty." Employers owe their employees a "living wage". (Note: Defining "poverty" is difficult in America when 97% have TVs, 63% have cable or satellite connections, and more than half have cell phones. Is that poverty or poor money management?)

Forbes, of course, is certain that a hike in minimum wage will kill jobs and, obviously, increase unemployment. Most of these jobs lost would be to those at minimum wage levels, making starting jobs harder to find for teens and others looking for their first jobs.

It seems that no one is asking is what a wage is. A wage is an economic transaction. That is, Employer X has some money to spend to accomplish a task that will make Employer X more money. Without spending this money, Employer X will lose out on income. That is, if the money paid out to employ this person is more than the income from doing so, it is a bad investment. So, this employer agrees to pay a person that money to accomplish the task. The employee and his or her task is an economic investment. If the investment is large, it may require more money. If it is small, it may require less. The amount is determined by the value of the investment. If Employer X needs one person to answer phones in his/her absence, it's not necessary to expend a large amount of money to do it. The expected return on that investment would be smaller. If Employer X needs one person to design a new device to sell, now we're talking a larger investment from a smaller pool of people with the required skills to do the task and a larger expected return on investment. The wages paid are an investment, not aimed at a "living wage", but at an income, a return. Now, the truth is that most employees do better work when they are respected and appreciated. A wise employer would want to anticipate this fact in the financial equation. But that is still an economic investment anticipating a better return without which it is a bad investment.

So, why not raise the minimum wage to my fanciful $100/hour? Every dollar of a hike in the minimum wage comes out of someone's pocket -- the employer's or the customer's (or both). The minimum wage, then, becomes a way to increase the cost of living for everyone or a method of decreasing employment opportunities, generally at the lower levels, or a means of forcing companies to eat more cost and obtain less profit. If the premise, "It is the duty of all employers to provide a living wage to their employees", is true, then the last is in order, but raising the minimum wage won't obtain it. Laws restricting profit would be necessary as well. But isn't this aiming at a socialist, egalitarian world? Oh, yes, of course it is. That's the increasingly popular view, even if it has consistently proven to be a failure in practice. The question, then, is whether we will remain a capitalist, free-market society or continue our slide toward a socialist society.