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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Proverbs 17

Catchy title, don't you think? I just finished reading Proverbs 17 the other day. There were a lot of interesting bits in there. Maybe you might benefit as I have.

The Reader's Digest has always had a section entitled, "Laughter is the Best Medicine". In fact, someone beat them to the punch. Solomon did. He wrote, "A joyful heart is good medicine" (Prov 17:22). (Sorry, Reader's Digest, but I think "a joyful heart" is much bigger than mere "laughter".) Yep, God's Word is the source of another famous saying. But that's mere trivia. There is so much more here.

More trivia, of course. Here's an interesting juxtaposition of texts. In verse 8 we read, "A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it; wherever he turns he prospers." Just fifteen verses later in verse 23 we read, "The wicked accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the ways of justice." Interesting. So offering a bribe brings prosperity, but taking a bribe perverts justice. (It's even more interesting when you throw in the odd comment from Jesus where He said, "I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings" (Luke 16:9). Hmm?) Still, mostly just trivia. There is better stuff in this chapter.

There are many references in Scripture where it says that God "tests" people. Have you ever wondered how that works? I mean, if He's so Omniscient and all, why would He need to test them? Doesn't He already know? This chapter in Proverbs has the explanation to that question. "The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts" (Prov 17:3). Now, remember, this portion of Proverbs is written almost entirely in parallels. "X is like this, but Y is like that." Thus, we can figure out something about X by understanding something about Y. And so it is here. We can read "the LORD tests hearts" and say, "Yeah, that was my question, wasn't it?" But Solomon wrote about a parallel to explain what he meant by "the LORD tests hearts". We commonly use fire to purify gold and silver. We understand that "X". And Solomon says that the trials that we face are God's way of doing the same thing with our hearts. That is, He's not "testing" as "trying to figure out the condition". He's purifying ... by heat. Does that help? (Well, it did me.)

There are lots of Scriptures that seem to describe modern society. Right here in this chapter we find verse 15: "He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD." How much of that do we see today, even under the guise of "Christians" who disregard plain Scripture, justify that which has always been understood to be sin, and then condemn those who stand on that position?

And one that I personally had to think about. Verse 19 says, "Whoever loves transgression loves strife." So I ask myself, "Do I love strife?" I ask that because I cannot fathom that I would think that "I love transgression." So, understanding that I'm not always a reliable witness for myself, I ask myself if I have the symptom. As it turns out, I hate strife. I'm the kind that would always prefer to avoid it. I have to fight the "peace at all costs" mentality I come by naturally because sometimes the cost is too high. You might ask yourself the same thing. Do you love strife? Is it a pleasure for you to get into arguments? Maybe you classify it as "defending the faith" or something noble. But the question isn't the nobility of the argument. The question is your emotional attachment to argumentation. Are you a "soft answer turns away wrath" kind of person, or do you really like the battle? Something to consider. I had to.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Myths about Faith

If there's one thing we Christians know it's faith. We know faith. Or ... do we? I think that we have a few things of which many or most are certain but are, in fact, mistaken. I think we have a few mistaken ideas about faith that should be addressed.

Myth #1. Faith is believing something without any reason or evidence, yea, against reason or evidence.

I've actually heard people -- Christians -- say, "If you know something to be true, it's not faith." They will go on to argue that if there's evidence and logic involved, that's not faith. And, of course, the world is quite certain that "Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to." (Fred Gailey - Miracle on 34th Street). "Faith is something you believe that nobody in his right mind would believe." (Archie Bunker - All in the Family). Well, there's a word for that, and it's not faith. It's credulity. Credulity is blind faith, the kind that believes without a reason. But the biblical version of faith is not that version. The root Greek word, peitho, according to Strong's dictionary, means first, "to convince (by argument, true or false)". I didn't put that term "argument" in there. The Greek dictionary did. It goes on to include this alternate definition: "to assent (to evidence or authority)". Notice how "to blindly believe" is not a part of this concept. It is argument or evidence or even authority, but not "without reason or evidence." Biblical faith is first based on evidence and argument which leads to a logical conclusion. It took faith for the children of Israel to walk across the Red Sea in the midst of the water, but it was based on 10 prior events where God demonstrated His capabilities. The faith they needed was the obvious conclusion, the next step.

Related to this myth are its sequels: Faith and reason/science are opposed, and reason and science eliminate the need for faith. (In common terms, "doubting Thomas" would have been the hero, not believing until he found the evidence. In Thomas's experience, he vastly regretted that position.) Not true.

Myth #2. Faith is something that we produce.

This is certain, isn't it? Well, if you'd like to go by senses or perception, you may. I'm going by God's Word. There we read that God assigns a measure of faith to each believer (Rom 12:3). Hebrews says that Jesus is the Author of our faith (Heb 12:2). In Acts 3 there is that story about the lame man healed at the Beautiful Gate. In the uproar that followed, Peter said something interesting. "And His name--by faith in His name--has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all" (Act 3:16). Notice to whom Peter attributes the faith the man required to be healed -- "the faith that is through Jesus." Not the faith in Jesus, but from Him. Paul says that we are granted to believe, not that we create that belief (Phil 1:29). We are mostly pretty sure that we are the ones that muster faith, but the Bible seems to say otherwise.

Myth #3. We are saved by faith apart from works.

This is mostly true. Just ... not ... quite. The Bible is absolutely clear that we are not saved by works. It is the fundamental component of the Gospel, one of the biggest things that makes Christianity unique among religions. In all other beliefs you're saved by being good. In Christianity we're saved by faith and not by works. "There, see?" some will tell me. "Saved by faith apart from works." After all, isn't that exactly what Paul says? "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law." (Rom 3:28). Well, sort of. That is, we are saved by faith and not by works. But if you search the Bible for the phrase, "apart from works", you will find another interesting reference. "Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?" (James 2:20). What? Indeed, "As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead" (James 2:26). So while it is true that works do not save us, it is equally true that genuine biblical faith produces works. Those works are a product -- they certainly occur -- but they don't save. Thus, it is not entirely accurate to say that the faith by which we are saved is faith apart from works because James says that faith apart from works is dead faith.

Myth #4. Faith is simply believing something is true.

In English, it is true that faith is generally defined as mental acquiescence. If you believe a fact to be true, that's faith. The biblical concept of faith -- saving faith -- is not the same. First, biblical faith must be based on fact. There are those who might believe in faeries and dragons, but these things are not fact, so it wouldn't be classified as faith even if it is so classified in English. Second, it does require mental acquiescence. "This is fact. I believe it to be true." That second step is required. But it isn't sufficient in itself. Beyond recognizing a fact as true, the Bible needs one more component to classify it as biblical faith. It is trust. It is commitment. In the stories we tell, it's admitting that the chair can hold your weight and then sitting in the chair. Over and over in the Gospel of John he uses the phrase "believe into" rather than merely "believe" or "believe in". (It doesn't translate as nicely, so you won't find it in the translations, but it's in the original texts.) You see, we don't merely mentally concur with Christ; we believe into Him. Biblical faith is not merely agreeing to the facts about Christ, but placing our trust in Christ.

Myth #5. God is limited by our faith.

The most obvious place you'll hear this is in the horrid "health and wealth" line of teaching. "If you only have enough faith," they'll tell you, "you can ..." and there will be all sorts of things you can do. Be healed. Be rich. Be happy. It's all a matter of how much faith you have. "Oh, you're not healed, rich, happy? Well, clearly it's because you don't have the faith. Sorry. God can't do much with that." But it's not true. When the man asked Jesus to heal his child, Jesus told him, "All things are possible to him who believes" to which he replied, "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:15-25). This astounding admission of doubt was sufficient to have the demon cast out of the son.

Yes, faith is called for. Yes, faith can move mountains (Matt 17:20). Yes, doubt can produce instability (James 1:6-7). Yes, sometimes God will withhold from us what He would like to give us because we don't believe. However, never forget that God is Sovereign. He doesn't need our permission, our request, or our faith to do as He pleases. Our lack of faith might limit us, but it never limits God.

We believe, then, that God cannot save without faith. But if it is true that faith is not something we produce, but something that God gives, then that's not an issue, is it? And we believe that God cannot answer prayers without faith. But God answers prayers before we ask (Matt 6:8). We believe that if we don't have sufficient faith, God cannot heal. But God can heal whenever He wishes and does so even for those who don't believe in Him at all. And, while we avoid the rank error of the "health and wealth" folk, we still tend to think that "if I only had enough faith, God could provide more for me." But nowhere is it written that God is limited by my faith in order to supply my need. Look, either God is Sovereign and is, therefore, not limited by my faith, or He is limited by my faith and is, therefore, not Sovereign. It's as simple as that.

Faith is a key component of Christianity. It is a gift from God (Phil 1:29; Eph 2:8-9) (lest any man should boast). Faith is a rational conclusion based on the evidence we've been given. It is more than simply believing something is true and, as such, faith does not exist in a vacuum, but produces a sure output -- works. Faith is vital to Christianity, but God is not limited by the amount of faith we can muster. So we are to use it, exercise it, practice it, defend it, work it. It's a gift that keeps on giving.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Benefits of Same-Sex Marriage

I don't think anyone who reads my stuff has any question what I think on the subject of "same-sex marriage". Indeed, the quotes around the term is an easy indicator. It's like asking me, "What is your opinion of unicorns?" I have none. They don't exist. Nor does "same-sex marriage". Well, the courts have decided and the people are concurring that marriage doesn't actually exist and they're now using that term for something else, something new, something different. They'd like to say, "new and improved!" And when pressed, I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I don't consider it an improvement.

First, a side note. The loudest voices are all rejoicing that the Supreme Court struck down DOMA and Prop 8 when, in fact, it didn't. Here's what SCOTUS did. They struck down the part of DOMA that withheld benefits from same-sex couples, and they refused to rule on Prop 8. DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, has two parts. One defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The other says that the federal government is not required to give marriage benefits to marriages that do not fall in that category. The Supreme Court struck down the second part, but not the first. And on Prop 8, California's constitutional amendment that only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman, SCOTUS simply ruled that the people bringing the suit to the Supreme Court had no grounds on which to do so. They did not rule that Prop 8 was illegal, unconstitutional, or any other. The effect will certainly be that marriage will now be utterly redefined, even in your state and mine, but that is not what the court ruled.

Okay, so, we're all clear that I think there will be serious damage from this new definition of marriage. Marriage is already in trouble and this will push the dying beast a little farther down the road. Parenting has become horrendous and this will further blur the lines. Religious freedom is already classified as "optional" in any real sense and this will make it less tolerable. And anyone carrying around a biblical view on the topic will become legally rather than simply emotionally or rhetorically classified as hateful. The backwash will make it vastly more difficult for future generations to comprehend "marriage" in any genuine or even historical sense, given that we typically believe that was is has always been, and anyone with a biblical view of marriage, therefore, is a loon. This does not bode well for genuine marriage, healthy families, and religious freedom.

Still, I think there might be some benefits. What benefit can come from this? Well, there is certainly one, I think, and it can obviously spawn more. And this benefit comes, first, from nearly the beginning of mankind and second from the mind of the Creator, so I have to say that it's a good one.

Back in the Garden of Eden the serpent (placed there by God, please remember) tempted Eve (also placed there by God, please remember) to sin. She did, and "gave some to her husband who was with her" (also placed there by God, please remember). Thus, an Omniscient God put in place all the components that would, as He surely knew, produce a sinful race of humans. "That's bad," we might say, but not so God. Instead, He had in mind from the beginning (Titus 1:1-3) (We are not currently in "Plan B".) a demonstration of His wrath and power and mercy (Rom 9:22-23) with the offering of His Son for the sin He knew that would occur in order to be both just and justifier (Rom 3:23-26), to illustrate His wrath, holiness, grace, and mercy. Thus, He turned evil to His good purposes. That was the plan. And I can see many benefits here in that light.

First, living genuine marriage will become visible. Indeed, we need to model and live genuine marriage! Marriage has been declining for decades under our very noses and we need to step up to a biblical version of marriage and live it in front of our friends, family, and neighbors. You see, just because we don't agree to wed two men or two women doesn't mean what we've been doing is genuine marriage. Now that they're ripping out the definition, the meaning of genuine marriage should be much easier to illustrate by those who live it.

Second, we are sent as lights (Matt 5:14). Part of the "good works" we are to display to the world (Matt 5:16) is genuine, biblical marriage. This display of truth provides all sorts of clarification not found in many of the relationships currently classified as "marriage" simply by government assent. For instance, living a genuine marriage will better illustrate the connection of Christ and the Church. After all, that is one of God's primary purposes in marriage in the first place.

Third, the certain negative effects of redefined marriage will provide an increasingly sharp contrast with the positives of genuine marriage and its benefits. This, in turn, will more clearly illustrate the need for repentance. "We view ourselves as married, so why do we not have the same wonderful lives that that family does? What's the difference?" And the questions will provide clear opportunities for presenting God's perspective on marriage as a starter but more importantly on sin in general and on the Gospel in particular.

Fourth, this will give us an opportunity to demonstrate love that holds to God's Truth while offering the Gospel of repentance and salvation without ire or hate. It is my suspicion that many Christians -- genuine Christians -- have been fighting against the sin of homosexual behavior for so long that we've lost some of our compassion. Do we recognize how hard it is for those with same-sex desires to follow Christ? (Do we realize how hard it is for any of those with a besetting sin to follow Christ?) We're happily telling people to repent. In so doing we're following the example of Christ. But when Jesus did it He did it with compassion. We need that compassion for the lost without succumbing to acceptance of sin. They need love that we, through Christ, can give.

Finally, Jesus came to seek and to save lost sinners. In this action, our world is making itself more visibly and closely aligned with the tag, "lost sinners". In a culture where 70% of Americans like to classify themselves as Christians, this just makes it easier and easier to identify those who are not. That's a good thing. Debating the fine points of the Trinity or discussing the merits of Predestination is perfectly suitable among fellow Christians, but fairly pointless between believers and unbelievers. This should make it much clearer which is which. If nothing else, it will provide more clearly a common ground for discussion. For Christians to Christians, the common ground is Scripture. For Christians to unbelievers, the common ground is the need for repentance. Much clearer.

Clearly we do not live in a "Christian nation". A biblical view of marriage is not allowed in the courts. The statement, "God says", carries no weight in our legal system. Morality in our society is fluid, not static like it is in the Bible. And that means that what God considers good is not what our nation considers good. They'll vote on that. Oh, and sometimes that vote won't even count. Don't count on the courts or the Congress or the government or even the people to stand by God's perspective. That will be your job. It won't always be comfortable and it won't always be pleasant. But the sharper the contrast, the easier it is to see. And, based on God's choice to allow sin in the Garden, I have to conclude that it isn't all bad. "You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good" (Gen 50:20) still works here as well. Don't get mad. Get even ... by loving your neighbor ("for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you" (Prov 25:22)), by shining the light "so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt 5:16), and by sharing the Gospel and making disciples.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Making a Right

You've heard it. Your mom probably said it. "Two wrongs don't make a right." And you know it's true. Well, until now.

Now we're told that homosexual behavior -- which common morality, the nature of things, and the Bible all agreed was immoral -- and stripping away the definition that all of history and cultures have applied to the concept of "marriage" comprise two wrongs that make a right. You see, now the entire discussion on the subject of both homosexual behavior and marriage is predicated on the concept of "civil rights", not morality or accuracy. The Supreme Court has decided that marriage is not worth defending and that doing so violates the Bill of Rights, specifically, the Fifth Amendment. (Idly musing: How can we deprive someone of "property" they never had?)

We should have seen this coming. In the 20th century the concept of "homosexual behavior" was universally viewed as immoral, even in the age of the sexual revolution. It wasn't "normal". It wasn't "right". Even among its practitioners the language was "straight" and "queer". I mean, sexual relations between folks of opposite sex could proceed almost without restriction, but they were all still pretty sure that same-sex sexual relations were wrong. Trying to normalize those relations wasn't working very well, so the strategy changed.

Step 1: Argue that we're "born that way". This throws off the blanket of morality because obviously if you're "born that way", you can't help it and it must be good and moral. (Never mind that this is, first, patently illogical and, ultimately, a dangerous path to follow.)

Step 2: Having persuaded people without evidence or even argument that it is a birth condition, classify these people as a group, a "minority". (Seriously, look up "sexual minority" sometime.) Ah, see? Now you have a minority class of citizens who deserve, in a kind and benevolent society, the special protection of the government and the people. The underdog, you know? Whatever you do, do not bring up "sex" in this strategy. That's just too disturbing. Make it about a class of citizens who deserve their civil rights. People are just not very accepting of the mental picture of homosexual sex or the sexual norms of the homosexual community, so let's leave that out.

Step 3: With the proliferation of pornography as widely available and widely acceptable and the inculcation of society via the mainstream media with homosexual characters on popular movies and TV shows, now we can begin to eliminate the whole question of "that's nasty".

Step 4: Move religion out of the public arena. As in the "civil rights" concept, start with a legal approach ... you know, "separation of Church and State", that sort of nonsense. As the religious voices are moved farther out, portray them as farther "right" or, more importantly, farther "out there". Because, after all, we've moved them out there. Having shifted the societal view from moral to civil and warmed up the audience to the concept of "civil rights" rather than "what is right", we can now label dissenters as "homophobic", "haters", "anti-gay", that sort of thing. Epithets need not be accurate or even reasonable to be useful in casting a negative light on those who would retain that original question, "Is it right?"

Well, we're there, now. We're no longer asking "Is it right?" We largely affirm that the choice to engage in immoral behavior is morally good simply because of the unproven assumption that they're "born that way" and, therefore, have the "civil right" to choose immoral behavior and call it "good". Or, "It is morally acceptable, nay, commendable to pursue this sexual relationship based on the fact that I want to." The courts have decided that the second "wrong" -- radically redefining marriage to include something it never has for the purpose of eliminating the concept entirely -- is their right as well.

So ... what do you do when "rights" are wrong? And now that two wrongs do make a right -- a right to define marriage into oblivion based on one's own personal desires, to take something (marriage) from its original place and make it whatever you wish, a right to do as you please with the protection of the courts -- what else shall we rearrange in society? A recent car commercial said, "Progress isn't about where you've been, but where you're going." I don't think anyone is looking that direction, because our recent version of "progress" seems to be a rocket sled with a brick wall at the end. I hope you're prepared for radical paradigm shifts in a cultural worldview, because they're upon us now.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Problem of the Gay Christian

I'm sure you've heard the term "gay Christian". If not, you're probably not paying attention. It's not, as you might guess, a reference to Christians who are happy. What it is a reference to, however, is a bit confusing to me. Here are a few reasons why I say that.

First, the word preceding "Christian" is an adjective intended to describe the Christian in question. Inserting "gay" as a descriptive suggests that it is an apt descriptive. But how is it appropriate to describe a Christian by the sin from which he or she suffers? We don't reference "lustful Christian" or "proud Christian" or whatever other besetting sin as a descriptive of the Christian. Why "gay"?

Second, if the term is used as it is normally intended, it means, "I'm still fully indulging my lust -- homosexual or otherwise -- but I want you to classify me as a Christian." Again, try that with any other besetting sin. "I'm still fully indulging my appetite for murder, but I want you to classify me as a Christian." "I'm still happily and fully involved in adultery, but I want you to classify me as a Christian." Or, in easier terms, "I'm still happy with my sin, and I want you to endorse it by calling me a Christian." This is a contradiction in terms. Since "Christian" includes the prerequisite of "repentance" (which is a change of direction from sin), this concept makes no sense. And the Bible teaches that the one born of God cannot make a practice of sin (1 John 3:9). So the idea of a "gay Christian" meaning one happily engaging in what the Bible terms sin and asking for your approval is a contradiction in terms.

Of course, most who would call themselves "gay Christians" meaning "I'm still doing it but I want you to call me a Christian" mean "I don't really care that the Bible repeatedly and consistently calls the behavior an abomination, a sin, a block to heaven." And that should be its own obvious problem. "I want you to call me a Christian even though I don't really care what God's Word has to say about my sinful behavior."

Finally, it doesn't always mean that. There are those, however few, who classify themselves as "gay Christians" by which they mean that they're not practicing the behavior and they struggle against the sin. This is a good thing (struggling against sin). This classification simply suggests that "gay" is part of their DNA, part of their being, and they are working hard at not expressing that part. (For those who have heard of "DNA expression", I think you'll get that hint of humor.) I, of course, am not willing to admit that they're "born that way", so it doesn't quite work for me. But I'm not opposed to any Christian who says, "I struggle with sin and I'm a Christian." Still, the classification suggests that struggling against this sin is much more difficult than, say, the "lustful Christian" or "proud Christian" or whatever other besetting sin as a descriptive of a particular Christian. All Christians struggle against sin. The "gay Christian" who feels desires he/she knows he/she cannot fulfill or indulge and, so, fights against them is in the very same boat with the guy in the next pew or the girl in the Bible Study or the friend meeting over coffee and the Word or anyone else who is a genuine Christian and is fighting against personal sin. We all do. "Gay" is just one of them.

I don't understand that use of "gay Christian" for those happily indulging the sin while claiming to be Christian. To them I would offer the words of Christ: "Go and sin no more." Or, more importantly, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt 4:17). I would hope that genuine Christians would not describe their faith in terms of their primary failings. And I would like to remind all Christians -- those struggling against homosexual desires and those struggling against every other sin there is -- that we are all sinners, saved by grace, in need of repentance and exhortation and prayer and support. I know that some Christians tend to think that "gay" is the worst of them. It's not. I'm sure your own personal conflicts with sin are equally as loathsome. You know, "Take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (Matt 7:5). This doesn't mean that we bow and say, "You're right; please, indulge in all the sin you wish." It means we call sin sin and always seek to restore rather than break the bruised reed (Isa 42:3; Matt 12:20).

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Error of Reparative Therapy

As I indicated, Exodus, International, is closing shop. And, as I indicated, I'm not heartbroken over it. I think that love demands that we stand on what is right according to God's Word, but that making "more moral" people out of immoral people is not the aim of Christianity. But there is something there that I think needs to be mentioned.

The aim of the organization was "reparative therapy". Reparative or Conversion Therapy is an effort to convert those with homosexual desires into heterosexuals. They try a variety of methods which could include aversion therapy (where you inflict unpleasantness on someone when they indicate the wrong choice), psychological treatment, and "AA"-type efforts. As a minimum, they hope to make them celibate and be willing to put up with it, but hopefully they will be good heterosexuals. These efforts are often applauded by Christians because, after all, making people more moral is a good thing, right? Right?

The ultimate goal is to assist the poor homosexual sinner to become a heterosexual and get married because, as everyone knows, true fulfillment is found in marriage. Well, everyone except Jesus, I suppose. While Jesus wholeheartedly endorsed marriage, it should be noted that 1) He Himself never married (Does that suggest that He was never fulfilled?) and 2) He assured His disciples that "there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 19:12). Huh? Apparently true fulfillment is not manifestly found in marriage in all cases.

But there is, lurking behind all this, another error. Here's the thinking. "They have sexual desires for the same sex and they want to get married." Okay, that could be factual. "They would like to redefine marriage to include same-sex; we know that's not right." Okay, I'll go along with that, too. "So, if they are willing, we'd like to help them change their desires so that they can have desire for the opposite sex and get married." Did you see the error? No, I doubt that you did.

I doubt that you did because we are so immersed in modern thinking on the subject that we can't see it for the trees. We assume that marriage is right and good when it is the product of sexual desire. "Now, wait a minute!" some might object. I say "some" because I'm pretty sure that a lot would agree at the outset. Okay, not "sexual desire", but something other than love. "Now, wait a minute!" some might object (again). "It's all about love!" No, I don't think you believe that. Because we love our mothers and certainly don't want to marry them. We love lots of people and things we don't want to marry. So it's not simply about love. It's about something between sexual desire and love. Or, perhaps, a merger of the two.

And that is a mistake.

In days gone by it was a given that marriages were covenants arranged by parents. It was a biblical arrangement as well. And it is the marriage arranged by the Father for His Son. His Bride is referred to as "the chosen" because the Father "chose us in Him before the foundation of the world" (Eph 1:4). Now, if God considers arranged marriages as a good thing -- you know, good enough for the Son of God -- then it must be ... a good thing. And if, by definition, arranged marriages do not include the necessity of an initial merger of sexual desire and love, then I would suggest that a biblical point of view would not include that recipe as the prime component of marriage.

Paul commands husbands to love their wives. If love is merely lust, it isn't a reasonable command. If love is merely an emotion, it isn't a reasonable command. So, while I'm quite confident that the natural result of biblical love is that warm emotion we all recognize as love, I'm equally sure that God's version of love doesn't require either lust or affection to start out. That is, it doesn't take you feeling like it to obey the command to love.

And that would mean that the aim of reparative therapy was misguided. Trying to generate warm feelings of people sexually attracted to same sex toward people of the opposite sex is pointless for someone who is endeavoring to obey God in His Word. If it is true that "It is not good for man to be alone" (Gen 2:18) and if it is true that "Because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband" (1 Cor 7:2), then the gender for whom you lust is irrelevant in order to align yourself with God's perspective. Obedience is. Feelings follow. And to one who intends to "flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart" (2 Tim 2:22), personal lusts are irrelevant. A heart to follow God is what's needed. That, I think, is a serious problem with the "reparative therapy" concept. It is an attempt to change personal lusts. What is needed is a heart to pursue righteousness. And, fortunately, that's not just for those suffering from homosexual desires. That would include us all.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Going Out of Business

Exodus, International, an organization (at least originally) dedicated to helping homosexuals who have come to Christ and concur with the Bible that it is a sin wish to get free from that sin, is going out of business. They announced on June 19 that "the Board of Directors unanimously voted to close Exodus International and begin a separate ministry." Why? "For quite some time we've been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical," Alan Chambers, President of Exodus, said. "God is calling us to be the Father – to welcome everyone, to love unhindered."

I have several problems with this (shock of shocks, eh?). First, how does one conclude that the Father "welcomes everyone"? I specifically recall Jesus saying with boldness, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness" (Matt 7:23). Doesn't sound like an all-encompassing welcome to me. Instead, Jesus warned about "the sons of the kingdom" who would be cast into outer darkness for failing to believe (Matt 8:11-12).

And, of course, I have a problem with the claim that it is "neither honoring toward our fellow human beings nor biblical" to assist people to turn from their sin. Again, it was Jesus who told the woman caught in adultery, "Go and sin no more" (John 8:11). It was Jesus who preached repentance (Matt 4:17; Luke 13:1-9). And it was James who said that faith without works was dead faith, not saving faith (James 2:17). Paul said that it was important to expose the deeds of darkness (Eph 5:11) and to restore a brother caught in sin (Gal 6:1). He told Timothy to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction" (2 Tim 4:2). Trying to fit "be all-encompassing" and "neither honoring toward our fellow human beings nor biblical" into these biblical passages doesn't work very well.

Having said all this, I'm not at all sure about Exodus, International in the first place. The aim appeared to be to assist changing men with sexual desires for other men into men with sexual desires for women. Somehow that doesn't work for me at all, and in a number of ways. First, there is the suggestion that if we could just straighten out their lust (I used "straighten" as a pun, if you caught it), they'd be much better off. But Jesus didn't think that lusting after a woman was anything less than adultery (Matt 5:27-28). And Paul tells us that sexual sin is the first result of exchanging Creation for Creator (Rom 1:22-27). On that score, the first step is a surrender to "the lusts of their hearts" and the result of a continued surrender to lust is "degrading passions". So the remedy for "degrading passions" isn't a substitution of lusts, but a substitution of God for Creation as god. The Bible never offers "reparative therapy" instructions because it isn't in the plan. Instead, here's God's plan for fixing this problem: "Flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart" (2 Tim 2:22). "Yeah, yeah," we say, "we see that whole 'flee from youthful lusts' thing. Good. So we should work hard on fleeing, right?" No. We should pursue something else. We should be not be spending our time running from sin, but running toward righteousness, faith, love and peace. We should be pursuing these with others "who call on the Lord from a pure heart".

I'm not deeply disappointed that Exodus, International is closing its doors. An organization dedicated to changing homosexual desires to heterosexual desires seems to me to have missed the point. Further, an organization that classifies Jesus as "neither honoring toward our fellow human beings nor biblical" is probably not a good organization to encourage or support. I mean, if you're going to eject Scripture, on what basis then would you have anything to say on the subject? I do wish there was an organization that would dedicate itself to turning the hearts of men from the world and from lust and from self to Christ, but I think that one is called "the Church" and the President is none other than Christ Himself, so we'll have none of that "neither honoring toward our fellow human beings nor biblical" nonsense from Him. Nor will He go out of business.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Positive Sovereignty

I like the Sovereignty of God. For much of the time, I like it in a negative connotation. Here's how it works. Bad things happen -- things that are unpleasant. (Remember, God works all things for good, so nothing that happens to a believer is ultimately "bad".) So we face illness and injury, loss or pain, trials and tribulations. So, my child is ill or I lose my job or the doctor tells me I have cancer. Unpleasant. What do I do with it? Well, besides the emotional response, there is always this fact of the Sovereignty of God. Nothing happens that He does not allow. Nothing occurs that He doesn't plan for. He is never surprised and even works the evil that people do into His own good purposes. He works all things after the counsel of His will. So, when times are difficult, I have this solid place to stand that we call the Sovereignty of God. I like that. But it's a "negative", you see, because it's when things are not going as we would like that I find it most comforting.

What about the other way? Funny thing. When things are going as I would like, I'm not quite as good at appreciating God for His Sovereignty. We all, I think, tend to think when things are going well, "Thanks, God; I got it from here." Or something like it.

Solomon wrote, "The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps" (Prov 16:9). He wrote, "Many plans are in a man's heart, But the counsel of the LORD will stand" (Prov 19:21). As it turns out, even the good things that happen in life are ultimately a product of a Sovereign God. It's not like Satan produces the evil but we manage the good. Not at all. According to Scripture, we are required to "work out your salvation" (as if we're capable) precisely because "it is God who is at work in you to will and to do His good pleasure" (Phil 2:12-13). So we work, but not because we're so capable. We work because God is so capable. In fact, "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" (Eph 2:10). And do you recognize where that comes from? It's the verse immediately after the very clear statement that we are saved by grace through faith and not as a product of works, lest anyone should boast (Eph 2:8-9). That's right. We're not saved by works, but we're saved for works. And even those aren't ultimately our doing.

I like God's "negative" Sovereignty. It's comforting when times are hard to know that it's not out of God's control. No matter how dark it gets, He's always in charge and always doing what's best. That's a relief. It is equally good to appreciate God's "positive" Sovereignty. He is the One who, when things go right, has actually accomplished it. He's the One that enables and empowers us to do. He's the One that directs and guides. That job you just got or that sudden clean bill of health or that unexpected bonus check was not a product of your diligence, but God's Sovereign faithfulness. That's a wonderful thing.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Whatcha doin? Thinkin'

Just ... thinkin'.

A woman at work always says goodbye when I leave with the admonition to "Drive safe!" And I think, "Isn't it supposed to be 'Drive safely'?" Because the adverb form of "safe" would describe how she wants me to drive. And then I think, "But I suppose there is a way in which 'Drive safe' could be correct." You see, if "safely" describes the manner in which I conduct my driving, then "safe" could describe the conditions under which I drive. So if I am going to "drive safe" and there is a riot downtown, I wouldn't go that direction because it's not safe. And if there's a hail storm on my normal route, I'd want to go a different route because it's not safe. So that would be possibly correct. I wonder which she means?

You and a friend greet one another. "Hey, how are you doing?" You answer, "I'm doing good." Or is it "I'm doing well"? So I'm thinking that both of these can be correct, but they mean radically different things. The adverb "well" describes the quality of "doing". The adjective "good" describes the nature of what I'm doing. So if I'm doing "well", it would mean I'm healthy, happy, comfortable, in relatively good condition in life. If I'm doing "good", it would mean that the things that I'm doing are beneficial to family, friends, and society. I'm doing good things. Of course, if you suggest "I'm doing good", be prepared for the biblical answer: "There is none who does good; no, not one" (Rom 3:12). I suspect you're thinking you're doing well.

The other day I was fantasizing. I was walking through the florist section of the local supermarket and I imagined going to a florist's shop and ordering a bouquet ... for the florist. Think about it. We get benefit from buying flowers. They please our wives and our mothers. They say "thank you" to secretaries or friends. They're a nice thing. But does anyone ever think of saying thanks to a florist with flowers? I thought it would be fun. Especially to one I don't know. Just a gesture of good will, you know?

You see, these are the ways my brain works sometimes. My son listened to some of this one day and said, "Really? This is the kind of stuff you think about?" "Yeah, it is." "Wow! Not entirely sane, are you?" But there's method to my madness, you see. Someday, when I get old, someone will ask, "Does your dad suffer from dementia?" And my kids will have to say, "Who can tell?"

Whatcha doin? Thinkin'. Just ... thinkin'. Wink, wink.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Words Have Meaning

The other day, Alaskan GOP senator Lisa Murkowski's "evolving" view on redefining marriage finally came to a rest. "I am a life-long Republican because I believe in promoting freedom and limiting the reach of government. When government does act, I believe it should encourage family values. I support the right of all Americans to marry the person they love and choose because I believe doing so promotes both values." Family values, eh?

In 2000, Californians voted to approve Proposition 22. Now, the proposition had a lot of text which, clearly, only a lawyer well-versed in constitutional law could understand. In order to demonstrate how convoluted this proposition was, I'm going to put it here in its entirety:
Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.
Yep. That was it. Not complicated. And voters approved it.

In 2008, the upset minority who didn't like voters approving this finally got it through the California Supreme Court who threw it out. While clearly and repeatedly recognizing that marriage has always been defined as the union of a man and a woman, the court decided it was not in accordance with the state constitution. They ordered, instead, to redefine the term and begin allowing same-sex unions.

This lasted only until November, 2008. The answer to this problem, of course, was to make it part of the state constitution. So California voted in Proposition 8. Now these folks were clever. The wording of the proposition went like this:
Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.
Sound familiar? It should. The only difference between Prop 8 and Prop 22 was that Prop 8 added that text to the California constitution. There! Now you can't say it's unconstitutional because it's in the constitution.

Now, of course, it's before the Supreme Court of the United States. Because, you see, Californians do not have the right to have their own constitution. The courts decide what they can have. Sorry, folks. You can go about your business. Nothing to see here. And maybe you should simply ask the courts what you can vote on in the future. Losers.

Here's the interesting thing. I have never heard the media refer to either Prop 22 or Prop 8 (or DOMA, the origin of both) as defining marriage. They have always referred to it as outlawing "gay marriage". Now, wait a minute! I've put the text out there for you ... twice. If you will, please read them again. Can you point to anything in those texts that says, "It is illegal for a man to marry a man"? If you see it, you're seeing something that's not there. Unless you're willing to say, "That dirty rotten Prop 8 outlawed people marrying their dogs and cats", you're not being reasonable. It doesn't outlaw anything. It simply defines something -- marriage. "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized." That is, marriage between a man and his dog isn't recognized. Marriage between a woman and the Eiffel Tower is not recognized. Marriage between a woman and herself is not recognized. (These are not mythical examples.) We don't recognize them as "marriage". You can do them -- all you want. They're just not marriage. Marriage has a meaning. Marriage means x. Anything that is not x is not marriage. Does that exclude something? Well, yes -- anything that is not x. But that's the nature of definitions. Red is a certain color which fundamentally excludes blue or green or yellow. It's the nature of definitions.

I spoke to a woman the other day who lives with a man neither her husband nor the father of her children. I asked if his kids were there for Father's Day. They were. "Good," I said, "since that's what defines him as 'father'." "Oh, my children define him as father, too." And we have now seen an illustration of the decay of the definition of "family". No, there is no blood tie. No, there is no marital tie. But we're "family". So when the California Supreme Court struck down their Prop 22, they did it because of the intrinsic "right of an individual to establish a legally recognized family with the person of one's choice." And the Supreme Court, if it rules, will assure us that it is the right of an individual to marry whomever he or she wants, a patently foolish claim. (Seriously, does anyone actually support that position? Because, while that is the #1 thing I hear on the subject, I know of not one single person that actually believes it.)

Will this redefine marriage? Of course! And apparently "limited government". And love. And family values. And family. And monogamy. And fidelity. And parenthood. And ... oh, this list just goes on and on.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Still Crazy - A Blogiversary

I've been blogging now for 7 years. Hard to believe. My first entry was June 20, 2006. Since then I've logged more than 2600 entries. Doing the math, it's more than one a day. Over that time, I've examined a host of topics and foisted off a bunch of opinions. As it turns out, I've repeated myself ... a lot. So, after 7 years, where do I stand?

I believe in the Trinity. I believe it is the orthodox position. I don't believe that, once it has been presented in its full-orbed biblical position, it can be denied by genuine Christians. Obviously, then, I believe it to be both orthodox and very biblical. And to those who would argue that Constantine made this whole thing up and it never would have been, I would say that's not factual.

I believe in the Sovereignty of God. Not just the sovereignty, but the Sovereignty of God. Absolute. Uniquely so. Audaciously so. Biblically so. I believe that God allows human free will, but only in the lowercase sense. That is, He allows humans the freedom to make choices without coercion within the bounds of His Ultimate Will. (Note: I do not believe He always allows them to make choices without coercion. I suspect that neither do you.) I believe that God works all things after the counsel of His will because, well, that's what the Bible says. I understand that this version of the Sovereignty of God might put Him in jeopardy. "Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?" (Rom 9:19). But God doesn't seem to mind at all. For instance, He claims for Himself that He creates calamity (Isa 45:7). Paul's response to the objection is "Who are you, O Man, to answer back to God?" (Rom 9:20). I believe that God's Sovereignty extends even to human suffering (and spent a great deal of time explaining it). I believe that Scripture and its resultant orthodoxy demands it.

In these 7 years I've tackled some of the more difficult Scriptures. What does the Bible say about slavery? Probably not what you might have seen on the Internet. What does the Bible say about sex slaves? Not what the skeptic suggests. Are we supposed to shave (or not shave) our hair a particular way? I think not. And, seriously, did God actually command Israel to kill all those poor, innocent people? You'll have to read that one. I've taken on several of the hard sayings. I tried to offer some relief to worried parents who have been told to "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it" ... and they have departed from it. I questioned the meaning of "Avoid the appearance of evil." What did Jesus mean when He told us to "turn the other cheek"? I took on two popular ones with one about "Judge not" and the other on "God so loved the world". What did Jesus mean when He said these things? By far the most popular one I ever examined (the most popular by visits in all my posts) was the meaning of "Sell all your possessions." (Written back in October of 2006, there are comments there as recent as December of 2012.)

My view on other topics, of course, are even better documented. I am a fanatic on the topic of marriage. Not even talking about "same-sex marriage". (This might come as a shock to some, but they tell me I have 76 entries on marriage and only 53 on "same-sex marriage". Some might have thought otherwise.) I have addressed the arguments and morality of homosexuality including one "interesting" entry where I boldly declare "Homosexuality is NOT a Sin." (Yeah, you'd better read that one before jumping to too many conclusions.) All important topics. And, given all the writing, reading, study, and work, I haven't changed my position. I think that biblical marriage looks different than most people think it does, that "same-sex marriage" is a new definition without warrant, and that the Bible clearly holds homosexual behavior to be a sin. Anyone surprised?

There are quite a few entries on the topic of Reformed Theology. What is that? It begins with the Sovereignty of God, works its way through the sinfulness of Man, and ends up with the poorly named concept of "Calvinism" (a name I dislike). I had fun in St. John, the Calvinist tracing the principles of Reformed Theology just through the Gospel of John. I made the case for predestination, and then not 1, not 2, but 3 entries on predestination and 2 more on DOUBLE predestination. And that's only a few out of the 95 posts on the topic.

I certainly touched on the topic of politics ... probably too much. (I don't believe politics is the answer.) But there were just times that I felt like I had to say something.

Most of my writing is unclassified, however, so you'd have to meander through to find out what I said. For a long time The History of the Choir was my top entry. (Still can't figure out why.) I followed that with a 5-part series on God's instructions, "I will be regarded as holy", a topic on Worship. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Conclusion) And I followed that with a series on "The Heart of Worship" (What is Worship?, Obedience in Worship, The Worship Service, The Aim of Worship, Conclusion). Yes, I like worship. I even did a 26-part series on hymns. I discussed biblical manhood both for fathers and for husbands. I believe there is a biblical difference between the genders and it is to our detriment that we have tried to change that fact. I believe that wives (see here, here, here, and here, for examples) have different roles than husbands (see here, here, here, and here, for instance) and men have different roles than women in the church. I believe the Bible favors patriarchy over egalitarianism. You can imagine these have made me very popular, especially with the ladies. Or not. Oh, yes, I believe all sorts of unpopular things. And, of course, I am unwavering in my opposition to abortion even if I support capital punishment.

Above all, I believe that God is God and we are not. I believe that the Bible is the inspired ("God-breathed") Word of God, a light unto my path, a divine book providing direction and guidance, the sole authority in matters of faith and practice. That is, I really think highly of God, and I really think highly of His Word. These two primary points guide my conclusions and form my opinions. When I find my views contradict God and/or His Word, I am forced to change my opinion (as opposed to my view of God or His Word). Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Conversation with an Atheist

My grandfather died several years ago as a self-identified atheist. Despite years of "apologetics" and "evangelism" and prayer and all, he went to his grave kicking against the goads.

I remember sitting down with him once and asking him about it. We could always have good conversations. We could disagree without being hostile and, besides, he generally understood that I was asking questions for information, not for argument. So I asked him why he didn't believe there was a God.

"To me," he said, "it's like you telling me that my little dog here is white when I can plainly see she's brown." (I know. It's tough to take a grown man serious when he's holding an aging chihuahua on his lap.) "You tell me there's a God and I just can't see it."

"What would it take?" I asked him.

"That's easy," he replied and then offered the same argument I think I've heard from every atheist, agnostic, and skeptic who offered an answer. "If He would just appear in front of me, that's all it would take."

My response, of course, didn't help, but I had to make it anyway. "Yeah," I said with a smile, "He tried that before. It didn't work out too well then, either."

A lot of Christians believe that if we can accumulate sufficient evidence and provide the most coherent arguments and offer the best line of reasoning, we should be able to make more converts. Now, I'm one who believes that we are commanded to be "prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (and always "with gentleness and respect") (1 Peter 3:15), and we are "to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). Don't understand me to say that evidence, apologetics, and reason are out. But it wasn't me who said, "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31). It was the One who first demonstrated it by raising Lazarus from the dead only to have His detractors seek to kill him and Lazarus (John 11:53; 12:10). It was the One that demonstrated it the best by dying Himself and rising again. "If He would just appear in front of me, that's all it would take." One might think that's the case, but history says otherwise.

The atheist likes to tell you that he doesn't believe due to lack of evidence. The Bible tells a different story. The lack of belief is due to the inability to understand (1 Cor 2:14), the blindness (2 Cor 4:4), the suppression of truth (Rom 1:18), the hostility toward God (Rom 8:4). The problem is not being a member of His flock (John 10:26)[1]. There is a remedy for that. More evidence clearly isn't it since Christ did exactly what my grandfather demanded and continued to have His enemies hate Him. The remedy is in God's hands. Our job is just to be useful tools in His work. That's a good thing.

[1] Note that Jesus placed it in that order. He did not say, "You are not a part of my flock because you do not believe." He said, "You do not believe because you are not part of my flock." Let's not get that turned around.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Living Blind

According to the Bible, one of the prime impacts of sin on the human being is ... insanity. Okay, that's my word. Paul says that as people failed to honor or thank God, "they became futile in their thinking" (Rom 1:21). But, wait ... it gets worse. Believing themselves to be wise, "they became fools" (Rom 1:22) and exchanged the truth about God for the lie -- serving the creature over the Creator. The result was what we see around us every day -- "dishonorable passions" (Rom 1:26). And as an outcome of that, we end up with "a debased mind" (Rom 1:28). So I don't think my "insanity" term is too far off. The problem, in short, is that the spiritual condition of sin produces a mental condition of stupid. Or, more accurately, spiritual death produces mental death. And, as Paul also pointed out, "the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers" (2 Cor 4:4), requiring a time-consuming, long-term effort of transformation "by the renewal of your mind" (Rom 12:2). In short, sin is a spiritual problem that causes mental blindness (see, for instance, 1 Cor 2:14).

We see the results of this problem in daily living. Look, for instance, at the deep-seated results of television. This medium has the capacity to insert into our brains "reality" that isn't real. If truth is that which corresponds to reality, then television is full of lies. Yet, most moderns draw their "truth" from the television. It's not examined. It's not analyzed. It's absorbed. Blindly. So most of us here in the 21st century carry a worldview shaped by television, not reality. The point, however, is that most don't know it. They just ... believe it. This is living blind.

We see the results in pornography. While men (and women -- don't think it's just a male problem) allow their minds to be saturated more and more with more and more omnipresent sexual images, there are consequences that the blind mind misses. There are addictions. There are twisted perceptions of what sex and men and women and relationships are like. Studies show that pornography actually rewires the brain, removing the capacity for intimacy and producing pure self-interest in relationships and sex. "Oh, really?" some might object. So, ask yourself. Do you see sex as primarily intended for pleasure, or is there some other primary purpose with pleasure down the list? Thanks to porn, both the explicit via the Internet, magazines, women's romance novels and such and the implicit via the sexualization of television and movies, I think most of us now view sex as primarily intended for pleasure, with other things like "intimacy", "unity", or even "reproduction" coming way down the list. Indeed, it has so permeated our society that terms like "intimacy" and "intercourse", which used to have a broader use, are only understood now in sexual terms. If you were asked, "Did you have an 'intimate relationship' with that person?" you would assume you were being asked if it was a sexual relationship because that's where we've gotten to in our culture. Or, here, ask yourself this. If you and your spouse engaged in a sexual encounter that did not result in orgasm but certainly involved great closeness, was it a good thing, or was it a disappointment? Because, you see, thanks to our blind absorption of implicit and explicit pornography, we've become sexually stupid. And as we blindly absorb this new way of thinking, recent studies indicate that our moral compass changes. Relationships collapse because of false appetites. Infidelity becomes acceptable because of false perceptions of sex. What was considered immoral becomes "normal". Genuine intimacy decreases while promiscuity increases until the perception gets so inverted as to think that abstaining from sex is wrong, unhealthy, immoral, evil. And all the while it robs us of the sexual pleasure we seek. This is living blind.

We see the results in our online world today. A growing number of young people and older folk are turning to electronics as their biggest source of social interaction. They will text it and tweet it, post it on Facebook and show it on Instagram. They will find their circle of friends on an online game or an Internet chatroom. And they will tell you that they're being socially involved that way. To some degree, this is true. But consider more than "some degree". Consider, for instance, the time commitment of online social interaction. People are checking their email and texts and Facebook and Twitter and ... it doesn't seem to end. They have wired access and wireless access and smartphones and tablets so that there is a constant stream of "connection". How much time does that consume? Because this is a simple fact: When you are doing something, you are not doing something else. "Oh," they will tell me, "I'm multitasking." Are you aware that there is no such thing as genuine multitasking? The brain doesn't work that way. So you can spend 10% of your attention on this and 10% of your attention on that and 60% of your attention on this other and still have 20% left over, but in no case are you spending 100% of your attention on anything when you interweave your tasks. So some things are getting attention and some are not. Some things are getting your time and some are not. Then there is the reality that there is no real interaction. You don't get facial expressions, body language, that snicker that follows the remark that tells you it wasn't serious, a hug needed after a bad day, or any genuine connection. You get ... words. Not much more. Maybe a picture. Not real interaction. Indeed, you don't get any real action. We are told to "be imitators" both of Christ and of godly people. We are to be ambassadors and examples and lights in the dark where the Father is glorified by our good works, not our good words. We agree that it is good to care for people in need, but doing so on the Internet just doesn't happen. In fact, Jesus said people would know we are His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). The command is to love. John wrote, "Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18). I don't think I need to point out that social media cannot produce much more than "word or talk" and is incapable of producing "deed". That requires a physical person.

Does this mean that we should avoid television or pornography or the Internet? Well, pornography, yes. And in so far as television and movies and the Internet lead us into sin, yes. But I'm not suggesting either that we give up all television or social media or that I'm doing this perfectly. I'm suggesting that we don't live blindly. Remember, the problem of Natural Man is a spiritual condition that causes a mental condition. We need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We need to love God with all our minds (among other things). We need to think! Examine. "Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the LORD!" (Lam 3:40). "Test everything; hold fast what is good" (1 Thess 5:21). We need to "Abstain from every form of evil" (1 Thess 5:22). Beyond that, think it through. Maybe a little social media is helpful, but clearly a lot is not. Maybe there is a practical use for a television on occasion, but when social media and television become the reasons we don't have time for God, His Word, or His people, clearly there's a problem. I'm not asking you to give all that up (except, of course, sin). I'm asking you not to live blindly. Think!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Life Application Bible

I'm sure you've heard of this one. It comes in a variety of modes. The best known is likely the NIV version, but you can find a chronological one (in the New Living version), as an app for your iPhone, and even a 17-Volume software version for the Logos Bible Software system. Lots of them. Everywhere. Because, you see, applying Scripture to your life is crucial. Ask any of the current seminaries and Bible schools and they'll tell you that there's nothing more important than applying God's Word to your life.

"What, Stan, are you disagreeing? Do I detect sarcasm?" Well, no, not really. But, yes. No, I'm not being sarcastic. Recognizing how God's Word affects my life is important. I mean, when God commands "A", I'd better "A". But we don't really mean anything that simple, do we? In fact, we don't often find anything that simple in the Bible. Usually it's more like "Jesus said 'What God has joined together let no man separate', so we shouldn't leave our spouses ... except when there are really, really good reasons." Or something like that. More often than that we get something like "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Now what do we do with that? "Well, okay, so Christ is God; therefore, I should ...?"

I think we're operating off of some bad assumptions that are deeply ingrained and need to be examined.

In the Tom Hanks movie, Turner and Hooch, the Hanks character takes this massive junkyard dog around his neat house and tells him, "This is not your room." I think, perhaps, we need someone to take us through the pages of Scripture and understand, "This not your book." What do I mean? The Bible is not about us. The primary character in the pages of Scripture is Christ. He first appears on page one with "In the beginning, God ..." (Compare with John 1:3 if you doubt me.) He shows up in Genesis 3 as the seed of the woman (Gen 3:14-15), the answer to the problem of sin. He shows up as lamb to replace Isaac as the sacrifice (Gen 22:8), the Passover lamb (Exo 12:1-11), the scapegoat (Lev 16:8-10). He is the Promised Messiah, the Only Begotten of the Father, the Alpha and Omega. The Scriptures are His story. "This is not your book." Now, certainly humans play a role in the books of the Bible and certainly the Bible edifies us and directs us and informs us, but that's just not the point -- He is. And obviously a focus on Christ produces action (James 2:17-20). All true. But remember the point: Jesus.

The second deeply ingrained assumption we seem to hold is that actions are more important than thoughts. Look, what's more important? Is it more important to act correctly or more important to know the truth? It's the longstanding conflict between orthopraxy (right practice) and orthodoxy (right thinking). Today's seminaries and schools tell pastors that right practice far outweighs right thinking. Oh, sure, work on both, but never ever preach a sermon without an application. "This is what it says, so you should ..." Because doing is more important than knowing. But is that true?

Consider this. How much of the Bible is constructed of commands? They tell me that the Old Testament contains some 613 commands. That is, of the over 23,000 verses in the Old Testament, we find only 613 commands. The rest? Information. Instruction. History. Wisdom. Explanation. Prediction. Lots and lots of stuff besides commands. If "do" is more important than "know", why such a lopsided text? And the New Testament fares only slightly better. There are something on the order of 1050 New Testament commands in amongst the more than 7,900 verses. Perhaps a better ratio, but still not a balance if you're going to argue that "do" is more important than "know".

The other problem with preaching application or a "life application Bible" concept is that it is generic. As an obvious example, we are commanded (Old and New Testament) to "love your neighbor". So, what does that look like? I suspect that it will vary from person to person and circumstance to circumstance, and telling someone "You must then do x" would short circuit that variation of a common command. And that's just with commands. How a doctrine affects me will often be different from how it affects you. It's not the preacher or the printer's job to tell me how it should affect me. That's God's job, isn't it?

But if we admit that the Bible is God's Word, that it is focused singularly on Jesus Christ, and that this is the primary point of the Bible and not simply "doing", then what? Well, apparently the "thing" we're supposed to know above all else is Christ. That's the point. We need to "come to know God, or rather to be known by God" (Gal 4:6). It is a "both-and" concept. We need to know Christ and we need Christ to know us (compare Matt 7:23).

Ultimately, of course, it looks similar, and that is part of our problem. We are "predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom 8:29). This is partly accomplished by "the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom 12:2). It is a product of "by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5). And, indeed, "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10). But this is a product, the result of being justified in Christ, renewed in the Spirit. We work out our salvation not by our own hard work, but because "it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil 2:12-13). So what do I do with a John 1:1? I don't grapple for a tip on what I should do today. I bow before Christ, the primary point of Scripture, and say, "Now I know you a little better." Because the better we know Him, the more we reflect Him, and that is the point -- always Him.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day, 2013

I've written about my father on Father's Day, as it turns out, more than a few times. If you've ever wondered "Given what I see of Stan on this blog, what must his father be like?" you can find out in those places. What you cannot miss, however, is that God gave me a great dad. Really, among the best. And for that I'm grateful, deeply grateful. But it begs the question. What makes a great dad? What does the Bible tell us dads should be? So, not in any real order, this is what I find.

1. Teacher/Trainer.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4; see also Col 3:21).

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it (Prov 22:6).
Fathers are tasked by God with bringing up their children "in the discipline and instruction of the Lord". "No, no, you must be mistaken," some might counter. "Everyone knows that women make the best teachers of children." Well, apparently not everyone. Our culture has come to that, but it isn't biblical. More importantly, though, fathers aren't necessarily tasked with doing all the "discipline and instruction", but they are tasked with the responsibility of seeing that it is done and done right.

So, what are fathers supposed to teach their kids?
"Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD YOUR God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged" (Deut 6:1-2).

"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise" (Deut 6:4-7).
First and foremost, God expects fathers to teach their children ... about God. Fathers are supposed to teach their kids to fear God. Yes, reverence Him, but beyond that to fear Him. We are supposed to teach "the commandment, the statutes and the judgments" of God. Nor are we supposed to do this merely in a classroom atmosphere. Church is fine as an aid, but we are supposed to "teach them diligently". Teach them what? "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." (As opposed to the popular cries about "Don't poison your children with your religion. Let them figure it out for themselves.") How? Walking, talking, lying down, getting up every day in every way without fail or pause.

What else are we to teach? Fathers are supposed to teach their children to praise God.
One generation shall commend Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts (Psa 145:4).
Not just facts but a genuine love for God.

2. Disciplinarian

One of the primary teaching methods that the Bible expects from fathers is the dreaded "d-word" -- discipline.
Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death (Prov 19:18).

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Heb 12:7-11).
Did you get that? It isn't expected that godly fathers will be nice, easygoing, "can't-we-just-get-along" fathers. They are expected to administer "painful rather than pleasant" discipline "as it seemed best to them". We do our best. We don't withhold discipline. As a product of love, fathers are expected to be the disciplinarians in the home. This doesn't rule out mothers; it simply, again, places the overall responsibility on fathers.

3. Role model

The much more acceptable, but perhaps more difficult method of teaching that the Bible expects of fathers is the method of living it out.
The righteous man who walks in his integrity -- blessed are his children after him (Prov 20:7).
Fathers are not supposed to say, "Do as I say, not as I do", unless it is to say, "Learn from my mistakes." It's what Paul did: "Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us" (Phil 3:17). It's what Jesus did: "I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you" (John 13:15). We are to be imitators of God (Eph 5:1) and imitators of godly men (1 Thess 1:6; Heb 6:12).

And here's one place that all fathers should start as a role model:
I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling (1 Tim 2:8).
Pray about what? "I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim 2:1-2). You know, an easy starting point, since I'm pretty sure all of us fathers are already prayer warriors in this regard, right?

4. Provider

Okay, here's a tough one in today's culture. "Really, Stan? You're going to go with that old 'male role' concept?" Well, actually, no. I'm going to go with that old biblical concept.
If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim 5:8).

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him (Matt 7:9-11).
Scripture -- you know, God's Word -- anticipates that fathers will be the providers. To fail to provide for your own household makes one "worse than an unbeliever". Now, I understand that there are exceptions here. Obviously a disabled father, for instance, may actually be unable to "bring home the bacon". But, again, God places the responsibility of provision squarely on the back of the father. How he accomplishes this may vary. That he is expected to does not.

5. Not the momma

I had to throw this one in simply in defiance to modern feminism and egalitarianism. Men are not women. The commands to fathers are not generic, genderless commands; they are commands to fathers. God designed families with a mother and a father for a reason. Children need both. Girls need fathers and boys need fathers. So while mothers will nurture and care for their children -- absolutely necessary -- fathers have a different role. They are commissioned by God to provide the training, the discipline, the role model for a man (for both sons and daughters), the sustenance. Over and over the Bible uses the term "Father" in reference to God not because God sires children, but because the good human father is a prime illustration of our Heavenly Father. Even those who did not have a good father know what a good father looks like.

Fathers are on the decline these days. Modern society has taken its toll. They're told to "get in touch with your feminine side" because males are bad. Radical feminism has demeaned males. Hollywood has diminished them. The decay of marriage has undercut them. Even the church too often doesn't hold them to what God expects. But to those men who want to be what God commands, who want to imitate Christ, who want to follow the Master, this is a quick list of what a good father looks like from the Bible's point of view. And if you hold the Bible as God's Word, then it would be a good idea to consider this as a good definition of a good father. And, of course, Father's Day just seems like a good day to think it over.

Oh, and to my father, happy Father's Day. Thanks for illustrating these principles for me.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Right to Privacy

I will not be the most popular person in the country for this, but I'm going to express some thoughts all the same.

Let's see. What are some of the latest "rights-related" incidents in the news? Well, there are all sorts of events bubbling over (largely because of the healthcare bill) about freedom of religion. Does your religion forbid the use of abortifacients? Well, too bad! You have a company; you pay. That sort of thing. And, of course, the whole rise of gay rights and redefinition of marriage in various states carries similar backlash. You're free to hold your religious views; you're just not free to exercise them. Oh, and then there's the recent gun law hoopla. The president wanted something done and done now. Lots of people were up in arms (little joke there) about it on both sides. "We need to control guns!" "We need to have absolute freedom!" That sort of thing. And "America" (as if such a real person exists) was disappointed/elated that the changes didn't pass. And now there's this whole invasion-of-privacy thing going on. The government is listening. Your emails aren't private. The government accessed a variety of private entities for the sake of national security. Privacy has been violated and we're upset about it.

But, wait. The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution begins with, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Thus, the Bill of Rights to our Constitution assures us that we can not only hold our religious views, but exercise them freely. Any attempt by the government to rule against that is a violation of that document.

And the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Now, it can and will and certainly should be argued what constitutes infringement. This amendment doesn't say, "the right of the people to keep and bear arms of any caliber or capability ...", for instance. And the reason for the amendment is important -- "a well-regulated militia". What weaponry should the citizen-defenders of our country be allowed to bear? (I mean, if the government is threatening to hit American citizens with, say, Predator drones, wouldn't we potentially need anti-aircraft weaponry, just as a silly example?) Important questions. But the fundamental right is guaranteed and some voices would like to remove it.

And now we look at the whole privacy issue. You know, it's an odd thing, but when I search the Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution, and all the Amendments, I can't seem to find anything saying "the right of privacy". Odd, that, eh? I mean, we know that can't be true, right? The Supreme Court in 1973 largely legalized abortion on the basis of the woman's right to privacy. And the ruling by the court this last week on taking DNA question was an question of the right to privacy. We know we have a constitutional right to privacy, don't we? And, as it turns out, no such right exists in our Constitution or its amendments. You can get some sense of it in the Fourth Amendment when you read, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." That's ... close. But not explicit. And no one is saying that the NSA came into their persons or homes to get the data. And, look, how many times have you heard that Facebook and email and, oh, just about anything you might choose to do online is not private? While we understand that we have a right to privacy, we don't actually have said right listed anywhere.

So, why is it that our right to the free exercise of religion and our right to bear arms are not too seriously defended, but violating our right to privacy is an outrage? We already succumbed to many restrictions in the name of security and safety. Why would this one be outlandish? Note that I'm not suggesting it is right for the government to do this stuff. I'm just wondering about the disparity between our guaranteed rights versus our implied rights and the opposite responses to these two sorts of violations. If the right to the free exercise of religion is impinged, explicitly guaranteed in the Bill of rights, shouldn't that produce a stronger response than if our right to privacy is impinged, only potentially implied in the Bill of Rights? It seems like we're getting things turned upside down here. I'm just asking.

And, lest I leave this as a purely political question and nothing beyond constitutional rights to contemplate, remember that the Bible is not unclear on this particular point:
For a man's ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and He ponders all his paths (Prov 5:21).

The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good (Prov 15:3).
Worried about the government reading your emails? You have bigger concerns than that, because God recognizes no right to privacy and all your ways are in His sight. Fear the NSA? Perhaps. But you'd do well to fear God first.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Missing the Truth

One of the most startling biblical stories to me is the story of the escape of Israel from slavery in Egypt.

You remember that one. It has been done even in the movies. (Who can picture Moses today without imagining Charlton Heston?) Moses kills an Egyptian in defense of a kinsman and ends up on the run in the desert for 40 years. There he encounters ... God. The burning bush that didn't burn sends him back to Pharaoh to tell him to "Let My people go." And Pharaoh -- shock of shocks -- says, "No." What follows is a display of power never before or after equalled.

Moses and Aaron visit Pharaoh and demand he allow Israel to go into the desert to make sacrifices. He refuses and they turn water into blood. The Bible lists this so matter-of-factly, like, "Yeah, sure, I did that just the other day." And it's almost that way, since Pharaoh's magicians duplicate it. Pharaoh denies their petition. No go. So Moses brings up frogs. And so do the magicians. But there's a little catch. They can't get rid of them. So to show that Jehovah is God, Moses does. Pharaoh relents, then changes his mind. So Moses turns sand into lice. And the magicians of Pharaoh are out of their league. Interestingly, the text indicates that all this bad stuff is happening to the Egyptians but not to the Israelites. They just get to see it without suffering from it. But this "relent-and-repent" sequence continues. It continues through swarms of flies, diseases, and boils. Moses calls down hail so heavy that it kills every man and animal caught out in it. Then came locusts that ate whatever produce the hail missed. Then came three days of absolute darkness, "a darkness to be felt" (Exo 10:21), a palpable darkness. Really, really scary stuff. All of this, however, fails to ultimately make Pharaoh let them go (which, by the way, God attributes to Himself -- see Exo 11:10; Rom 9:17). So we get the final blow, the very Angel of Death. No TV movie, this. This is the real thing. Israel celebrates their first "Passover" because by obeying God and slaying a lamb with marks on the four posts of their doors, the Angel of Death passes over them and kills "all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock" (Exo 12:29). Every single one.

Now, enriched by the Egyptians, they run to the Red Sea. God again hardens Pharaoh's heart and he pursues them. Protected by God overnight, they wait while the Red Sea opens and they cross on dry land. When Pharaoh and his army try to follow, the sea closes and drowns them all. And the text reads, "Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in His servant Moses" (Exo 14:31). That's right. Chapter 15 is the Song of Moses rejoicing in God's marvelous work. And then we get to Chapter 16. "They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness (Exo 16:1-2).

Now, wait a minute! Consider the evidence before you. We have ten, count 'em, ten, unexplainable events, clear acts of God. They are directed, hitting Egyptians without harming Israelis. They are intense, ending up in the deaths of every firstborn in the land. They are miraculous, unavoidable signs of God at work. Follow these with a splitting of the sea, a crossing on dry land, and the complete annihilation of Pharaoh and his army before their very eyes, and you have a pretty powerful case for theism. So, they walk a little way across the desert, settle in for the evening, and complain. Complain! Complain?

You would think that those who saw the mighty and miraculous hand of God at work in clear view wouldn't soon forget. You would think that this kind of direct contact with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (you know, the man later named Israel) would have a profound effect on your worldview. You would think that there would be an indisoluble sense of "If God is for us, who can be against us?" beyond anything anyone else has ever experienced. Not these recently and miraculously freed slaves. They ... forgot.

Of course, there is nothing really remarkable about these people. We do the same thing. All the time. God gives us employment and we worry when our job is threatened as if God is no longer paying attention. God gives us a family and we worry when there are problems in that family as if God can only do it once and "Sorry, guys, now you're on your own." We enjoy God's hand on our health and then assume He has withdrawn it when we have a medical scare. We are ungrateful and forgetful people.

Don't be that guy. Don't be the ones that Paul talks about when he writes, "For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things" (Rom 1:21-23). Notice these are those who knew God, not ignorant ones. Note that the primary error was/is not honoring God or giving thanks to Him. Notice that their primary response to their primary error is substituting, in the place of God, the Creation. You know, like we do so very frequently. Don't be that guy.

My recommendation? Honor God and give thanks to Him. Just a suggestion.