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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year in Review - 2015

So 2015 is coming to an end. Often a good time to review and reflect.

First, the blog. According to the statistics, in the approximately 3,480 days I've been doing this, I've posted 3566 articles and had 407,000 pages read since they started counting in 2010. As for what people are reading, still at the top of the list ... Hard Sayings - "Sell all your possessions". Including 142 comments. You can guess why, I'm sure. It would be a difficult one that any sincere Christian might want to research and a good "gotcha" for any skeptic to use. Oddly enough, The History of the Choir is still at #2 of all time. I have no idea why. There can't be that many students of choirs. Of interest of late is Gender Complementarity. Since our culture no longer believes in that, I guess that might be of interest to some.

I also find it odd to find my source of audience. Oh, well, of course, the primary source is no surprise. That would be the United States. But coming in at #2 is Russia, and that is over twice the #3, Ukraine. Seriously? The former Soviet Union is my second best source of readers? Very strange. It's actually kind of cool.

Readership is down of late. I don't take it personally. Part of it, I suppose, is that I don't allow the singularly most controversial voice to comment anymore. His mere presence artificially inflated the numbers. But more to the point, I think, is the fact that I've said most of it before and, anyway, people lose interest after awhile. It's the nature of the human being.

But what about the year? Well, we've seen a "gun violence epidemic" which is defined as "the news media showing every possible gun violence they can find, at least when it fits their paradigm". (Statistically, gun violence in America has been dropping since its peak in the mid-1990's, but let's not bother with statistics, right? We know what is true; the media tells us so.) We have a refugee crisis. It's a crisis because on one hand several very bad groups are making a mess of things and on the other hand some of those very bad groups may be hiding among the refugees waiting to infiltrate. What's a body to do? We have demonstrated our national insanity this year by both eliminating marriage as a viable entity in favor of something that is not marriage (not even those who favor the redefinition of marriage to include people of the same gender deny that this is a redefinition) and then embracing as "heroic" the absolute lunacy of "gender confusion" (simple science will tell you what gender these people are). We have the whole "black lives matter" thing going on where, although it is awful that some police officers act in a racist manner, it has become a sham because the only black lives that matter to this movement are the ones they choose. None of them, for instance, are campaigning against the vast numbers of black children murdered in the womb -- far more than any other race. I don't see any marches attempting to stem the black-on-black murders that predominate murders in the black community. Those lives don't matter. Just the ones that do. Oh, and there's the whole exploration of Mars and Pluto going on which, on one hand, sounds really important and, on the other, seems really ludicrous. I mean, do we really need to know if there was water on Mars when we can't figure out how to stop ISIS or figure out what to do about those refugees, for instance? To me, Pluto pales in comparison.

So as 2015 slips off the last page of the calendar and we turn over to a new year, I find, once again, the absolute need to trust in a Sovereign God. Because, frankly, I'm pretty sure Obama, Putin, Hillary, or Trump will be unlikely to produce answers to the real problems we face. But God does. Starting with the Gospel. I should tell someone about that.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Preach the Word

Fresh off of being told we Christians need to show more grace, I came across this.
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. (2 Tim 4:1-2)
Now, of course, if the Bible is not a book about God's will for our lives, then this has nothing to say. I, of course, operate from the premise that it is. And here Paul is instructing Timothy to show more grace in his speech. No ... wait ... that's not what he says at all. With God as his witness, he charges Timothy to "preach the word." What word? Well, the unfortunate chapter break between 2 Timothy 3 and 4 might obscure that. What word?

In the previous chapter Paul was warning that difficult times were coming (2 Tim 3:1). Rampant sin (2 Tim 3:2-4), false teachers (2 Tim 3:5-6), those who are "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." (2 Tim 3:7) Sounds a lot like our day. In contrast, then, Paul tells Timothy, "You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them." (2 Tim 3:14) What word? "the things you have learned and become convinced of." But wait! There's more. It is right here that Paul tells Timothy, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17) That word. The Word of God, Scripture, as he learned it, not like those who are always learning and never coming to the knowledge of truth.

And how is he to "preach the word"? He is to "be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction." Now, I have to tell you, that does not sound like a command for Timothy to be more gracious. Reprove, rebuke, exhort, and do it with great patience (keep it up).

Why? Why is Paul telling Timothy this? He says why in the next verses. "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths1." (2 Tim 4:3-4) Why preach the word ... that word learned from Paul and from his grandmother? Why reprove, rebuke, exhort, and all with great patience? What's the big deal? Because they're not going to like it. Isn't it interesting that Paul does not say they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own line of thinking? No, it's not about reason, Scripture, logic, unity ... any of those things you might think. It's desires. "Tell me what I want to hear so I can do what I want to do." Well, now, that's a little odd, isn't it? Because that sounds like "gracious speech". And Paul considers that a bad thing.

We are the keepers of the good news. This is true. But good news is not good until it is contrasted with the bad news. No one wants bad news. So in order to express the grace of God in sending His Son to save us, we need to tell people the bad news. We need to preach the word -- the word as it has always been understood and taught, the Scriptures as God-breathed -- in season and out of season, with much patience as we reprove, rebuke, and exhort. Not because they'll like it; because they won't. But we still need to do it. Because we're commanded to. Because they need it. Because God can use it.
1 Isn't it interesting that Paul says they'll "turn aside to myths"? Sure, that means that they buy into lies and myths (like Secular Humanism and ...). But it's interesting because a lot of them have decided that the Bible is littered with myths. That is, they are self-consciously turning in their Bibles to myths.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Remember the TV series, The West Wing? Maybe not. It aired from 1999 to 2006. It featured Martin Sheen as President Josiah Bartlet, a left-wing Democrat. There is a famous episode where President Bartlet lets loose on a visitor, a Dr. Jenna Jacobs, played by Claire Yarlett, who is playing a conservative talk show imitation of Dr. Laura Schlesinger. He singles her out in the crowd and asks her about her position that homosexuality is an abomination.
I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you are here. I am interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be? While thinking about that, can I ask another? My chief of staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it OK to call the police? Here’s one that is really important because we’ve got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean, Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads? Think about those questions would you?
Zing! Well, he sure put her in her place, didn't he?

Now, as it turns out, Dr. Jacobs has no comeback and Hollywood wins the day, and that's because this is what the writers wanted. And because the president was so pithy and so effective, lots of people have used those very same arguments ... you know, as if they made sense. No one asked the president, "So, you're opposed to Old Testament laws. If you're against Leviticus 18:22, I suppose then that you're in favor of adultery (Lev 18:20), incest (Lev 18:6-17), bestiality (Lev 18:23), and sacrificing babies (Lev 18:21)? I mean, well, you're in favor of sacrificing babies to the god of convenience and you're opposed to Old Testament laws, so I just figured you'd want to be consistent." No one asked, "Excuse me, Mr. President, why do you assume that 'homosexuality' and homosexual actions are the same thing?" or "If you assume that planting mixed seed (Lev 19:19) is punishable by death, do you also assume that tripping a blind man (Lev 19:14), slander (Lev 19:16), or bearing a grudge (Lev 19:18) are equally worthy of capital punishment (since nothing in the text calls for it)?" Most conveniently, not one single person mentioned, "But, Mr. President, it was Paul who wrote 'Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.' (1 Cor 6:9-10)." In other words, Mr. President, your serious misrepresentation of Scripture doesn't make your case.

Still, to lots of anti-Christian, anti-Bible folk, President Bartlet was brilliant.

Not to be outdone, The Big Bang Theory is a show that has been popular for some time. The primary personality is Sheldon Cooper, a character both brilliant and foolish. He earned his PhD at the age of 16, but can't seem to figure out the basics of normal human interaction. In one of their Christmas episodes, we were treated to this exchange.
Penny: Hey Sheldon, are you and Leonard putting up a Christmas tree?
Sheldon Cooper: No, because we don't celebrate the ancient pagan festival of Saturnalia.
Penny: Saturnalia?
Howard Wolowitz: Gather round, kids, it's time for Sheldon's beloved Christmas special.
Sheldon Cooper: In the pre-Christian era, as the winter solstice approached and the plants died, pagans brought evergreen boughs into their homes as an act of sympathetic magic, intended to guard the life essences of the plants until spring. This custom was later appropriated by Northern Europeans and eventually it becomes the so-called Christmas tree.
Well, now, hey, if Sheldon said it, it must be true, right? I mean, he is smarter than anyone else, right?

Except that he's not. For instance, the Biblical Archaeological Society suggests that the celebration of Christmas on December 25 does not have its origins in Saturnalia. Indeed, early church fathers complained that Saturnalia was stealing from Christmas, not vice versa. (Note the feast of the birth of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun, was not established until 274 A.D by the Roman emperor Aurelian.) The custom of the Christmas tree was not from notions of "sympathetic magic" in the pre-Christian era, but from 16th century Germany. One story is told of a missionary by the name of Boniface who, preaching the gospel to the Germanic people who worshiped trees, chopped down a sacred oak tree to demonstrate that their worship of the tree was false. The oak fell on a pine sapling which bent under the load, then sprang back to life. He called the tree the "Christ tree" because it symbolized Christ's supremacy over false gods. There was an ancient custom of a Yule tree as described by Sheldon, but there is no evidence of any connection between the Yule tree and the Christmas tree. So while Sheldon's rant sounds wise and demolishes Christmas, it's actually not factually correct.

Still, to lots of anti-Christian, anti-Bible folk, Sheldon Cooper was brilliant.

Look, I'm not surprised that people buy this stuff wholesale without even examining it. Sin rots the brain (Rom 1:28). The default condition of the unbeliever is hostility toward God (Rom 8:7). In fact, we all like to hear things that support our position. So this isn't really about anti-Christian, anti-Bible folk, homosexual behavior, or Christmas. It's about you and me. You see, we are equally susceptible to this "They said what I wanted to hear" kind of thinking. I know people who latched onto the whole "NASA found Joshua's Missing Day" story as if this proved the Bible. It didn't. It wasn't even reasonable. So we're all susceptible to this. Don't do it. Don't buy into things without examining it. "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1)

Monday, December 28, 2015

"What's wrong with those people?"

You may have asked it or heard it. You know, that mother who, of all things, leaves her baby in the car while she goes drinking or the kids who steal the disabled boy's special wheel chair or the father who beats his infant to death because she didn't eat her food or whatever insane news item is hitting the screen at the moment. It seems as if they've slipped a cog, that they're out of touch with reality, that they cannot be sane and do such insane things. "What's wrong with those people?"

We're not left in the dark about such things. The Bible gives us an answer.
Claiming to be wise, they became fools ... and exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Rom 1:22,25)
There is a term for it. Anthropocentrism. All things begin with Man. All things are about Man. Man is the end of all things. If this is true, then there is nothing at all wrong with those people. They're just "doin' what comes natur'ly". They're certainly doing what comes biblically. Having set aside the Creator as the center of all things, we now serve ourselves, the creature.

But, look, pointing fingers at "them" isn't of any use. And we Christians know better, right? We're not centered on Man; we're centered on Christ! Or ... are we?

I don't know why, but I'm always surprised when I find God-fearing Christians operating from an anthropocentric theology. They define God from a starting point of Man and structure biblical doctrines from the starting point of Man's beliefs. They speak of Christ, but formulate their practices around self -- self-satisfaction, self-indulgence, self-aggrandizement, and so on. God is not who God says He is; He is what they think He is even if it violates what He says. First and foremost, God cannot be anything toward Man that they would deem negative toward Man. Love, grace, yes, indeed! Wrath or justice? Man forbid! You see, God owes us. It is not uncommon to hear well-meaning Christians speaking of God's need for us.

Of course, in our rush to put God at the center, we need to be careful not to remove Man. God didn't make us for no reason; He made us for a good purpose. After all, we just celebrated the Incarnation when God sent His only begotten Son on our behalf. Jesus came to give us abundant life (John 10:10). So we're not irrelevant. But we aren't the primary issue.

Pointing fingers at "them", whether it is "those unbelievers" or "those believers", doesn't much help. We need to figure out what's wrong with ourselves. And that is our own tendency toward serving the creature rather than the Creator. It is the basis for the sin that dwells within us. It is the self that needs to be executed rather than reformed. And while we cannot do that in others, we can certainly seek to do so in ourselves. Or, I can on my own behalf by the work of the Spirit.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Strength and Weakness

During the Cold War America and the Soviet Union had an interesting philosophy dubbed MAD -- mutually assured destruction. The idea was "peace through strength." That is, if the other guy was pretty sure that you'd clobber him if he tried anything, he wouldn't try anything. Seems a bit strange, but, given the fact that no nuclear exchange ever took place despite the tensions, it appeared to have worked.

Oddly enough, "peace through strength" is not the Christian position. Get this.
He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Cor 12:9)
Let's call that "peace through weakness."

I know. It's counterintuitive. We really want people to be well, healthy, strong. We want to avoid pain, both on our behalf and for those whom we love. That's normal. But Paul here is telling us that when we are weak, we can see His strength better. Therefore, "when I am weak, I am strong." (2 Cor 12:10)

It kind of puts things in a different light. We look around at the growing rumbles against our freedom of religion and think, "We have to do something! But what?" And God says, "My power is perfected in your weakness." We count the days to the next election and can't figure out which lousy candidate to vote for. And God says, "My power is perfected in your weakness." Every time we run into our own shortcomings, we give God a chance to shine. And He does.

I still pray that people I care about be healthy and strong. I still pray for the leadership of our country. I still plan to vote (at least for now). But it's a lot easier, considering all the weaknesses we have, to rest in the One whose strength is revealed in our weaknesses and in those weaknesses, then, we are actually strong. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Things I Don't Get

A coworker walked into a conversation between another coworker and myself. The topic at hand was the nonsensical tweet from Planned Parenthood about how "every child deserves the opportunity to live up to their God-given potential." Nonsensical given their tendency to kill a large number of children. "Oh," the newcomer said, "abortion has given lots of women better lives."

I didn't know what to do with that. I didn't know how to think through it. Killing babies is good if it makes someone "better off"? I mean, purely in terms of numbers, if murdering a baby in the womb gave ... let's be generous ... 75% of women a "better life" (and we'll be generous with that term, too), it would mean that while 100% of the babies killed had no life at all, only 75% had a "better life". That is, statistically more babies were killed than lives "improved". But the sheer magnitude of the claim boggles my mind. I can only conclude, "It's acceptable, even laudable, to kill babies if it makes people happier." Astoundingly enough, even the religious left will hold to this idea. While bemoaning our "narrow-mindedness" and "hate" for other sins they support, they will doggedly defend killing babies as something as narrow as "a woman's choice" and consider themselves "more loving" for the murder they endorsed. These are things I don't get.

I met a young man the other day. He was planning to go into the ministry. He attended a well-known, conservative church. He was studying to become a pastor. "Not the traditional kind," he told me. He was planning to be "bivocational". You know, like how Peter, James, and John were fishermen and Apostles or Paul was a tentmaker and an Apostle and Evangelist. That's well and good. And then it turns out that he is living with his girlfriend (not wife). Now, this guy wasn't uninformed. His church and His Bible said that sexual immorality was sinful. He knows of the clear statement that those who are sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom (1 Cor 6:9-10). His Bible, just like mine, says, "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 he's pretty sure it's okay now to be sexually immoral and a pastor because, after all, times have changed.

I cannot imagine how this works. "Here's the deal, God. I'll tell You which of your commands I'll accept and You can evaluate me on those, but the ones I reject are off limits. I will be glad to be pleasing to you in the commands from you that I allow. You're just going to have to get up to speed -- to come into the 21st century. Look, get a copy of Microsoft Word and revise Your Bible because clearly it's outdated. I can do that for You if You like. In fact, for my own purposes, I already have." Now, I don't expect people who reject God to follow God's commands. That wouldn't be reasonable. It's more difficult for me to think that way about people who claim to want to follow Jesus. But to see this kind of "thinking" from someone who wants to be a pastor is just something I don't get.

There are lots of ideas out there about lots of things. Some I agree with. Some I agree with after changing my own ideas. "Well, now, that makes sense. I guess I was wrong." Some I disagree with, but still understand. "I see where you get the idea that baptizing infants is biblical; I just don't agree." But there is an entire other set in which I scratch my head and say, "Sorry ... I'm not following that at all." Mind you, I'm not here to question these people. I'm talking about the ideas. I'm just wondering how much "reasoning" goes into these positions and how much is more "feeling", "intuition", or something else.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry ChristMyths

We all know that Christmas, like many other holidays, is shrouded in myths. There is the Santa Claus myth with the whole North Pole, flying reindeer, and elves thing thrown in, the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer myth, the myths surrounding Christmas trees (Were they of pagan origin or of Christian origin? Whichever is true, the other is myth.), and even the complaint of Christians that "XMas" is sacrilegious. (For those wondering, the "X" comes from the Greek -- remember those IXOYE fish stickers? -- for Christ and, thus, is a valid representation of Christmas.) As it turns out, we who are keen to keep Christ in Christmas keep our own set of myths, too.

First, the easy one. Christmas is celebrated on December 25th, but no biblical text calls for it. There, done. Easy.

Here's an interesting point. We are all quite clear that Joseph brought pregnant Mary to Bethlehem on the back of a donkey. Did you know that no such text exists? Maybe he did; maybe he didn't. It is a tradition, not a biblical truth. Also, the tradition goes on to hold that the night they arrived she gave birth. Again, maybe. All the text says is that while they were in Bethlehem she gave birth (Luke 2:6). Who knows how long they were there?

How about this? We are all quite sure that Jesus was born in a stable. Nowhere in the text is this found. We know He was laid "in a manger1", referring to an animal feeding trough. Sure. But "inn" (Luke 2:7) is only a possible translation. The word appears 3 times in the Bible and the other two refer to "guest rooms". Jesus and His disciples ate their Last Supper in one of these (Luke 22:11). "Inn" is not as likely as a place where other family members had arrived first. Having all the extra rooms in use, they would have been put down on the main floor of the house where it was routine to let animals stay to help keep them safe and the house warm. So when we go out of our way to complain about mean innkeepers who couldn't find room for a poor pregnant woman, perhaps we ought to be careful.

I'm somewhat surprised that many believe that when Joseph and Mary wandered into Bethlehem that night, they were not married at the time. A couple of places I've seen pastors pointing to Joseph's compassion for his unwed fiancé for taking her with him to be counted and not leaving her to the scorn of others. Matthew, on the other hand, is explicit. As soon as Joseph found out she was pregnant with the offspring of the Holy Spirit, he married her (Matt 1:24-25). They did not have sexual relations until Jesus was born, but they were married. (Note, also, that despite the claim of the Roman Catholic Church to the contrary, Matthew says Joseph "knew her not until she had given birth to a son" (Matt 1:25). That means that after that he did. Sorry about the "virgin for life" claim. Not biblical.2)

One thing we know for sure is that the little Lord Jesus didn't cry, right? Well, again, it makes for a nice song, perhaps, but there's no reason to argue that the baby Jesus didn't cry at all.

Did you know that the Bible does not say that angels sang to the shepherds? The translations say that the angel "said to them" (Luke 2:10) the news he had and that "a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying" their famous "Glory to God" message (Luke 2:13-14). The "singing" idea is simply a product of the songs that have been written about the event. Besides this, while just about every Nativity scene has an angel hanging around the Christ child, no biblical text suggests there was one. There may have been, but that's not written down. (Nor is there any reference to a little shepherd boy with a drum.)

Then there is the tale of Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar ... the "three wisemen". There are all sorts of problems here. While it is true that "magi" from the east came, they were not "wise men" nor the ever-popular "kings", but simply learned guys from the east. There is some conjecture that they may have been remnants of the group of which Daniel was part in Babylon. Advisers to the king, that sort of thing. So that whole "Wise men still seek Him" thing is mistaken. But, as it turns out, that's barely scratching the surface here. There is no reference in the text to three, let alone the names that have been assigned. The "three" comes only from the fact that three gifts are listed. If four brought gold and six brought frankincense and another two brought myrrh, it would still be three gifts but clearly not three magi. Nor were they present at the birth. We know this from a couple of textual clues. First, they did not arrive at the "inn" as described in Luke 2:7. They came to "the house" (Matt 2:11). Further, Herod, who had diligently inquired about when they first saw the star (Matt 2:7), ordered the deaths of all male children two years old or under (Matt 2:16) in order to eliminate the "threat". Then there is the logical problem. A trip from the East would take time. If they arrived on the night of His birth, that star would have been hanging over Bethlehem for a long time before Mary and Joseph arrived that night. The best guess, then, given all the clues, is that the magi showed up somewhat less than 2 years after, not the night of, His birth. Jesus could have been walking by then, no longer a baby (Luke 2:16), but "a child" (Matt 2:11).

"Well, now, thanks for that," I can hear some complaining. "Messed up the whole thing, didn't you?" I would hope that this isn't true. The fact that the child was born of a virgin (Matt 1:23) who was impregnated by the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:18) (and all you mean-spirited, narrow-minded folk that are ready to complain about "sex with God" have to put that aside since the Holy Spirit does not need to use standard methods to impregnate a human) is still true. Add to that the host of prophecies Christ fulfilled, and it gets really, really big. That Jesus is God Incarnate (Matt 1:23) is true. The reality that the Son of God covered His divine glory to become flesh (Phil 2:5-8) is true. The certainty that God sent His Son on our behalf (John 3:16) is undeniable. The amazing Good News that Christ is the free gift of God through Whom we are given eternal life (Rom 6:23) is glorious. In fact, when you think through the truth of Christmas and its consequent results, some misaligned or questionable myths surrounding the event become irrelevant in view of the surpassing glory of His Truth. "Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!" (2 Cor 9:15)
1 Are you aware of how big that manger had to be? Scripture says that when the shepherds arrived to see the baby, they "found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger." If it fit all three of them, then it had to be pretty big. (Okay, a little Christmas humor.)

2 Also of interest, there are many who assume that 1) Jesus was born in a cave and 2) that Joseph was much older than Mary. Neither are found in Scripture ... but are found in the same place that Mary's "perpetual virginity" is found. It is in an apocryphal book called Protoevangelium of James. Oddly, while the Roman Catholics believe this book to be not actual Scripture, they base some of their traditions and theology on it. If you're not Catholic, you may want to rethink those points.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Why December 25th?

Skeptics and purists alike are quick to point out that December 25th is not Jesus's birthday. Indeed, the singularly most common answer given from all sides as to why Christians celebrate the birth of our Savior on December 25th is that the early church was simply redeeming a pagan holiday. That answer is everywhere. It is true ... right? Maybe not.

The truth is that the Bible tells us nothing at all about what time of year Jesus was born. Oh, there are hints. There were, for instance, shepherds in the field. That is not a year-round occurrence. Some suggest it was lambing season, then, but we can't even be sure of that. That sort of thing. But, while we know quite certainly that Jesus died during the Passover celebration and, thus, have a good idea when that happened, we have very little to go on for His birth.

And the truth is that the first three centuries of the church saw nothing of celebrations of Jesus's birth. Oh, that's not because they didn't know. I mean, we don't know if they knew when. It's just that cultures in those days didn't celebrate birth days. Origen even mocked Roman birthday celebrations as pagan practices. They recognized death days. So Jesus's death and resurrection were recognized annually (and, in fact, every Lord's Day), but not His birth.

Around 200 AD, some started to guess at a birthdate. May 20th was one choice, March 21st another, followed by a couple in April (15th and 21st). No one was sure. But by 400 AD two dates took center stage. In the Roman Empire it was December 25th and in the East it was January 6th.

So we're back to the question. Why December 25th? Well, as I said, the most common answer is that the Roman Saturnalia festival took place then. Add to that, Roman emperor Aurelian established it as the birth of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun. So to synchronize and evangelize, the church took that time of celebration as their own. "Come on, Stan, everyone knows that."

Maybe. What they don't know are the problems with that theory. For instance, no surviving early church writing makes that connection. All their writings indicate that the pagans were stealing from Jesus's birth, not vice versa. The modern claim doesn't occur until the 12th century. And the theory is problematic because the church in the early centuries was insistent that they distance themselves from pagan observances so as to avoid even the slightest hint of tainting.

So is there another possible explanation? Yes, as it turns out. Early church writings suggested that Jesus was conceived and died on the same day of the year. Tertullian suggested the date was March 25th. The Catholics celebrate the Feast of Annunciation on March 25th for that reason. Augustine repeated the claim in his treatise, On the Trinity. And, of course, 9 months from March 25th is December 25th. So Augustine wrote December 25th as the birthday of Christ. Interestingly, the church in the East did the same math, except they used the Greek calendar, placing Jesus's death and conception on April 6th ... which, of course, would put His birth on January 6th, the day they still celebrate as the birthday of Jesus.

Note, by the way, that this whole method of calculation was common in the church at the time. They saw all of redemption tied together like that. Indeed, the rabbis of the time saw all of life tied together like that. To them the world was created at the date of the Passover, the Patriarchs were born then, and so on. It seems odd to us, but not to them.

Was Jesus born on December 25th? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Or was it a means of stealing pagan worship from pagans? Could be. Maybe not. Do our current Christmas traditions contain pagan trappings? Yes, that's true. It's just not as sure that it's as entirely as pagan in its origins as we've all been told.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Blog By Any Other Name

Something has baffled me for years. A blog is, by definition, the opinion of the owner/author. Oh, I suppose there are "official" blogs, but they are still, by their very nature, opinion. Blogs are not encyclicals, Scripture, divinely inspired. They're just the idea of the particular author. I make no claim to superiority or super spirituality. In fact, I specify off the top I'm one of the "foolish guys". Often, when I write, I'll be telling you not about my latest climb to perfection, but my latest conviction from Scripture. You know ... "Wow, that was convicting. I wonder if anyone else will be convicted by it?"

And yet, despite the nature of blogs and the certainty that I am not ever going to be sainted by the Roman Catholic church, for some reason people take what I write the wrong way. Some are offended, like I'm some faulty official messenger. Some seem to think I'm "holy" or something. They look up to me. But, like Paul, I hope to "be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ." (Phil 3:9) My hope is not in my personal holiness, but in the attributed righteousness of Christ (2 Cor 5:21). Sure, God's Word says that we have been "perfected for all time", but it follows that with the claim that we "are being sanctified." (Heb 10:14) I have no superior standing. Nor do I have special revelation. I simply write about what I see, what I've found, what I've seen from others, what appears to be the consistent message of the Word and the Church.

There are many people who agree with what I write. At least some of what I write. There isn't one, that I know of, that agrees with everything I write. But that's okay. Because this is a blog. It is opinion. It's my opinion. It's what I see and think.

So, why is it that people get their knickers in a twist over what I write? It's a blog. I'm not making national policy or church doctrine. I'm not stating, "Thus saith the Lord ... you must agree with Stan." Even when I say, "This is what God says" (because it's what's right there in the text), I'm simply stating what I see because this is my blog, my opinion. Some find it edifying. Some find it challenging. Some find it boring. Some find it offensive. May I recommend that those who find it offensive recognize that it's a blog, that it is by definition the opinion of one man? (Okay, there have been a few other contributors, but you know what I mean.) If you don't like it, don't read it. There are likely billions of opinions you don't like and don't pay attention to. I can't imagine why mine would be of any concern to you. For those who are challenged or blessed, I'm glad to be of service, even if you aren't necessarily in agreement. You know, "iron sharpens iron." (Prov 27:17) That can be a a good thing. So I'll continue to "make a defense to anyone who asks", hopefully "with gentleness and respect." (1 Peter 3:15) Take it or leave it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Not a Rule Book

The claim is often made that the Bible is not a book of rules. I'm not at all clear about what that means. I mean, if God says, "Do this and don't do that", it's clearly not a suggestion. We don't have "the Ten Recommendations". The Bible, in fact, is full of commands from God. And if these aren't "rules", what are they? It is not rational to say, "The Creator and King of the Universe says to do this and not do that ... but He's okay with it if you don't follow that." If we define "rule" as "an explicit regulation or principle of conduct", there is no way that "God commands ..." cannot be understood as a rule. Now, if we understand that a "rule" is "a prescribed mathematical method for performing a calculation or solving a problem", then by all means we can agree that the Bible is not a book of rules. I don't think that's what's being said. So using the standard definition of "rule", it should be abundantly clear that the Bible indeed contains rules.

That having been said, I do need to point out that the Bible is not a book of rules. "Wait ... what?" Let's look.

The definition of sin is "lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). Clearly, sin is the violation of God's law. Clearly, then, the Bible contains God's law. But, we know from Scripture that all sin (Rom 3:23) and that the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God (Rom 8:7). Obviously, those who are not of the faith are not going to concern themselves with what God commands. So saying, "The Bible says we are supposed to do or not do X" is irrelevant to those who don't care what God says. Using the Bible as a club to hit people over the head who don't care what God says is pointless. In that sense, the Bible isn't a book of rules.

Some will point out the "rule of love". Paul wrote, "The whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Gal 5:14) Of course, that is an oversimplification. Jesus said the whole law was predicated on the two great commandments -- Love God and love your neighbor (Matt 22:37-40). But you get the idea. It's fairly straightforward. If you love God and love your neighbor, there is no need for rules. You're meeting them. In that sense, the Bible isn't a book of rules.

There is the whole problem of interpretation and application. For instance, God commanded Israel to stone adulterers. Do we interpret that to mean that we should do the same? Well, no. Why? Because that was to a theocratic Israel. The moral code -- "don't commit adultery" -- remains in place, but the civil consequences don't. Interpretation and application. Or take a silly example. The psalmist writes, "Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!" (Psa 137:9) Well, now, all you anti-abortion folk, isn't that a contradiction to your view?! We are commanded to dash little ones against rocks! Not if you're paying attention, of course, because that is neither a command nor is it reasonable in the context of the passage. Interpretation and application. So taking the Bible as a cold, "Rule #1: Thou shalt ..." kind of book doesn't work. In that sense, the Bible isn't a book of rules.

Then there is the problem of intent. The Bible was not written to tell us what to do. Paul says, "If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin." (Rom 7:7) Now, you can deny to your heart's content that the Bible is a book of rules, but you would have to do so against all reason and evidence. The rules are in there. But what is their intent? Are they there to tell us how to be good, how to be right with God? As loudly as I know how to type, the answer is No! Very clearly "By works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight." (Rom 3:20) Why? "... since through the law comes knowledge of sin." The point of the Bible is not "live this way". The point of the rules is not "here's how you get along with God." The point of the Bible is Christ. Not "what to do" or "follow these 12-steps". In that sense, the Bible isn't a book of rules.

"Okay," you might be saying now, "so you agree that the Bible isn't a book of rules." No, I'm not. Clearly the Bible contains "the law". That's rules. Clearly this "law" -- the rules of the Bible -- give directions for what God wants. Very clearly, these directions demonstrate without chance of contradiction that we don't live up to what God wants. That's the primary point. Thus, we are brought to the need for faith in Christ. When we get there, we are declared sin-free and fully righteous ... apart from the law. And the life of the regenerate Christian is a life aimed at loving God and loving our neighbors not because it's commanded, but because that's what a grateful person does for such a gift. "So ... you're agreeing we don't need those rules?" No. If we knew perfectly what love looks like, I might agree. We don't. On the contrary, we are so sin-sick and misguided on what "love" means we desperately need guidance from God on what He means by "love God" and "love your neighbor". Left to our own devices, we could easily wind up with "You mean, have sex with our neighbor?" with our society's current confusion over the term. No, we still have God's rules available, not as a means of getting right with God, but as a guide to what loving God and loving our neighbor looks like. Is that a "rule book"? You can decide. But I would be remiss if I failed to point out that failure to seek to do what pleases God by following His commands has unpleasant consequences, ranging from loss (1 Cor 3:15) to eternal separation from God (1 Cor 6:9-10). So while the rules won't get you in, it's certainly not wise to set aside what God commands. And in that sense, the Bible certainly is a book of rules.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Same God

Recently a professor at Wheaton College was suspended. Now, don't get mixed up by unreasonable media. She was not suspended for wearing a hijab in solidarity with her Muslim neighbors. She was suspended when she put out on Facebook the theological claim that Christians and Muslims "worship the same God" in direct violation of Wheaton's statement of faith.

So well is this statement of faith inculcated in students at Wheaton (yes, Virginia, that is sarcasm) that they're protesting her suspension and demanding her reinstatement. Their petition reads in part, "In the midst of a toxic socio-political environment where Muslims are the target of stigmatization, acts of aggression, and proposed policy which targets and alienates them, Dr. Hawkins acted in love and in solidarity to be an example of how Christ would respond. We believe there is nothing in Dr. Hawkins' public statements that goes against the belief in the power and nature of God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit that the Statement of Faith deems as a necessary requirement for affiliation with Wheaton College."

Which begs the question, does it not? If she is right -- Christians and Muslims worship the same God -- then the students have a valid point. If she is wrong, then the students are just as blind as the teacher ... and the bulk of the rest of the world. So is the statement true?

The answer, of course, would depend on how you define "God". In Christian terms, God is uniquely defined as a Trinity, a one-of-a-kind triune Being consisting of Father, Son, and Spirit, three persons of the one essence. This is a Christian definition, occurring nowhere else in any other religion. The Bible portrays God as God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit as core definition. That is, if God is not the Triune God, Christianity is false.

Do Muslims worship the same God? They reject the deity of Christ. He's really nice prophet and all, but not God. They ignore the Holy Spirit. Their deity, Allah, is not a Trinity. Simply put, Christian God = Trinity, Muslim God = Not. This isn't even about characteristics of God. It is about definition.

This is just another one of those "bait-and-switch approaches. "Okay, so you say 'God' and they say 'Allah', but what we're all really talking about is 'God'. So we'll pull out the word 'God', redefine it to mean something different than you do, then plug it back in and demonstrate that we all mean the same thing. You agree, right?" And they do ... by the thousands -- inattentive pastors and professors and unknowing students and vague "believers" and blinded unbelievers. The Bible isn't unclear. They are. Only in a world blinded by God's enemy can anyone conclude that "God, defined as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the very same as Allah who rejects Son and Holy Spirit."

It's not about "solidarity with Muslim neighbors". It's not about wearing a hijab. It is not, as some have argued, about anti-Muslim sentiment. Nor is it a failure of love on the part of Wheaton or an attempt to silence those who believe something different than they do. It's not even about whether or not there are similarities (Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, for instance). It's about the Christian faith at its core. One cannot both deny the deity of Christ and not speak against the power and nature of God or Christ. It is manifest nonsense. Jesus said, "You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also." (John 8:19) The fact that the professor argued and the student body is buying the "same God" argument illustrates the very sad fact that they don't know Jesus. And that, for their sakes, is a very bad thing.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Prophet, Priest, King

We know that Jesus is King (1 Tim 6:15; Rev 17:14; Rev 19:16). I mean, He said, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." (Matt 28:18) We all get that. And Hebrews is abundantly clear that Jesus is our High Priest (Heb 2:17; Heb 3:1; Heb 4:14-15; Heb 5:10; Heb 6:20; Heb 7:26 ... well, you get the idea). He is vastly superior to human high priests because He is our perfect High Priest, sacrificing once for all with perfect effectiveness. We often miss, however, that Jesus is also called a Prophet (Luke 24:19). Promised to Israel way back in Deut 18:15, 18, Jesus perfectly fulfilled the role.

So, what's the difference between priest and prophet? True prophets are God's communication with Man. They speak the words of God. They proclaim "Thus saith the Lord" (and in King James English, of all things). When prophets speak, we had better listen because it isn't their own words; it is God's. Priests, on the other hand, are Man's liaison with God. "Every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins." (Heb 5:1) So while prophets tell God's words to humans, priests provide an approach to God for humans. Of course, human priests didn't quite achieve that task. First, they needed help themselves (Heb 9:7). Second, they offered only a symbol (Heb 9:9; Heb 10:4). Third, all of their work was temporary (Heb 10:1).

Suddenly the divinity and humanity of Christ become of ultimate importance. It stands to reason that God speaks best for God (John 12:49), making the Divine Jesus the perfect Prophet. On the other hand, a High Priest who is human but not guilty can best mediate between Man and God (Heb 4:15). Without both facts -- fully God and fully Man -- we don't have what we need. In Christ, of course, we do.

So, here we are, getting ready to celebrate the arrival of Christ. As Prophet, He spoke perfectly God's word -- He is God's Word (John 1:1) -- and declares us not guilty. As Priest, "by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." (Heb 10:14) (Think about that for a moment. We are "being sanctified" -- in process -- but we are also "perfected for all time" ... already.) And as King, He gets to declare the end of it. Nothing can touch us. Nothing can change it. He is the final authority (Rom 8:31-34). Now that is worth celebrating.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Speaking of False Prophets ...

Jesus said,
"Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets." (Luke 6:26)
Well, now, hang on a second! Isn't that the goal of many in Christendom? Aren't we trying to make sure people don't speak badly of us? Isn't it the primary problem that people speak badly of some Christians (like the outspoken ones who quote Scripture and tell the world that their favorite sin du jour is a sin)? Wouldn't the Christians and the church be better off if all people spoke well of us?

Apparently not.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Celibate Homosexual

Back in 2008 when California was heating up the discussion over gay mirage as if it was a real thing, I wrote an entry titled "Homosexuality is NOT a Sin". I repeated the thought more recently in an entry titled "Is it a sin to be gay?" The idea was that the sin involved was in the choices people make, not in their temptations. "Temptation." I said, "is not sin." As far as it went, it was true.

The term "gay" or "homosexual" these days is typically not necessarily a reference to a behavior, but to an "orientation". For instance, sociologists have noted a tendency among homosexual women -- women who classify themselves as "lesbian" -- to end up in platonic, sexless relationships. They still call themselves "lesbians", but they're just not doing anything "lesbian". They're not doing anything "heterosexual", either. They're not engaging in sexual behavior. So "gay" or "homosexual" or "lesbian" (if you prefer in the case of women) would not necessarily refer to acts, but inclinations -- an orientation. And, as I've expressed on multiple occasions, defining oneself by this inclination seems foolish and arguing that "I'm born that way" is neither proven nor an excuse for any selection of behavior in that direction.

I think, however, that it is important to be clear here. While some states are outlawing so-called "conversion therapy" (or "reparative therapy") and others are trying to outlaw it nationally, it's an important question to revisit. Is it a sin to be "homosexual" (in the sense that it is used today)?

I still believe that temptation is not sin, but the moment we go there we appear to say, "So, leave the poor Christian who has same-sex desires alone as long as he/she is not acting on them." And that is a problem. Why? Because in the "same-sex attraction" there is nothing biblically sound to go to. The Bible affirms the marriage bed (Heb 13:4). In heterosexual attraction, then, there is a viable, godly, God-honoring direction that can come from it -- marriage. But the only thing that a "same-sex attraction" can take you to is sin. So, if you suffer from kleptomania, it would be considered good if you practice self-control and don't steal, but it would be more Christ-like if you weren't tempted to steal. In that sense, then, while the temptation is not sin, neither is the temptation something you can just "manage". It is something that should be handed over to Christ, repeatedly, again and again, wash, rinse, repeat. The goal, you see, is not to avoid bad fruit or even to produce good fruit, but to be good trees (Luke 6:43). The process of sanctification is just that, to conform us to the image of Christ.

The Bible is clear. Homosexual behavior is sin. Can't change that. On the other hand, clearly "reparative therapy" isn't a sure thing. Can't change that, either. The truth is that the problem, whether in "same-sex attraction" or heterosexual lust or the tendency toward greed or whatever other temptation we face, is a problem of the heart. A "twelve-step anti-theft program" isn't what's needed any more than "conversion therapy". A renewed mind (Rom 12:2), a new heart (Ezek 11:19), God at work in you (Phil 2:13) is what is needed. Real change is needed. So while the non-stealing thief is better off than the stealing thief and the celibate homosexual is better off than the practicing one, every one of us sinners needs to "press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil 3:14), to be "conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom 8:29). Pick your temptation. We all need this. "I'm not doing that sin" is better than doing it, but "God has transformed my heart" is best.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Train Up A Child

Over at 365 Reasons to Homeschool there is a nice little piece about a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research that argues that we're starting our kids' education too early. We start around 5 or so. It ought to be closer to 7. "I’ve got a better idea than that," Danny says on his blog. "Start them earlier, and never start them at all." How? Well, start them at birth and make it a part of life, not "an educational experience." Oh, and make it your job, parents.

I'm concerned about today's kids. I'm not talking about "the world's kids". They've been under threat since time immemorial. I'm talking about today's kids in Christian homes. It looks as if we've decided that they're on their own. It looks as though we've decided they need a buddy far more than they need a parent. The whole biblical injunction to "train up a child in the way he should go" (Prov 22:6) has gone by the wayside. "Let the teachers and the youth leaders at church and, by far the largest group, their peers do that. We'll just be their friends."

The reason I'm so concerned today isn't because it's new, but because it's undetected. Recently I was talking to the (godly Christian) mother of a new teenage daughter who told me "She is really into guys with man buns." Now, I'm quite sure that 1) "man buns" would seem largely innocuous and 2) there wouldn't appear to be anything seriously threatening about a 13-year-old girl liking them. But I'm concerned that in this we're setting our kids up for a fall. We're letting them continue to think that the best way to determine who to marry is by how they feel. And "who to marry" is not the only question resolved this way. Everything falls under this approach. Determine everything by the senses.

So, when the day arrives that that cute little 13-year-old turns 17 and brings home the tattooed guy with body piercings and the man bun and mom and dad disapprove, it will be "But, Mom, I love him." And no amount of "That makes no sense" will make it past the ears because we aren't equipping our kids with a renewed mind. We're buying into the world's perspective that life is all about how it feels and "if it feels good, do it". Christian kids aren't far behind. They're ill-equipped to answer questions, analyze morality or values or truth, or consider what God might think (based on things like Scripture) because we're not raising our kids that way.

We are, today, tending to raise up our children in the way they would go rather than should go. We will be reaping the harvest of that failure. Teach our kids from birth? Oh, we are ... just not often what God's Word tells us to.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Losing the War

In our day the "Gender War" is about over. From a world that was abundantly clear what was "masculine" and what was "feminine", a world that had no doubt what constituted "male" and "female", we've arrived at "gender fluidity" where gender is whatever you want it to be and suggesting anything otherwise (like "science", "biology", or "the obvious") is considered hateful. In places once dominated by males we now have women taking the lead. They are CEO's and congress-persons and even running for president. They dominate the universities and colleges. They are in the military and going to combat. There is hardly a corner that is not being taken over by women. And our society considers that a good thing. Today more wives divorce their husbands than husbands their wives, more women are working, the "stay-at-home mom" is an outdated and unwise concept, and the old "house and home and baby makes three" concept is right out. Where men in former days made the mistake of making life "all about me", women have come into their own with a vengeance.

So inculcated are we in the church1 with the culture of the day -- to include feminism, radical feminism, the demeaning of the masculine, and "gender fluidity" -- that it seems almost impossible to figure out what actual "role of men" there is in the church. In fact, for many the simple phrase "role of men" is an affront because, as we all know, men and women are equal. Any suggestion, for instance, that "women should keep silent in the churches" (1 Cor 14:34), "the head of a wife is her husband" (1 Cor 11:3), or "do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man" (1 Tim 2:12) is wrong, wrong, wrong ... a product of outdated and immoral patriarchy from male-dominated days that we, bless God, have outgrown today. "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord" (Eph 5:22)? Not today's wives. As everyone knows, "there is no male and female" (Gal 3:28). As a result, more and more men are leaving the churches. "I guess we're not needed here anymore. We can probably just go watch football." Or they're conforming, getting in touch with their "feminine side". "You can stay as long as you don't call up any of that 'male leadership' nonsense."

Lay that alongside Scripture. The Bible is not unclear.
I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Cor 11:3)

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is Himself its Savior. (Eph 5:22-23)

God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (1 Cor 14:33-35)
None of these is popular these days. Some are downright ignored. Others are reinterpreted.

How about this bit of sexism straight from the pen of Paul? "Man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man." (1 Cor 11:8-9) You can do what you like with that passage these days ... except take it at face value.

And everyone knows that Paul did not mean what he wrote to Timothy.
I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness--with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1 Tim 2:8-15)
All wrong. Men pray ... fine ... but not this stuff about women adorning themselves with modesty and self-control and certainly not all this submissiveness and keeping women out of authority over men! Never mind that Paul roots his argument in Creation Order. It's wrong. And we know it.

Well, you can decide. On this topic, do we "rewrite" Scripture using a cultural lens, or do we stick with Scripture and ignore culture? The Bible isn't vague. It's not some "guess". Nor has the Church in all its history had any question on the basic nature of gender or on the differing roles of men and women as different by design. It was only here in the last century or so that we've decided they've been wrong all that time. It would seem obvious that anyone who holds to a view of Scripture as God's Word -- reliable and authoritative -- would need to deny modern "gender fluidity" especially as it is expressed today in gender roles (or the lack thereof) in the church and in Christianity.

But here's my problem. I've been raised in this. I mean, it has been this way for as long as I've been around. Oh, it has changed. It has increased, grown, overgrown, flooded the churches. But ever since the Industrial Revolution when men left the homes to go to work and churches adapted to a largely women-and-children structure, the church has been "feminized" to varying degrees. So I don't know what a "masculine church" would really look like. I don't know what Peter or Paul had for church. Clearly from the texts we have it was not like ours today. So where do I go to find out what they thought it should look like? It's a quandry.

1 It's interesting. There is a website called that offers a kind of user-driven topical section about just about any topic you might want. People will "Suggest a Verse" to give references on whatever topic is at hand. In the Gender Roles topic, you'll find something that speaks volumes. The texts offered at the top of the page are largely a denial of male leadership or male-oriented roles. First, for instance, is the Gal 3:28 verse that the egalitarians say denies any difference between male or female. Instead of the clear texts I included from 1 Cor 11 on husbands as head over wives and such, they reference 1 Cor 11:12 -- "As woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God" -- deemphasizing male roles. Instead of "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord." (Eph 5:22), they first enter "Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ." (Eph 5:21) There are references to Deborah, the prophetess, Priscilla and Aquila, and "the women who announce the news" (Psa 68:11). In other words, in this user-driven topical Bible, the feminists are taking the lead.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Definitions Are Important

Paul writes,
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison. (2 Cor 4:16-17)
"Momentary, light affliction."

"He sent and had John beheaded in the prison." (Matt 14:10) "Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword." (Acts 12:1-2)

"Momentary, light affliction."

"But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one." (Heb 10:32-34)

"Momentary, light affliction."

"Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground." (Heb 11:35-38)

"Momentary, light affliction."

I'd almost be willing to bet that you don't think of "momentary, light affliction" in the same way that the biblical writers meant and experienced it. Nonetheless, remember, we can expect "momentary, light affliction". All of us. Remember, whatever level it is, it is "momentary, light affliction" in view of the eternal. And, remember, all "momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison."

Monday, December 14, 2015

Keeping the "Holy" in "Holidays"

Many people over the years have complained about the decline of Christianity in Christian holidays. Others have simply complained that "Christian holidays" is a misnomer and that no such days actually exist with the exception of Sunday, perhaps. And, let's be honest; I've been among those complaining about the decline of "Christ in Christmas" kind of things. (You know, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, all those kinds of things.) But I'm beginning to rethink it.

Consider. Events like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ cannot actually be separated from their Christian origins. They can be and obviously are removed somewhat -- quite a lot -- but they cannot be devoid of them. Because, you see, the reminder of "Thanksgiving" means absolutely nothing in a purely secular society, and "Christmas" contains the word "Christ" in it, for pity sake. Just two examples.

Consider. When we gather, typically with family and friends, for these types of events, we do so with at least an unspoken if not an outright religious background. It is not uncommon to gather for "turkey day", for instance, and begin the meal with a prayer because it's Thanksgiving. Even the most hardened atheist will likely sit quietly by while you "do your thing" on Thanksgiving. And at Christmas the themes of Baby Jesus and angels and all are ubiquitous -- they're everywhere. Even rank heathens are singing "Joy to the world, the Lord has come." You can't escape it.

So, here's what I'm proposing. Instead of complaining about the commercialization of Christian-oriented holidays (which are, in fact, not divinely-appointed holy days), how about if we start considering them opportunities? I mean, how often do skeptics and doubters close their mouths long enough to hear the Gospel? But in this case they're standing in "Gospel-rich" grounds. It seems to me that these kinds of things serve as excellent moments in which to share the truth. No, of course the world at large will not keep Christ in Christmas, will not admit they're giving thanks to God, they're celebrating the Resurrection of Christ. Given. But that doesn't mean we can't keep slipping it in there when they're obviously leaving the door open. Seems like a golden opportunity.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Unto Us

"Unto us a Son is given," the verse says (Isa 9:6). There are a lot of names -- Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God ... that sort of thing -- and we often spend time analyzing and enjoying those names. But think about the starting idea for a moment. "Unto us a Son is given."

I don't know about you, but I find that astounding. Speaking of Christ's death, Paul wrote, "For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:7-8) That's the idea that astounds me. While we were yet sinners, unto us a Son is given. God the Father gave His Son to us. It's not like we're some treasure. It's not like He was gaining something wonderful at the expense of His Son when He sent Him to save us. But ... unto us a Son is given.

The reality is that it was to God's benefit that He sent His Son for sinners. He received glory. He was highly glorified in the gift of His Son to sinners. As the psalmist says, "Not to us, O LORD, not to us, But to Your name give glory Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth." (Psa 115:1)

The day is just around the corner when we engage in our annual celebration of God's amazing gift. It was for us, but not. Christ was given to us not because we're a treasure, but because He is. But we get to take part. And that is astounding.

Saturday, December 12, 2015


Have you ever noticed that the skeptic will argue something like "You stupid Christians believe in an unmeasurable God while we're standing on the firm ground of Science" just before they claim, "We can't determine if that person is male or female ... depends on how they feel"?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Having Children in This Day and Age?

Crisis Magazine has a story about the White House's war on parental moral authority. Centered around the Obergefell decision to redefine marriage over against the vast majority of the states' decisions to the contrary, Caleb Henry warns that the Department of Education and the government in general is aiming to force parents to realign their moral positions with the "new morality". They did so in Illinois when the school allowed a boy to call himself a girl and participate in girls' sports and dress in the girls' locker room, forcing all the actual girls to set aside their own sense of propriety in favor of this one guy's version. Schools are rolling out moral reeducation programs to force kids into new forms of morality over against what their parents believe and have taught them. And, he warns, "this moral reeducation program will inevitably be rolled out against private schools and families." Do you think you're safe because you homeschool? If the Supreme Court can overturn the Tenth Amendment and twist the 14th Amendment to say whatever they want ("Now, Equal Protection means that that which is not marriage can now be rolled into the term 'marriage' and you can't stop it, but this 'Equal' Protection does not extend to babies in the womb because they are not yet 'persons' ... which we'll leave mostly undefined."), what makes you think you're safe in your homes?

In truth, I'm not writing here about that crisis. I mean, I think it is a crisis, but I have another issue to consider. In a recent conversation with a husband, he told me he and his wife weren't in a hurry to have children because of this world in which we live. "How can we bring them into this world?" It is a serious and reasonable question. Earlier generations of Christians in America actually had similar questions. Eyeing the moral decline that they saw, they wondered the same thing. But they had less decline and more security and they brought children into this world. On the other hand, the farther we get from a nation founded by Christians on Christian values with a social structure based on Christian values, the greater the decline and the less security we find. Like the quote I've read, "America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great." America is shifting radically from "good" and her subsequent shift away from "great" is inevitable. So how do Christian couples in unChristian America consider bringing children into this new world? That is the question I'm considering.

Okay, so, first ... you may think the so-called "war on parental moral authority" is a farce and your answer would be, "Stop blubbering and making up problems and just go about your business." You should understand that America is not the only country at risk here. In Germany, for instance, parents are jailed for homeschooling their kids. Why? "'In our increasingly multicultural society school is the place for a peaceful dialogue between different opinions, values, religions and ideologies,' said Berlin's education minister, Juergen Zoellner." Homeschooling is illegal in Germany precisely because they want to challenge parental opinions, values, religions, and ideologies. They consider it "child endangerment". Same thing in "progressive" Sweden. And the European Court of Human Rights. So don't think it can't/won't happen here.

The problem, then, is real. So how are Christians seriously considering children to think about it? Is it wise to bring children into this world? While I think the threats are real and the question is reasonable, I also think that they aren't new. "Can we afford it?" "Is this a good time?" "Is this a world I want to raise my baby in?" To any concerned potential parent it has been a question because, after all, the world has never been a really good place. Some worse than others. Many worse than now. And how the world asks and answers the question will not likely be the same as how Christians would.

So, how might Christians view this dilemma?

There is no shortage of genuine, Bible-believing, well-intentioned Christians who will disagree with me here, but when I see what God commanded Adam in the Garden of Eden, I see a divine fiat that still prevails today. "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion." (Gen 1:28; Gen 9:1) Some might argue, "We've done that." Some would even be glad for the decline in the human population growth in many civilized countries. I see it as a command still in effect. Further, the Bible says, "Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!" (Psa 127:4-5) Speaking of husbands and wives, Scripture says, "Did He not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring." (Mal 2:15) So, if there is a command to "be fruitful and multiply" and if children are a blessing from God and if God really does desire Christians to produce "godly offspring", it would seem to me that there would really be no question. "Should we have children?" Yes! Now, I'm not suggesting, "It's evil if a Christian couple refuses to have children for any reason." I'm just saying that it would seem reasonable and recommended based on Scripture for married Christians to bear offspring.

That doesn't quite satisfy, does it? I mean, the problems still remain. We do not live in a "safe world". And it's not getting safer. That's when the other answer comes into play. We have a Sovereign God.

Paul speaks of our security in Christ when he writes, "He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?" (Rom 8:32) Jesus assured us, "Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Matt 6:26) There's a particularly pointed passage in Jeremiah where he says, "Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land." (Jer 17:5-6) You see, "I got this" is not to be in the Christian vocabulary. "You've got this, God" is the idea. In fact, Paul said, "What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" (1 Cor 4:7) In the follow-up thought from that Jeremiah passage he says, "Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit." (Jer 17:7-8) So we have contrasted "Do it yourself" with "Trust in the Lord" and we see which one works and which doesn't. Ultimately, God says, "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." (Isa 41:10)

You see, then, that while the question is valid and real, believers stand in a unique place. Yes, we live in a scary world. Yes, things may look bad and not improving. Yes, conventional wisdom might recommend not having children. But we are not subject to our scary world, the bad around us, or conventional wisdom. We are subject to a Sovereign God who tells us there's blessing in having children and blessing in having godly offspring and that He will not be leaving you to take care of it all. Perhaps that helps answer the question.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Illegal Questions

The other day I had someone question my salvation. I think that this is probably not as common as one might think. It is an "illegal question" in most circles. If they say they're a Christian, take them at their word. (By all means, do not delve into "What do you mean by 'Christian'?" or any other such pointed thing.) You can question their political stance, perhaps, but their status as a Christian is off limits. In our day so is their moral status. Don't question that.

It's a funny thing, though. Questioning the salvation of another might be viewed as offensive, but I don't see it that way. In fact, the only people whose salvation I don't question are the people I don't care about. (Most in that category are people of whom I have no knowledge, so it's not as bad as it sounds. Not as bad.) Indeed, since I obviously care about me, I fall in that category myself. I question my own salvation at times. I don't think that's bad. I think it is actually rather important. Like Peter said, it's important to "confirm your calling and election" (2 Peter 1:10) or, as Paul said, to "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves." (2 Cor 13:5)

Actually, I don't understand the problem. I know of someone whose salvation was questioned and it resulted in a vast rift. Now, whether or not the person asking the question had proper motives or the rift was necessary, to me the question is important. You see, there is no more important question about each of us than "Do you know Jesus?" There is nothing better than knowing Jesus and nothing worse than the consequences of not knowing Jesus. Obviously some will ask the question with wrong motivation -- I'm quite sure the one who challenged me fell in that category -- but the question is important. "Do you have a living, breathing, genuine relationship with the Son of God?" As such, it has to be the most loving question any of us can ask and, on the other hand, the most hateful thing we can do to avoid it.

But not these days. Don't ask that. Don't ask if they're sinning. Don't question their moral status or their spiritual status. "It's none of your business if they're violating God's commands or going to Hell. You just keep to your side of that fence and leave them alone." That seems wrong to me. That seems cold and unloving to me. But I suppose that's just me.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015


There is a large segment of our world, whether Christian or not, that believes the positive-thinking mantra. You know, that "you can do it" attitude intended to get us all through whatever we're going through. We appreciate that "pick yourself up by your bootstraps and accomplish anything" attitude. Even Christians are pretty sure that's what we're supposed to do as Christians. But the "fringe elements" of Christendom, those less immersed in a biblical worldview and more comfortable in the only remaining alternative -- the humanistic worldview -- are fairly confident it's true. You can do it. "Don't mess with people's confidence. Build them up. Encourage them to strive for all they can be." A good Army ad, I'm sure, but is it a biblical perspective?

Paul says,
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom 8:19-23)
Lay that up against the "you can do it" cry of the best of unregenerate humanity. Look at that phrase, "the creation was subjected to futility." Now, in case you weren't paying attention, all of us fall in the category of "the creation". Therefore, all of us are "subjected to futility". That's why "we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." You think you can do it? You're dreaming. That constant background noise of frustration, that ever-present search for peace and satisfaction and "just a little more", that seemingly eternal drag on perfection that keeps us always wanting more is simply the fact of life for created beings like us.

You see, we were created dependent. Not independent. We were never intended to be "standalone" creations. We were built for a lifelong -- nay, eternity-long -- dependence on our Creator in perfect joy and peace and love. When the first man sinned, he messed that up for the rest of us in our lifetime. Now we "groan inwardly" for the completion of that for which we were made.

So, if "working hard" and "having self-confidence" and "positive self-esteem" don't do the trick, what are we to do? Paul tells us something else interesting.
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Gal 3:1-3)
If we are honest with ourselves, I suspect that everyone of us would tend to think, "Um ... yes ... that's what we thought. We have to work at perfecting ourselves." Paul calls that foolishness. What is this thing, this amazing secret of the Christian life? What is the answer to our groaning, the solution to our frustration in this life? Paul says that it's the same thing that got you saved.

How did you get here? It was not by works of law. It was not by your fine efforts. It was not even by the faith you mustered up. Paul says it was by hearing along with the repentance and faith granted you by God (2 Tim 2:25; Phil 1:29). It was "by the Spirit". And in the same way, we will be perfected. Not by the flesh -- not by our efforts, our work, our self-esteem, our "bootstrapping". (Do you know what the phrase "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" means? It refers to the straps on one's boots. Now, try pulling on them really hard and see if you can pick yourself up that way. It refers to an impossibility.) It is accomplished by "God who is at work in you both to will and to do His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13) It is by God shaping us into the image of His Son (Rom 8:28-29).

We were created to be dependent on our Creator. Our problem has been that we tend to serve the creature instead of the Creator (Rom 1:25) as a matter of course. The solution is not "try harder". Despite the unending confidence of the warm-hearted crowd that is quite sure you can do it, the Bible portrays us as broken, futile, dependent. And God's Word says that God is the answer to that problem. Yes, we work (Phil 2:12), but not on our own power or will. Your everyday Christian walk is a "God thing". You can work at it (and should ... "with fear and trembling"), but it is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit in you. In that sense, then, rest. God says, "Be still and know that I am God." (Psa 46:10) Dependent on Him is the best place to be.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Hard Topics -- Gun Control

In March of 2015 Newsmax reported that "the number of Americans who live in a household with at least one gun is lower than it's ever been." In January of 2014 Infowars reported that household gun ownership was surging in a 40-year trend reversal. (Funny how it doesn't seem to jibe with these statistics.) Who are we to believe? According to the Infowars article, 56% of Americans do not keep guns at home. Then this interesting piece of information. "In the 1970s gun ownership was at 50 percent, falling slightly to 49 percent in the 1980s, 43 percent in the 1990s, and down to 35 percent in the last decade. In 2012, the figure was at 34 percent." Whether you side with Newsmax or Infowars, it would seem that household gun ownership isn't as high as we've been led to believe. On the other hand, we've also been led to believe that we are in a gun crisis. You know, with all these mass shootings and all. And, really, there's no point in denying it. Too many people are getting killed in too many shootings, regardless of where you stand on the question of gun ownership and gun control.

My question, however, is not about gun control. My question is about the problem. If it is true that gun ownership is down from the 70's but gun killings are up, it would appear to be obvious that gun ownership is not the problem. Guns may be a pet tool of those who wish to kill, but if it is true that killings are up, if it is true as the president has claimed that "No other country has this problem" and that "we have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world" (let's put off examining the reasonableness of those claims for the moment), what is the cause? The president and many other loud voices are saying it's guns. The statistics and reason suggest otherwise. What changed from the earlier days in America when gun ownership was prevalent but mass murders were not?

I think that part of the problem is that we can't look at what the problem is anymore. By undercutting the biblical perspective that "the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen 8:21) and replacing it with the much friendlier "people are basically good", we cannot look at people as the problem anymore. It's "things". It's violent video games and horror movies and crazy religions and "an atmosphere of violence and an acceptance of bullying, noninclusiveness, and intolerance." Oh, and, of course the presence of guns. Because, you see, if you look at the statistical evidence, when a society has no guns, gun violence goes down. Please, please, please don't actually think about that because if you do it might make you weep. Of course gun violence goes down, but does that equate to a decrease in crime or violence? No, no, we won't go there.

The Bible, on the other hand, is not silent on the topic. While our government and its cronies, the media, are tromping about working to control things, the Bible says, "What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel." (James 4:1-2) James says, "Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." (James 1:14-15) And, in case James isn't good enough for you, no less than Jesus says, "Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone." (Matt 15:17-20) Or, to put it in terms of the topic at hand, "to have a gun does not defile anyone." It is a problem of the heart. It's not a problem of nurture, but nature. It is not a problem of society or video games or movies or guns. It's a problem of the sin nature. And limiting access to guns won't change nature. Our culture has moved further and further from a community and closer toward rigid individualism where "I'm the most important". In a community, morals and values are shared; in our society they're radically individual. "You can't tell me what to do" is the mantra. Based on an inherent heart of evil, we're letting loose the dogs of sin and wonder why it's getting worse.

Please pay attention. I am not arguing against gun control. Nor am I arguing for it. Our Constitution (our Bill of Rights) prevents the government from an outright ban. Simple logic prevents the lifting of all controls. (Imagine, on their 18th birthday, the government issues a weapon to every American. "There you go, kid. Use it wisely." Yeah, that would be a nightmare scenario.) Like the question of dealing with the problem of ISIS, where some military force might limit some of the damage ISIS does to some extent, it may be that some greater gun control to curb some gun violence to some limited extent might help. That's not a bad thing. But don't believe the hype ... in either direction. Gun control will not solve the problem of the heart. Neither will free access to guns. Statistics fail. Unbiased views don't exist. And the Bible claims that the problem is not guns or society or ... all the other stuff people list. The hard part at this point, then, is for us Christians to realize that we have the solution in Jesus Christ and need to work at "distributing" Him to a once-"Christian nation" that is now a mission field. I don't know if the harvest is ripe in America, but I do know that we're told to go and make disciples. Here and now would be a good idea.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Two Steps Back

When I served in the Air Force, women were free to work at the same job I was doing. At my first base, I worked with three of them. It was interesting to watch. In one case, one was complaining that the guys treat her like she was fragile, like she was special, like they had to do things for her. Why didn't they just treat her like every other guy? So when we arrived at our aircraft, I told her, "You grab that 80 pound unit and I'll grab the toolbox." She was upset. Another time I was taking the long walk from the flightline back to the building with another girl because no trucks were available and she was asking me why guys felt the need to give her special treatment. "I'm just like anybody else." "Well," I said, "that's not quite true." She didn't believe me. "Come on," I said with a smile, "you know you use your looks and gender to get guys to do things for you, don't you?" She denied it emphatically. Just then, a truck appeared. She put on her brightest smile and waved coyly to the driver to stop. "You're doing it right now," I said. At another base I worked with (very capable) instructors, male and female. When the annual physical test came up, we all went out to do it together. Of course, as it turned out, we weren't actually able to do that because the females didn't have to run as far as the men did. Because the standards for women were not as stringent as for men.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced recently that women would be allowed into all combat roles in the military. "There will be no exceptions. They'll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They'll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers and everything else that was previously open only to men." And we live in a world these days in which the guy who thinks women ought to be protected and cared for rather than shot at is a sexist pig, demeaning to women.

I'm dumbfounded. Never mind that the military already determined that mixed gender combat squads are slower, weaker, and less lethal than male squads. I'm more concerned about what our society has become. Mothers and fathers are cheering for their daughters going off to do what no one should have to do. We bemoan (rightly) the sorry conditions of the combat troops. The Wall Street Journal published a commentary by a Marine that served in Iraq about what women should expect in combat. It's appalling. And parents and husbands are applauding their daughters and wives who now get to go experience that horror first hand. We've come a long way, baby.

I suppose my parents did me no favor by teaching me respect for women. I learned to be courteous and to open doors and the cardinal rule, "Ladies first". Apparently it's time to do away with that kind of respect and courtesy. They've progressed now so that they don't need it, want it, or deserve it. I just can't see how that's a step forward.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

The Beatific Vision

I'm one of those strange people that is looking forward to the day when I'm in the presence of Christ, no more part of this world. I understand Paul's "to die is gain" much better than "to live is Christ" (Phil 1:21). I'm looking forward to heaven.

The other day in church we were singing one of the songs that talks about heaven. It talked about the standard stuff ... how wonderful it will be with pearly gates and streets of gold, no more tears, only joy, all that warm and friendly stuff. And I thought, "You know, I just don't care about that. Those are not the things I want from heaven." I thought it because I realized it was odd. Isn't that what everyone wants? Not everyone. Not me.

A lot of people want to go to heaven for a lot of reasons. The pleasures offered, the "no more tears", the streets of gold. A lot of people are looking forward to heaven because they're tired of this life here. Discouraged by the sin and corruption they see all around them, they want an escape. Some want an escape from worldly sorrow and pain. I get all that. It's just not my motivation.

Why do I want to go to heaven? What is it that draws me there? There are two things. I really want to be with Christ, and I really want to stop being ... me. I want to be no longer capable of sinning. And then I realized that this is precisely what John talked about in his text on what theologians call "the Beatific Vision."

What is the Beatific Vision? That, simply put, is when we see Jesus. There is nothing more precious. To be in His presence, that is the ultimate glory. So John writes,
See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)
The Beatific Vision, then, is just that. "We will see Him just as He is." That's the first reason I'm looking forward to heaven with delight. Just to see Him as He is.

Notice, though, that John clarifies that encounter. We will see Him as He is because we will be like Him. No, not deity, but we will be partakers of the divine nature. We won't "see through a glass darkly" (1 Cor 13:12). We will finally be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29). No more sin nature. No more blinded eyes. To know Him fully because we have been shaped into His shape.

That's why I'm looking forward to heaven. "Beatific" means "blissful", and that is a blissful vision to me, to be in His presence without the tinge of my sin. That is my longing.