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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in Review

The year is at its end. It's a good time to review. Let's see ...

Well, we had wonderful visits this past year with my sister and her husband for a couple of months. Good times. Relatives who have never visited came to visit this year from California and from Minnesota. We took our granddaughter to the big biannual family reunion. She had a great time. My youngest son left the town and the state to head for the rainy northwest. He likes it better there. (Arizona living is an acquired taste.) My wife "lost" her job of the last 5 years when the granddaughter went to kindergarten. (She was the "daycare service".) We took a nice trip to a Bavarian town called Leavenworth in Washington to see my wife's family and celebrate her oldest sister's 60th birthday. Our town got 6 inches of rain in September, the 7th most in history. My oldest daughter got married in October. And we had a grand time with both families (separately) in California over the Thanksgiving holidays. A good year. For us.

What else? There has been the whole "white cops killing innocent black people" stuff going on in Ferguson and Phoenix and New York City and ... I suppose just about anywhere. "No justice, no peace" is the cry even though "justice" is an undefined term in this application (as illustrated by the black man that killed two NYPD officers--one Asian and one Hispanic--in retaliation). President Obama decided, right after the elections were over, to unilaterally change immigration laws for "dreamers". That's ongoing. In August social media made a big deal about buckets of ice water for ALS. What actual impact it had on Lou Gehrig's I haven't a clue. The world has been facing a huge problem with Ebola in Africa and spreading elsewhere. Lots of have died and as far as we know there is no end in sight. And ISIS reared its ugly head, a really nasty group of people that make Al Qaeda seem tame. In football, Ray Rice knocked out his fiancé, got suspended from football, and won back his right to play, while Adrian Peterson was accused of beating his son "with a tree branch" and is still suspended from football. Malaysian Flight MH370 vanished after take off from Kuala Lumpur and no one knows what happened to the plane or the passengers. Russia invaded Ukraine (I suppose we can debate that) and pro-Russian troops shot down a second Malaysian airliner. And be sure to add in QZ8501 to the downed airline list. We had midterm elections that overthrew the Democrats in both the House and the Senate. We'll see what that brings about, but I'm not holding my breath. Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana and several other states legalized medical marijuana. (I laughed at the headline: "New Highs for Pot".) The courts decided to legislate the English language by redefining "marriage" and disallowing any state from defining it as it has always been defined. There were some staggering data breaches as the concept of "cyberwarfare" comes into its own. Target, P.F. Changs, Michaels, Goodwill, Neiman Marcus, Home Depot, and JPMorgan Chase all had huge cyberattacks. Oh, wait, one more ... let's see ... oh, yeah! That movie studio, Sony. Over a stupid movie. Go figure. I, for one, am looking forward to watching whatever our North Korean overlords will allow us to watch in the next year. As for the economy, well, it all depends on who you ask. They tell me things are getting better, but why am I making less today than I was in 2009 (doing the very same job for the very same company) and why is it that the participation rate in the labor market is the lowest it has been in 35 years? (I was amused at the news story that told that people are more highly optimistic about the economy because 36% think this is a good time to be looking for work. How does "36%" work out to "highly optimistic"?)

Now, what could those two paragraphs possibly have in common except for the fact that they both explain "2014"? Nothing. Unless you keep in mind, "God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass." (Source) "Whatsoever comes to pass." I'll tell you what, whether it's the heart attack we thought my wife had but didn't or it's the uncertainty of the courts and the government and the economy, it's good to know that God has not lost touch, lost control, or been limited to our vagaries and evil intentions. It's good to 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) Good! I can allow the peace of Christ to rule in my heart (Col 3:15), to be content in any circumstance (Phil 4:11). So current events just don't disturb me that much. I guess that makes 2014 a pretty good year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

One Thing

Remember when Jesus visited Mary and Martha that one time (Luke 10:38-42)? It's a well-known story. Martha set about preparing for Him, and Mary sat down at His feet. Martha complained. "Tell her to help me."
But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42)
"One thing is necessary." What a statement! In a world where we have so many "necessary things", Jesus begs to differ. All that other stuff is good, important, urgent, pressing ... all true. But "Only one thing is necessary."

Paul made a similar statement.
7Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:7-14).
One thing. What is that? Jesus. Mary sat at His feet. Paul counted all things as loss--as rubbish--in order to gain Christ.

Just how valuable is Christ to you? Do you find knowing Him "surpassing value"? Do you aim to lay aside everything to gain Him? Are you encumbered by many things? Or do you have one thing in mind?

Monday, December 29, 2014


I remember the story of the father who desperately urged his sons to avoid at all costs sexual sin, especially the pervasive problem of pornography. One day one of his sons said, "Dad, can I talk to you?" They went for a walk and his son said, "Dad, the other day I saw on the computer as I came into the room what looked like skin. You turned it off very quickly, but I'm pretty sure of what I saw. So why do you tell me to avoid it?" His father, very sad, said, "Do you think I urge you to avoid it because I don't know how desperate a problem it is?"

We have two similar words in the English language: sympathy and empathy. Both share the suffix, "-pathy". Of Greek origin, it originally referred to "suffering", but we understand it to be general feelings. So "sympathy" and "empathy" both refer to feelings in general and suffering in particular. In the case of "sympathy", it is to acknowledge another person's feelings, specifically their hardships. "Empathy", on the other hand, is to share the same pain of another. One says, "I see that you're hurting" and the other says, "I feel your pain."

The Bible describes sin as painful. It produces death (Rom 6:23). It produces temporal judgments (Luke 13:1-5). It produces foolish thinking (Rom 1:20-23). Sin brings trouble and distress (Rom 2:9), destroys peace (Isa 57:21), incurs bondage (Prov 5:22), and wreaks destruction (Gal 6:8). It ultimately produces eternal judgment as a product of separation from God (Isa 59:2). We, as Bible-believers, know all that. The question I ask, then, is if we are sympathetic or empathetic ... or apathetic?

We aren't short on pulpits on which to pound our denouncement of sin. We have plenty of Christians who will remind us that sexual sin is rampant and abortion is murder and homosexual behavior is prohibited in the Bible and so on. There is no dearth of voices on the problem of sin. What I'm wondering is what we are feeling about it? I ask this coming from a thinking perspective. That is, I believe we should think about what is true and right rather than define true and right by how we feel. Yet, I don't think that "feel" has no place in this. So when we vent our passion for Christ by shouting our disapprobation of sin, is it because of our righteous indignation, or is it because of our "pathos"?

You see, some people can be apathetic toward sin. They don't feel anything about it. "Whether or not there is sin, we're not concerned about it." We'll call that "liberal Christianity". Others can sympathize over sin. "Yes, I can see that you're a sinner." We'll call them "Pharisees". Or, being sinners ourselves, understanding all the pain and suffering it causes, struggling against it ourselves and relying desperately and wholly on God to get us out of it, we can be empathetic over sin. In this case, we would start with "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner" (and stay there a long time--perhaps continually). In this case we would still urge others to leave sin, but it is from a different position. It is not apathy--"I don't care about that, do whatever makes you feel good"--or sympathy--"Yes, I can imagine that kind of thing will hurt you so you'd better do what I say and stop it." No, it's empathy. "Look, I know about the pain sin causes. I've been there. I go there far too often. I'm not urging you to do something I myself don't need to do. I'm not warning you because I don't know how desperate the problem is. I'm urging you to go another path because I know what harm this one causes."

Will this make others listen? Honestly, no. You're not dealing with a drowning man desperate for salvation. You're dealing with a hostile, defiant, blinded sinner. "Me? Drowning? You must be an idiot!" No, making others listen is God's job. But I suspect that empathy will go a lot farther than either apathy or sympathy because, after all, we are alike in the problem of sin and denying that by either denying that it's sin or denying that we suffer from it has never worked for anyone. And it's the truth that will set them free. Truth about what constitutes sin. Truth about the consequences of sin. Truth about the Good News that faith in Christ can solve the problem of sin. And the truth about you, a sinner just as much in need of grace as the ones to whom you speak. That truth can set people free.

Sunday, December 28, 2014


We just celebrated the birth of Emmanuel. Or Immanuel. Whichever you prefer. You know what it means, right? I mean, we get it stated in Scripture.
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel" (which means, God with us). (Matt 1:23)
Straight out of Isaiah 7. Clear enough. And wonderful. "For He will save his people from their sins." (Matt 1:20).

But ... just what does that mean? I mean, look, we all know that God is Omnipresent. So of course God is with us. How did Jesus represent a change in that fact? Well, He didn't. Theologians talk of Transcendence and Immanence, where the former refers to His "over all" nature and the latter to His "right here with us" nature. Get one or the other of these out of balance and you're guaranteed to go astray. But we can be like Jacob. Remember the story of him sleeping and that ladder from heaven came down and he woke up and realized he had been in the presence of God? "Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, 'Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.'" (Gen 28:16). See how that works? The Lord didn't come to this place. He is in this place. The problem? "I did not know it."

So Emmanuel means something else, something different, something more. It means something like the reverse of what Jesus warns in Matthew 7. There He speaks of the false prophets who come to Him and say, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name?" Jesus says, "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you.'" (Matt 7:22-23). Now, just how does that work? I mean, He knows everyone. He is, after all, Omniscient. So how could He claim, "I never knew you"? Well, He's speaking there in the relational sense. It isn't head knowledge--"I never knew you existed." It isn't data--"I never knew anything about you." It is personal. "I was never intimately involved with you." I know my son's wife, for instance, but I don't know her like I know my wife. Oh, no. Not at all. Because I know my wife intimately. And that is the sense of "Emmanuel."

There is also, in that term, a kinship connection. In Leviticus 25 we read of the ability of a kinsman to pay the debt--to ransom a kinsman in trouble. The term is a "kinsman redeemer". The two necessary parts for a kinsman redeemer to be able to ransom a person were 1) that he has the ability to pay and 2) that he is the "nearest kinsman" (Lev 25:25). Enter Emmanuel--God with us. Not merely "in the vicinity". Not "close at hand". Actually "with". This is the nearest kinsman and He alone has the ability to pay the ransom owed.

There is one more facet to this gem that stands out from merely Omnipresent. In Paul's letter to the saints who are in Colossae, he speaks of a ministry God assigned to him. This included the revealing of "the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages." (Col 1:26). What is that mystery? That mystery is "Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Col 1:27). Now, me, personally, I don't have the words to describe that. It is beyond me. We who have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) now have Christ in us as the only hope of restoring that glory. And you can surely see that "Christ in you" is something beyond Omnipresence.

Emmanuel--God with us. It refers to His ever-presence. It refers to an intimacy with His own. It refers to His kinship connection, His family tie. More importantly, it refers to that unique condition of Christ in you. You know what? Maybe we need to go back and celebrate that birthday again. And maybe often.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Waiting for Santa

Well, now, isn't this interesting? GLMA is a website of "health professionals advancing LGBT equality", so it's not some right-wing "hater" site. And this article from a pro-gay site lists "the health issues GLMA’s healthcare providers have identified as most commonly of concern for gay men." Isn't that odd? Because they tell me that homosexual behavior has no physical ramifications. It's not "bad" for you. And yet these health professionals are concerned because HIV/AIDS is most prevalent among those who practice homosexual behavior. They state that men who have sex with men have an increased risk of hepatitis. Gay men experience greater body image problems. Homosexuals have a higher substance abuse rate. And so it goes. More STDs, more depression, more tobacco use, more HPV. Wait, didn't they tell me that there is no greater risk for homosexuals? And didn't they tell me that "harm" or not defines "moral"?

So I suppose I can expect an apology. "You're right; we were wrong. Homosexual behavior does typically cause more harm and, thus, should be considered immoral. Sorry it took so long for us to see that." Yeah, I'm not holding my breath for that one. I suppose it will come as surely as Santa ... who, by the way, did not. On the other hand, if someone expresses concern for folks who are risking both body and soul for something God says is wrong, that's called "hate". Ironic.

Friday, December 26, 2014


They tell me that the number one fear for most human beings is not death. It is the fear of public speaking. Now, why would that be? Well, it's pretty simple. "What will they think of me???!" Here's what we do. We compare ourselves with each other. "Is she as pretty as me?" "Is he as smart as me?" "Am I as competent/spiritual/talented/whatever-you-want-to-compare as they are?" It is the norm, the standard, what all of us do. And this is God's opinion of it:
When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding. (2 Cor 10:12)
Oh, wait ... that's not a good thing, right?

As it turns out, the only place we can possibly survive comparisons is among ourselves. You see, if we compare as God commands, we're in trouble. That's because God's standard is perfection (Matt 5:48). There, go for that one, eh? But the only comparison of real value is with God's standards and God's opinion and God's ideas. And here we are muddling about without wisdom, comparing ourselves with ourselves and coming out pretty good much of the time ... only wrong.

Imagine, then, if our primary concern was not "What will they think of me?" How would that look? How would it look when you're sitting on an airplane next to a stranger and want to share the Gospel with him or her or with a coworker? The first question would not be "What will they think of me?" How would it look when you were asked to speak in church (or elsewhere)? The first question would not be "What will they think of me?" Imagine that! Or what if you had the chance to share the Gospel with your boss ... without thinking "Will they fire me?" because you're not comparing yourself among yourselves. Your sole concern would be "Am I glorifying God?" It could include your words or your presentation or even your appearance, but it would not be comparing yourself among yourselves.

We're really bad at this comparison thing. We pick bad standards and then come out pretty good most of the time. Sometimes we select bad standards and come out pretty bad most of the time. (That's my typical mode of operation.) The problem, then, is not how we come out, but the bad standards we are using. If we are to "do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31), though, it would seem necessary that our standard must be God's standard and God's glory. As Paul puts it, "'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.' For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends." (2 Cor 10:17-18).

Thursday, December 25, 2014

So This Is Christmas

We all know what Christmas is. It's hustle and bustle, running around getting double the work done in half the time. It is disappointment and over-anticipation and greed. No, no, that's not it. That's a jaded view. What is Christmas? It is snow and jingling bells. It is good cheer and a warm fire. It is time spent with loving family and good friends. It is trees and lights and decorations. It is giving and getting gifts. It is Nativity scenes and maybe even an annual visit to church. It is peace and love and joy to the world.

I suppose, then, that we've missed it ... almost entirely. Because, while these may be the trappings of Christmas, they are not Christmas.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:5-8)
I find in that text the clearest message of Christmas. "He emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." Christmas is the celebration of God-born-Man, the arrival of the king in the manger. Perhaps we Americans can't even conceive of that collision of ideas--king in a manger. We think of everyone being equal (mostly), so "king" isn't so much. But we're looking at God taking on creature form in the most profound statement of humility this world could ever know.

I find in that text the clearest message of Christmas. "And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Everybody who is born will die. That's a given. But we are not born for the purpose of dying. Not us. But He was. We spend our lives running from the grave; He came to occupy it. We celebrate on Christmas His arrival, but we do so with His departure in mind because that was His purpose. And this was God's most magnificent gift to us.

We have Christmas trees because someone a long time ago used a pine tree to illustrate that Christ is stronger than any evil. Good to remember. We have lights because Martin Luther thought they reminded him of the glory of God's creation. Right to recall. We give gifts because Christ is God's gift to us and because the wise men gave gifts to the Baby. Excellent to keep in mind. We have a Santa Claus based on an early saint who gave to save children. Don't forget. Mistletoe is a reminder of love. Remember love. Some even use the candy cane as a reminder of the purity of Christ and the blood He shed. These aren't bad. They're all reminders. But they are not Christmas. They're only the finger pointing to the moon. Let's not get caught staring at the finger.

Christmas meets with mixed reviews among the devout. "It's a pagan holiday," some will complain. And I understand why. The popular notion is that the church took over the holiday from the pagans--redeeming the holiday, so to speak. Everyone knows that, right? Maybe. Maybe not. "It's full of blasphemies and pagan celebrations." Perhaps. Others push such concerns aside and simply enjoy the celebration--the lights and tinsel and Nativity scenes. "Sure, it may not be Jesus's actual birthday, but we can still celebrate." I would hope, wherever in that spectrum you fall, that you would take time to celebrate the God who clothed Himself in skin to be born in a manger for the purpose of dying for your sin. Whether or not other impurities have been mixed in to our popular observances, surely that is worth remembering and proclaiming. I know I will.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Coming to Town

We all know who's coming to town this evening. The kids will tell you. The news will tell you. The television shows have been telling you. Santa Claus is coming to town tonight.

Except, of course, no sane adult thinks this is true. Great. Now we're back to the beginning of the question. Who is coming to town tonight?

Most of us know that Santa Claus was originally modeled after Saint Nicholas, a bishop from Turkey around the late 3rd to mid 4th century. The story about him from which we got the fireplace and stockings stuffed with gifts is fairly well-known, too. A poor man had no money to use as a dowry for his three daughters, but Saint Nicholas tossed some gold into the stockings they had hung by the fire to dry, and they were saved. Great story, true or not. Clearly the source of our "Santa coming down the fireplace and filling up your stockings with gifts" tradition.

What is missed, however, is the point. The girls, in their time and their society, were not simply facing the shame of no husbands. They were facing being sold into prostitution. The point, then, was not the fireplace or the stockings or even the gifts. The point was salvation.

So, Christmas is the time we celebrate the Incarnation, the arrival of God's Gift to Mankind. Paul wrote, "Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!" (2 Cor 9:15). We know we "are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Rom 3:24). We are aware that "the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom 6:23). The point is the same. Not "the gift", but salvation.

But it doesn't stop there. "Each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another." (1 Cor 7:7). We know that each and every believer receives the gift of the Holy Spirit and gifts by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, Paul tells us that "the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." (Rom 11:29). Can't be lost. "All [spiritual gifts] are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills." (1 Cor 12:11). These are wonderful gifts! But they are gifts with responsibilities. Paul warned Timothy, "Do not neglect the gift you have" (1 Tim 4:14). Peter said, "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace." (1 Peter 4:10).

It's Christmas Eve. Someone is coming to town. And it's not Santa. It is the One who is already here. And He is God's gift to us and brings with Him gifts from God for us. Now, that is something to celebrate.

"Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!"

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Born This Way

The debate between Bible-believing Christians and homosexuals hinges on the claim that "We're born this way." The notion is "God made us this way, so it's good. Who are you to question it?" And the typical response of the Bible-believing Christian, "No, you're not born that way; it's a choice." So, who's right?

This gets a little difficult because, as it turns out, both are right and both are wrong.

Modern psychology tells us that they're not actually born that way, but they're certainly born with the propensity. Science has failed in its attempts to prove that it's genetic. Just look at identical twins. Having the same DNA, if one is genetically homosexual, the other must be. But it doesn't work that way. So science has to disagree (whether or not they admit it) and psychology has to do a little dance (a "propensity" even though it's not a birth condition) and it can't be said they are born that way. So the Christian hoots his victory ... too soon.

Because, as it turns out, the Bible indicates that we are not sinners because we sin, but that we sin because we are sinners. Paul wrote that "in Adam all die" (1 Cor 15:22). He wrote, "Through one man sin entered into the world" (Rom 5:12) so that "death reigned" (Rom 5:14) so that "through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men" (Rom 5:18). It's called the doctrine of Original Sin and it says that humans are born sinners. We do it by nature--sin nature. David wrote, "The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth." (Psa 58:3). Well, now, look at that! We are all "born that way".

It is a mistake to assign to the sinning homosexual (or fornicator or idolater or adulterer or thief or the covetous or the drunkards or revilers or swindlers, etc.) the simple claim, "It's a choice", without recognizing the birth condition. What is the birth condition? Dead in sin (Eph 2:1), hostile toward God (Rom 8:7), blinded by Satan (2 Cor 4:4). God pronounced, "The intent of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen 8:21). So all humans are born that way. And all humans choose sin (Rom 3:23) because it is in the nature of the human being.

Is it a birth condition? All humans are sinners from birth. In that sense it is a birth condition. Is it a choice? All sinners choose to sin. In that sense what they do with their birth condition is their choice.

Bible-believing Christian, if you don't see this, you'll be working to change the outward appearance when God looks on the heart. You'll be working toward a reformed exterior when what is needed is death. What is needed is to be crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20), to be buried with Him in baptism to be freed from sin (Rom 6:1-7). What is needed is a new heart predicated on faith in Christ alone. Moralizing won't make that happen. So "God made us this way, so it's good" is a mistake. But don't forget that you too were born with a sin nature and you too go astray from birth and the only really effective choice that needs to be stressed is the one where they choose to put their faith in Christ. Which, as it turns out, is also true for us.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Day by Day

Back in the 70's the hippy generation produced a musical, Godspell, a highly stylized version of Matthew's Gospel. Flower child Jesus. Jesus with an afro, with a Superman shirt. Jesus crucified on a fence. All sorts of blasphemy. Well, of course, all good Christians disdained it. Okay, whatever. One thing that came out of that little item was a little song you may have heard: Day by Day. It's a pretty simple song. One verse, really. Not a lot there.
Day by day, oh, dear Lord, three things I pray
To see Thee more clearly
Love Thee more dearly
Follow Thee more nearly, day by day
In typical contemporary praise song fashion, it's a "7-11"--seven words repeated 11 times. Okay, not entirely accurate, but you get the idea. Not meaty theology. Not deep doctrine. Not a real thinker. Still ...

It is perhaps the best possible prayer you or I could pray. To see Him more clearly. To know Him better and better, not on a merely intellectual basis, but on a personal basis. A genuine relationship. Not know about Him, but know Him. Like Moses's "Please, show me Your glory." (Exo 33:18). Because nothing changes your life like a close encounter with God.

There, at His feet, we begin to see His greatness and our smallness and, apparently a universal response, our sin. Bad, at first, but remember, he who is forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47). And, trust me, when you get a better look at God, you find you are forgiven much. And the more you look, the more you love, until all the other loves of this world are meaningless in comparison.

And then, you find a change in actions and attitudes. Loving God precedes obedience, but obedience follows necessarily (John 14:15). A natural product of loving God. And every true believer wants to obey God (1 John 3:9).

So, no, not a particularly beefy little tune. But, oh, if we could pray that, make it our heart's cry, seek Him continually for that little request, oh what a difference it would make.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Son of Man

On a few occasions, Jesus referred to Himself as the "Son of God", but, as it turns out, His most common appellation was "Son of Man". In fact, the term appears all over Scripture. Interesting, eh? The reference is a callback to Daniel's prophecy in Daniel 7 where "one like a son of man" appeared in a vision and "was given authority, glory, and sovereign power." It is a Messianic title that every Jew would have understood. Coming, however, from the Son of God, you have to see that it is very important. Being God Incarnate, the phrase takes on new signficance. He is God and He is Man.

It's interesting to trace the two lineages of Jesus in the New Testament. Matthew's starts with Abraham and goes through David to Jesus. Luke's goes (in reverse) from Adam through David to Jesus. These two give the point. He is the Jewish Messiah (from Abraham, the father of the Jews) and He is human (from Adam, the father of humanity).

The Trinitarian formula is that Jesus is both 100% God and 100% Man. "Oh," we're tempted to conclude, "He was a 200% being." No, not the idea. It means that all that God is Jesus is and all that defines Man was part of Jesus. God and Man. Both are true. Both are vital. So ... why did Jesus refer to Himself as "Son of Man" more often than "Son of God"?

I think it was because the "Son of Man" aspect was so critical. You see, we're humans. Humans relating to God isn't an easy concept. He is so ... other. In fact, that's the basic definition of "holy"--"other". God is so very "other" that it is the only attribute repeated in a thrice-format ... twice (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8). It's like our bold print and italics or underline and exclamation marks. It's like "holy, holier, holiest!!!" He is other. So "Son of Man" becomes critical. While God the Father rebuked the wicked with "You thought that I was just like you" (Psa 50:21), Jesus was saying, "I'm a man like you." He was saying, "I can relate." The author of Hebrews says, "For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted." (Heb 2:18). Imagine that! God Incarnate experiencing temptation ... just like you.

The task for which Jesus came was a complicated one. He came to save the lost. Not just one or two. Many. The only method whereby that could be accomplished would be to pay for the sins of the world. So, in order to do that, the payment would have to be a human. But we have a problem. Humans are required to be perfect, which Christ was, so in order to pay for another's sins, He would have to be perfect twice. In order to pay for the sins of the many, He would have to be many. And only the infinite God is that.

In Genesis 22 we have the story of Abraham offering Isaac. Isaac realizes halfway up the mountain that they were missing the sacrifice. He asked his dad about it. Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." (Gen 22:8). Now, when God did stop Abraham, it wasn't a lamb that was provided; it was a ram. Because Abraham was not wrong. When God provided for Himself the Lamb for the offering, it was His own Son who had to be both God and Man, the perfect union of Deity and humanity. Only in this sacrifice is God able to be both "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Rom 3:24-26).

Jesus as Son of God is marvelous. Jesus as Son of Man is exceptional. He can relate. He knows us. He has walked in our shoes. He knows the joys and pains, the temptations and victories, the everyday life that humans have. That is the Second Adam. That is our Son of Man.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Talking to the TV

Ever talk to the screen? I do. Oh, sure, mostly I tell myself, "They do that because the writers write it that way," but often I'm asking questions (as if they can hear me). Like the other day.

On the news was a piece about teachers from the Sandy Hook shooting from 2012. They and others had formed a group aiming at preventing that kind of thing from ever happening again--Sandy Hook Educators for Gun Sense. It was primarily a gun control group. And I asked the screen, "What do you expect to do?" You see, I'm confused. The murderer illegally obtained legal guns (by murdering his mother) and used them illegally to kill people. Better laws would have made what he did ... illegal. Oh, wait, it already was. So I ask the screen, "What do you want?" What do you hope to do that would prevent people from doing this? "Well, limit high-capacity magazines," they say. So in California where high-capacity magazines are limited a gunman in Santa Barbara carried 40 ten-round magazines. "Restrict assault weapons." Okay, fine (although defining "assault weapons" appears to be in the eye of the beholder, since any weapon can assault), but the Sandy Hook gunman obtained his illegally. "Ban guns," others suggest. Well, perhaps. In April of this year a teen in Pennsylvania went on a stabbing spree, slashing 22 people in his high school. So we ban knives? What next? Baseball bats? Hockey sticks? Pens and pencils? Anything at all that might be used as a weapon? Mind you, I'm not opposed to regulating who can get what and I'm not arguing that anyone should be able to get everything at all. I'm just wondering what this group expects to do to. Because the problem is not whether or not you limit access to guns. It's a heart problem.

Big on the news these days are protesters. There are the most obvious, those protesting white police who have killed black men. (I am assuming that black police killing black men or white police killing white men or black men killing black men or even black men killing white men are all okay since no one is protesting those things.) They're mad and aren't going to take it anymore. So I talk to the TV. "What do you want? What would make it right for you?" Remember "Occupy Wall Street"? "Down with the 1%!" was the message ... but ... ? What did they want? It was never clear, nor was it clear how what they wanted would be possible, let alone good. "What do you want??!!" I ask the TV. "What would make it right for you?" It feels as if the only way to relieve the current unrest over the police shootings is some good 'ol public hangings ... of police officers. That would be good, perhaps. You know, if "good" is defined as "make us feel better". Because there is no sense in which it would actually be good.

So I sit there and talk to my TV and for some reason it's not answering. Nor are those who I'm asking. Sigh. So much for "interactive", right?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Marriage Devolution

Devolution. It is perhaps a reference to a sovereign power granting authority to a lower level or it is a reference to a decline. You know, like the opposite of evolution.

It is rather hard, in my estimation, to trace through the decline of marriage that we see today. The New York Times reported that "The divorce surge is over, but the myth lives on." Turns out that divorce rates are dropping but no one is buying it. We still cling to myths like "50% of marriages end up in divorce." Then Kay Hymowitz of Time followed that with "Divorce rates are falling, but marriage is still on the rocks." Why? "When divorce rates skyrocketed in the 1970s, Americans were not simply suddenly looking at their spouses and deciding en masse that they couldn't take it anymore. They were reacting to a changing understanding about what marriage meant." Wow! That's quite an insight. "Instead of an arrangement largely centered around providing for and rearing the next generation, it was becoming an adult-centric union based on love and shared happiness, which as an upper middle class grew in size, became closely linked to granite countered kitchens, European and spa vacations, and weddings with 200 guests."

I think Kay has something there. Note her view. The initial breakdown occurred when marriage was no longer essentially defined as "providing for and rearing the next generation." What replaced it? "Love and shared happiness." Real insight.

Trace this, then. In earlier times marriages were determined by families, not by individuals so much. "Arranged marriages" was the term, the one that sends shudders down the spines of most modern folk. Even today some cultures indulge this barbaric practice. The Puritans argued that love and marriage went together, but not that the first preceded the second. When you thought you could love, then you married. And you loved after you were married. Kind of turns the whole "married for love" concept on its ear, doesn't it? But by the 20th century we were all pretty sure that the only good basis for marriage was one based on warm, sappy feelings that everyone knows never last because that makes the most sense. Not that whole "love by choice" concept ... you know, like the one presented in Scripture. (You can't command husbands to love their wives if it cannot be something chosen any more than you can command someone to like Brussels sprouts.)

Well, then, enter contraceptives, thoroughly disdained up until the mid 20th century, and not just by Roman Catholics. Any well-brought-up individual knew that marriage was for reproduction and it just wouldn't be natural to aim to do something else. But contraception was "in" by the 60's. A chink in the armor of that protected marital sex appeared.

Soon thereafter, we had "free love". By which they meant "have sex with whomever you wanted". Not that love had anything to do with it. A confusion of tongues is all. "Love" and "sex" were regarded as synonyms even though they meant different things and everyone knew it. That's okay. Don't bother us with facts; we know we're right. I mean, as long as you have contraceptives and can avoid pregnancy, you are less likely be found out and bear the stigma of sex outside marriage, so, why not? It's only bad if you get caught, right? In 1973 the famous Roe v Wade ruling legalized the murder of babies in the womb. This was contraception taken to the next logical stage. If you can't get the contraception thing right and you are still insisting on decoupling sex from marriage and reproduction, then this is the perfect means of doing so.

Another chink appeared. At the end of the 60's California passed its "no fault divorce" law. Other states followed suit. In 1980 for every woman that filed for divorce from her husband 600 men filed for divorce from their wives. "No fault" coupled with radical feminism meant that in a single decade the ratio was 12:1 ... in reverse. For every man who filed 12 women did. Today two-thirds of all divorces are filed by wives.

Okay so where are we? Marriage was designed to be a union for life of a man and a woman for the purposes of mutual assistance and fellowship, for godly offspring, and for defense against sin. Now we've disconnected ... well ... everything. It isn't about mutual assistance or fellowship. It isn't about offspring, godly or otherwise. It isn't about sin. What's that? It isn't even about love. What's that? It's about my happiness and your success or failure to provide it. Nothing more. We reinforce this stereotype with the media that pops up almost daily it feels like with another dysfunctional actor or musician or entertainment figure proving that divorce is, once again, the answer. The most common question about Hollywood marriages is, "What? They're still together?" Divorce is statistically in decline, but more kids have single parents because more parents don't marry. Cohabitation is the norm. And kids pay the price. But that's okay, because marriage and family isn't about them, right?

So there is no surprise as we step off into this brave new world that marriage seems to have very little in the way of definition, purpose, or form. Homosexual marriage? Why not? The word doesn't mean much. I suppose you can use it to mean "marriage", or "dinner", or "my favorite movie." I mean, why not? We're not really keen on defining things anymore as long as we get what we want ... whatever that is.

There are two things in all this that strike me. First, if this is an accurate representation of the spiral of marriage, then it would be wrong--ridiculous--to say, "Homosexuals are ruining marriage." Actually, they're just grabbing on to the tattered rags of a wonderful tapestry no longer maintained or even understood and finally getting ready to throw it away. They didn't thrash it; we did. The other interesting thing, again if this is an accurate representation, is that the beginning of this unraveling of marriage ... was the notion that we marry for love. Now, understand that this "love" and, say, "Husbands, love your wife" are not the same "love". The former is a warm feeling that makes me feel good; the other is a settled decision to provide what is best to another. Clearly not the same. So if marriage is correctly defined as a lifelong union of a man and a woman for the purposes of mutual assistance and fellowship, for godly offspring, and for defense against sin, the first step that makes it about me instead of "you" and "us" and "them"--your spouse, the union that is this marriage, and the offspring of this union--is clearly the first step away from the meaning of marriage. Ironic that it's a warm feeling that starts this snowball rolling. Devolution. The right term.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Two Sons

"A man had two sons." (Luke 15:11)
So begins one of Jesus's best known parables, the Prodigal Son.

The man had two sons. Now, I had two sons, so I can relate. But anyone with kids can relate, I'm fairly sure. Because this dad had a good kid and a bad kid. That must have been tough. The bad one--the younger--asked for his inheritance before it was due. So his dad gave it to him. And he set off to start a business, give to the poor, and ... oh, wait, no. I like the biblical phrase: "He squandered his estate with loose living." And not at home. No. He ran off.

What was dad thinking? "What will become of my dear, sinful son?" "What did I do wrong?" "Is there hope for him?" We don't know. We do know that he was always looking for his precious boy. We know that because after the younger hit bottom and found himself coveting pig food and finally realizing, "I could eat better as my father's slave," as he went home to do just that, we read "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." (Luke 15:20). Dad was waiting and watching.

Dad didn't meet the younger with recriminations. "Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found." (Luke 15:22-24). Not, "'Bout time you came around," but "My dead son is back!"

How odd, then, his older brother's response. He was mad. "You never killed the fattened calf for me." The account gives no point at which the brother was glad, either that his brother was home or his father was happy.

So, a man had two sons. Which son was the biggest concern? The "bad son" who squandered his life or the "good son" who stayed home with dad? The "bad son" who realized his sin and repented or the "good son" ... who never did?

Sometimes we might miss it when our "good kids" are fine and we worry instead about the "bad ones". Because we never really know, do we? Better to pray for both and let God sort them out. Better to be the best parents we can and trust the Judge of all the earth to do what's right.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Woe to You!

"Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted." (Matt 23:12)
And with that Jesus launches into perhaps the most scathing verbal assaults of His entire earthly ministry. The attack is well known (Matt 23:12-39). It is aimed at the scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day. And it isn't "warm and cuddly."

He makes generous use of the "Woe to you" formula, a Hebrew pronouncement of a curse. It is a pronouncement of grief, to be sure, but the Hebrew curse had a particular reason in mind for this distress. A blessing was to have God's face turned toward you; the curse was to have Him turn from you. Thus, "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you." That's the blessing. The curse Jesus pronounced, then, was "You will encounter great grief due to the wrath of God and His turning away from you." No small woe.

His primary complaint was their hypocrisy. They required of others what they weren't willing to give of themselves. "You weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers." (Luke 11:46). They were careful of the small things while ignoring "the weightier provisions of the law" (Matt 23:23). They cleaned the outside of the cup but left the inside evil. He called them "white-washed tombs". I'm pretty sure it wasn't intended as a compliment. I'm pretty sure it didn't make them feel all warm and fuzzy.

There is a segment of Christendom ... let's call it the "Liberal Christians" ... that use this as "proof" that Jesus's prime concern was--His harshest words were used to convey--that religious people should not overburden ... the less religious. Or whatever you wish to term them. "Don't give them rules; give them love!"

Well, sure, anyone who reads the Bible knows that Christians owe their neighbors love, and that "neighbor" does not merely refer to that annoying couple next door. But is it true that Jesus protested rules? I do think that would be a hard argument to sustain. Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15). Indeed, Jesus transgressed the liberal arguments by saying, "He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me." (John 14:24). "Wait, Jesus, are you saying that those who don't keep Your words don't love You? Are you saying that those who don't obey aren't saved?" Not something that Jesus should even hint at in the liberal mind. Jesus said, "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:19). Now, let's see, how does that add up? Is Jesus "least in the kingdom of heaven" or "great"? If "great", that means that He keeps and teaches the commandments, not nullifies them. So, it would appear that Jesus believed in biblical rules.

What did He protest, then? What was the error of the Pharisees? It was not too close attention to the laws, but too little. It was grabbing at the little parts while ignoring the big. It was not in teaching others to obey the law, but in refusing to do so themselves. Here, let's try a modern parallel. They weren't condemned for rightly recognizing homosexual behavior as a sin, but in only recognizing it as a sin in others. They weren't wrong for rightly tithing, but for failing to clean the inside of the cup. It wasn't that they went too far; they didn't go far enough. They pursued their own little interpretations the the law--"Now, 'do no work on the Sabbath' means you can't walk more than 300 paces"--rather than teaching and obeying the law.

Which are you? Are you standing against the claim that the Bible dictates right living, or are you of the opinion that it has much to say about what is right and wrong? Are you nullifying the law, or are you aiming at teaching and obeying it? Are you opposed to rules, or do you love Christ enough to obey them? Are you pointing fingers at others who fail, refusing to recognize your own sin, or do you start with, "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner"? It wasn't the proper recognition of what God says is right and true that was the Pharisees' problem. It was the improper application, primarily to themselves. And that brought a curse from Christ, a curse you don't want to share. Nullifying God's law by hypocrisy or by willfully ignoring it is a serious problem in God's eyes. It is arrogance against the most High. I'm sure you won't like the response from Christ.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Explaining the Supernatural

Ridley Scott, a self-identified agnostic, offered up his grand Exodus: Gods and Kings movie a week before Christmas. Nothing planned about that, right? Well, that's okay. 'Tis the season and all that. So, here we have a man who doesn't actually believe there is a God putting on a movie with "God" in the title about a story from a book breathed by said God about one of the most stunning series of God-interventions in all history. What would you expect his approach to be? Well, to explain it away, of course.

PRI complained that all the characters were white. (Seriously, Ridley, a white Moses, white Pharaoh, and white African queen?) Pastors complain that "it's downright blasphemous the way this film portrays God." Christian Bale says Moses was a terrorist, as well as "likely schizophrenic and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life. He's a very troubled and tumultuous man who fought greatly against God, against his calling." Nice. And I love this quote from Scott: "I wanted everything to be reality based." You see, that's the idea. So God at the burning bush was represented as a child because "I didn't like the idea of an angel associated with wings" because that wouldn't be reality based. "Any liberties I may have taken in terms of how I show this stuff was, I think, pretty safe ground because I’m always going always from what is the basis of reality, never fantasy ... So the film had to be as real as I could make it."

Frankly, how a self-professed unbeliever depicts a story from the Bible isn't of particular concern to me because he's an unbeliever. What I find fascinating, however, is the attempt at "reality". Darren Aronofsky depicted the story of Noah as an environmentalist God angry at humanity for destroying His creation. Aronofsky's "reality". Ridley Scott has depicted the startling events of the story of the Exodus as partly natural phenomenon and partly the outlandish beliefs of a nut job. Scott's "reality". The whole idea is "How do we explain the supernatural? How do we make it understandable, believable, relatable?" (Making it "relatable" was a specific aim of both Bale and Scott.)

This is what interests me. It's the idea of the skeptic who tries to explain away the supernatural to make it fit with the skeptic's rules of reality. It's the notion of the liberal theologian who attempts to explain away the hand of God to make it fit with his own rules of reality. It's the scientist who complains that we can't measure God (which is a scientist's rule of reality--to be able to measure things) so He doesn't exist. Indeed, at this time of the Nativity, we see this a lot. Jesus could not have been born of a virgin because that doesn't happen in the real world. Angels they did not hear on high because every scientist knows that angels don't happen in a real world. Jesus's entire arrival was not a fulfillment of prophecy because that would imply the miraculous and we start our definition of "reality" with "not miraculous". I once asked a fellow worker if he included God in his considerations to the answers of origins and he boldly and surely denied the possibility. Can't happen. So starting from "We cannot explain the miraculous by the Divine," they will go through a variety of dances, evasions, or just plain denials to explain the supernatural by the natural.

Why? If there is a God--an actual Divine Being who speaks and it exists and who holds all things together and in whom all things consist--why wouldn't there be the miraculous? Conversely, why would we be able to use natural means to "measure God"? He would be supernatural, so why would "natural" be of any use in the question? Indeed, if there is a God who created all that is, isn't nature itself contained in the Supernatural and, therefore, wouldn't it be considered natural for there to be the miraculous?

Now, in truth, the heavens declare the glory of God. In his book, Miracles, C.S. Lewis wrote, "Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator." God is found in the natural, not because the natural contains Him, but because He is the container in which it exists. But when we decide that the product of the Creator rules out the Creator, we've lapsed into lunacy. When we decide to make the Bible "relatable" and "real" by changing it, we've stepped up to an arrogance that should frighten each of us. Because, in the end, there is no complete explanation of the Supernatural. The finite cannot fully grasp the infinite.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Kicking "Buts" and Taking Names

"But ..." It is the beginning to any number of counterarguments. Some are good. I particularly like the "But God" argument. Saul daily sought to kill David "but God did not give him into his hand." (1 Sam 23:14). We are appointed to Sheol "but God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol." (Psa 49:14-15). Not many of us are wise or powerful, "but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise." (1 Cor 1:26-27). We were all dead in sin, "but God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ." (Eph 2:1-5). (Oh, praise God for that one.) Many swerve from the truth, "but God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: 'The Lord knows those who are His.'" (2 Tim 2:15-19). Oh, yes, there are some wonderful "but God" arguments.

Generally, though, the "but" precedes something like, "Oh, sure, the Bible seems to say that but..." and then you'll hear why God didn't say it or "Yes, that's your interpretation but ..." and then you'll understand why you're dumber than a box of rocks while the wise ones have come up with a new and improved idea. That "new and improved" idea may be a new way of reading Scripture (as if the Holy Spirit failed all this time (John 16:13)) or it may be the reason why you ought to disregard Scripture altogether thanks to new and improved scholarship or even a new and improved revelation from God.

The Bible has a word for these "buts". It calls them "speculations". At least, my translation does.
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (2 Cor 10:3-5)
Paul describes here a warfare in which we (believers) are engaged. It is not, despite well-meaning apologetics fans, a battle fought with weapons of the flesh. It isn't a fight of wits or better logic or newly uncovered evidence or the like. It is a spiritual battle which must be fought with spiritual weapons. It is with divine weapons against "fortresses". Those fortresses are "speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God." Make no mistake. That friendly fellow who wants to enlighten you about how God doesn't actually exist or that Scripture doesn't actually say what it clearly says is not friendly. He is a son of his father, the father of lies. So your well-aimed logic and evidence may seem reasonable, but it misses the fact that it's not a discussion, it's war. He's not mistaken, he's blind (2 Cor 4:4). And offering better arguments will not alleviate the spiritual hostility (Rom 8:7).

I'd like to point out that in this graphic description of a war fought against fortresses of ideas, Paul suggests that "the enemy" isn't only "them". It is us, too. Do you see that? His concern isn't correcting them; it is "taking every thought captive." You see, whether or not you realize it, you and I suffer from fortresses of speculations that stand against God. They are our own. Each of us needs to constantly be vigilant to be taking our own thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. So when you think, "God, that's not fair!", recognize a fortress in yourself to be overcome. When you think, "Christ would never do" followed by stuff that Scripture said He did do, see in yourself a lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God.

This warfare is critical. If you are not constantly in the business of destroying your own fortresses of speculations raised up against God--not constantly taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ--you will find yourself a Benny Hinn arguing for a "name it and claim it" god who gives you all you want ... unless you live in Bangladesh, apparently. Or a Rob Bell who went from a respected pastor to denying Jesus's words about Hell to denying God's words about marriage and homosexual sin. Or a Charles Finney, beloved by Christians as the father of modern evangelism[1], preaching that justification by faith is a "theological fiction", that the cross of Christ could not provide for justification of sinners, denying Original Sin, and defending the ability of the evangelist to bring about a changed heart. This is a war with ourselves as much as with anyone else, in which we need to align our thinking with Christ as much as we face their error.

"They" need help. It's true. And if our weapons are simply science, logic, and evidence, we will find ourselves poorly equipped because "they" aren't fighting a battle of logic. They're waging spiritual warfare and our weapons need to be divinely powered. The problem is compounded by our own spiritual warfare in our own sinful hearts. So wage war first with your own errors. Use liberally with the Word of God illuminated by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 2:7). Because this isn't a civilized debate we're having; it's a fight.


I wrote this a few days ago and then came across this quote from Charles Spurgeon. He is speaking about the love for the Word of God and our need to simply take hold of it.
If you will not eat the apples that grow on trees, you must not expect angels to come and bring them to you!
While it is true that some Scriptures are difficult to figure out, the simple fact is that most is quite clear. The question then is will you eat the apples that are there, or will you wait for some angel to feed it to you? Will you say, "I can't comprehend it" and warn others away, or will you follow with, "Nevertheless I believe it" and change your own heart? Will you ask, "Did God say ...?"[2] or will you align yourself to it?
[1] Did you know that Charles Finney was the originator of the "altar call"? It was he who pushed for the "Just come on down the aisle" approach in revival meetings, something most of us take for granted today.

[2] For anyone unclear on what I'm referring to when I say, "Did God say ...?", please refer to Genesis 3:1.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Son of God

If I speak to you about "the Son of God", you know of Whom I speak. That would be Jesus. Interestingly, in His lifetime, the first ones recorded to recognize Him as such were Satan and the demons. In Matthew 4 we read of His temptation in the desert. Twice Satan says, "If You are the Son of God ..." Later, demons from the Gadarenes cried out, "What have you to do with us, O Son of God?" (Matt 8:29) (right after Jesus had calmed the storm and His disciples had marveled saying, "What sort of man is this that even the winds and sea obey Him?" (Matt 8:27)). It wasn't until Jesus walked on water and stilled a storm that His disciples finally figured out, "Truly you are the Son of God." (Matt 14:25-33).

Jesus Himself alludes to the phrase in His conversation with Nicodemus. "Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (John 3:18). Sure, He's referring to Himself in the third person, but we know who "the Son of God" is, right? Because we just read "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16). Yes, that's the "Him" in Whom we are to believe.

That "only begotten Son" phrase has been a problem for some time. The arch-heretic, Arius, used it to argue that Jesus was clearly not God the Son but merely God's son (notice the shift to lowercase "s") because He was begotten. The Jehovah's Witnesses agree. He was limited in time, new on the scene, a mighty prophet, but not God Incarnate. But the word there is interesting. It is μονογενής. ("Thanks, Stan, clears it right up.") Okay, monogenēs. ("Again, Stan, a veritable font of useless knowledge.") Okay, let's try this. It is a two-part word. The first you recognize: mono. "One." Got it. Clear enough. The second you should also recognize: genēs. It is rooted in the verb "to generate" or "to cause to be", but we use it as the source of our word, "genus". The word, then, can be used to speak of an only child, but it also refers to "only" or, most accurately, "one of a kind". Thayer's defines it as "single of its kind, only".

Jesus, then, is the only Son of God. He has no beginning or end (Heb 7:3). Demons fear Him. He is beloved by the Father (Matt 3:17). It was the claim of deity for which they sought to kill Him (John 19:7). By calling God His Father, He made Himself equal with God (John 5:18). He is the Son to whose image we will be conformed (Rom 8:29). Paul writes,
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross. (Col 1:15-20)
That is a lot of superlatives. That is the Son of God.

Jesus is the Son of God. By hostile witness (Satan and his minions), by witness of His followers, and by witness of His Father, Jesus was God Incarnate, the Son of God, the image of the Father. He told Philip, "Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father." (John 14:9). This is our God, the Second Person of the Trinity, God in Flesh, the image to which we will be conformed, the One who deserves our worship.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Merry What?

Have you read about the American Atheists group aiming their anti-God adverts (the article's words, not mine) at the rural Bible-belt for Christmas? Nice. A little girl writes a letter to Santa. "Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to skip church! I'm too old for fairy tales." Because it makes perfect sense to protest a "fairy tale god" while affirming a fairy tale Santa, right? "And besides, we're opposed to your overt religious invasion of our world at this time of year ... while we steal the opportunity to have a holiday" (read "holy-day") "on the back of your beliefs bereft of our own."

There are so many ways to view this thing. There's the irony of "It's okay to believe in Santa whom we all know doesn't exist, just not God." But I'm pretty sure they were going for that irony. There's the irony of asking the mythical being for relief from the real One. There's the fundamental irony of "It's really cute that kids believe in Santa, but really awful that they might believe in God." There's the Christmas irony. "We're deeply in love with celebrating Christmas ... as long as it doesn't include Christ." There's ... well the list just keeps going, doesn't it?

The irony is thick with this one.

Well, to all atheists, have a merry ... what ... not Christmas ... nothing at all to do with Christ or Mass (church) or God's message of peace and goodwill or ... let's see ... merry ... what? Have a merry day? Wow, that fell flat.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Good Grief

It seems as if every beloved character in our entertainment world has a catchphrase. You know, each one has a phrase by which you can identify them. So there was "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis?" or "Dyn-o-mite!" or "De plane! De plane!" or "Yabba dabba do!", and most of you could name THE character who is identified by those phrases. For the Peanuts' Charlie Brown it was "Good grief!" Have you ever thought about that phrase? I mean, how do you put together "good" and "grief" and make sense of it? Well, apparently there would need to be something good about grief, wouldn't there?

Christians who follow Christ (which is the definition of "Christians", isn't it?) and the Word in a serious manner are often thought of as killjoys. We tend to be viewed as intolerant and judgmental, hypocritical and self-righteous. We will stand on the proverbial street corner and decry killing babies and sexual sin and homosexual behavior and "gay marriage" and the like. That is, we are against something. Everything? Maybe. And the truth is if you talk to most genuine, Bible-believing Christians, there is a sense of righteous indignation about much of what's going on these days. We're indignant if not irate about judges overruling the people's vote to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and we're upset on one hand about the societal embrace of homosexual sin coupled on the other hand with the rejection of traditional Judeo-Christian morality and we're pieved that when we're viewed as morally indignant we're called "haters", "anti-gay", "intolerant", and "judgmental" by people who are haters, anti-Christian, intolerant and judgmental. But the question I want to ask is is this right? No, not them--us. Are we right in our moral outrage?

Using Jesus as our guide, what was Jesus's response to the sin of His day? We know (because it is so often thrown at us) that He spent time with sinners. This is, in fact, true. Jesus "came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). When confronted with a woman "caught in adultery", His response wasn't moral indignation. It was "Neither do I condemn you[1]; go, and from now on sin no more." (John 8:11). Jesus is not portrayed in Scripture as a hater, intolerant, judgmental. Indeed, His enemies portrayed Him as "a friend of sinners" (Matt 11:19). (They didn't mean that as a compliment.) Is it possible that our go-to position of righteous indignation is not the best option?

This, of course, is not a complete picture of Jesus's response to sin. Jesus as lover of sinners (not sin, but sinners) is not the whole picture. It is not a warm embrace in view when Jesus twice invaded the Temple with a whip, overturning tables and furiously chasing out money-changers (John 2:15; Matt 21:12). "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer,' but you make it a den of robbers." (Matt 21:13). Not warm and fuzzy. That is righteous indignation. Jesus's first and continuous message was not "God loves you," but "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt 4:17). Jesus wasn't very cuddly when He addressed the cities that had rejected Him (Mat 11:21-24). "I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you." Not a warm embrace. And His words to the Pharisees were less than friendly (Matt 23). "Woe" in Jesus's day referred to a curse, not a blessing, and referring to them as "hypocrites", "blind guides", and "whitewashed tombs" wasn't very inclusive, tolerant, or non-judgmental, was it? Apparently, then, His tolerance and non-judgmental attitude was limited and not the only option.

Jesus had one other response to the sin of His day. It is hinted at in John 11 where we find the Bible-memorizers' favorite verse, "Jesus wept." (John 11:35). Why did He weep? I mean, He knew what He was about to do. He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. What's to weep about? But it is not the only place. In Luke 19 Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. "Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes." (Luke 19:41-44). Grief. Grief over sin and the lost. Good grief. Oh, wait! That's where I started, isn't it? Grief is good when it grieves the genuine loss that sin brings, when it recognizes the pain that sin causes, when it is the result of compassion. That's good grief.

It would appear that we have more than one Christian response to sin in our world. There is the need to reach the lost and to do so with tenderness. There is the need to confront sin and to do so with righteous indignation. And there is the need to grieve over sin and the pain it causes. Good grief. In your indignation with the homosexual, have you loved them? In your moral outrage, have you grieved for them? All three are valid and necessary.

There is, however, one very important point I'd like to make here. Before you ever rouse that moral outrage, that righteous indignation over the sin of the homosexual, before you ever embrace that sinner, before you ever weep over their sin, you had better have dealt with and be dealing with your own. We don't come to a sinful world sinless. We don't come to the sexually immoral without our own sexual immorality. We don't come to the unbeliever without ourselves having failed to believe. We are not morally superior. We are simply forgiven. It is good to be passionate about God's glory and concerned about those who fall short of it. It is excellent to pursue sinners with the Gospel. It is wonderful to grieve about sin. That is good grief. But grieve first about your own. Begin first with "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." (Luke 18:13). Deal first with your own sins. Jesus said that, too (Matt 7:1-5).
[1] Very important. When Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you", He was not denying the sin of adultery or excusing sin. (We can be sure of this because He says, "Go and sin no more.") What He was saying was "I am not going to carry out the penalty of the sin in this case." Perhaps it was because the case was sketchy (Where was the guy in all this if they were "caught in the act"?) or maybe it was because He was not in the position at that time to carry out the God-given punishment or maybe it was because He was simply showing mercy at the time, but what He was not doing was ignoring sin. See Matt 5:19 for His view on annulling God's commandments.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Means and Ends

Usually when we talk about the means to an end, we are discussing the means. How do we get there? Have you ever noticed how little we talk about the ends?

In the Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 1 is "What is the chief end of man?" Right off the bat we're talking about the end. The question is not "What do we do while we're here?" but "Why are we here?" And the question is essential if you think about it. Having a variety of means is all well and good, but you won't know what means to use if you don't know the end you're shooting for. So what is the chief end of man? Why are we here? The catechism answer is "Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever." Now, see? If that is the reason you exist, wouldn't that have a serious effect on how you live? Means are a way to get to an end, but knowing the end will determine what means you use and how you use them.

Take, for instance, eating. Eating is not, in itself, an end. It is a means to an end. What that end is will determine a lot about how you use eating. If the end is personal pleasure, then you will eat a lot of the wrong stuff because, face it, the wrong stuff often tastes so good. "Diet" is simply "die" with a "t" at the end. If the end is fitness, then you will eat a lot of stuff aimed at being healthy and fit. But you won't eat a lot of tasty foods because, as everyone knows, healthy foods are not tasty foods. (Oh, I know, you fitness buffs will disagree, but if you are honest, you will admit that finding healthy food tasty is an acquired taste.) Others will see eating as a means to fuel the body for further purposes, and that will have a different effect on what you eat. The end to which you eat will determine what you eat.

Take, for instance, sex. (Oh, now I have your attention, eh?) God designed sex. He designed it for a purpose. You may or may not have that purpose--those ends--in mind. If you approach sex as a means to pleasure, clearly your sexual processes will have a certain direction. You will do what appeals to your own pleasure. You will seek experiences and events that tickle your own fancy. You will ... use people for your own enjoyment. Oh, sure, maybe that looks like abusive sex or maybe it looks like generous sex because, after all, there are people who get their biggest enjoyment from giving pleasure, but in either case, it is using people because the end is your own pleasure. Or the end could be more biblical. If the aim is procreation, for instance (which is clearly one of God's intended purposes for sex), that changes what you do with sex. If the aim is to give to your spouse (because married sex is the only God-given good sex), then it will certainly change what you do. Remember that Paul warned, "The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does." (1 Cor 7:4). How many genuine, Bible-believing followers of Christ take that approach? How many see "giving my body to my spouse" as an actual end in sex? Because the single most common purpose in sex is "my pleasure" and most of us in this sex-saturated society have a really hard time thinking of it as anything but "my pleasure". So for most of us it is "I don't want to so, since it's about my pleasure I won't" or "I want to so, since it's about my pleasure you must." And what we do in the bedroom will generally be determined by "my pleasure". But the biblical, God-given purpose of sex is reproduction, intimacy (see Song of Solomon), and giving yourself to your spouse (1 Cor 7:4). The ends change the means and how you use them.

In a materialist worldview, the answer to the purpose of life is ... nothing. No end. No reason. No purpose. Now, given no "chief end of man", what do you do? Well, it doesn't really matter because you're not working toward anything. You have a variety of means at hand but nowhere to go with them. The end gives no direction to the means. So in an atheist worldview, a well-mannered, caring, considerate, altruistic life is as moral as a serial murderer since the ends justify the means and the ends are personally defined.

Consider, however, the Christian ends. Take our two examples--eating and sex. You see, the Bible isn't silent here. In 1 Corinthians Paul writes about both eating and sex. After talking about food sacrificed to idols, Paul concludes, "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31). Pleasure or fitness or fuel? Maybe. But Paul says the ultimate purpose of eating is "the glory of God." Would it change your views of what you eat if you were eating for the glory of God? And in the sixth chapter he writes about sexual sin, concluding, "For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body." (1 Cor 6:20). Could it possibly not change your approach to sex if you viewed it as a means to glorify God? I mean, do you even have an inkling of what it means to glorify God in sex?

They say that the ends justify the means. Maybe. In some cases. Perhaps. More likely not. But certainly the ends determine the use of means. What you do with what you have will be determined by what you're trying to accomplish. If you're trying to accomplish the glory of God, that certainly will touch every single means you have, every method and choice you make, every aspect of your life. Are you considering the purpose of what you do? God is.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Cosmic Killjoy

"Hear, O sons, a father's instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight," says Solomon (Prov 4:1) and sets out to urge his son to "Get wisdom" (Prov 4:5). He gives reasons to avoid sin (Prov 4:8,12,18,etc.). And he says this:
My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. (Prov 4:20-22)
God has a pretty bad reputation in many circles. He is the Cosmic Killjoy, making rules against everything you might enjoy, apparently simply because you might enjoy it. Rules against sex and drunkenness and the like. The Bible lists "disobedient to parents" right alongside "haters of God" and "inventors of evil." (Rom 1:30). That can't be right. In fact, Paul specifically lists "lovers of pleasure" as a bad thing (2 Tim 3:4). You like it? It's likely wrong.

Oh, sure, maybe that's an exaggeration, but you know that's how it feels. God is arbitrary in His rules and the first rule appears to be "thou shalt not do whatever it is that would make you happy." Check it out. Commandment #1 in Hezekiah 20:5. Okay, maybe not, but that's how it feels. So what's up with the rules?

That Proverbs passage says something we don't hear much. Solomon assured his son that following his wise advice by pursuing wisdom and avoiding sin would produce "healing to all their flesh". Did you catch that? Because we surely don't hear that one very often. God says that obedience to His instructions is good for you. Here, let me do that again. Good for you. God isn't being a killjoy. As the Maker of the human machine, He's telling you how it works best. In order to avoid a breakdown, avoid violating the operating instructions. If you want to be happy, follow the operating instructions. If you want to avoid difficulties (Prov 4:12), to be honored (Prov 4:8), to be safe (Prov 6), to live long (Prov 4:10), and so much more, pursue wisdom and avoid sin.

No, it's not a killjoy. It's a better way. If it is not such to you, I suspect you're missing the point. Ignorance or willful ignorance. Either way, it is a good thing to follow Christ, a very good thing. And not just because He says so. It's not a killjoy; it is the abundant life.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Sexual Sin

Sexual sin is a big one, isn't it? I mean, the Bible makes much ado of it.
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. (Heb 13:4)

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. (1 Cor 6:18)

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (1 Cor 7:2)

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. (1 Thess 4:3-5)

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col 3:5)

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. (1 Cor 6:13)

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. (Gal 5:19-21)

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (1 Pet 2:11)
And that's just a quick sample. Seems like God is serious about sexual sin. But ... are we?

Our society has normalized all manner of sexual sin. Sex outside of marriage isn't acceptable; it's encouraged. "You need to try it first to be sure you're compatible with the one you want to marry," they'll tell you. "It's not wise to wait. At best, it's not realistic. I mean, come on!" Then there is all manner of deviance that is simply classified as good as long as it's consensual, as if "consensual" is the definition of "good". I've heard people who call themselves Christians argue that bondage and sadomasochism are perfectly fine in the bedroom, as if sex defined by cruelty and abuse can be "perfectly fine". And the world around has embraced the homosexual behavior forbidden in Scripture and is moving to normalize pedophilia and bestiality in the progression. (I could link to stories about this, but I won't as a courtesy; my mother reads this blog.) And, of course, the pervasiveness of pornography is unavoidable, even for Christians.

The Bible views sexual sin as a big one. Indeed, Paul says it is unique. "Every other sin a person commits is outside the body," he writes, "but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body." (1 Cor 6:18). That's a big problem. While the world isn't particularly concerned about aligning their lives with God, we should be. But this one is tough--tougher than most. What can be done?

The Bible has some suggestions. Job warns about guarding what you look at. "I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?" (Job 31:1). Good point. Jesus echoed it and expanded on it. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell." (Matt 5:27-30). These are extreme measures, and I'm not advocating (and I don't believe Jesus is advocating) that you physically pluck out your eyes, but He is (and I am) advocating that you take extreme measures to control your eyes.

In the warning to guard looking at sinful things, David warns further. "I will set no worthless thing before my eyes." (Psa 101:3). Often it is the innocuous and seemingly innocent thing that gets us started down the wrong path. Watch what you watch.

Scripture advocates memorization of God's Word in fighting sin. "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee." (Psa 119:11). Scripture memorization is a good thing. It worked well for Jesus (Matt 4:1-11).

If we are commanded to "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17), it would make sense that this would be an important part of the process of fighting sin.

Since "No temptation has taken you except what is common to man" (1 Cor 10:13) and we are told to "bear one another's burdens" (Gal 6:2), it would stand to reason that we should find mentors, accountability partners who care about us and can help hold us to the standard of sexual purity.

While being careful of what we look at, from the blatantly tempting to the seemingly innocent but provocative, is important, what we think about is more so. Sexual sin begins first in the mind. Satan is depicted as a roaring lion seeking to devour (1 Peter 5:8). And he's good at it, even appearing as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). We would then need to be careful to guard our minds. Philippians 4:6-7 says that's done partly by prayer. But Paul goes on to recommend (command), "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Phil 4:8). I would suggest that much of what we dwell on does not fall in these categories, and that is a common start to sexual sin.

One not often mentioned in these types of things is mentioned in Scripture. "Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love." (Prov 5:18-19). You see, a delight in "the wife of your youth" is a very effective method of avoiding sexual sin. If you are "intoxicated always in her love", you have no interest in looking elsewhere, either physically or otherwise.

The last one I offer is one almost never mentioned. That's odd to me because it is, after all, the only one that actually works. In the book of Job we read, "Receive instruction from His mouth, and lay up His words in your heart. For then you will delight yourself in the Almighty and lift up your face to God." (Job 22:22,26). Puritan Richard Baxter wrote that the love for God is the only sure remedy for the love of the flesh. And it is only there that we find real relief. Guarding your eyes from both the tempting and the worthless, memorizing God's Word, prayer, accountability, guarding your thoughts, delighting in your spouse--these are all important and useful things, but only if they are rooted in a prior and real love for God. Then and only then do any of them actually make sense. They aren't some helpful "6-Point Method" for solving the problem of sexual sin. There is no solution to sin, sexual or otherwise, unless "God's seed abides in him", unless "he has been born of God" (1 John 3:9), and unless there is a genuine love for God that takes precedence over the natural, sinful love of sin. On the other hand, when the love of God supercedes the love of sexual sin, then sexual sin becomes a non-issue. Thus, it is that first commandment--"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." (Matt 22:36)--on which all of this hinges.

Here, consider this. The Bible tells us the origin of sexual sin. "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." (Rom 1:21-24). Did you see that? The reason humans are given to their lusts is not that we're human or addicted or genetically programmed or any such thing. It is because we refuse to honor or thank God. The primary problem is a problem of idolatry, of a faulty relationship with God, not a problem of lust. That problem follows the first. The remedy to that problem, then, is not "Work harder and push out all those bad desires" because that just leaves a vacuum. The remedy to the problem is "Know God, honor Him as God, and give thanks to Him." Know Him in the sense of intimacy with Him. A deep love for God is the one sure remedy for a love of the flesh.

So, there are some tools. Start with the last. I suspect you'll find that's the biggest issue. Then work your way up from there. You will surely find help in the biblical approach, especially when you start with a love for God and an aim for His glory.

Monday, December 08, 2014


Erik Raymond, an Ordinary Pastor, writes about "Stewarding Technology Well". Good article. He deals with important things like the moral neutrality of an iPhone, the problem of technology as master rather than tool, and the interruptions of "alerts". He touches on a somewhat odd premise: "My phone (and technology in general) must be seen through the lenses of stewardship."

Really? Stewardship? Of phone use? Or technology in general? Hey, pastor, aren't you mixing the sacred and the secular? I mean, sure, you don't want to use your technology sinfully or even unwisely, but stewardship?

He writes
A steward is someone who is not the owner but the caretaker. He is the one who has been given something for the purposes of using it faithfully, even improving upon it in view of giving an account. We are stewards of our lives. Therefore, everything we do should be seen in light of the reality of stewardship. Nothing, even when there appears to be nothing to do, escapes this reality.
Yes, yes indeed. Stewardship. If stewardship is taking care of someone else's property and all that we have and are belongs to God, then our lives, our families, our friends, our jobs, and, yes, even our technology fall under that concept.

Imagine a life lived with the notion that "The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein (Psa 24:1). What would that be like?

Paul repeats the claim in 1 Cor 10:26. What does Paul conclude?
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor 10:31)
"Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Quite an expansive statement. Whatever you do. Really? Whatever? Because you do a lot. You sleep at night and dress in the morning. You eat and work and talk to people and do a lot of stuff in private, both physically and mentally. Whatever?

Imagine a life, then, lived in stewardship, where everything belonged to God and you were merely the caretaker to the glory of God. I submit this would be a life radically lived. We might be able to see some things without difficulty. Doing your job for the glory of God seems easy to figure out. Letting your speech be seasoned with grace (Col 4:6) would make sense. Loving your spouse, your kids, your neighbor would seem obvious. But the vast majority, I think, would seem odd to us. Dressing for the glory of God may not be an easy thought. Eating for the glory of God isn't a common notion. The romance and sexual relationship of husband and wife to the glory of God seems strange in our minds. But Paul's prayer was that "the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely" (1 Thess 5:23), so I would submit that this is the principle. I would suggest that your phone must be seen through the lenses of stewardship ... along with everything else in your life. Imagine such a life.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Means of Grace

There is a term in some circles of Christendom. It is "the means of grace". The term first surfaced in the Reformation and refers to those things through which God provides for our salvation and sanctification. Some refer to them as "spiritual disciplines". Lists vary slightly, but basically the means of grace includes the Gospel, the Bible, baptism, Christian fellowship, the Lord's Supper, and prayer. The usual use of the term is prefaced with "neglecting", as in "neglecting the means of grace", and is a warning. If you neglect the Gospel, the Bible, baptism, fellowship, prayer, and the Lord's Supper you are endangering your salvation and your sanctification. But the idea is that God is a God of means--you know, "means to an end"--and these are the things God has ordained to be used in your everyday walk to become more sanctified--to "work out your salvation" (Phil 2:12). These are the methods by which we can constantly be bathed in the grace of God.

We have acquired some odd perspectives on these means of grace. Some have decided that they are either inadequate or no longer applicable. I mean, really, do we need the Lord's Supper anymore? Sure, sure, Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of Me", and Paul added, "as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes", but we don't need to ... what, remember Him? Or have we already forgotten what it was about Him it was supposed to remind us of? Lots of individuals neglect these means. From even knowing the Gospel let alone using it to reading the Bible, individual believers are finding it less than optimum to do these things. And for some "Christian fellowship" is all well and good ... well, maybe not. "I'm closer to God when I'm alone with Him in a forest," they'll assure you, working hard to defend their sin of forsaking fellowship (Heb 10:25). "It's a personal thing." No, it's not. And, of course, there is a move in a variety of places to replace or add to them. "Sure, read your Bible and all that, but what we really need is a good praise band to really get closer to God." "Fellowship is good (maybe), but a hip and cool youth ministry is much more important." The Warrenites (a term I just made up to avoid casting aspersions on the man while allowing you to recognize of what I speak) were quite sure that "40 days of purpose" were necessary for your sanctification. There are always new ones, like the "Theophostic Prayer Ministry" that succeeds where the means of grace fails or "Deliverance Ministries" that claim to remove demons from Christians to free them to grow. And there is the ever-popular "Well, okay, but if you aren't baptized in the Spirit with the sign of speaking in tongues, you're not really going anywhere in Christ" along with all that accompanies that perspective. Just some samplings.

The list of the means of grace is a biblical list. We hold to this list because we find these means in God's Word. But something I think is important to remember is that they are means. They are important means and they are biblical means, but they are means to an end. And it is very easy to focus on the finger that points to the moon rather than on the moon. Believers all need to make use of the means God has ordained for our salvation and sanctification. It is the method God has set in place to accomplish them. But the aim is our salvation and sanctification. Perhaps, as we pray and immerse ourselves in His Word, as we learn and use the Gospel, as we fellowship and are baptized and share the Lord's Supper--as we do all of these things--perhaps we can keep in mind the end goal and not get caught up in the means as the end. We should be, after all, "looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith" (Heb 12:2). That should provide clarity and direction as we use the means God has provided.