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Saturday, May 31, 2014


It used to be that any science fiction aficionado knew exactly what "xenophobia" meant. You see, the prefix, xeno, refers to that which is alien and, of course, we all know what a phobia is. And what's not to be afraid of? Aliens from outer space are scary. They may be your friend or they may be your enemy, but you won't know which it is until they try to kill you. And besides, they're so ... different.

In truth, xenophobia is not actually the fear of beings from other planets. It is more accurately the fear of anything foreign or strange. It usually manifests itself in the form of hatred for that which is foreign or strange. And while we like to think of ourselves as open-minded, welcoming, and even brave, the truth is that all humans suffer to some degree or another from this malady. We all have some sense of fear for that which is different.

You can see this easily in the very common fear of change. We get used to something and we like it that way and now you're asking for it to be different? No! We don't want it to change! Why? Because it's foreign or strange. Not actually rational, just ... xenophobia.

Xenophobia is the primary reason for racism wherever you find it. There is "us" and there is "not us" and the "us" part is known and comfortable and the "not us" is not. The fact that the difference between "us" and "them" is likely minuscule is irrelevant. They're different. This occurs in racial differences, in economic differences, in religious differences, in geographic differences, in any differences you might consider. We will gravitate toward the "us" and tend away from the "not us".

For some this fear and loathing is minor and for others it is all-consuming. This is determined somewhat by the person and personality, but it is largely determined by the size of the difference. Little differences will cause little response. Major differences ... well, you get it.

This is one of the primary reasons why there is such a big human problem ... with God. The Bible describes Him repeatedly (even repeatedly in the same sentence) as HOLY. I put that in all caps because that seems to be what the Bible is implying. And when the Bible references the "holy", it isn't merely "not sin". It is other. It is separate. It is foreign and strange. And God is, in the Isaiah 6 format, "Strange, strange, strange." This kind of strange produces the xenophobia that sci-fi fans dream about. Whether or not God is good, He is so different as to be a threat. It is the fear of the unknown (because the finite cannot fully grasp the infinite) coupled with the intrinsic fear of that which is different. God tells us, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways" (Isa 55:8) and an astute observer would be tempted to suggest that maybe God ought to keep that to Himself because He's only making things worse.

If xenophobia is the fear of that which is different, God is sufficiently different to provide ample fear and hatred of that which is foreign and strange because He is all of that. Sure, people love darkness rather than light because it exposes their evil (John 3:19-20), so, coupled with our xenophobia and our sin, you have to see that it is nothing but expected that "The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God" (Rom 8:7). It is, in fact, a certainty. We are born xenophobes.

Thanks be to God that He can and has overcome this inborn "fear of other" in those whom He chooses. Xenophobia is normal. We can only hope that He will make us more exceptional than normal.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Why Do Some Believe and Others Don't? is doing a series on Predestination. Fine. In the latest installment, they ask the question, "Why Do Some Believe and Some Don't?" A decent article about what it means to believe, where faith comes from, that sort of thing. They didn't actually mention Jesus's answer for some reason.

In John 10 Jesus was having conversations with the Jews. There we read this:
So the Jews gathered around Him and said to Him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name bear witness about Me, but you do not believe because you are not among My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:24-27).
Remember the question: Why do some believe and some don't? The question is quite pertinent. Why did you believe and your next-door neighbor not? Why did your mother believe and your grandfather didn't? What makes the difference? Well, Jesus answers that question and He does it without any mincing of words. It is crystal clear.

The Jews wanted to know if He was the Messiah. "Tell us plainly." As if He hadn't. Okay, fine. Jesus answered (rightly), "I told you, and you do not believe." The problem, you see, was not a failure of the message. It wasn't that the messenger had failed to provide sufficient information or sufficient proof or sufficient argumentation. It wasn't unclear. The difference between "believe" and "not believe", then, is not in the message or the messenger. Look, Jesus proved it with miracles. It doesn't get any clearer than that.

Nor was it a failure on the other end. "Well," some might say, "if we could just see an actual difference between 'believe' and 'not believe', then we could believe." Jesus says that's not the issue. "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." That is, there is never a case of "I believed, but it made no difference." As a coworker once suggested, "I tried that, but it didn't work." Jesus said that doesn't happen. His true sheep 1) hear His voice (without exception), 2) He knows them (in an experiential, personal way), and 3) they follow Him -- not possibly or potentially or sometimes, but certainly.

So it's not the message nor is it a matter of questionable outcome. The message is fine and the outcome works always. What, then, does Jesus say determines if someone believes or not?

"You do not believe because you are not among My sheep."

Now, that's easy to miss, but stop and look long enough and I think you'll see that it isn't actually mistakable. He did not say, "You are not among My sheep because you do not believe" as we might think. No one would have any issue with that. That wouldn't be any revelation. But that's not what He said. He said the reverse. He said that a failure to believe is a direct result of not being among His sheep.

Now, it's easy to think of His "sheep" as those who are "in the flock" because, after all, isn't that how our language works? But Jesus said, "I have other sheep that are not of this fold" (John 10:16). So in Jesus's vernacular, "My sheep" would include all who are part of the present flock and all who will be part of the flock at some time future.

Why do some believe and some do not? Jesus said that the efficient cause (He said "because") is "among My sheep". If you are, you will believe. If you are not, you will not. He did not say it was due to poor expression of the Gospel, hardness of heart, improper witnessing techniques, a poor apologetic, a bad testimony ... any of a lot of reasons we typically assign to the question.

Now, here's the real question. Since Jesus is abundantly clear here, are you going to believe Him ... or are you going to believe someone else?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

An "Honor" Killing

Feel the outrage. In Pakistan a pregnant woman was stoned to death by her family. The Yahoo news story starts out
A pregnant woman was stoned to death Tuesday by her own family outside a courthouse in the Pakistani city of Lahore for marrying the man she loved.
This will not be pretty. Well, maybe. I'm never quite sure whether it's politically correct to condemn Islamic practices. But I would think it wouldn't be pretty. I would think that this would cause outrage around the world. Especially here in the U.S. Because as everyone knows, it is a God-given right to marry the one you love. Even atheists know that. No one gets to tell you who to marry. Indeed, you'll hear that from Christians as well. It is an outrage. God wants us to marry who we love. (Never mind the problems that principle causes when "the one we love" happens to be the same gender.)

Interesting thing, though. For Christians you won't find that in the Bible. What you'll find is either silence (we don't know how most couples were joined in Scripture) or an arranged marriage. When there are exceptions, they are ... exceptional. Jacob, for instance, left home. He fell in love with Rachel and worked 7 years to marry her, but her father substituted Leah, her sister. Because in the Bible marriages were arranged and parents had the final say. So Jacob worked another 7 years for Rachel and we get our love story, but it's still filled with "arranged". In fact, while Isaac didn't select a wife for Jacob, he did instruct him to choose one from Laban's family (Gen 28:1-2). Not exactly the "marry the one you love" approach.

Take the biggest marriage in all of Scripture as an example. Revelation in multiple places describes the Bride of Christ, the Church (Rev 19:7; 21:9; 22:17). That's certainly the biggest marriage -- the marriage of Christ. Guess what? It is an arranged marriage. Jesus said, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out" (John 6:37). So the Bride of Christ consists of those whom the Father gives, not the ones whom the Son loves.

Now, of course, the Son loves the Bride, and this points to what we do find in Scripture regarding love and marriage. We do find the command that husbands must love their wives (Eph 5:25; Col 3:19) and wives are to love their husbands (Titus 2:3-4). Interesting, though, that this love doesn't precede marriage. Interesting, also, that love is commanded. If love is something you "fall into", in what sense can it be commanded?

Something else is missing in Scripture. You will not find a dating structure. Now, this would make sense because, after all, most marriages were arranged in the Bible. But it should serve to point out that dating was not God's best choice for obtaining a mate.

What do I conclude from all this? As it turns out, not as much as you might think. Is dating evil? No. I would suggest that today's version, where guys and girls are jumping from person to person in an effort to find "the one" by sampling many and seeking self-gratification is a foolish approach. I would suggest that a deep and constant involvement of parents is extremely important. And I would definitely oppose the "dating as a missionary" concept or, worse, the idea of seeking to marry "the one I love" in direct opposition to biblical instructions like "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers" (2 Cor 6:14). I would warn people who are attempting to date or court that sex is reserved for marriage, that love is commanded for the married, and that commitment and shared purpose are more important than romance. And, to be honest, I would love to see loving Christian parents arranging wise unions for their obedient, loved children. Yeah, I can dream, can't I? I suppose, then, that my point is to warn Christians not to find a "right to marry the one I love" where it can't be found. It is outrageous that a family killed their pregnant daughter for marrying the man she loved, but it's not outrageous because she loved him. It is an outrage against the Most High to murder two humans in the name of "honor".

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Let's Get Small

Steve Martin, the comedian, did an album back in 1977 entitled Let's Get Small. Now, I have to tell you, I've never heard the song (or the album). I think he's talking about drug-induced hallucination, but I can't be sure of that, either. What I do like is the idea.

John the Baptist said of Jesus, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). He was, of course, talking about how his own notoriety and influence would diminish and Christ's would increase, but that concept is true every day in the life of the Christian -- He must increase; I must decrease. To be precise, He must arrive at the fullness of His actual glory and we must arrive at our actual depravity in our perceptions.

This isn't an easy endeavor. The sin nature inherent in all of us aims precisely at the opposite. "I will be like the Most High." We work tirelessly to bring God down to our level and elevate ourselves to His. We're not as bad as all that and He's not as great as all that. So we find a prevalent notion that people are basically good when the Bible says, "There is none who does good; no, not one" (Rom 3:12). We are quite sure we are intrinsically valuable where Scripture assures us, "All have turned aside; together they have become worthless" (Rom 3:12). And we really love the notion that God loves everyone unconditionally, but we have to hold that warm affirmation of our loveableness in the face of God's Word1, not because of it. We humans live in a constant state of self-aggrandizement, specifically in exaggerating our own importance in terms of God.

As any bully could tell you, the other half of this effort would be the other half. If you are small and want to feel larger, you do it two ways. You elevate others' perception of you and you diminish others' perceptions of others. So you try to look big and you try to make the big ones look small. So while we work hard at dismissing the biblical explanations about the depravity of Man, we are equally hard at work diminishing the biblical explanations of the grandeur of God. The most common method, of course, is what the Bible refers to as "idolatry". Simply substitute for God something that is less than God and -- poof! -- you have a smaller God. Adam and Eve did it when they ate of the tree and made themselves gods. Aaron did it with the gold of Israel when he made the calf. Humans have been doing it since creation.
For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen (Rom 1:21-25).
So we have Jehovah's Witnesses who claim that Jesus was not God (and all the theological destruction that causes) and Open Theism that claims that God is not Omniscient (with the ripple effects of such a denial) and "Progressive Christianity" that dismisses biblical standards (God's standards) in favor of "inclusiveness" and "knowing God" in favor of "questioning". We -- even self-professed Christians -- turn John's statement on its head: "He must decrease, but we must increase."

Well, look, I understand that it's not popular. I get that it's not comfortable. It may not feel like the right thing to do. We are assured that we must not reference ourselves as "worms" (Job 25:6; Psa 22:6) or "worthless" (Rom 3:12). Finding our true value in Christ alone isn't ... safe. Or so it seems. But is it real? The Bible seems to say that our popular, comfortable, safe consensus on the subject is wrong. He must increase; we must decrease2. He must become large. Let's get small. At least, that's where I want to go. Anyone with me?
1 Consider this. God may love everyone to some degree or another, but not without conditions. For instance, not everyone will be saved (Matt 25:46). God's love doesn't save us; faith (a condition) does (Rom 5:1). All things work together for good to those who love God (Rom 8:28), not everyone. God does not choose to save everyone (Eph 1:4-5). Indeed, the Bible itself explains that God hates some people (e.g., Psa 11:5; Prov 6:16-19; Rom 9:13). And when Jesus prayed, He prayed for His disciples and explicitly not for the world (John 17:9). God does not condition His love for us on us, but His love is not without conditions nor is it equally applied to all.

2 I believe, in fact, that this principle is a helpful tool for detecting false teaching. "Does it elevate Man or diminish God?" When either condition is met, it is a warning flag.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What You Need

In their great wisdom, the Rolling Stones sang, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes well you just might find you get what you need." Now, of course, Mick Jagger wasn't actually offering the wisdom of the ages there, but if you twist it just enough, you might find that it's in there.

When we face hard times, one of the very popular verses believers might try to hand us is "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Rom 8:28). Really good stuff. What we don't generally hear in these circumstances are the next verses.
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? (Rom 8:29-31).
Isn't that interesting? Whatever Paul just said, his conclusion is "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?" His conclusion is, "We can't lose." What did Paul see in what he said that led him to that conclusion?

Well, of course, it is true that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God. And that is a "We can't lose" concept. But how can't we lose? It's found in the promise that follows. There is a certainty about "those whom He foreknew". The "good" that God causes all things to work together for is this promise. We are "predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son."

So you have to ask yourself, "Is that good to me?" If being conformed to the image of His Son is a good thing to you, here's what else you can be assured of. It will happen. Have you ever wondered, "Why did God allow that to happen to me?" or something like it? There's your answer. "Being conformed to the image of His Son." And that's a good thing. If you see it as a good thing, then you should be able to rest knowing that God is for you and no one and nothing can be against you. We can't lose. You may not always be able to get what you want, but God will see to it that you always get what He needs for you to get.

If being conformed to the image of His Son is a not a good thing to you, then perhaps you don't love God. Perhaps you aren't among the justified. If that's the case, then perhaps you need to take a good hard look at yourself and see about correcting that.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day, 2014

Memorial Day is not just a day to honor veterans. It's not even a day to celebrate those who sacrificed for this country. Memorial Day is specifically set aside to honor those who paid the ultimate price while serving in the Armed Forces. Here are a few of their stories.

Private First Class Joe Mann was serving in Holland in 1944. His platoon was surrounded and cut off by enemy forces. Pfc. Mann crept to within rocked-launcher range of an enemy artillery position and destroyed the 88 mm gun and an ammunition dump. Wounded multiple times himself, he remained in position with his M-1 killing off remaining enemy troops. Afterward, despite four injuries, Pfc. Mann insisted on standing guard in a forward location. That morning the enemy counter-attacked. Mann saw a hand grenade land nearby. Unable to raise his arms due to injuries, he yelled, "Grenade!" and threw his body on the grenade. He died from his wounds, but saved and inspired his comrades.

First Lieutenant Harry Martin served with the 5th Marine Division in Iwo Jima in March, 1945. He defied hostile fire to rescue several of his men trapped in positions overrun by the enemy. He was wounded severely twice, but located his men and directed them to safety, staying to defend their retreat. When the enemy took up an abandoned machine gun pit, he charged and killed its occupants. With the few remaining men with him, he led a charge into the hostile position, scattering them and dying from a grenade. Because of his bravery and sacrifice, Lt. Martin permanently disrupted a Japanese attack and saved multiple lives.

Private Joe Martinez was on Attu in the Aleutians in May of 1943. The Army had been trying to take a key mountain pass but failed repeatedly. Finally, a reinforced attack was launched, but faltered in the face of severe hostile fire. Pvt. Martinez stood and resumed the advance alone. As he urged others to follow, he attacked enemy positions with his BAR and grenades, clearing out a spot 150 feet below the pass. Knowing the enemy held flanking and entrenched positions around the pass, Pvt. Martinez pressed on with his BAR until he encountered the final trench where he died eliminating the last of the enemy. His sacrifice produced the end of the Japanese defense of the island.

Last year President Obama posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to Captain Emil J. Kapaun. Capt. Kapaun was a chaplain serving in Korea. In the Battle of Unsan his battalion was surrounded by Chinese forces. Kapaun ignored the enemy fire to go from foxhole to foxhole and encourage his men. He would recover wounded men and drag them to safety or dig shallow trenches to protect them. He could have left but stayed behind to care for the wounded and was captured by the Chinese on Nov. 2, 1950. He refused to take breaks from carrying stretchers of wounded and encouraged others to do their part. In the prison camp, he risked his life sneaking round the camp to care for the sick or provide foraged food or encourage his fellow soldiers. Despite repeated punishments, he continued to serve his fellow prisoners, even conducting a sunrise Easter service in 1951. The harsh conditions and treatment took its toll on Capt. Kaupan. As he was being carried to the hospital, dying, he asked God to forgive his captors. Capt. Kapaun died in that prison camp in May of 1951, but his constant courage and service saved multiple lives and aided to sustain their faith in God and country.

Jesus told us, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). In our Memorial Day celebration we have the opportunity to honor that love.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Skipping Church

Charles Spurgeon gave a parable about a king who gave feasts to his people. After some time, the attendance dwindled. He investigated and found that the servants thought the people wouldn't be able to handle the sumptuous food, so they were substituting the slop the people were used to. So they quit coming.

Hebrews speaks of two kinds of food -- milk and meat.
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Heb 5:12-14).
Milk is the pablum, the soft-serve, the easy-to-swallow stuff you get at the beginning. It's fine for starters, but "by this time you ought to be teachers" instead of needing "the elementary principles", the milk and not solid food. Is it possible that more and more people are leaving off church attendance because all they can get is baby food and not meat? Are we lacking the depth Christ intended when He commanded, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you" (Matt 28:19-20)? Are we attempting to satisfy the masses with slop and pablum that they can get anywhere when we're equipped to serve the most sumptuous meals ever?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Generic Accusations

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to bully? No, not at school. Well, that's easy, too, but I'm not talking about school kids. I'm talking about adults. Here's the most common approach. Make up a generic accusation and yell it ... really loud. You don't have to have proof. It doesn't have to be true. It just needs to sound bad. The worse, the better. Hold up an accusing finger and wail about how someone is ... and use this generic accusation.

Sure, you've seen this, right? From the far right you'll hear, "Obama is anti-American!!" There, see? It's generic. What "anti-American" means isn't relevant1. What proof is offered is beside the point (because, after all, without a definition to start with, proving it would be silly). But it sure is bad for an American president to be anti-American, so ... it's bad! A generic accusation we all think we understand but don't have any actual definition or proof for.

Of course, the far right is not alone in this. Indeed, compared to the left, they're mere amateurs. How many times have we heard that those who disagree with Obama's policies are racists? No one, apparently, disagrees with his policies because they disagree with his policies. Generic accusation. No proof, but it sure sounds bad. If you're a conservative, you're "anti-woman". If you believe that unborn children shouldn't be murdered, you're "anti-woman" and "anti-choice". If you believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman you're anti-gay. What? How does that even work? Doesn't matter. They said it; it must be true. They said it repeatedly and loudly, so it is a certainty. Oh, you believe that the Bible teaches that homosexual behavior is a sin? Well, now, prepare for a shopping list of generic accusations. You're a hater, a bigot, anti-gay, narrow-minded, homophobic (Does anyone actually know what that means?), intolerant, judgmental ... sorry, have to breathe at some point in here.

Generic accusations are really useful. You don't need to prove your accusation. It just has to sound bad. So when the news media or your favorite politician (I'm using the term as if it's real, like "unicorn" or ...) accuses the opposition of "partisan politics", which we all know is bad, then it is true and those rotten "other guys" are rotten. How are they playing "partisan politics"? No one is really clear. "You mean, they don't disagree on the basis of principle2?" No, can't be. Didn't we just say it was partisan politics? Sheesh! Pay attention!

They're really useful, I say, because they are helpful in bypassing any genuine discussion in favor of rudely labeling the opposition with an emotionally-charged albeit unsupported name. It is, as such, a really cool form of bullying, considered effective and acceptable in today's political or other societal conflicts. Bunch of losers, that's what they are. I just wish these anti-Christian commies would all be quiet.
1 As it turns out, what is usually meant by "anti-American" is "He/She doesn't agree with my version of what's good for America. I think that what he/she wants to do will be bad for America." Of course, they'll never start with that, but that's where it usually ends up. They don't typically mean what you might think -- the person in question is actually consciously opposed to America.

2 Just to be clear, "partisan politics" is defined as taking positions or making decisions based on one’s own political party, not on the basis of any sense of values, ideals, or principles. It is a replacement of values, ideals, or principles with the party's version. Partisan politics, then, would be when a member of a political party opposes the positions of the other party simply because the other party holds them.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Accusing God

You remember the story of Job, right? He was a "blameless and upright" man (Job 1:1). Now that's some statement coming by the inspiration of God. This genuine "good guy" is faced with a couple of stunning tragedies where Satan tries to prove to God that Job is not faithful enough to stick with God under trial. He loses his children, his property, and his health. Still he says, "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him" (Job 13:15). Eventually, though, Job succumbs to the faulty assaults from "friends" who assure him that God only does this kind of thing to really bad people. Eventually Job declares, "Let the Almighty answer me!" (Job 31:35). And God does. Chapters 38 through 41 contain one of the most grueling exams ever offered. God essentially says, "Oh, you want to question Me? Let me ask you a few questions." And He proceeds to lay out clearly and indisputably Who is in charge.

Halfway through, Job sees his error and tries to catch a break. "Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further" (Job 40:4-5). Umm, yeah, okay ... but God is not done yet. "Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to Me" (Job 40:7). Then God says something that apparently not too many today have heard.
"Will you even put Me in the wrong? Will you condemn Me that you may be in the right?" (Job 40:8).
Oh, man, that is way too close to our current culture, isn't it? Okay, not close; dead on.

Here's the current view among both skeptics and "believers": "I think God needs to change." Maybe it's His view on homosexual behavior. Maybe it's His view on love, sex, marriage, or divorce. Maybe it's this "exclusivity" thing. Certainly the whole "Hell" concept has to go. No one likes that. And we know that God was wrong in the past. I mean, look at the Old Testament! There was a death penalty for homosexual behavior, adultery, even misbehaving children. On the other hand, slavery is not condemned and patriarchy is defended. God's treatment of women was less than stellar. And that's without even considering the obvious stuff about killing men, women and children (and their sheep) or forbidding the mixing of crops or threads or rules about cutting your hair. Obviously His rules on sex outside marriage or even "'til death do us part" unions are long past their time. I mean, come on! How much can we take? God has made mistakes in the past and He's still doing it today and we need to fix it!

And I can hear God echoing through time, "Will you even put Me in the wrong? Will you condemn Me that you may be in the right?" And I can imagine Paul chiming in as well. "Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?" (Rom 9:20).

We live in perilous times when people who call themselves followers of Christ and believers in God are perfectly happy claiming that God is wrong simply because He disagrees with and condemns their decisions or lifestyle choices. We boldly and brazenly flaunt our sin in His face and demand He come around to our way of thinking, condemning Him so that we can be right. Ask Job. It's not a safe tactic. Not even for a moment.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Because of Sovereignty

Anyone who has read my stuff for very long would have to know that I am a fan of the doctrine of God's Sovereignty. Okay, that would be an understatement. For instance, I write it with a capital "S" because it's big ... really big.

If you've read much of my stuff on God's Sovereignty, however, you'll also likely find that the concept is somewhat ... controversial. Here's the problem. "If God is as Sovereign as you say He is ..." (which I would correct to "the Bible says He is") "... then where is Human Free Will, Man's culpability? Why evangelize, pray, do anything that God wants? If God accomplishes everything, then Man is not culpable and we don't have to do anything." That kind of thing.

Here's the deal. While it is perfectly acceptable to think logically down various paths suggested by biblical statements, it is dangerous to go down logical paths that contradict Scripture. You can imply what you want on a biblical topic, but don't cross biblical lines in doing it. So if the Bible says, "God works all things after the counsel of His will", you might be tempted to object, "Well, then Man cannot be held culpable!" But the Bible is equally clear that Man is responsible for his own actions. So you may think you've followed a line of reasoning properly, but when it crosses a biblically explicit concept, you've gone too far.

Where does that leave me? It leaves me with a biblical concept that God is absolutely Sovereign and Man is responsible for his actions and choices. It leaves me with "I know that You can do all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2) and "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). I'm stuck with "The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble" (Prov 16:4) and "The soul who sins shall die" (Ezek 18:20). I cannot get around "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world" (Eph 1:4) or "Choose this day whom you will serve" (Josh 24:15). Or, reversing the order, I am required to hold both "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" and "It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil 2:12-13). Someone once asked Charles Spurgeon how he reconciles the doctrines of God's Sovereignty and Man's Responsibility. He said, "I don't; I never reconcile friends." Conclude what you want; just be sure not to conclude what contradicts Scripture. Both human responsibility and divine Sovereignty are clearly in Scripture.

"So what?" someone may ask. "Why make such a big deal about it? I mean, if we can't figure it out and we're not clear on it and we can't agree on it, why make a big deal about it?"

Reasonable question, I think. I make a big deal about it first because God's Word does. Various lists include large numbers of references to God and His Sovereignty. The concept is routinely mingled with Man's responsibility. For example, we read in Genesis 50 that the sin of Joseph's brothers was both God's plan and theirs. "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today" (Gen 50:20). Judas Iscariot betrayed Christ by God's foreordination and was culpable for his action (Luke 22:22). The Bible, God-breathed, considers it important, so I will, too.

More practically, God's Sovereignty has large pragmatic implications. First, right doctrine determines right thinking, and right thinking determines right actions. Orthodoxy determines orthopraxy. If God's Word assures us without any possibility of confusion that God is absolutely Sovereign, in order to arrive at right actions, we will need to hold this right doctrine. Second, a correct view of God's Sovereignty will tend to impact all of your thinking. It makes for a humble person who realizes that God (not me) is in charge of everything and a courageous person who realizes that He wants us to act based on His Sovereignty. It makes for a grateful person who understands that all we have is from God's hand. And it makes for stability. Knowing that nothing occurs outside His will -- that all that occurs does so according to His plan -- we can proceed with joy in trial, comfort in loss, and contentment in increase or decrease. In the words of Catharina von Schlegel's hymn, Be Still My Soul, "The waves and winds still know His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below."

The Bible makes one more extremely practical application of the Sovereignty of God.
Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (1 Cor 15:57-58).
That's right. God's Sovereignty guarantees a no-lose situation. Your labor in the Lord cannot fail. You can be steadfast, you can be immovable. Why? Because God wins ... always. Therefore -- that practical conclusion -- be "always abounding in the work of the Lord." Why not? It is sure. Do you have the impossible task of counting it all joy encountering various trials (James 1:2)? Not to worry. Your labor in the Lord is not vain. Are you commanded to make disciples among the deaf, dead, and blind enemies of Christ? No problem. Your labor in the Lord is not vain. Are you timid about doing God's work because it seems hard, fruitless, or pointless? Be at ease. God, working through you, cannot fail.

Now that is practicality. Oh, yeah. I love the doctrine of God's Sovereignty. To its very core.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Fool's Errand

It is quite clear from Scripture that Jesus gave His disciples a universal command.
"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt 28:18-20).
It wasn't just for the Apostles. It was "to the end of the age". That's us. We call it "the Great Commission". We are to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation" (Mark 16:15). And so we must. But here's the thing. This is, on the biblical face of it, a fool's errand.

Consider what God's Word says about the message and the audience.

Paul said, "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor 1:18). That doesn't bode well. "For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:22-24). We're thinking that if we present a pleasant message or a well-argued line of reasoning we can encourage them to faith and repentance. The Bible says that, to the world, Jesus is "a rock of offense" (1 Peter 2:8).

It only gets worse from there. The biblical description of the audience is daunting. "The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor 4:4). Oh, boy ... blind. Then there is the sin condition. Human beings are classified biblically as "slaves of sin" (Rom 6:17). Worse yet, the unregenerate human being is "dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience" (Eph 2:1-2). Oh, great, dead. But wait! It gets worse. "Natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (1 Cor 2:14). Wow! Double whammy! There is "does not" and there is "cannot". Both a refusal and an inability.

So, we are commanded to preach the gospel and we are told that the message is foolishness and an offense to the hearers and the hearers are blind slaves, dead in sin and unwilling and unable to even comprehend. "There you go," Jesus says, "preach the gospel under those conditions."

This is why I dearly love the doctrine of God's Sovereignty. If we're relying on skills and talents, good arguments and good feelings, planning and wording, we can be relatively certain that we'll fail. But if we are relying on a Sovereign God, it's an entirely different story. We can know for certain that we are commanded and we can be quite sure that the message and the audience will not be positive, but we also know that it's not our work. It's God's. Jesus said, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent" (John 6:29). He assured us "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out" (John 6:37). Apparently the list of people He plans to save was written "before the foundation of the world" (Rev 13:8; 17:8). He "chose us in Him before the foundation of the world" (Eph 1:4), "predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself", and "predestined (us) to become conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom 8:29).

We are commanded by the One who possesses all authority to preach the gospel, to make disciples. We are promised that the message would be viewed as foolish and offensive. We are told that the audience is deaf, blind, spiritually dead, and incapable of comprehending. Despite what appears to be an impossible task, we can be confident that we are not alone in it. It seems like a fool's errand, but our task is not to make converts. It is to preach the gospel and make disciples. The success of such a task is found in obeying. The results are found in the Sovereign hand of God. A fool's errand? Sure. "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise" (1 Cor 1:27). That works for me.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Conversation

"I really want to know, what is the will of God for my life?"

"Well, let me think. Oh, I know. 'Flee sexual immorality.'"1

"No, that's not what I mean."

"Okay, how about this? 'If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.'"2

"No, not that either. I mean, what does God want me to do?"

"Maybe it's 'Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials'?"3

"No, I'm looking for a direction in life."

"Oooh, I see. Perhaps, 'Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.'"4

"Come on. I don't think you're even trying."

"There's always, 'Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.'"5


"Oh, I know! 'Repent and believe in the gospel.'"6

"You're not helping me at all."

"Let's see. You would like to hear my opinions on God's will, but you aren't interested in God's views. Why would mine matter? I don't think I can help you."
1 1 Cor 6:18
2 John 14:15
3 James 1:2
4 Rom 12:2
5 1 Cor 6:9-10
6 Mark 1:15

Monday, May 19, 2014


Three times in three places Paul writes about a special assignment from God. He speaks of "a stewardship entrusted to me" (1 Cor 9:17), "the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you" (Eph 3:2), and "the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit" (Col 1:25). So, what is this thing called "stewardship", and what is Paul talking about?

The word is οἰκονομία -- oikonomia. I bet you can figure out what word we get from that Greek word. Yep! "Economy". The Greek word, like the English one, refers to management of resources. It refers to the administration of a household, estate, or task. A steward is assigned by the master of the estate to manage the estate. A steward is responsible for the overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving.

Now, look around a little and you'll find that we are supposed to be good stewards of a lot of things from God. We are to be good stewards of our time, overseeing, protecting, and caring for it. We are to be good stewards of our finances, not squandering it or wasting it. Our time and our money, you see, are not actually ours to squander. They belong to the Master of the estate and we are simply assigned to manage them as His surrogate.

But Paul is not so vague. In all three instance Paul is talking about one particular topic.
For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me (1 Cor 9:16-17).

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles -- if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God's grace which was given to me according to the working of His power (Eph 3:1-7).

Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God (Col 1:25).
What topic? Paul is speaking of the Gospel. He was compelled to preach the Gospel. He was given a stewardship of that Gospel to take to the Gentiles. His job in life was to preach the Word of God.

Now, remember. The definition of stewardship is to manage, to oversee, and to protect something that the Master considers worth caring for and preserving. Therefore, Paul was tasked with managing, overseeing, and protecting the Gospel. We can see this in Galatians when he takes them to task at the beginning of his letter to the church there. "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!" (Gal 1:6-8). No, really, Paul. Tell us what you really think. We can see it when the Apostle Peter himself started acquiescing to the judaizers and Paul stood against him (Gal 2:11-21). And, of course, you can see it in the fact that Paul heartily preached the Word everywhere he went. He was managing it, overseeing it, and protecting it.

Today, a lot of Christians think that the Gospel is a fluid thing, a tool, perhaps. Shift it a little here; push it a little there. Make it fit the culture and the sentiment of the day. Sure, sure, Jesus warned about fearing the One who could kill the body and the soul, but there's no reason to go all "fire and brimstone" on anyone these days. Let's make it a warm, loving gospel. Let's make it ... what Paul calls "not another gospel". We'll edge Hell out of the question and push the whole "If you love Me you will keep my commandments" to the side and heaven knows people don't want to hear that they're sinners, so don't even go there. This may be a lot of things, but it is not stewardship of the Gospel. If we are to "follow my example" (Phil 3:17), perhaps we need to leave off tampering with the Gospel and move more toward protecting it from those who would. We have a stewardship. God considers His Gospel something worth caring for and preserving. We need to be on task.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Using Tools

Have you heard of the AED? It is a cool device that saves lives. It is an Automated External Defibrillator. When used properly, the device detects cardiac arrhythmias and defibrillates the patient to reestablish heart rythm. I mean, really cool. It is designed to be so easy that even a caveman could do it, in the modern vernacular.

So, meet Bob. Bob is a fictional coworker who suffers a ventricular tachycardia. Bob is dying right there on the spot. Ted, a thoughtful and trained CPR-type individual, grabs the AED off the wall, hooks the device up to Bob, follows the prompts from the device, and shocks Bob back to life. Presto! Bob's life is saved. After returning from the hospital, Bob shows his deep gratitude. He makes friends with the AED, takes it to dinner, offers it gifts, and praises it to everyone he meets. What a wonderful device! What a life-saver!

This, of course, is silly. The one getting the gratitude would not be the AED, but the one who used the device to save Bob's life. The AED, absolutely necessary to save him in this case, was simply the tool that Ted used to give Bob his life back.

It has been argued that if God is absolutely Sovereign, then evangelism is pointless. It has been argued that if God chooses whom He will save, there is no reason to share the Gospel. William Carey is considered by most to be the father of modern missions. He argued for overseas missions in a Calvinist setting and was told, "Young man, sit down! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, He'll do it without consulting you or me." That's the problem, right? If God is Sovereign and God chooses whom He will save, why bother spreading the Gospel?

The problem, of course, is the same problem as with Bob and his great appreciation of the AED. He confused means and ends. He confused the tool and the one who used it. God is a God of means. He has ordained a variety of means for His ends. So He uses humans to glorify Him and He commands His people to use certain methods to achieve what He wants. He uses imperfect preachers and teachers to edify the Body. He uses the Word to renew your mind. He uses our prayer to accomplish His will. And He uses "what is foolish in the world to shame the wise" (1 Cor 1:26). We, as evangelists spreading the Gospel, do not make converts. He does that. We, then, are the tools He uses like that AED Ted used.

God is a God of means. He establishes various routes, methods, commands, and procedures to accomplish what He wants to accomplish. Does He have to? Perhaps not. But the fact that He wishes to involve His people in His work isn't a bad thing. Nor does it deny the basic running theme of all of Scripture that God is Sovereign. We just need to be sure to keep in mind Who is using the life-giving tools.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

News Flash!

Okay, so a study was published that ... get this ... claims that "people who consume pornography have a more positive attitude toward extramarital sex." And, of course, that's bad because, well, adultery is a problem for marriage.

No, seriously, they needed a study for that? Because no one really thought that porn was a problem until a serious study indicated it was.

Honestly, do I need to say more?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Ad Man

When I was leaving high school, I was trying to figure out the next step. What did I want to do? What did I want to be? What could I do? You know, just so I could figure out what college courses to take and what major to pursue. One possibility was architectural design, but one that someone suggested that really pulled at me was advertising. You see, I liked creative writing and I liked music and I liked art, so perhaps I could combine all those skills in advertising. Well, of course, that was an obvious direction ... until I was informed that I couldn't really do any of those very well. So I was off in other directions.

As it turns out, I would not have made a good ad man. The most simple function of an advertiser is to induce people to partake of the advertised product or service. So you have to be able to influence people toward your intentions. And how do you do that? Well, in my case, I try to use sound reasoning and clear logic and provide evidence and rationale. Seems like a solid approach. And it ends up being completely off track. The most effective way to get people to do what you want them to do is not by careful reasoning and argument -- not with truth and logic -- but with emotion. You need to get them to feel a certain way because, it appears, most people are more driven by their gut than their brains.

Consider the two approaches -- mine and my opponent's -- to an example subject. Is homosexual behavior a sin? "Well," I launch in, "here's what the Bible has to say. Chapter and verse. Context. Language. Overall content. Multiple places. And here's what we see in Church history. A constant perception. And here's what we see in nature and here's what we see in human history and ... there you have it. Clear as day." What do I get in response? "What do you have against love?" "I think it would be really sad that people who love each other wouldn't be allowed to get married." "You're just a hater and a bigot." I even get, "You're on the wrong side of history" even though I just gave the biblical and historical precedence for my view. Because, you see, it is not reason that prevails, but emotion.

We're naturally that way, I think. We naturally prefer feelings to thinking. Then feed us 60+ years of television ads -- 30 second blasts aimed at heart, not minds -- and factor in the negative effect of rational decision making that would often indicate that we shouldn't do what we feel like doing, and you end up with a natural condition aggravated over time to a serious problem. While the human being generally feels based on how he or she thinks about something, we tend to -- are encouraged to -- decide based on how we feel rather than how we think. Indeed, we are urged "Don't think about it; go with your heart", as if thinking is inferior to feeling.

So, you see, advertising would have been a poor choice for me. I think too much. I evaluate by argument and evidence, by reason and examination. I think that making a coherent, cohesive, well-reasoned, well-supported explanation of something ought to be convincing. It's not that I'm better or smarter than anyone else. I just think different than the mainstream. I am, of course, quite wrong in that. The majority of humans, given to the debased mind (Rom 1:28) rather than the transformed mind (Rom 12:2), are just not interested in arguments. They'd much prefer feelings.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Heavenly Dilemma

So, here I am, reading through Revelation again. Frankly, I'm not a big fan of the book not because of anything wrong with it, but simply because it is so full of imagery and symbolism that it's hard to actually say what it really means. Well, that's fine. Given the future nature of it and the 1st century authorship of it, it's likely what you'd expect. And it is the only book in the Bible that actually promises a blessing for reading the book (Rev 1:3), so I do it.

So I come across the end part. You know, when the seals and the trumpets and the bowls of wrath and all are done and the millennium has occurred and it's all finished. We're at the final outcome, the end, the New Heaven and New Earth. And we read those actually famous and blessed words,
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Rev 21:3-4).
Think of it! No tears, no mourning, no pain, no death. Eternally in the presence of God. Someone mentioned to me the other day that God has the very best retirement plan for His people. So true, so true.

But my son asked me one day, "Dad, how can I be happy in heaven knowing that people I love are in eternal torment?" Now, that's a show-stopper. Good question. For the husband whose wife is in Hell or the daughter whose mother is in Hell or the father whose son is in Hell, how is it even remotely possible that God could wipe away every tear, that there would be no mourning or crying? Indeed, some have suggested that this makes God Himself a monster. A real stumper of a question.

What is it that makes the question so real? Well, as it turns out, I am more closely tied to my wife and my children and my parents and even my friends than I am to Christ. I am more able to relate to my fellow conspirators in Cosmic Treason than with the Holy One of Israel. Invoking Godwin's Law -- gratuitously playing the "Hitler card" -- I more closely relate to Hitler than I do to Jesus. Now, don't go pointing fingers at me. The same is true of every one of us. This is what makes the whole "Hell" thing so offensive. This is one of the top reasons why so many have jettisoned Christianity. The doctrine that so many will be damned for eternity in torment is unbearable to us. "If that's what God is like, I want no part of Him." And, in truth, if we're honest, there is at least a twinge of that in all of us to some degree or another at some point or another.

This fact is what clears up the question for me brought by my son. How can I be happy in heaven knowing that people I love are in eternal torment? Well, the Bible tells me that God's will includes the demonstration of His wrath and power on vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Rom 9:22). This displays, as I say, His wrath and power while magnifying both His justice and His mercy and grace (Rom 9:23). In other words, only through this does God get the glory He deserves. Now, when I get more aligned with God than I am with His creatures, that will be an outstanding thing to behold. That will be good. Indeed, the Bible says, "Therefore God has highly exalted Him (Christ) and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:9-11). Get that? Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that will bring glory to God. Understand that "every" means "even those in Hell".

The problem is not that people will receive the just recompense for their Treason against the Most High. The problem is not that God will be unjust. The problem is us. (Seems to happen way too often.) We are more closely allied with the enemies of God than with the God we worship. Once that error is rectified, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." I don't say I fully grasp it yet, but I can see it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Emily Nesbit was a former English teacher in Pennsylvania. She engaged in consensual sex with one of her 18-year-old students. She has been charged with sexual assault under Pennsylvania's Institutional Sexual Assault statue that makes sex with students illegal. Odd thing. She is not being hailed as brave, heroic, or ground-breaking. She is going to jail.

A high school dance teacher in Texas faces second-degree felony charges for her affair with a 17-year-old female student. She is not being celebrated for her sexual choices, but is instead banned from any contact with the witness or any minor under the age of 17, from using or possessing computers or cellphones, or from accessing pornography while she awaits her trial.

After crashing his vehicle one weekend, Tiger Woods' story came out. He has been linked to affairs with at least 9 women including a porn star and a pancake house waitress. Following the admission of extramarital affairs, strangely enough, Woods was dropped from multiple sponsorship relationships with companies, his wife left him, and he was out of the golf game for months. Estimates put his losses in money alone between $5 and $12 billion dollars. Read that again. Losses. He was not, for reasons unknown, rewarded for his sexual choices.

After being selected as the first openly gay NFL player, Michael Sam kissed his boyfriend on camera for the world to see. The NFL is having trouble keeping up with the demand for Michael Sam jerseys. He was congratulated by President Obama. Miami Dolphin player Don Jones tweeted "Horrible" after the viral video kiss and was fined and dropped from participation with the team until he completes "training". The news calls Sam "heroic" and "courageous". (One news outlet said this was the end of the "male-dominated NFL". What???) GLAAD says "This is a game changer."

Now I wonder what the difference is? Why did all these other people (and more besides) get in trouble for acting out on their personal sexual preferences -- we're not talking about rape or anything -- but Sam is hailed as a hero? Why were these others not congratulated as being "game-changers"? What is this ... heterophobia1? Why does society recognize some sexual desires as wrong but others as good? And when will we realize that there really is right and wrong, moral and immoral, good and bad, and not all relative?
1 It's sad that I have to do this, but I will likely need to explain that I am not actually suggesting "heterophobia" (at least, not at this juncture). It is a literary device wherein the reader is supposed to answer logically, "No!" The point is not that there is some "heterophobia" going on (any more than there is actual "homophobia"), but that people are randomly determining moral values without rhyme or reason ... or even consistency. Just so we're all clear.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


As you've likely heard, "A judge on Friday struck down Arkansas' ban on same-sex marriage, saying the state has 'no rational reason' for preventing gay couples from marrying."

Most interesting to me was the judge's reasoning when he wrote, "This is an unconstitutional attempt to narrow the definition of equality." Equality? No, "marriage". And, oh, it wasn't narrowing, but maintaining.

Then there was this little tidbit from one of those who sued the state in order to achieve her "marriage" license. "We think that (the judge) did a really great job and that he ruled on the right side of history." Talk about a redefinition. History has always maintained a definition of "man/woman" marriage, but this time the judged sided with history by going against it. That's a "good job"?

There are a lot of obvious places to comment in the story. The people of Arkansas voted in 1997 to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and passed an amendment to their state constitution "with the overwhelming support of Arkansas voters" in 2004. Doesn't matter. Didn't count. Neener, neener. There is the constant faulty connection between "who I want to have sex with" and race. There is that absolutely nonsensical "This victory is an essential step on the journey toward full equality for all" from the HRC which mandates that "equality for all" excludes Arkansas voters, Christians, and anyone else that thinks that history answered this question a long, long time ago. And, of course, there is this almost mandatory error of linking the stand on the traditional, heretofore unchallenged definition of marriage with a "gay marriage ban". You see, defining something as X excludes the rest of the letters of the alphabet, not just "Y". It isn't a ban of a particular type of marriage; it is a defense of true marriage.

But, then, given Americans' failure to think and the standard rule "If it feels like it it's true", I'm pretty much whistling in the wind here. It doesn't matter if they're wrong. They'll still change the world. Just not for the better.

Talk about redefining, have you heard about Chaz Stevens? He is a self-declared Satanist. Following the Supreme Court ruling that allowed prayers in public, Stevens demanded "equal billing". He wants to open the Florida State Senate with a satanic prayer. Yeah, okay, really not much news there. But here's the kicker. Stevens classifies himself as a Satanist and then says, "We allow various religious nutjobs to give a prayer. They pray to Jesus who is make-believe, god who is make-believe, why not Satan who is make-believe? Why discriminate against one make-believe god over another?"

Ummm, Chaz, buddy ... can you be a "Satanist" that believes that your "Satan" is make-believe? One cannot be classified as a follower of Satan of Satan if one believes no such being exists. You can't follow a nonexistent being. Now, of course, to be completely fair, I should point out that the world is full of people who are self-professed "Christians" without being actual followers of Christ. In fact, I know of some who don't even believe He exists. Some don't even believe He ever existed. So, on that side of the equation, we'd have to say that this notion of being a follower of a being that doesn't exist isn't new; it's just foolish. So, which is it? Has Chaz Stevens redefined "Satanist" to mean "someone who does not follow Satan" or is he simply one of a large group of foolish folk who have also defined "Christian" as "one who does not follow Christ"? I ask because I know there are a lot in that former topic -- those who redefine "marriage" (and "equality" and "democracy" and even "all") -- who also classify themselves as "Christian", so the two redefinition camps may end up merging.

Monday, May 12, 2014

I Shot an Arrow into the Air

So, here's the plan. "Fast-food workers plan strikes in 150 cities across the United States and protests in 33 other countries on May 15 to demand higher pay and better working conditions."

I've looked in the past at the idea of raising the minimum wage and the questionable benefits of doing so, but I'm more interested in this basic strategy. Cause some controlled pain in order to force people to provide what they want.

So, let's think about this. First, who will pay for this? Well, of course, the striking workers will because they won't get paid while they're not working. But they figure that's a cost worth bearing. Then the customers will because they'll have a harder time getting served due to the lack of workers. And, of course, I would think that the primary target would be the companies themselves -- the McDonalds and Burger Kings.

As it turns out, of course, that's not quite the way it works. According to McDonald's website, of the 35,000 restaurants worldwide, 80% are franchised. That is, 80% of those 35,000 restaurants are owned by private owners, not corporate owners. Thus, 28,000 private owners will be paying for this strike. And that's just for McDonalds. Burger King claims 12,000 restaurants with 90% franchise owned. You know, it doesn't take very long to figure out that the ones getting stuck with this strike action will not be corporations, but private owners.

The final irony, of course, is that neither the companies, the private owners, nor the customers can raise the minimum wage. That's a function of the government ... who won't be suffering any undue discomfort from this little action. And when they do, $15/hour will no longer be a living wage. We'll have to do it again. Because as we all know it is the duty of every company to pay its employees whatever they feel is a living wage or whatever they think they're worth and it is unfair of any company to fail to do so. Who says? The unions, of course.

Longfellow wrote of shooting an arrow into the air -- "I know not where" -- and breathing a song into the air. He later found the arrow lodged in a tree and the song lodged in a friend's heart. I suspect we'll more likely find this protest lodged in the heart of the American economy if this goes through. So, tell me again, how is this a good idea?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day, 2014

It's Mother's Day. I have to talk about my mother. No, I don't "have to" because it's required. I have to because she is so remarkable.

It is often hard to measure the influence people have had on one's life. We have been influenced by acquaintances without knowing it. Passing remarks, even from strangers, can produce effects of which we aren't even aware. Factor in memory -- "Now who was it that taught me ...?" -- and determining influential people in your life can be difficult.

In my case, it's not. Without hesitation I can say that the most influential person in my life has been my mother. Now, to be sure, most of us would have to say that. Mothers are generally a major influence in anyone's life. Mine, however, has been a profound influence.

It was my mother that taught me as a child that obedience was better than sin, that truth was found in the Word, that love was something more profound than warm feelings. She taught me the truth, and she didn't simply tell me; she lived it. I'm reminded of Timothy, whose mother, Eunice, taught him a sincere faith by living it in front of him (2 Tim 1:5).

Proverbs 31 speaks of an "excellent wife" (Prov 31:10-31). She is precious (v 10), trustworthy (v 11), does good and not harm (v 12), works with her hands (v 13), provides food for her household (v 15), is strong (v 17), industrious (v 18-19), prepared and unafraid (v 21). I like this particular phrase: "Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come" (Prov 31:25). These all describe my mother.

Beyond the direct efforts, my mother influenced the rest of my influences. My mother's words and example influenced my choices of teachers and preachers, friends and the ones I did not have, the courses of action and thought processes. She taught me to think, to be responsible, to be courageous, to be honest. She taught me to be prepared to give an answer, but with gentleness and respect. These, in turn, directed other parts of my life, deciding who else would be allowed to influence me and who would not and what else I would accept as truth and what I would not.

There is one aspect that is interesting to me, one thing my mother never taught me. She never taught me what it was like to have a dysfunctional family life. I don't know by experience what it is like to be abandoned, unloved, or spurned by parents. When I was good, my mother loved me. When I was bad (and I have been very bad), my mother loved me. When I said wise things, she praised me, and when I said foolish things, she lovingly corrected me. (I like that I put that in past tense, as if I don't say foolish things anymore and she no longer has occasion to correct me. It isn't true, but I like it just the same.)

I can't tell you how many times I've known people who, upon meeting my mother, have said, "Oh, that's where you get it!" I think that's an example of my mother's influence. She didn't simply teach me by word, but by deed, and I didn't simply learn information, I learned character. I am what I am because of my mother first.

There is no bigger influence in my life than my mother save that of Christ Himself. She was the one most present in my formative years, the one most forward in teaching me the truth, the one most obvious in living a visible life as a follower of Christ. In my later years she is not only my mother, but a dear friend and respected counselor. Many people have been good influences on me, but she has been the one of the two primary (the other being my father), so she has been the biggest influence. Of the Proverbs 31 "excellent wife" it is said, "Her children rise up and call her blessed" (Prov 31:28). This child rises up and calls his mother blessed. Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

All Dogs and Heaven

Several years ago I had a prior coworker call me out of the blue. She had left the state, but she knew I was a Christian and she had my work number, so she called with a critical question. "When dogs die, do they go to heaven?" No, stop laughing. She sincerely thought it was critical. "Because if my dog doesn't go to heaven, I'm not sure I want to go."

The anecdote gives rise to a variety of possible considerations. Are you planning to go to heaven because you'll be happy or because you want to be with God? Is your ____ (fill in the blank with any earthly consideration) more important to you than God? And others, obviously. But this is Saturday and I typically try to keep Saturdays light, so here's another you may not have considered. What does the Bible say about animals in heaven?

Well, first, we know there will be horses. After all, John tells us quite often about seeing horses in heaven (Rev 6:2, 4, 5, 8; Rev 19:11, 19, 21). From the "four horsemen of the Apocalypse" to the rider called Faithful and True, horses play a part in heavenly things.

One of the well-known and even beloved verses from Scripture tells us, "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them" (Isa 11:6), so we have wolves and lambs, leopards and goats, calves and lions. Clearly there are animals.

Of course, the two most common questions are about cats and dogs because, after all, those are out two most common pets. Well, we can be absolutely certain that there will be cats in heaven because we know from Revelation 15:2 that there are harps in heaven and we'll have to make those harp strings somehow. As for dogs, I'm afraid the answer isn't quite as popular. As John describes heaven in its final glory (Rev 22), he assures us, "Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral ..." (Rev 22:15). Sorry, folks, dogs are outside heaven, not inside, even if the movies assure us that all dogs go to heaven.

Okay, none of this was intended to be serious and none of it should be construed as helpful in any way to the question of animals in heaven. For instance, I'm pretty sure that God can make harp strings without cats and I do know that the reference to "dogs" actually refers to the worst of sinners, not the animals itself. On the other hand, if you're one who won't be happy in heaven without your favorite pet, I think there are far more serious questions for you to consider than whether or not your pet will be in heaven.

Friday, May 09, 2014

But What About Love?

The singularly most prevalent thing you will hear from those who think that we who hold to biblical morality need to consider in order to come around to the position that homosexual behavior is just fine is the claim that "Love is good." You know. "How can you be opposed to two people who are in a loving, committed relationship?"

What we've got here is a failure to communicate.

In the biblical explanation of love (1 Cor 13), we find a list of characteristics. The list is interesting, to say the least. Included are things we would expect like "Love is patient and kind" (1 Cor 13:4) because, as we all know, love is both kind and patient. We are all quite aware, from the standard fairy tale ending, that "they all lived happily ever after" because "Love never fails" (1 Cor 13:8). We're good with that. On the other hand, there appears to be several characteristics that we all take for granted that are missing from the biblical account. There is nothing in the text that suggests tender feelings, romance, or, as apparently today's modern version appears to require, "Love means having sex with each other." Hmm, interesting indeed! In the middle, between "what we expected and got" and "what we expected but didn't get", is a section of what we did not expect. Like, "Love is not arrogant" (1 Cor 13:4). Really? What does one person's arrogance have to do with whether or not they love another? Things like that.

One of the things we (apparently) didn't expect but is included in the list is "Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth" (1 Cor 13:6). Consider, for instance, the young couple "in love". He wants to have sex; she doesn't. He says, "If you love me, you will." The easiest response would be "If you loved me you wouldn't even ask." Because, you see, "Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth." And there is no doubt whatsoever that sex outside marriage is biblically classified as "wrongdoing". So that young man can classify what he is feeling toward the young lady in a variety of possible ways -- lust, desire, even hormone trouble, perhaps -- but he cannot call it "love".

And this make sense when love is properly understood. You see, love seeks to achieve the best for the loved one even at great personal cost. Most people would agree with that on the face of it. Then it should be abundantly clear that seeking to urge one whom you claim to love to violate God's instructions would not be an effort to achieve the best for that loved one. It would be seeking to put them in great jeopardy for the sake of personal desires. It would be urging them to be in direct conflict with God. And that cannot be classified as "love".

So we circle back around to the first question. "How can you be opposed to two people who are in a loving, committed relationship?" As long as we are speaking the same language, my easy answer would be, "I'm not." It would, of course, require a little further explanation. "I am in favor of two people loving each other. That requires, however, that they seek the best for one another, and that requires that they don't urge one another to be in direct conflict with God because that is not the best and, therefore, that is not love." I don't know for sure what it is two people of the same gender who engage in sex with each other have, but it is not love. I would only say that, though, because I love you enough to speak the truth.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Let Me Count the Ways

The AP story from May 4, 2014, opens with this paragraph.
The first openly gay Episcopal bishop, who became a symbol for gay rights far beyond the church while deeply dividing the world's Anglicans, plans to divorce his husband.
What's wrong with this picture? Let me count the ways.

There is the phrase, "openly gay Episcopal bishop". Scripture is not unclear when it requires that "A bishop then must be ... the husband of one wife" (1 Tim 3:2). Read that in as many different ways you would like. It cannot be read to say "a bishop must be the wife of one husband." But that's a different question, isn't it? Yes. So, it cannot be read to say, "A bishop must be the husband of one husband." No matter which way you translate the text, the context, the intent, the content, a bishop (KJV) must be "the husband of one wife." You can read that to mean "a one-woman man" or "only ever married to one woman" or perhaps several other possibilities, but none of them include "the husband of one husband."

There is the phrase "plans to divorce". Without reference to "gay" or not, we can clearly see from Scripture that God hates divorce (Mal 2:16). When they asked Jesus what the valid reason was for divorce, His reply was, "What God has put together let no man separate" (Matt 19:6) and assured them that the only reason there was an allowance for divorce in the Law was "because of your hardness of heart" (Matt 19:8). Without determining whether or not this particular thing is actually marriage, it cannot be questioned as to what God thinks about divorce, so "plans to divorce" must not be in the language of a church leader.

There is the phrase "deeply dividing the world's Anglicans." The biblical term for it is varied, depending on the translation, but it isn't unclear. It is "a factious man", "an heretick", "a schismatic", one who causes division (Titus 3:10-11). The Bible says without apology, "After warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned."

You see, then, without addressing the meaning of marriage or the morality of homosexual behavior, there is already a host of problems found in one sentence. That he retired in 2012 is vaguely helpful. That such a man ever served in the role of "bishop" anywhere is largely disturbing. That a church body ("Episcopals") would allow someone who fails the 1 Cor 6:9-10 test and the standards required by 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1 for an overseer of this office (Note that he suffered from alcoholism, which, by itself is sad, but laid alongside 1 Tim 3:3 and Titus 1:7 is an additional problem.) as well as all these other difficulties to serve as an "overseer" is profoundly disturbing.

The Episcopal Church is "urging prayer for Robinson and Andrew." May I add my agreement here. Since they "went out from us" ("that it might become plain that they all are not of us") (1 John 2:19) and since in their current condition they "will not inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9-10), I, too, urge prayers on their behalf, that "God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim 2:25). Prayer for a self-professed church body intent on accepting as leadership that which directly violates the Word of God is another matter.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Failed Strategies

Have you heard of Freakonomics? It is a book written by economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner published in 2005. It examines various aspects of economics (even if "economics" is used loosely). It talks about cheating, information control, the economics of drug dealing, and the socioeconomic patterns of naming children among other things. "Among other things" includes the highly controversial claim that legalized abortion reduces crime.

First, the reasoning. Legalizing abortion allows a woman who does not want a baby to terminate that baby's life. The likelihood of a baby who is not loved by his or her parents to become a criminal is much higher than one who is loved. Ergo, eliminating the unwanted baby decreases crime. QED1.

Now, to be sure there have been a variety of folks who have refuted the claim. Not having read the book or the refutations, I'm not going to try. Indeed, it's not the topic this time. This time I'm looking at the thinking. "What is the problem? What is the solution?"

The problem is that there is crime. Crime is largely influenced by parents that don't love. Solution: Eliminate the child. Wait ... what? Does anyone else see a problem here with the solution? But it's not like this is the only place such a ridiculous conclusion is drawn these days. Take, for instance, the current scandals in Veterans Affairs hospitals both in Phoenix and in Colorado. And it's not limited to these. The answer to fixing problems in the Veterans Affairs system? Well, it may be necessary to fire some people, but everyone knows it has been to give the system more money. Because the failure or refusal of those in charge to do what they are charged with doing is simply a matter of money, not a failure of humans. Or how about the whole problem of kids shooting kids in schools? That's clearly a problem of bullying, a problem best solved by passing gun control laws and anti-bullying rules because the problem is insufficient regulation, not parents, teachers, or anyone else in the lives of these kids.

What am I getting at? I'm suggesting that we're following rabbit trails, that we're hunting down the wrong paths, that we're looking for solutions in the wrong places. We're thinking that better rules and more money and greater freedom (Can you get "better rules" and "more freedom" at the same time?) will solve the problem. The Bible says that the problem is sin, that we're all sinners in need of a change of heart. The answer is not in better politicians, better laws, or more money thrown at the problem. Hopefully those with the real answer aren't relying on those failed strategies to get it done.

1 Without even reading the book or the paper, you can see the abstract for Levitt's claim here to get a feel for the argument.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Sexual Propaganda

Andrée Seu Anderson (that's how she spells her name) opened her May 3, 2014 article in World Magazine with
"It is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret" (Ephesians 5:12). But what if they do them in the open? What if they do them in Room 206 of the campus Physical Education Center and are graded on them? And what if you’re footing the bill, Mom and Dad?
She goes on to tell what was in her 20-year-old daughter's textbook and syllabus for the required Human Sexuality class she was taking in college. The textbook by Crooks and Baur, Our Sexuality (12th edition), (you can get it for $175 at Amazon) pretends to expound on human sexuality from an enlightened position ... and to teach your kids the "scientific truth".
This is the most respected and authoritative college textbook available on human sexuality. Written in a direct, non-judgmental manner, this edition of OUR SEXUALITY has been thoroughly and carefully updated to reflect the most current research findings. It is the first college text to bring cutting-edge and in-depth emphasis on the impact of politics on sexuality. Crooks and Baur keep you interested with the most exciting, emerging research and coverage, and focus on strengthening healthy communication among partners. The authors also have revised their overall coverage on maintaining a responsible and healthy sexual relationship, with greater attention to diversity and inclusiveness -- Book Description
So what kind of "authoritative" information does it offer? They tell us cool things like how physical attractiveness plays a role in sexual attraction and how jealousy harms relationships ... because they're scientists and we wouldn't have known these things. I particularly liked the keen insight, "Facial expressions of emotion are often a powerful component of nonverbal communication" because, after all, the definition of "nonverbal communication" is "communication not involving words: communication by other means than by using words, e.g. through facial expressions, hand gestures, and tone of voice." Whew! Good authoritative information! At one point they use the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill trial from 1991 as an example of workplace sexual harassment -- you know, the trial where Thomas was found not guilty. Thus, "respected and authoritative" must mean "not well researched, honest, or reliable."

How is it "non-judgmental"? Good stuff like "The religious right in America has long labored to reinforce traditional gender roles through its efforts to shape American politics." Yeah, that's non-judgmental. "The teachings of Jesus emphasized love, compassion, and forgiveness", while "Homophobia can be best thought of as a prejudice similar to racism, anti-Semitism, or sexism." Indeed, as far as "non-judgmental" goes, as long as you aren't a Christian or a Jew or some such, you'll be okay, because they assured their readers, "Beginning in the 7th century BCE, ... Jewish religious leaders wanted to develop a distinct closed community. Homosexual activities were a part of the religious practices of many peoples in that era, and rejecting practices was one way of keeping the Jewish religion unique." Really? The 7th century BCE? That would require that the texts written by Moses (according to Jesus (e.g. Matt 8:4; 19:8)) were not. (If Jesus was wrong, then why bother talking about what He said?) It would also indicate that only this elite minority actually believed such practices were sin. Certainly the Jews were wrong, and certainly the New Testament was equally wrong. This is "non-judgmental".

How is it "strengthening healthy communication among partners"? (Note: "Among" means a group, while "between" means a couple. There is bias in that phrase alone.) The book includes information on how to "come out", gives photos of sexual positions, and educates readers on things like fetishism, transsexual fetishism, sexual sadism, sexual masochism, klismaphilia, coprophilia, urophilia, zoophilia, and necrophilia. If you need to look them up, good for you. There are some really sick things in there. Oh, wait, we're talking about healthy communication, aren't we? So explanations without any moral component of sexual delight in enemas, feces, urine, sex with animals, or sex with dead people should be considered "healthy communication"? I don't think they're using the word "healthy" in the same sense that I would.

All of this is highly disturbing, but it is most disturbing because it is highly respected. It is most disturbing because it is considered good scholarship, good information, and good teaching. Anderson closes her piece with a quote from Cal Thomas. "The question must be asked: why do so many parents who hold traditional views that worked for them and the country willingly and enthusiastically send their children to academic institutions that frequently undermine everything they believe? And pay for it, too? Is it because of the 'prestige' of these historic schools?" I agree with the question. I also need to point out that, given what is being taught in schools (whether elementary, secondary, or "higher learning") that is fundamentally contrary and hostile to Christianity, what do you think we can expect as this next generation of propagandized children without proper parenting or education come to the fore? I don't think it will be a warm embrace of Christian values or those who hold them.

Monday, May 05, 2014

What Seems to be the Problem?

James starts the 4th chapter of his epistle with a question that any parent of more than one child has likely asked: "What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?" Yeah, we've all seen that and we've all likely, whether intentionally or in passing, wondered the same thing. Just what is it that is making two people quarrel? Maybe it's not people; maybe it's nations. I'd suspect the answer is the same.

James answers. "Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?" That's the ESV. There is the elegant KJV -- "Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?" The New American Standard says, "Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?" So ... which is it? Is it passions, lust, or "your pleasures"? Because these don't seem to be the same thing. Well, at least not in our minds. "Passions" refers to anything about which we are passionate, and we even encourage that. "Lust" in our vernacular is sexual. And, of course, "your pleasure" is generic enough, not requiring real "passion" and broader than sexual desire. We're all waiting to figure out what is the cause of quarrels. What did James say?

James used the Greek word, ἡδονή. "You know, Stan, that doesn't help at all." Yeah, I know, but some want to know the actual word, like it would make a difference. However, in the phonetic spelling of the Greek word, I suspect you'll begin to find your very own answer. The Greek word, when spelled out like we would pronounce it, is hēdonē. Now, surely you see an English word origin there, right? The word, as it turns out, both in sound and in definition, is the source of our English term, "hedonism". It refers to pleasure or the desire for pleasure. You know, your passions, your lusts, your pleasures. What is hedonism? It is the doctrine that pleasure is the highest good. Oh! Welcome to the 21st century!

What seems to be the problem? Why are children killing children? Why are there fights in Congress? Why do your neighbors hate each other? Why is there conflicts between races? What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? It is the search for pleasure. It is our drive to satisfy our desires. Maybe they're personal desires for sex, for power, for money. Maybe they're for more "understandable" things like respect or even just to be left alone. Maybe they are national desires for land, for power, for glory. The conflicts are always based on the pleasures of the combatants. They cannot occur if one or the other or both are not concerned about pleasure. And when these desires are elevated to the highest priority, they become wars, either between individuals or between groups or nations.

The Bible warns that hedonism -- the doctrine that pleasure is the highest good -- results in conflict and struggles. The world tells us that hedonism is right, normal, normative. We ought not set it aside. We ought to embrace it. And if you say otherwise, you're just a bigoted, narrow-minded hater. You decide.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

God Cannot

It is popularly believed that God can do anything. Anything at all. I suppose the first reason for this common conception is the verse that says, "With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible" (Matt 19:26). Pretty much answers that, doesn't it? Well, I suppose so ... if you're going to take that without any context -- like the rest of Scripture.

For instance, Paul opens his letter to Titus, "Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began" (Titus 1:1-2). James says, "God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone" (James 1:13). Balaam told Balak, "God is not man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind" (Num 23:19). The psalmist wrote, "Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but You are the same, and Your years have no end"
(Psa 102:25-27). So what are we to make of this? Clearly there is a list (this is a short list) of things that God cannot do. He cannot lie, be tempted by evil, change His mind, or cease to exist. And yet we read that "with God all things are possible."

I think the clearest answer is found in Paul's second letter to Timothy. There we read, "If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself" (2 Tim 2:13). Sure, another thing He cannot do -- deny Himself -- but I think that answers the entire dilemma. With God, all things are possible that God wants to do. That would mean that all things that He does would be in alignment with His nature. All things He does would be for His pleasure. All things would be according to His will. Oh, wait ... isn't that our prayer? "Our Father who is in heaven ... Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven ..." (Matt 6:9-10). Because, you see, everything He does is His will. Everything He does is according to His character.

So there are things He cannot do. He cannot lie. That means He can't, for instance, promise to save you and then fail to save you. He can't intend to succeed at something and fail to succeed. He cannot fail to do what He intends for His good purposes. He can be trusted. He is immutable -- unchangeable. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb 13:8). Can He make a rock too big for Him to pick up? Don't be silly! It would not be in line with His nature, according to His pleasure. He can do anything He pleases.

As it turns out, for us that's a really, really good thing. Because He can be trusted. What He says He will do He will do. And since His nature is good (the definition of "good"), what He says He will do will be good. And that's a good thing.