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Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Joy of Pain

Much of our lives are spent in avoiding pain and finding pleasure. I'd venture to guess that most of our lives is spent in those two pursuits. Our two primary questions in life are "What gives me pleasure?" (so that I can pursue that) and "What causes me pain?" (to be sure not to do that). Given the amount of time, money, and effort spent on these two things, it might strike you as odd that the Bible takes a very different point of view on it.

According to Scripture, suffering is not a bad thing. After his sufferings, Job said, "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him." (Job 13:15) But that's more of an enduring of suffering rather than an embrace. No, Paul said, "I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Cor 12:10) Now, who do you know who speaks of being "well content" with distress and persecutions? Paul did. James said we are to "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4) That is, real benefit can be found in trials.

In his first epistle, Peter writes about the blessings we have in Christ. He ends that section with "In this you greatly rejoice," which is fine, except that he didn't end the thought there. Sure you greatly rejoice in the marvelous blessings "even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials." (1 Peter 1:6) Oh, now, see? Trials hurt. Suffering is something to be endured. But wait! Peter gives us a reason for the distress. He says it is "so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:7) Who is it that knows Christ and His blessings and does not want to obtain proof of faith and give praise and glory and honor to Christ? Indeed, Peter says that our sufferings are a revelation of Christ.

Philip Yancey wrote a book entitled Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants. Ain't it the truth? But when the apostles were beaten for preaching the Gospel, their response was not the response of the typical American Christian. "They went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name." (Acts 5:41) You see, they did consider it a gift to suffer for Christ. James did consider it beneficial to endure trials. Paul did find it a positive to suffer weakness and insults and distresses and persecutions and difficulties. The question, then, is will you and I?

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Testimony of the Martyr

It is said that one of the key proofs of the truth of Christianity is her martyrs. I mean, large numbers of people have given their lives for their faith, beginning with every single Apostle except John. It sounds impressive, perhaps even convincing, but given the counter question, you might see the problem. "What about the Muslims? Those pilots that flew airplanes into buildings and the suicide bombers who gave their lives for their faith? Does that mean that Islam is just as true?"

You can see, then, that we need to be more careful when we say that those who gave their life for the faith demonstrate the truth of it. On the surface, the claim isn't accurate. Only when you look a little more carefully will it work.

There is a fundamental difference between a suicide bomber and the Apostles who died for their faith. The key difference is their faith. That is, both died for what they believed to be true, but there they diverge. A long history of Christians gave their lives for their faith as have Muslims for their faith, but the Apostles are a different story. On the surface, it looks the same. They gave their lives for what they believed, but what did they believe? That is the difference. Later Christians and current Muslim suicides gave their lives for a belief system. The Apostles, on the other hand, gave their lives for a truth claim -- a verifiable, testable, falsifiable, empirical truth claim. Peter wrote, "We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty." (2 Peter 1:16) Paul wrote, "I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me." (1 Cor 15:3-8) Notice the list of truth claims here. In effect, Paul is saying, "Don't believe me about the Resurrection? Ask Peter. Ask the other Apostles. Ask those other 500 or so. Ask James. No, really, ask James, the brother of Christ who wasn't even a believer when Christ died. Hey, look at me! I was an enemy of Christ, but I'm an eyewitness myself."

The skeptic would like you to believe that it's a matter of faith against reason. It is, indeed, a matter of faith. It is a matter of belief and where you place your confidence. No doubt. (Play on words, there.) But the Resurrection is attested by eyewitness accounts from people who were either complete idiots making up an outlandish story for which they died without the good sense to recant before being put to death -- "Okay, okay, you got me. It was just a story. We were trying to put together what we thought was a good religion, but dying for a lie makes no sense at all." -- or their deaths for their truth claims itself is evidence that their faith was based on the truth. That is the fundamental difference between those particular martyrs for the faith and every other martyr for their faith. In that sense, these martyrs are compelling evidence for the truth of the Christian faith because they died for things they said they witnessed, not merely believed.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Coercing the Clergy

According to the Associated Press, "Georgia's governor on Monday vetoed legislation allowing clergy to refuse performing gay marriages and protecting people who refuse to attend the ceremonies, after an outcry and threats of boycotts from some large corporations and Hollywood stars." The move was all about "protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people." (Just an idle question here ... has there been much discrimination against bisexuals? Never mind.)

As it stands now, with this veto, based on the text of HB 757, it is legal in the state of Georgia to require religious officials to perform marriage ceremonies in violation of their legal right to free exercise of religion (right from the text) and to infringe on the religious freedom of property owners of religious institutions or owners and employees of businesses. You may argue that religious freedom is protected, but the law, along with Coca-Cola, the NFL, other big-name companies, and prominent Hollywood figures and studios all appear to disagree with you.

The governor, a Republican, in vetoing a bill put out by the Republican-led legislature, said, "I do not respond very well to insults or to threats. The people of Georgia deserve a leader who will make sound judgments based on solid reasons that are not inflamed by emotion." By which he apparently means, "I do not respond very well to threats. I succumb to them." The governor said, "Georgia is a welcoming state; it is full of loving, kind and generous people." I assume that excludes welcoming people with religious convictions. Matt McTighe, executive director for Freedom for All Americans, said, "We thank Governor Deal for doing the right thing." I would guess that "Freedom for All Americans" necessarily excludes clergy or other people with religious convictions. These Christians are saying, "You may believe that it's right to change the definition of marriage, but I don't, so please exclude me from this." The loudest voices in response are saying, "No! You will agree with our view on this and forego your religious convictions -- even the clergy. Or suffer the consequences."

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Attitude of the Heart

In Eugene, OR, in 1957 the son of missionaries to India established the Institute of Church Growth. In 1965 Fuller Theological Seminary asked him to establish the School of World Mission. The Church Growth Movement was at hand. By 1975 people like Bill Hybels and Rick Warren were using classic marketing techniques to increase the sizes of their churches. "Growth," you know. The idea was to structure your church so that the maximum number of people would come. After all, our Lord commanded us to make disciples (Matt 28:18-20), so growth would surely happen, right?

There is, however, a distinct difference between "make disciples" and "grow churches". It might not be readily visible at the surface. If you "make disciples", it would necessarily follow that your numbers would increase (your church would grow). So it was good, right? You'd think so, but there is a difference.

The movement that was called "the Church Growth Movement" is gone, but left in its wake is the marketing of the church. So churches will try to figure out what techniques and methods will bring in the most people. Do people prefer rock bands or choirs? Pick whatever they prefer. Do people not like the term "Sunday School" but do like "Life Groups"? Change the name. Is it more interesting to put a video screen up than to simply preach? Opt for the screen. Stay with the market. Keep up to date. Churches are competing with other things like entertainment and football, so if they're going to keep their numbers up, they're going to have to provide things more interesting than their competition.

This, however, is not "make disciples". Making disciples is oriented not to numbers, but to teaching the truth and building personal relationships. The modern view of success is an accounting-driven method with metrics for evaluating performance. The modern view of "church" incorporates this view. Scripture ... does not.

The attitude called for by Jesus on the part of His disciples is, when you analyze it, radically different. It begins with "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." (Matt 28:18) Notice that this precludes programs and metrics. We don't build the church. He does. Numbers are irrelevant. The command, instead, is to "make disciples of all the nations" (Matt 28:19), not "increase the numbers of people going to your local church." We can, certainly, do the latter without doing the former. I would submit that, in fact, we're very good at this, given the woeful lack of making disciples in most churches. The command is to teach them "to observe all that I commanded you." (Matt 28:20) Again, getting the people in the door is easy. But it seems as if pitifully few churches actually teach "most" let alone "all" of what disciples need to learn. (That, I believe, is a function of the marketing world as well. You need to teach to the lowest common denominator and "make it applicable" because people won't like it otherwise.)

I think that the marketing techniques of most churches in America today reflected in their architecture, modernizations, technology, musical choices, and minimizing of preaching the Word as deeply as they can is a direct result of this idea that we need to "grow the church" and that we can measure our success with this by counting heads. We have missed the point that Christ said He would build His church (compare Matt 16:18 with Acts 2:47, for instance). We have forgotten that we are to make disciples, not numbers, and that we are to teach them to observe all that Christ taught, not just the parts that will make them feel better. The difference between "make disciples" and "church growth" is in the attitude. One aims at the truth and maturing believers and the other aims at numbers. Most churches prefer the latter. The result is a spiritually fat, dumb, and happy group of people that may or may not be the church.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

He's Alive!

Perhaps the singularly most important event in the life of Christ is the event we celebrate today -- the Resurrection. Perhaps.

We get that His birth (Matt 1:18), with His Father as God and His mother as the virgin, Mary, was important. It's uniqueness declared a unique event and a unique person. (The term the King James Bible translates "only begotten" is most literally "one of a kind". The μονογενής -- monogenēs -- is the one (mono) kind (genus), the Son of God.) His sinless life (Heb 4:15) was absolutely essential. The one that sins owes his own debt to God (Ezek 18:20); only the One who does not sin is capable of taking on the sin of others (2 Cor 5:21). It was absolutely critical that Christ die on the cross as the Lamb of God. In doing that He fulfilled the prophecies and took on your sin and mine. He bore our curse. No crucifixion, no salvation.

But the Resurrection ... well, imagine for a moment a NASA moon launch in the 60's. When the Apollo 13 capsule, crippled and critical, entered the Earth's atmosphere, both the ground crew and the astronauts had done everything they could to ensure a safe return. Still, when that communication blackout occurred (as it did on every reentry), there were tense moments waiting for a response. It actually was longer than anticipated. It was not until communication was regained that success was known. The same is true with the Resurrection. At that critical moment when the man, Jesus, was executed and buried, there was the (human) possibility that He had been a man who was executed or that He was, in fact, God the Son, taking on the sin of the world. Only when He rose as He predicted did we know which it was. It is said you can't keep a good man down. Since there is no good man but Christ, I suppose it is true.

Paul considered it "the gospel" (1 Cor 15:1), declaring, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also." (1 Cor 15:3-8) (Isn't it interesting that Paul felt no compulsion to defend His death. It was His resurrection that required witnesses.) On the Resurrection Paul wrote:
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. (1 Cor 15:13-21)
"If Christ was not raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins." I think that qualifies as "singularly important". On the other hand, because He lives, we can be confident that He took our sin. Because He lives, we will live. Because He lives, death is overcome.

Maybe you're lackadaisical about Easter. You know, too much commercialism and candy and eggs. Okay, fine, but do not miss the event most worth celebrating -- the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the source of our hope, the point of our certainty. Hallelujah! The Lord is risen!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Anti-bias Bias

Have you heard this one? "You're biased, so your view doesn't count." I've heard it when "scholars" have questioned the use and validity of Scripture. "You know," they'll say, "the authors of the Gospels were biased, so we can't really take their word regarding the stories of Christ." I've heard it among Christians who say, "Don't listen to that theological position; they have their roots in Augustinian philosophy." I heard it recently when the American College of Pediatricians (ACP)1 put out a report that says that trying to change the sex of a child is harmful to the child. "Oh, no," the detractors say, "that's a group with Judeo-Christian, traditional values, opposed to abortion and gay adoption and even overexposure to electronic media. You can't trust them." See? "You're biased, so your view doesn't count."

The ACP, for instance, made its first mistake in that report with its first claim. "Human sexuality is an objective biological binary trait: 'XY' and 'XX' are genetic markers of health — not genetic markers of a disorder." Their premise was clearly faulty: "Facts — not ideology — determine reality." I mean, who thinks this way? What nonsense! Everyone knows that Christians cannot be trusted to present unbiased views on Christian matters and Christians in science cannot be trusted to make scientific comments on matters of science.

It is, of course, nonsense. The skeptic who claims that you can't trust the accounts from authors of the Gospels because of their bias is saying so from his bias. The Evolutionist who argues for Evolution is doing so from his bias. Sure, the Christian is arguing from his bias, but no one is not.

In terms of the news media, lots of people like to think that Fox is biased and CNN is not. (Feel free to fill in your favorite left or right media outlet for those two.) Rest assured, it is not so. It cannot be. Without bias, nothing happens. You are biased. I am biased. Everyone is biased. It is not bias that determines the truth or validity of the position. It is the truth or validity of the position that determines that.

Some of you might be tempted to follow that bad example. "Don't listen to them;" (where "them" may refer to the Christian right or the Christian left or the liberal media or the conservative media or whatever bias there might be) "You can't trust them." It is, to be sure, a convenient means of filtering truth claims where you don't have to evaluate them all, but it will certainly prove to eliminate truthful truth claims in one or more of these statements. Don't be lazy. Do the right thing. Even John said, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God." (1 John 4:1)
1 Wikipedia says that the ACP is "a socially conservative association of pediatricians and other healthcare professionals in the United States." They split from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) over the issue of gay adoption, arguing that a mother and a father are healthier parents than two people of the same gender for the sake of the child. But on one discussion I saw regarding their statement, the argument was that because they are religious and conservative and hold views that are opposed to the popular culture, they are distorting science. For those keeping count, this is what is called an ad hominem argument, attacking the character of the presenter of an argument without engaging the argument.

Friday, March 25, 2016


You've seen the pictures, I'm sure. Jesus on the cross is a familiar image. Except I doubt if the ones we see are very accurate.

Jesus's torment began in the Garden of Gethsemane. There He told His disciples, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me." (Matt 26:38) Getting off alone, He prayed to the Father, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." (Matt 26:39) Luke (the physician) reports that His grief was so intense that "being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground." (Luke 22:44) The medical term is hematohidrosis where, under great stress, the blood vessels around the sweat glands can mix blood with sweat. Luke reports that so great was His distress there that "an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him." (Luke 22:43). And so it began.

He was on trial all night between Annas and the Sanhedrin. He was slapped and insulted. His close disciple, Peter, denied even knowing Him ... three times. In the morning He was sent to Pilate, then to Herod, then back to Pilate. He was whipped and beaten. The classic Roman whipping would have torn the flesh from His back. The beatings included fists and a crown of thorns, nail-like spikes that were driven into His head with sticks. They hit Him and pulled out His beard. They beat Him until His face was no longer recognizable as a man (Isa 50:6; Isa 52:14). Finally, they placed that rough-hewn cross piece on His torn and bleeding back and made Him carry it to His crucifixion. He was too weak to complete the job and someone else was pressed into service.

At Golgotha, they stripped Him of His clothing, laid Him on the cross, and drove spikes through His wrists and ankles. They lifted Him up, most likely naked, and displayed His humiliation and agony to all, placed between two thieves. To the Jew, Jesus stood cursed, hung on a tree. His torment would be unendurable to most of us. The usual cause of death in a crucifixion is not the beating or the nails, but asphyxiation. The body hangs with its weight on outstretched, nailed wrists and a spike through the ankles. In this position, breathing is impossible. In order to exhale, He would have to pull His body up on the spikes in wrists and ankles to give His lungs room to operate. (They broke their legs because that would cause faster asphyxiation.) The biblical accounts tell that Jesus spoke 7 times on the cross. Most of them were out of concern for others. In all of the torture, pain, and distress there is only one moment that Jesus is said to have cried out. That was the moment at which the Father laid on His perfect Son the sins of us all. At that moment Jesus's worst agony occurred and He cried, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matt 27:46)

We don't actually know the horrors of the cross that Jesus faced for us. We get glimpses. The sweat as drops of blood, the all-night trial of an innocent, the beatings and whippings, the cruelty and hate, we can possibly get an idea of that. The crucifixion itself is not part of our experience, but we can imagine the nails, the agony, the physical and emotional torment. But that moment, that point in which the Son of God, in perfect connection with the Father, was separated from the Father ... that one isn't something that connects with our experience at all. And He did it for you and me.

We've seen the art. We know what it was like. Rest assured, it was nothing like that. And no painting or even Hollywood production can capture that moment when Christ bore our sin. It's something we must not forget.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:21-24)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Going to Church

I'm going to use a phrase which, I'm pretty sure, will conjure up an image to most of you with reasonable similarity. "I went to church last Sunday." Okay, now, I'm pretty sure that most of you now have some sort of an image that involves a building, a sign on the front, maybe a cross or something, a place in which people gather. And if I were to tell you that phrase, that image would be fairly accurate.

Here's the thing. Nowhere in Scripture can you find anything remotely like that image associated with the word, "church". Jesus said, "Upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." (Matt 16:18) I'm pretty sure that isn't a reference to a building program. At the death of Ananias and Sapphira Luke tells us, "And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things." (Acts 5:11) I'm confident that he wasn't talking about a frightened cathedral. Paul told the Ephesian elders, "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." (Acts 20:28) I cannot picture these guys being asked to shepherd a building. No, "the church" in Scripture is not the building you think of first when you hear the term.

In the Bible the "church" refers to the Body of Christ (Rom 12:4-5). The word is ἐκκλησία -- ekklēsia. It refers to "the called out ones". The church is not a building or even a place, but people. The term refers to the elect, the people of God. We are called "the temple of God" (1 Cor 3:16) and the Bride of Christ (Eph 5:32). The church is us.

Suddenly, you see, the term takes on a new sense. Why go to church? Because we are the church. Why care about the church? Because we are the church. Why serve in the church? Because we are the church. In the New Testament the church met in houses (Acts 2:46; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15) and in places of worship. "Where" was not important. Because we are the church. So "church" becomes an investment in lives rather than a building in which we gather and worship. When we "go to church", the church arrives when we do and leaves when we do.

Is it okay to skip church? Not if fellowship means anything. Is it okay to just attend church? Not if "the called out ones", gifted by the Spirit, called by God means anything. Because, you see, the building you think of as church is not the church. We are. An allegiance to a building might be silly, but a failure to involve ourselves in the lives of fellow believers is sin.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Too Close for Comfort

She's crying. He hasn't been kind ... to her or to their children. He has been touchy and, consequently, both oversensitive and overbearing. The slightest offense causes him to lash out which simply serves to cause further offense. They're both Christians, mind you, who know the Lord, but times are tough, emotions are taut, and things aren't looking good.

Who does he go to who can cuff him behind the ear and ask, "What are you thinking? What's going on that is so bad that you're willing to drive away your family? What in your life is so bad that you choose to ignore every command from God about being a good father and a good husband?" Will she go to support structures that will encourage her to trust in the Lord and "be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior" (1 Peter 3:1-2), or will they encourage her to get out with her kids and "head for safety"? You know, "You gotta look out for yourself first."

The answers to those questions will likely depend on your underlying view. Do we go with the world's view, or do we take God's perspective? Unfortunately, for a large number of American Christians, the answer is the former rather than the latter. The Bible says that we are to "confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another" (James 5:16). God's Word says we are to "Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ." (Gal 6:2) That last one, in fact, is on the tails of the verse that says, "Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted." (Gal 6:1) Jesus told His disciples, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)

So how did we get here from there? How did we end up in a largely electronically-connected world that will quickly "unfriend" you if you tell them they're doing something wrong and please, oh, please, don't get so close that you can see my flaws and address them? When did it become a good thing for Christians to walk alone, to violate God's commands and expect no help and no correction? When did this become a "tolerant and loving" thing to do? Mind you, I'm not suggesting that there was a time in the near past when something changed and we're here now. No, I'm pretty sure we've been like this probably since Adam. We're just more blatant today. We're independent Americans who don't need or want any help at least on spiritual or sin issues and we're better off standing on our own two feet ... while we drag down family and friends and the church itself.

I pray a lot for the church, for believers, for myself, because these things shouldn't be this way and I suspect only God can make it any different.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Make What?

When Jesus ascended to heaven after His resurrection, He left approximately 120 disciples (Acts 1:15) to do the task that He assigned them, that of being "My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (Acts 1:8) Oh, sure, they would have the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8), but just on the face of it 120 versus the world seemed like a big job.

Well, of course, you know the story. In the very next event the disciples were in Jerusalem at Pentecost, received the Holy Spirit, and started sharing the Gospel in every tongue around (Acts 2:1-11). Peter had to explain that they were not drunk and we get Peter's first sermon. As a result of that sermon, the Scriptures say that "those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls." (Acts 2:41) Okay, now we're talking some better numbers, right? I mean, 120 against the world is pretty slim, but 3,120 is much better.

What would have to happen in order to get these 3,000 extra converts up to speed in order to make them part of the job of being witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the remotest part of the earth? These converts would have to be "educated". They'd have to be taught, trained, matured, nurtured, unified. And how does that occur?

The end of the second chapter of Acts gives us the answer.
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
I have to be honest. This sounds wonderful. Imagine a church (meaning a gathering of "the called out ones") devoted to the apostles' teaching, to fellowship, to eating together, and to prayer. Imagine that! These people really engaged. They were marked by sincerity of heart, by sharing with each other, by praising God. And the result of this "program" (It's in quotes because no one arranged it; it just happened.) was that "the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved." (Acts 2:47) More workers for the harvest.

Do you see anything different today? I have to say I do. Jesus gave us the Great Commission. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matt 28:19-20) Make disciples. Baptize them. Teach them "all that I commanded you." Make converts? Not on your life. Gather proselytes? Don't even think it. Make disciples.

To be sure, a lot of Christians today aren't particularly interested in preaching the Gospel (Mark 16:15). Shame on us. Many of us don't know how. Many don't care enough to find out how. But among the remainder who do know and do care to do it, how many are interested in making disciples? We don't even like to use the word anymore. We don't want to "disciple" someone. Maybe "mentor". That sounds less ... arrogant. But we don't like to do that, either. "Too much work." "Too much time." "I'm not mature enough myself." "We're too busy and too independent and it's clearly someone else's job." Shame on us!

We are commanded by Christ (you know, the One whose name is at the beginning of our term, Christian) to make disciples. We don't really want to make converts. We're pretty sure we're not going to make disciples. When the apostles did it in the first century church, the Word says one of the results was more disciples and another was "favor with all the people." (Acts 2:47) We wonder why the church today is so anemic. We wonder why so many of those outside of the church think of us as hypocrites. We wonder why the church is so culture-saturated instead of Scripture-saturated. We wonder why the church in America appears to be a river 5 miles wide and 1 inch deep. Maybe, just maybe, if we were being obedient to Christ's command to make disciples rather than converts, we'd see a different kind of church (Eph 4:11-16). Instead, we understand quite well why Jesus asked, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8)

Monday, March 21, 2016

Speaking for God

On more than one occasion by more than one person I've been accused or heard the accusation of "speaking for God". You know how that goes.

Christian: "You know, the Bible says that those who practice homosexual behavior won't inherit the kingdom of God."

Skeptic: "You need to be careful. You're making your own opinions out to be God's words."

Christian: "Umm, no, I'm just quoting the Bible."

Okay, maybe it's not "just quoting the Bible" all the time. It might be an extra step. Like reading, "There is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12) and concluding, "Jesus is the only way." You know, the exclusivity of faith in Christ. You see, it does not say, "Christianity is the only way to salvation", so concluding that is, well, just an opinion. Right? Or when Jesus gives the option of "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate" (Matt 19:4-6) or be a eunuch (Matt 19:12), we are not supposed to conclude that these are the only two choices? Either a man and a woman can marry for life or be celibate. You know, like the Church has understood it since the day He said it. But that's making my thoughts (read "the understanding of all of Christendom since the beginning") God's thoughts.

I'm trying to figure out what's being said here. When they complain that we read and feed back what the Bible says as true and call it "speaking for God", what are they saying? I can only think of a few things.

"I know what God thinks and that's not it."

This, of course, can't be what they're saying. I mean, that's just as arrogant as what they're decrying. Can't be it. Can it?

"I don't know what God thinks but that's not it."

This seems equally ludicrous. If you don't know what God thinks, you can't know what He doesn't think. You can't say with any certainty that this is not what He thinks.

"No one can know what God thinks."

Perhaps "know" is not the right word here. "Be sure"? "State with confidence"? It is, of course, an unprovable position. Isaiah didn't question it when he wrote, "The LORD says, 'I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these." (Isa 45:6-7) "Now, now," they'd have to say, "don't be putting words in God's mouth." Paul didn't quibble when he wrote to the church at Corinth, "To the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband." (1 Cor 7:10) "Paul, Paul, who do you think you are? God?" Nor has most of Christendom had a problem with the plain texts of the Bible. It is God's Word. If it is clear, then, it is what God thinks, and saying so isn't putting my words into God's mouth.

Oddly enough, it appears that those who are complaining that a straightforward reading of Scripture -- reading it like it is written and taking it as it appears to mean -- is not a reasonable means of knowing what God thinks are pretty sure that they know what He thinks ... at least enough to know you're wrong. At least enough to know that you shouldn't be saying that you understand the passage or can draw reasonable and correct conclusions from it. They know that God wants you to be humble enough not to know if you know. Only in this day and age is embracing ignorance counted as humility.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

First Concerns

It was quite a while in my Christian life before I saw this. English problems.
"And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Pray, then, in this way: 'Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.'" (Matt 6:7-9)
Most of us know this text from Jesus's Sermon on the Mount. A lot of non-Christians know the Lord's Prayer. In it He teaches His disciples not to pray as the Gentiles do, but to pray "in this way". What way?

The Lord's Prayer (as it is classically known) starts with the proper address: "Our Father who is in heaven." Not some saint or any other useless address. The Father. In heaven. Over all. Good start.

Now, most of us think that the second phrase is part of the address. "Hallowed be Your name." "Yes, we know," they'll typically say. "That means His name is holy." See what I mean? English problems.

First, in English -- at least, in our culture -- a name is a term for something or someone. But in the culture of the time the name represented the person. It represented the power and the authority and the character of the person. Thus, the reference to "Your name" is a reference to all that God is.

But the real problem is in the language itself. The use of the term "hallowed" as well as the verb, "be", all combined with the poetic phrasing, tends to make us miss this. This phrase is not a statement of fact ("Your name is holy."), but actually a prayer request. That is, if the intent was to make a statement of fact, it would have read, "Hallowed is Your name." Thus, this is a request that God's name -- His character -- would be regarded as holy.

Of all the attributes of God, His holiness is on one hand the most intense, as demonstrated by the triple repetition of the term not once but twice in Scripture (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8) and by its repeated use throughout Scripture, and on the other the most difficult for us. Holiness is "otherness", and we are naturally afraid of "other". But God is "other." The psalmist quotes God as chiding us with "You thought that I was just like you." (Psa 50:21) Because we do think that and He is not. He is holy. When Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, were struck dead while performing their duties (Lev 10:1), Moses calmed Aaron by telling him, "It is what the LORD spoke, saying, 'By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored.'" (Lev 10:3) With that, Aaron kept silent. Because the holiness of God is over all.

We've tended to lower that bar, so to speak. Keep Him as holy? Well, sort of. Of course, using His name lightly as an expression of surprise or outrage is okay. And, of course, we're pretty sure He's not that "big scary guy in the sky", but more like "the big guy", our pal. We've eaten away at His holiness until it's largely just a shell. Brothers, these things ought not be.

Let's join Christ in praying that God's name -- God's character and person -- would be regarded as "holy, holy, holy." Only with God in His proper place can we properly know Him. And we want to know Him.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Bible Question

Someone help me out. I came across this verse in Acts and trying to figure out how it does not mean what it obviously appears to mean.

Context, first. The event takes place just after Pentecost and the arrival of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). Peter and John are going to the Temple to pray (Acts 3:1). They come across a man, lame from birth, begging at the gate. Peter gives his famous, "Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee" (Acts 3:6) line (Can you tell I was raised on King James?) and commands him to stand and is healed. Wow! (Apparently this man didn't bring faith to the equation.) Well, of course, the crowd is all impressed so Peter launches into his next big sermon (Acts 3:12-26). Okay, that's the context. Now, in his explanation of the event they had all witnesses, Peter says this.
"And His name--by faith in His name--has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is by Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all." (Acts 3:16)
Now, I know this is a touchy subject and not a few are unhappy about it, so I'm asking the question. What did Peter mean? Most of it is abundantly clear. The name of Christ made this man strong. Got it. "By faith in His name." Clear. But about this faith Peter says that "the faith that is by Jesus" made this man whole. It looks like Peter is saying that, indeed, this lame man didn't bring his own faith to the equation. It looks like Peter is saying that the "faith in His name" required to heal the man was provided by Jesus. Now, of course, he may have been referring not to any faith on the part of the man. Peter may have been referring to Peter and John's faith in the name of Jesus that healed the man. Fine with me. But it still looks like Peter names the source of that faith as Jesus Himself.

What am I missing?

Friday, March 18, 2016

Not Many Wise

So, the pastor was preaching from Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth when we came across this item.
I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (1 Cor 2:3-5)
He said before that, "I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." (1 Cor 2:2) He said "I was weak" and "in fear" and "not persuasive". Now, isn't that odd? Oh, he tells why: "so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God."

Well, now, isn't that strange? We have a whole field in Christendom that we call "Apologetics" that is devoted to the defense of the faith. We are commanded to always be "ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you," (1 Peter 3:15), and to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints." (Jude 1:3) And Paul says he didn't want them to have their faith resting on the wisdom of men.

Well, now, I can already hear today's Christians standing up to duel with Paul. "Hey! You have to be wise and eloquent and know the facts. You can't defend the truth with just the power of God or even the Word of God." (I've actually heard them argue that.) "You need good arguments and good logic." They'll even argue that the basis of Christian truth is human reason. But it wasn't me; it was Paul who said he was weak and not eloquent "so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men."

We are supposed to be ready to answer, to contend, to give an account. It is commanded. But rest assured it is not human logic that is the bottom line. That's why, when you hear about the latest discovery in science that supports Christianity or a really good apologetic line of reasoning defending God, it's best not to get too excited. We're not grounding our faith in the wisdom of men; we're basing our faith on the power of God.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Love, Grace, and Mercy

If there was a list of words in the Christian vocabulary that people liked best, I think these three would be right up there at the top. I mean, who doesn't like love? Who doesn't appreciate grace? (Even secular people know "Amazing Grace".) And who doesn't love mercy? These are great aspects to the Gospel. The problem I see is that, in our modern world of ever-shifting English, I'm afraid we're all using and enjoying these terms ... without likely understanding what they mean. I think we think we do, but I think the terminology has been moving under our feet.

Love is a big one. Say the word and people think all sorts of things: hugs, warm feelings, affection, even sex. Of course, the Bible doesn't seem to include those. In Paul's lengthy description in 1 Corinthians 13 you don't find a single mention of affection, warm feelings and definitely not sex. In biblical terms, in fact, it is not a feeling; it is a command. You cannot command feelings. The thing that we think of as "love" is the natural feelings that likely result from the biblical version, but in the Bible love is certainly not a feeling. Instead, it is a selflessness, a focus on the best interests of the loved one.

We all know grace. That's favor. Well, favor with a twist. Paul says that grace is not grace if it's earned (Rom 11:6). Biblical grace, then, is favor shown apart from merit. Unmerited favor. Grace is doing good to those without regard for whether they deserve it or not.

Mercy is sort of the flip side of grace. If grace is when favor is given that we don't deserve, mercy is when disfavor is not given that we do deserve. Mercy, in a sense, is opposed to justice in that it defers the just consequences of sin.

So, as we know, we are commanded to love one another. We are to love fellow believers (John 13:35). We are to love our neighbors (Matt 22:39). We're even supposed to love our enemies (Matt 5:43-44). Wait ... wait ... remember, we're not talking about "have affection for" fellow believers, our neighbors, or our enemies. This is the patient and kind love, the love that is not envious, not boastful, not arrogant, not rude. It is the kind of love that doesn't insist on its own way, is not easily irritated or resentful. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. It never ends (1 Cor 13:4-8). That kind of love. Oh, and by the way, I skipped right over the statement that the love we're supposed to have for others "does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth." (1 Cor 13:6) Oh, now, see? So if I love my fellow believers, my neighbors, and even my enemies, I will not ignore or overlook or even rejoice in their wrongdoing. That's not love.

The New Testament is rich in "grace", but it was from the beginning. Adam didn't earn God's favor; it was grace. "Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD." (Gen 6:8) The promise in Zechariah was "I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace ..." (Zech 12:10). Jesus came onto the scene "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14) and "from His fullness we have all received grace upon grace" (John 1:16). We "are justified by His grace as a gift" (Rom 3:24), saved by grace through faith apart from works (Eph 2:8-9). We are "not under law but under grace" (Rom 6:14). The suggestion, then, is that we are not supposed to pay any attention (or, at least, very much attention) to sin. "It's all about grace. Don't worry about it!" Again, just as in the case of love, this is problematic. If love is seeking the best for another, then ignoring the peril another is in is not love. Now we have "grace". If we're talking about showing favor, it is not grace to ignore the peril another is in. Unmerited favor would mean that despite the fact that the person in question has earned God's just wrath (and perhaps even your own), you will be favorable to them by giving them the Gospel that all are sinners and they need Jesus. You will be favorable to fellow (sinful) believers who are straying and need to be restored. Ignoring the perils of sin in another's life is not "grace".

Then there's mercy. Truth be told, the primary question of justice is not ultimately something we can do anything about. As David told God, "Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment." (Psa 51:4) Justice for the sin of others is not meted out by you and me. We can be merciful to others by not being easily irritated, by not storing up offenses, by not expressing "righteous indignation" (which, I would suggest, is rarely righteous and usually beyond "indignation"). But we don't get to hand out justice. However, we do have the answer, the way to mercy from God. That is not by means of ignoring sin, but by addressing it, calling as Christ did for repentance, and presenting faith in Christ as forgiveness and a right relationship with God.

You see, while love, grace, and mercy are indeed all wonderful words in the Christian vocabulary, too many today are using them falsely to demand of God's people that they ignore sin, forget about God's instructions, and "just get along". Love, grace, and mercy are magnificent aspects to the Christian lifestyle and message. "Ignore sin" is directly opposed to love, grace, and mercy. Don't buy that false dichotomy.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Reformed (Not That Kind)

Yes, I know. "When Stan uses that word, 'Reformed', he means 'Calvinism'." Well, perhaps sometimes. Not this time. Not the topic. Those of you who might tune out any conversation on the topic of Reformed doctrines can keep reading.

There is a strong perception in the world certainly but also among Christians that the purpose of God on earth is largely to make bad people into good people. We get stuck in this "moralistic" kind of thinking where the important thing is that we be good. The important thing is that we be reformed, made nice, stop being bad. Funny thing ... I can't find that stated purpose in the Bible. Oh, maybe it's there. I just can't find it. What I do find is quite different.

In the introduction to John's Gospel we read this: "To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God." (John 1:12) Now, I suppose to the 21st century mind this doesn't bring up any questions or anything. I mean, "We're all God's children", right? To the Jewish mind, that wasn't true. And, in fact, to the biblical mind it just isn't so. Oh, no. Jesus said, for instance, that the Pharisees were "of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires." (John 8:44) (He was a silver-tongued sort, wasn't He?) Biblically we are sons of God or sons of Satan. Paul wrote, "He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will." (Eph 1:5) That is, God's foreordained plan was to make us suitable "for adoption as sons". Not "good boys and girls", but adopted children. "When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons." (Gal 4:4-5)

See? That's not "good little boys and girls". That's children of God. How are we made suitable for adoption? By being good? (See? Maybe we can slip it back in there.) No. "Those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers." (Rom 8:29) God's predestined plan was to conform us to the image of His Son. To make us Christ's brothers!

Okay, so to recap thus far. God's plan was to not make us good, but make us His children. He would do so by conforming us to the image of His Son. Not reform. Not "good". Adoption.

God had another issue address to achieve this plan. It is expressed simply in Paul's epistle to the church at Ephesus. "You were dead in the trespasses and sins." (Eph 2:1) Adopting dead people isn't a feasible plan. There had to be a remedy to our spiritually-dead condition. So, "you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses." (Col 2:13) Sins needed to be forgiven, certainly, but we also need to be made alive. "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18)

God, then, in His plan to make children out of His creation, sent His Son to die for our sins and rise from the dead (critical to the plan) so that we could be "made alive in the Spirit." That is, not "bad people into good people" (reform), but dead people into live people (Life).

Jesus had more to say on this life. "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10) You see? That was His purpose. (It wasn't a side effect.) About the life He came to give He said in His High Priestly prayer, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You, since You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him." (John 17:1-2) In order to glorify the Father He came to give eternal life. He went on to say, "And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." (John 17:3)

I see a three-fold purpose statement here. God's business is that of 1) making dead people into live people in order to 2) conform them to Christ's image and adopt them as sons to 3) put them in relationship with God.

I do not see "make bad people into good people." Reform is the singular focus of most when it comes to religion, but the approach of the Godhead (Father, Son, and Spirit) is to make dead people into living people, adopt them, and give them a relationship with God. Now, if that does not change behavior, it isn't real, but a change in behavior is not the point. Intimacy with God via regeneration and adoption is.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


A recent news item came out about "the most anti-gay city" in America. It was the product of a company that examined Twitter using 154 "derogatory terms" as a search function looking for racist, ethnic, sexist, and "anti-gay" (I put the quotes around it to encompass all its ramifications) tweets. They examined the data and discovered that Buffalo, NY, was the most anti-gay with 168 per 100,000 tweets that were homophobic.

I'm not about to examine the reliability of such a story. Questions like "What were the 154 terms?" and "How was it determined that they were actually intended as derogatory?" are never answered. The story admits, for instance, that in a similar study the "N-word" was searched for, but they recognized that it was not necessarily motivated by racism. That is, searches for certain words may or may not provide insight into racism, sexism, or anti-gay sentiment. All well and good. But one thing we do know. We know that every Bible-believing, historically orthodox Christian is homophobic, a hater, truly anti-gay because that group of people believe, as all of both Jewish and Church history do, that homosexual behavior is a sin. Hate!

Now, I've tried in the past to point out that this is not necessarily so. Sure, some use it based on their prior hate for them, but anyone who reads, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Cor 6:9-10) (for example) and cares about people will come away with the strong conviction that those people need help. By "those people" I mean the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers ... and those who practice homosexuality. If we care, we must respond. So, just like the story where a "homophobic term" may or may not mean anti-gay sentiment, I'm saying that a response that says homosexual behavior is a sin may or may not be hate. Heavy emphasis on the "may not".

Then I think it through a little further. If it is not necessarily hate to point out sin in the course of presenting the Gospel, where is the hate? If it is loving to warn people about the dangers they are in and then provide them with an actual solution, where is the hate? I think the hate lies with those who can see that God's Word is abundantly clear on the subject and then defend the behavior as moral and acceptable. I think the hate lies with those who claim to be believers and claim to value God's Word and then pat the sexually immoral on the back and say, "Good for you! Don't let any of those naysayers stop you from showing 'love' in the way you think is right!" But, wait! I also think that the hate lies with those who read these kinds of texts, agree with them, stand with God's view on them, and then ignore it. How many people -- Bible-believing Christians actually agreeing with God on these things -- try to keep their distance from such "evil folk"? They don't want to associate with them. They don't want to interact with them. Those people are evil! They're like someone standing on the shore looking at a "No swimming" sign and a guy drowning in the water and saying, "Well, I need to stay away from that bad person. They get what they deserve. Besides, if I tried to help, they might drag me down." Just as much as the person who encourages sinners in their sin, the Christian who refuses to engage sinners with the warnings and good news of the Gospel is a hater.

Make no mistake. It is love, not hate, that drives a Christian to warn another person about danger they face and offer a solution. On the other hand, encouraging someone who is unaware that they are in jeopardy to continue their course is not love. That's hate. And for those of us who know the truth of the errors and dire consequences of such sin and hold back, that is just as hateful. Don't stand there in God's presence looking down your nose at those sinners, praying, "God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this homosexual." (Luke 18:10-14) Don't be the religious one that moves to the other side of the road (Luke 10:30-37). To those of you who deny God's Word and encourage the sin, repent. It's hate. And for the Christian who agrees with God's Word but refuses to warn people, repent. It's hate. Don't be a hater.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Felonies and Misdemeanors

Do you remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11)? In that story the couple sold some property and then conspired to lie about how much they sold it for and tell the apostles that the money they gave was the total amount. Small issue, really. At least, you'd think so. But Ananias tried it out and was ... killed on the spot. His wife showed up and repeated the lie and she, too, died on the spot. The violation? "You have not lied to man but to God."

There is another strange story in the book of Acts.
Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king's chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king's country for food. On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, "The voice of a god, and not of a man!" Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last. (Acts 12:20-23)
I don't know about you, but to me the first response here is ... "What?" I mean, lots of people do lots of bad things and Herod was no exception, but here we have a guy who simply gives a rousing speech that the people praise him for and, boom, he's struck dead on the spot. Literally. "An angel of the Lord struck him down." Ouch! Ananias and Sapphira lied to God and died on the spot for it.

In the name of justice, how is that reasonable? I mean, isn't that a bit of an overreaction? I would argue that it is not.

In Exodus God reveals an interesting aspect to His character. "I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me." (Exo 20:5) Jealous? Isn't that bad? Not in this case. The context was a prohibition against worshiping other gods, and the point was that God's glory was the ultimate issue. He said, "I am the LORD; that is My name; My glory I give to no other." (Isa 42:8) According to Scripture, "For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things were created through Him and for Him." (Col 1:16) Get that? All things were not created for you and me or whomever else you might think, but solely by and for Him.

We tend to take the glory of God in minimalist sense. "Yeah, yeah, give God glory. We're on board. Just don't make it a big issue. I mean, we'll proclaim Your glory and all, but it won't be that big of a deal." Over against this we see this universal accusation from God, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) See that? We admit that "all have sinned", but it's difficult for us to think in terms of the universal result of that sin -- falling short of the glory of God. That is the problem for all mankind. Romans 1 says this:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Rom 1:18-23)
We are "without excuse" and become guilty because we "suppress the truth" and exchange the glory of the immortal God for something less. Big problem.

Paul told the Corinthian Christians, "For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake." (2 Cor 4:5) He told the Colossian Christians, "Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." (Col 3:17) He also said, "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31) God, then, is serious about His glory. What we do we do for His sake. Everything we do is supposed to be "in the name of the Lord Jesus" and "to the glory of God". A single sin, a "minor infraction" -- as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, even a "white lie" -- is a violation of God's glory and deserving of extreme punishment. Herod was struck dead on the spot for the "simple" violation of not giving glory to God because God's glory is paramount, and violating that glory by any method is deserving of the utmost punishment.

Is it justice? It is, indeed. In fact, when we minimize sin -- "It's only an infraction, an error, a mistake. It's out of ignorance. It's a boo-boo. Hey, we didn't know!" -- we commit the very same violation of God's glory and earn the eternal punishment due someone who violates the eternal God. We are without excuse. Now, I don't say all this to scare you. I say all this to help you realize the magnitude of God's mercy. It was justice that killed Ananias, Sapphira, and Herod for the sole violation of taking away from God's glory. We all deserve that. It is not the fact that they died on the spot that is amazing; it is the fact that we do not. That is mercy in the extreme when the violation is against God and the punishment is not meted out. The closer we get to realizing that, the closer we get to glorifying God.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Faith and Reason

You know as well as I do that many (most?) people pit faith against reason. That is, they assume something like, "Faith is something you believe for no reason." Some go farther and claim that faith is when you believe in something that the evidence says isn't true. Not the absence of reason, but in the face of it. So imagine my surprise when I came across this interesting statement from the pen of Luke, the physician.
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom He had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after His suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God." (Acts 1:1-3)
Get that? Luke doesn't base his arguments on "faith without reason". No "blind faith" here. He says that the reason he (and the rest) believe that Christ rose from the dead was because of "many proofs". In fact, that's the English Standard Version. The King James says "many infallible proofs." Young's Literal Translation uses "certain proofs". The New American Standard says "many convincing proofs." The word there is τεκμήριον -- tekmērion -- meaning a criterion of certainty, or, as Thayer's puts it, "indubitable evidence".

It's not like Luke was alone here. It was Jesus who pointed to the same argument. In John 10 He said, "The works that I do in My Father's name bear witness about Me." (John 10:25) He said, "If I am not doing the works of My Father, then do not believe Me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me and I am in the Father." (John 10:37-38) Later He said, "Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me, or else believe on account of the works themselves." (John 14:11) Jesus encouraged faith on the basis of His (reliable) words, but pointed to the evidence of His miraculous works as proof.

We might be tempted to think we live in a skeptical world. It is true, but it's not true that it is more skeptical than it was. The eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Lazarus went to the chief priests and Pharisees to report it and the response was "Let's kill Him!" (John 11:35) ... "and Lazarus" (John 12:10). We're not living in an exceptionally skeptical world. Those who observed the miraculous weren't swayed. But you, those who believe, don't let it dishearten you. They are skeptical, to be sure, but we have "convincing proof" on our side. Well, that and the Son of God. We know how that will come out. And we can be sure that The Lord is Risen indeed!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Playing the Trump Card

Donald Trump is famous for, among other things, the line from his "reality" TV series, The Apprentice, where he tells eliminated candidates, "You're fired." I told someone a couple of months ago, "I can just imagine a President Trump saying that to our nuclear arsenal and meaning something quite different." It was said in jest, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't hold some truth. Donald Trump is a bombastic blowhard who likes to be heard and hates to be ignored. He's not entirely sure of the difference between himself and Bernie Sanders. He's eager to take on the leadership of the free world but too whiney to handle questions from Megan Kelly. He states grandiose plans to "Make America great again" but doesn't have a strategy to do it, doesn't even bother to learn about things like our nuclear forces (the nuclear triad), and praises Vladimir Putin of all people. You see, being informed is all well and good, but it doesn't make for good show. He said famously, "I could shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters." When former Arizona governor Jan Brewer endorsed Trump for president, she said, "He will listen to the people and fight for the citizens of the United States." You know what? I just don't see it. I just can't imagine Donald Trump listening to or fighting for anyone but himself.

Just what is it that voters are seeing in Mr. Trump that puts him in the lead for the moment? (Seriously ... Carson endorsed Trump??) They complained that Palin didn't have the experience to run a country, but the Donald has less. They mocked her line about being able to see Russia from her home in Alaska, but Trump isn't any better. “It is always a great honor,” he said recently upon hearing that Putin endorsed him, "to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond." If we were a corporation, Mr. Trump might (might) be a good option. He might be able to make us profitable. We're not. He won't. His qualifications for president are ... absent. He's qualified on Middle East issues because he was the grand marshal for an Israeli Day Parade in New York some years ago and he received the "Tree of Life Award" from Israel. (Hey, maybe he could get Israel to build a wall around itself and have the Palestinians pay for it!) His own website lists his qualifications as things like he "is the very definition of the American success story", he "was a top contributor and fundraiser for Republican efforts", he is "a devoted supporter of veteran causes", and "was honored in the Pentagon during a lunch with the Secretary of Defense and the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff." But wait! There's more! "The Trump signature is synonymous with the most prestigious of addresses" (a reference to his real estate dealings) and "Mr. Trump is the Emmy-nominated star and co-producer of the reality television series." There you have it. A qualified candidate.

"Oh," they tell me, "but he's surely better than Bernie or Clinton!" Frankly, I'm not so sure. Seriously. Hillary could give us a defeat, but she wouldn't change the nature of the conservative. If we put Donald up as the Republican nominee, we will be saying to the world, "This is the guy who represents us. If you want to know what we think, look at the Donald." We would be saying, "Yes, we want to deport all illegals. Yes, we want to build a wall between us and Mexico and make Mexico pay for it. Yes, we oppose any sort of humanitarian immigration, especially Muslims. Oh, yeah, Islam is our enemy. And 'enhanced interrogation techniques' (read 'torture') and more force is the answer. Yes, we think these things are rational and right. Yes, we think we should boycott people who we feel don't like us and, yes, we are the party that embraces overt racists and even enemies of our nation. Look, if we can win by being insulting and petty and cruel, we will." (I think we're borrowing that from the more Liberal side of America.) "We do not stand for an informed government, but a 'shoot-from-the-hip' leadership that goes with what it feels and stands by it even when it's totally wrong." Donald started the inevitable sniping at party candidates with petty issues and false accusations. He questioned Cruz's nation of birth and expressed concern about Rubio's ability to be president because of his ethnic heritage. With this kind of leadership, we've seen people like Rubio complaining that he'll "make America orange." The party of the petty. The party of the puerile. The party of the pointless. And do you think that a man driven by his own ambitions and marching to his own drumbeat would, if he felt insulted enough, not resort to the massive force of the U.S. military or its other powerful options? Clinton or Sanders can do serious damage to the country, but not to the conservatives. Trump can do both.

But, I'm sure that many will be horrified. "But ... but ... if you don't vote for the party, you're voting for the enemy." Maybe. It's just that with Trump as my option I'm not sure at all who "the enemy" is anymore. I get that Sanders or Clinton would be really bad for our nation, but "I'm not politically correct" is not a qualification for the Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful military in the world and "I'm in favor of strong immigration rules" is not the best indicator of a good leader of the free world. It appears to gather votes, but I'm not sure where that game winds up. I do not see it as something good ... or even "less evil". In presidential elections I've been a good Republican voter for my entire voting life. Sometimes I voted for someone I really liked and sometimes I held my nose and voted. Of late my votes have come with increasing unease. I wasn't pleased with George W, wasn't really on board with John McCain, and wasn't happy at all with Mitt Romney in 2012. But we've arrived at a new place here. I no longer know which is "the lesser of two evils". That's my problem.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Inerrancy in History

It is argued that the entire "inerrancy of Scripture" thing is a fabrication, a new thing. (Oddly enough, most of those who make this argument are fully invested in new things and happy to embrace them if they coincide with what they want to believe. Apparently, it is only when a belief opposes their preferences can a perceived "new thing" be considered bad.) But is it true? Is this a new thing?

Iranaeus (130-202 A.D.) believed in divine inspiration and argued that not a single detail, word, or letter could be considered insignificant. Clement of Rome (150-250 A.D.) said, "The Holy Scriptures which are given through the Holy Spirit ... nothing iniquitous or falsified is written." Origen (184-254 A.D.) said, "that not a jot or tittle was in vain in Scripture, that there was nothing in Scripture which did not come down from the fullness of the divine majesty." But it was really Augustine (354-430 A.D.) who pushed the inerrancy position. In his Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, Augustine said, "If we are perplexed by an apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, 'The author of this book is mistaken'; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood." In a letter to Jerome he made statements like "only the Holy Scripture is considered inerrant" and "Scripture has never erred."

As it turns out, it is not a new doctrine. It is an original doctrine. As I said before, it is a biblical concept. Jesus said it, multiple times (Matt 5:18; Matt 24:35; John 10:35). It is based on the character of God (Heb 6:18; Titus 1:2). It is the claim of Scripture itself (Psa 119:160; 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21; 1 Cor 14:37; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Peter 3:15-16) It is the historic position of the Church.

Why is it that it didn't become so absolutely clear until Augustine's day? Because no one was asking the question. First, the actual canon of Scripture wasn't settled until the 4th century, and many of that day weren't literate. It wasn't until the canon was "set in stone" and people started arguing about the content that inerrancy became an issue. But Augustine was taking on heresies brought about by a misuse of Scripture, so he had to establish a reliable source. Why did it become a big deal in the Reformation? Because the Roman Catholic Church was twisting the usage of Scripture and that needed to be corrected. Why is it that so many claim that it is a fairly modern, 19th century innovation? Because in the 18th and 19th centuries, the "Age of Enlightenment" included a direct assault on the reliability of the Bible and Christians needed to respond clearly and absolutely.

Christians need to respond clearly and absolutely today. Either God is reliable and the words He breathed are true or we have an insurmountable problem. Accusations ranging from "You're putting words in Jesus's mouth" to "You're being arrogant" to "You're conflating your opinion as God's view" (by, you know, quoting God's Word) don't change the reliability of God, His Word, or the biblical and historical claim that He is true and, therefore, His Word is true. Look, I don't imagine that someone out there who does not believe in inerrancy of the Bible is going to smack their forehead here and say, "Wow! Didn't know that! Thanks for clearing it all up and now I believe." Perhaps, on the other hand, someone who does but is questioning amidst the constant assault on God's Word these days can derive some measure of relief from this. Believe what you want about it, but don't buy the lie that it is a new doctrine without support or reason. On the other hand, good luck with defending the faith with a fallible Bible. Do not, in that case, refer to it as "the Word of God" because "fallible" and "Word of God" is a slap in God's face. Don't think this is not a defense of the Bible; it is a defense of God.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Fear ... Not?

How blessed is the man who fears always, but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity. (Prov 28:14)
Okay, now, that can't be right ... can it? Blessed is the man who fears always? I mean, we know that fear is bad ... isn't it? Or is it? Is there a healthy, even happy fear?

The truth is that fear comes in different ... flavors. There is abject, soul-wrenching, heart-stopping fear. There is momentary, fleeting fear. And everything in between. Some people thrive on fear, that momentary adrenaline rush that gets them revved up. They call them "fear junkies." They're parachutists and base jumpers and daredevils of all types. For most, though, "fear" is equated with those things that prevent us from doing things. Fear of heights prevents some from going up in airplanes or even tall buildings. The fear of death, they say, is only second in humans to the fear of public speaking. Can't do it. Just ... can't ... do it. Some, at least.

Many will tell you that there is no place for fear for believers. It's understandable, I suppose. In John's first epistle we read, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." (1 John 4:18) A simple reading would say, "There is no fear in love" and be done with it. A simple reading like that would not be wise. One of the most scathing indictments against sinful humans is in the third chapter of Romans where Paul writes, among other things, "There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Rom 3:18) (That's not a good thing.) So "fear of God" in Scripture is a good thing and a lack of it is a bad thing.

While that paralyzing fear is a problem for many (most?), reasonable fear has advantages. For instance, fear prevents us from going where we shouldn't. You don't walk out in traffic because you are wisely fearful of getting run over. That's a good thing. You recoil from a rattlesnake because you are rightly fearful of getting bitten (and potentially killed). That's a good thing. There are things we should fear and avoid. In the same way, fear directs us to other things. As an example, in relation to God, fear of displeasing Him would redirect us to obeying Him. Wise indeed.

Solomon said that we are blessed if we have reasonable fear, rightly-directed awe (which includes "dread"), a correct level of dismay over things that should concern us. Always. Never with a hardened heart. That, he says, will produce calamity. Bad things. We can lose a lot of fear when walking hand in hand with our Savior, but not all fear because some fear is good, healthy, even happy.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

What's My Motivation?

An actor playing a part will often ask, "What's my motivation?" in order to get into the role. What was Jesus's motivation to get into His role?

I recently was at a David Jeremiah event with Michael W. Smith as a special performer. Now, Michael is a contemporary. I grew up with his music. And seems like a really nice guy. I mean, I'm not trying to cast any aspersions on the man.

One song he sang that had people on their feet in tears was his popular Above All. Pretty good song, actually. The chorus ends with
Like a Rose trampled on the ground
You took the fall
And thought of me
Above all
Really chokes you up, you know? In the last couple weeks a teacher at church had a similar response. He had to stop as he expressed and contemplated that "The Pearl of Great Price" (Matt 13:45-46) is a parable of how Christ valued us so much that He gave all to gain us. Really gets you right in the heart. That He would hold me, a sinner, in such high regard.

But ... you know me. I had to ask, "Is that true?" Was Jesus's highest motivation His love for me?

Jesus Himself expressed many things about His own stated purposes.
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matt 5:17)

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." (Matt 10:34)

"I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:32)

"I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. (John 6:38)

"I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me." (John 8:42)

"I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness." (John 12:46)

"For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth." (John 18:37)

"The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10)
We grab onto that last one and think, "That's it! He came to seek and to save ... me!" In fact, to deny that would be to deny Jesus's own words. He did come for that. He said so. "I lay down My life for the sheep," He said (John 10:15). No denying it. But was that His "above all" motivation?

I don't think so. He said to His Father, "I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do." (John 17:4) Even in the garden, with His crucifixion pending, He prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." (Matt 26:39) Jesus's prime purpose in His life, in His ministry, and even in His death was that His Father would be glorified.

Paul points this out in that glorious text in Ephesians that begins, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." (Eph 1:3-14) Over and over in that passage he repeats the reason for the blessings that we have been given ... and it's not us. It's Him. "To the praise of the glory of His grace" (Eph 1:6). "To the praise of His glory" (Eph 1:12). "To the praise of His glory" (Eph 1:14). Do you see a theme?

Jesus did indeed "take the fall" for us. He did, in fact, come to seek and to save the lost. He did come as an act of love (John 3:16). No doubt. But it is a mistake to think that we are "above all", some "pearl of great price", that we are His primary concern. His primary concern was what ours should be -- the glory of God. He took the fall and thought of God's glory above all. "What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory." (Rom 9:22-23) Now that chokes me up.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Moral Fluidity

What happened? In the not-too-distant past there were moral standards. There was a shared set of ethics by which we lived. Oh, sure, not everyone adhered to them. (Indeed, the mark of a human is "to err" and the history of humanity is a continuing failure to adhere to its own standards.) But we all knew what they were. Everyone knew, for instance, that it was a bad thing to become an unwed mother. The situation would need to be avoided if possible and the girl aided if necessary. That is, in no case was it celebrated. In the same way, a young man who got a girl pregnant knew he had to "do the right thing". That phrase, in fact, was all that was needed. We all knew what that meant. He would have to marry her and support her and their child. End of story. If you didn't abide by these types of standards, you were ... wrong. Divorce was frowned upon. Adultery was bad. Stealing was wrong. Sex outside of marriage was a no-no. You were supposed to respect your elders and those in authority. And on and on.

An advantage of this shared structure of standards was that we could work together to encourage and enforce adherence. Kids in school could be fairly confident, for instance, that if they spoke back to the teacher, there would be negative consequences ... at school and at home. A teenager in town was aware that anyone in that town might call them on an infraction of the shared rules and would likely inform their parents as a minimum. Thus, society was more orderly, more coherent, more moral.

Someplace along the line this shifted. I'm not clear where. From this set of external standards by which we must all abide or be "outside" in some sense we have gone to a new standard. Sexual behavior is governed primarily by consent and morality is selected primarily by harm. Both of these, viewed somehow as "quite clear", are actually quite foggy. For instance, the argument will be made, "Two people who give consent should be allowed to have sex." However, "give consent" instantly becomes vague. Did she say "No" but mean "Yes"? Now we're at a "Yes means Yes" campaign because it was too unclear. Worse, you'll actually hear it argued "Juveniles cannot give consent." On what would that be based? Apparently there is a magical birthday upon which they suddenly gain the capacity to consent. But to best illustrate the power of consent, I actually have heard it argued that "It's immoral to have sex with animals because they cannot give consent." Not, "It's immoral to have sex with animals period." No, it is solely immoral on the basis of consent.

And that's just the shadiness of "consent". What do we know of "harm"? We're pretty sure that this isn't harmful ... until 30 years down the road when we find out that it was and we've just condemned 30 years of people to damage that we didn't recognize. Science is the current god, but Science is a variable that keeps changing as biology and medicine and physics and psychology and all the rest squeeze things together and shift them back and forth until we can't at all be sure what is or isn't going to hurt us because, frankly, we just don't know how things work. Throw in the variability of language, and we're pretty much adrift at sea. What was "harm" today becomes "beneficial" tomorrow and what couldn't "consent" yesterday is fully able today. For instance, is it helpful to teach our young boys to be young boys or is it harmful because they may decide they're not young boys at all? We don't know. The terms are changing, like everything else.

But "harm" is the standard for much of morality and "consent" is the standard for sexual morality. They are shifting tides, unclear and uneven, but they are regarded as sacrosanct and anyone who disagrees is a hater. "Hate" is determined by "disagreeing with us". "Moral", including sexual morality, is determined by "what we want to do". And it is impossible to have some sort of societal cohesion where we support each other in our morality because it's all fluid ... like gender. It's whatever you think it is. And if you disagree, you're just sick. Because the only shared moral value today seems to be the value that having an objective moral standard is wrong and "what I want to do" is right.

Monday, March 07, 2016


"You know, the inerrancy of Scripture is not in the Bible," they'll tell you. Really? Oddly enough, many of those at war with biblical inerrancy consider themselves not only followers of Christ, but Christ-focused. So it's odd that they appear to have missed biblical inerrancy from the lips of Christ. It was Jesus who said, "Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35), which, read in context, does not mean "inviolable", but "inerrant". And it follows logically. (Scripture claims not to be merely inspired, but "God-breathed" (2 Tim 3:16-17). That is, not "inhaled" by man ("inspire"), but "exhaled" by God.) If it is God who breathed it into human writers, if these writers were "carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21), then we're resting not on the veracity of human writers, but on the God who breathed it, the Spirit who carried it, the faithfulness of the Almighty. He is infallible and inerrant. The Word He breathed would have to be, too.

Part of the problem occurs in our failure to grasp the claim. We're not saying that it is inerrant in its precision. For instance, when Mark wrote that "the whole city was gathered together at the door" (Mark 1:33), we aren't looking at precision. We're looking at a representation of truth. Lots and lots of people were there. Nor are we referring to the problem of language. Time, culture, and comprehension all cause shifts. Copy errors, additions or subtractions, things happen that affect the texts we have. We understand more or less, better or worse. An industrial culture, for instance, might not comprehend the farm culture references as well as a farm culture would. The "inerrancy" claim is for the original texts, and to the extent that we grasp the original texts, we have inerrancy. Nor does inerrancy exclude the usage of language. Did Jesus say, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Yes, yes He did. Did God actually forsake Him? Not the point. The point was capturing the sense of Christ on the cross, not a statement of fact. Inerrancy, then, says that the Bible expresses truth in its original texts without error. Our job is to figure out what that is ... as opposed to correcting some supposed error.

You'll hear that "inerrancy" is not a biblical doctrine and, therefore, a man-made one. It is "man-made" indeed if you consider it from the lips of the man, Jesus Christ. And, sure, human logic from the faithfulness of God (biblical) regarding the "exhaled by God" nature of Scripture (biblical) and the impact of the Holy Spirit on the writers (biblical) to the reliability of the Bible might be considered "man-made", but it would appear to me to be impossible to avoid as well. John Frame said that biblical inerrancy is "a place to live." Not proposition, not a claim, certainly not "recent", but a doctrine that shapes our lives and thinking, the structures our ways of understanding everything, that establishes truth and provides commonality among believers. Oh, and least Jesus thought it was true, even if some of His "followers" disagree.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

No Hope

Did you know that the Bible says that you and I had "no hope"? It does. Well, for some time in history.
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands -- remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph 2:11-13)
Gentiles, those outside of God's covenant with Israel, are characterized in this text by the phrase "having no hope and without God." I don't know if that sinks home to you. It weighs heavily on me. Prior to Christ, those outside of Israel were without hope and without God. Imagine that. Only those in that tiny group known as "the children of Israel" had any hope, any connection to God. As a group, those not born Jews were "separated", "alienated", and "far off". Paul goes on to say that it wasn't merely an absence of opportunity, but a "dividing wall of hostility" (Eph 2:14). Bad, bad news.

What happened? What was the good news that changed this horrendous condition? The text above begins with a "therefore". It references one of our favorite passages of Scripture.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Eph 2:8-9)
Saved by grace through faith. That is a shift, an alteration in the understanding of salvation. That was new information. Prior to this people thought they were saved by doing; Paul says they were saved by grace. But something else besides the available information changed. "In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." (Eph 2:13) The blood of Christ.

They will tell you that Jesus died as an example of obedience (known as the "Moral Influence" theory). True enough, but incomplete. Others will refer to His death as simply the victory of Christ (referred to as the "Christus Victor" theory) over Satan. Also a fact, but still incomplete. Paul says that the only means by which we who are not Jews (and, in fact, those who are) get "in Christ Jesus" is "by the blood of Christ". He didn't die merely as an example. "See how much God loves you?" some argue. No, His shed blood was necessary, not incidental. It wasn't simply martyrdom or even an accident as some argue. On the basis of His shed blood we can now enjoy a relationship with God that was not possible prior to His crucifixion and a new life not possible prior to His resurrection. That is what we celebrate every Sunday -- hope and God in relationship with Christ where none used to be.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

3 Wrong Ways of Thinking about Voting

As more and more primary results have emerged, we are getting a clearer hint of who our final choices might be. I have to say I am not excited. (For those not paying attention, that is a vast understatement.) Given the discussions earlier about Christians and voting as well as the emerging (poor) options we are getting, I thought I should address the question again. Oh, no, not "Should we vote or not?" I'm not going to answer that for you. These are just some common errors to avoid.

1. "There are things about that candidate that I don't like."

It is easy to look at a candidate and find things you don't like. "He's too weak/harsh on immigration." "She's too ... female." (Trust me; there are plenty of people, male and female, who think that way.) "He's a blowhard." "He's a socialist." On and on. What we need to avoid is thinking that we might find a good candidate. Time to wake up. There is no perfect candidate ... ever. I find it odd that I'd have to say this, but I think there are some actually thinking there could be or should be some really good candidate. Not gonna to happen. Do we vote for the lesser of two evils? Always. Because all candidates, being human, are evil to some degree. Don't forget it.

2. "Just let God handle it."

This error shows up in degrees. The farthest out is fatalism. "God will do whatever He wants to do. I have nothing to say about it." Further in from that but still mistaken is the "My vote doesn't count" line of thinking. Consider. Only God can change a heart, yet He calls us to share the Gospel. Both the "God will do whatever He wants to do" and the "My words don't count" kinds of mindsets would fit, but we're still called to participate, so we must.

In the same way, we are called to participate in what God is doing. We are called to be concerned for our neighbors (Matt 22:39), our nation (Jer 29:7). We need to find out how that works itself out, but ignoring it is not the answer.

3. "If we don't elect the right person, we're sunk."

I hear this repeated in both the secular and the Christian realms. Usually it includes some special concern, like, "The next president will be appointing one or two (or more) Supreme Court justices, so we'd better get a conservative in there." As if getting a conservative in there will result in better appointments for judges. History denies this proposition. More to the point, however, is the extent to which this view is the reverse of the "Just let God handle it" view. The suggestion is that we've got to get this done and get it done right and if we don't we will suffer. In the former error, we have nothing to do with it. In this one, it's all on us.

Here's the truth. God is never not in control (Rom 13:1). He's not up there wringing His hands, hoping against hope that we Christians do the right thing and vote in the right guy (or gal) or we're in deep trouble. America will surely get the president we deserve, and, disaster or only near disaster, that will be a good thing. America may no longer believe it, but Christians should still believe "In God we trust."