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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dividing by Zero

One of the judges on the Supreme Court commented on the case around California's Prop 8 that, while it is absolutely clear that inserting "same-sex" as a descriptor of "marriage" would necessarily require a change of definition of "marriage", the primary reason for this change of definition is that our culture is redefining gender. Now, I hadn't really considered this aspect. When I do, however, I'm pretty sure he's right.

We use two common words in this discussion: "sex" and "gender". What is the difference between them? One has to do with physiology and the other to do with characteristics. "Sex" (in this use) refers to male or female bodies. "Gender" refers to male and female characteristics. The first references genitalia and chromosomes and the latter references "masculine" and "feminine" traits.

We intrinsically know about these distinctions. If you refer to a boy as a "pansy", you're suggesting he's more feminine than masculine. You can routinely hear a father telling his son to "act like a man" or a buddy telling his friend to "man up". (Oddly, you never hear a mother tell her daughter to "woman up". I suppose you might have heard at one time that she needs to "act more lady-like", but I think that has more to do with manners than femininity. Maybe feminine manners?) At the same time we're told that men need to "get in touch with their feminine side". You see, we know there is "masculine" and "feminine" and we know what they mean. Like the judge who couldn't define pornography, "but I know it when I see it", we know these when we see them.

Our culture, however, has worked hard and long to counteract these distinctives. We've petitioned to have girls on boys' teams and argued that women can serve just as well in combat as men. We've carefully dismantled the concept of "father" to mean less and less and less until many are quite sure that "father" means purely "sperm donor" and no one actually needs a real father to be well adjusted and happy. Feminism -- at first just the "radical" and now the "mainstream" -- has worked hard to destroy the concept of gender roles and gender distinctives and our culture has bought it. It is the majority opinion now. Of course, "majority" doesn't make it right, moral, or even accurate, but it is the case today. Patriarchy, once a given and even venerated, is now a bad word. Gender is becoming more and more meaningless.

As current events have demonstrated, so is "sex". It is not uncommon to hear of someone who classifies him or herself as "a guy trapped in a woman's body" or vice versa.

"But," the rational mind would counter, "isn't 'woman' defined by the body?"

"Oh, no, we now know. It is a question of gender."

"But," the rationalist might venture to ask, "didn't we just negate the concept of 'gender'?"

Oops! "Well, no, not for those who feel like a woman trapped in a man's body." Like that makes some sense.

I heard the phrase the other day, "emotional intelligence". To be fair, the term does have a definition that makes sense. It is "the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups." Fine. But that's not what we think of when we think of that idea. We think of thinking with our feelings. Being more in touch with our inner selves in order to make more inspired decisions (rather than merely logical ones). Well, we're getting there, that's for sure. We have redefined sex -- "male" or "female" -- to mean "whatever I make my body out to be based on how I feel". We have redefined "gender" -- "masculine" or "feminine" -- to mean "whatever I want it to mean at the moment based on how I feel." And having carefully and insensibly defined both "sex" and "gender" into an emotional condition without any real concrete meaning, we're looking to offer the same "salvation" to "marriage". God save us from ourselves.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Think with your heart

I'm sure you've heard the phrase before. At least the concept. Don't think with your mind; think with your heart. You get the idea. Go with your gut. Sometimes what you think is just too rational and you need to go with how you feel.

Here, a prime example. "Maybe a baby in the womb is a human being and maybe that baby is worthy of your protection, but that's all thinking with your mind. What if that baby is a product of rape? Think about how that young woman will feel! I mean, what if it was your sister, your daughter, your dear friend? Would you really want her to go through that torment? With your mind, perhaps, but don't think with your mind; think with your heart!" See how that works? It recognizes the conflict of pragmatic, rational thinking with the feelings of real people.

Let's try a less pointed example. Isn't this exactly what the car ads are doing? They'll show you how their car is fun to drive, really cool to look at, gets your heart and adrenaline pumping and ... oh, you have to have this car! "Can I afford it?" Hey! Don't think with your mind; think with your heart!

I think we can go a step further. I would suggest that, given either option, most people would tell you that the latter, not the former, is superior. Sure, sure, thinking with your mind is all well and good ... for geeks and mathematicians, but in a world of people and sensations and desires, the best and likely most enlightened way to think is with your heart. There are the ever-present "Go for your dreams" speeches that tell you not to limit yourself (because that's a failure of thinking with your mind), but to reach for your dreams (because that's a product of thinking with your heart). The mind, after all, is so limited. But the heart ... oh, no limits at all.

I submit that this is foolishness. Now, don't misunderstand me. I'm not suggesting that thinking with your heart is inferior to thinking with your mind. I'm suggesting that it's not thinking. It is a nonsense statement. You see, how we feel and how we think are connected, perhaps, but not equivalent. They are different functions. If they were not, suggesting "heart" over "mind" would be pointless. They're different. It is, in fact, impossible to think with your heart, even setting aside the nonsensical physiology of it. In the vernacular, you feel with the heart and think with the mind. Neither component, heart or mind, does the other operation.

I've often wondered in the past how so many people can operate with so much cognitive dissonance. This is the answer. They have no dissonance because they're "thinking with their hearts" which is an oxymoronic concept. "I don't believe in killing in war but I'll kill to protect my family" isn't a problem because it's evaluated from feelings, not the mind. "I believe the Bible; just not everything it says" works fine when you operate on how you feel about it without thinking about it. "I'm not pro-abortion; I'm just pro-choice" only works when you don't think about it.

Biblically, we are warned that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. Your feelings will lie to you all the time. The world will tug at your heart strings all they can in order to direct your attention away from the truth. Biblically, we are not told to renew our hearts. That appears to be God's job. But we are told to avoid being conformed to this world by being transformed by "the renewing of your minds". We don't really control much how we feel, but we can certainly alter how we think. The next time you want to "think with your heart", I'd recommend you think again. Feel with your heart, sure, knowing that the heart is deceitful, but think with your mind. We all have a way to go to improve our thinking, but it's something we can do. It is something we are commanded, in fact.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Psalm for Thanksgiving

1 A Psalm for Thanksgiving.
Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth.
2 Serve the LORD with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful singing.
3 Know that the LORD Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
4 Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
5 For the LORD is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations (Psa 100).
Human beings, by their sin nature, are prone to ungratefulness (Rom 1:21). All of us suffer from it. So maybe today, without requiring an official "Thanksgiving Day", perhaps we can "Enter His gates with thanksgiving," and "Give thanks to Him." You know, just as part of worship. It would be a good practice on a daily basis, but we can start with just one, can't we?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Cautionary Parable of Persecution

Disclaimer: This is fiction. It's a parable, a story intended to illustrate a point. And, as anyone knows, a really good parable doesn't need to be explained. You'll figure it out.

I was arrested the other day and here I sit in jail, completely baffled about my crime. I'm going back over it in my mind and can't figure out what I did wrong.

I'm an open-minded individual. I think that we should love others without limits. I think we should embrace grace, that we shouldn't impose our views on others. I think that condemning people for how they are is wrong and I favor loving others exactly as they are. That's my motto. That's how I am.

So when my baby was born, I embraced grace. I refused to impose my views on this little one or condemn him for how he was. I sought to love him just as he was. So when he came into this world naked, I left him naked. I didn't try to impose my views of "don't poop here" or "urine should be contained" on this little guy. No, I embraced him as he was, a free spirit. Even when other mothers glared at me for the naked baby in the grocery store, I proudly ignored their intolerant stares and went on with my lovely little boy.

He proved himself to be a selfish little boy as all babies tend to be, but that didn't stop me. I loved him for who he was, not for what he was. And when he drowned the kitten we gave him because he thought it was fun, I understood that no one was perfect and my narrow ideas of "kittens shouldn't be drowned for fun" wasn't necessarily a view to impose on my child. No, we cannot be so narrow as to view life as a series of rules and regulations. We need to be free to pursue happiness. Just because his happiness didn't correspond to mine was no reason to limit him.

He had no interest in school, so I didn't send him. He wasn't born with books, so why inflict them on him? (Besides, I suspect there were no schools around that would let him run around naked like that. Narrow-minded bigots.) So I let him learn from his own life experiences because life is its own teacher. I suspect he might have gained from being taught not to run out in the street, but I figured that out too late when the car hit him.

And when the authorities found out how I had loved this little boy and embraced him for all he was without interference or judgment or intolerance, they arrested me. I exemplified what our culture is calling the epitome of goodness by loving my boy just as he was, and now I'm sitting in jail on charges of cruelty and child abuse. How can this possibly be? What's wrong with this narrow-minded society?

Friday, April 26, 2013


There's a term you don't hear too often, right? Here, let me clear that up for you. It is the official name of the concept more popularly known as "middle knowledge". There, all set, right? "Uh, yeah, Stan, thanks for nothing. Clear as mud."

Molinism or "middle knowledge" is actually a fairly popular view. It is held by Christians (yes, genuine Christians) who are very smart and even whom I respect. Hey, even I held this view for a long time. Here's the idea. We have a problem. How do you correlate Man's Free Will with God's Omniscience and Sovereignty? (I capitalized the terms because they needed it.) If Man is going to have a genuine "Free Will" and God actually knows all things and is sovereign over all things, how do we put those together?

Well, people much smarter than I considered this question and posited two components of God's knowledge. One is "natural knowledge" and the other is "free knowledge". The former refers to all things true, such as mathematics, definitions (a square is not a circle), and principles. The latter refers to things as they actually are -- the world that God created. Thus, in the economy of the philosopher, it is said that God knows all things and all contingencies.

Now, to folks like me, that's the end of the question. God knows all things. What you will choose He knows. That means that you will choose it because He knows it, but I don't see that as an impediment to "free will". But to others, in order for the will to be considered free, it has to be able to choose other options as a real possibility. The fact that it can but won't is not "free will" to these libertarian-free-will folk. So while we have "natural knowledge" and "free knowledge", the Molinists offer a third category -- "middle knowledge". Luis de Molina (thus, "Molinism") suggested that, given all possible worlds (and God knows them all), God knows what humans would freely choose in every possible circumstance. Then the Sovereign God chooses the best combination of people and choices that most closely serves His purposes. And we've managed to preserve God's omniscience and sovereignty right along with Man's Free Will.

The value of Molinism is that it retains "indeterminism", the view of free will that demands that nothing outside of the person causes or determines the choice of the person. It is "libertarian free will" that necessarily excludes God as a cause in human choices. Biblical support for this view typically includes 1 Sam 26:6-13, where David asks God what will happen if he goes out against an enemy and God tells him what will happen. You see, if David did what God said to do, then the outcome would be as God said. Lots of those kinds of passages. A favorite would be Matt 11:21-24, where Jesus says something like "if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes". See? "What if?". (These serve to demonstrate that God knows "what if" -- all contingencies. Do they demonstrate "middle knowledge"?)

The problem with Molinism is that, well, it ends up negating the Sovereignty and Omniscience of God. Well, no, not entirely. And, no, they would not agree. But the suggestion is that God is limited to Man's Free Will if Man is to have "free will" in any reasonable sense. If this is so, God cannot be Sovereign. He is, by definition, limited in His sovereignty. (Again, the capitalization or lack thereof is intentional.) God is limited in the world He created to that which people would possibly choose. If He wanted Bob, my fictional friend, to choose Christ and there was no possible world in which Bob would choose Christ, God's will could not be accomplished where Bob was concerned. He can only accomplish that which most closely serves His purpose.

It also doesn't seem to solve the problem. Given all possible worlds, is this the best He could choose? Is there not a possible world where more people are saved? Molinism is determined (a little play on words there) to hold that God's greatest desire is to save as many as possible. Is this the most possible?

I really used to like this view (before I ever knew that it had a name). "Let's see," I would imagine God saying as He looked down the corridors of time, "if I do this and that and then that, Stan will come to faith and be saved. Now if I do this and that and then that, Hitler won't. Well how about if I do that and then this other and then this? No, not then. In fact, nothing I do will bring Hitler to me. So, Stan is one of the elect because he will freely choose me and Hitler is not because he will freely reject me." Nice. Not rational. Not defensible in Scripture. But nice. I can't do that anymore. I've had to set aside libertarian Free Will that holds sway over God's possible choices in favor of God's Sovereign Will that holds sway over Man's free will. Now, I don't doubt that Molinists can certainly be Christians. No problem there. I just don't see how to maintain the Sovereignty of God with the Man's Free Will. Molinism doesn't seem to fix that. I'll have to stick with what I have.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Grace vs. Law

Christianity is the only religion that operates under the belief that you cannot earn your way to heaven. The "bad news" of Christianity is that we're all sinners beyond the capacity to be good enough to make it. Our "good news", then, is that salvation is by God's unmerited favor (grace) through our trusting in Him (faith) and unequivocally not of works (Eph 2:8-9). Paul says without any lack of clarity, "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (Rom 3:28). Does it get any clearer than that?

As a result of this glorious Gospel, we sing our delight in the fact that Christians are "not under the law". Indeed, Paul writes, "Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace" (Rom 6:14). "Not under the law, but under grace" -- what a wonderful phrase. We're free from rules!

And that's when it gets unclear. Or, rather, that's when we realize we've failed to understand. Is it true that Christianity is opposed to the law, that we are now without rules? Well, Paul leaves no doubt. In the very next verse he asks and answers that very question: "What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!" (Rom 6:15). And following his revelation that we are "justified by faith apart from works of the law" he says, "Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law" (Rom 3:31).

Well, now, it would appear we have a dilemma. If we are no longer under the law but under grace, in what sense do we uphold the law? What does grace have to do with the law? What do rules have to do with Christianity? We are not saved by them. What then?

James offers part of the answer when he warns, "Faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone" (James 2:17). Paul warns that "neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,
1Co 6:10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9-10). He goes on to say, "And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6:11). John writes, "No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God" (1 John 3:9).

What does grace have to do with the rules? Well, actually, not much. Grace refers to the favor God shows us who do not deserve it. Mercy refers to the punishment we do not receive that we so richly deserve. And the law -- the commands of Scripture -- do not tell us how to receive salvation. In fact, they never have. They tell us what God wants, what God expects. They tell us what brings glory to God (Matt 5:16) and what is good for the creature. They do not confer righteousness, the sadly lacking component of Natural Man.

Biblically and logically it is a false dichotomy to pit grace against the law. They are not connected. When Scripture tells us we are not "under the law", it is not saying we are without any rules. God is telling us that the law is not our means of salvation nor is it any longer that by which we might obtain approval. Neither of these suggest that the law no longer serves the purpose of informing us of what glorifies God and is beneficial to us as creatures of God. Be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater here. We're not under the law, but we "uphold the law". Don't get trapped beneath it ... but don't leave home without it.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Justice Delayed

Arizona is in the news these days for its trial of Jodi Arias, the poor young lady who shacked up with her boyfriend, engaged in all sorts of sexual practices she said she enjoyed, admitted that she could have left at any time, but feared in the end for her life and, in a fit of self-defense, accidentally shot him in the head and then stabbed him 27 times and cut his throat. Whew! Safe at last! It's a nasty story and I don't know how anyone following can come to any conclusion except guilty, but it is indeed a story that is being followed. Regularly. Unlike some less interesting stories like the boring case of Kermit Gosnell who killed babies and endangered women. Yes, abortions, but also live-birth babies. Apparently in the hundreds. And women. At least two. No, that kind of stuff is supported by the president and the more popular pro-abortion culture, so that's boring. Nothing to see here. Move along. This Jodi Arias case ... now that is high drama. That and what Justin Beiber is writing at the Anne Frank House. Lots of coverage.

I was interested the other day when I heard that Jodi's attorneys have filed a new petition. They want to let the jury consider a lesser charge. Manslaughter. Let the jury consider the possibility that she killed her boyfriend without malice aforethought. She just happened to shoot him, stab him repeatedly, and cut his throat. It just ... happened. All the planning, all the effort, all the work that went into it was just an illusion. You know, like when you see design in the world around you and think, "What makes the most sense is that there is some intelligence behind it." Yeah, like that. If the jury found her guilty of manslaughter, it would be, at most, a 7 year sentence, they said. And, they followed up, she has already been in prison for nearly 5 years awaiting trial.

Wait ... what? Five years ... awaiting trial??

William E. Gladstone said, "Justice delayed is justice denied." True. Solomon wrote, "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil" (Ecc 8:11). Solomon was right, but his is more ominous.

And, as a side note, I find it interesting that Solomon did not say, "Because the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil, the best thing to do is gather the implements of crime ... you know, such as guns and such ... and get rid of them because that will fix the problem -- the heard of man."

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Well Played

In the clamor over the debate about what marriage is and what it should be and whether or not it's time to redefine it or even whether or not we are seeking to redefine it (because it would appear that no one before the court is arguing that we are; they're just arguing that everyone should have "it"), I've noticed the absence of a line of discussion. Have you?

In my examination of the alternate view of 1 Cor 6:9, I was comparing translations for the phrase, "homosexuals" (or the like). I came across one from the Weymouth New Testament which said, "any who are guilty of unnatural crime." The Weymouth New Testament was published back in 1903 to be "a succint and compressed running commentary". And Richard Weymouth, the translator, classified "homosexual behavior" as "unnatural".

Now, now, Richard, tut, tut! We are not going there. We are not to discuss this! The question is not whether it is "unnatural". Indeed, the question is not even if it is immoral. The question is can we have it?

Have you noticed? No one is appealing to the Supreme Court regarding Natural Law and the immorality of homosexual behavior, let alone the biblical morality of it. Indeed, everyone knows that the Bible is opposed to the behavior. We're just not allowed to talk about it. Well, sure, we can talk about it, but it is not permitted in the public square. "Moral" is not a question we're allowed to discuss, and never in terms of Christianity.

I suppose it's to be expected, but I suspect that most people won't like the outcome. The collateral damage could very easily be extensive. The law of unintended consequences is sure to come into play here. Consider this.
At the top of the Supreme Court of the United States there is an image carved dead center. It is Moses holding the Ten Commandments. The obvious message? Moses and the Ten Commandments are at the center of our legal system. Indeed, the premise upon which our rights are based is a "Creator" who has given all humans inalienable rights. We all assume humans are valuable, but that isn't based on the god of the public square -- Science -- but on the biblical argument that humans are made in the image of God. Science alone would tell us that humans are another animal species that deserves neither more nor less value than your average everyday squirrel. Property rights, laws against theft, assumptions about "good" and "evil", so very much of our society is constructed on the back of Judeo-Christian values. But today they're not allowed out in public to determine values that will hold our society together.

Morality is dead; long live ... what? What are we allowed to replace it with? I'm pretty sure that those who would prevent us from discussing the question in terms of morality would not be willing to fail to discuss the morality of stealing their wallets or shooting their children. Those are immoral! Don't touch those! So we're required to drop morality and explicitly biblical morality when it offends them but retain it with a vengeance when they like it. I'm not so sure it's a position that can remain very long. Are they willing to give up Thanksgiving and Christmas? Will we do away with weekends since those were primarily established for Jews and Christians to have their day of worship? Will society acquiesce to allowing polygamy, polyamory, or other relationships, agreeing that a ban was just a carryover from Christianity? How far will we go?

Still, here we are, me included, debating the definition of marriage from a purely rational and historical position without any reference to "natural relationships" or "immoral behavior" because that has been banned. The courts won't hear it. The public won't hear it. We're not going there. I don't know how the courts will rule on the question, but I can say that the "gay rights" crowd have made a victory here that most of us haven't noticed. We're no longer discussing what's right and now discussing what we can tolerate. Well played, gay rights advocates, well played.

Monday, April 22, 2013

An updated paraphrase of Luke 18:11

The modern liberal Christian, standing by himself, prayed thus: "God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like those Pharisaical Evangelicals ..."

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sing to the LORD

"1 Sing to the LORD a new song;
Sing to the LORD, all the earth.
2 Sing to the LORD, bless His name;
Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.
3 Tell of His glory among the nations,
His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.
4 For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised;
He is to be feared above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the LORD made the heavens.
6 Splendor and majesty are before Him,
Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.
7 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
8 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of His name;
Bring an offering and come into His courts.
9 Worship the LORD in holy attire;
Tremble before Him, all the earth.
10 Say among the nations, "The LORD reigns;
Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved;
He will judge the peoples with equity."
11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
Let the sea roar, and all it contains;
12 Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy
13 Before the LORD, for He is coming,
For He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
And the peoples in His faithfulness" (Psa 96).

Now, if your first thought was "TL/DR" -- too long/didn't read -- you might want to rethink that ...

Saturday, April 20, 2013

That'll Fix It!

In view of the atrocities at Sandy Hook, Tucson, Columbine, the Colorado theater, and all, we need to seriously consider gun control. According to the Washington Post, the United States has 20 times the gun-related murder rates as other developed countries. A CDC study puts us at about 33,000 gun-related deaths (murders, accidents, suicides, etc.) per year.

According to the CDC, in 2010 the leading cause of death in the U.S. was heart disease, accounting for 597,689 fatalities. Oh, wait, that's about 18 times the gun-related deaths.

According to the Washington Post the abortion rate has hit an "all-time low" (which seems really weird since I'm pretty sure it was a lot lower when abortion was illegal1) at only about 784,507 dead babies in 2009 (the latest data). Oh, hold on! That's a third again higher than the heart disease problem.

Clearly we need to focus on better gun control.

I think I better think it out again.

"Well," some might suggest, "you fix what you can." Maybe.

The leading causes of heart disease are the use of tobacco and alcohol and then poor diet and exercise. Really strange. Nothing in the constitution guarantees my right to tobacco and alcohol or fatty foods and laziness. On the other hand, the Constitution (well, the Bill of Rights) does guarantee our right to bear arms. And the right to life is part of the basic fundamental human rights upon which this country was founded.

So, let's see, thinking rationally, in order to solve the problem of too many deaths the best option would be to stop the largest number of deaths by outlawing the murder of unborn babies because life is a human right and killing babies is the leading cause of death in the United States. The next option would be to outlaw those things that have the greatest impact on heart disease such as tobacco, alcohol, and bad foods because these are the second leading cause of death and there is no Constitutional guarantee to be able to smoke and drink and eat what you want.

So, tell me again, how did we get down to "gun control", a dubious fix at best, being the big issue?
1 While it is impossible to get a real number of abortions per year prior to Roe v. Wade (because they were primarily illegal and, therefore, not reported), the best estimates put them at somewhere between 60,000 and 200,000. No matter how you do the math, at the most 200,000 is significantly less than 800,000 and dramatically less than the 1.2 million that was the number prior to the last few years.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Learning from History

I've mentioned before that I'm reading Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a book as long as the lengthy title suggests. Still, it is in interesting book for a variety of reasons. One, obviously, is the parallels of the decline of the Roman Empire and the conditions of the United States. It is interesting, though, to see what Gibbon has to say about Christianity in those early years.

In Chapter 15 Gibbon examines the growth of Christianity in the Roman Empire and in Chapter 16 he looks at the treatment of Christians by emperors from Nero to Constantine, two interesting angles on an historical event. His observations are enlightening. One eye opener is that Gibbon is unwilling to invest much reliability in the accounts of vast numbers of Christians put to death by emperors. Yes, there were indeed some who hated the Christians and sought to harm them. Nero was quite obviously not a fan of Christians when he used them as fire lamps in his garden. But Gibbon prefers the more conservative estimates when calculating both the numbers of Christians that were in the empire as well as the numbers who were killed for their faith. Interesting approach.

In his examination of the growth of Christianity, he makes an interesting statement.
Our curiosity is naturally prompted to inquire by what means the Christian faith obtained so remarkable a victory over the established religions of the earth. To this inquiry, an obvious but satisfactory answer may be returned; that it was owing to the convincing evidence of the doctrine itself, and to the ruling providence of its great Author. But as truth and reason seldom find so favorable a reception in the world, and as the wisdom of Providence frequently condescends to use the passions of the human heart, and the general circumstances of mankind, as instruments to execute its purpose, we may still be permitted, though with becoming submission, to ask, not indeed what were the first, but what were the secondary causes of the rapid growth of the Christian church. (Chapter XV Part I)
Get that? (It may not be easy, since Gibbon wrote back in the 1700's and is more eloquent than I.) To the question of how Christianity had such remarkable growth, he answers that the quite obvious answer is the "convincing evidence of the doctrine" and the fact that God, as the Author, would cause it to be so. That is "an obvious but satisfactory" answer. He goes on to say that it would, however, not likely be well received, so he goes on after this to examine "what were the secondary causes" of the growth of the Christian church. God, then, and His truth, were the First Cause. The rest are "Secondary Causes".

The two chapters, 15 and 16, are interesting, side by side. They present two parallel considerations on what caused the Church to grow ... or decline. And they are not what today's concepts would find acceptable. I suppose that's because they didn't have all the marketing plans and experts available, but who is to say? The two key components in the growth of Christianity were rigid rules and persecution.

Now, given the modern perspective, we can leap ahead and determine what Gibbon found on these two points. First, as we all know, a narrow-minded, ultra-conservative, rules-oriented church is going to repel rather than gather members. If you want to encourage growth and encompass more people, you need to be more inclusive, less narrow. What is it the political machines say today? You need a "bigger tent". I mean, isn't it obvious? And when it comes to persecution, clearly it's easier to make converts and encourage more inclusiveness if you're not fighting off pain and suffering. I mean, who wants to be part of a movement that is outlawed and due to be executed if caught? Clearly that would produce a minority effect, not growth. And, to be sure, the early Christian church under Rome enjoyed periods both of less narrow views and greater acceptability in the community as well as more narrow views and much persecution.

As it turns out, however, the Church appears not to have known what our modern perspective teaches us. According to Gibbon, history tells us that when the Church was the most rigid in its views, it grew the most, and when the Church was most persecuted, it grew the most.

The early Church was known for two things. First, it was known for the high integrity and character of its members. These people were law-abiding citizens working hard to be honest and diligent members of their communities. Second, they were adamantly opposed to the slightest hint of idolatry. They disconnected themselves from anything remotely linked to anything idolatrous. So when everyone else was wearing garlands for a festival, they would not because the garlands had been blessed by the gods. And when a family member died, they couldn't go to the funeral because there was always some prayer to the gods or the like. They were cut out of much of daily life because they refused to compromise on this point, so much so that they were eventually classified as "atheists" because they didn't believe in the gods and would have nothing to do with them. The result was that these hard-working, law-abiding, respectable citizens were at once loved and hated. And the persecutions they received for this narrow view were far reaching and sometimes fatal. All that was asked of them was that they would put a little incense on a deity's altar and they could go free. What did it matter? They didn't believe in that deity. Why not just do it and get away safely? But they couldn't and it cost them dearly.

We're told today that Christianity is not about rules. Maybe. We're told that if the Church is to survive the 21st century we're going to have to be less narrow and more inclusive. Perhaps. We're told that Christianity is not about doing the right thing, but about grace, so embrace the grace. Stop being "pharasaical". It's not about that! It's about love and mercy and grace. Yes, that's what we're told. But the principles of Scripture disagree, and so does history. Even today, while the more liberal churches seek the more "big tent" approach, they are in decline because according to those who leave, frankly, "If all behavior is acceptable and we're including everyone, why should I bother sticking around? What are you offering that's any different than the rest of the world?" While we are warned and threatened that our "narrow views" and "rigid rules" will cause disaster for the Church or, at least, for our own part of it, Gibbon and history seem to say the opposite -- that it is in the wide embrace of the world that the Church finds itself absorbed rather than distinct.

America could learn a lot from the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. They descended into luxury and licentiousness and killed themselves off. So are we. Today's church could learn a lot from the Christians of the Roman Empire. Strict adherence to Scripture and the embracing rather than shunning of persecution seem to be growth media rather than negative conditions for the Church. I've said before that I think there is a real persecution coming to American Christians. Based on the history of the Church and on the pages of Scripture, I would also have to say that, if it brings the advancement of the cause of Christ, "Bring it on!"

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Read it and weep

I've said this kind of stuff in the past. I'm not alone. And it's not "anti-gay haters" that are saying it. If you think that redefining marriage to the new version will simply provide "marriage equity" and have no effect on you, you have another think coming. In fact, they're hoping you're wrong.

What's My Motivation?

Have you heard that one? "What's my motivation?" It usually comes from an actor playing a part and wants to know better how to play the part, so asks the director, "What's my motivation?" because knowing why you do something helps you to do it better, more authentically.

In Romans 12, Paul beseeches his readers (where "beseech" is more of a command than a plea) to "present your bodies as a living sacrifice." Now, you have to admit, that's quite a command. You see, a "sacrifice" is not small. It is costly. (A "sacrifice" that costs nothing is no sacrifice.) And while normal "sacrifices" end their lives on the altar, Paul is calling us to be living sacrifices. We end our lives for us and live them for Him. So we must ask, "What's my motivation?"

Romans 12:1 begins with the "why" to the command. It is the term, "therefore". What is that "therefore" there for? Well, while most biblical "therefores" can be traced back to a few verses prior, this one is the product of the previous 11 chapters. Paul has laid out a huge piece of doctrinal truth. God is angry at Man because he has failed to properly worship God. This failure is universal and complete. But God sent His Son to become the propitiation for our sin and, in so doing, became both just and justifier. Now we are not saved by working for it, but we are declared righteous by faith alone. The death of the man, Jesus, was sufficient to counter the sin of the man, Adam. And we who in baptism are identified with Christ's death and resurrection are no longer slaves to sin. While we still suffer from them and even greatly, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. We have His Spirit in us and know that He works all things together for good. Since our Accuser is our Defender, no one exists that can separate us from the love of God. Saved, then, by the will of God and not by the will or efforts of ourselves, we find ourselves grafted into God's tree of the Chosen. "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!"

Therefore, on the basis of all that, present your bodies as a living sacrifice. It is reasonable service to perform as an act of worship. That's your motivation.

You see, human motivation is fairly simple. There are only two: hope for gain or fear of loss. When we start out, our main motivation is hope for our personal gain or fear of our personal loss. If we mature some, we might grow into a hope for the gain of others or the fear of the loss of others. Paul is calling us to the highest motives: hope for God's gain and fear of God's loss. At this point, given all that we are not and all that God has done to remedy that, we become insignificant. In the words of John the Baptist, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). We arrive at the point that even our good acts simply glorify our Father in heaven. It's only reasonable. It is worship. That's your motivation.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

God is Love

I explained yesterday that 1 John 4:7-8 is not talking about love as an event, but love as a lifestyle. I think, however, that this isn't a sufficient explanation. Taking "love" out of the the concept for a moment, John in his epistle is writing about certain traits that appear in the lives of those who know God, who are born of God. These traits are actually unavoidable. They are the natural byproduct of knowing God. That's just the way it works. We aren't saved by these traits. They are just the outcome of one truly born of God. So "If you _____ as God does, then you are born of God."

Our problem occurs, however, when we substitute the wrong thing in that blank. We read John's words in the text and know that "love" goes in that particular spot, but we have so confused the concept of love that it is almost a mistake to fill in that blank with that word. We need first to figure out just what is intended by it.

A starting point for that calculation is to find out what John did not say. He had several words available for what he intended. The Greeks had lots of words, like eros and storge and philos. John did not use them. We commonly use the term "love" to reflect physical, erotic love. Yes, we use the word that way in some cases. No, John did not mean that in this case because he didn't use that word. Nor did he reference natural family affection or brotherly affection. Very common concepts both in the Greek world and in our own. John was not talking about a husband's love for his wife, a mother's love for a child, or the love of two friends for one another. Yes, those are all versions of love. But John was not talking about those. He was talking about agape. We know this simply because it's the word he used.

If you examine Paul's description of the concept, you should see that it is certainly not the same thing as these others.
Love is patient,
love is kind,
and is not jealous;
love does not brag
and is not arrogant,
does not act unbecomingly;
it does not seek its own,
is not provoked,
does not take into account a wrong suffered,
does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.
Love never fails (1 Cor 13:4-8).
This description puts this lifestyle of love that John expects of all who know God and are born of God far beyond the everyday concept. How often, for instance, does our culture understand "love" to include impatience? Of course we are impatient with people we love, right? Well, yes, if we're talking about one of the other concepts of love, but not this one. Or how often have you seen people who claim to love another and yet seek their own interests instead? Common? Sure. Love? Not this version. Surely we've all heard that "If you love someone, you accept them as they are without judgment." In some versions of love, that makes sense. This one specifically denies that concept. Love "does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in truth." Most people's version of love is that it is easily dissuaded (you know, "I loved him but he proved untrustworthy; it's over."); this one "believes all things." The love that John is writing about in 1 John 4:7-8 believes the best of the beloved even against the evidence -- yea, against much evidence. In fact, this version of love never fails. "Fall out of love"? Absolutely ... in the more common versions. Ruled out entirely in this one.

When you stack up Paul's description of John's hallmark of the genuine "born of God" person who actually knows God, the true believer, it turns out that "he who loves not" is not a minority, but a huge pool of people in this world. Oh, sure, they love erotically or familially or brotherly. They have some version of "love". Just not the one that John is calling for. John and the Holy Spirit who is breathing this text. I think that kind of love is actually far too rare.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Love and Knowing God

We all know 1 John 4:7-8, right? I mean, it used to be a word-for-word song we sang in youth group.
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
Sort of familiar, at least?

So there I am, reading my way through 1 John, and I come across this passage. Lots of familiar stuff, actually. You know, that whole "love" command which Jesus and, consequently, John repeats ... repeatedly. And lots of this epistle is dedicated to knowing God, or, at least, how you can know if you know God. That's a common theme here. Oh, and look! There's that "born of God" phrase again. We saw it over in chapter 3 where John warned, "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God" (1 John 3:9). Apparently "born of God" is not a small issue. In fact, it is a huge issue in chapter 5, where we learn that "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (1 John 5:1) and "Whatever is born of God overcomes the world" (1 John 5:4). Yeah, that "born of God" thing sets you out from the rest of the world, apparently quite literally. Okay, so, what do we know? Well, from the text we can see that "everyone that loves is born of God and knows God." Okay, good! So ... do you know anyone who does not love at all? I don't. So apparently this is John's Gospel, John's "good news" -- everyone is born of God and knows God!!!

Of course, that cannot be what John is saying here. John is not aiming at universal salvation. Based simply on the text here, it cannot be the case. He wouldn't offer a class of people ("He that loveth not") that doesn't exist. It would make the text meaningless. "All Americans are air-breathing humans. Any humans that do not breathe air are not Americans." Umm, okay, of what use is that information? And the correct answer is "None." No, John intends this to be a limitation, not an all-encompassing embrace. So how does that work?

Well, I think with a simple reading of the entire epistle of 1 John you can see that John is not talking about single events; he is talking about lifestyles. He speaks of "if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). Obviously no one never walks through darkness, so this is an indication of an ongoing condition, a lifestyle, a trend in a person's life. "I am writing these things to you that you may not sin" (1 John 2:1). A lifestyle. How do I know that? Because the very next phrase begins, "And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father ...". That is, "Yes, we will all sin, but the aim, the lifestyle, the trend should be not to sin." Comparing this to 1 John 3:9 clearly gives the same result. "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." Well, of course everyone commits sin as evidenced by "if anyone sins", so the point is that there is a trend, not a single event. Thus, in 1 John 4:7-8, John is not saying "Whoever loves ... once ... is born of God." No, he is talking about a lifestyle. Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). Not once; as an ongoing life direction.

So John here is not saying, "Everyone who loves (pizza, their mothers, their children, their favorite pair of jeans, their country, whatever) is born of God." He is saying that those who are born of God are marked by a lifelong tendency to love.

A lot of people would like to twist this very pleasant, very well-known passage into something it is not. "Oh," they might say, "John is simply saying that there is no being called 'God'; He's saying that what we call 'God' is actually just love. And if you love, you are connected to 'love' and 'God'." I've actually heard that. One church (which I cannot classify as Christian in any way) took it to the next obvious step. "Well, since 'love' is 'having sex with someone', we're going to have a lot of sex with each other for religious purposes in order to know 'God'." Now, obviously that's a serious stretch, but you can see that it's easily possible to twist this passage to places it cannot go. So what you need to ask yourself is not "Do I love?", but "Is my life marked by love for others?" Jesus seemed to specialize that love for the brethren. So you should ask yourself, "Does my life demonstrate and ongoing trend toward loving other believers as well as my neighbor and my God?" He who does not love as a lifestyle does not know God. It's an important question.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Neither Do I

The story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11) is a favorite of many. Here we have an obviously guilty woman caught doing an obviously bad thing and facing obviously bad consequences. Brought before Jesus, He simply says, "He who is without sin cast the first stone." Now, there were all sorts of possible things He could have said. "Oh, she was caught in adultery? Then where's the guy?" Or "We are no longer a theocracy; we no longer have the right to carry out that sentence." Or "Judge not, my friends." Or even, "You know, this text isn't found in the earliest versions of John, right? So are you sure you want to base an entire perspective on a questionable text?" Okay, so maybe He wouldn't have said that last one, but He didn't say any of them. He simply went along with their apparent desire to stone her and gave them a caveat -- "He who is without sin cast the first stone."

Now, the reason this passage is so very popular among so many nowadays is because when Jesus looked up and all of her accusers were gone, He told the woman, "Neither do I condemn you." Oh, see? Glorious day! Jesus is did not come to condemn people for sin. And neither should you, you pharisaical, narrow-minded, bigoted, hateful Christian! Clearly what's being taught here is that if we are to be followers of Christ, we ought to accept everyone as they are without condemnation. See? That's obvious, isn't it?

Of course, we're suffering again from the very common method of the skeptic. We're prooftexting. Like Jesus's famous "Judge not" phrase which, when taken as a whole explains how to correctly judge and is not, as so many like to think, a command not to discern whether behaviors or people are sinful, this conclusion from "Neither do I condemn you" suffers the death of a failure to complete the thought. That is, did Jesus not condemn her for her sin? If you read to the end of His own words, you have to realize that He did. He ends with "Go and sin no more." If there was no "condemnation", He would have had no purpose in mentioning "sin" with the very clear concept that she had been sinning and must stop.

Our problem here is that English is a difficult language ... and we want to find any excuse to remain in sin that we can find. We use the word "condemn" very often to mean "to express disapproval" or something very much like it. That isn't, however, the original concept nor the primary one. Oh, it is today, but it certainly wasn't when the text was written. The origin of our word, "condemn", might illustrate the original concept. It is rooted in two parts -- "con" and "demn". "Con" means "with". Can you figure out what "demn" means? Yeah, replace that "e" with an "a" and you'll see clearly. Originally the word meant "to damn". It was a judicial sentence, not merely an expression of disapproval. And, in fact, the Greek word that is translated "condemn" in the biblical text here is katakrino, meaning "to judge against, to sentence, to damn."

If, when Jesus said "Neither do I condemn you" and then followed it with "Go and sin no more", He meant "I am not expressing disapproval of your behavior", Jesus was being irrational. You can't say, "I don't call it sin" and "Sin no more." It makes no sense. What Jesus was saying (and the context obviously bears this out) was "They intended to pass sentence on you; I will not. Now, stop sinning."

What can the Christian -- the follower of Christ -- conclude from this? Are we obligated as Christians not to call sin "sin"? Obviously that makes no sense. Jesus did it. Repeatedly. No, that is not the rational conclusion. The rational conclusion from the text and the context and the entirety of Scripture is that we must call evil "evil" just as our Father in heaven does, but we have extremely limited rights and obligations to pass sentence on that evil. We are repeatedly called to avoid evil (requiring discernment of evil) and to encourage others to avoid evil (requiring discernment of evil) and to call people to repentance (requiring discernment of evil). We just aren't the ones passing the last sentence on it. Not our place. Not our job.

Of course, if this is accurate (and it's the only way I can see to make sense of what Jesus actually said), then the sinning world's cry to shut us up about sin is to be ignored. Sorry, world. But if we are to be Christians following Christ, we must call sin what it is, urge repentance, and love those around us in the process. We'll let Christ, that Final Judge, pass the sentence on evil people. Are you a sinner? Some may wish to condemn you. Jesus didn't condemn the woman. Neither do I condemn you. Now, go and sin no more.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Jehoshaphat Speaks

One of my very favorite stories in the Old Testament is found in 2 Chronicles 20. Jehoshaphat (whose name alone is funny to me) was the king of Judah. He was a good king, endeavoring to follow God. In this story, Jehoshaphat gets news of a "great multitude" assembling against him for war. It didn't look good. Jehoshaphat was no fool. The text says that "Jehoshaphat was afraid ..." Normal, understandable response. It goes on to say "... and set his face to seek the LORD." Not the normal response, but an excellent one. As the story goes, Jehoshaphat and all his people sought the LORD and God gave Jehoshaphat the fantastic instruction, "Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God's." Following God's instructions, Jehoshaphat (this is the part I really love) takes his troops out to battle, puts the choir in front to sing praises while they watch God fight, and enjoy a complete victory of God over their enemies. The text says that "none had escaped" and it took them three days to gather the spoil, it was so much.

I love that story. I love the fact that a king in fear sought the Lord. I love the fact that God reminded him as He reminds us "The battle is not yours, but God's." I love Jehoshaphat's words to his people: "Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be established; believe His prophets, and you will succeed."

There is, however, tucked away in that story, a prayer that I seem to so often mimic. Facing overwhelming forces without recourse, Jehoshaphat prayed for God's assistance. In that prayer he says this marvelous phrase: "We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You." That is the right place to be. I'm reminded of the father who desperately sought Jesus's help for his demon-possessed son who, when Jesus told Him, "All things are possible for one who believes" answered "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:23-24). I'm reminded also of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who, refusing to bow to the king's image, told him, "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Dan 3:17-18).

For humans in general and for Christians in America today, we live in uncertain times. What's going to happen with the economy? What's going to happen to marriage? What's going to happen to our freedom of religion? Is real persecution coming to Christians in America? And each of us face much more urgent questions. What's going to become of my marriage, my health, my job, my family? We face a great multitude of enemies, without and within, that seek to overwhelm us. If you aren't a little bit afraid, I don't think you're paying attention. This is why I so dearly love Jehoshaphat's story. He sought the Lord. Like our biblical predecessors, we can pray, "We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You." "I believe; help my unbelief!" "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us ... but if not, be it known ... that we will not serve your gods", remembering always, "The battle is not yours, but God's."
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You (Isa 26:3).

Saturday, April 13, 2013

If You Are a Christian ...

... you might be a threat to national security. (And this isn't the only place you'll hear it.)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Solution or Problem?

The nation is in the midst of a gun control debate. It was a furor, but now it's just a debate. The president is working hard to return it to the state of furor because it's important, you see. Kids in Newtown, Connecticut, were killed. People in Tucson, Arizona, were shot, including a congresswoman and a 9-year-old girl. In the Sandy Hook shooting, 28 people (including the shooter) lost their lives -- mostly children -- and in Tucson six people died. Gun control is important. We need to act now. Ask Gabby Giffords. "Be bold. Be courageous. Be for background checks." Ask the Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The time to act is now!

I'm in favor of solving problems. I'm just wondering if anyone is paying attention to the problem. Consider this. In the last 20 years the two largest mass killings in the U.S. were accomplished using fertilizer and box cutters. What? No, not guns. In fact, while the U.S. seems to have one of the highest murder rates among advanced countries, the rate is going down while gun ownership is rising. While we're all sure that assault weapons are a bad thing, the question is why? As it turns out they're poorly defined and rarely the weapon of choice in assaults and murders. Too hard to hide, actually. And while you will often hear that the shooter used an automatic weapon, as it turns out those weapons have been outlawed since the 1930's. What we have today are mostly semi-automatic weapons. One trigger pull; one shot. Further, when you examine atrocities like Newtown and Tucson, it's not at all clear that the current rush to fix the problem would have made a bit of difference. As in so many cases, the Connecticut shooting took place with stolen weapons. In the case of the Tucson shooting, the perpetrator, Jared Loughner, was never diagnosed with a mental problem, so a background check would have done nothing. These things aren't working.

The real question, though, is what the real problem is. Is it guns? If that's the problem, the solution is to remove the problem. As it turns out, however, the places with the strictest gun laws don't seem to enjoy a more peaceful existence. Chicago, for instance, is known for its draconian gun laws ... and as the murder capital of the country. Will removing guns decrease gun violence? Well, obviously. But I would suggest that guns are not the real problem, so removing them is not the real solution. Further, the 2nd Amendment would concur.

We're told that the 2nd Amendment guarantees our right to bear arms. That misses the point. The point of the 2nd Amendment was not to guarantee that you and I have weapons for hunting and home defense. Wrong conclusion. Indeed, the Amendment itself explains why we are guaranteed the right to bear arms. "A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." The stated purpose of the guaranteed freedom to keep and bear arms is "a well-regulated militia." So, what's that? "Oh, see? That's the military!" Wrong! A militia is a body of citizens, not professional military. They may be called out periodically for drill but serve full time only in emergencies. The Founding Fathers understood two things. First, the way a government represses its people is via the military. Thus, a standing army was dangerous to freedom. Second, with rights comes responsibility. It was called the "social compact". James Madison wrote on the social compact concept that it "contemplates a certain number of individuals as meeting and agreeing to form one political society, in order that the rights, the safety, and the interests of each may be under the safeguard of the whole." That is the "social compact". The 2nd Amendment secured our right to bear arms in order to safeguard the whole of our society. It is our right and our responsibility.

Back to the problem, then. Bad people are shooting innocent people. Is the solution to remove guns from the hands of citizens? Not according to the 2nd Amendment or the Founding Fathers. Should we limit the fire power? I can't see how this would align with the intent of the Bill of Rights. So should we give guns to the crazies? Ah, there, now we run into a point of agreement. The ACLU and the liberal left have made sure that people with mental problems cannot be locked up against their will. Now they want to remove your freedom to defend your home, your neighbor's home, and your neighborhood from these people. This is not the answer. If the problem is people killing people, removing a weapon -- one, by the way, that isn't typically the problem (most crime is not committed with assault weapons) -- won't solve the problem. It will violate the Bill of Rights. Come up with a better solution. In the meantime, we need to step up to our responsibility of defending our society. That was the point, after all.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Out with the Old

Have you ever heard something like this? I get it from self-professed Christians, no less. "The proper view of the Old Testament is that it is old. That is, it has been replaced by a New Testament, a new covenant with God. The Old Testament, then, is a group of books identifying how people thought of God back then and full of truths we can learn, but certainly not rules. We must, then, dismiss the notion of accepting that these Old Testament rules as rules that might be applicable today."

Proof? "Well, Leviticus 20:13 says, 'If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.' You may say that you think homosexual behavior is a sin, but you don't favor putting them to death. Thus, it is not a rule and you know it."

I love this line of thinking. The Old Testament contains "truths", but not "rules". Now, these same folks are often willing to stick to the "Ten Commandments", for instance. Okay, well, maybe not all of them. I mean, "honor your father and mother" and "honor the Sabbath" are out, right? At least. So most. And many are willing to retain that whole "adultery" thing as a bad idea. The fact that it is listed in the same text as the prohibition of a man lying with a man as with a woman is irrelevant. Adultery -- bad. Homosexual behavior -- not bad. "And we know it because you're not willing to put the homosexual to death." But ... we're not willing to put the adulterer to death, either.

The incoherent line of thinking hurts my head. It relegates the Old Testament to a matter of opinion, the writings of some people who weren't clear on reality and only wrote down what they thought of God back then. They thought He ordered them to kill the Amalekites, so they did, but, really, it wasn't God's idea. It was just there own. They thought God was opposed to some behaviors. But He wasn't really. Certainly not the ones of which they now approve.

"The Bible -- well, Christianity, at least -- is not about rules, you see. It's about grace. You may think that homosexual behavior is wrong, but that's not for you to decide. Live and let live! Show some grace!" Interestingly, it never seems to go in reverse. If you read the Bible and see instructions on how to live to please God, they don't tell themselves "Live and let live! Show some grace! Let them believe that if they will." No, they tell you, "You're conflating your view into God's view." They classify you as intolerant, hateful, judgmental. The fact that "tolerance" requires a difference of opinion to exist (you don't "tolerate" that with which you agree) is irrelevant. "We are right. You are wrong. Until you stop disagreeing with us, 'We shall fight on the blogs, we shall fight at the churches, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.' Just you wait and see. We will beat you into submission to demonstrate how tolerant we can be."

The irrationality is painful. The fact, for instance, that we don't continue to call for the penalty given to a unique theocracy at the time for the sin of homosexual behavior or adultery doesn't mean we don't concur with the morality of the law. On the other hand, the fact that they deny the morality of the law (for instance, they certainly deny that it is moral to put an adulterer to death even if God commanded it) puts them directly in opposition to God, not in concert with Him. (They avoid this, by the way, by telling you that God never commanded it, remember? It was just their idea of what God would want.) And yet, my view is irrational, hateful, and unbiblical. When I concur with Christ (Matt 5:18), I'm being unchristian. Odd. Really odd. Don't buy it, Christians. It doesn't make sense.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Just As I Am

"God loves you just as you are." That's the claim. That's the "good news". It's heart-warming, even liberating. And, of course, it isn't actually true.

There is a really fascinating article in The Atlantic entitled Being Gay at Jerry Falwell's University. The author tells how, while at Liberty University, he realized he was gay. The primary point of the article is really interesting. "Not all Christians are homophobic." Not his words; mine. Here's what he did say: "I was expecting him to be ... well, a homophobe. But as I put on my seatbelt, I realized that all that time, I was the one who was afraid. Not him. I'd been warned my whole life about homophobia, but no one ever said anything about homophobiaphobia."

As it turned out, with very rare exception, the Christians, both student and faculty, at Liberty University (you remember Liberty University -- Jerry Falwell's school -- Jerry Falwell who blamed 9/11 on gays) treated the author, Brandon, with respect and love. You know, like Christians are supposed to. They didn't castigate, attack, hate, deride ... anything that you would expect from what we are all told are a pack of dirty, anti-gay, homophobic, hateful right-wingers.

Now, if you read the comments on the article or the comments from others elsewhere about the article, there are the standard complaints. "They should have called on him to repent!" "They should have kicked him out!" I would submit that, first, while unrepentance might mandate exclusion from a church, Liberty University is a school. But I would also suggest that Brandon himself knew that he should repent. He tells the example of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. Jesus told the (false) accusers, "He who is without sin cast the first stone." Obviously didn't happen. And then Brandon tells those thrilling words from Jesus to the adulteress: "Neither do I condemn you." See? Jesus doesn't condemn sinners! How heartwarming! "See? God loves you just as you are." But in truth neither Jesus nor Brandon stopped there. Jesus went on to say (and Brandon continued to quote), "Go and sin no more."

Referring to the woman's adultery and his own homosexuality, Brandon writes, "Anyone who is even slightly familiar with Torah or the Book of Romans would have to admit that both activities are regarded as sinful." And almost everyone knows this is true. He goes on to say, "Jesus, a first-century Rabbi, would have also held this belief. And yet, when the abstract sin is given a human face, Jesus responds with acceptance and mercy ..."

Should the folks (students and faculty) at Liberty University have called on Brandon to repent? Probably. And, of course, we don't know if they actually did or did not. I would have a hard time believing that they didn't. But it would appear that they did so with the right attitude, the attitude of love. (On the other hand, they appeared to tolerate a whole lot of male public nudity there, so ...?) Not the point. Don't go there. The point is that the biblical perspective mandates that our primary motivation be love. That ought to be our hallmark. That ought to be the thing that makes us distinct. Love does not demand that we accept those we love "as they are". That's just stupid. Love accepts those we love but hopes for the best. Using an extremely simple human example, genuinely loving parents do not accept their children for who they are; they seek to clothe, feed, encourage, and educate them to be something better. Love expects the best. When you are not the best, love doesn't accept you just as you are; it hopes for something better. Jesus didn't accept the Pharisees or the moneychangers (as obvious examples) or even the woman caught in adultery as they were. He called them on their sin and encouraged them to change it.

I like what Brandon said about the human face of sin. I think he's right. We need to love them while encouraging them to "go and sin no more." And by "them" I mean all of us sinners.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

It's the Little Things

Do you recall the story of Daniel? He was among those sent in exile to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar took Judah. Now, that's bad, but Daniel was among a select group of young men "in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king's court" (Dan 1:4). Oh, that's good. So these guys were set up to receive the best three-year education Babylon could give along with the best in food and wine. Oh, that's really good!

And then we read, "But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king's choice food or with the wine" (Dan 1:8). Wait ... what? Hey, Daniel, what's up with that? I mean, it's not a big deal. It's only food and wine. Hey, Judaism doesn't even prohibit wine. What is this all about?

Well, it doesn't take much of a thought to realize that there would be things on that menu that Daniel could not eat without violating the Law. Babylon had no prohibition against pork or shellfish, for instance. They could eat rabbit. They could cook a goat in its mother's milk. These were all specific commands from the Law that Daniel had to avoid breaking. But surely not all the food fell in that Law category. And we can be pretty sure that the wine wasn't forbidden. So what was that all about? Why not pick and choose instead of going through the problems? Just go along to get along. This isn't a big thing, Daniel. You have to know what hills to die on, so to speak, and eating right just isn't that important. Is it?

Apparently it was. He sought and obtained special permission to become a vegetarian and God blessed him for it. But ... why?

Well, as indicated, there was the problem of "unclean foods". Surely kosher laws (even the Mosaic version without the upgraded version with other rules alongside) weren't followed. Pork was available. Animals were strangled. Various banned foods were on the menu. And then there was the whole idolatry thing. It was customary in Babylon to offer foods to idols before eating them -- meat and wine specifically. That certainly had to be avoided.

I suspect, though, that there was a little more to it. You see, in my experience it's the little things that get you. You check out a pretty woman (not a problem on its own) and then you think a little further down that path (headed for a real problem) and then you end up in sin. It could have been avoided by not starting down that path. As every adolescent male can tell you, it begins with titillating pictures of women you could see at the beach and moves from there to stuff your mom would be horrified to find you looking at and soon you're addicted to all sorts of sinful lusts. For some women it starts with romance novels of women swept off their feet by lovely young men and moves to stories of wives saved from sad marriages by lustful "bad boys" and ends up in an adulterous affair to try to find that fantasy herself.

We don't typically start out thinking, "You know, I think I'll jump into some of the most perverted pornography I can find and see how that goes." We start out thinking, "Ooh, this might be fun. And it's really not sinful, is it?" We don't start out thinking, "I'm going to cheat on my husband." We start out thinking, "I could use a shoulder to cry on because I've got some problems with my husband and this guy is nice. What could be wrong with that?" Eve started out with a pretty piece of fruit. What could be wrong with that? Well, we all found out, didn't we?

For Daniel it was food and drink. He saw the danger and made up his mind that he would not defile himself with what might appear to you and me to be relatively harmless little pleasures. He took drastic steps to avoid the problems that "the little things" would surely produce. Like Moses, he chose "rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin" (Heb 11:25). David told God, "I will set no worthless thing before my eyes" (Psa 101:3). If worthless is bad, how much more the pleasures that lead us to sin? What "little things" are dangerous to you?

Monday, April 08, 2013

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3

In John's first epistle, he begins our fourth chapter with the warning, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1). Why? "Many false prophets have gone out into the world."

Good advice. Anyone paying any attention can tell you that the world is full of people who call themselves Christians and even present themselves as mouthpieces of God, so to speak, and then proceed to offer false information about what God thinks. The danger is obvious. A person positioned as a "follower of Christ" and "God's messenger" (for such is a prophet) speaking lies about God puts listeners in jeopardy, lest they believe the premise (Christian/prophet) and, based on that premise, follow the lie.

Take, for instance, the recent news about Rob Bell. Whatever Rob Bell believes is Rob Bell's business, but when it gets documented on Christian news sites like The Christian Post or bigger ones like Christianity Today, it becomes every Christian's business. When it gets picked up by WZZM out of Michigan or broadcast on a well-known, largely anti-Christian site like The Huffington Post, it becomes everyone's business. So now we know that Rob Bell disagrees with Scripture on the issue of Hell (from his book, Love Wins) and now on the issue of marriage. In the Huffington piece Bell argues that the core beliefs that you must be born again, that the Bible is authoritative, that Christ died and rose again for our salvation, and that we need to act on that truth is "a particular subculture that doesn't work." Evangelicalism is not only dying, but that fact is a good thing because they are bad. Instead, he holds, "I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs -- I think this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are." (I really want to know what he intended when he started "I think the church needs ...") So we are not supposed to call anyone out of darkness (a position consistent with the position of universal salvation), but to "affirm people wherever they are." (Isn't it funny that he is not affirming Evangelicals wherever they are?)

Yes, that was a whole paragraph on Rob Bell, but this is not a post about Rob Bell. It's a post about John's thoughts. So, based on this information, would John classify Rob Bell as a "false prophet"? Based on 1 John 4:1-3, you'd have to say, "No." John says first "every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God." Bell does indeed confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Thus, not a false prophet. Phew! Dodged that problem!

But if you were to end the thought there, you'd be committing the error of not seeing the entire picture. John didn't stop with that measurement tool. I'd say that a lot of false prophets cling to "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh." It is a tool, but not the only tool. Nor is it the only one that John offers. He gives two more methods to decide "false prophet" or not.

First, there is this one.
They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them (1 John 4:5).
John suggests that the truth offered by God's true prophets will not generally be listened to by the world. Why? Well, Jesus assured His disciples that the world hated Him and would hate them. Paul assured his readers that the mind set on the flesh was hostile toward God and that the gospel was foolishness to them. He said "Natural Man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor 2:14). So Christ and the world stand at cross purposes and will not remain friendly with each other for long. If, then, a person speaking as a spokesman for God is cheerfully embraced by the world, that's a red flag.

Second, John says something that will likely upset a lot of today's more "liberal" Christians let alone the rest of the world.
We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4:6).
In contrast to "They are from the world", John says, "We are from God." Thus, "Whoever knows God listens to us." Really, John? Aren't you conflating your opinion into God's opinion? Aren't you saying that you stand in the place of God? Well, maybe, if you agree with Bell that viewing the Bible as authoritative and reliable is a dead-end, dying ("and good riddance") position. But if you hold that all Scripture is God breathed and that the Spirit leads His own into all truth and we can know the truth, then it stands to reason that following the Word of God as presented in the pages of the Bible is a sure sign of a genuine follower of Christ. It isn't a matter of "conflating your opinion". It's a matter of grasping and agreeing with the text, the context, and the message of Scripture.

Based on these two measurement tools, there is little doubt about Bell or McClaren who applauds Bell or so many others who place themselves in the position of "Christian" and claim to speak for God while denying what He says in His Word. John would necessarily classify them as "false prophets". I would urge you, dear Christian, to keep it in mind not because I suggest it, but because God's Word says it.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

What is the Glory of God?

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).
That's quite a command. "Whatever you do." Every action, every choice, every purpose, every direction -- in everything you do you ought to be doing it to the glory of God. It begs the question. What is the glory of God?

Well, on the surface, it's an easy answer. God's glory is His nature. It is, first and foremost, the beauty of His nature. It is the sum of who He is. Paul says He "dwells in unapproachable light" (1 Tim 6:16). John describes the visitation on the Isle of Patmos (Rev 1:12-16) including the description, "His face was like the sun shining in its strength" (Rev 1:16). So magnificent was his vision of the glorified Christ that he says, "When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man" (Rev 1:17). These, of course, are mere human versions of the magnificence of His utter glory, the combination of His attributes. God's glory is the display of His perfections, the demonstration of His holiness, the presentation of His ultimate worth.

Jesus told His disciples, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt 5:16). Now, the first odd thing in that statement is that they would see your good works and glorify your Father. That would be because genuine good works are those works done by God for God, and these kinds of good works are in stark contrast to normal human sin nature. But the second thing that seems odd is that we could possibly glorify the Father. I mean, if His glory is the display of His perfections, how can we make that any better? Perfection requires "not possibly better". We can reflect His glory, but we can't add to it.

Sometimes the Bible likes to use the word "magnify" here.
O magnify the LORD with me, And let us exalt His name together (Psa 34:3).
I will praise the name of God with song And magnify Him with thanksgiving (Psa 69:30).
"I will magnify Myself, sanctify Myself, and make Myself known in the sight of many nations; and they will know that I am the LORD" (Eze 38:23).
So if God's glory is the display of His perfections and we are told to magnify the Lord, how does that work? How do we bring glory to God if He's already glorious by His own nature? Well, there are two forms of "magnify". In science it can illustrated by a microscope or a telescope. A microscope makes really small things big enough to see. A telescope takes really big things that are far away and makes them big enough to see. And the latter is the concept we're going for. God's glory is as an entire universe in comparison to the Earth. Now, let's see if we can bring it close enough for us to grasp, if only in part.

Our primary function in life is to glorify God. That means that we are to reflect in everything we do His perfections. Somewhere along the way we got the notion that our purpose in life is to serve ourselves, obtain our pleasures, satisfy our desires, fulfill our longings. The more noble of us might also deign to do the same for others around us. But that would be a mistaken notion. "Magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together." "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God"

Saturday, April 06, 2013

The Past Speaks

First published in 1776, English historian Edward Gibbon's book, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a six-volume study of, well, the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. It is, in fact, a daunting read, but I've been trying to absorb it just the same.

One could easily and understandably think, "But ... why? Why spend all that time reading about the decline and fall of an empire that ended more than 5 centuries ago? What does it matter?" Well, of course, there is the fact that it is an interesting read. I can't quantify it, of course, but it always feels like older English writers were better English writers than today's modern version, even if it is "boring history". And then there's the classic Churchillian quote, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it", a concept taken from George Santayana's The Life of Reason (1905), who said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

In that light, it is indeed interesting some of the notions that Gibbon puts out. For instance, in describing the subjects of Rome in its heyday, he says that they were ever inclined to rebellion but incapable of freedom. What a concept. It sounds ... wrong. But I remember, when our troops were trying to free Iraq from Saddam and bring democracy to that war torn land, wondering if they had the capability of freedom. And then you realize (if you're paying attention) that this is a biblical description of mankind in general. We are constantly inclined to rebellion, either against parents or teachers or government or, ultimately and most often, God. We want to "break free". We want to "do it my way". We want to "be like the Most High". But Paul assures us of the other side of the coin. "Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness" (Rom 6:16-18). As in Dylan's singing version, we can be quite certain that, "It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, But you're gonna have to serve somebody." Inclined always to rebellion but incapable of freedom.

In Volume 1, Chapter 9, Gibbon describes for us what he calls "barbarians". What makes a "barbarian"? He starts with the premise that they are not masters of letters. Without a firm grasp on the written word, he argues, they cannot learn and pass that learning on to subsequent generations. Written communication is key. And I look at the texting and facebooking and Twitter stuff that today's younger generation is using and ask myself, "Do they have a firm grasp on the written word?" The number of times I see their own generation ask, "What are you talking about?" suggests that they don't. But he goes on with a very interesting next characteristic. He says that barbarians are lazy and yet energetic. Huh? Well, he says, they aren't really interested in doing any industrious work, but they are inexhaustible in their efforts to find the next big sensation. They lived for big experiences. You know, like extreme sports. Oh, wait, no, that's our time. Oh, wait ... could it be that we are headed toward being barbarians in Gibbon's view?

Gibbon argues that Rome fell for a few basic reasons. First, they were strong as long as they had wars to fight and places to conquer and enemies to subdue. They got soft when they got rich and comfortable. Gibbon argues that, just as humans live under a "no pain, no gain" sentence, so also do civilizations. Second, in their rich and comfortable decline, they experienced moral decline. They indulged every whim, outsourced their work to other places (yes, that's one of his observations), surrendered any sense of civic virtue, and pursued pleasure as the ultimate good. Now if that doesn't describe America, I don't know what does.

Reading a six-volume work on the decline and fall of an empire that died out hundreds of years ago would seem to be a waste of time. But what's disturbing is just how contemporary it turns out to be. And we're doing it so much faster than they did. How long do we think we have at this rate? Not even Gibbon knows for sure.

Friday, April 05, 2013

The Aim of the Book

The Bible offers several reasons for why Jesus came. We know He came to seek and to save the lost. We know He came to become sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. We know He came to do the will of His Father. There are several reasons. One of them comes from the lips of Jesus Himself.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matt 5:17).
Cool! But ... what does that mean?

Remember first and foremost that the Bible is, perhaps uniquely, "History" -- the story of Christ. The entire focus of all of Scripture is Christ. Christ in His prior existence, Christ in His Incarnation, Christ in His death and resurrection, Christ in His glory, Christ in our future, the Alpha (beginning) and the Omega (end). He is the point. All of history is His story.

In the Scriptures we have the Law and the Prophets. (Remember that when Jesus said "Scriptures" the New Testament wasn't written. He referred to our Old Testament.) The Prophets all speak to God's transcendence and immanence, His overarching majesty and His very real presence. The Law speaks of, for the largest bulk of it, what it takes to be right with God, and in a smaller sense how we can reflect His character. (Remember, we are "predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom 8:29).) The first part is constructed of two aspects: the Ceremonial Laws and the Sacrificial Laws. The second part is called the "Moral Law". A large part of the Old Testament Law with a capital "L" is that first part. It describes how the tabernacle was to be built and maintained, how a large variety of sacrifices were to be done, the priestly system, and so on. It also describes how God's people were to approach that sacrificial system. It included rules on cleanliness, eating, farming, and all sorts of ways that God's elect were to stand out from the rest of the world as pure and different than the rest of the world as they approached and enjoyed this unique sacrificial system whereby they could ceremonially be made right with God. The latter part, the Moral Law, describes God's character and how those who are God's people ought to live in order to reflect that character.

And we have Jesus telling us that He came not to abolish these things, "but to fulfill them."

That's what He did. Jesus became the Lamb of God. He became the scapegoat. He became the Sacrifice that God demanded. He embodied purity and a separation from the rest of the world. In His death on the Cross He fulfilled God's every demand of justice and in His Resurrection He completed everything necessary for us to be made right with God. Nothing remains but to trust Him for that. Beyond that, He lived the perfect moral life and provided us an example of His character and affirmed that the Moral Law reflects that character as a blueprint for how those who follow Him should live.

So what does that mean to us? How many times have you heard, "You Christians are so inconsistent! You claim to believe the Bible and try to argue that homosexuality is a sin but you don't care about eating shrimp or touching pigskin!" or something like it? The objection is first based on the demand to discard all right of God on our lives and most pressingly a failure to comprehend the nature of "the Law and the Prophets". You see, if we seek to return to a shadow of the truth, the Ceremonial and Sacrificial Laws, we would be dishonoring at the core our Lord and Savior who came to fulfill those. They are fulfilled -- filled full. Our task as Christ-followers is to emulate Him in His character as outlined in Scripture, but trying to live up to a picture offered prior to His arrival and fulfillment of that image would be inconsistent and insulting. Either He did accomplish what He came for -- the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets in providing us with the genuine means of being right with God and offering us an example of moral purity -- or He didn't. If He did, then we must follow the moral laws of the Old Testament and not the ceremonial or sacrificial laws. It is the only reasonable thing to do. It is the only consistent way to live in view of the entirety of Scripture as Christ-centered. We enjoy the ceremonial and sacrificial fulfillment in Christ and live out the moral life in gratitude. That's not inconsistent. That's rational and reasonable.

Thursday, April 04, 2013


The word of the day is "epithet". You will find in your dictionaries that the word means first of all something like "an adjective or descriptive phrase expressing a quality or characteristic of a person or thing". Yeah, something like that. Of course, most of the time we go with the second definition: such a word that is intended as a term of abuse.

Examples of epithets would be the old "Richard the Lion-Hearted" or "Catherine the Great". Jesus is "the Prince of Peace". Excellent epithet. In H.G. Wells's The Time Machine he used nothing but epithets to describe the characters in the present time: "the Very Young Man", "the Psychologist", "the Editor", and so on. In these regards they can be somewhat useful providing not merely a name, but a descriptive identification.

In today's version, however, it's typically not so helpful, first because it's intended as abusive and second because it lacks accuracy. Here, let me give you a prime example. If you are not in favor of aborting babies whenever a woman wishes to do so, you are "anti-choice" or "anti-abortion". Epithets, you see? Accurate? Oh, not at all. Everyone is "anti-choice", for instance. They don't want to allow you the choice not to allow killing babies. In less abrasive context, everyone knows the common maxim, "Your freedom ends where my nose begins." That is, you're free to choose whatever you want until it affects me ... and then you're not. Anti-choice. In a more abrasive context, liberals are "pro-choice" when it comes to women having their babies killed, but not when it comes to you getting a gun, favoring traditional marriage, or buying a soda larger than 16 ounces. So who is "anti-choice"? Not an accurate epithet, so not a helpful descriptive.

Another very popular one today has slid so far down the language trail that it is difficult to extract from its roots. You have to take time to figure it out. If you believe that homosexual behavior is a violation of Scripture, you are "anti-gay". And most (on either side) will nod their heads and say, "Yes, that's accurate." And it's not. First, try to figure out what "gay" means. In common usage today it refers to males that self-identify as having solely homosexual urges. (Trust me; there are enough shades in the "sexual minority" field to encompass everyone else.) "Gay" is not "lesbian" (the female version), you see. But no one ever gets labeled "anti-lesbian", so apparently "gay" means something different in this epithet. Second, note that "gay" has changed meaning. The concept of "homosexuality" (the idea intended in the epithet "anti-gay") did not appear on the historical scene until the late 19th century. Thus, for instance, when the Bible refers to the concept, it does not refer to a sexual identity, but a behavior. No one was either "heterosexual" or "homosexual" (or "bisexual" or "omnisexual" or any other sexual identity you might devise). They had sexual desires and chose to act on them or not. For whom was irrelevant. "Husband and wife" was biblically good; anyone else was not. So the classification "gay" didn't exist in biblical times. Sex was a matter of behavior, not desire. A "sodomite" was someone who practiced the act, not someone whose identity was defined by it. Today, of course, the term "gay" is a component part of the definition of a human being. Thus, "anti-gay" is intended to convey an opposition to the very nature (with its attendant suggestion of being a "necessarily moral and virtuous" character simply because "they're born that way") of a particular segment of society. So if "gay" meant "the sexual behavior of various individuals involving sexual relations with the same gender", then "anti-gay" might be a factual epithet for those who believe that the behavior is a sin. They are opposed to that behavior. But if it means "the person who identifies themselves with such desires" as it does today ... and let me be perfectly clear on this ... it's a lie. Those who oppose the behavior on biblical grounds oppose the behavior, not the person. Opposing behavior is not the same as opposing a person.

Our modern language is full of these types of problems. Communication is tedious at best. So we take shortcuts. One of them is the epithet. But as the epithet takes hold and the meaning is lost, the epithet becomes a false statement and those who bear it are left with a false characterization. Those of us who are in favor of protecting human life are not "anti-choice". Those of us who believe the Bible is abundantly clear that sexual relations with anyone except a husband and a wife are immoral are not "anti-gay". And the epithets just keep coming without regard to accuracy. So we end up buried under a pile of lies and relegated to the trash heap of culture. And this is what is deemed "tolerance", "non-judgmental", and "rational dialog". I have an epithet for people like that: "liar".