Thursday, October 31, 2013


Welcome to All Hallows' Eve. Tomorrow, on some church calendars, is All Saints' Day. This is the eve of that event.

Halloween has been a dispute among Christians for some time. "It's harmless fun." "It's Satan's night!" The distances can be great. But where did it come from?

Halloween's origins are in an ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain (pronounced "SAH-win"). It was their time to celebrate the harvest and prepare for winter. They believed that on this particular night there was an overlap of the physical world and the spiritual world. So they would try to perform certain ceremonies and practices to keep the spirit world from interfering with their crops or their health or ... you get the idea. They had bonfires to attract insects to attract bats to eat the insects. They wore masks to deceive evil spirits. They put out lighted pumpkins to ward off evil spirits. In the 8th century, the church picked up on the Celtic festival and decided to "redeem it" (the "it" being the conjunction of the two worlds) with a festival of their own. "Let's use the time of remembering the dead to remember the saints who have gone before us."

So they did things that would make the Samhain ritual more conducive to Christian doctrines. Poor people would dress up in costumes and go door to door offering to pray for those in the home on the morrow (All Saints' Day) if they would give them food tonight. (Legend has it that one cook created a food to remind the beggars of eternity by creating a cake with a hole in it and now we have doughnuts with holes in them.) The Roman Catholic belief was that souls were released from Purgatory on All Saints' Day, so this was preparation for that event. They would perform dramas or pantomimes intended to remind people of mortality and the evils of the grave and the need to seek salvation.

Of course, Roman Catholicism was not the prime religious group in early America. At first such celebrations were limited. Eventually they would celebrate the harvest and share stories of those who had gone before with tales or plays or costumes. With the inrush of immigrants, of course -- especially Irish immigrants -- European traditions seeped in. "Trick or treat" wasn't really present until the mid-19th century. By the late 19th century there was a movement to make the holiday more about community and neighbors. This produced a sharp drop in the superstitious concepts of the event and offered a much more secularized version. Towns had harvest festivals. Families shared with families. While "tricks" were typically outlawed, it was considered neighborly to give out treats to kids in costume. While ancient traditions had jack o'lanterns to ward off spirits, masks to avoid being recognized by demons, and giving out of food to help the needy, the American traditions simply became a community fun time.

Today, the debates continue. "No, it's pointless fun." "No! It's Satanic evil!!" Fine. The truth is that a false religion pegged the day as a spirit transition day (which doesn't actually exist) and the ancient church took the false religion's event as a chance to do something more "Christian" with it ... much like they did with December 25th (the ancient pagan winter solstice festival). It once celebrated demons and witches and now makes fun of them. Today's "trick-or-treating" is, at once, both much safer and much more dangerous. It isn't about begging for food or hiding from demons, so that's safer. Today's society, on the other hand, has much less of a moral basis, so "trick" is a very real possibility and, as we all know, so is poisoning food, so that's not so safe. Decorations of ghosts and zombies are popular, but you do know that these aren't real, right? So I'm not going to take a stand here. Like Paul, I'm going to urge, "Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath" (Col 2:16). I will remind you that "whatever does not proceed from faith is sin" (Rom 14:23), but I'll let you decide whatever you think on this topic.

Let me just say this. The day belongs to the Lord (Deut 10:14). Whatever your view on enjoying the day or not, remember that. As always, then, "whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31).

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


It is said by some that faith and reason are opposed. This is manifest foolishness, of course -- a failure to comprehend the nature of faith. The Bible, instead, embraces reason. For example, when the Pharisees demanded a sign from Jesus, He told them, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' And in the morning, 'It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah" (Matt 16:2-4). His point? "You guys are fully capable of reasoning through the signs when you see them, but now you're demanding a sign after all I've done? You're not getting any more." The Bible embraces reasoning along with -- or rather, as part of -- faith.

I ran across this interesting "if-then" in Colossians the other day. You know what an "if-then" is, right? "If A, then B." It is a logic statement. If the premise is correct, the conclusion must follow. Here's what Paul says:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Col 3:1-2).
The first question: Is the premise correct? Are you raised with Christ? The assumption is "Yes!" So, now what? What should naturally follow? What else ought to be true? If you are raised with Christ, what should the result be? "Seek the things that are above ... Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth."

Now, you have to admit, that is not a typical mindset of your everyday Christian. We are muddling about trying to figure out how to make ends meet, how to pass better laws, how to elect better politicians, how to make a more moral world, how to defend ourselves, a host of concerns that are, perhaps, the moral high ground, but are not based primarily on "things that are above", but, rather, "on things that are on earth."

This is not to say that we shouldn't make ends meet, concern ourselves with the society in which we find ourselves, or any such thing. What does it mean?
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful (Col 3:12-15).
According to this text (connected to the former), setting our minds on things that are above looks like this. It is compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. It is bearing with each other (rather than against) and it is forgiving. Mostly, it is wearing the mantle of love. It is ruled by the peace of God and it is grateful.

Now, remember, this is all with the premise in mind: "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above." Frankly, none of this is reasonable with any other premise. We all know that you have to look out for #1, that the greatest love of all is loving yourself. In a worldview centered on earthly concerns, "compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience" and so on all make no sense. In a worldview centered on Christ -- "on things that are above" -- it makes perfect sense. Thus, a logical "if-then". If you have been raised with Christ, then seek the things that are above. Makes sense.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Raising Knights

For a long time it has seemed as if the church has been pretty good at dispensing information. By that I mean that most churches have had a pretty good system of trying to inform their people about what they believe. Churches have long had "Sunday School", a plan to teach children more about the Bible than may have otherwise been available without the system of Sunday School. Most churches have adult classes and sermons and Bible studies and all sorts of things to provide the facts of Christianity. Now, in our modern day, there is a decline in this fact-giving system, I'm afraid. More and more churches are succumbing to cultural pressure to just make people feel better and to societal pressure to work toward the least common denominator (which, I'm afraid, is likely a term too many people today haven't learned thanks to a declining educational system). So they've "dumbed down" their teaching and worked harder at making things less informative and more entertaining because, after all, if we're going to compete in this modern market of entertainment and electronics, we're going to have to be much more like them, right? So, we are. Modern education is declining, and so is the church's education.

The sad effect of this decline is, obviously, a decline in the education of Christians in all matters spiritual. Worse, there is a watering down of anything substantial for the next generation, leaving them very little substance to work with as they grow into adults. Fortunately, for any conscientious, loving parent, there is a solution. Interestingly, perhaps sadly, it is the same solution that has always been the solution. "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it" (Prov 22:6). Perhaps I need to be more pointed. "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph 6:4). Yes, historically and biblically it is the job of the parents to teach their children and specifically the responsibility of the father to see that it is done. Always has been.

Note that the command is not merely to educate your children. Yes, that is in there. But the primary command is to "discipline" them. (No, this is not another "you need to beat your kids" post.) The word in that verse is paideia and refers not to punishment, but to training. We need to instruct them -- absolutely -- but we need to teach them how to function. And that's a horse of a different color. You see, we can tell them information pretty easily, but teaching them how to manage themselves is much more difficult. Americans are, in general, no longer taught how to think. As a result, neither are our children.

I wanted something different for my sons. In a world taught to feel, not think, I wanted to teach my sons to reason, to examine, to think things through. In a world delighted to raise jesters, I wanted to train knights. So I set out to teach my sons the information they would need to be good, responsible men and the ability to think through things when they encountered, as they surely would, things that I hadn't told them.

First, I made their education my responsibility. Yes, I sent them to school, both for general education and for spiritual education, but I didn't abandon them to school, either general or at church. I monitored, discussed, followed up, assisted, generally made myself a part of all that process. They went to public schools for part of the time (which I'm no longer convinced is a good idea in today's society), and I had to counter some of what they were taught there. They went to private schools part of the time and I had to augment some of what they were taught there. They had decent input from church groups, but I always found myself either correcting or adding to that information as well.

In my view, though, the most important process was what I came to view as "jousting". These boys were "squires" and I needed to give them information, to be sure, but I also needed to teach them how to handle themselves once they had the information and faced their environment. So, appropriate to their current age and information, I would "spar" with them in a safe and controlled atmosphere. I would take on the role of antagonist and argue against what I had taught them to be true in order to teach them the methods of thinking things through rather than simply calling on the data bits they were given. I wanted to teach them to think, not merely to know. I wanted to add a "why" to what they believed and to help them see when error occurred.

A friend of mine had a practice that well illustrated this idea. He told his boys, "You can listen to any music you want ... as long as I've heard it first and we've discussed it." This took effort on his part. They would bring home a CD a friend lent them and on more than one occasion he would throw it away simply because they didn't let him hear it first. "But, Dad," they would complain, "that wasn't mine!" "Well," he would respond, "I guess you're going to have to buy your friend a replacement, aren't you?" So they developed a system of letting him hear it before they made it their own and then discussing what they heard. Eventually his boys would tell him, "I had planned to buy this CD, but I heard the words and decided it wasn't a good idea." Because, you see, they had learned more than "Here are the rules." They had learned to think, to evaluate, to look at things from a Christian worldview beyond the simple information a church group or a classroom or even a parent could give them.

The biblical command is that parents in general and fathers in particular are to be responsible for the training and education of their children. Not schools. Not churches. Not youth groups or clubs. Parents. Fathers. We need to teach them the discipline and instruction of the Lord. We need to disciple them, to teach them to obey all that Christ commands. It is our responsibility. We can use other means, but we are the final responsibility for this process. We're raising children in a hostile world; we need to prepare them with more than mere information. We need to prepare them for life.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Agreeing to Disagree

The Bible sets a high value on the concept of unity among believers. Frankly, we should, too. Division among God's people is a costly and even dangerous thing. Recognizing this fact, many opt to "agree to disagree." You know how that goes. We won't fight about it anymore. We'll just drop this subject and remain friends. And it would seem that this might be the best option. I say "seem" because I think, in Scripture, you'll find that it's not always possible. Jesus didn't "agree to disagree" with the moneychangers in the Temple. He didn't "agree to disagree" with the Pharisees. And Paul didn't "agree to disagree" with Peter when he fell into the judaizers' trap. Indeed, much of the New Testament is written to refuse to get along with error. That is, it would appear that there are times to lay aside conflict and agree to disagree, and there are times that we cannot afford to do so at all. So, how would I determine which is which?

In Scripture there are important issues. Paul warns, for instance, about "a different gospel which is really not another" (Gal 1:6-7). While on some subjects he has happy to say, "If in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you" (Phil 3:15)1, on the issue of the gospel he says, "If we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!" (Gal 1:8) and repeats it for effect (Gal 1:9). There are, then, certain issues that are major and certain issues that are not. We need to learn to major on the majors.

There are certain doctrines, without which Christianity is no longer Christianity. They are referred to as "the essentials". These are the major issues. An unreliable Bible; no Christianity. No Trinity; no Christianity. Some different gospel than "saved by grace through faith"; no Christianity. A different Jesus; no Christianity. No Atonement, no heaven or hell, no end ("eschatology"); no Christianity. There are fundamentals without which you cannot have anything distinctly called "Christianity". These are the majors.

Some of the minors? Do we sleep when we die, or do we go immediately to be with the Lord? Does the Rapture occur before the Great Tribulation, or not? Is there a literal 1,000 year reign ("Millennium")? Does faith precede regeneration or does regeneration precede faith? Yes, that one, too. If you argue for the wrong one while arguing that we are not saved by works and we are saved by faith and Christ alone is our salvation, you can get that source question wrong and still be right. Oh, here's one of recent import: Do the gifts of the Spirit continue, or are they ended? I am quite sure that this is not an issue that determines whether or not you get to heaven. Oh, there are a lot of these kinds of differences, and they draw a lot of fire. How old is the Earth? Is it wrong to smoke? Drink? Do we need to go to church on Sundays? And, of course, which denomination is right? Minors.

The Bible is full of Christians discussing with Christians what is or isn't true. Church history is the same. I'm pretty sure that I have not arrived at the point of perfect doctrine and I'm equally confident that no one else (except Christ, of course) has either. We ought to care enough about the truth to discuss it, debate it, examine it, seek it, pursue it. I suspect that too many too often opt to "agree to disagree" when they shouldn't because the issues are too important. I suspect as well that too many too often divide over nonessentials. Check out most "biblical discernment ministry" organizations and you'll likely find hell and damnation called down on what appears to be every known preacher because of infractions perceived as heresy. (One site I found says outright that prior to their church (of 50) there has never been a true church since the beginning of the Church.)

Christians, according to Christ (you know, the "Christ" of "Christianity"), are to be marked by love for one another (John 13:35). Sometimes that love looks like correction (Gal 6:1-2). Sometimes it looks harsh (1 Cor 5:1-5). More often it looks like bearing one anothers burdens, strengthening the feeble, and praying for one another. Let's try not to take the harsh when support is better. Contend for the faith when the faith is threatened. But let's make our disagreements anchored in love. It may not solve them all, but it will certainly change the face of it.
1 In Philippians, Paul speaks of some who preach the gospel with good intentions and some who preach with selfish motives (Phil 1:12-17). He concludes, "Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice" (Phil 1:18) without bothering to seek to correct bad attitudes.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Running with Endurance

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Heb 12:1-3).
Here is, in a nice, neat nutshell, the Christian life: "Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." Very clear and clean. We get a "why" in there to start with. "Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses." Why? Because so many have done it before and done it well. (For the "great cloud" in mind, read through Hebrews 11, a list of folk "of whom the world was not worthy".) So, because there are so many like us before and today -- people who have run or are running in faith -- let us set aside the weight of sin and whatever else we carry and run with endurance whatever race is set before us.

What I find fascinating is the "how". Frankly, given the popularity of "how to" books and such programs as AA with their 12-step programs, I would think it might have been more complicated. It's not, really. How are we going to set aside those things that slow us down and run with endurance? We are going to do this task by fixing our eyes on Jesus. Now, how hard can that be?

The primary operation of the Christian life is setting aside that which encumbers and running with endurance, and the secret to the success of reaching that primary operation is looking at Jesus. Looking at the One who authored our faith. Looking at the One who perfects our faith. Looking at the One who set aside pride, comfort, even fair treatment in favor of greater joys in God's presence. Looking at the One who endured hostility so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. How hard can that be? Well, actually pretty hard when you realize that it runs contrary to just about every natural (sinful) inclination you have. Make Jesus your mindset and see how your views change. Now ... run like that.

Perhaps now it becomes more reasonable when Paul says, "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil 3:8). And, to the extent that we do not see Christ as the Author and Perfecter of our faith, we do not see Christ as the example, do not see Christ as the entire point of our existence, to that extent we will find that setting aside sin and running with endurance will be very, very difficult.

How are you running? Keeping up okay? Perhaps you're not looking in the right direction. Today would be a good day to start.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Welcoming Our Media Overlords

We all share a common distaste for sheep. Oh, no, not the animal -- the concept. We do not want to be termed "sheep" because, as everyone knows, sheep are just dumb animals that follow the crowd and do whatever they are told to do and we do not want to be that. There are, of course, multiple reasons, but one of the biggest, I suppose, is that the media tells us we shouldn't.

Have you ever thought about how much our reality is determined by our media? Our modern media aims to "inform and entertain", and that's all well and good, but somewhere along the way we've decided that they are also going to be our source of reality. All we, like sheep, have gone astray. We've allowed the media to determine what is real and then live accordingly.

The thing that really highlighted this for me recently was a news story about how "testosterone will improve your love life." Yes, that's right, all this advertisement about testosterone replacement therapies finally made it to the news and they were happy to inform us that by improving your hormones you could improve your love life. Now, in what universe does that even make sense? Does no one realize that "love life" is far more complicated than "hormones"? For instance, infusing a testosterone-deficient single male with new hormones isn't going to give him new relationships. A man with ED isn't going to be better off with hormones that urge him to have more sex. A fellow who has a poor love life because he beats them up will not have a better love life because he has better hormones. This is stupid. But there it is. This hormone replacement therapy will improve your love life.

The news is our primary source of reality today. We don't really analyze it much. We don't consider the fact that the news is defined as the unusual because, after all, it's not news that "98% of those who went to work this morning arrived home safely tonight" or "Not one single child was shot today at schools around the nation". No, no, the news is predicated on those things that are not the normal. So we hear of shootings and killings and kidnappings and crisis after crisis not because they define reality, but because they are unusual. And what effect do these stories have? People are afraid to take their children to the parks because someone was abducted at one and people are arming themselves against the completely bizarre concept that someone might show up at their work and start shooting and ... well, you get the idea. The unusual events that make up the news become the definition in our minds of "normal" -- and they aren't.

In our culture, sexual norms are almost solely determined by our television sets. Start, for instance, with that "testosterone replacement" story I just mentioned. When they say "love life", what do they mean? We're not unclear. It is sex, plain and simple. But I love my mother and I love my daughter and I love my sisters and I have to tell you my love life is doing okay ... but none of it has anything to do with sex. So who told us that "love" and "sex" are synonyms? They aren't. And we know it, yet we forget it. So we allow the media to tell us that sex between any man and any woman is good, regardless of marital relationships or even genuine love. Sex between any human couple is good. Sex is frequent and those of you who aren't having frequent sex need to seek help or, at least, be ridiculed. Our media has assured us that what was once the object of shame and embarrassment is now normal. Pornography, masturbation, multiple sexual partners, even adultery are considered "normal" and even commendable. Our media, without the aid of any objective basis, has determined for our society what is moral in the bedroom (and, of course, wherever else you want to do it).

Our value system for various roles has been skewed by our media overlords. Society once thought that men were at the top of the structure with women taking second place and children -- who should be seen and not heard -- at the bottom. That, of course, is the exact opposite our media is presenting today. Children are the wisest beings on the planet -- the younger, the wiser. Women are only slightly less wise and are sometimes useful in directing the wisdom of children, but their primary role is in deflecting the dangers of the worst human entity known today -- the adult male. These are useless creatures without brains in their heads. Some can be worse than others, of course. The white male, for instance, is bad while the native-American male may actually have some good points. The American white male in general is worse simply because he is, after all, an American. And the American Christian white male is the absolute bottom of the barrel. Without redeeming value, these beings are to be shunned and ridiculed until they no longer dot our landscape. Have at them, oh wise women and children!

Like sheep, we look to our media overlords to tell us what we should like. Environmentalism is all the rage these days. Have you hugged a tree today? (I saw a news item yesterday where police were trying to find someone who cut the ears off a dog. The woman who found the dog was saying, "I just hope they let me do the same to him when I find him" because, as we all know, animals are of at least equal value to humans.) We should like iPads because they tell us we should. Their manifest impracticality and built-in shortcomings are of little concern; the media said we should want them, so we should -- and we do. I'm convinced that the biggest problem with personal electronics is that people use them. But because the media assures us we should, we are glutted with people with their heads down and backs to one another texting and playing games and surfing the web because they can -- to the point of addiction1. This, of course, makes it all the easier to avoid being around the people we are told not to like. People with conservative views. Politicians. Lawyers. White people. Males. We are told not to like certain groups, so we don't. ("The Republicans in Congress" springs to mind.) And we are told what values to embrace. We know, for instance, thanks to our media overlords, that people with higher levels of education are the best source of wisdom. So a person with a PhD who tells you "There is no god" knows better than anyone else, right? That this is manifest nonsense is beside the point. The media has spoken; thus saith the lord. No, we must value "tolerance" which, rather than any useful meaning like "allowing differences of opinion", now means "eliminating any opinion but ours". And we must value sex. I don't know for sure why, but this is one of the fundamental values the media seems to hold. And while there are more things we ought to value, one thing we must universally hate is religion -- Christianity in particular. I suppose any religion that doesn't seek to offer a different view than the media (or might kill you if you disagree) is okay, but there is no religion on the planet more worthy of ridicule than Christianity. Thus saith the media.

"Amen, brother!" I can hear some of my fellow sheep say. "I hate the liberal media!" So we climb on board the conservative media bandwagon and allow them to determine our reality. We don't even see that the media, regardless of its bias, is biased. Nor do we recognize that, at the core, the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer 17:9) -- that Man is prone to suppress, not present, the truth (Rom 1:18). And we go astray with the rest of the sheep.

I, for one, do not welcome our media overlords. I want something of reality to color my view of reality. I want the truth to define what is real because, after all, truth is defined as that which correlates to reality. From that approach, I know that Christ is "the Truth" (John 14:6), a great starting place. And I know that God's Word is truth (John 17:17). And I can see that using Scripture as a basis for truth will produce huge disparity between what our media overlords tell us and what God tells us. That's okay with me. I'll go with that. It's not an easy path, but I'll go with it.
1 See recent news items from the Huffington Post, The Times-Delphic and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Parenting with a Rod?

A recent study from the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics tells us "Children who get spanked as early as age 5 have demonstrably more aggressive tendencies by the time they reach 9 years old." According to the article in the Medical Daily, "The data is admittedly foggy" (beginning with the fact that the study was solely with "Fragile Families" - families with unmarried parents who are "at greater risk of breaking up and living in poverty") but we can still be sure that it's bad. "There's just no evidence that spanking is good for kids,” Professor Elizabeth Gershoff, of the University of Texas at Austin.

No evidence? Interesting claim. Because another study suggests that "children who are spanked may grow up to be happier, more productive adults." Newsmax noted that "Two recent analyses – one psychological, the other legal – may debunk lenient modern parenting." Wait ... two? But didn't we just hear that there is just no evidence that spanking is good for kids? How can this be? Isn't science the god we worship? Odd.

One of those two studies came from Sweden "which 30 years ago became the first nation to impose a complete ban on physical discipline." Complete ban! Obviously this would produce skyrocketing child abuse rates (since they defined "corporal punishment" as "child abuse") (child abuse rates exploded over 500%). But, as it turns out, this "enlightened" parenting (the phrase, complete with quotation marks, is in the article, not from me) has produced more violent preadolescents and teens. Despite the American Academy of Pediatrics, these other studies are concluding that there can be benefits to corporal punishment. Of course, the U.S. media generally skips this kind of stuff, even when it comes from American sources. Dr. Diana Baumrind of UC Berkeley examined 164 families for over a decade and found that spanking can be helpful and "no evidence for unique detrimental effects of normative physical punishment" was found. "She also found that children who were never spanked tended to have behavioral problems, and were not more competent than their peers."

Okay, so here we are. You can go with scientism and run into the certain wall of conflicting studies. You can go with tradition and run with whatever that might be for you. Or you can go with Scripture. Oh, now, that would be a horse of a different color, wouldn't it?
Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him (Prov 13:24).

Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death (Prov 19:18).

The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother (Prov 29:15).

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him (Prov 22:15).

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).

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Heb 12:11).
The Bible seems to have a lot of input on the topic of corporal punishment. And it appears to include physical discipline -- spanking. Now, there are some who would like to argue that none of this says anything about spanking. So that whole "if you strike him with a rod, he will not die" is really hyperbole because you should never strike a child and, of course, if you never hit him or her, she will not die from it. Huh? "The problem," they assure me, "is that you're misunderstanding the words."

My problem occurs in Hebrews. Hebrews 12 (Heb 12:4ff) has a passage on discipline ... our discipline. It talks about God's discipline of His children. "The Lord disciplines the one He loves," it says (Heb 12:6). "Oh, that's okay," they tell me, "because 'discipline' simply means 'to teach'." But wait! What it says is "The Lord disciplines the one He loves and chastises every son whom He receives." Now that's a bit different. That second term is not "educates", but "scourges". Yes, with a whip. The context, in fact, begins with striving with sin "to the point of shedding your blood" (Heb 12:4). And this "chastisement" is said to be painful (Heb 12:11). Now, I have to tell you, this doesn't sound much like a "God-given timeout" to me. This passage suggests that God engages in painful means intended to teach us what we need to know. If corporal punishment is evil, then God is evil since this passage says He engages in it. And that, quite obviously, is a problem for me.

Now, I am opposed to child abuse. If child abuse is "physical, sexual, or emotional mistreatment or neglect of a child", I'm against it. (But I would consider neglecting a child's education by means of proper discipline as child abuse.) I would consider excessive physical pain abuse. I am opposed to striking a child in anger. I'm opposed to disciplining a child (with corporal punishment or otherwise) without love. And I am absolutely sure that sinful humans of all types can and do abuse this concept. But I would be cautious to make a decision regarding the very important subject of how to raise children -- the gifts God has given me -- based on questionable science, contrary studies, and modern, cultural "wisdom". I think, despite all the loud voices to the contrary, that I'd have to side with the Bible on this one and stand for the careful and measured use of loving corporal punishment. Now, there are voices out there that are arguing against it and I'm sure you can find some that you like better that tell you the Bible does not teach any such thing, but as for me, I'm kind of stuck with it. I can't see any way out of the conclusion that God's Word argues, despite all the studies you might want to cite, that loving parents applying loving discipline will use, on occasion, physical pain carefully applied. But you can check with my kids and see if they disagree now that they're all grown up and on the other side of that principle.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Future Tense

The historical, traditional, orthodox view has always been that God is Omniscient. By that we have always meant that God knows all things -- past, present, and future. Now, today this view is a matter of disagreement. The Open Theism view argues that "omniscience" includes past and present, but not future. Future, you see, hasn't happened yet. Since it does not exist, God cannot know it. He is very wise and very intuitive and He knows all tlhe possibilities, but He cannot actually know what will occur until it does. It begs the question. "So, where do you get the idea that God knows all things including the future?"

There are, of course, general passages of Scripture that speak of His perfect knowledge. God told Job that He was "perfect in knowledge" (Job 37:16). And there is so much more.
I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand (Exo 3:19).

With God are wisdom and might; He has counsel and understanding (Job 12:13).

For a man's ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and He ponders all his paths (Prov 5:21).

The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good (Prov 15:3).

God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything (1 John 3:20).
Yeah, yeah, we're all in agreement there. He knows all past and present and He knows them perfectly. But is there a reason to say that He knows the future the same way? I think so. First, of course, is that last statement that God "knows everything". But there is more. If God is going to be 100% accurate as a prophet (the biblical standard for a prophet -- Deut 18:22) with statements like that Exodus 3 passage, then it would follow that He would have to know the future. But there is more.
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, You know it altogether (Psa 139:4).

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them (Psa 139:16).

I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done (Isa 46:9-10).

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations (Jer 1:5).
That's a sampling. Then there are the passages such as Hebrews 13:8 that assure us that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" which cannot be true if He learns something new every day. The Immutability of God (1 Sam 15:29; Mal 3:6; James 1:17) is no longer true if God is constantly learning as time passes. And Ephesians 1:4 says "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world", manifest nonsense if He cannot know the future. These (and more) tell us that God's Omniscience includes a perfect knowledge of the future.

And then we run into this.
4 Because the people have forsaken Me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, 5 and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into My mind; 6 therefore, behold, days are coming, declares the LORD, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter (Jer 19:4-6).
There it is, the perfect "silver bullet" to put an end to this nonsense about "Omniscience" and all that. God Himself says that something did not come into His mind. Isn't that an explicit statement that He didn't know something that did actually happen? And isn't that, therefore, the perfect disproof of Omniscience? QED.

It is at this point that we ought to be careful. If we are going to read Jeremiah 19:5 as proof that God is not perfect in knowledge, not Omniscient, does not know the future, then we are going to have to make several adjustments.

1. Since God claims perfect knowledge for Himself and, yet, didn't have a clue that they would do sacrifices to Baal, there is a serious question regarding God's so-called perfection.

2. Since, as demonstrated above, the Bible makes multiple claims to God knowing things prior to their actually occurring, the Bible must be mistaken on those points.

3. Since the measure of a prophet is 100% accuracy and God cannot be 100% accurate since His knowledge of future events are only wise guesses and not certain, He would need to be disqualified (biblically) as a prophet. Any promises He made regarding future events are possibilities and even, perhaps, probabilities, but certainly not certainties.

4. The Bible quite clearly contradicts itself. Some Scriptures state clearly that God knows the future perfectly and others say that He definitely does not. The Bible, then, cannot be the actual Word of God, reliable, inerrant, trustworthy.

You know what? It's likely time that we switch over to a new religion at this point. This book we thought we could trust is not trustworthy and this God we thought we were serving isn't the God we thought He was and is neither reliable nor worthy of the worship we offer. Time to move on.

Or it might be possible that this one text is being misinterpreted and we would want to reexamine it in light of the many texts that state the opposite. Now that is a possibility. That is, you will either need to jettison the Bible and the God of that Bible, or you will need to make the Bible make sense. In this latter case, however, I don't have a problem. I don't see the text, the words, or the intent requiring ignorance on God's part. Notice, for instance, Green's Literal Translation and Young's Literal Translation say, "nor did it come into My heart." Now that's not the same thing. But even if you continue with "mind", you can see from the context that God is laying the accusation on Judah. "I did not command or decree," God says. "I neither made the command nor even speak of it." In the same vein, then, it would be most reasonable to understand Him to say, "Nor did I even think it was a good idea." "The idea did not come from My mind." "It never occurred to Me that you should do this." "I didn't command it; I didn't hint at it; I didn't even think it might be something you should do." That is, it wasn't God's idea. It was theirs. And they bear the culpability for it.

This is a simple choice, really. Either the Bible consistently claims that God knows all things including the future and this singular text does not disagree, or this text does disagree and all the rest of Scripture on the subject is wrong. The claims of the Omniscience of God are not few. The ramifications are not small. But what you cannot do is embrace the contradiction and go on happily. That's cognative dissonance. That's simply irrational. That's crazy. Let's not do crazy.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Turnabout May Not Be Fair Play

I've been trying to figure this out lately, and I'm not getting anywhere. Maybe you can help.

I'm a Christian. By that I mean that I am a follower of Christ. This Christ whom I follow is the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God. As such, the Bible is His Word, so it is incumbent on me, as a follower of Christ -- a Christian -- to follow His Word, the Bible. Okay? Clear so far? Great!

Now, my Bible says without ambiguity that Behavior X is in violation of God's direct commands. Pick an "X". Maybe it's premarital sex. Maybe it's homosexual sex. Maybe it's murdering babies in the womb. Whatever floats your boat. There are a lot of them that are 1) in clear and direct opposition to God's Word and 2) in vogue in our world today. So, I come to a crossroads here. For whatever Behavior X you happen to wish to discuss, I am forced by my prior commitment to Christ to conclude that this behavior is sin while much of the world around me is content to embrace the behavior and even encourage it in others.

Now comes the rub. If I hold that this behavior is sin, I'm a hater, a narrow-minded bigot, intolerant and judgmental. I've got to change my views with the times. I've got to come into the 21st century, get on board with the culture. It is never possible, it seems, that those who argue that Behavior X is not a sin are haters, narrow-minded bigots, intolerant and judgmental, in need of changing to align themselves with the Word of God (the synonym for which, by the way, would be "truth"). Why is that? Why is it never that "Perhaps I need to change my view, not you, Christian"? Or even, "Well, we clearly disagree; let's move on"? No. It is always "You hateful and intolerant Christians need to change ... and we don't!"

But wait! It gets worse. You see, I'm not a big fan of "legislating morality". No, no, I am not confused. I understand that all laws are legislation of what a society is deeming moral or not. That is "legislating morality" no matter what anyone says, and it is unavoidable -- a function of the nature of laws. But I don't believe that by passing good laws we can make good people. I can't pass good laws and make people good-hearted, moral, better. No, those without Christ are, by my understanding of Scripture, sinners, opposed to God, inclined only to evil, and all that. So while I think it might be of some benefit to stem the tide of sin by passing good laws, I don't really think that good laws will ultimately make good people, and I'm in favor of changed hearts which cannot come from good laws. All this to say that, while I may favor laws that make murdering babies in the womb illegal or that protect the longstanding, historical, traditional definition of marriage, for instance, I don't put a lot of trust in them solving society's problems. So I'm not counting on laws to stop you from sinning. When I say, then, that premarital sex is a sin or homosexual behavior is a sin or that marriage is the union of a man and a woman and ought to be respected as such or that it is a sin to murder a child in the womb, I am not saying, "And I'm willing to go to court to put you in jail for it." No. I'm saying, "So, you ought not do it." And how would I recommend you avoid it? "You ought to avoid sin by meeting Jesus on a personal level and having a change of heart." Because, as I said, laws aren't going to do it.

The other side, however, doesn't see it my way. I don't mean they disagree with my position -- obviously they do. I mean they disagree with my approach. They would like to pass laws to make my view illegal. They would like to go to court to force me to change my core beliefs. Oh, sure, at first it would be, "You can have those beliefs in private, but not in public." That, of course, won't hold water for very long. So "private" becomes a shrinking realm until it is nearly nonexistent and certainly ineffective. So they would like to pass laws to outlaw my beliefs. They would like to go to my workplace and get me fired for my beliefs. They would like to go to my community and get me ostracized for my beliefs. The idea is not "You have your views and we have ours." It is "You had better come to agree with us or you will certainly pay!"

And I'm the hater, the intolerant one, the judgmental one, the narrow-minded one.

I've been trying to figure this out lately, and I'm not getting anywhere. Maybe you can help.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Explicit and Implicit

There is a basic principle of biblical interpretation that, I think, may not be so basic as I'd like to think. Here's the basic principle: Always interpret the implicit from the explicit. What does it mean? Well, in Scripture (as in any writing or communication), you will find things that could logically be implied and you will find things that are stated explicitly.

Let's try something silly by way of example. I say, "The house was unoccupied." One person could read that and conclude, "Well, a house is a place where people live, so it implies that it is occupied. Either the word 'unoccupied' is mistaken or the word 'house' is mistaken and we'll have to figure out which." Another would say, "Well, the text is explicit. It is a house. It is unoccupied. Therefore, we have a building intended to be occupied but is not." The first person in this example decided to interpret the explicit ("The house was unoccupied") by the implicit ("A house is a place where people live"). The second interpreted the implicit ("A house is intended to be occupied ...") by the explicit ("... but apparently this one isn't.").

With that concept in mind, let's look at some biblical examples. Here's an all-time favorite:
God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
What is implicit here? What does almost everyone see as implied in this verse? The phrase, "whoever believes", clearly implies that anyone can. So when someone raises the objection, "Humans lack the natural ability to choose Christ", it's a simple matter to point at this verse and say, "See? John 3:16 disagrees!" And, indeed, such a conclusion is a valid implication, but note that it is not an explicit statement. Nothing in the text says, "Anybody can." All it says is "whoever does." And why would we possibly doubt that implied conclusion? Well, because of the multiple texts regarding Man's inability.
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him (John 6:44).

No one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father (John 6:65).

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14).
So, while John 3:16 might imply "anybody can", it doesn't actually say it (the explicit) while multiple explicit texts say that not anybody can. So you will need to decide. Will you interpret the explicit by the implicit, or will you interpret the implicit by the explicit?

Or take the topic of Free Will. I don't have to go very far to see multiple commands by God for us to obey. We are told over and over that we are supposed to choose to obey God. One of the most famous "choose" verses is found in Joshua.
"If it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Josh 24:15).
Conclusion? We have Free Will. And, indeed, while there is a minority that might argue we don't, most agree that we do indeed have the ability to make choices. But do we have a "sovereign", unlimited ability to make choices? The Bible indicates something different.
The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by Him to do his will (2 Tim 2:24-26).

"You do not believe because you are not among My sheep" (John 10:26).

... No one seeks for God. ... No one does good, not even one (Rom 3:11-12).

... Every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen 6:5).

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps (Prov 16:9).

It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil 2:13).
I know that the implication of "Choose this day whom you will serve" is "anyone can", but the explicit texts indicate that humans lack the natural ability (the moral ability) to do so. A command to choose does not require an ability to choose. It implies the ability, but doesn't explicitly state it.

Or, perhaps, have you heard this one? "Love isn't true love unless it is freely given." And they will point to the command to love God with all your heart as proof. Very popular, I'm sure, but, unfortunately, not biblical. This is what the Bible says: "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)" Interesting. Appears to clearly contradict the implied "True love is that which we give freely", doesn't it?

It is good and proper that we should immerse our lives in the Word of God. We ought to "rightly divide" the Word. We ought to be students for life of the Word. But we need to be careful, given the deceitfulness of the human heart, not to get turned around by implications that contradict explicit statements of Scripture. Always interpret the implicit from the explicit. It will work much better that way.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Omniscience and Sovereignty

The Sovereignty of God is not an easy topic. It often generates sparks, arguments, disagreements among believers. One side argues that God is Sovereign and, by that, means that God works all things after the counsel of His will, and the other side says that God is sovereign, but in a self-limiting sense so that Man's Free Will can rise to the top (so to speak). There are, of course, shades and gradations in these perspectives, but that's the general idea. God is either actually Sovereign, ordaining all that comes to pass (without necessarily causing all that comes to pass), or He is not.

Rarely discussed in this question is the concept of Omniscience. Traditional, historical orthodoxy argues that Omniscience, like Sovereignty, is absolute. That is, God knows all things -- past, present, and future. There is nothing that has, is, or will happen that He does not know. He knows all contingencies, but He doesn't know anything contingently. That is, there is no "Plan B", no "what ifs". He knows what might have happened, but He knows perfectly what will happen.

The collision here, of course, is again with Man's Free Will. If we admit that God knows all future events, then God knows perfectly what you will choose to do tomorrow. And if His knowledge is perfect, you cannot, in a sense, choose anything different. Doesn't this contradict Free Will?

It does, I suppose, if free will is defined in a libertarian sense -- without coercion, influence, or predetermination. The complaint is that even though free will is theoretically in play tomorrow -- you could choose something different -- the fact that you will not because God knows it in advance means that free will is a myth.

I would beg to differ. Let's look at it from the perspective of humans (who, we understand, are not perfect). I know that if I place a cookie in front of my granddaughter and tell her "You can choose to eat this or not", she will eat it. I know it. But is there any doubt that it was her free will? "True," someone will argue, "but there is still the slightest possibility that she may not." Okay, so let's say that a group of us are doing an experiment and we place the cookie in front of her and let her choose. I say, "She will surely eat it" and someone wiser than me says, "Oh, no, she won't. I happen to know she's not feeling well, so on this quite rare occasion, she will refuse it." And she does. Free will. So the more perfect the knowledge is, the more perfect the predicted outcome will be. And perfect knowledge does not negate free will. So when we have a God who is Omniscient by biblical standards -- perfect knowledge -- then His predicted outcome cannot err. Again, without interfering with free will, God would know perfectly the choices any of us would make without error and without doing violence to free will. From a human perspective, all options are on the table and we can choose whatever we want. From a divine perspective, the choice we will make is sure.

You see, then, that Sovereignty and Omniscience are tightly linked. God, knowing perfectly the choices we will make (Omniscience), can choose to allow or disallow those choices (Sovereignty) so that, without necessarily making our choices for us, He would end up working all things after the counsel of His will. You know, like Scripture says.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Greatly to be Praised

Perhaps, by far, the most common objection to either the existence of God or the goodness of God is the reality of evil. The unpleasant, the tragic, the sad, the immoral, the truly evil things in this world do in fact exist. Why? If God is good, how can this be?

There have been lots of people (myself included) who have ventured to provide answers to this dilemma. This is not such a one.

The Bible is quite clear that God is true even if every man is a liar (Rom 3:4), that humans have the nasty tendency to suppress the truth (Rom 1:18), and we all suffer from deceitful hearts (Jer 17:9). It begs the question, then. Is it actually true that evil is real? I would affirm without a doubt that it is indeed true from the human perspective, but David says this:
The LORD is good to all,
And His mercies are over all His works.
All Your works shall give thanks to You, O LORD,
And Your godly ones shall bless You (Psa 145:9-10).
Now, does that give pause? "The Lord is good to all." Without exception. Compassion marks all He does. Without exception. That's the claim. And the further assertion is that all God's works will thank Him. Without exception. It's kind of like Paul's words in Philippians: "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:10-11). Without exception. At least eventually.

We all know that things can be unpleasant here on earth. May I suggest that we are deceived? From an earthly perspective it is surely true. But from a heavenly perspective God does good to all, all He does is covered by compassion, and in the end all His works will praise Him.
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable (Psa 145:3).
The sooner we figure that out, the better off we'll be. Today would be a good day to start.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Common Sense Rules

I get to spend time on occasion with our granddaughter. (My wife babysits her during the week.) The other day, my wife was not well, so I got the duty. At one point we were watching one of those educational kids shows. "Today," they told us, "we're going to learn about safety." Oh, yeah, this ought to be good.

The teacher in the show explained to the kids in the show, "The first rule of safety when you're out walking is 'Stop, look, and listen.'" Well, I thought that made sense. You know, helpful for young children to know. "The second rule," she went on to say, "is to never run on the sidewalk; you might get hurt."

What? When did this become helpful safety instructions? And if it is the standard of safety -- "you might get hurt" -- how would we apply that? Let's see. Well, clearly you should never ride in a car because you might get hurt. In fact, walking on the sidewalk could potentially be dangerous as well by that same measure. On the other hand, they tell me that most accidents occur in the home, so being in the home is probably not safe either. You might get hurt. Now, hold on a minute. Is there anywhere that you cannot get hurt? Okay, this is going to get complicated.

This kind of nonsense is the product of a foolish world. There is some sort of idea that nothing unpleasant should ever happen. You can see this in the constant lawyer commercials suing medical companies because something went wrong. No, not malpractice. No, not malfeasance. Something unpleasant happened and someone is going to pay. You can see it in the "ban guns" response to incidents where bad people do bad things with the tool they're carrying called a "gun". You know, if there were no guns, no one would kill anyone ... right? Silly, of course, because on the very same day as the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut a Chinese man stabbed 22 school children in a village in China. For some reason they're not banning knives. What's up with that?

Where do we end up? We end up suspending two 7th graders for playing with toy guns at home. We ban the game of tag from schools. We suspend one boy for drawing a picture of a gun and another for waving a pop tart like a gun. Hugging gets banned. All sorts of insanity ensues. Luckily when a high school teacher tried to introduce a play to a drama class involving bestiality, pedophilia, and incest, the teacher was suspended. Oh, wait, that was only temporary. Students and parents rallied to his cause.

The Bible says that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer 17:9). The Bible says that sin leads to a "depraved mind" (Rom 1:28). Sin isn't merely immorality; it is insanity. So when a feminized society tells us that we shouldn't run on the sidewalk with the rationale "you might get hurt" or a school suspends a kid for playing legally at home or parents defend a teacher exposing his students to rank immorality, you should be able to see where sin is leading us. Insanity. Maybe now you can see why we are to "be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom 12:2). It is probably something of real importance if sin is rampant and sin breeds insanity. Lots of evidence around us says it does.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Through Him who Strengthens Me

Don't you just hate those cherished verses that are so often yanked completely out of context and then applied completely out of place to unwarranted places? One of those is the famous Philippians 4:13 -- "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." Great! So now I know if I am afraid when I go to rob the bank, I have Jesus by my side to strengthen me. Right? I mean, isn't that what it says? Sure, if you're not concerned about context.
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Phil 4:11-13).
As it turns out, of course, that is not the intent of the verse. Instead, the context is about learning to be content in every situation and every level of need. "I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound." How? Because Christ enables me to handle plenty and hunger, abundance and need. All of that is possible through Him who strengthens me.

Oh, see? Now we're not so sure we want that, right? I mean, do we really want to learn to be content in times of hunger and need? No! We want ... more!

In truth, I think we have some admiration for people who endure hard times. Oh, no, we don't want it. We just admire those who do it.

I wonder sometimes if, indeed, our bigger problem (as Americans, at least) is the opposite. Paul says that he has learned contentment. Notice that, apparently, it requires learning to be content ... both in plenty and in hunger. Oh, we get that it is hard to be content in hunger, but Paul is telling us that it is also hard to be content with a lot. And, after all, when you think about it, isn't that the case? Aren't we like Rockefeller1 who, when asked, "How much is enough?" would answer, "Just a little bit more"? While our current mode of operation is, too often, covetousness -- demanding what the others have because we have the right to it as well -- Paul calls it idolatry (Col 3:5).

Paul says he has learned a great secret: contentment. I think we have as much problem with comfort as we do with hardship. I think we need the enabling of Christ to learn how to be content in either. I think we could afford to take some time to learn that lesson of how to be content in any and every circumstance.

Or, as Paul puts it, "Godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Tim 6:6).
1 A few more fascinating quotes from John D. Rockefeller:
Charity is injurious unless it helps the recipient to become independent of it.
Or how about:
We can never learn too much of His will towards us, too much of His messages and His advice. The Bible is His word and its study gives at once the foundation for our faith and an inspiration to battle onward in the fight against the tempter.
I particularly like this one:
There is nothing in this world that can compare with the Christian fellowship; nothing that can satisfy but Christ.
Bet you didn't see that coming, eh?

Thursday, October 17, 2013


They tell us that in all cases Scripture must be made applicable. Simple truth, plain facts, straightforward doctrine ... these things are all well and good, but not particularly helpful if they are not made practical. Now, I'm not entirely sure this is true. I think that you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. That is, truth, by virtue of the fact that truth is defined as that which corresponds to reality, is applicable and beneficial. Further, the God I trust is fully capable of assigning application to truth. I guess, then, that I agree. Truth must be applicable ... because it is and because God will make it so.

Having said that, it's always interesting to me to see how the Bible practices this principle of applying truth. Paul, in fact, was a master at it. Nearly every one of his epistles started with pure, reasonable doctrine and ended with a "therefore" requiring an "in light of this truth we must" type of conclusion.

Paul's epistle to the church at Philippi is somewhat of an exception. This is a down-home, practical letter riddled with both truth and application. "God has granted you that you not only believe, but suffer for His sake" (Phil 1:29) followed by "So make my joy complete by being of one mind" (Phil 2:1-2). He talks about how that "one mind" works (Phil 2:3-11) and then has us apply the fact that Christ is exalted by working out our salvation (Phil 2:12-13). And on and on. Truth - application.

There is, in all of this, a repeated application.
If I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me (Phil 2:17-18).

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you (Phil 3:1).

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice (Phil 4:4).
I don't know about you, but I'm beginning to detect a theme. Hmmm, let me see ... what might it be? Oh, yeah! Rejoice! He says it so many times that He almost apologizes for it. "To write the same things to you is no trouble to me." Indeed, he suggests that it "is safe for you." Rejoice!

Why? Because of the truth. Because "it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). Because we can "count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ" (Phil 3:8). Because "our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil 3:20). Because there is no need to "be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" (Phil 4:6). Because "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content" (Phil 4:11) and you can, too. Because "my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Phil 4:19).

Christians have it made. We are loved by God, surrounded by fellow believers, citizens of heaven. We can (and will) encounter suffering and rejoice in it. We can be content in all situations. We ought to be marked by rejoicing. Rejoicing is for your safety. Paul thought so. He certainly said it enough times.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Give Us Bread

John 6 begins with John's version of the feeding of the 5,000. You remember that story. Jesus uses 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed a crowd consisting of 5,000 men (and whoever else was there) with 12 baskets left over (John 6:1-13). Good stuff. Next, Jesus sends His disciples across the Sea of Galilee and then does His famous water-walk (John 6:15-21). On the other side in the morning the crowd found Him again. But before they can even get in a good question, Jesus answered them: "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal" (John 6:26-27).

I have to tell you this is striking to me. Just the day before "when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, 'This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.'" (John 6:14). They're not confused. They're not lost. They understand that Jesus is something truly special. Not just a prophet, but the Prophet (Deut 18:15). So do they look for "prophet stuff" from Him? No. They want ... food.

This is so us. These are "believers" in the sense that these people understand that He is more than a magician. If nothing else, they have been commanded to listen to Him. But what do they want? Stuff. Food. Temporal comfort. Physical pleasure. Far, far too often this is us, seeking Christ for what we can get, for temporal comfort. Oh, and if He doesn't come through for us, we are not going to be happy with Him. "Why, God??!!" we will complain. "Why did you let this (bad thing) happen to me?" Because we aren't particularly interested in the fact that this is God Incarnate. We want momentary pleasure. And it's His job (somehow) to supply it.

I think we all make that mistake from time to time. I think that genuine believers will catch it. Those who don't are like those disciples in the events of John 6 who grumbled (John 6:60-61). These ultimately walk away not because they lack sufficient proof or adequate signs, but because they don't believe.

Which are you? Are you one that comes to Christ for the bread you can get? Are you seeking that which God can supply? Or are you, like Paul, one who counts "all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil 3:8)? Does Jesus owe you personal pleasure, a life of leisure, temporal comfort, or is it Christ Himself you seek? If the latter, have you, perhaps, temporarily lost sight of that fact? Just checking.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Human Interest

As I think should be obvious, I've become more and more aware of late of the very real, very down-to-earth, very biblical description of the basic problem of sin: putting Man's interests before God's interests. The verse that first got my attention on this was Mark 8:33, so it was interesting to me that our sermon last Sunday also came from Mark 8. And there was more good stuff in there.

The chapter begins with the feeding of the 4,000 (Mark 8:1-9) followed with the bizarre demand from the Pharisees for a sign (Mark 8:10-12) (as if feeding 4,000 people with seven loaves and a few small fish wasn't sign enough?). Jesus and His disciples set off in their boat, then, but the disciples failed to visit the supermarket and only brought one loaf of bread. Jesus calls on them to change their focus. "Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod" (Mark 8:15). The lack of bread was a legitimate concern, but Jesus wanted to use the legitimate concern for a more important point. What was this "leaven"? Well, the Pharisees demanded a sign and Herod and the Sadducees (Matt 16:6) were really keen on signs, so apparently it was this demand for a real demonstration of the supernatural. "You know," this leaven says, "if you would show me a real miracle, I'd believe." Jesus's reply was, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah" (Matt 16:4). And we all know what the sign of Jonah was, right? (Hint: 3 days and nights in the belly of the whale.)

Now, pause for a moment. Remember where I started -- the mind set on the interests of Man rather than the interests of God. Where, then, are we going from here?

Well, clearly, the disciples didn't get it. "He's concerned about leaven because we don't have enough bread." Completely missing the point. Frankly sounding a bit exasperated, Jesus walks them through the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of the 4,000 and asks, "Do you not yet understand?" (Mark 8:16-21). Jesus then heals the blind man (Mark 8:22-26) (as if to say, "He sees; do you yet?") and then we get to the passage I've been mulling over for several months now, ending with "He rebuked Peter and said, 'Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's'" (Mark 8:33). Isn't that where we've been all chapter long? The people wanted to be fed (Man's interest) and the Pharisees wanted a sign (Man's interest) and the disciples were concerned about bread (Man's interest) and the blind man wanted to be healed (Man's interest) and Peter didn't want Jesus to die (Man's interest).

So I thought I'd read on ... you know, the rest of the context. Do you know what follows?
If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:34-38).
Well, now, that puts a little different spin on some very well-known verses, doesn't it? Jesus isn't talking in a vacuum here. He isn't just offering some juicy insights. He is speaking with a point. What point? He is trying to draw a line between God's interests and Man's interests. It is in Man's interests to not deny himself, to save his life, to gain the world, to get along with the world around him. These are matters of Man's interests. And Jesus is drawing a sharp dividing line here. God's interests are radically different. How do these looks through the lens of God's interests? Self-denial, taking up a cross, following Christ, losing your life for Christ's sake, not being ashamed of Christ. These are all things that are clearly in God's interests but not, on the surface, Man's interests.

One last observation. If indeed the repeated theme in this chapter is "God's interests rather than Man's", you might have seen a repeated indication of God's interest. You'll find it in the Matt 16:6 version of Mark 8:12 and in the bread dialog compared with Jesus's New Covenant with the bread representing His body and in the things Jesus was saying that upset Peter -- His impending death -- and even in His statement regarding denying yourself and taking up ... what? ... your cross. The Cross is a repeated theme in this passage. And that is a key interest of God.

It is the way of sinful humans to focus on Man's interests over God's interests. This standard operating principle puts us in direct conflict with God. Maybe it's demanding a sign like the Pharisees rather than believing. Maybe it's focusing on immediate needs like the disciples did with the bread rather than on the One who can supply them. Maybe it's even cloaked in concern for Christ's interests like Peter was when he urged Christ not to speak of dying after He told Peter it was the plan. Repeatedly in life we will find that there is a way that seems right to a man, but the result is death (Prov 14:12). And the way that is right just doesn't always look so right, does it? So we have to decide. Will we be wise and pay attention to God's interests, or will we be "wise" and pay heed to the interests of Man? The latter is deemed "hardhearted". The former begins with the Cross.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Magnificent Obsession

Paul's epistle to the church at Philippi is one of the warmest letters he writes that is retained in the pages of our Bibles. He speaks of his troubles but with rejoicing rather than complaint. He tells them that "to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me" (Phil 1:29-30). And that's good news according to Paul. Then he says,
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others (Phil 2:1-4).
"Therefore." That is, how are we going to face the suffering we are granted? And his answer is "by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose."

The argument of some here is that this means that there should be no disagreements among believers. We must all think alike. The fact that there are denominations and divisions, this type of argument maintains, indicates that we are not Christians as we are intended to be. This, of course, is nonsense. We can demonstrate this by simply pointing to the fact that every epistle written by Paul was written to address genuine division and conflict. Further, he states quite clearly in various places that, while we share a common theology, we all have differences. We have different gifts, different functions, different requirements (Rom 12:4-8; 1 Cor 12; Eph 4:4-12; Rom 14:5). Differences are the norm, not the error.

So what does Paul mean when he calls for "intent on one purpose"? I think he explains it quite clearly in the following passage. The "one purpose" upon which we are all to be intent is to "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves." Our unified aim ought to be other-centeredness.

Do you see how contrary this is to normal human patterns? "Regard one another as more important than yourselves." Really? That seems ... ludicrous. Everyone knows you have to look out for Number One. Everyone knows that it is the most natural thing in the world to regard your own interests first and foremost. The best natural humans can do is "enlightened self-interest", where we see that it is to our own best interests to be kind to others. And yet, this is what Paul calls for as a unified purpose. "Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others."

If you see, up front, how contrary this is to normal behavior, can you see as well how amazing the world would be if we did this very thing? I personally can't even begin to describe a world where everyone is bent on looking out for everyone else first and foremost. What would that be like? I can't really grasp it, but what I can begin to imagine is marvelous. And, remembering that Paul is speaking here about dealing with the blessing of suffering for Christ, imagine the "encouragement in Christ," the "consolation of love," the "fellowship of the Spirit" we would experience as believers if this attitude (which was in Christ Jesus -- Phil 2:5ff) was ours.

To be honest, this is so far afield of normal human behavior and, indeed, so contrary to common sense in today's world -- they would tell us it is crazy talk -- that I'm not sure how far we could get walking down a path of considering others as more important than ourselves and looking out for the interests of others over our own. But if genuine believers were marked by this attitude toward one another and displayed this lifestyle in our interpersonal relationships, what an impact it would have on our world! "They're obsessed," our detractors might say, "but what a magnificent obsession!" And since it is a command, perhaps we ought to put some effort into ... you know ... obeying as we ought. I think it might be worth a try.

Sunday, October 13, 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)
Hmmm, let's see ... I wonder what the point of this psalm might be? Oh, wait ... I know! It's about praising the Lord! I know, it's nuanced, but I'm sure you can see it in there if you look.

I had to put the whole thing there because, seriously, does anything about this psalm strike you as strange? It does me. I'm fine with things like "Praise Him, all His angels" and a command for "kings of the earth and all peoples; princes and all judges of the earth; both young men and virgins; old men and children" to praise Him. Makes sense. But what about all the inanimate objects? What about the sun and the moon, the waters, fire, hail, snow, clouds, wind, beasts, birds -- all that? In what sense do these praise the Lord?

It's not really that complicated. Creation praises God by being what it was designed to be. Remember the story of Uzzah? In 2 Samuel 6 David was recovering the Ark of the Covenant. He got Uzzah and Ahio to do the transporting. Amidst the rejoicing of the return of the ark, the oxen stumbled and Uzzah reached up to steady the ark. It cost him his life. Why? Because, you see, the mud that Uzzah was protecting the ark from praised God by doing exactly what He made it to do. The oxen who stumbled operated precisely as oxen are supposed to operate. All creation was doing what it was designed to do. Not Uzzah. He was a born sinner with sufficient arrogance to believe that he knew better than God on this subject. He forgot that God would be regarded as holy (Lev 10:3). Nature was praising God by being what He designed it to be; Uzzah was not.

Conversely, all creation exists for God's glory. Everything. Mountains, hills, trees, "creeping things" -- yes, even those -- all creation is for God's glory. "His name alone is exalted" (Psa 148:13). This is something we too quickly forget when we are born thinking that it's all about us. It's not. It's all about Him.

Today, then, would be a good day to "Praise the LORD!" In fact, tomorrow, too.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

What's in a Name?

So, the Washington Redskins are in the hot seat. They need to change their name. Apparently, although I know of no one that uses the term at all except to refer to the NFL football team, it is offensive to some native Americans (who apprently find the term "Indians" just as offensive ... or even "Americans" without the "native" in the front). Okay, well, let's see. If we're going to avoid disturbing anyone, what other names will be on the chopping block?

Well, clearly the Chiefs will have to change. I mean, they even have an arrowhead on their symbol. Isn't that clearly a reference to native Americans?

I would think it would be obvious that animal names will need to go. I mean, aren't we supposed to love nature? Aren't we supposed to hug trees and that sort of thing? So listing God's little harmless creatures like ravens, bears, bengals, lions, falcons, panthers, colts, jaguars, dolphins, eagles, cardinals, and rams would all need to change. I'm not entirely sure if a "bronco" is an animal -- pretty sure it is -- or just a "job" for a horse. And I'm not at all sure what a "seahawk" is -- apparently it is a nickname for an osprey. So if "redskin" (an archaic nickname for native Americans) is out of bounds, then so would "seahawk", wouldn't it? Look, even if you don't wish to protect the animal kingdom against abusive naming, at least you'd have to care about endangered animals like the bengal tiger, right? Can't someone do something about this abuse?

I would think no one would have problem with the name of the team from Buffalo, but wouldn't it be wise for the city to change its name?

And then there is the questionable Green Bay Packers ...

I suppose, since there are no vikings anymore, they can't really complain, so we probably shouldn't be concerned about other mythical beings such as the titans or the giants. Other teams use names with such rarified content that it probably won't be a problem. I mean, where are you going to find a saint or, perhaps, even a patriot today among those who will complain about names? And I don't suppose Texans will complain about the name Texans or Cowboys on a Texas football team any more than Pennsylvanians will complain about the name Steelers on their Pittsburgh team. (Is there a problem when the Cowboys fight it out with the Redskins or the Chiefs? I don't know ... old conflicts, you know.)

In my opinion, the team with the winning name -- the name that all others should adopt as their pattern -- is the Cleveland Browns. I mean, who can complain about a color? I think it would be quite appropriate to have the San Francisco Rainbows. Oh, sure, it might be tough playing as the Jacksonville Pinks or the Detroit Mauves, but, who knows? It might just make them tougher. And they will have to avoid offensive colors like black, red, or yellow I suppose. But it should work. Well, at least until the Color Coalition gets its head up and sues ...

Friday, October 11, 2013

Not To Us

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name give glory,
For the sake of Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness!
Why should the nations say, "Where is their God?"
Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases (Psa 115:1-3).
I have suggested in the past that God is Sovereign, even in suffering. I've claimed that God does what He does for a reason, and I've claimed that all He does He does for His glory.

Interestingly, there is no small resistance to these claims, even among believers. There is no small contingent among genuine believers that will argue that God has limited His Sovereignty (and they still call it "sovereignty") in order to preserve Man's Free Will (as if this is, in itself, more valuable and, therefore, more important than God's own will). God's is routinely thwarted and He does not always (I'd have to assume "often" rather than "always") accomplish what He intends because Man's will prevents Him ... because, as we've established, He has a prior commitment to Man's Free Will over His own. Further, the reason for this prior commitment, for this high valuation of Man's Free Will, is that love and obedience, in order to be of any value, must be given willingly.

Now, I have to be honest here. I can't find this in any Scripture that I've seen. I've looked and looked and don't see anywhere that suggests that God is only pleased with love and obedience that is voluntary. But, hey, who am I to say?

Despite this popular trend favoring Man's Free Will over God's Absolute Sovereignty, I, like the psalmist above, still see Scripture as claiming that God is all about His own glory and that He does whatever He pleases, suggesting both that God is the Absolute Sovereign -- His will is never ultimately thwarted -- and everything He does He does for His own glory. So it begs the question.

You are a believer. You are a God-lover. You are a follower of Christ. Here's my question. If (and you're not admitting to the truth of this claim -- just a "what if") it is indeed true that God is absolutely Sovereign, that He does do whatever He pleases, that whatever happens He ordains (without, mind you, necessarily being the motive force behind it), and does all with the assurance to His followers, "Don't worry! Everything that happens occurs for My glory", would you be satisfied? Would you say to God, "Oh, good, that's a perfectly good reason and, even if I don't see it, I am pleased with it"? Or would you say, "Oh, I don't know, God. That seems ... wrong somehow"? Would you concur with the psalmist here (both in his claim that God alone should receive glory or that God does whatever He pleases), or would you choose to argue with him (the psalmist, not necessarily God)? Is it good and acceptable to you if God's will is always accomplished (even if that will includes evil or calamity) and always for His glory? Or is that in some sense unacceptable to you? Is God's will accomplished for God's glory an insufficient reason for unpleasant or evil things to occur? Or is that good enough?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Insanity of Paul

R.C. Sproul is perhaps best known for his book on the Holiness of God. It is, without a doubt, an exceptional teaching. Regardless of what you may or may not think of the man, I highly recommend the book, the teaching series, the audio -- any way you can get it. Included in that subject is a discussion about "the insanity of Luther", where some have suggested that Martin Luther, rather than being a Reformer, was, instead, insane. Sproul argues to the contrary that Luther's clear understanding of the Holiness of God (I don't put a capital "H" in that without reason) made him appear crazy to those who don't get it.

I would like to suggest that Luther wasn't alone. I would like to suggest that another key player in Christendom was also "insane". That is, while he exhibited many characteristics that might be labeled as "crazy" today, he actually had such a good grasp of God's truth that our failure to understand Paul is an indication not of Paul's insanity, but of our shortfall of God's truth.

Why would I say that Paul was "insane"? Well, consider this:
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake (Phil 1:29).
Get that? Paul is telling the Philippians, "Good news, guys! Not only is it a gift that you believe, but you are also being gifted with the chance to suffer!! Woohoo!" "Ummm, Paul, in what sense is that good news? How is that a gift?

And this:
I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Phil 3:8).
"Really, Paul? You consider your heritage, your health, your family and friends as loss? You even listed your zeal for God and your righteousness. Rubbish?" (Keep in mind that he actually called it "dung.")

And this:
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me" (Rom 15:1-3).
"Oh, now, Paul, be real. 'Not to please ourselves'? How is that even reasonable?" It doesn't help, you see, if you read over in Philippians, "In humility count others more significant than yourselves" (Phil 2:3).

So you see, this kind of stuff is an easy way to label Paul a loon. Embrace suffering as a gift. Count all we have here as dung. Don't seek to please yourself, but consider everyone else as more significant than yourself. Everyone knows that's all just crazy talk.

It's insane indeed ... unless it's true. If Paul is right in his view, then he isn't crazy in his positions. If it is true that we are to set our minds on the things above and not on the things of earth (Col 3:2), then our entire orientation may change. If the primary problem we face is being more concerned about Man's interests than God's interests, isn't Paul actually more reasonable than our popular perceptions? If it is indeed a reality that we are, in everything we do, to glorify God (1 Cor 10:31), then it begins to make sense that Paul may be right. But consider this: If Paul is right, then doesn't that make the popular view insane? If Paul is correct in placing all emphasis on God and His glory, isn't it irrational to concern ourselves with our own glory and our own comfort and our own pleasure? Uh oh, we may have a problem here to consider.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The Same Coin

In our day "pharisee" (lowercase "p", since the uppercase version refers to a member of a Jewish sect around Jesus's day) is defined as "a sanctimonious, self-righteous, or hypocritical person."

So ... what do those terms mean? Well, the dictionary says that self-righteous means "confident of one's own righteousness". Of course, beyond that there is the sense of "smug" or "overly pious" or some other value judgment about this thing we call "self-righteous", but, in essence, the concept is the certainty that I possess within myself a satisfactory amount of righteousness.

Moving on, a "hypocrite" may not be quite what you might think. Many people use the term in reference to someone who doesn't practice what they preach. "Oh, you did drugs in school? So why would you have any grounds to tell me not to? Hypocrite!!" That's not a hypocrite. A hypocrite is "a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs." Thus, our fallacious version of a hypocrite doesn't apply if the person who did the dirty deed and then preached against it didn't claim virtue. So, for instance, "I did drugs in school. I'm telling you, because of my experience, you must not" would not be hypocritical because it doesn't make a claim to virtue the person doesn't actually possess. Indeed, it makes the opposite claim. "I'm not clean on this subject and I hope you will be."

Oh, and then there's "sanctimonious" which means someone who is a self-righteous hypocrite, so we don't need to go any further down that road, okay? It's the same thing as the first two.

Here's the interesting part. If a "pharisee" is someone who is a self-righteous hypocrite -- and that's bad -- how would one avoid such a condition? Well, there are two parts here. First there is self-righteousness, which is a failure to recognize one's lack of righteousness -- one's sin. Then there is hypocrisy which is a failure to recognize one's lack of righteousness -- one's sin. Oh, now, wait! That's interesting, isn't it? So, to avoid being a hypocrite, you would need to not claim virtue you don't have, and in order to avoid being self-righteous, you'd have to admit that you don't have the virtue you thought you had. The same coin.