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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Scribes and Pharisees

The Jesus we all know and love is a kind, gentle Jesus who accepts the poor and the wicked and is kind to everyone. He isn't mean or loud or far too pointed. He's just ... nice. This, of course, is in stark contrast to the biblical Jesus. You know, the one in the Temple with whips overturning tables and chasing people out. Or the one in the public square talking about the Pharisees -- the local, highly respected religious leaders. Indeed, Jesus's harshest words were reserved for this group of people.

We've come to equate the term "pharisee" with a certain type of person. Typically when we think of a Pharisee, we think of a self-righteous hypocrite. Fine. But what does the Bible say about them? Well, Jesus said that they set a high standard of righteousness, that they searched the Scriptures, that they were very intent on observing the Law. Indeed, Jesus told the people to listen to what they said (Matt 23:3). Not all bad. So what was the primary negatives of the Pharisees? That is, what would a modern Pharisee look like?

Jesus's most descriptive remarks about the Pharisees are found in Matthew 23. Go ahead and turn to that chapter because it's chock full of what He thought of them. We know they were highly religious, publicly religious, the pious. What did Jesus think of them?

They were indeed hypocrites ... of the worst order. They preached right but didn't do right (Matt 23:3). They required more godliness of others than they were willing to bear (Matt 23:4). They were publicly religious in order to gain public approval (Matt 23:5-7). While claiming to point people to God, they slammed the door to the kingdom in their faces (Matt 23:13). They went to great lengths to make converts only to make them worse than they were (Matt 23:15). They held to human standards ("the gold of the temple") rather than God's standards (Matt 23:16-22). They were diligent in the small matters while missing what was important (Matt 23:23). They appeared clean from the outside but were dead on the inside (Matt 23:26-28). They abhorred the errors of their fathers while they multiplied their errors (Matt 23:29-35). About these, Jesus did not have kind words.

What would a modern Pharisee look like? Certainly self-righteous -- a righteousness built on self -- and certainly a hypocrite -- one who claims to be more godly than he is, who claims to not be guilty of the very sin in which he indulges. But so much more. He (or she) would appear to have a "higher standard" which he doesn't meet, like accusing others of being judgmental and being more judgmental in the accusation. He would call on others to be "more godly" and not bear that same burden. You know, "You need to give more to the poor!" without giving a penny more ... that sort of thing. He would proclaim peace with God, but when the genuine truth appears, he would deny it. "Sure, that's your interpretation, but there are lots of interpretations." He would work at "converting" people to his own viewpoint and, when he succeeded, they would only take his position farther than he intended. But that will be okay. That will be "progress". He will tend to sound spiritual, but his values will be worldly. "Yes, I follow Scripture ... as far as human reason and personal experience will allow. I mean, it's inspired, to be sure, but not God-breathed in any real sense, you know." He will focus on the "important" things like feeding the poor, helping the sick, caring for the needy -- certainly all good things -- but miss entirely the real important things like the Gospel, the need for repentance, that sort of thing. The standard here will be the world's standard, not God's standard. The modern Pharisee will have all the appearances of godliness -- nice and smiling, likely holding a Bible, preaching being kind and helping, that sort of thing -- all the while reflecting an internally dead spirit and opposing anything that reflects a truly godly life. Today's Pharisee will not be content with the errors of his forefathers; he will proceed to new ones in the name of progress and godliness and forward thinking.

Jesus loved sinners. He loved them enough to tell them the truth. "Repent and believe." But He didn't have kind words for the Pharisees. Indeed, in the Hebrew mind "woe" is not merely a "bad thing"; it is a curse. And Jesus said it about them repeatedly. The Pharisees had much to commend them, and that may be why they had so much culpability. And this group is not gone. They still thrive. They are self-righteous, hypocritical, appearing spiritual while being dead inside, and pushing others to be just as bad or worse. The worst thing, of course, is that they don't see it. To this day they don't see the real Jesus (Matt 23:39). And the best we can do is recognize them, pray for them, and, like Christ, call on them to repent. Just don't become one. The easiest way to avoid that? Recognize that righteousness is not accomplished by being good, and recognize that you are never as good as you might think. Oh, wait ... that's kind of two sides of the same coin, isn't it?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Shooting the Messenger

We are commanded by Christ Himself (who possesses all authority) to preach the Gospel, to make disciples, to take the Good News, to tell those around us all about it, and to lead others to full obedience. We routinely refer to this as "the Great Commission". And, as expected, we are not often very keen about doing it.

Why? Well, there are a few reasons, I suppose. There is the natural fear of telling people things they won't likely want to hear. There is the promised fact that the audience to whom we are bringing this "good news" is hostile to the One who has sent us to bring this message (Rom 8:7) and hostile to the message itself (1 Cor 1:18). That can be daunting. Of course, there is the fact that too often we miss the importance of the message. While we seek to protect our "good name", we threaten to send people to Hell because we miss the fact that they're going to Hell without the Gospel. An oversight on our part.

So, we try to be more faithful to this Great Commission given by our Savior. We want to do what He says and we want to help others and it is an important task and an important message. And then we run afoul of "believers". "Oh, no," they tell us, "you shouldn't be telling people to repent. That's not kind. You shouldn't be calling people 'sinners'. That's judgmental. Do you have any idea how crazy you sound when you preach that 'Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand' stuff? No, no, that is not what you ought to be doing. In fact, you are doing harm to the Gospel by doing that." And we find that unbelievers and believers alike are opposed to what we believe to be mere obedience to Christ.

Given that we are not called to listen to unbelievers and we are not even called to listen to believers on the subject, what can we learn from God's Word on preaching the Gospel? What can we learn about method, language, or message? Sure, unbelievers won't like it, but what does God instruct?

First, and what would seem most obvious, we have the example of Christ. It is, after all, His Gospel we are preaching (Gal 1:6-7). How did He preach it? Well, apparently He didn't do it quietly. Wherever He went He preached "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt 4:17).

"Now, Jesus," I can hear those well-meaning believers say, "do you have any idea how crazy you sound? That's mean. That's judgmental. That's not even practical. I mean, exactly what 'kingdom of heaven' do you mean? And what's all this about 'repent'? Isn't that too pushy, too insensitive, too backward-thinking?"

To which He would apparently reply, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15).

"Look, maybe we can tolerate this 'repent' stuff," they might respond, "but do you have to be so up front, 'in your face' about it? Can't you be more caring, more tender, more cautious, less offensive?"

To which He just might respond, "No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3).

"Okay, look," they might counter, "go ahead and keep the whole 'repent' thing if you must. We think it's outdated, unnecessary, judgmental, and, frankly, makes you look like a loon, but let's just not worry about the whole 'sin' thing, okay? A generic 'repent' may be okay, but let's not address sins. That will just be a turn-off to your audience."

And Jesus would go ahead and explain publicly and loudly that lust is adultery (Matt 5:27-28), hate is murder (Matt 5:21-22), and order "from now on sin no more" (John 8:11).

Jesus isn't the only example we have. Peter's message was so offensive that they put him in prison. Paul's message was so offensive that they stoned him and left him for dead. Jesus died for His message and most of His disciples did, too. It would seem, in fact, that biblically the example we're left is that the message will often not be well received and it is not uncommon for them to shoot the messenger.

Given the nature of the mission field, it would seem that the message will not be well received. Given the stakes -- eternity -- it would seem that the message is important. Given the certainty that there is only one Gospel and all others are "not Gospel" (Gal 1:6-9) and the fact that we are not seeking the approval of men (Gal 1:10), perhaps we ought not modify the message in favor of perception. To do so would be in opposition to Christ, the One we claim to follow.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Taking Offense

Recently some people I know found themselves embroiled in a family conflict. Their aging father wasn't acting wisely in his financial dealings with their youngest sister. (Of course, by "youngest" I mean "mid-40's".) They were concerned that he was being too easy on her and she was taking advantage of him. (There may have been other questions, like "What if his generosity to her ends up making us have to take care of him later?" or "What if he dies and she ends up getting more inheritance than we do?", but I'm hoping those were too obscure and too low for genuine consideration.) I warned the one to whom I am most closely connected not to get too heavily involved. She wasn't sure I was right.

The concept, I was taught, is called "taking up an offense". Here's how it works. You are not wronged, but someone else is and you are upset by it. You want to protect or defend them and you're angry, hurt, or otherwise disturbed by it all. (Think of all the demonstrations and riots over the Zimmerman/Martin thing and you'll get the sense of it.) The offender now has an unknown offense on the books, so to speak, because you are not the one actually offended, but you have taken up an offense on the behalf of another. I'm not talking about when you yourself have been offended. That happens. And the Bible has things to say about it (like "forgive" and "blessed are the peacemakers" and "turn the other cheek" and "don't let the sun go down on your wrath" -- that sort of thing). I'm talking about getting bent out of shape because someone has offended someone else, and you are upset about it.

This is not a wise thing to do. It puts you in an unresolvable position. The offender can't apologize to you because the offender didn't do anything to you and likely doesn't know you're offended. You can't "settle up" because you weren't wronged. The offense becomes a stumblingblock in your relationship with the offender and there's nothing that you can do about it because it wasn't your offense. Indeed, if you do contend with this offender, you do so against Scripture (Prov 3:30). Solomon wrote, "Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears" (Prov 26:17). It's just not a wise thing to do.

What are we told to do? We are to "bear one another's burdens" (Gal 6:2). We are to be peacemakers. I'm not suggesting we aren't to care or to minister or maybe even to intervene. But taking up an offense that is not yours is foolishness. Now, bearing one another's burdens, making peace, calling on people to repent, that sort of thing ... these are biblical. But you would do well to avoid taking offenses that aren't yours to take. You will have genuine cause for offense enough in this life without taking more than you're actually given.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sing for Joy

1 Sing for joy in the LORD, O you righteous ones;
Praise is becoming to the upright.
2 Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre;
Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.
3 Sing to Him a new song;
Play skillfully with a shout of joy.
4 For the word of the LORD is upright,
And all His work is done in faithfulness.
5 He loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of the lovingkindness of the LORD.
6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
And by the breath of His mouth all their host.
7 He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap;
He lays up the deeps in storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the LORD;
Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.
9 For He spoke, and it was done;
He commanded, and it stood fast.
10 The LORD nullifies the counsel of the nations;
He frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11 The counsel of the LORD stands forever,
The plans of His heart from generation to generation.
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance.
13 The LORD looks from heaven;
He sees all the sons of men;
14 From His dwelling place He looks out
On all the inhabitants of the earth,
15 He who fashions the hearts of them all,
He who understands all their works.
16 The king is not saved by a mighty army;
A warrior is not delivered by great strength.
17 A horse is a false hope for victory;
Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.
18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope for His lovingkindness,
19 To deliver their soul from death
And to keep them alive in famine.
20 Our soul waits for the LORD;
He is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart rejoices in Him,
Because we trust in His holy name.
22 Let Your lovingkindness, O LORD, be upon us,
According as we have hoped in You (Psa 33).
Nothing like a good psalm to get the worship started, eh?

Great lines in this one. Lines like "Praise is becoming to the upright." Ever think of it that way? Or "All His work is done in faithfulness." Ever feel like it's not? You have, I'm sure, and you were mistaken. I like "The LORD nullifies the counsel of the nations" in these times when our nation is making some pretty foolish counsel. And I am particularly pleased with "The eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness."

I noticed something in all that wonderful stuff on praising God. A lot of voices, mine included, are concerned about the growing sense in too many churches of a "performance and concert" atmosphere for what they call "worship". The seeming retort, however, is "So, I suppose you don't want professional musicians doing worship?" But the psalm says this: "Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy." Worship is aimed at God. It is undoubtedly an error when we make it about the really cool praise band and how talented they are. On the other hand, worship is aimed at God, and giving Him other than our very best is just plain wrong. So, sing to Him a new song, and when you do, do it skillfully. Give it your best. He deserves nothing less.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

System vs Task

I work in the field of engineering. Mostly electronics. (Actually, a lot more complicated than that, but no matter.) I've worked in this field for quite awhile. And in all the places I've worked in this field, I've been interested to note the two kinds of engineers you'll find. First, there are the system-type, and then there are the task-type. Okay, my terms. So I'll need to explain.

The task-oriented engineer is by far the most common. This one is given a task and focuses his or her effort on completing that task. He is told, "Make a widget" and he will put his nose to the grindstone (so to speak) figuring out the best way to make this widget. This, in fact, is what makes an engineer different than, say, a secretary. A secretary is told "Handle everything" and he/she will be juggling all sorts of tasks, issues, problems, and such. But an engineer is focused. Paperwork, parts availability, sometimes even whether or not the science even exists are all side issues. There is a singular focus to accomplish the task without interference or interruption from other considerations. That is the task-oriented engineer.

The system-oriented engineer is a different sort of animal and, as such, not quite as common. I suspect the systems engineer is powered less by the goal and more by innate curiosity. This engineer will get the same task -- "Make a widget" -- but this one won't settle for the best way to design and build such a device. Instead, he/she will ask, "Now, how is this thing going to be used? How does it fit in with other things? What kind of language will it need to speak or what kind of skills will it need to have?" And on it goes. This engineer will consider the entire system in which the device is supposed to live and then go from there.

The task engineer will (typically) provide a very good product. It will do all that the widget is supposed to do. Will it work in the environment in which it is supposed to work? That all depends on how well the widget was specified. The system engineer, on the other hand, will produce a widget that will certainly work within the environment in which it needs to operate. This may mean that it isn't as clever as the task engineer's device, but it does mean that it works. That is, at the end of the day, the task engineer's widget may need to be modified to fit into the system. Or the system may need to be modified to fit the widget. "There, see?" the task engineer will say, "It works great on 18 volts." "But ... we don't have 18 volts in our system." "Well, you're going to have to get it."

It occurs to me that people who study the Bible are much the same. There are "task-oriented readers" who focus on the verse at hand, and there are "system-oriented readers" that examine the whole thing. A "task reader" (TR, for short) will, for instance, read 2 Peter 3:9b which says, "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." There it is, in plain English. The Lord is not willing that any should perish. But ... the "system reader" (SR, for short) will say, "But ... many do perish." You see, that's not found in this text. You have to look elsewhere. And now there's a problem you need to figure out. A TR will read, "Judge not that you be not judged" and say, "See? You are not to judge anyone else." An SR will say, "But ... the rest of the text talks about right ways to judge!" And now there's a problem you need to figure out.

In the case of the two engineers, the problem is solved by modifying the system or the task. In the case of Scripture, you can do neither. It would seem, then, that the best option is to read texts ("task") with a view to all of Scripture ("system") to be sure the two of them are in line. If not, you'll need to adjust your understanding.

Scripture is a system. It is the Word of God -- all of it. As such, it works together. All of its parts work together. Paying close attention to a piece can be helpful, but always keep a "system view" to be sure that you're not failing to properly understand the piece. All the pieces fit together. Be sure you're not comprehending some pieces in a "task view" that don't fit in a "system view". Works better that way.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Vocational Training

Everyone knows that smart, successful people get an education, a college degree, and move on to the "honorable" professions and the ... less smart and successful people don't. If you can't afford a degree or can't tolerate college, you're stuck with the curse of vocational training of some sort. Too bad for you. If you want to get by in this world -- if you want to succeed -- you need a college education. Then you can have a career and not merely a vocation.

This, of course, is nonsense. It is a failure to comprehend "get by in this world" or "succeed". Worse, it misses a very important concept.

The dictionary says "vocation" refers to "a particular occupation, business, or profession." And then it adds "calling." What? Dig into the root of the word and you'll find that this indeed is the concept. It comes letter by letter from Latin's "vocation" meaning "a calling or summons". Now, that puts a different twist on it, doesn't it? I mean, how many of us view our occupation, business, or profession as a calling?

Perhaps you've heard of the Puritans. Yeah, those folk that came over and founded our country. And maybe you've heard of the Puritan work ethic. Maybe. We've pretty much covered that one up these days. In our culture we've fully embraced offensive four-letter words and rejected helpful ones like "work". That's a necessary evil ... at best. But the Puritan work ethic viewed work precisely from the notion of a calling rather than a job.

You see, they rejected the "separation of Church and State" or, to be more accurate, the separation of the sacred and the secular. In today's world you can be religious on Sundays but please don't take your religion into the public square with you. In their view, all things were sacred. Even their jobs. So they emphasized hard work, integrity, responsibility, and reliability as a sacred duty to God, not as a means to pay the bills. They believed that the work we were given was work that was given. They had this silly notion that "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10). They believed that their work was their calling, and their calling was their ministry. So the shoemaker made shoes as a ministry of God to the people around him and the blacksmith made shoes for horses as a ministry of God to the people around him and ... well, you get the idea. Work was not a nasty word, a necessary evil, a simple means to pay for the good stuff. It was the good stuff -- God's divine calling.

Imagine if you had that view in life. Imagine if your perception of the work you do -- whatever the work that you do is -- was not merely a job or a vocation or even "a career". It was a calling of God, your ministry. It was the arena you have in which to do the good works that cause people to glorify your Father in heaven. It was the consistent place you had to serve God and minister to people. And you don't have to be a pastor! Would that change how you view your work? Would it change how you view your responsibilities at work? Would it change how you do your work? What kind of an attitude shift would this perspective bring about in your everyday vocation? Since everything we do is supposed to be done to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31), it might be worth considering.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Faithful Friends

I wonder how many of you know that this phrase is in the Bible:
Profuse are the kisses of an enemy (Prov 27:6).
Doesn't that jar you? "Wait! 'Kisses' we know, but kisses of an enemy? What's that all about?" (I know. The King James says they're "deceitful", but the Hebrew word used there means "abundant", not "deceitful", so I've opted for this translation instead.) Well, fortunately, the text is half of a verse. The first half makes the second half clearer.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy (Prov 27:6).
Oh, now, see? Much clearer. Here we have two seeming contradictions: the "wounds of a friend" which would not make much sense on its own, and "the kisses of an enemy". As we all know, friends don't wound and enemies don't kiss. And, as we all know, we'd be wrong on both counts.

How do enemies kiss you? Well, there are biblical examples that might help. After the death of Absalom, David wasn't happy with the commander of his army, Joab. He was going to replace him with Amasa. But Joab encountered Amasa on the road. He greeted him with "Is it well with you, my brother?" and kissed him. And then he stabbed him to death (2 Sam 20:9-10). The treachery of a kiss. And, of course, that should bring to mind one of the most famous treacherous kisses of all time. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the betrayal of Judas when he brought the soldiers into the garden and identified the one they were to arrest by kissing Him. So, as it turns out, profuse kisses from an enemy isn't hard to understand. We get it.

So ... what are "the wounds of a friend"? David wrote, "Let a righteous man strike me -- it is a kindness; let him rebuke me -- it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it" (Psa 141:5). That's the idea. When a friend takes you to task for your errors -- for your sin.

There are, included in this thought, three key factors.

First, it must be "a friend". "Faithful are the wounds of a stranger" is not the phrase. Nor does "enemy", "opponent", or even "loud-mouthed Internet protester" fit. (Sorry, an attempt at humor.) The wounds that are "faithful" must be from a bona fide friend.

Second, it must be true. If these wounds are to be faithful, they must first be faithful to reality. Since "Truth" is defined as that which corresponds to reality, these wounds must be based on truth. Reproving a friend for, say, interracial marriage would be a false reproof and would, therefore, not be a faithful wound of a friend.

Finally -- and this should go without saying, but it still seems to be said -- it will hurt. "Friends telling you the truth" doesn't always correlate to "wounds". It's a good thing to have friends who tell you the truth. That's all well and good. And, sticking with the parallel of the verse, we're all aware that enemies will hurt you. Again, we're clear on that. But this text is not speaking about that. It's speaking about pain caused by a friend who is telling you the truth.

What, then, can we conclude? Well, first, beware the kiss of the enemy. Just because someone is "kissing up to you" doesn't mean they're intending your good. The willingness and ability of an enemy to appear warm and friendly in order to stab you isn't rare or unusual; it is "profuse". Beware of "friends" who are enemies but appear friendly. And watch out for those who call themselves friends but won't tell you the hard truth when necessary. Second, friends, if they are your genuine friends, can and will wound you. They will do it with truth. And it will be good for you. Remember this the next time a friend hits you with a call for repentance that you don't like but recognize as true. Because those kinds of wounds are good for you -- "faithful". And those kinds of friends -- the ones who seek your best by being honest enough with you to tell you the truth when it will surely hurt you to do so -- are faithful friends. The good kind to have. Starting with Jesus, the truest of faithful friends.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

I just finished re-reading C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Fun read. An idea in that book struck me.

When the children first learn that the great lion, Aslan, is coming (Aslan, the lion who is a lamb, the son of the Emperor who lays his life down for the lost and then rises again, victorious ... you know, that Aslan.), one asks (among other things), "Is he quite safe?"
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver; "don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn’t safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
Later, after all is done, as everyone is celebrating, Aslan slips away and no one tries to follow him. That's because they remember that they were told not to press him. He was "not like a tame lion."

This, of course, is fiction from the mind of C. S. Lewis, not Scripture. It was Lewis's notion of a parallel image of Christ. Still, I wonder if any of us see Christ that way? We like to see Him as much ... friendlier. We like to think of Him as our "Buddy in the Sky" or our comfort or our protector or a host of other (if not necessarily inaccurate) warm, fuzzy things, but not unsafe or wild.

In that book, Lewis presents an image of Christ that he says is both terrifying and wonderful at the same time. As it turns out, this is exactly the image we see in Scripture. When, for instance, the Bible (repeatedly) refers to "the fear of the Lord" and the like, it doesn't use terms of simple "reverential awe" as so many suggest. These terms are in reference to genuine fear -- even terror. According to Solomon, this recognition of the terror of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7), and the psalmist assured us that this "fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psa 111:10). On the other hand, one of Paul's primary accusations against Man in general is "There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Rom 3:18). In biblical history, the single response from everyone that ever encountered God firsthand was not "reverential awe", but genuine terror. Jacob woke up from a sleeping encounter with God and was afraid (Gen 28:10-17). Isaiah was sure he was cursed by God (Isa 6:1-5). The disciples were scared of the storm, but terrified when Jesus stilled it (Mark 4:37-41). The same Christ that healed the sick and fed the hungry is the One returning to the Battle of Armaggedon and the Final Judgment.

We don't like to think of Christ that way. We like the friendly Jesus. We much prefer the laughing Jesus. We like the warm and cuddly Jesus. What we don't seem to grasp is that He is good, but He is not safe. We don't seem to grasp that He is both wonderful and terrifying at the same time. And when we miss this reality, we miss the real Jesus.

Don't miss the real Jesus.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Bible on School

In America, school is mandatory. In almost every state in the Union a child between the ages of 7 and 16 must go to school. It's called "Compulsory Education". Now, how that education is received can vary. You can go to free public school or you can pay for a private school or you might even be able to homeschool, but, in this country, monitored and documented education is mandatory.

Given that it is law, it begs the question. What does the Bible say about school? The answer to that question is easy and comprehensive: nothing. There is no reference in the Bible to the need to send your kids to school, let alone their college education or the necessity of the State to provide it. Not one word.

What is in the Bible about education? The word "school" appears one time (Acts 19:9). (Interestingly, but not too telling, the Greek word is "schole" and means most literally "loitering". Hmmm, now doesn't that describe a lot of public schools?) I can't get too excited about that one because the ESV translates it "hall". Not at all the definition of "school". On the other hand, teachers are referenced more often (see, for instance, John 3:2). But there isn't much of a sense of formal education at all. Indeed, there really isn't anything at all in the Bible about formal education.

The Bible, on the other hand, does indeed favor education in general. For instance, Solomon writes, "Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life" (Prov 4:13). Clearly Jesus, a simple carpenter, was taught to read because He began His ministry reading Isaiah in the synagogue (Luke 4:17-18). Paul was an educated man (Acts 22:3). Indeed, knowing the truth is important (John 8:32). And we are told to "study" (2 Tim 2:15). On the other hand, knowledge alone can be dangerous (1 Cor 8:1) and some people can be "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of truth" (2 Tim 3:7).

What else is the Bible clear on when it comes to education? Well, above all else, it has to be properly directed. The aim, as in everything, must first be to seek the kingdom of God (Matt 6:33). Second, education is not the responsibility of the State or even the church. It is the responsibility of parents in general and fathers in particular (Eph 6:4, etc.). And it is important to remember that education should be focused on what's important (Deut 4:9-10; 6:6-7; Prov 1:7). It is also interesting that, while some sort of "classroom education" existed in biblical times, the primary method of education was "making disciples". It was "walk alongside" education. You see it with Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus and His disciples, etc.

If we want to have a biblical worldview, what do we make of formal education? I suspect that we who wish to be followers of God's Word might need to rethink that, because I'm not at all sure that today's perspective is a biblical one. Now, why am I not surprised at that?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Sheep and Goats

In Matthew 25 Jesus gives the famous "Sheep and the Goats Parable". He describes how the goats did not do some things and how the sheep did do those things. The goats failed to "do them unto Me" and the sheep "did them unto Me". Both were unaware that they were doing or failing to do any of this to Christ, but they were. So doing good to "the least of these My brethren" is something the sheep did and the goats failed to do.

Some have concluded that the difference, then, between a sheep and a goat in this illustration is what they did or didn't do. I find this conclusion, quite frankly, ludicrous. First, if the sheep "inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt 25:34) because of what they did, then Paul was in error and we are saved by works. Thus, this cannot be what Jesus is teaching. So what else is the difference between the sheep and the goats? This is almost too painful to say because it's too obvious, but the difference is that some are sheep and some are goats. Sheep are not goats and vice versa. The difference between the sheep and the goats was that they were different to start with.

So what's all this about what they did or didn't do? What's the point? Consider this. You're a city fellow and don't really know the difference between a sheep and a goat. They look similar (at least to a city guy) and you're just not up on this stuff. So you find yourself in a pen with ... one or the other. And you call a friend. "I'm in a pen with either sheep or goats and I don't know which." The friend asks some pertinent questions. "Are they curious, or do they tend to stay in a group?" "They tend to stay in a group over there." "Are they eating leaves or grass?" You tell him, "They are eating grass." "Okay," he says, "you're looking at sheep." And he'd likely be right. Now, are they sheep because they tend to stay in a flock and eat grass (as opposed to being more independent and eating leaves ... or just about anything else)? Does what they do make them sheep? No, of course not. You couldn't have a sheep who, watching a flock of goats, decided to wander about and eat leaves and, thus, become a goat. It doesn't work that way. No, these things differentiate between similar animals, but don't make them these different animals.

That was the point. The sheep and the goats were already sheep and goats when Jesus gathered them in the parable on the last day. They were already what they were, and while they may have appeared similar, they were different. Jesus demonstrated that they were (already) different by what they did. What they did didn't make them different. They were already different. What they did illustrated their differences. In other words, sheep did what sheep do and goats did what goats do.

Fine. So what's my point? This is a big thing, often missed in Christendom. John wrote, "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). So this "sheep" tries being a "goat" and sinning and finds that he just cannot. ("Cannot" is not my word; it's the word in the text.) A "goat", on the other hand, has no trouble remaining in sin. Or Paul writes, "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10) and "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil 2:12-13). The "goat" tries to work out salvation and do good works and finds that he cannot sustain this (or even achieve this version of "good works") because the "goat" doesn't have God at work in him (or her) enabling his will and his ability to do good. A "sheep" does. What do we often miss? We miss the simple, biblical fact that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). We miss the reality that those who are born of God actually change, actually are transformed, actually perform good works.

Human beings always act on what we truly believe. We always act according to our nature. Thus, a genuine believer will act differently by necessity than an unbeliever, and one born of God will have a different nature than one not born of God. Lots of Christians try to strip out obedience from Christianity. "That's legalism." It's not. It's simply a fact of nature. We do what we are. Sheep do good to others; goats do not. (Indeed, sheep do good to other sheep, according to Jesus. It is "the least of these brothers of Mine" in view. See Matt 25:40.)

The parable of the sheep and the goats is not a story about being saved by what you did or didn't do. It's about doing what you are and using what you do as an indicator of what you are. Do you seek to do good to other believers? You're more likely a sheep -- and that's a good thing. Are you not too concerned about the welfare of believers? That might be a warning indicator, something to look into. You might be a billy goat and that's not funny or cute. That's tragic.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Grace and Gratitude

We live in an age of an ever-increasing sense of entitlement. In our culture the notion that we deserve better is spreading farther and farther. We don't merely deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, just to name a few. We deserve so much more. So we have demonstrations against the "1%" because we deserve what they have and we have gatherings to protest the cost of a college education because we deserve higher education and so on. Now, if you think about it, this sense of entitlement isn't really new; it's inborn. The most entitled beings on the planet are the youngest ones.

Most of us think of children as "innocents", basically good beings that are just adorable and nothing else. Holding this view, however, requires a great deal of bias and ignorance because the truth is that, at their core, the youngest human beings are, first, self-centered. All that they receive they are due. All that surrounds them is supposed to be dedicated to making them happy. And the only way any of that changes is training. We have to teach our kids to share, to say "please", and to say "thank you" because it doesn't come naturally.

Why is that? One of the primary indictments against humans is a failure to give thanks (Rom 1:21). Why? I think that there is more than one answer, but one of the main ones, I believe, is this innate sense of entitlement. If you are due something, you are not very grateful for receiving it. If you are not entitled to something good and receive it, you might very well be grateful for receiving it.

I think it is this overblown sense of entitlement that is our primary reason for not being grateful. We are owed so much. People ought to be good to us. We ought to have an education and a happy home and a good job. We ought to be happy and healthy and well off. We're important and we deserve it. So when we get good things -- anything good at all -- why would we be grateful? We had it coming!

That's why it's important to gain a proper perspective. We don't often think like Job who said, "What is man that You magnify him, and that You are concerned about him?" (Job 7:17). We don't really see things like David who wrote, "What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?" (Psa 8:4). Does God take thought of you? Well, sure, but, so? He should! You're important! Right? Does God make much of you? Well, maybe. He should! If He does, it's only because He ought to. If He doesn't, it's because He's wrong.

If you would like to be more grateful (and, you know, avoid that fundamental accusation against humans), perhaps you would do well to realize what you deserve. I mean, what you really deserve. When faced with Justice and equality in an accurate perception of reality, suddenly it becomes a precious gift that you have life or liberty. It becomes a matter of undeserved favor that you have a good spouse, a loving family, a good job, or your next breath. If you really want to become more grateful in life, put a truthful slant on your view of what you really deserve. Then you will be surrounded by an overwhelming sense of gratitude that God's grace -- common and special -- abounds towards you. It gives you a much bigger capacity to praise the Lord with no room for boasting.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Fate Worse than Death

Recently my friend, Danny, posted a video. It featured a woman chiding a street preacher for calling on people to repent. She was a Christian, you see, but this wasn't the way to do it. And the crowd was cheering her on.

I was struck, at first, with the ludicrous fact that this woman was publicly calling on the man to repent from publicly calling on people to repent. The irony was thick. It was only made thicker by the fact that this woman self-identified as a Christian while chiding the man for doing exactly what Christ did (Matt 4:17; Mark 1:15). But the preacher made his point. If you understood that people were in dire need, wouldn't you, if you cared and could, do all you could to meet the need? And, as a Christian, don't you believe that people need Christ?

There is a point to all this, a point so very often missed by unbelievers (surprise, surprise) and believers (now that is a surprise) alike. Jesus said, "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt 10:28). There really is, you see, such a thing as "a fate worse than death". The descriptions in Scripture for the outcome of those who die without Christ are not merely unpleasant. They're horrible. Biblically, Hell is a reality. It isn't hyperbole. And it isn't potentially pleasant. It is absolute and eternal misery.

So how is it that we should not be doing what we can to urge people to skip this outcome? Why is it sad when people try to call for repentance? Why would a Christian be opposed to urging people to something far, far better than eternal misery? On the other hand, what does it say about people -- I'm talking primarily about so-called Christians here -- who think we would be best in keeping that stuff to ourselves? And what does it say about us when we shirk the call to make disciples? The world thinks we're just out to make converts. We know better. Or ... do we? Something to think about.

Friday, July 19, 2013

What the Lord Requires

Here's a famous verse. It's so famous that they made a praise song out of it.
He hath shown thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Micah 6:8)
It's popular because it's so clear. "What does the Lord require of me?" There it is. It's popular because it is a clear call for Christians to be deeply involved in "social justice". And ... oh, wait ... you're going to disagree? With clear Scripture?? You see, there is a problem here. Like the term, "social justice", we have leapt on an idea without defining what we're saying. Yes, we are to "do justly", but what does that mean? I mean, some define "unjust" as "anyone who has more money than I do" or some such ridiculous notion. No, we can't just use a term without understanding what it means. So perhaps we ought to look closer since it's what the Lord requires.

First, what is in view? What set up this statement in the first place?
With what shall I come to the LORD and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? (Micah 6:6-7)
The text begins with a serious and very good question. "With what shall I come to the Lord?" You see, there's a problem, and we know it. Things are not right between us and God. We're in trouble. So, the question is correct. What do I have to do to make things right? And then the question goes awry. "Burnt offerings?" Well, no. "A thousand rams or a thousand rivers of oil?" Um, really, no. "Oh, I know, I'll give God my firstborn!" No, no, a thousand times, no. You see, we're not getting it. There is nothing we can bring to make us right with God.

What does God want? He wants us to be right. He wants us to do what is good. It is not better to do first and then ask forgiveness. It's better to do good.

None of this clears up the question. And there is a question. Why? Well, because at face value it is a contradiction. We are to 1) do justly and 2) love mercy. Fine. But, as it turns out, mercy is a contradiction to justice. Mercy is not getting what we justly deserve. So if we're talking about "justice" here, we're talking about a contradiction. "Do justice and don't do justice."

Is there something else in the text that will help us here? Indeed.
Is there yet a man in the wicked house, along with treasures of wickedness and a short measure that is cursed? Can I justify wicked scales and a bag of deceptive weights? For the rich men of the city are full of violence, her residents speak lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth (Micah 6:10-12).
Treat people properly. Don't treat them unfairly. Be fair. Render to others what they are due. Oppress no one. Don't steal from them or deceive them. On the other hand, love mercy. When you are robbed or treated unfairly or deceived, don't respond with the same. Show mercy. Treat others fairly, but don't complain when you're not.

And, of course, all of this is covered in an overall attitude of humility in the presence of God. "Walk humbly with God." You see, treating others fairly and loving doing good to others is not something that's going to earn you God's favor. There is no room for pride in it. Walk humbly with God.

Does that make it perhaps a little clearer? I would say it's not the smackdown verse that proves that the point of Christianity is to equalize everyone's social status. It isn't the proof-positive text that demonstrates that we're supposed to be engaged in the redistribution of wealth. On the other hand, it does say that we're supposed to love doing good to others and to be sure to treat others fairly. We are clear that "whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (1 John 3:17). So don't see this text as the right to ignore the need to "do good to all people" as long as we remember that this includes "especially to those who are of the household of the faith" (Gal 6:10).

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Bait and Switch Evangelism

Bait and switch. You've heard of it. The phone company tells you, "Man, have we got a great deal for you!" And it really looks like it. So you go in to grab it quick and then find out that you're getting that great deal ... along with taxes, fees, service agreements, and more that make that "great deal" something not so nice. They bait you with promises, but when you go to take them up on the promises, they yank them away and switch it for something else. Bait and switch. Most memorable are the car dealership ads. "You can get this amazing car for only $12!" Of course, when you rush in for that car, they tell you, "We're sorry; that car already sold. But, look! You can have one just like it for only $20,000!" Sorry, "$19,999." Because that's much more reasonable, right? Bait and switch.

As it turns out, Christians are often accused of this technique. We will, for instance, open a food line to help the homeless ... in order to give them the Gospel. We'll open a shelter for battered women ... and hit them with the Gospel. We'll hand that guy on the corner some cash and a tract. Bait ... and switch. One blog tells the story of a horrendous "bait and switch" in which a ministry-based choir came to town and gave some wonderful, secular performances in local schools. Then they promised a concert and "pizza blast". But when the town showed up for the fine, secular concert and pizza, they got a brief secular performance which then transformed into the Gospel message instead. With "disastrous results". Bait and switch. Lure them in with something they want but you never intend to give them and then give them something else.

Is it? Is this a fair evaluation? Are we guilty of the same thing? Is that what we're doing? I'm going to offer two reasons why this fairly common approach is not "bait and switch".

First, bait and switch requires an offer of something that you do not give in order to give them something else. So, for instance, if you offer a homeless man a meal and give him that meal while you give him the Gospel, you gave him what you promised. You gave him what he expected (the meal). If you give the guy on the corner money for a meal and a tract, you gave him money. You gave him what he expected. In both cases, you gave him more, but not less than what he expected. In this sense, then, it cannot be called a "bait and switch".

Here's the other, perhaps more important reason it cannot be called a bait and switch maneuver. Let's say your youth group has an outreach night. They encourage their friends to attend for a "night of fun", knowing all along that this "night of fun" will also include the Gospel message. Now, in order for this to be of any use at all, they are actually going to have to produce a "night of fun" in some way or another. It has to be fun, or it won't work. They want them to come back, if only for the fun. So, as in the first explanation, they are not failing to provide what is promised. But here's the other important thing. When they tack on the Gospel at the end of the "night of fun", they have not "switched" (because the fun was delivered) nor have they shortchanged anyone. Indeed, what they have done is provided so much more. It's as if you invite a homeless guy in for a bowl of soup and then provide him with soup for an appetizer followed by a steak dinner and pie. "Bait and switch!" Right? No, not at all. He got the soup and much, much more. You cannot imagine offering a battered wife a place to stay and then handing her a million dollars and she would complain, "No! You promised me a place to stay" (which you actually provided) "and you're giving me too much more!"

You see, we far too often miss the point of evangelism. We aren't trying to score wins. We aren't trying to make converts. We aren't hoping to chalk up some more notches on our biblical guns. We are trying to snatch fellow human beings from the fires of Hell. We're trying to save our neighbors from the wrath of God. Frankly, there is precious little benefit to us in doing so and great gain to them if they believe.

If you went to that car dealer and asked for that $12 car and he sold it to you and, "Oh, by the way, as a bonus we'd like to give you this $19,999 car as well", would you complain that it was a bait and switch? You could, I suppose, but it wouldn't hold water. You got what was promised ... and much, much more. These evangelistic tools like feeding the poor or helping the homeless or the like can provide help and offer something much, much more than temporal assistance. That's not "bait and switch". Is it possible for some evangelistic efforts to be "bait and switch"? Sure. When they don't give what is promised. Or when they do evangelize to score more wins. But when the standard of "doing good to all men" is exercised alongside "make disciples", it is not bait and switch. It is "give them what you promised and so, so very much more." And that's not a bad thing. Now, remember, we are not commanded to "make converts". And if this event is all you do, rather than working at making disciples, then you're selling them short with your evangelism. That is a matter of sin on your part, a faulty heart for Christ. And not all of these techniques are equally effective. Serving among people, for instance, is typically far more attractive (in its literal sense) than throwing a "youth fun night" to lure them in. Some things are better than others. But it's not "bait and switch". Don't accept that false accusation without question.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Kingdom of God

We have all heard of "the kingdom of God". The phrase is not new to us. Matthew refers to it as "the kingdom of heaven", but it's the same thing. It is almost exclusively a New Testament concept, an idea that had its launch, so to speak, in Jesus's first teachings: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15). We've all heard of this kingdom. But ... what is it?

In Jesus's time the kingdom of God was "at hand" and "near", but apparently not actually present. He said, "I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes" (Luke 22:18). Thus, whatever this "kingdom of God" was, it had not yet come. But it wasn't distant, either. It was "near". Nor was it a simple, earthly kingdom concept. Jesus told Nicodemus, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3) followed by "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Thus, seeing this kingdom requires rebirth and entering it requires "born of water and the Spirit".

There are those today who are quite sure that "God is looking for people who will usher in the kingdom of God." Some are quite confident that "Each of us can help build the kingdom of God on earth." If "the kingdom of God" is a better world, then these folk are quite sure that we can and must help God achieve this by our efforts. We build the kingdom by living righteously. We build the kingdom by working toward social reform, helping the poor, meeting the needs of the needy, that sort of thing. This is "kingdom building". All this begs the question: What is the kingdom of God?

Interestingly, there are a lot of things the Bible tells us about the kingdom, but not one of them involves us "building" or "ushering in" God's kingdom. We can see it (John 3:3), receive it (Luke 18:17), even seek it (Matt 6:33). We can get into it (Matt 21:31) or have it taken away (Matt 21:43). We can proclaim it (Luke 8:1). After Paul finally arrived in Rome, the last verses of the book of Acts tell us, "He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance" (Acts 28:30-31). We can be unfit for it (Luke 9:62). We can inherit (or fail to inherit) it (1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21). But not one single thing about building or ushering in the kingdom.

Jesus indicated it was "at hand" and "near", but not yet arrived (at least as of the Last Supper). But He also told the Pharisees that they didn't understand what it was.
Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (Luke 17:20-21).
Apparently, then, the kingdom is a spiritual thing if it "is in the midst of you" but cannot be seen unless you are born again. Apparently, then, it is present and future. A clue to this is given by Jesus when He said, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power" (Mark 9:1). Ah, see? The kingdom could have already come, but had yet to come with power.

The kingdom of God is part of the Gospel. The central message Jesus preached was exactly that: "The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe" (Mark 1:15). Thus, the Gospel is "repent and believe" because the kingdom is good news and the only way to enter it is to do that. So what is the kingdom of God? It cannot be built -- that's God's job -- but it can be entered. What is it? The kingdom of God is simply this: The authority of God. "It has come with power" when Jesus declared "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me" (Matt 28:18). It currently extends to all of God's people. It will eventually cover everything, when the only people that remain are all God's people. It is and it will be. We are in it now and it will culminate in the end with God's kingdom extending over everything. Currently there are two kingdoms -- God's kingdom over His people and the kingdom God allows Satan over the world (Eph 2:2; 2 Cor 4:4). That one will end.

This is the kingdom we preach. This is the kingdom we inherit. This is the kingdom we enter by faith in Christ. This is the good news.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What is the Gospel?

Most of us are in agreement that we are, as Christians, required to spread the Gospel. Some of us think that this, of course, is only a start, but we all agree that it is a start of what we are commanded to do.

Enter postmodernism. Postmodernism's primary contribution to modern society is the obliteration of the meaning of words. Oh, sure, there is much, much more, but this one is quite large. And, to be fair, it's not new. In my lifetime, for instance, we've shifted our question from "Are you a Christian?" to "Are you saved?" to "Are you born again?" to "Are you a follower of Christ?" because every time we've alighted on one of these words, it has shifted. I am not, in fact, at all clear what the proper question would be today.

The point, however, is not "What is the the right question?" The point is the meaning of words. We all agree we're to share the Gospel, but ... what is the Gospel? All of the sudden, we can't seem to agree on that simple word. I mean, sure, we're all sure it's the "good news", but what exactly is that news? There is a loud and proud segment that assures us that the Gospel is the good news that life will get better. Indeed, they're quite sure that we're supposed to make that happen. Help the poor. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. That sort of thing. Where would they get such an idea? Well, from Scripture. I mean, isn't that the point of the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31-46)? Jesus speaks of taking care of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner. "As much as you did it unto one of these brothers of Mine, you did it to Me" (Matt 25:40). Now, I can point out that the reference is to "these brothers of Mine", but this doesn't change the fact that the Gospel does include taking care of people. In Matt 4:23 and 9:25 we read of Jesus "proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people." The good news, then? Well, it's the "gospel of the kingdom". It is the declaration that, in Christ, His promises are fulfilled. Good things are going to happen.

What promises? Isaiah brings this Gospel in Isaiah 61-65. "The LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners ..." (Isa 61:1ff). "You will also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD" (Isa 62:3). "I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me" (Isa 65:1). "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind" (Isa 65:17). "No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his days. For the youth will die at the age of one hundred and the one who does not reach the age of one hundred will be thought accursed. They will build houses and inhabit them. They will also plant vineyards and eat their fruit" (Isa 65:20-21). "It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; and dust will be the serpent's food. They will do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain" (Isa 65:24-25). There is a good world coming, and the Gospel (Isa 61:1) is that this is so in Christ. Where do they get the idea that the Gospel is about doing good? It's in the Bible.

And, yet, we know otherwise, don't we? What is the Gospel? Is it not, clearly, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved" (Acts 16:31)? Indeed, this is what Paul says in his letter to Corinth.
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve (1 Cor 15:1-5)
The Gospel is simple and straightforward. Nothing about "good things will happen" or "get to work helping people". It is clear. Christ died for our sins and rose again. End of story. Then the Bible does appear to say that the Gospel is simply that we are sinners for whom Christ died so we can, through faith, be made right with God.

So ... which is it? Is the Gospel the good news that things will get better and we need to get to work on that now, or is it simply "repent and be saved"? I would answer, "Yes!" We are commanded to do good to people (Gal 6:10). And the Gospel is found in the glorious truth that Christ died for us and, by grace through faith we can be made right with God. These, in fact, don't contradict. Jesus preached, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt 4:17) and healed (Matt 4:23). All of God's promises are fulfilled in Christ (2 Cor 1:20) and we are called to preach the good news that righteousness is credited not by works but by faith (Rom 4:5). The difference, of course, is that one version is talking about "the gospel of the kingdom" and the other is talking about "the good news of how we can be right with God".

What are we to preach, then? Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9). Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved (Acts 16:31). Repent, for the kingdom is at hand (Matt 4:17). And what about doing good? Yes, that's commanded. "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). But don't mix the message ("Repent, for the kingdom is at hand") with the means ("Do good to all men"). Ephesians 1:3-14 offers a long list of blessings already bestowed on us "in the heavenly places in Christ"(Eph 1:3). And that is good news. But we are not called to bring about the New Heaven and New Earth. That is God's job. Good thing, too. It's somewhat beyond our capabilities.

Monday, July 15, 2013


Just in case anyone else is wondering, I am intentionally ignoring the Zimmerman trial outcome. I have no comment on it. Thanks. Bye.

The Cattle on a Thousand Hills

Perhaps you've heard the phrase, "He owns the cattle on a thousand hills." You know ... referring to God. As it turns out, it was God Himself who said it. And then some.
"Every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine" (Psa 50:10-11).
Now, most of us would be happy to acquiesce on this. "Yes, God, it's all yours." So why is it that we don't actually believe it? Oh, you didn't know that? Consider. When something goes wrong, do you complain, "Why, God?!", or do you say, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord"? Is your spouse yours or His? Are your children yours or His? Do you actually believe that "everything that moves" is His? Or does some of it belong to you?

We do it without thinking, really. A product of the Fall. "Did God say ...?" We aim to be like God (Gen 3:5). We worship the creature rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25) without even realizing it. Even Christians do it.

I find it fascinating the point God made in that passage in the Psalms. "If I were hungry I would not tell you" (Psa 50:12). We actually think that way sometimes, don't we? God needs us. I mean, if it wasn't for us, He wouldn't be able to get out the Gospel, save souls, reach the lost, that sort of thing. Maybe you've even heard this phrase: We are God's arms on earth. God told Israel that He owned everything to inform them that He didn't need them. Or us. Oddly the mistake Israel made is the one we make, and when you think about it it's really convoluted. "You thought that I was just like you" (Psa 50:21). That is, instead of making ourselves into gods, we try to reshape God into our image. All the time. Without success. And to our own peril.

What to do? "He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; and to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God" (Psa 50:23).

God owns everything. He needs nothing from us. We can't condescend to do Him a good turn. Instead, the two primary human problems are a failure to obey and a failure to give thanks ... the two things He recommends we do in order to see the salvation of God. Can we do these things perfectly? No, not now. But it would probably be a good idea to work on them ... both.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Praise the LORD!

1 Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD from the heavens;
Praise Him in the heights!
2 Praise Him, all His angels;
Praise Him, all His hosts!
3 Praise Him, sun and moon;
Praise Him, all stars of light!
4 Praise Him, highest heavens,
And the waters that are above the heavens!
5 Let them praise the name of the LORD,
For He commanded and they were created.
6 He has also established them forever and ever;
He has made a decree which will not pass away.
7 Praise the LORD from the earth,
Sea monsters and all deeps;
8 Fire and hail, snow and clouds;
Stormy wind, fulfilling His word;
9 Mountains and all hills;
Fruit trees and all cedars;
10 Beasts and all cattle;
Creeping things and winged fowl;
11 Kings of the earth and all peoples;
Princes and all judges of the earth;
12 Both young men and virgins;
Old men and children.
13 Let them praise the name of the LORD,
For His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven.
14 And He has lifted up a horn for His people,
Praise for all His godly ones;
Even for the sons of Israel, a people near to Him.
Praise the LORD! (Psa 148)
Read something like this before going to church on Sunday and then try to suggest, "Church is boring. Nothing relevant going on there." Just try.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Calling All Christ-ians

We call ourselves "Christians". The intent is that we are identified as "followers of Christ". I don't think this is controversial or in question. That's the intent. We are to be "like Christ". The Bible says we are to "be conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom 8:29). I mean, it's not that hard to figure out.

The question then should become "What was Jesus about?" Why was He here? What did He do? What did He say? Important questions. And we should "go and do likewise."

So, for instance, if we argue that Jesus is not the only way to the Father, we do so against His words (John 14:6). You can claim to be a Christian while arguing that "all roads lead to heaven", so to speak, but it is not a Christian claim since Christ stated the opposite. We need to see what Jesus said and agree in order to be "acting like a Christian". If you claim that it is wrong for us to call people to repentance, you do so against Jesus's own words (Luke 5:32), and that cannot be considered "Christ-ian".

Jesus tells us what He was about. It isn't a guess. "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). See? Not that hard. There are actually quite a few of these. He came to fulfill the Law (Matt 5:17), to bring a sword rather than peace (Matt 10:34) (think about that one for a moment), to call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32), to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37).

Of course, while we can certainly (and are commanded to certainly) share the Gospel, we can't actually save the lost. So, what else can't we do that Jesus came to do? Well, we can't fulfill the Law. (That's the point of Him coming, isn't it?) He came to die on the cross for our sins, and while we can die, even on a cross, we can't die for sins. It would appear, then, that Jesus was tasked with doing things that we cannot. But we can indeed call sinners to repentance (even if it's unpopular today) and bear witness to the truth.

One of the popular concerns today comes from a text from the lips of our Savior Himself. The concern is that we're missing this primary purpose for which Jesus came. Returning from the temptation in the desert, Jesus went to the synagogue and read from Isaiah.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18-19).
The message then? The purpose of Christ that too many of us are missing? Why, we need to take care of the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed. We need to be deeply involved in "social justice" because if we are to call ourselves "Christians", we need to follow what Jesus said we are to do. Indeed, those who see it this way would argue that this is the primary purpose of Christians.

There is a problem with this particular claim. The first hint of a problem is that Jesus didn't do it. There is no reference in any of the Gospels that suggested that Jesus ever set captives free. That's a problem, if that's what He was here to do. So let's look at what He actually said. Notice a repeated term: "proclaim". Hmm. Jesus said that He was anointed by God to proclaim things. He proclaimed good news (to the poor), liberty (to the captives), and "the year of the Lord's favor." Indeed, in that list from Isaiah, there isn't really much that He does as much as says. (Interestingly, in the book of Acts there doesn't seem to be much of the "social justice" concept practiced by the first Christians at all. Did they miss these plain instructions? Or do these instructions mean something other than a command for us to be mainly involved in social justice?)

Beyond the fact that Jesus didn't actually do what this implies He was going to do, and beyond the fact that He primarily spoke of proclaiming rather than performing social justice, it cannot be ignored that the people of which He spoke were not necessarily simply "not well off" (poor), in prison (captives), unable to visually detect things (blind), or enduring physical hardships (oppressed). The Bible is full of references to the spiritually poor, the spiritually captive, the spiritually blind, and the spiritually oppressed. And yet, for some reason, this reference must be taken only in the most literal (and, as such, inconsistent) sense.

We call ourselves "Christians". We are indeed supposed to be followers of Christ. What did Christ come to do? We can't actually do all He came to do. But He says He came to "proclaim". Proclaim what? Good news to people who are in a bad way. Calling all Christians, then. On the authority of Christ Himself, go and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey. That is a Christ-ian thing to do. And, like Christ, if helping folks along the way assists you in doing that, then do it. It is the Christ-ian thing to do.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Great Commission

Perhaps you have heard of the organization called Abolish Human Abortion (AHA). On the face of it, they're a good thing. They're a Christian group aimed at not merely protesting abortion, but eliminating it. All well and good. Oddly enough, they are adamantly opposed to incrementally eliminating abortion. They state categorically "We reject incremental abolition, the gradual regulation of evil, and 'pragmatic' strategies." Thus, they would reject the recent gains in the fight against abortion. Abortions are down, states are passing laws limiting abortion, doctors are being prosecuted for killing babies, more people are seeing the problem of killing babies in the womb but not out of the womb, and the numbers of abortion clinics are way down. "We reject incremental abolition" the AHA tells us. They say without apology, "That kind of advancement of the cause is not good."

Their first claim is "Central to our work is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." Now, if you're paying attention, you have to ask, "What?? What does the Gospel have to do with abolishing abortion?" And they tell you. "The Great Commission certainly includes the work of evangelism, as well as discipleship. But this discipleship entails teaching the evangelized to obey all that Christ has commanded." (Emphasis is theirs.)

I'm stuck with a dilemma here. I believe that a large number of churches have missed the boat on the Great Commission.
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt 28:18-20).
The text is not obscure. While most understand the Great Commission to be a command to evangelize, it is abundantly clear that evangelism is only a part -- I would say a small part -- of the Commission. We aren't told to simply preach the Gospel ("evangelism"). We are told to make disciples. This entails going. It is for all nations. It includes baptizing them. And it includes "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." This command is much, much larger than "preach the Gospel". And we are failing miserably. Making converts is easy. Making disciples is a lifelong, deeply involving, heavily interpersonal work. And we seem to think that it's just too hard. "Can't we just preach the Gospel and be done with it?" Indeed, to many "preach the Gospel" is too much work.

My dilemma, then, comes from an initial shout of agreement with AHA. The Great Commission is about "teaching the evangelized to obey all that Christ has commanded." Yes, indeed! But, wait! Included in the very phrase is the glitch. Do we expect the world to obey all that Christ has commanded? Is the point of the Great Commission to produce legislation that corresponds with all that Christ has commanded? Is this Commission a political command?

I'm disturbed by their demand that incremental success be rejected. I'm disturbed because incremental success is the essence of Christianity. We call it "sanctification" and it is an incremental process whereby those who belong to Jesus gradually become more like Jesus. The Great Commission is a command for believers to 1) preach the Gospel and then 2) work at assisting new believers in this process of becoming more like Jesus. I don't actually expect all new believers to instantaneously become obedient to all that Christ commanded. It is, biblically, incremental.

I'm disturbed by their demand that the Great Commission is the driving force for a political movement to affect the laws in order to eliminate the murder of babies, and nothing less than complete success is acceptable. Incrementalism is not approved. All or nothing. And in that I'm disturbed by the suggestion that the Great Commission is fulfilled by the complete abolition of abortion ... as if that is "all that Christ has commanded."

I applaud and encourage those who would work to save the lives of babies in the womb. I'm pro-life. And insofar as AHA does that, I'm for it. But I'm saddened when Christians fail to grasp the scope of the Great Commission that includes discipleship along with evangelism, and I'm just as saddened when Christians wrench the Great Commission from its already loosened moorings to make it a strident command for a political agenda. Brothers and sisters, can we just get on with the task of making disciples, please? I'm pretty sure that "all that Christ commanded" will include addressing this issue without allowing it to short-circuit the Great Commission -- you know, the Great Commission given by the One to whom all authority has been given. I, for one, am not asking, "What are you doing in the fight to end abortion?" I'm asking "What are you doing in the work of making disciples?" You can answer that for yourself.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Tide has Turned

There is a commercial out there -- I don't know for what -- where the mother sternly tells her young son, "You're on time out." She leaves the room and he proceeds to demolish the kitchen. Because, you see, he's on time out. He can't go anywhere else. So he's wearing pots on his head as he rams his toys into the walls and knocks down stuff from the counter and ... well, it's quite a destructive "time out".

There was a time when daddy really did know best. Or, at least, when everyone assumed it. Fathers ruled their households. Children did what Dad ordered. If not Dad, then it was Dad-by-proxy in the form of Mom. Daughters didn't consider dating Timmy until Dad said it was okay. Sons knew that they would be in trouble if they stole candy from the candy store and acted accordingly. Children were to be seen and not heard, they tell me.

The tide has turned. Today, parents live in fear of their children. "What do I do if the child refuses?" Refuses what? It doesn't matter. Responding to deliberate and open rebellion from a child appears to be outside of the skill set of most parents. More and more parents are on a first name basis with their kids. "We want to be their friends, not their authority figures." And we are absolutely certain that a physical response is "child abuse".

What amazes me is that Christians are in agreement. They don't know how to control their children. They don't have tools with which to teach them respect for authority or even simple obedience. "I gave him a time out, but he still does it." The mere suggestion that it is reasonable and loving to offer corporal punishment is viewed as backward and mean ... if not criminal. Among Christians. And yet we read without ambiguity, "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it" (Prov 22:6). Now, quick English lesson. In the sentence, "Bob went to the store", there is a subject and a predicate. The subject is "Bob" and the predicate is "went to the store". Now, what is the subject in the verse? It is an implied "you". Most accurately, "You are to train up a child." Now, that's odd, isn't it? Because we're pretty sure that someone else is supposed to. The babysitter, the school, the Sunday School teacher, maybe even the grandparents, but not you. And yet, the Bible seems to hold you (the parent) responsible for training your children.

Interesting. What else does God's Word (I emphasize that because it's supposed to be the Christian's guide) say on the topic? Well, there is this gem: "Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol (Prov 23:13-14). There, see? It would appear that God disagrees with the current wisdom that you should never strike a child. Now you, dear Christian, need to decide who is right -- modern wisdom or God.

Indeed, parents are tasked to teach their children God's Word. "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 6:7). So, quite clearly, this isn't a full time requirement. Whenever you're not sitting in your home or walking somewhere or lying down or getting up you're free to do something else. Oh ... wait ...

And despite all the modern wisdom to the contrary, God doesn't task women (especially mothers) with teaching children. He commands fathers to do it. "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph 6:4). Of course, if fathers were the responsible husbands and fathers they are commanded to be, then mothers would be assisting under the fathers' guidance in teaching, but God gives fathers the primary responsibility.

Look, I could keep this up for a long time. The command from God to parents to teach their children is not a question. The instruction to use corporal punishment to do so is not a question. The necessity for children to be taught to obey is not a question. And yet, even among Christians, we're trying to figure out just what to do with our children because at this point they rule the house. My recommendation? Obey God! Because the Bible says that the alternative is to hate your children (e.g., Prov 13:24). And, look, if you don't teach them to obey you (and, by extension, God), someone else will. And that someone else won't likely be as loving.

There, that wasn't so difficult, was it?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Deistic Apologist

You all know what a deist is, right? As opposed to a theist? Both believe in God. Both, in fact, are considered monotheists -- only one God. Both ascribe power to God. They even both agree that God is the Creator. The difference between a theist and a deist is that a deist believes that God has, well, withdrawn. He set everything in motion and now just lets it run on its own. Oh, maybe He intervenes from time to time, but that would be a liberal deist. No, for the most part, a deist would argue that God started it all and is now basically out of the picture. A theist would argue that God started it all and continues to sustain it all. Indeed, a biblical theist would argue that all things consist in God (Col 1:17).

Now, of course, any biblical Christian would classify him or herself as a theist. Deism as an actually argued viewpoint has pretty much died out. The truth, however, is that all of us tend toward deism at times. Maybe it's on the topic of "Free Will". God indeed is hands off on our choices ... right? Well, that's deism. Others are offended at the suggestion that a hurricane or a tornado is an "act of God". These things just happen! Right? And even if we agree that they are ultimately in God's control, surely we wouldn't argue that He actually had His hand, for instance, on that one that hit, say, Moore, Oklahoma, would we? Oh, and certainly God doesn't actually bring anyone to Himself, does He? I mean, we come of our own accord, right? He may call, but we do the responding. You see? Most of us at some point argue for a deistic perspective.

One of the most common deists is the Apologist. Certainly not all, but there is a reasonably large number who believe that God mostly takes a hands-off approach when it comes to defending the faith. "I mean, sure, He might be helpful when defending the faith among believers, but, look, you know that it's only good arguments, sound logic, and clear evidence that will persuade an unbeliever, right? And, look, I don't know what playbook you're reading, but never, never use the Bible in defense of the faith with unbelievers, okay? I mean, that is just obvious, isn't it? They don't accept it as valid truth, so why use it? No, no, if we are to be good Apologists to unbelievers, we need to have a solid grasp on science and empirical data and irrefutable philosophical reasoning. Because God and His Word have no sway in the unbeliever's thinking or heart." And that, dear reader, is genuine deistic apologetics.

I would humbly suggest that the Bible disagrees. The Bible says that it's God's kindness that leads to repentance (Rom 2:4). Paul (one of the original Apologists) argued that "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Rom 10:17). Paul understood that "the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing", but he went on to say, "But to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor 1:18). The Word of the Cross is the power of God. Indeed, Jesus assured us that the primary issue of whether or not people will believe is not whether or not the argument was coherent and secular, but whether or not faith is granted by the Father (John 6:64-65). Jesus (you know, the "Christ" of Christianity) claimed that the single impediment to believing in Him was not failed arguments, but not being of His flock (John 10:26).

What is my point? My point is not that coherent arguments are of no value. My point is not that we shouldn't have good evidence and reason from worldly thinking. I mean, we know from Scripture that the heavens declare the glory of God (Psa 19:1), that God has made Himself known "in the things that have been made" (Rom 1:20). And we certainly have biblical examples of Christian Apologists using reasoning and evidence. My point is not that these are of no value. My point is that these are only tools. And my point is that we are not left to these tools alone. God is not stuck with our best reasoning skills. Many of us may think in a deistic fashion about some things. "God has left this up to us." But God is not a deist. He is intimately involved. He has given us His Spirit (1 John 4:13). He has ordered us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2). He has provided His Word (2 Tim 3:16-17). And He remains Sovereign ... even in salvation. He has left us tools, but He is the Power and, in the end, we are His tools to accomplish His work. When we succumb to deistic thinking on defending the faith, we've already lost the battle (Rom 8:7-8; Eph 2:1; 1 Cor 2:14). And that's a shame since "the victory belongs to the Lord" (Prov 21:31). Don't be a loser. And don't be a deist. Especially when defending the faith to unbelievers. There is no more important place to believe that God is at work than in the salvation of men.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Losing the Debate

Religious freedom in American is on the ebb. The courts are siding with the forces opposed to God. The laws, once informed by Scripture, are now (and have been for decades) slipping into outrageous sin. They've authorized murdering babies on the basis of "a woman's choice" and they've determined that all of human history and Church history was in error in its definition of marriage and those are merely two big examples.

Why are we losing this debate? Some would argue that it's because we're wrong. They prove that by the fact that we're losing this debate. Kind of circular, isn't it? Some would argue that it's because we're not giving the most compelling argument. That, of course, is a given, isn't it? I mean, in terms of debate, the winner of a debate is not the one who is right or wrong, but the one that wins the approval of the hearers. This, of course, must include the prejudices of the hearers. Go to a KKK meeting and extol the virtues of and reasons for putting an end to racism and when it's done you won't be counted as the winner of the debate. (You may not be counted as among the living.) You may have presented the best argument and the most logical argument and the most correct argument, but you did not offer the most compelling argument based on their prejudices.

Why are we losing this debate? It's not because our positions or our arguments are not logical. It's not because we're not offering facts and figures -- sufficient evidence. It's not because we don't have biblical, historical, or moral backing. It's not because we're wrong. Before "right and wrong" is ever considered in a debate in general and quite particularly in this debate, you have to consider the prejudices. The bias of this audience is "Did God say ...?" The predisposition of this group is "I want to be allowed to do what I want to do." All your logic and reasoning and evidence and facts cannot overcome "I want to be able to marry whomever I love" even though the sentence and sentiment is incoherent with any simple, rational examination. The demand of any practical debate is that you must win on the emotional level regardless of the logical consistency. We're arguing with evidence, history, Scripture -- truth -- but we're not winning on the emotional level and thus not winning this debate.

Why are we losing this debate? That's simple.
The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Rom 1:18).

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. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Rom 1:21-25).

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot (Rom 8:7).

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor 4:4).

You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph 2:1-3).
The remedy is not in a better debate. The remedy is only found in a changed heart, and that is God's venue. Defend the faith, we are told (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3), and pray (Matt 5:44; 9:38; 1 Thess 5:17; 1 Tim 2:1-8). I'd recommend a heavy emphasis on the latter.

Monday, July 08, 2013

What's My Motivation?

Recently I've seen two of the Sherwood Pictures movies, Courageous and Fireproof. If you haven't, you ought to. Sherwood Pictures is the "movie arm" of Sherwood Baptist Church. They are movie makers who make Christian movies with very good Christian messages. Flywheel, believe it or not, is about a Christian used car salesman who decides to be an honest used car salesman for Christ and ends up, through all the difficulties that entails, having a booming business because people respect honesty. Facing the Giants is about a Christian football coach that leads his team to play for the glory of God regardless of the outcome, resulting in a championship team and a surprisingly and wonderfully pregnant wife. Fireproof gives the message, "You never leave your partner". Revolving around a fire fighter, it tells the story of a couple on the edge of divorce. The husband is urged to try the Love Dare, a 40-day plan to become a better spouse. He comes to Christ, learns to love his wife, and she, in turn, loves him back. And then there is the latest, Courageous. This one is about a police officer who decides that he is not being the father he needs to be. He and a few of his friends commit to "The Resolution", a commitment to be the father and husband God requires. One fails, but the rest, through trials and hardships, come out as better fathers and husbands. These are good movies and good messages. But I have a bone to pick.

I know, I know, it wouldn't make a good movie, but where is the reality? Look, we like to think that "If I do the right thing, good things will happen." We're told that's true. In Fireproof one husband tells the other, "A woman's like a rose; if you treat her right, she'll bloom, if you don't, she'll wilt." That's the kind of wisdom we recognize. Do the wrong thing and it will be bad. Do the right thing and good things will happen. But I need to point out that it ain't necessarily so. Now, I could give anecdotal evidence, stories of people who did what was right and didn't experience pleasurable consequences. But anecdotal evidence isn't the best. Let me offer biblical proof. There is the "faith chapter" in Hebrews which assures us of many people of faith who "all died in faith, not having received the things promised" (Heb 11:13). The author of Hebrews says that these people were commended by their faith. "Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated--of whom the world was not worthy--wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised" (Heb 11:35-39). There are all those Old Testament passages where believers ask, "Why does the way of the wicked prosper?" (Jer 12:1; Psa 73:3, 12; Psa 82:2; etc.) Oh, and there is the story of the Son of God who came to Earth, lived a perfect life, and was executed for it. The truth is that doing the right thing does not always result in pleasant circumstances. It is perfectly possible that a husband could be a good husband and have his wife leave him. Being honest at work does not always result in promotion. Sometimes playing for the glory of God results in loss rather than gain. Good parents sometimes have bad kids. No, it doesn't make a good movie, but if this is true (and, biblically, it is), what's my motivation for doing good?

Those biblical accounts offer that answer as well. Jeremiah, in the depths of hopelessness, wrote,
I say, "My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD."
Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.
"The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in Him."
The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD (Lam 3:18-20).
The author of Hebrews says simply, "God had provided something better for us" (Heb 11:40). He goes on to say,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:1-2).
The truth is we're not promised that if you do good, life will be pleasant. We're not promised that treating your husband well will make him a good husband or that having integrity at work will make you prosperous. We are not promised health or wealth. We don't become honest car salesmen to become prosperous car salesmen or play for the glory of God in order to win the big game. We don't work at becoming the husbands we ought to be in order to save our marriages or the fathers God requires in order to save our families. We are commanded to have integrity, to do all for the glory of God, to be the husbands (and wives) God commands, and to be godly fathers. We are just not promised pleasant outcomes. But we are promised God. And, look, in all honesty, if that's not enough, those other things won't be enough either.