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Friday, February 28, 2014

When Religion Collides with Rights

Nothing in Christianity requires an end, outlawing, or assault on homosexual perspectives. That may sound strange, so let's back off for a second to "safer ground". Nothing in Christianity requires that Christians put an end to any sin. We are not commanded to stop theft, end murder, or prevent covetousness. We are commanded to do that in ourselves, but the Bible is abundantly clear that Natural Man is a sinner by birth and will, repeatedly, violate God's laws. Nowhere are we commanded to force an end that. So while the Scriptures clearly put homosexual behavior in the "sin" category, Christians are not told to end sin in the world.

So why is it that those immersed in homosexual activity cannot tolerate those who believe it is wrong? Why is it that the Christian baker who is not comfortable providing a cake for a celebration of something he finds immoral is deserving of legal censure? Why is it that the Christian photographer who demurs on endorsing an event she cannot is not allowed to have that religious freedom even when she recommends an alternate photographer? You see, there was no coercion on the part of the photographer or the florist or the baker, but there is coercion from the other direction. The Christian business person would say, "While you are certainly free to engage in whatever sin you wish, please don't ask me to endorse it." The LGBTLMNOP1 side, on the other hand, would counter, "While I am certainly free to engage in whatever lifestyle I wish, you are not and must bend to my wishes here." And they'll do it by legal means or force of threats ... or more.

It's interesting. At least as far as biblical Christianity is concerned, there would be very few areas that a Christian's worldview would prevent him or her from dealing with homosexual (or any other sinning) consumers or employees. A waitress can serve a practicing homosexual without endorsing his lifestyle. A mechanic can fix a lesbian's car without celebrating her sexual choices. A store owner can hire someone who prefers both genders in the bedroom without agreeing with or celebrating his or her preferences. Most businesses have no connection between the choices a customer makes and approval of their sins by hiring or serving them. A very few exceptions exist.

But the objection is that "Gay is the new Black." They're "born that way" and, as such, deserve "special protection" and "equal rights" commensurate with their ... what ... sexual race? Comparisons are drawn between racial discrimination and personal religious restrictions against endorsing sexual sin. "These are the same," they tell us. That appears to be the argument. Does it work?

Many see similarities between race and orientation. Both represent minority status. Both are targets of prejudice. Both claim differential treatment -- they are treated differently because of their status. (I'm not sure about this one. Isn't everyone treated differently for some status or another?) Both face opposition. Now, look, if you continue down this path, you'd also have to include "Christian" in this category, so there must be something else included to differentiate. "Well," they will respond ("they" being all those on that side of the question), "it is something that is integral to that person, something they can't help, something they are." I'll set aside for the moment the simple fact that my Christianity is not something I can simply discard at will -- it is integral to me -- and examine this idea.

Is it, in fact, a part of their make-up? "Born that way" is the phrase, isn't it? Oddly enough, they have found no genetic links here. Science is striking out right and left trying to find that "cause" thing. They suggest a "tendency", a "sensitivity", a combination of nature and nurture along with proclivities that push them in that direction, but there is no "born that way" condition they can point to. Race, on the other hand, is precisely a matter of birth. Race is also morally neutral. There is no good or bad in black or white racial connections. No one is evil because they are Asian. Race is morally neutral; homosexual behavior is not. (Thus, to argue for "tolerance" meaning an agreement that "homosexual behavior is positive, right, good, and desirable both for those who engage in it and for the society in which they live" is a demand for the overthrow of biblical morality.) And, of course, for us, the Bible distinguishes between race (no moral codes) and homosexual behavior (defined as sin). No one is damned because they are Hispanic. On the other hand, Scripture is abundantly clear that homosexual behavior and sexual immorality puts a person in direct conflict with God (e.g., Eph 5:5; 1 Cor 6:9-10). These are significant, even definitional differences. You see, "born that way" doesn't work in any context. If there was some "gay gene", it would simply indicate a proclivity toward a sexual preference. Science gives us other "born that way" conditions such as addictive personalities, alcoholism, and even babies born without limbs. The way that they come into this world is not the issue. The issue is the choices they make in how to deal with those conditions. "Born that way" is not a reason to make choices that go along with that way. And it is the choices we make that are at issue here.

The arguments are that homosexuals deserve the same special rights that other minority races do. The arguments are that for me to hold to my religious beliefs and view that behavior as immoral would be the same thing as discriminating against a black man or a Jewish woman2. And there are even those who argue that Jesus would require it. It's the "What Would Jesus Do?" argument. "Jesus ate with sinners. Why would we contend with homosexuals?" Jesus ate with sinners, indeed, but when faced with a woman caught in adultery, He did not say, "Go and sin all you want." We do not (or, perhaps better, should not) condemn sinners (of all stripes). We warn them. I suppose this is the key difference. Love demands that we say, "God said the act is abominable -- worthy of judgment -- and, since I care about you, I thought it best to warn you." Jesus did associate with sinners. That's not the question at hand. Jesus did not endorse sinners. That is the collision of religion and "gay rights".

Make no mistake. This isn't about equal rights. This is about an assault on Christianity, an assault on biblical morality, an assault on marriage ... when it comes down to it, an assault on God. It is popular today to suggest that "the Church needs to change" as if the Church is a democracy governed by the people. It isn't. God was never elected; He is Sovereign. He gets to decide without respect to your preferences. So when He says, "This is right and that is wrong", your perceived rights aren't a consideration. As such, there will be a collision of religion and rights. Given history, it won't go well for religion. Given God's Sovereignty, it won't end well for those who stand for rights opposed to God's commands. I suppose I'll stand with the latter.
1 I know ... too many letters, and not the right ones. I just can't keep up with the changing acronym. You'll forgive me for that, I hope, and understand to what I'm referring even if the letters are not completely accurate.

2 Side question: What religion currently exists that commands, as part of its religious tenets, racism? We're constantly offered this argument. Does it actually exist? Despite arguments that racism was defended by Christians, you'll have a hard time demonstrating biblically that even their arguments held water and no one argued that it was biblically mandated. They argued that it was biblically admissible. I'd contend that it's wrong, but neither is it the same thing as a religious requirement. So what religion currently exists that commands racial discrimination? Is there one?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Keep It To Yourself

In the fray over Arizona's attempt at protecting the free exercise of religion, I saw a lot of this kind of thought: "Your religion matters in your church. Keep it in the pews." You know the idea. Believe what you want, but just keep it private. In fact, this seems to be a very popular perspective. People are assuring me that they are in favor of religious freedom ... as long as it's not visible.

There is, in this line of thinking, a very serious disconnect, and I'm trying to figure out where it comes from. First, the disconnect. People seem to think that religious beliefs are like clothing -- something you can put on or take off as it suits the moment. "Oh, yes, by all means wear that, but not on this occasion. It doesn't suit this occasion." You know ... no white after Labor Day. (So, I've always wondered -- when can you start wearing white? But I digress.) That approach doesn't fit the concept of "religious beliefs". They aren't merely things we can take on and put off. They form the entire structure of life. Religious beliefs tell us what is good and bad, right and wrong, favorable and unfavorable, truthful and false. Religious beliefs tell a Christian shop owner to deal fairly with customers just as well as they might prevent a Christian photographer from assisting a homosexual couple from celebrating a union. So we want that Christian shop owner to be fair because his religious beliefs tell him to be, but we don't want him to have any views with which we disagree. Religious beliefs are not merely the facts to which we mentally acquiesce. They are truth, that which forms a worldview, which colors every aspect of life. A Christian politician (you know, assuming such a thing exists) would propose and vote on legislation based on his or her religious views, not separated from them.

"Private religious beliefs" -- the phrase they like to use -- are not actual religious beliefs if they do not affect how you live. This is what we learn clearly from James (you know -- faith without works is dead -- James 2:14-26). Humans always act on what they truly believe. You can say you believe something, but if there is no actual response to that belief, you don't really believe it. And nothing about religion in general and Christianity in particular allows "only in private". We are commanded to make disciples, treat people certain ways, defend the truth, stand firm, and so on. "But only in private" doesn't work.

"You can believe what you want; just keep it to yourself." "Believe" and "keep it to yourself" in our case are mutually exclusive. In fact, biblically "just get along" isn't an option. I anticipate, with the current tide of hate rising against people who actually believe, I suspect we will see that this is indeed true in the not-too-distant future.

So, the other question. Where is this error that you can "keep it to yourself" coming from? It isn't rational and it isn't biblical. Obviously it comes from Satan, but what are his favorite tools in this debacle? I know it is skeptics and the debased mind, but the thing I'm wondering is how much of it is coming from "believers"? Are we attempting to "believe" without acting? Are we aiming at segmenting the sacred and the secular? Are we trying to demonstrate that a genuine faith can be kept private? I have to wonder.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Well, we're in the news again, and not in a good way. (Are we ever?) Arizona's legislature has passed SB 1062 and sent it on to Governor Brewer to sign. The moment it was approved by the legislature, protestors were out. Congressmen are urging the governor to veto it. Huffington Post is calling it an "anti-gay" bill. And the world rallies again to do battle with little ol' Arizona.

What is SP 1062? Well, it's a three-page bill that has the first page as a cover page and a second page full of definitions, so the last page is the content. The stated purpose is "free exercise of religion" and the aim is so that "State action shall not substantially burden a person's exercies of religion". Let's see ... blah, blah, blah ... nope, that's about it. The bill is an amendment to existing sections (41-1493 AND 41-1493.01) and simply clarifies that Arizonans have the right to the free exercise of religion without undue State influence.

Okay ... good, I think we're clear now. So, here's what we know. We know that at least someone in Arizona believes that the State should shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Oh, wait! That's kind of Constitutional, isn't it? Yeah, but apparently we also know that not everyone agrees with this principle. In fact, a large number apparently do not. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told the Post, "The far right of the conservative movement has been using our state as a petri dish for their anti-immigrant, anti-worker, anti-environment, anti-women, anti-education, anti-gun safety agenda for years now, and it needs to stop." You might like to think that it's the "far left" that are protesting, but now it's also Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) who are urging Brewer to veto it. So it's not just the liberals. And AZCentral assures us that Arizona business groups overwhelmingly oppose the bill. And the media is opposed, obviously. So, let's see if I have this straight. The media, the public, and a large number of other political voices are now opposed to making no law respecting the free exercise of religion, but would favor such legislation that prevents religious practices, at least in the cases that they would oppose. And it would seem that the free exercise of religion is "anti-gay" and anti-business. (I mean, in what society would anyone want to do business with people who are allowed the free exercise of religion??!!) (Is it fair to say that Representative Raul Grijalva believes that religious freedom is "anti-immigrant, anti-worker, anti-environment, anti-women, anti-education, anti-gun safety"?)

Now, I know that we are assured over and over that subverting marriage to include same-sex couples and giving additional "civil rights" to people based solely on the gender with whom they want to have sex won't hurt us, but I'm having trouble seeing my way clear on this. When giving "civil rights" and "marriage", the latter by means of radical definition, to people means that the Constitution will no longer be upheld and religious freedom will no longer be honored, I'm wondering how anyone can maintain that position. It seems that they are pretty quick to demand "tolerance"; why do they draw the line so short on the tolerance they will give? And in what world does "equal protection" mean "we're removing your equal protection and Constitutional rights"? And why is it that relabeling "religious freedom" to mean "anti-gay" makes such an action either correct or moral ... unless that is an explicit admission that "gay" is directly opposed to religious freedom?
P.S. I have long held that relabeling the connection of two people of the same gender as "marriage" is not only not marriage, but is also detrimental to Christianity, to marriage, and to society. I think the above information agrees. I have also maintained that the tool for this damage is not simply the relabeling of that relationship to call it "marriage". The tools include the evolution of divorce, the evolution of sexual mores, and the assault of feminism. I am not surprised, then, to read Carina Kolodny's admission that her goal in pursuing "marriage equality" (How is "the destruction of marriage" defined as "marriage equality"?) is aimed at and reveling in the destruction of traditional marriage, and largely on egalitarian (the nonsensical belief that there are no differences between genders) grounds.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Moral Argument

There are a variety of arguments offered that prove the existence of God. Well, of course, "prove" is an overly generous term, but you get the idea. Lots of people have lots of reasons available to rationally conclude that there is indeed a God. You have the Argument from Efficient Causality, the Design Argument, the Argument from Miracles, the Ontological Argument, the Kalam Argument ... the list goes on and on. Peter Kreeft offers Twenty Arguments for the Existence of God. includes the Cosmological Argument, the Teleological Argument, and the Argument from Religious Experience. And, of course, there's Pascal's Wager.

Included in these lists is the Moral Argument. This one goes something like this: Since there is a common moral code in all humans, there must be a common moral code giver (so to speak) that is outside of humans. Kant, the philosopher who brought us Critique of Pure Reason, a book aimed at arguing that you cannot prove the existence of God, also argued that there must be a God if morality has any purpose. That is, if there is any real "good" and "bad", there must be a Lawgiver and there must be Ultimate Justice, both requiring ... God.

Now, I have to be honest. I've never really been a fan of the Moral Argument. I mean, look around you. Can you actually claim some sort of common morality? I say that homosexual behavior is sin and I'm rapidly becoming a minority. We claim that murder is wrong, but there are people who consider it a virtue. Pull up the most heinous crime you can imagine and it will be inevitable that there will be those who don't find it so bad at all. Common moral code? I think not.

Interestingly, I've become more convinced of this argument of late ... because of atheists. Yeah, that's right. An argument offered to those who don't believe in God not well received by one who does is being solidified by those who don't believe. Interesting, isn't it? (Well, at least to me ... but I come from the Land of the Easily Amused.)

Here's the thing. The most common, almost exclusive argument offered by atheists1 is the problem of evil. From Epicurus in 3 B.C.:
Either God wants to abolish evil and cannot,
or he can but does not want to,
or he cannot and does not want to,
or lastly he can and wants to.

If he wants to remove evil, and cannot,
he is not omnipotent;
If he can, but does not want to,
he is not benevolent;
If he neither can nor wants to,
he is neither omnipotent nor benevolent;
But if God can abolish evil and wants to,
how does evil exist?
I am not here to argue with Epicurus. I'm only pointing out how atheists are convincing me that the argument for the existence of God from morality is better than I originally thought. You see, what is assumed here is "evil". This atheist argument falls apart without the reality of good and evil. But good and evil don't exist without a standard, and that standard must be universal or the argument is meaningless. Thus, the atheist argument demands a moral Lawgiver in order to prove that no such Lawgiver exists.

Second to this is the sister argument, "How can a moral God behave immorally?" They will point to such things as the biblical accounts of annihilating a group of people or biblical slavery and such and say, "See? We all know these are immoral, so your God cannot exist because He did them." But, again, we're stuck with an a priori argument -- "We all know these are immoral."2 And, again, the atheist is arguing for a universal moral code while arguing against any possible source for such a code.

There are lots of reasons I believe in God. I don't need the tricked out, fancy approaches. I like some of them -- don't get me wrong -- but I don't need them. But the more the anti-theist protests against God on the basis of morality, the more convinced I become that God exists and the Moral Argument is a good one. Thanks, atheists. That's helpful.

1 Remember, an atheist is one who believes there is no God. It is a positive statement. Agnostics don't know. They can safely say, "I don't know if there is a God" without making an argument. But an atheist by definition claims, "There is no God." Since it is a claim, it must have an argument. This is their primary one.

2 In truth, this is one of the most popular arguments of skeptics of all stripes -- even theistic ones. God doesn't do what we declare to be right or just, so God is in error. It is perhaps one of the most popular "deconversion" arguments around. "God doesn't do what I believe to be right, so God is wrong."

Monday, February 24, 2014

Alternative Lifestyle

"Alternative lifestyle". The know-it-all Wikipedia says that it is "a lifestyle diverse in respect to mainstream ones, or generally perceived to be outside the cultural norm." Included in their list of examples are things like nudism, living in communes, homebirths, homeschooling, non-typical sexual lifestyle, such as homosexuality, bisexuality, or BDSM, alternative medicine, and Eastern religion "as opposed to Monotheism or Judeo-Christian belief systems". Yeah, I think we understand that.

Have you seen this? Apparently a 23-year-old with a wife and a child who is not normal. It appears that a skier who "is mature far beyond his years" is living an "alternative lifestyle". "He also attends church regularly and says he could see himself becoming a pastor a little later down the road." What a freak! "First and foremost I have to be a good husband and father." I'm not at all sure he should have been allowed to compete with these outlandish ideas. "While the rest of his competitors are hanging with their friends, traveling the world searching for endless winter, hitting the party scenes accustom to their action sports lifestyles, Wise is hurrying home for quality time with the family."

Hopefully we have arrived at the end of the redefinitions when what should be normal, healthy, commendable, and emulated is now classified as an "alternative lifestyle". If we are not redefining the term, then I guess it says a lot about our society and our nation when a married man who loves his wife and child, attends church, and doesn't hang out with friends hitting the party scenes is an "alternative lifestyle". Is it our position that maturity and responsibility and integrity are "outside the cultural norm"? When maturity and quiet faith is "alternative", we're in real trouble.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Will of God

Most translations seem to group these verses together as a single, long, run-on sentence with semi-colons for separating the phrases:
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess 5:16-18).
In that sense, it's difficult for me to decide to what Paul is referring when he says, "For this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." What is? Is it God's will for you that you rejoice always? That you pray without ceasing? That you give thanks in everything? Oh, that answer is easy -- yes. In all three cases. Because, after all, it is commanded. Or is Paul saying, "The will of God for you in Christ Jesus is that you do all three of these things"? Well, perhaps. Again, since all three are commands, the answer again would have to be "Yes". In fact, commentator John Gill says that the phrase "may refer either to all that is said from 1 Thess 5:11 to this passage, or particularly to this of giving thanks." Clear as day. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown says, "That ye should 'rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, (and) in every thing give thanks,' 'is the will of God in Christ Jesus'." Since they use "ye" in there, they're clearly right, right?

Okay, so it's not entirely clear as to what "this is the will of God for you" is referring, but in the final analysis I'm not sure it matters. Everything there is a command, so everything there is "the will of God for you". I guess we can go with that, can't we?

Most interesting to me, however, is the phrase "in Christ Jesus". You see, there's the answer ... for all of it. On what basis should we rejoice always? Why should we pray without ceasing? Why would we give thanks in everything? Because, you see, these superlatives -- "always", "without ceasing", "in everything" -- make these commands more than you might expect on the surface. So on what basis are we asked to rejoice, pray, and thank more than you might expect on the surface? Because you are "in Christ Jesus". Think about that!

God is the Ultimate Lawgiver and He has the sole Divine Right to give commands that everyone must follow. As such, He has the absolute right to command us to do the things He commands here. "Because I said so" is sufficient reason. But that's not the reason He leaves us with. "Because you are in Christ Jesus" is the reason here, and all that this concept entails. Given His sacrifice, His death, His resurrection, His presence, His life in you, His Spirit, His Supremacy, His Sovereignty -- oh, this list just keeps going and going like no Energizer bunny ever could -- we are to rejoice, pray, and give thanks at all times for all things without ceasing.

You know, today would be a good day to start that practice if you haven't already. I think you have sufficient reason beyond merely "Because God said so", right? If not, that should be good enough. It is His will. Now start enjoying some grateful obedience.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


In January Maine's highest court ruled that children could no longer feel safe in their public bathrooms because any gender that feels like they want to can use any bathroom they want to.

It's not, of course, like this is something new, because California ruled the same thing back in July mandated the same thing. Gender is how you feel. Sorry, kids, if that makes you uncomfortable, scared, or traumatized. Get over it.

In truth, it probably won't be as big of a deal as we might think, since they're now training your children to exactly this end to the elementary school level. Which shouldn't be a problem since voices are already urging the end of the institution of marriage and the Freedom From Religion Foundation is seeking to remove religion from the public square, so all that "marriage" and "morality" stuff shouldn't be much of a problem much longer.

And then I read:
"Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!" (Matt 18:7).
Need I say more?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Worse than Sin

Last year I wrote an article about whether or not it's a sin to be gay. The article stuck in my craw. I don't like the term "gay". I don't like the concept of "homosexual" as a definition of a person. (When did we start defining people by who they want to have sex with?) I don't like the concept of "sexual orientation" as if it's genuine, by birth, or unchangeable. But I still wrote it. And I said that being tempted to sin is not the same as sinning, that the behavior was the sin. I think I need to revisit the idea.

David reported, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). That's not an indictment against David's mother; that's an indictment against humans. We suffer from a deceitful heart (Jer 17:9). The best we can do is "filthy rags" (Isa 64:6). It's not ignorance; it's a heart problem (Rom 2:14-15). Sin "dwells in me" (Rom 7:20). Humans are sinful by nature. Beyond that, we suffer from brain damage. Paul speaks of the "debased mind" (Rom 1:28) where we operate from "the lusts of their hearts" (Rom 1:24) and "dishonorable passions" (Rom 1:26). So, is that sin? Maybe not, but sin is unavoidable because of it.

Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell" (Matt 5:27-30). Imagine that! "Lustful intent" equates to adultery. And Jesus doesn't say, "Don't worry. As long as you don't act on it, you don't sin." He said, "If that's your problem, tear out your eyes." Do whatever it takes to change.

The problem is not simply the sinful choices we make, and the correction, then, is not simply to stop making sinful choices. That's part of the solution, but not the entire answer. The rest of the answer is "born of God" (1 John 3:9; 5:4; 5:18). The rest of the answer is "I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh" (Ezek 11:19). The answer includes "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions" (Rom 6:12) and "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom 12:2).

Humans are sinners by birth. We sin (say, for instance, homosexual behavior that is sin) because we are sinners. It isn't the behavior that makes us sinners; it is the human condition that makes us sinners. That condition needs to be overcome. The only means of overcoming that condition is a divine intervention. No amount of "good behavior" produces that change or satisfies God's righteous demands. What is required is a new heart, a new birth, a changed mind.

Back to the original question, then. Is it a sin to be "gay"? (I think it's a sin to use the word that way, but that's just me.) I would say that temptations are not sin. But if we stop there, I'd say we haven't reached the answer. We are to "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Col 3:5). Reading that, it's not possible to say, "It's okay to lust; just don't act on it." Instead, we're supposed to be killing the "passion", the "evil desire". Paul said, "For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Rom 8:13). James warned, "Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire" (James 1:14), so it becomes imperative that those who belong to Christ be working on an ongoing basis toward changing not merely behavior, but desire. Is it a sin to have homosexual desires? I would say, at first glance, not if you don't act on it. But if you don't work to change those desires, I'd suggest there is a problem, and it's not merely whether or not something is a sin. It's whether or not you are a new creation (2 Cor 5:7). Temptation isn't a sin; giving in to it is. But not working to change one's sinful desires indicates a heart problem that has not been addressed, and that would be more fatal than sin.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Where do you stand?

I've read some lately (not mentioning any names) from those who would argue that Christians need to base their arguments on science and the like. "Set the Bible aside when talking to skeptics," they argue, "because they don't accept the Bible." In a vacuum, that makes sense, but we don't live in a vacuum. We live in a world inundated with God. And God says that His Word is key (Rom 10:17). In that sense, it is a deist approach to ignore the Word in favor of extrabiblical arguments.

I am not, however, primarily concerned here about the discarding of the Word in the defense of the faith. What concerns me most is the question, "Where do you stand?" I'm not wondering about the place you stand, but the basis. Where is your footing, your substance, the solid ground? The hardcore apologist who wants to defend the faith with science and archaeology and history and all is standing firmly on science and archaeology and history and all. My question is, "Is that a safe place to stand?"

Here, let's ask this from another direction. I've heard many times when science has gloated, "We have archaeological/historical/geological/whatever-scientific-field-you-wish evidence that proves that the Bible is wrong on this point" and then that particular field will have a breakthrough that shows that their position was wrong and, lo and behold, the Bible was right! Oh, how we rejoice, don't we? We throw that up on our Christian blogs and Christian headlines and tout the fact that science agrees with Scripture and we feel warm and vindicated. That's nice. But the question is do you feel cold and threatened when science does not agree? If science says that "your Bible can't be right because here's the evidence and proof and experimental data and all and clearly the Bible is wrong", do you question the Bible? You see, using science to prove your point but ignoring it when it doesn't isn't consistent, fair, or rational. If your basis is human thinking and human study and human examinations, then when these processes deny Christ and the Bible, you are obligated to do the same1.

That's why I ask you where you stand. Are you standing on the Word? Are you standing on God's firm footing? Or are you standing on the world and its thinking? I would guess that many are trying to do both. And this isn't possible, you see, because of what the Bible says about the world. Paul said that the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God (Rom 8:7), so why would you expect anything but hostility? The Bible says that they are blinded by the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4), so why would you expect enlightenment? James warns that "whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4), so why would we want to make ourselves friends with the world? Paul warns that the gospel is "folly to those who are perishing" (1 Cor 1:18), so why would we expect Man's archaeological/historical/geological/whatever-scientific-field-you-wish evidence to agree with God?

That's my question, then. You see, a worldview based on God's Word will be radically different than the standard worldview. It will choose God's Word over science. It will defer to Scripture over experience. It will prefer God over everything. And archaeological/historical/geological/whatever-scientific-field-you-wish will not. So where are you standing? Are you standing on His Word, or are you counting on the world around us to back God up? I'd suggest the latter is a dangerous place to stand.
1 I try to base my worldview on Scripture. Thus, when this happens for me -- when science trips itself up and agrees with the Bible -- I say, "Well, now, isn't that nice? However, I wasn't counting on science to confirm what I already knew to be true from Scripture." Extrabiblical evidence is fine; I'm just asking about the basis of belief.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus (Phil 3:7-12).
This passage is a mind-blowing piece to read if you're paying attention. It is amazing in consideration of today's "me" mentality. Think about it. What is it that you consider "gain"? Normal thinking would say "a better car" or "a nicer home" or "a good job". More "godly" thinking might include "a good wife" or "good children". Unfortunately for us, the "normal" list, as long as it might be, is not a biblical list. The biblical list is ... Christ. Short, sweet, to the point.

Can you imagine a life lived on the terms suggested by Paul? What would that look like? Comfort, pleasant living, wealth, status, power ... all of these would be viewed as loss. Instead, "knowing Christ" would be the only gain. Suffering toward that end would be gain. "Being conformed to His death" would be gain. And it would be a constant. "I press on," he says. It is a life lived with Christ in view and the only "stuff" of value there would be that which gets me closer to Christ.

Wow! I have to be honest. I'm not at all clear on what that would actually look like. I'm a brainwashed American that tends to think that money and pleasure and "stuff" and comfort are things we should seek while Paul says they're loss. I want to be able to retire in comfort (or at least without starving to death on the street) and Paul says, "Who cares? Whatever it takes to know Him! That's what's important!" I am a time-bound earth dweller who cannot seem to imagine clearly what the eternally-minded Christian ought to look like. But I can say this -- it's what I want.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Dead Faith

Faith without works is dead (James 2:26).
Does that statement disturb you? Does it cause you any consternation? Does it ruffle your feathers or at least make you wonder? I mean, haven't we been clearly taught that we are saved apart from works? And, look, we all know that we are to "judge not", that we aren't supposed to be fruit inspectors, right? But here we are being told that we can judge faith by works. So we go with "faith" and leave it at that, right?

James, it appears, disagrees. James says twice that faith without works is dead faith (James 2:17, 26). This kind of faith, according to James, does not save (James 2:14, 20). And still we're asked to not evaluate people by works, but only by the faith they claim to have.

How do we make sense of this? If we are saved apart from works, is James wrong or are we mistaken somewhere else? Well, assuming James is not wrong, we would need to figure out what he is saying. And, when we pay attention, it turns out to make a lot of sense. In a backhanded way, James gives us a clear explanation. "You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder" (James 2:19). Clearly there is sarcasm. James says that belief gets you up to the level of the demon. But not quite. Why? Because the demons actually believe that God is one. How do we know that? I mean, how does James say we know that? It's not a profession, a claim of faith. It's a response. They "shudder". They bristle. They respond with genuine fear. Us? Lots of us believe ... and shrug our shoulders (as evidenced by yesterday's "lost kids" idea). "God? Yeah, He's cool. So?" That does not bode well for living faith.

You see, the human being is pretty straightforward when it comes to faith. Here's the standard rule of all humans: You always act based on what you really believe.

Here, imagine this. I'm sitting in the room with you and tell you, "There's a bomb in my briefcase set to go off in 3 minutes." Do you believe me? It should be fairly simple to tell if I'm telling the truth. What do I do? If I sit there calmly and do nothing, I'm lying. I don't really believe what I said or I'd act on it.

Do you believe in an actually sovereign God? Then why would you worry? Worry contrasts "sovereign God". Do you believe that God is omnipotent? Do you question whether He can do something? Do you see that these two are contradictory? In both examples -- worry or doubt -- you are saying that while you "believe" in God's sovereignty and omnipotence, you don't actually believe in them because the belief doesn't engage your living. It is "dead faith". Do you "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ"? You do well. But if you actually believe on the Lord, then isn't it a contradiction to say, "No, Lord"? See the problem?

We all suffer from double-mindedness. We believe ... but not quite. I'm not suggesting perfect faith. I'm suggesting that you check yourself. Here are a couple of questions you might ask. First, "Do my actions reflect what I say I believe?" Very important. Second, "What does what I do say that I really believe?" Test yourself. "Oh, yeah," you might say on self-examination, "I can see areas that I say I believe but my actions and attitudes say that I don't." What then? It's a biblical prayer: "I do believe; help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24).

Monday, February 17, 2014

Lost Children

I had a conversation with a friend the other day. Mind you, it was a good friend. I mean, this was a good parent, a genuine believer, someone well informed and well trained and right with God and all that good stuff. It's not the source in mind; it's the content.

So we were talking about worship. I like hymns. Really good stuff. Genuine. Deep. Meaty content. But my friend said, "Well, my kids would mouth the words, but they wouldn't really get much out of it." They needed, apparently, something more ... upbeat. You know, something catchy, something fun, something with clapping and dancing and ... well, you know, not that "meaty", "deep" stuff. Because, you see, that stuff just doesn't fly with our young people today.

And I thought, "Have we lost them?"

You see, in my mind Christianity in its genuine, biblical form, has a near corner on the "exciting" market. I mean, pop singers can be fun, I suppose, and technology and games and all that can be amusing, but there is nothing in this world -- quite literally -- like God. There is nothing that competes with God's magnificent creation. Nothing can stand alongside God's astounding love and faithfulness and glory. Nothing compares with God's amazing grace. But it looks like that's just in my mind.

I get lost in "When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride." I can hardly stand still for "I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how He could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean. O how marvelous! O how wonderful! And my song shall ever be: O how marvelous! O how wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me!" I can't help but be deeply moved when I hear, "My sin -- oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! -- my sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul! It is well with my soul." And when I sing "And when I think that God, His Son not sparing, sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in. That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin, then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee, How great Thou art! How great Thou art!" I can scarcely get through it with dry eyes. Nothing in the "pop Christian" realm comes close. Nothing in the fluffy, entertainment realm moves me like that. I can mouth most of the lyrics lite of the day without a stirring, but a real glimpse of God in all His glory exceeds my capacity to fully appreciate.

So I wonder, "Have we lost them?" Is God boring now? Is His grace no longer amazing? Is His love passé? Is God being pushed out in younger generations by "fun", "entertaining" and "catchy"? It's sure starting to look that way.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Col 3:16).
I've always seen this as a biblical mandate. I don't know. Maybe I'm crazy, but it looks like a command. So when I approach songs, I think in terms of "with all wisdom teaching and admonishing". That's why I most enjoy those songs that can do that.

Take Amazing Grace, arguably the most popular English hymn of all time. Everyone knows it, even the pagans of our society. Because everyone wants to think that God is gracious, even those who don't believe in Him. But the song says so much more. John Newton's song captures our imagination with his ode to God's truly amazing grace, but it recognizes as well the real need for grace -- it is "a wretch like me." Not something we often seem to consider. Newton says, "T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear." Really? Yes. Because of a genuine fear of God, "How precious did that Grace appear the hour I first believed." Newton recognized that grace doesn't mean "comfortable living". He didn't anticipate pleasure from God. Instead, "Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come. 'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home." Good stuff in that hymn.

Or how about Catharina von Schlegel's "Be Still, My Soul"? In a world that demands only pleasant from God and complains that anything unpleasant proves "no God", she wrote, "Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side. Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain. Leave to thy God to order and provide; in every change He faithful will remain. Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend through thorny ways leads to a joyful end." Not the rosy picture one might think. Instead, much, much better. This one deals realistically with life's difficulties with a genuine answer. "Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake to guide the future as He has the past. Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake; all now mysterious shall be bright at last. Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below." You think you have troubles? Be still. The waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Just two quick examples. Good songs can provide good teaching and admonition. Good songs linger, reminding us of Scripture and truth, of God and His character. They roll around later in your head and heart to offer reminders and even new insights. Look for some good songs today.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

If a Tree Falls

Perhaps you've heard the joke. "If a man speaks in a forest and there isn't a woman around to hear him, is he still wrong?" Of course, it's simply a play on the philosophical "If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound?"

"Sound" is defined as "Vibrations transmitted through an elastic solid or a liquid or gas, with frequencies in the approximate range of 20 to 20,000 hertz, capable of being detected by human organs of hearing." Simple enough. So, given a gas such as air and a tree falling that produces the required vibration frequencies, it is inevitable that such an event would produce a sound. No doubt at all. So what is the point of the philosophical question? I read a short story some time ago called Vanishing Point where a scientific artist devised an instrument to tell if reality is an illusion we create or a real thing. This is precisely the idea of the question. Is sound real -- an actual thing -- or is it real only because we can detect it? The argument is that something that is not perceived does not exist.

The materialist is on board with this notion. He would argue that if it cannot be measured, it cannot exist. And ... poof! ... God ceases to exist. The existentialist is good with this. I remember a movie -- Bulletproof Monk -- where a "super Buddhist monk" is given wonderful powers of mind and body to protect some sacred scroll and is required to pass it on to a successor who meets specific qualifications. In training his successor, he tells him to climb the air to the second story of a building. "I can't do that," the American student assures him. "How can I do that?" "You just force the air to hold still for you," the wise mentor tells him. "If you believe it, it is true." That's it. That's the logic. That's the idea. Perception is everything. Perception doesn't merely receive reality; it defines reality.

Now, I'm thinking, "Yeah, try that out on that oncoming bus. Just believe it isn't there and see how that works for you." Not to be encumbered by reality, though, Science assures us that "Sound is vibration, transmitted to our senses through the mechanism of the ear, and recognized as sound only at our nerve centers. The falling of the tree or any other disturbance will produce vibration of the air. If there be no ears to hear, there will be no sound." I suppose, then, we can discount recording devices and audio measurement systems and such ... no, that's not working. And so it goes.

What's my point? My point is that there is a reality. Atheists will deny the existence of God because He cannot be apprehended, but they'll go on to borrow from Him for existence ("Why is there something rather than nothing?"), morality, values, and more. The existentialist will deny any reality outside of perception, but when reality outside of perception hits them in the head, it will hurt. Us? We're constantly asked, "How can you believe what you believe???!!" The fact is that if there is a genuine reality and that reality doesn't require my perception to be real, then all that is really essential is that we believe what is real. Sometimes that's called "observation", sometimes "faith". But just because it's not perceived does not demand that it's not true. Agreed-upon perceptions aren't the issue. What is real is the issue. Get that right, and it won't matter if everyone agrees. Someone has to be wrong, right?

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Valentine's Day Musing

I've been thinking about this for awhile and it's Valentine's Day, so it seemed an appropriate day for this topic. Keep in mind it's musing, not dogma. But I think it's worth considering.

Back in 2003 author Joshua Harris wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Harris, a Christian, favored courtship over dating. Without analyzing Josh's view (because, frankly, I've been happily married for too long to be concerned about whether or not I should date or court), it raises the question. Is dating biblical?

Seems like a stupid question, I know. Especially on Valentine's Day. Everyone knows that this is the best, most proper way to find that mate, that one love, that soul-mate to which you will be joined. Oh, sure, it can be abused, but we won't do that, right? Unfortunately, that's the world's argument. Perhaps we ought to see what the biblical argument is.

First, the answer to the question, "Is dating biblical?" is easy. The answer is "No." Not one mention. Not a single one. "Oh," someone will argue triumphantly, "so it is courtship!" Sorry. Not in there. The standard biblical method of selecting a mate is the arranged marriage. No dating. No courtship. Parents decided.

That was then, of course, and this is now. What about now? What can we glean from Scripture about choosing mates now that we're much wiser here in the 21st century? I mean, what could be wrong with dating? Ah! That's the real question, right?

What could be wrong with dating?

Let's examine that question. Let's examine it because the Bible doesn't give it as the "sure thing" we seem to have accepted as the method of obtaining that "Mister or Miss Right". (I wonder if that phrase alone ought not give us pause.) The problem, then, is that dating did not spring from a biblical worldview, but from a worldly worldview. At its core, then, dating is precipitously close to friendship with the world, and James wrote, "Friendship with the world is hatred toward God" (James 4:4). Red flag.

Dating is ostensibly a quest for that "right person", that "true love", that one you want finally to marry. Unfortunately, dating doesn't actually do well in that arena. Instead, it teaches the opposite of marriage. Instead of commitment, it encourages "mate hopping". Visit the buffet line until you find what you like, sampling all along the way. That's not marriage.

In fact, dating is predicated on selfishness, the absolute antithesis to marriage. Marriage is the giving of one's self and dating is finding the one you want.

Dating misses some really important issues. It asks the question, "Who do you love?" without considering first "Do you love Christ first?". Dating encourages sexual immorality, finding "what I want", "chemistry", where the Bible commands that we put sensuality to death (Col 3:5) and flee sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:18). The Bible is fully of the complementarian view, where men and women have different and complementary roles and men are the head, but dating urges an egalitarian view where both share equal authority and responsibility and both are picking and choosing. Dating seeks "the right partner" rather than the ministry that God would have you do. And, look, let's face it, dating aims at "having fun" rather than working together. It's like Michael Lawrence says in his article, Stop Test-Driving Your Girlfriend. We're test-driving our possible future spouses, and that's not biblical.

Biblical Principles

First and foremost, considering the biblical worldview, it is unavoidable that the primary concern in any male-female union, the primary party, is the parents. Sorry, not the dater/datee. God has given the responsibility of the children to the parents. And while there may (or may not) come a time when you are no longer required to submit to their authority, the Bible is clear that children must always honor their parents, so until they stop being your parents, you are always required to honor them. That would include in the choosing of a spouse. So, while in our culture "meet the parents" is a big thing, in a biblical worldview it ought to be first and constant. Indeed all interactions ought to be under parental authority.

Critical to the question of who to marry is the biblical question that we refer to as "unequally yoked" (2 Cor 6:14-15). Since marriage is a union and since a union means you'll be one and since that "one" will be working together toward all of life, it makes zero sense to tie yourself to someone with different aims, especially in the basic things like "Who do you serve?" and "Are you a believer?" And consider this: since Scripture clearly and unambiguously states, "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19), it is clear that those who do not know God are incapable of the biblical version of love -- they cannot love as God intended (1 John 4:8). Surely you wouldn't want a marriage with that fundamental shortcoming at the start, right?

Another biblical principle of "dating" is actually part of a bigger picture.
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you (1 Thess 4:1-8).
In all cases under all circumstances whether it is dating, courtship, or even an arranged marriage, "abstain from sexual immorality." The principle is "Control his own body in holiness and honor." The will of God is your sanctification, not your sexual satisfaction. Of course, if your primary mode of operation is a close connection to parents, that should be easy to avoid, right? Well, it ought to be.

A good idea in the question of choosing a mate is to ask different questions than what you would normally consider. Instead of "Is he/she right for me?" Ask, "What do my parents think?" Rather than locating the right one for you, ask, "Am I the kind of man/woman God intends me to be (for a spouse)?" (I put that "for a spouse" in parenthesis because this is the current topic, but "Am I the kind of man/woman God intends me to be?" is a good question at all times.) A critical (and related) question is "Who do you love?" That is, "Do I love Christ more than him/her?" It is a good idea, I suspect, to ask the same about him/her. Is he/she more interested in you or in Christ? If it is you, it might (will likely) be a problem. Instead of examining what your possible mate has to offer you, ask yourself, "What do I have to offer?" (Why do we rarely ask, "Am I the right one for her/him?")

Dating and even courtship teaches us to think like a consumer. What do I want? What am I looking for? How does this one or that one make me feel? We don't seem to recognize the command to "love your neighbor as yourself" regardless of marriage plans or the overall command to serve rather than be served. And this is a key biblical principle that relates directly to the problem of choosing a mate, whether by dating, courtship, or arranged marriage. The biblical perspective is that love is a command, not merely a feeling. It is a commitment to the best for others (Rom 13:10; 1 Cor 13:4-8). It is a commitment to the importance of others over my own importance (Phil 2:3-4). If dating or courtship (not sure of the differences) don't work in this kind of biblical worldview or in your mind, they are not for you.

Now, these are just the things I've been thinking about on the topic of dating. I retain questions. Is dating reasonable? I'm not so sure. Is it wise? Even less. Should Christians be dating? Given all the problems that mechanism causes (and more than we know), I'm not at all clear that we should. I would love to see a return to parents who love their children and children who submit to their parents having marriages arranged ... you know, like in the Bible. I know, I know ... don't expect it. But it is biblical and even bypasses a lot of the problems that dating brings. But you will need to consider these things for yourself. Fortunately for me, I'm done with the question. Thank you, Lord, for that. I hope I didn't put a damper on your Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

National Marriage Week

It's National Marriage Week. Did you know that? Okay, to be fair, it's National Marriage Week from February 7th to 14th every year to this organization. Their aim is to strengthen marriages, reduce divorce, and obtain the attendant benefits of decreased poverty, better children, and so on. And this one is part of Marriage Week International, an international group aiming to be in 75 countries by 2021. It is primarily a Christian organization encouraging churches to be involved, aiming at Bible study and campaigns like the movie, Fireproof. Good stuff.

I have to wonder, though. Jesus said, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8). I have to wonder if, when Christians get around to really facing the problems of marriage in America such as the failure of husbands to shepherd, to love, to live in an understanding way with their wives and the failure of wives to submit and to respect their husbands and the failure of husband and wife to honor the marriage bed, to remain faithful to their vows and each other and the failure of fathers to discipline and teach their children and the failure of the church to pray and move on the catastrophic, meteoric rise of the counter concept of "gay marriage" ... when they get to 2021, will they find marriage on the earth?

I just wonder.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ways of Knowing

One of the huge complaints Roman Catholicism threw up against Reformation theology was that whole "You can know that you're saved" concept. "No!" they shouted (metaphorically), "You can't know that! You can't know it until you get there." The concern was that, knowing that you're saved, you could just live a life of profligate sinning. Interestingly, Jesus shared something of that concern. He said, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness'" (Matt 7:21-23). In fact, if you're paying attention to Scripture, it is full of dire warnings about continuing, remaining, working, not falling away ... over and over and over.

What, then, are we to conclude? Is it true what the Pope says? Is it not possible to know that you have eternal life? Ah, you see, now we have a problem! Because John wrote his entire first epistle on this premise.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13).
Interesting! "That you may know." So John is not saying "You cannot know" or John, as we might say in the vernacular, was an idiot. He contradicted Jesus who warned about the many who would think they were His and weren't and he contradicted all those other warning passages and, well, let's face it, John needs to be deleted from the Bible. Or ... perhaps those who claim that you can't know are wrong and the Bible is right. Now that might be a possibility.

So, if it is true that the Bible is right and John was not mistaken and you can know, there are two considerations. First, does the Bible elsewhere support John's position and, second, it begs the question: How can you know? So, what about that? Does the Bible suggest anywhere else but in John's first epistle that you can know? As it turns out, it does.

Paul told Timothy, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day" (2 Tim 1:12). He told the Philippians, "I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:6). And Paul wasn't alone. Jude wrote, "Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen" (Jude 1:24-25). In his Gospel John wrote, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:36) which closely followed Jesus's own words, "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (John 3:17-18). (See also John 5:24.) "Is not condemned." "Has eternal life." Over and over and over there is assurance offered. Elsewhere John writes, "We know that we have passed from death unto life ..." (1 John 3:14) (and gives an answer to the second question we face) and "Hereby we do know that we know Him ..." (1 John 2:3-4) (and does it again). Over and over again we find passages that tell us we can have genuine confidence that we are saved.

So ... how can we know? Well, that, too, is an oft-repeated concept. John in the passages I've just mentioned says, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren" (1 John 3:14) and "And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep His commandments" (1 John 2:3). Two indicators. But there are lots and lots more. Peter said we should be diligent to make our calling and election sure by this method:
Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love (2 Peter 1:5-7).
There's a list for you. But it's a list by which, "if these qualities are yours and are increasing" (2 Peter 1:8), you can make your calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15) (and, conversely, "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love" (John 15:10)). Paul wrote, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Rom 8:16). Hebrews says, "If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons" (Heb 12:8), so those who experience God's discipline have a measure of certainty. And didn't Jesus, in His warning about the "many", give an indication of who it would be? "The one who does the will of My Father." This list goes on and on. James tells us that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Thus, living, saving faith is demonstrated by works. John said that the one born of God cannot make a practice of sin (1 John 3:9), so you can ask yourself, "Am I comfortable with sin? Do I defend it? Do I continue in it?" That would be a problem. And Paul gave us the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) as a measure to tell if the Spirit is at work in us. Lots and lots. As I said, the entire book of First John is written for this purpose, so there are lots of points in there in which to examine yourself to see if you're in the faith.

These are the two extremes where error occurs. One is to say, "I cannot know that I am born of God." This stands in stark contrast to Scripture and denies the One who bought you. It denies John's first epistle and every other reference to reasons by which we can say that we belong to Christ. The other error is to say, "There is nothing to be concerned about." The Bible is full of warnings, tests, cautions, commands to be careful. Paul told the Corinthians, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? Unless indeed you fail to meet the test!" (2 Cor 13:5). So self-examination is necessary and caution is required. There will be many who deceive themselves into a false sense of assurance. Jesus promised the number would be "many". So avoid the two errors. Test yourself, but don't conclude that you can never know ... because the Bible assumes you can. I'd suggest going with the biblical view.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

James is Okay with Me

Luther famously referred to James as "an epistle of straw". Many assume this meant he didn't like the Epistle when, in fact, he went on to say, "I praise it and consider it a good book, because it sets up no doctrines of men but vigorously promulgates the law of God." It was, to Luther, not as valuable as other books because "it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it" where other books in the New Testament "show you Christ and teach you all that is necessary and salvatory for you to know."

Me? I like James. Oh, I suppose, like Luther, not as much as some of the others. While Paul is immersed in doctrine and explanation, James is saying, "This is the way; walk in it." Paul gives us piles of "why" and then says, "Therefore ..." James basically says, "Do this." But James packs so much "do this" in so small of a space that it's just so rich.

Take, for instance, his first chapter. There we find that we should face trials with "all joy" because they produce maturity (James 1:2-4). We learn that God gives wisdom, so just ask (James 1:5-8). There is this fascinating thing with the poor and the rich, where the poor will be exalted and the rich humbled ... and both should glory in it (James 1:9-11). Seriously ... glory in humiliation? That's what James says under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (and in perfect harmony with "count it all joy when you face trials"). There is a blessed promise that those who persevere will receive the crown of life (James 1:12). James, in the face of modern "spirituals", defines religion "that is pure and undefiled before God" as a good thing (James 1:26-27). He urges us not to deceive ourselves by hearing and not doing the Word (James 1:22-25). There is that glorious instruction so rarely heeded, "Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger" (James 1:19) and the wondrous claim that every good thing you have came from an Immutable Father (James 1:17).

Perhaps one we need badly today is this one in the middle of the chapter.
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:13-15).
It has been from the beginning our habit to blame others for our failings (read "sin"). It was Adam's first response: "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate" (Gen 3:12). There it is, plainly in the lap of God. Eve was gentler, saying that it was the serpent. We tend not to say, "It was me." But if you are a believer, "buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:4), here's what the Bible says about you and sin: "One who has died has been set free from sin" (Rom 6:7). Get that? You're dead to sin. So, by what method does sin raise its ugly head (as it surely does) in the believer's life? It's not that woman God gave you or the serpent. The devil didn't make you do it. Paul says, "Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness" (Rom 6:11-13). How does sin occur in a believer's life? You choose it. You submit yourself to it. You let sin reign. You are lured by your own desires. As you give way to those desires, they give birth to sin. As James says elsewhere, "Brothers, these things ought not be" (James 3:10).

And just think. That's only the first chapter. Loads and loads of practical pointers, important issues, genuine applications of truth. Okay, so maybe James can be ... meddlesome. Maybe he's a little too pointed to suit some of us. I mean, seriously, all that stuff about faith producing works and the dangers of the tongue and drawing near to God can get a bit pointed. Especially his thing on fights among believers.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:1-4).
Ouch! That can hurt when so many of us are specifically aiming at friendship with the world as a good thing. And, like before, we're pretty sure that conflicts in our midst are always caused by that other guy, certainly not me! So, yes, maybe James cuts too close to the bone for real comfort, but there is a lot of good stuff in there. I think I'll keep it in my Bible.

Monday, February 10, 2014

God and America

"God bless America." That's the prayer, even from those who are practical atheists. You know those kinds. They're the ones that give lipservice to a belief in God but live like the devil. Even they want God to bless America. And, let's be honest, I'd like God to bless America as well. Well, sort of.

Eric Holder -- you remember him ... he's the guy who directed the Fast and Furious scandal of the government giving guns to cartels and then turned around to help lead the move to remove guns from Americans -- announced on Saturday that the federal government will expand the recognition of same-sex marriages (as if such a thing actually exists). He called it the civil rights movement of our time. Various states have voted to ban the practice -- California did it twice -- but the Supreme Court made it a matter of "equal rights" and there are now 14 states and Washington D.C. that allow it and lawsuits either ongoing or pending in almost all other states. Only 6 states remain with uncontested laws against the oxymoronic same-sex marriage concept.

Russia is in trouble with the U.S. because they have laws against homosexual propaganda and practices, so President Obama has seen to it that openly gay athletes and delegates have been sent to the Winter Olympics. "One of the things I'm really looking forward to," he said, "is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze."
Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error (Rom 1:22-27).
Some have suggested that homosexual behavior is the bottom rung, the last of the evils people can produce. It isn't. Beyond the abandoning of men with women and women with men there is "a depraved mind' (Rom 1:28) that leads to a list of sins (Rom 1:29-31). The worst is when "they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, [and] they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them" (Rom 1:32). They "not only do the same" but give "hearty approval".

Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived. As a nation we are demonstrating the exchange of God for the worship of the creature and have taken to ourselves the lusts of our hearts to impurity. As a society we have refused to recognize God and exchanged the truth for the lie and have taken to ourselves degrading passions and indecent acts along with the due penalty. As a country we are demonstrating the depraved mind with all manner of sinful practices that we not only perform, but embrace and encourage. It's the bottom rung of the sin ladder.

In Revelation 6 there is the account of the opening of the seven seals. There we read,
When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging ... those who dwell on the earth?" (Rev 6:9-10)
In my relatively short lifetime there has been a marked decay in the American moral fabric. Divorce, sexual promiscuity, drugs, growing hostility to the principles upon which this country was founded, attacks on religious freedom, the rise of feminism over males, the full embrace of homosexual behavior, the dismemberment of family and marriage ... the list goes on and on. Things are not getting better. God bless America? We may still want it and we may still pray for it, but I cannot imagine it happening without the judgment of God first. It's harder and harder for me to ask God to bless a nation that turns colder and more hostile toward Him. God plans for a Final Judgment of all people at the end but God judges nations temporally. Perhaps it's time for God to judge America, not bless her.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Love in a Vacuum

The latest religious classification on the scene is the "Nones", those people who are "spiritual but not religious". This isn't really that new, I suppose. Indeed, sincere Christians for decades have been complaining, "Christianity isn't a religion; it's a relationship." Why? Well, because religion has a bad name. Religion is structure and dogma and buildings and all that stuff. Never mind that the Bible defines religion (James 1:26-27). (Note: James defines religion as a positive thing.) So we want to avoid all that structure and all that doctrine and just be ... spiritual. You know, "I can worship God best on a mountaintop rather than a church building." Oh, so spiritual, isn't it?

Except it's not what the Bible says.

So we're baling out on church in droves. Barna suggests that some 23% are unattached to church, another 15% are intermittent ("under-churched"), 3% are not attending except, perhaps, for an occasional house church, and another 3% mix church with home church. Only 56% of those calling themselves Christians actually attend church. From there it only gets worse. claims that in Vermont only 24% of the entire population attend church. The national average is 42%, with Alabama rated the highest at 58%. When you consider that 33% of the world's population is identified as Christian, those numbers are even smaller. And from there it only gets worse. says that a head count of actual church attendance in 2004 put the percentage of church attendance at 17.7%, far below the reported 40% from Gallup's report. Let's face it; going to church is not really very popular today.

Consider, though, the words of our Savior ... you know, the "Christ" in "Christian" ... the One we claim to be following:
By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (Joh 13:35).
Now, isn't that interesting? Apparently our idea in our enlightened age is that we have every capacity to love the brethren ... without actually spending time with them. We don't meet them for worship. We don't involve ourselves in their lives. We don't gather for fellowship. We do it all ... in a vacuum.

Jesus is depicted as walking among the local churches (Rev 1:12-13, 20). He is said to have given Himself up for the church (Eph 5:25). Indeed, Jesus said, "I will build My church" (Matt 16:18). And we, apparently, are comfortable telling Him, "You go with that. You walk there; we won't. You give Yourself up for her; we don't have the time or the inclination. You build it; we won't come."

Paul wrote of the Body of Christ and our gifting by the Spirit, "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Cor 12:7). "That's okay, Paul," we seem to reply. "I'll keep it for myself." "But," Paul protests, "the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you'" (1 Cor 12:21). Paul said that the gifts are given "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:12-13). And we nod and say, "That's fine for you. I can be more spiritual in my living room, thanks."

Hebrews tells us, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Heb 10:23-25). Today we see growing numbers of self-identified Christians who see no value in the confession of our hope, in stirring one another to love and good works, or in not neglecting to meet together. We're much smarter than that. We're much more spiritual than that. We've figured it all out. We now know how to love God and the brethren in a vacuum. So who is fooling whom?

Saturday, February 08, 2014

The Latest Scandal

Someone sent me this. It's not entirely accurate, but humor is often used with inaccuracy to make a point. See if you get it.
Bob: “Hey Jim, did you hear about the Obama administration scandal?,
Jim: “You mean the Mexican gun running?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “You mean SEAL Team 6?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “Obama saying the average family would save $2,500 on their premiums?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “Forcing businesses to violate their religious beliefs by paying for drugs that abort the unborn?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “Violating the rights and sanctity of our Churches?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “Spending $634 million on a website that doesn’t work?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “Obama calling for an increase in our debt when he lambasted Bush for the very same thing?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “Obama having NSA spy on 124 Billion Phone Calls in One Month?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “Saddling our kids with $17 trillion in debt of which they can never get out of and will not have as good a life as we have?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “Bailing out Detroit after decades of corrupt Democratic management?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “You mean the State Dept. lying about Benghazi?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “You mean voter fraud?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “Intentionally trying to hurt Americans during the sequester?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “Blocking veterans who secured our freedoms from their monuments but giving the green light for Illegals to use Monument Mall?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “Denying school kids the ability to tour the White House but still spending lavishly on his parties?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “You mean Obama saying we can keep our insurance and doctors if we wanted to?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “You mean the military not getting their votes counted?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “The NSA monitoring foreign diplomats?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “You mean the use of drones in our own country without the benefit of the law?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “Giving 123 Technologies $300 Million and right after it declared bankruptcy and was sold to the Chinese?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “You mean the president arming the Muslim Brotherhood?”
Bob: “No the other one:.
Jim: “The IRS targeting conservatives?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “The DOJ spying on the press?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “Sebelius shaking down health insurance executives?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “You mean Obama spending $3.7 Trillion on Welfare Over Last 5 Years”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “Giving SOLYNDRA $500 MILLION DOLLARS and 3 months later they declared bankruptcy and then the Chinese bought it?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “The NSA monitoring our phone calls, emails and everything else?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “Millions of Americans losing their health care coverage?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “Forcing Americans to include coverage in their insurance policies of items they do not want?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “Ordering the release of nearly 10,000 illegal immigrants from jails and prisons, and falsely blaming the sequester?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “Denying Arizona the right to protect its borders?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “Providing weapons to Syrian rebels many of whom apparently are Al Queda”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “The president’s repeated violation of the law requiring him to submit a
budget no later than the first Monday in February?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “The 2012 vote where 115% of all registered voters in some counties voted 100% for Obama?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “The president’s unconstitutional recess appointments in an attempt to circumvent the Senate’s advise-and-consent role?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “The State Department interfering with an Inspector General investigation on departmental sexual misconduct?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “Clinton, the IRS, Clapper and Holder all lying to Congress?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: “The President using nearly $1 trillion dollars of stimulus money to fund his cronies?”
Bob: “No, the other one”
Jim: “You mean Fast & Furious?”
Bob: “No, the other one.”
Jim: ”I give up! …Oh wait, I think I got it! You mean that 65 million low-information voters who don’t pay taxes and get free stuff from taxpayers and stuck us again with the most pandering, corrupt administration in American history?”

Friday, February 07, 2014

Inflammatory Rhetoric

You see? This is what I am talking about when I talk about inflammatory rhetoric. Here's the headline:

Pat Robertson: Ken Ham Needs to Stop Interpreting Bible Literally

And here's the truth. Pat Robertson apparently disagreed with Ken Ham's arguments with Bill Nye regarding the age of the earth. Without even trying to defend Robertson's viewpoint, what he really said according to the article was "that Ham was using incorrect information from Bishop James Ussher, who lived in the 16th and 17th centuries, and based his creation date on his 'knowledge of the Bible, the ancient Persian, Greek, and Roman civilizations, astronomy, ancient calendars, and chronology'." Whether or not Robertson is correct, what he did not say was "Stop interpreting the Bible literally." What he said was that the Bible doesn't give an age of the earth so don't make it a matter of biblical arguments. If we were to be most accurate, Robertson told Ham to not add to the Bible. Nothing about taking it literally. Perhaps it could be argued that he told Ham to take it more literally. And clearly Robertson is not a Young-Earth Creationist. But he did not tell Ken Ham to stop interpreting the Bible literally despite the headline claim that he did

Inflammatory rhetoric. Nothing more.


Empire wrote a piece for a Father's Day issue about 10 Movie Father Figures Better Than Real Dads. All were not fathers. There was Obi-Wan to Luke Skywalker, Alfred the butler to Bruce Wayne, Uncle Ben to Peter Parker, and more. Because, as we all know, real fathers just aren't that good. Last year the Atlantic ran an article titled Why Do So Many Father-Daughter Movies = Feisty Kid + Bumbling Dad? Hugo Schwyzer points out that Disney's movies have a string of failed fathers from the over-protective Neptune in The Little Mermaid to the mindless dad in Cinderella all the way to "crazy old Maurice" in Beauty and the Beast where the daughter became the thinking, wise, authority figure in the family. Since then we've mostly had heroic kids and inept but lovable fathers.

But it's not just Disney. Has no one ever noticed that the Toy Story series includes no fathers? Finding Nemo certainly does, but he's quite a bungler who, thanks to his brave son, eventually gets better. Most cartoon fathers are failures. So are most other father figures in the movies. Some might point to Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird as a good Hollywood father. Maybe. But he's distant and permissive and I would personally recommend against imitating Atticus. Others have suggested Captain Von Trapp from The Sound of Music as a good father figure, but, as it turns out, the real Von Trapps complained that their father was not the cold and disconnected father of the movie, but actually a warm and loving father. That's interesting. So a warm and loving father doesn't sell?

The Atlantic had an interesting article about The Distinct, Positive Impact of a Good Dad. It is interesting because it is from the secular magazine, because it is in contradiction to the rising argument against the value of fathers at all (even in their own magazine), and because it takes a positive view of fathers. W. Bradford Wilcox argues that fathers physically play more with their kids and in a more physical way which teaches them that biting, kicking and other physical violence is not acceptable, encourage risk which teaches them to embrace challenges and become independent, protect their children with greater size, strength, and aggressive appearance that keeps predators away, and have a distinctive disciplinary style that tends to be firmer and more confrontational which gives their children a sense of his authority. Studies, have shown that good fathers make large differences in delinquency rates, teenage pregnancy, and depression.

Fathers are important. All this is well and good. That is, it is backed up by studies and science and all. But the truth is that God has ordained fathers as the key point in a family. He calls Himself "Father". Not mother, parental unit, or any such thing. Not doting aunt, kind grandmother, or friendly grandpa. Father. Fathers are important ... and we seem to be missing it. Fathers are called by God to bring children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4). "Now wait a minute," I can hear some saying, "that's the church's job" or "that's my wife's job" or whatever other entity you may claim. But God laid it at the feet of fathers. Fathers are not to provoke their children to anger (Col 3:21; Eph 6:4). They are to show compassion to their children (Psa 103:13). "Oh, now, just a minute," I can hear again, "that's definitely the mom's job." Well, sure ... but the Bible claims it is also the father's job. Like Joshua (Josh 24:15), fathers are to set the spiritual course of their home. One of the arguably least accepted commands is that a father who loves his son is required to discipline his son (Heb 12:5-10). Notice that this particular text is not speaking about discipling, but chastising as a method of training. Fathers are to follow God's explicit command to teach God's Word "diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise" (Deut 6:6-7). Odd. He didn't say, "Let the schools do it" or "the churches" or "your wife" or "Sunday school" or anyone else. Nor did He say, "On occasion, why not have an outing and talk about these things." Fathers are responsible to teach their kids all that God commands and to do it ... let's see ... sitting, walking, lying down, and getting up. I think that just about covers all the time.

The failure of fatherhood is an aim of Satan, no doubt. But the failure of fatherhood in our society is a direct result of the failure of fathers to be what we ought. Without an example at which to point and say, "That's what it's supposed to look like," we're left with bad examples and warnings and, finally, irrelevance. These things ought not be. We cannot fix all fathers. We wouldn't expect that to happen anyway. But you and I -- Christian men, fathers -- can work on our little corner of the universe. We can teach our kids. We can discipline our kids. We can walk with our kids and disciple them. Paul warned, "But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim 5:8). That provision is not merely an income. It is for physical needs and spiritual needs and social needs and emotional needs. It is the job of fathers. We need to step up. We need to model the Father to our families. We need to take the responsibility that God has called us to. No more excuses.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Clanging Symbols

Maybe you remember this from 1st Corinthians.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Cor 13:1).
No, I didn't mispell "cymbal" in the title (although I did misspell "mispell" there -- were you paying attention?) I'm not talking here about speaking in tongues. I'm talking about the symbol of words.

Words, you see, are not real. Words are symbols for things. Words are the tools we use to communicate thoughts and reality. They are symbols of a shared concept that we can use to transmit ideas. Here, let's see if I can explain clearly. If I were to go to, say, a farm in Russia and talk to a farmhand there, we would both be using words, but neither of us would understand the other. You see, words have to have a common concept for them to be significant. The words I used connected with reality in my heads, but not the same reality as his. In order for words to mean something, they have to share the idea in both heads. Conversely, thinking there is a shared reality can be just as confusing. Here, a silly example. Say I don't know what antipasto is. So someone says, "Antipasto?" Now, not knowing the word, I figure I can decipher it from what I know. So, let's see ... "anti" means "against" and "pasto" is apparently a reference to pasta, so I tell him "No" because I'm not against pasta. Of course, he was offering me an Italian dish of meats and vegetables and such. So I thought there was a shared understanding and answered accordingly, but I was wrong. And communication failed ... again.

As it turns out, our world is full of this "failure to communicate". We're full of these "clanging symbols". We're talking at each other and we even think we're getting across what we intend, but we are actually speaking different languages. We speak of "love" as if it has a shared meaning while all along we know that it means one thing regarding food and another regarding a mother and another regarding a spouse and ... well, lots of things. But we use it and assume we're all on the same page. We debate marriage while we mean radically different things by the term, but no one is noticing because, after all, we're using the same symbol.

Next is the evolution of language. "Make love to me" meant something different in 1940 than it did in 1970, but you'll miss that if you're not paying attention. One author assured us that we need to be in a sexual relationship with God. "Where in the world do you come up with that?" the protests came. "Well," she said, "the Bible says we are to love God, and that's sex, isn't it? And surely you agree that we are to know God ... in a biblical sense, right? And even Jonathan Edwards wrote about intercourse with God. So, clearly I'm in the right!" Sigh! Two people separated by a common language. All kinds of evolution of language going on there. "Love", "know", "intercourse" ... it's a mess. (And why is it that so many words and phrases have evolved to mean "sex"?) Not paying attention to how language evolves produces a failure to communicate -- clanging symbols.

Then we lapse into specialized language. We know, for instance, that we are justified by faith. By that we mean that we are declared righteous by God as a result of faith. So, what did Jesus mean when He said, "Wisdom is justified by all her children" (Luke 7:35)? That's a different use of the term -- a more common use. "Justified" means "right", and wisdom is demonstrated to be right by the results. But "justified" is just going to throw us off because of the specialized language I call Christianese. So when Paul says that Abraham was justified by faith apart from works and James says he was not justified by faith, but by works, those who are not paying attention will sit around and scratch their heads. Maybe they'll cry "Foul!" and call it a contradiction. Maybe they'll ignore one ("So, you see, works have nothing to do with it!") or the other ("There, see?! We are saved by works!"). But it takes someone paying attention to language and context to figure out that Paul is talking about coming to a faith that saves and justifies and James is talking about a faith that is demonstrated to be real ("justifies") because it produces works. Same word, different meanings. Clanging symbols.

We here in the late 20th century and early 21st century have decided not to bother with the effort. Here, let's try this! Let's declare that people who believe God's Word about homosexual behavior being a sin are haters! That ought to solve that problem. Not with truth, but with rhetoric. Clanging symbols. Let's say that the ones who believe the historical, longstanding, traditional, biblical definition of marriage are narrow-minded, hateful bigots. That remedies that problem, not because it's true, but because the language will turn people to our position without the truth. Clanging symbols. And we Christians ... we often don't do much better. We'll use handy little catch phrases like "feminazis" and "libtards" and "demokrats" to point out that our opponents aren't merely wrong; they're evil. This may, in fact, be true, but we don't do it with words -- valid, reasoned arguments explaining why and how. We do it with clanging symbols.

I'm tired of it. I'm tired of the inflammatory rhetoric that bypasses all discussion and aims at simply burning the opposition to the ground. I'm tired of the abuse of the language in casual conversation that ends up annihilating key issues like marriage, morality, love, sin, the Gospel. I'm tired of the noise (on both sides) that refuses to address the issues and, sadly, to speak the truth in love. But, I suppose, that's to be expected. Our "clanging symbols" for "truth" and "love" don't mean much anymore, do they? So what would I expect? I would expect that Christians, taught by the Holy Spirit to "all truth" (John 16:13) and led by a God of love (1 John 4:7, 19), would know better. How about you? Are you a fan of clanging symbols?