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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Would You Want To Know?

This one is just a wondering-out-loud kind of thing. I'm not offering an opinion or a suggestion, let alone a command from God. In fact, it's rhetorical. The question is, would you want to know?

If you went in for tests and the doctor found terminal cancer and you had just a week or two to live, would you want to know? Some kind of "sudden death" situation where it's short term and nothing anyone can do. Would you like to remain blissfully ignorant or would you want to know that the end (that all of us face eventually) is very near?

If someone had the ability -- medically, scientifically, whatever -- to predict some dreadful condition for you, would you want to know? They've experimented with detecting the breast cancer gene, for instance, which could predict that a person could be highly likely to contract it at some point. Some, armed with this information, have taken steps to prevent it, such as removing the offending part(s) in a preemptive manner. Would you want to know?

Every single one of us has blind spots, things about ourselves we just don't see. If you have a besetting sin in your blind spot, something you do or an attitude you maintain or something that is blatant to everyone else and clearly a violation of God's Word, would you want to know?

If there was something you really wanted to do -- say, marry the person you love or take your "dream job" or something like that -- and a dear friend had serious concerns about it -- "You know, Scripture says that believers shouldn't be yoked with unbelievers, and your intended isn't a believer" or "Do you really think driving a beer truck is a good testimony for believers?" (you get the idea) -- would you want to know? Or would you prefer that dear friends only affirm and not express serious misgivings?

If someone whose wisdom and insight you trusted had concerns that you or, perhaps, a family member did not know Christ, would you want to know? I mean, clearly you think you or the loved one in question is okay, and obviously you get to choose whether to do anything about the concern, and you're absolutely sure that the person who is expressing the concern cares about you and will continue to do so regardless of your response, but would you want to know? Or would you rather they just kept quiet? Ignorance is bliss.

I wonder about these kinds of things, sometimes. I wonder for myself. Maybe you do, too. Maybe we should.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

In Their Sights

"Slippery slope fallacy!" they cry. The slippery slope claims that if A occurs, B necessarily follows, that if something happens there will be certain inevitable results. It is a fallacy because they say you don't have evidence for the inevitable. The fallacy is a little vague because it is only a fallacy if it doesn't happen. That is, it's no fallacy if the "inevitable results" actually follow.

We've been saying for some time now "If you give away the freedom of religion on this point, more erosion of that freedom will necessarily follow." "You're just being paranoid," they tell us. "Slippery slope fallacy." Like what? We warned that if you redefine marriage to exclude "man and woman" as part of the up-until-now-always-understood definition, then "only two" will also be excluded. They're working on it. Groups in both Canada and the United States have launched lawsuits that say, essentially, "If they can do it, why can't we?" And the response has been, in the end, "Because we say so." How long will that stand? We warned that if you force "gay mirage" as the law of the land, then it won't be long until pastors and clergy could be forced to perform such ceremonies. "Don't be ridiculous," they assured us. "There will always be a religious exemption." Really? In 2014 the city of Coeur d’Alene threatened to arrest a minister who refused to perform a same-sex wedding. In 2015, the Barna group reported that a growing number of people think that religious institutions should be forced to perform them. Some states tried to pass religious freedom legislation like Georgia's bill which simply "allowed faith-based organizations to deny services that violate such faith-based organization's sincerely held religious beliefs", but they're getting vetoed. Now California is aiming directly at private religious colleges. SB 1146 seeks to "limit the religious exemption from the Equity in Higher Education Act to certain educational programs and activities of a postsecondary educational institution that is controlled by a religious organization." (That's a quote from the bill.) The Supreme Court upheld the ruling that Christian pharmacists must sell abortion-inducing drugs against their faith. Slippery slope fallacy? Not when it happens.

Christians, since the beginning of this country, have believed themselves safe to practice their faith because the Bill of Rights guaranteed it. The tide of public opinion has turned. It isn't a matter of harm done for practicing faith. The Christians who declined to provide services for same-sex "weddings" didn't have any impact on those events. People wishing to retain their faith are not the only option. Schools that wish to maintain religious standards are not the only schools. Churches that wish to maintain biblical positions are not the only churches. Harm is not in view. No, it is your faith in their sights. You must "affirm who they are", as if that's a right. They won't stop at florists, bakers, photographers, or innkeepers. They won't stop at private Christian schools. They won't stop at religious leaders or churches. As the tide of public opinion rolls over against God and His Word, it will necessarily engulf you wherever you are. It's not a slippery slope argument if it's already in the works.

Am I urging you to action? No. Am I hoping to incite outrage? No. Am I complaining? No. I'm urging you to trust in God. I'm urging you to pay attention to God's Word. He says it will happen. He says to rejoice.
Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Tim 3:12)

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Mind Like Christ

So, here I am, minding my own business, reading along in Romans, and I come across this.
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. (Rom 15:1-2)
If you're paying attention, it's very reminiscent of something Paul wrote in his letter to the Christians in Philippi.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil 2:3-4)
So the concept isn't just in Romans. In fact, the Philippians version places its reasoning squarely on the back of being like Jesus. "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus ..." (Phil 2:5ff) That is, if you want to be like Jesus, be humble, which means consider others as more important, more significant, than yourself and seek to please them for their good rather than seeking your own good solely or even first.

It stirs a question in my mind. What would that look like? If Christians -- followers of Christ -- made a practice of this Christ-minded approach of seeking the welfare of others before their own interests, how would it look instead of what it looks like today?

How would it affect your driving? If your mindset was to "please my neighbor for his good", would your lane changes, your speed, your driving mindset be different?

How about your conduct in the grocery store (or any other store)? Would you be cruising the goods with your own shopping in mind or with those other shoppers around you in mind?

How would church look different? The standard view for many church-goers is to show up, get fed, and depart. The more "spiritually minded" of us will show up, get fed, help out, and depart. But if your view was to "please my neighbor for his good", wouldn't that alter your church experience in its aims and outworking? I cannot imagine that it would not change our giving patterns, in money, time, spiritual gifts and natural talents. I cannot imagine that it wouldn't fundamentally overturn the church experience for most of us.

How would it change parenting? So much of the time for parents is seeking peace. "Stop that!" because it's too much noise or embarrasing. What if parents' mindsets were to do the best they can for the sake of their children? Discipline, training, time spent (forget that nonsensenical "quality versus quantity" idea as if quantity precludes quality and quality can occur without quantity), praying with them, teaching them the Word -- oh this list goes on and on.

What difference would it make in your marriage? Our world screams "me first", especially in marriage. We get married "because of the way they make me feel" and we stay married "because they continue to give me what I want" and we terminate our marriages when we perceive that they've stopped. I believe that a marriage constructed on "please my spouse for his or her own good" cannot fail. The only "conflict" for this idyllic marriage would be who can do the other the most good. Think about how marriages would change if we spent them looking out for the best interests of the other over against our own.

How would your interactions with others look? Surely it wouldn't be uniform. I mean, if the biblical injunction to speak the truth in love is present (Eph 4:15), we would certainly need to tell people the truth based on love, and sometimes that would be painful, even dangerous. But if our mindset is taking care of our neighbor for his own good, we would not allow ourselves the luxury of self-preservation and personal comfort over the loving truth for others. Conversely, we would also take care to avoid conflicts with others because of our discomfort. James says that most of our quarrels are because of our own unfulfilled desires (James 4:1-2). Those would certainly cease in a Christ-like mindset of diminishing self in favor of the welfare of others. What other changes would our interactions encounter with this idea at the forefront of our minds?

When I consider the practical outworking of this concept, it boggles the mind. There isn't a corner of life that it doesn't touch. There isn't an interaction with another human being that it doesn't influence. It is simple yet monumental. It is biblical yet diametrically opposed to the world's way of thinking.

How would it look in your life? I know I see it rarely in people around me. More importantly, I know I don't do it enough. Do you?

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Secret Life

I was talking to my wife the other day. "Remember Billy-Bob?" (Not his real name).


"Sure you do. I worked with him 35 years ago and a few years after we moved here he got in touch with me. He came here to visit. You remember."


"Sure you do. He was that blue-haired guy (not his real color) that was a rocket scientist (not his real job)."


I was surprised. He was memorable ... you know, blue hair and rocket scientist and all. So I pulled out the computer and did a search. "I bet I can find a picture of him somewhere online." I did. "Here," I showed her, "this guy."

"Oh, yeah, I remember." Then she peered at the picture. "What is that picture from?"

I looked. Strange; it looked like a mug shot. I hunted it down. It was. Turned out that this guy I carpooled with 35 years ago that visited us in our home was doing a 40-year prison sentence for kidnapping and raping an underage step-daughter ... twice. I was stunned. I never would have seen that coming.

You've heard it, I'm sure. The news crew is interviewing the neighbor of the guy that decapitated his dog, gouged his eye out, and stabbed his wife. The neighbor is saying, "He seemed like a nice, quiet guy. I didn't expect anything like that." Or that kid that robbed a liquor store, stole a car, and shot it out with the police ... his mother in front of the camera is crying, "He was always such a good boy." It makes you wonder. Like my not-quite-fictitious ex-coworker all of whose details were changed to protect the guilty, we often don't see it coming. How many of us, do you think, have that kind of a secret life?

We are commanded to love one another which is to be the emblem of believers (John 13:34-35). We are commanded to bear one another's burdens (Gal 6:2). We are supposed to restore sinning Christians (Gal 6:1). So why is it that most of us feel that expressing our troubles, concerns, failures, and such is not safe in the company of believers? Oh, sure, we can share prayer requests. "Please ask God to help my neighbor." But what you will likely never hear in your church circles is "Please pray for me while I struggle with porn" or "homosexual desires" or "lust for my neighbor's wife" or the like. You can express a concern about your husband's potential loss of a job but not about your desire to leave him. "I'm suffering from cancer" is acceptable; "I'm suffering from doubt" is not. So we isolate ourselves in these secret chambers of our lives. "This" is acceptable to my family and fellow believers and "that" is not, so I'll keep "that" to myself. And, look, no one else is talking about "that", so I must be dealing with it all by myself. No one else seems to have that problem.

Is it any wonder we end up with secret lives? I mean, I get it among unbelievers, but how is it that Christians who are supposed to be identified by their love for one another believe there is no safe place for them to express their fears and struggles and sins and to get help? Wouldn't it be better if this was not the case among believers? I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Death Changes Things

You've heard the saying, "Prayer changes things." Maybe it does. Maybe not. Depends on the prayer and the pray-er (the one doing the prayer). I'll tell you one thing that certainly does change things: death. But perhaps not in the way you are thinking. Sure, death generally changes things for the living. I have in mind the changes in the person who dies.

Death means the end of something. It also means the beginning of something else. For the believer, physical death means the end of this life, sure, but it also means the end of sin, the end of decay, the end of illness, the end of all that is opposed to God and that opposes our walk with Him. To be absent from the body is to be present with Him (2 Cor 5:8). As Paul put it, to die is gain (Phil 1:21).

Of course, it isn't just physical death I have in mind. "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." (Rom 6:3-4) This death -- "baptized into His death" -- produces "newness of life". Prior to this we lacked the capability to do good, to not sin. Now, we are told "he who has died is freed from sin." (Rom 6:7) Now we are told, "Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God." (Rom 6:12-13) Those are things we couldn't do before ... before we died.

Most of us experience frustration in this life (Rom 7:15-24). We don't want to sin, but we do. We don't want to become tepid, but we do. We don't want to fail Christ, but we do. Good news! If you are in Christ, you are dead. Dead to sin and alive in Christ, alive to walk in the newness of life. He is the answer to our constant dilemma of falling and getting back up again. It couldn't happen without death. And putting yourself to death daily is the means of greater life in Him. There is hope.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

More Backyard Fun

Last week I offered up some of the backyard birds we get. Just a small sample. But we live in the desert and you can imagine that it's not always fun and games here in this harsh climate, even in our own backyard.

This is a rosy coachwhip snake. They're not venomous. You're safe. My wife had hosed off the pool deck that particular afternoon and this fellow came out to drink from the puddles. Finally he gave up and sunk his whole head into the pool for a real long drink of water. He went back into the corner of the yard and enjoyed the peace and quiet of an abandoned ground squirrel burrow for a couple of days and then vanished.

Less cozy was this rattler my wife encountered. you can't tell from the picture, but that thing it's under is the hose housing and my wife encountered this little gem when she went out to use the hose. God was good (again) that day and no harm was done although she stood in sandaled feet inches from where this little lady was sleeping. We called a herpetologist who gladly came out and took her (the snake, not my wife) off to a better home. (No reason to kill it if we don't have to.)

As I said, we live in the desert, so you have to expect things like scorpions. In fact, there is only one known scorpion in North America that can kill a human being -- the bark scorpion -- and they live where we do. Well, this is not one of them.

I used this picture so you could see its size as compared to my foot. Never have I seen such a big monster. Appropriately called the giant hairy scorpion, this thing just gave us the willies. He's big enough to eat other scorpions, so that's good, right? We captured it in the yard, put it in a jar, and took it off to the desert where it could go on about its business ... just not where we are.

We'll end here. I'm sure you were curious. Well this is that pleasant fellow, the bark scorpion. They have sufficiently dangerous venom to kill a small child. They tell me that it's really cool that you can shine an ultaviolet light on them at night and they'll glow in the dark. Let me tell you, it's not really cool. It's just unnerving. I found one of these in the pool one time. I left him all day and scooped him out to show the granddaughter. (She loves these kinds of things.) He came to life in the jar. So I sank him in the bird bath for 24 hours and put him back in the jar. He came back to life. Very impressive. I don't get it, but very impressive. And just a tad unnerving.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Problem of Holiness

In his book, The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer said, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us." It begs the question. What comes into your mind when you think about God?

I'm not asking about the unbeliever. I'm talking about Christians. I'm sure a lot of Christians would say "God loves me" or a more generic "God is love." (We'll simply guess that the God who is love loves me.) I'm sure some will hearken back to that mealtime prayer that begins with "God is good." These are fine. There are lots more. He is (and I capitalize because it is God of whom we speak and He is the consummate version of each of these) Eternal, Faithfulness, Immutable, Impartial, Infinite, Justice, Longsuffering, Love, Merciful, Gracious, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient, Righteous, Self-existent, Self-sufficient, Sovereign, Transcendent, Truth, Wise, and even Wrathful. And more. In fact, I skipped one. I wonder if you can figure out which it is.

The title answers the question. It is "Holy." This key attribute of God is not one of the more popular. I mean, why think of "holy" when you can opt for "God loves me"? It is, I would suggest, a key problem for sinful humans. God's holiness is a problem and we would like to set it aside. We start out easily enough. We define "holy" as "separate from sin" and we nod and say, "Yeah, yeah, God doesn't sin" and we're okay. Except that's not what the word means.

The interesting thing is that nowhere does the Bible say that God is "love, love, love" or "good, good, good" or anything like it. It does say in two places (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8) that He is "holy, holy, holy". This is the standard method in writing in those days that we've replaced with italics, bold print, underlines, and exclamation marks. It is emphasis. In fact, in Revelation it says that the seraphim around Him "never cease to say, 'Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!'" (Rev 4:8) When Aaron protested the deaths of his two sons, Moses reminded him that God's requirement was "By those who come near Me I will be regarded as holy." (Lev 10:3) So the most emphatic attribute of God in Scripture is ... He is holy.

So what does that mean? The Old Testament word is qâdôsh, referring to that which is clean, consecrated, set apart, sanctified. Most literally, it is that which is "other". It is "entirely set apart". He is unique, distinct, sacred. Yes, yes, that includes separation from sin, but it means so much more. It means that He is without rival, without equal. He alone is worthy of worship.

Now, in truth, this is somewhat frightening to any normal human being. He is alien and superior. So we diminish that "holy" and shrink it down to "sinless". This is a mistake, because God is, above everything else, "other". When we diminish that, we diminish God because He's more like us. And we diminish sin because it's not such a big deal anymore since the Lawgiver is more like us. And now that He's more like us, we're pretty sure He's a nice guy and won't really be too mad at us for breaking a few rules now and then. And, hey, look, we're pretty sure that He'll overlook most of our errors (because we've managed to shrink it from "sin" to "mistakes" by now). And, when you look at it that way, we're not doing too badly after all.

Humans are naturally xenophobic; we have a natural aversion to "different". It is the natural source of racism, sexism, ageism, and whatever you would call it where rich people don't like poor people and vice versa. Humans naturally prefer that which is like us. God is not. So we minimize that and make Him more like us which would be less like Him. He is not like us (Psa 50:21) And, more like us, He surely shares our values and perceptions, right? So we end up thinking of ourselves as more like Him and diminishing Him and His commands to be more like ours until it isn't much like God at all that we're seeing. That is the problem of holiness. We don't grasp holiness as it applies to God. Because when we do, we are very, very afraid (e.g., Isa 6:1-5; Luke 5:1-8; Job 40:3-4; Job 42:1-6; Heb 12:29).

Thursday, June 23, 2016

When Loss is Gain

One of the disturbing parts of Christianity is these repeated calls to self-sacrifice. You know, things like "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself" and "Take up your cross" (Matt 16:24) and "make no provision for the flesh" (Rom 13:14) and "count others more significant than yourselves." (Phil 2:3) It seems so ... bleak. Why are we always being asked to give up stuff? And it only gets worse from there. James makes the silly statement that you should "Count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds." (James 1:2) Paul says things like, "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for His sake" (Phil 1:29) as if "suffer for His sake" is a good thing. Elsewhere he says, "I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses" and "I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities." (2 Cor 12:9-10) What's wrong with these people? Don't they know that suffering hurts, that trials are difficult, that loss is pain?

Most religions, as it turns out, believe in self-sacrifice. "It is a virtue," they assure us. There is, however, an interesting twist in Christianity. Sacrificing our own desires and comforts and pleasures for Christ is actually gain for the believer. Seems counterintuitive, doesn't it?

We can see this when Paul makes the bizarre claim, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Phil 1:21) In fact, Paul preferred to die (Phil 1:23). Why? Because the ultimate loss -- death -- meant that he would "be with Christ" (Phil 1:23). Ah! Gain! When Jesus said, "Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me" (Matt 11:29-30), we might be tempted to see that as loss, but He finished the thought with "you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light." Oh, see? Taking up the yoke produces rest! Gain!

Over and over we find this to be true. We are to deny ourselves and take up our crosses not merely as self-sacrifice, but to follow Christ (Matt 16:24). Gain. We are to abstain from fleshly lusts (loss) because they wage against your soul (gain) (1 Peter 2:11). We choose to endure ill-treatment with the people of God (loss) because the pleasures of sin are passing (gain) (Heb 11:25). Even when Jesus made the remarkable statements about cutting off offensive body parts, He made it clear that it was for gain. "If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off" (loss) "for it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire." (Mark 9:43) And that intolerable "Sell all your possessions" thing includes the promise that "you will have treasure in heaven." (Matt 19:21) On the ultimate loss, Jesus said, "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." (Rev 2:10) Dying for Christ includes the promise of great reward.

We have it all turned around. We think that self-sacrifice for Christ is a loss; Scripture is repeatedly clear that God sees it as a gain for us. Conversely, when Paul looks at his wonderful life he says, "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ." (Phil 3:7-8) All turned around. What we think of as gain turns out to be loss, and what we consider loss turns out to be gain. Such is the world of the believer, indwelt by the Spirit, occupied by Christ, under the care of the Father. We are called to die -- to self, to sin, to the world -- so we can gain.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What Less Can I Do?

I once knew a wonderful Christian wife of an elder at the church I was in who had a remarkable outlook. She believed that God required that she not eat certain foods. She based it primarily on Old Testament prohibitions. So she didn't eat pork or shellfish or the like. But here's where she was remarkable. She understood that it was her conviction and that a large portion of Christianity disagreed, so she didn't try in the least to impose that on anyone else. It was her personal conviction. You know, "Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." (Rom 14:23) So she would cook pork or shellfish for her husband and eat a salad herself. She didn't make an issue of it. She just believed that she would avoid those things as a matter of gratitude to God. If you didn't care about that stuff -- either because you didn't agree or because you didn't care to obey it -- she was fine with that. She would do for God whatever extremes she thought she should.

Have you ever noticed that Christians seem to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how much less they can do for God? Think about it. We all know, for instance, that tithing is an Old Testament thing, not a New Testament thing. Why? "Well, it was primarily for the upkeep of the priests. It was for Israel back then and it is not for believers today. That 10% is arbitrary. You know, 'The Lord loves a cheerful giver' (2 Cor 9:7) which clearly means if you're not cheerful about it you shouldn't give. As every believer knows, we are not under the law; we are free from the law." Do a little search and you can find lots of arguments and reasons why Malachi 3:8 does not apply to Christians and giving 10% is not a Christian obligation. Now, Jesus said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others" (Matt 23:23), but we're still pretty sure we're under no obligation to give 10%. From there many conclude that means that we needn't give anything at all. You see, we've diligently searched to find out what less we could do for God. Is 10% a Christian requirement? No. Cheerful giving is. Giving all that we can is. Gratitude is. John asks, "If anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?" (1 John 3:17) John asks that; we don't. And, for reasons unknown, we stop at "we are not required to give 10% of our money" and don't even consider our time, property, energy, or the like. Is tithing for today? No, I don't think so. (If I had enough readers, you would have heard a collective sigh of relief.) I think the command is all (Rom 12:1).

We're all pretty sure that the whole eating of pork and shellfish is an "Old Testament thing" and we are no longer under obligation to do it anymore. I'm also fairly certain that most Christians don't know why. Why is the prohibition of mixing of threads (Deut 22:11) or the rounding off of the hair on your temple (Lev 13:29) no longer in effect? Most Christians are happy with "You don't have to do that anymore" and never ask "Why?" Because we're looking for ways to avoid doing too much. We don't want to make too many sacrifices, give up too much comfort, surrender too much of what we have and are.

"Oh, Stan, you're going on and on about Old Testament. Move on." Okay, how about "Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven." (1 Cor 11:4-5) In fact, the disappearance of headcoverings for women is a fairly new thing in the church. It is still prevalent in many parts of the world. But we've figured out that we don't have to do that anymore. Why? (That's a rhetorical question.) In fact, as it turns out, many of the New Testament commands regarding women have met their end on the chopping block of feminism and modern thinking. No, husbands are not head over the wife (1 Cor 11:3). No, wives do not need to submit to their husbands (Eph 5:22) nor do women need to be submissive (1 Tim 2:11) or "keep silence in the churches" (1 Cor 14:34). Yes, they can teach and exercise authority over men (1 Tim 2:12-14). And New Testament claims of God's commands become too burdensome to retain.

How about divorce? Oh, we've become quite lenient on that. Jesus thought otherwise (Matt 19:3-12). "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." (Matt 19:6) As if that wasn't enough, "Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." (Matt 19:9) Jesus attributed divorce to "your hardness of heart" (Matt 19:8).

So we edge on further out. If tithing and eating pork is no longer applicable, what else? If the New Testament has stuff in it we don't actually have to follow, what else don't we have to follow? How about ... oh, I don't know ... sexual immorality? How about that dreaded Old Testament and New Testament statements against homosexual behavior? How about other things that we don't particularly care for? Like "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities." (Rom 13:1) Not one many of us like, especially when we drive by one of those speed limit signs.

Why is it that we are constantly pushing the boundaries out? We are keen, it seems, on limiting the amount we have to give to God, whether that is money or obedience. We're most concerned, it appears, at being careful not to do too much for God. As if when we get to heaven we'll have God tell us, "You know, that whole 'wives, submit to your husband' thing wasn't for you. You didn't have to do it." And we'd be disappointed at having done too much for God. If we were as diligent at seeking to do all we possibly could to please God, what a difference that would make! If our primary concern was doing good in such a way that people would glorify God (Matt 5:16), I think the name of God would be less blasphemed because of us. Paul was talking about financial giving in the 9th chapter of his second letter to the church at Corinth when he wrote, "The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." (2 Cor 9:6) I think it works with what we do as well as what we give. We cannot out-give God, even in obedience.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Who is Changing Whom?

You can find an essay by The Rev. Warner White, a retired Episcopalian minister, that addresses the problem of the contradiction we find between biblical commands and church practices. He notes that God commanded His people "You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you." (Deut 4:2) He goes on to say, "The Bible is full of commands we don't even know, much less keep!" Coming from an Episcopalian minister, this actually sounds encouraging. Don't worry. It turns out that the essay was written in defense of the ordination of Gene Robinson as a homosexual Episcopalian bishop.

How does this work? I ask not because of the Reverend Warner White or even his topic, but because we do the same thing. Perhaps we can see in what he says an answer to our own dilemma. White points out that wives are no longer subject to their husbands even though the Bible clearly commands it and that we've largely embraced divorce and remarriage even though the Scriptures clearly forbid it. Why? He points to the defense of slavery by the South in the 19th century and affirms "There's a strong biblical case for slavery. Yet we universally condemn it." How can this be?

He starts with the Old Testament. That one is easy. The Mosaic Law was given to the theocracy of Israel. Just like the laws of Canada do not apply to the United States, the laws of Israel don't apply to Gentile Christians. This is evident in Scripture. After Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19) and told the Pharisees that "the Sabbath was made for man" (Mark 2:27), and Peter got a wake up call from God about whom God accepts (Acts 10), the New Testament Church recognized that the laws of cleanness and sacrifice were not applicable to Gentiles (Acts 15:29). Even in that, they required "that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols" while Paul later said, "What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No." (1 Cor 10:19-20) He went on to tell them to "Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience." (1 Cor 10:25) Thus, to not knowingly eat food sacrificed to idols, but that it's okay if you don't know.

The point, then, is that biblical injunctions change ... biblically. So far, so good. If God's Word changes (in some sense) God's Word, that's fine. But ... if cleanness rules (Old Testament) and "eating food sacrificed to idols" (New Testament) rules change, why not rules on divorce, women submitting, or biblical statements on homosexual behavior? We've certainly seen changes in all that. How does that work?

Mr. White hands that task to the Church. He does so, first, by requiring that it not be a simple dismissal. It must be a "reinterpretation". And it must not be "in the hands of individuals bent on forcing their own meaning onto the text." Both, I think, are true. "We don't like that 'women submit' thing, so we'll say it doesn't count anymore." That's popular, but it doesn't work. It must be from Scripture. So while the South defended slavery as biblical, we see their defense as unbiblical -- reinterpretation. To be clear, I'm not on board with his "the Church gets to reinterpret Scripture" idea fully, but I agree that it must be Scripture rather than dismissal or individual preference.

So how does he say the Church gets to reinterpret Scripture? His answer is "Vision". "Christians looked at slavery," he says by way of example, "and could not reconcile it with that vision of Christian life." He carries that out to other changes. "We see our daughters have restricted opportunities because of their gender, and we become supporters of women's rights. We see our friends and relatives get divorced and then be treated by us, the Church, in narrow-minded ways." Vision. On divorce, the Reverend White says, "My change of mind was essentially a matter of vision and feeling. Following the rules of the Church at that time made me feel mean and narrow."

Does anyone see a problem with this? When did it become necessary to change our understanding of God's Word based on how it makes us feel? The problem begins here. It is made worse (for those looking for a new vocabulary word, try "exacerbated") when he assures us, "I don't look to the Bible for rules." I've heard that before. He says, "Jesus was not a rule-giver. Moses handed down rules. Mohammed handed down rules. But Jesus did not." What a fascinating perspective! I think it was Jesus who said (for instance), "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matt 5:16) That sounds a lot like a command. I'm fairly certain it was Jesus who said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35) I think, since it has the phrase "a new commandment I give to you" it is definitely a rule. I'm positive it was Jesus who said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me." (which makes Him a rule-giver) "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matt 28:18-20) I don't know. I think it is abundantly clear that Jesus did indeed give rules. (In fact, White admits "The only exception I can think of is his prohibition of divorce and remarriage" which White believes is no longer in effect ... because it made him feel bad, so it must not be for our time.)

Having tripped up already, White goes on to explain why they've reinterpreted the abundantly clear statements on the sin of homosexual behavior. He says that the Leviticus passages are out because we're not going to put them to death like it says we must. He dismisses the 1 Cor 6:9-10 and 1 Tim 1:9-10 references because he considers the references to be unclear. "It's a matter for scholarly debate." (Nice dodge.) He leaves the last New Testament reference (Rom 1:26-27) open for discussion. Does this apply to all people at all times, or was it local, for a particular time and a particular people? Then this key admission: "Only after we have had experience throughout the Church with committed homosexual couples will we be able to give this text an authoritative interpretation."

There we have it. There's what I've been talking about. We are required to know God through His self-revelation, His Word. We are supposed to not be conformed to the world, but transformed by His Word (Rom 12:2). It is indeed important to read the Bible for all it's worth, to know what it says, to compare Scripture with Scripture to get the whole counsel of God. And we will certainly be constantly reforming our understanding by way of being transformed. But when our standard of truth becomes "how I feel" and "experience" rather than the clear Word of God, we can be absolutely certain that we will not end up in the truth. We will end up conformed to the world. Scripture reinterpreted? Sure, but that would be reinterpreting it through our own feelings and experience, not from the Word itself with the enlightenment of the Spirit. So beware of false prophets bearing gifts. When we reinterpret God and His Word on the basis of our personal feelings and experience, we are simply making Him in our image. And that's not God.

Monday, June 20, 2016

In the Year 2016

I started this blog way back in June, 2006. Here is it, 10 years later. Seems like ... well, 10 years. I aimed for an entry a day. I've averaged more than that. Not much. But more than one. Almost 3800 entries in 10 years.

Since they've been tracking my site (which is not since the beginning) I've had nearly half a million views. That's in ten years. Currently there are around 6,000 views a month. Given the size and readership of other popular blogs like the Huffington Post, Mashable, and Gizmodo (which, by the way, are overshadowed by Facebook and Twitter ... on which I have no presence), I'm pretty much a drop in a bucket. I expect 25-30 views of a day's entry and am quite surprised on those occasions when that number shoots up over 50. Oh, sure, given time, some of these gather some larger numbers. My Hard Sayings - "Sell all your possessions" entry leads the pack with more than 22,000 views. I get that. It's a popular question for diligent Christians and a popular attack point for skeptics. I don't understand why The History of the Choir has over 12,000 views. (I got a comment on it as recently as recently as May 7th of this year from a guy in Nigeria asking about worship and the choir. Really amazing.) Still, I have nothing akin to "superstar status". I am not "a mover and a shaker" in the blog world.

It amazes me, then, that strangers on the Internet will find me and try to tell me how confused, dangerous, even insane I am. Like I make a difference. I mean, from my perspective, I don't. And surely there are a host of other bloggers, even with higher profiles than mine, that are confused, dangerous, and possibly even insane. Apparently I'm wrong. Apparently the stuff I post here makes a difference to people. Like that Nigerian asking about the choir. Or others who say it blesses them. And even those detractors that think I'm making enough of a stir that they need to combat it. So, I guess maybe I should stay at it for awhile. Who knows?

So, remind me ... why do I do this? Well, primarily, to "be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction." (2 Tim 4:2) I try to offer biblical truth from different vantage points (because, after all, I am twisted). I want people to think. And, I do want to entertain my readers to some extent.

Given that, how would I improve what I do? Probably write less words, those who know tell me. Probably use smaller words, those who read this stuff tell me. Not sure how I'd do that, given the fact that people often have problem getting my point even when I explain it in detail with precise words. I do get feedback. Some is in "pages viewed" and such. Some is in the Comments section. I get far more feedback in private emails and conversations. My #1 fans are my parents -- I don't think they miss a post -- even if they aren't always in agreement with me and they never leave a comment.

Of course, no one agrees with me completely. On the other hand, no one disagrees with me completely. There is a continuum. Some would like you to believe that I don't allow disagreement. It isn't true. Folks like David and Craig and Alec and Bob agree with me a lot, but not always. Neil's comments are infrequent but always positive. Glenn agrees a lot but can do without my Reformed stuff. Marshall Art is similar, agreeing with me a lot but often disagreeing, if not on a point or two, on an entire concept. Next down the line would be those like Josh who agrees some but disagrees on real issues. At the other end of the gamut are the Naums and Dan Trabues who seem to think everything I write is wrong ... and, yet, find themselves agreeing on one or two things.

So, to those of you who agree, thanks. I appreciate encouragement and the expansion you often offer on ideas I've written. And to those of you who disagree so much, thanks. I am one whose personality makes me question myself and your disagreements drive me to ask why I hold the position I hold. I appreciate both the positives and the negatives and hope to continue this work for awhile.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day, 2016

See if you can guess where this quote comes from.
"Honor your father and mother"
"Oh, yeah!" I can hear some saying. "That's from the 10 commandments." Well, yes, it is, but I copied that from Ephesians 6. That is, it's still in effect. It's not "Old Testament"; it's for us today.

It is interesting to me that Paul, listing all sorts of evils that people do, likes to include "disobedient to parents". One of them is in Romans 1, where Paul starts with "And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done." (Rom 1:28) What "ought not to be done"? There's that list, 3 verses long. All sorts of bad stuff, like murder and slander, haters of God and ruthless, and the ever-clever "inventors of evil", as if there isn't enough already. And right there in the midst is "disobedient to parents" (Rom 1:30). Strange. Because you'd think he was talking about adults, but adults don't have to be obedient to parents ... do they?

The second mention isn't any better. "But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty." (2 Tim 3:1) From there he lists the characteristics of people in the last days, including the love of self, the love of money, treacherous, lovers of pleasure and ... right in the middle, again, "disobedient to parents" (2 Tim 3:2). Again, I would think that his list is aimed at adults, but that same disobedience shows up.

The question I have is when do we stop being the children of our parents? Okay, I'm not going to pursue "When do we stop being obedient to parents?" When do we stop honoring father and mother? I would argue that the answer is "Never." It's interesting. The Greek word used in the Ephesians quote above means most literally "to prize". It means to revere, to fix value on. So what do we do with people who we value? We speak well of them. We forgive their faults. We pray for them. We show respect. We seek and follow their advice. We love them. It's not a groveling, a pandering for approval, a foolish ignoring of reality. It is an intentional valuation of worth. It's not earned; it's given. Like we were taught in the military, "You don't have to respect the person; you have to respect the office." Except that was the military and this is God's Word. Fortunately, today is a day set aside to honor your father.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. Honoring you is easy. I appreciate you. I value you highly. I only hope that I reflect well on you (Prov 15:20).

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Backyard Blast

This blog was originally named "Birds of the Air". The name that stuck was "Winging It", but there's still "bird" there, right? I answered "Why birds?" at one point. So I keep coming back to them. I like wildlife. Now, normally to get pictures of wildlife, you have to ... you know ... go out into the wild. Sometimes, though, it comes to you. These are some pics from my own yard and sometimes from my living room looking out in my yard.

This is an American Kestrel. This little bird is the smallest in the falcon family. Only 7-8" long, they feed on grasshoppers on the small end to sparrows at the high end (although once I saw one taking on a mourning dove). They range from the Arctic Circle to Central America. Their pair bonds are often permanent. These little falcons are perhaps the most numerous falcon in America. They probably live near you. Oh, and we watched him pick apart his catch there on that tree by the wall, an unfortunate sparrow.

The Cooper's hawk is a larger raptor than the Kestrel. This one appears to be an adult. They can be found from southern Canada to northern Mexico. They are extremely fast hunters. One ornithologist reported watching one in pursuit of a quail. The quail spotted a bush nearby and dove for cover, but before he could fall the few feet into the brambles the hawk swept under, turned upside down, and caught it as it fell. They are very similar to Sharp-shinned hawks. The books aren't helpful. "The key to identifying Cooper's hawks and Sharp-shinned hawks is to remember that there is no single field mark or telltale characteristic that can identify either species." Perfect.

This guy appreciated our bird feeders so much that he was a regular fixture for quite awhile. In this picture he came up practically to the window. Now, you'll notice that his markings are quite different than the Cooper's hawk, so this must be the Sharp-shinned, right? No, not really. Turns out that this is a juvenile Cooper's hawk. So we were privileged to help him hone his hunting techniques while he matured. As a demonstration of speed and intelligence, this one figured out that he could spook the smaller birds into running, wait for one to hit the window, and before it could hit the ground he would scoop it up and settle into his meal. We still see him from time to time. He doesn't appear to need our "easy pickin's" anymore.

Perhaps you recognize the setting. Yes, this fellow is on the same table as our young Cooper's hawk above. Perhaps you recognize him? Yes, that's a roadrunner. Now, as it turns out, Looney Tunes lied to us. We think of the poor little roadrunner, running down the road, minding its own business, and even stopping to peck at a pile of seeds from time to time. Turns out they're vicious hunters. They are carnivorous and kill their prey by grabbing them up in their beaks and pounding them against the ground. Their diet consists of insects, spiders, scorpions, lizards, and small birds. They'll even eat rattlesnakes. (These guys come to our yard for the small birds.) They are fast. They've been known to catch hummingbirds in flight and have been reported at speeds of 25 mph.

This cute little guy is a Verdin. Maybe 4-5" long, it is one of the smallest of its types in America. Like the roadrunner, they are southwestern desert birds, ranging from southern California to Texas and down into Mexico.. They eat insects and are known to visit hummingbird feeders for some of the dried sugar water they find there. Oh, and this one is in the midst of a blooming ocotillo bush, making a perfect storm of colors.

Hope you enjoyed this little visit into my yard of birds (as opposed to my yard birds). I know I did.

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Loving God Would Never

Our understanding of God is too often predicated on our own redefinitions rather than on what He says about Himself. "A loving God would never send people to Hell" (or whatever else we claim a loving God would never do) is premised on what we think "love" is, not on what God says He will do. "God is gracious; He's not an angry God" presumes that "grace" and "wrath" cannot both be present because we've decided that is the case, not because He said it.

We have no problem accepting from God the good things He tells us about Himself. "God is love" is pleasant. That He is the Creator is good. Most of us like His attributes like omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. That He is everlasting is fine with us, even if it isn't entirely comprehensible. We really like His mercy and grace. We are fairly happy with lots of the things we know about God. Most of us, however, draw the line at some point.

We believe that the Bible is "God-breathed", that God is the source of the Bible, having "breathed" it into the writers who used their own divinely-superintended words to write what God wanted to express. We claim it, then, to be "God's Word". Now, to be fair, much of it is not precisely God's words. That is, it isn't a quote from God. However, there are passages that are quotes from God. One of these is found in Isaiah.
"I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides Me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know Me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides Me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things." (Isa 45:5-7)
This isn't merely "God-breathed" inspiration. It is a direct quote. And what does God claim about Himself here? Sure, He claims to "equip" those who do not know Him, requiring His involvement in their lives without their permission. But that's less offensive than His next claim. "I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity." We're fine with the light and well-being He makes, but how about His claim that He creates darkness and calamity? (The King James says "evil", by which we understand Him to mean "unpleasant circumstances" as opposed to "moral evil".) Many of us will attribute to God the good things that happen in our lives. How many of us will allow that the trials and tragedies also come from Him?

We know that God is gracious, loving, and merciful, but how about the biblical claim that it is God's will that He demonstrate His wrath and power on vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Rom 9:22)? We'll skip right over that as quickly as we can to get to the part where He makes known "the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy" (Rom 9:23) because that part we like.

We like the part about how God "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4), so it's hard to fathom the biblical statement that "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day." (Rom 11:8) Similarly, we have to walk carefully when it says "The LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart" (Exo 10:20, 10:27; 11:10) and claims that God raised Pharaoh up in order to demonstrate that He has mercy on whomever He wills and hardens whomever He wills (Rom 9:17-18).

Some of what God says about Himself we take lightly. Much of it we like. But there are things that God's Word says about the nature of God that runs so sharply against our human sensibilities that we are often likely to toss them out entirely. "Can't mean that." "God is not like that." "A loving God would never do that." Except it is what it says and it is, by virtue of it being God's Word, what He claims about Himself.

A view of God that dismisses God's own presentation of Himself is not a view of God; it is idolatry. When we read that "God is love", we cannot dismiss the rest of what He says about Himself because "love is like a warm puppy and He would never do that" as a replacement of what He says. Anything that replaces the true God is an idol. And we are not unclear on God's' view of idolatry.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

God's Changing Views

There are those that would like to draw the parallel between the Christian defense in the South of slavery and those today who still say that the Bible repeatedly, clearly, and unequivocally condemns homosexual behavior. Is this true?

The arguments of the South on the topic of slavery were, as it turns out, somewhat scanty. They claimed to be taking a "literal reading" of the Bible, but one has to wonder. The first and foremost argument on slavery in the South comes from Genesis (Gen 9:20-27). It's the section after the Flood when Noah got drunk and Ham found him uncovered and passed out. Instead of covering him, Ham ran to tell his brothers. For his failure to respect his father, Noah cursed Ham. "Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers." (Gen 9:25) Well, there you have it, proof that it was not only justified, but moral for white people to enslave black people. Oh, wait ... did I miss something? How is that a "literal reading" of the Bible? For reasons inexplicable to me, the descendants of Ham (Canaan) were assumed to be the African races. (I don't suppose it matters that the tribes of Canaan were actually in the land of Israel (Gen 10:19).)1

Just as frequently used was the passage in Leviticus about buying slaves.
As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property. (Lev 25:44-45)
First, let it be recognized that God gave a specific command that kidnapping for the purpose of slavery was forbidden (Exo 21:16). I think we all know that the slaves in use in the South weren't "bought" but were exclusively kidnapped. Thus, forced slavery was a direct violation of God's commands (you know ... taking the Bible literally). In fact, kidnapping an Israelite for the purpose of slavery was punishable by death (Deut 24:7). And killing a slave had penalties (Exo 21:20). So if it is not forced slavery in view here, what is it? Well, God's laws included the possibility of what I'll term "self-slavery". The idea was that it was allowable for someone to sell himself into slavery. For Hebrews, it was with the understanding that there was a 6-year limit, although at the end of that time the bondslave had the option of choosing to make it permanent (Exo 21:1-6). In the text above the command is in regard to "the nations that are around you" and "the strangers who sojourn with you". So in what sense are we talking about Africans, and on what basis did this provide for the direct violation of God's command not to kidnap people for slaves? You know ... taking the Bible in a literal sense?

They also liked to point to Paul's letter to Philemon in which he returned Philemon's slave, Onesimus. "There, see? Paul was opposed to fugitive slaves." In fact, they used all the references to "slaves" or "servants" or "manservant" or "maidservant" as proof that it was biblical, justified, and even moral to kidnap people from Africa and force them into slavery in America. And, look, if you count all of those, clearly there are more than 6 references that "justify slavery", unlike homosexual behavior with only 6.

Now, some may argue that the case was settled and very clearly the Bible defends the right of the South to steal people from their lands and make them slaves. I will be candid; I don't see it. In fact, I think the argument is insane. But the question is not the sanity of the pro-slavery argument. The question is, is it the same thing as the argument that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior? Is it likely that Christians 50 years from now will look at their Bibles and the arguments of those of us who can read them and say, "What in the world were they thinking? It is an insane argument to claim that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior." How are these arguments different?

First, it should be abundantly clear that one is "permission" and the other is "prohibition". That is, there is no command in Scripture anywhere at all requiring slaves be taken, either by force or voluntarily. The argument for slavery, then, is a permission, not a command. The same it not true for homosexual behavior. All of the mentions of that behavior in Scripture are negative -- direct prohibitions. Simply put, the pro-slavery argument says, "This behavior (taking slaves) is permissible" and the argument against homosexual behavior says "This behavior is not permissible." If the pro-slavery argument can be taken at face value as valid, it must be taken as "allowed" and not commanded. That is, it is possible in some sense that some version of voluntary servitude might be found to be tolerated in the Old Testament, just as is polygamy and divorce, it is clearly not commanded (and forced slavery is forbidden). The same is not true for homosexual behavior. It is nowhere tolerated and all commands on the topic are a complete prohibition.

Second, if it could be argued from the Old Testament that kidnapping people to be slaves was acceptable (in direct violation of God's commands to the contrary), the New Testament addresses it. "Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all." (Col 3:11) Paul told bondservants that if they could gain their freedom, they should (1 Cor 7:21). The New Testament suggests a change, then, whatever the Old Testament allowed. On the subject of homosexual behavior, this is not true. Both in the Old and New Testaments all references to homosexual behavior are universally negative. No hint of shift or change. No modification. All present a standard view that the behavior is sin.

Many argue that the biblical argument that marriage is the union of a man and a woman is just like the mistaken prohibition against racial intermarriage. It's not. You don't choose your race; you do choose your sexual behavior. And some argue that the biblical prohibition against homosexual behavior is the same as the mistaken defense of slavery in the South. It's not. There is no biblical command to take slaves; the Bible does proscribe homosexual behavior. The Old Testament may allow a version of slavery not at all like the American slavery of the 18th and 19th century, but the New Testament changes that. The Scriptures limit slavery in general (keeping in mind that it is not the same slavery as what we think of) and prohibit the American form of kidnapping for slavery; the Scriptures universally condemn homosexual behavior as sin. Finally, slavery was not historically defended by the church, but the church has always understood homosexual behavior to be sin. The question, then: Are these two the same types of questions? No. So why would we assume that God changed His mind? No reason.
1 There is another popular argument that I have to dismiss out of hand from Genesis. The argument goes that the mark of Cain (Gen 4:15) was that he was made into the first black man. Pulling that out of the text is impossible, except for the fact that Cain did have a mark. But the case falls apart immediately afterward when we read that in the Flood "Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died" (Gen 7:23) with the sole exception of Noah and his family. Since everyone on the planet today is a descendant of Noah and his three sons (Gen 9:18-19), any remnant of Cain is ruled out entirely and the argument from the mark of Cain dies of drowning.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Culture War is Lost

I did a brief search on the phrase "the culture war is lost" and found a host of hits. As far back as 2013 they were writing about how the culture wars are lost. While Jerry Falwell was talking about the "Moral Majority" in the late 70's, we've seen it dwindle to a minority. Today Disney is considering a lesbian relationship for one of their popular animated characters and Pixar is said to be pursuing the same for their sequel to Finding Nemo. The state of Washington is planning to teach kindergartners about transgenderism. Even a young person's video game, The Sims 4, is immersing its players into a gender-free world ... as if that's normal. It's all over the culture. It's also in the church. I wrote about the Sea-Change we're seeing in Christendom in America where "what God says", "what the Bible says", and the like have become not only irrelevant, but wrong in many places in the church. Once we thought we lived in a "Christian nation", but now we're seeing it is no longer the case and we're being shown the door. The military labeled conservative Christians as religious extremists and potential terrorists. The IRS targeted pro-life Christian ministries. Christian bakers, florists, photographers, inn-keepers and others have been sued and financially ruined standing on religious freedom. Churches have been ordered to turn over membership lists. That is, a country originally established on Christian values has shifted to classify many of those values -- marriage, family, home, personal freedom, personal responsibility, and more -- as evils. In a sense, Christians have lost the culture war. Your replacement is here ... and it's not an improvement.

Having made this admission, I think I need to point out a fact about this admission. We are not part of the culture. A lot of Christians today think that we are. A lot of Christians think that we're supposed to "redeem the culture", that we're supposed to make our world a "better place" by which they mean a "godlier place" by which they mean "a place that subscribes to God and His rules." Brothers and sisters, we are not of this world (John 17:14). If you thought we were here to win a "culture war", you were mistaken. We are here to be ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20), strangers and exiles on the earth (Heb 11:13). We are to reflect God's glory (Matt 5:16). We are to make disciples (Matt 28:19). Are we supposed to make our culture a Christian one? I don't find that in my set of instructions.

The Bible says the world is broken -- "subjected to futility" is the phrase (Rom 8:20). It says that the world has its own god, and he has blinded them (2 Cor 4:4). It says that they are "hostile to God" (Rom 8:7). It says that the world will hate us (John 15:18). "Redeem the culture" is antithetical to all the Word says about the world. That is, the "culture war" was never our war. Oh, sure, we took it up with gusto. Lulled into believing that we were a "Christian nation" with the God-given right to the freedom of religion, and that we were a "moral majority", if not in Falwell's sense, at least in some sense, we loaded up our weapons of the world and launched an attack in the voting booth and the airways and the public square arguing that they were wrong and we are right and they ought to agree with us. We kept doing what the culture was doing but argued that we were doing it for a good reason. We could indulge our sexual lusts as long as we did it in marriage. We could make lots of money as long as we thanked God for it. We could take the methods and means of an anti-God culture and incorporate them into our churches to "bring them in". Wrong methods; wrong ends. A foolish effort, as it turns out, because we were never meant to fix the world. That is, we "lost the culture war" because we were never intended to be fighting it.

The aim of "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3) is not to redeem the culture. The aim is to redeem people. God's intentions are not to make bad people good; He intends to make dead people alive. We are not here to argue people into the kingdom; we are here to reflect God's glory, share the good news, and make disciples. Sure, we reflect God's glory by our good works. Sure, we are to be involved, connected, and, yes, even vote. But when we decided that we were going to "redeem the culture" by engaging it in a debate, we missed the point. In that sense, then, I think it's a good thing that "culture war" has been lost. Now, perhaps, we can stop wasting time trying to make dead people better behaved and start praying and practicing and preaching the Word. It's a higher calling than fighting a culture war.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Solution

We have all heard about the terrible shooting in Orlando. Awful. Called the worst mass shooting in American history, too many people lost their lives at the hands of a single deranged gunman pledging allegiance to ISIS. It seems odd, then, although not unexpected, that the first corrective we hear from most corners is gun control.

According to Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla, the weapon that was used could fire 700 shots per minute. Now, I don't know about you, but I had no idea that that kind of firepower was available on the streets to be purchased legally. (The gunman had purchased the weapons legally.) The weapon was semi-automatic; that is, one trigger pull, one bullet. The rate of fire would depend on how fast you can pull the trigger. It is not automatic -- one pull, lots of bullets. Beyond that, if the trigger is held down on an automatic weapon, you quickly lose your ability to hit anything since the recoil readjusts your aim for you ... away from what you're aiming at. Add to this the fact that the shooter would need to reload every 30 shots. Well, you get the idea. Truth is not an issue when there is an agenda.

"Oh, so you have a pro-gun agenda!" Good response. But that is not my point. We're looking for solutions here. While the pro-gun people argue "We need more guns for people to protect themselves", I would disagree. On the other hand, gun control is not the answer. "Well, at least we can eliminate guns like the AR-15?" Yeah, you go right ahead with that. But the AR-15 is not the answer. As it turns out, more people have died per incident in arson fires than in gun assaults. More people have died per incident in explosive attacks than in gun assaults. "Oh, now you're going all 'statistical' on us." No, not the point. The point is that "more people have died". The point is that we humans are very good at killing people. Now, it is trite to suggest, "Guns don't kill people; people kill people", but the fact remains that the AR-15 did not grab that guy in Orlando, drag him into that nightclub, aim itself, and force his finger against the trigger.

"Yeah? Well, limiting guns would limit gun violence!" True. Silly, but true. Eliminating automobiles would eliminate auto accidents, too. We're missing the point. If they don't have a 2,000 round-per-minute Gatling gun with belt fed ammunition, they'll get a 950 round-per-minute M-16. Not available? Pretty sure there's a 600 round-per-minute AK-47 to be had. Oh, no automatic weapons? Fine. The AR-15 will do. Oh, no assault weapons? Then a handgun. Ban guns entirely? Fine. Automobile, knife, baseball bat ... human beings will always find something with which to kill. Because the problem is not the weapon, but the human wielding it.

"Well, then, we need to educate people to stop being violent." Right. That should work. Education. Very short view. The problem isn't a lack of information. The problem is the heart. All we have to do is change the heart of Man. That's the problem, at the bottom of the pile. It's not assault weapons or too many guns. It is the heart of Man. Given the decline of the conscience in our world today, I am wondering about the viability of maintaining our 2nd Amendment rights. If it is true that the secret of American democracy resides in her churches as the de Tocqueville quote indicates and if it is true that when America ceases to be good, it will cease to be great, it may be time to reconsider that Constitution and its Bill of Rights. It seems obvious that the less influence conscience and a shared social moral code affect the people of any country, the more external controls will be required. It seems equally obvious that telling the American people, "We're cancelling your rights and freedoms" won't fly. So that isn't a solution. No, the only solution, it seems is a changed heart. Once you figure out how to change the heart of Man, you could remove all gun controls and there would be no problem.

Now, as it happens, we silly Christians actually do have a solution -- a genuine solution -- to this problem. A real solution. Of course, the public in general is moving toward banning it and lots of people don't want to hear it and it cannot be installed by Congress or even presidential edict, but the Good News that Christ died for our sins and can save us from the just wrath of God is also the Good News that those who place their faith in Christ will have changed hearts. Do I have an agenda? Yes. Not pro-gun or anti-gun. Not even anti-Islam. My agenda is to get the Gospel to everyone I can and to encourage others to do the same.

"Thanks, Stan. You're no help at all. Now, can we get back to figuring out which guns we're going to ban?"

Monday, June 13, 2016

An Unexpected Lesson from Harambe

You're all aware of the whole story, I'm sure, of the little boy that fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden that ended up with the zoo officials having to kill the poor endangered gorilla named Harambe. It was quite a story with all sorts of moral outrage. "How dare they kill that poor gorilla? Let the kid die instead!" "What's wrong with that zoo? Not securing their exhibits against all possible intrusions?" "That mother should face charges for not keeping her child out of the enclosure."

In many places it was that last one that was the loudest. And it's that last one that baffled me. We live in a world where "judging" is evil. You know, "judgmental". We live in a country where we worship freedom, a freedom that even exceeds freedom. Like our fervor to give "freedom" to less than 1% of the population by taking it away from 99% of the population because that tiny number believes themselves to be elves. Okay, not elves, but you get it. Freedom is our god. In gender questions (as if there is one), the aim is "let me be me." Don't limit us to binary gender identity. Let's obliterate it instead. In sexual pleasure, our aim is absolute freedom. We should each be allowed to do whatever it is we like. Well, almost. There is still a remnant of folks opposed to "man-boy love" and bestiality, but the rest is an open field, limited only by what we want. In child rearing, the aim is to make your kids free. Don't limit them; let them express themselves to their fullest extent. It would seem to me, then, that this mother was a hero. She didn't limit her child. She let him express himself fully. She should get a "mother medal" or something.

To tell you the truth, though, it is not the dead gorilla, the poor little boy, the zoo, the mother, or that news item that I have in mind. It isn't even the problem of Americans' worship of freedom. What occurs to me is the almost universal response that the mother should have protected her son better by limiting his freedom, by correcting him and even preventing him from doing what he did. We see that in parent-child relationships. Why can't we see that in the rest of life? Why is it love for a parent to correct a child, but it is not love for someone to correct another? Why can we see that a mother that drags her son from the brink of disaster or a husband that plunges into a burning building to pull his suicidal wife from the fire is loving and heroic, but we cannot see that a friend who tells you "God says your behavior is sin and it won't end well for you; there is a better way" is performing a service, an act of love?

If we were to be consistent, we would either give that mother a medal for refusing to meddle in the child's freedom, or we would recognize that true love sometimes has to "reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction." (2 Tim 4:2) But, of course, we're humans, twisted by sin, and not consistent.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:2)

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Significance of the Resurrection

All Christians understand that the Resurrection of Christ is essential to Christianity. Paul classified it as part of the core of the Gospel.
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. (1 Cor 15:3-4)
So the Christian tradition is to meet and worship on Sundays because it is "the Lord's day" (Rev 1:10; see also Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2) -- the day that He rose from the dead -- and we celebrate that resurrection. I suspect, however, that if you were to ask Christians, "Why is the Resurrection so important?" they might have a hard time finding much to say. So I'm here to help.

The top layer of this question is simply the "proof" nature of the miracle of His resurrection. That is, we can point to the event and say, "See? Explain that any other way than that He was who He said He was." It is the biblical nature of all miracles. Scripture refers to them as "signs", proof that the person in question is an actual emissary of God as they claim. Jesus even said, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name bear witness about Me." (John 10:25) He said, "Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own authority, but the Father who dwells in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me, or else believe on account of the works themselves." (John 14:10-11) Miracles prove it. No other miracle matches His resurrection. Other resurrections occurred in Scripture, but nowhere do we find one that is predicted and accomplished someone else involved and produces a new body.

Another layer of "proof" is that the Resurrection assures us that Jesus accomplished what He intended to accomplish. If He had died and that was the end, we wouldn't have known that His sacrifice on our behalf was accepted by God (1 Cor 15:13-14). His resurrection, then, was God's indication that the price was paid and the payment was accepted. Beyond that, in a very real sense it is His resurrection that provides for our justification. Paul wrote, "It will be counted to us who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification." (Rom 4:24-25) The cross paid for the trespasses and the resurrection provided justification.

There are other important aspects that are often missed. For instance, without believing that He was raised from the dead, salvation is impossible (Rom 10:9). "Yeah, I believe in Jesus, but I'm not convinced that He rose from the dead" won't work.

In his speech to King Agrippa, Paul said, "I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles." (Acts 26:22-23) The resurrection of Christ proclaimed light to Jews and Gentiles.

Christ's resurrection is what provides us with life as believers. We live an "exchanged life", my dead life for His living life, the "Christ in you" life (Col 1:27). That life was only made possible by His resurrection. "We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His." (Rom 6:4-5)

We are able to bear fruit as believers because He was raised from the dead (Rom 7:4).

We have a hope that there will be an ultimate resurrection for us someday. The proof of that hope is found in His own resurrection (1 Thess 4:14). Most of us have heard the biblical passage so often quoted at funerals intended to give people hope. "What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body." (1 Cor 15:42-44) You know, "When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?'" (1 Cor 15:54-55) That whole thing. We love that. Well, the premise of that is Christ's resurrection (1 Cor 15:20-28). How can there be any hope beyond the grave? Christ rose; so will we. Thus, we can speak with confidence, "knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into His presence." (2 Cor 4:14)

As we face everyday living, it is His resurrection that provides the benchmark of the power we have to live for Christ. "God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by His power." (1 Cor 6:14)

Our position, "seated with Christ in heavenly places", is proven by His resurrection (Eph 2:4-7).

His resurrection is our life (Col 2:12), our proof of forgiveness (Col 2:13), our certificate of canceled debt (Col 2:14).

His resurrection is the source of our faith and hope in God (1 Peter 1:20-21).

The Resurrection isn't a small thing. We tend to think of it as miraculous, of course, and a good thing, but it is far bigger than I think we generally see it. It is the core of the faith. It is proof -- proof that He is who He said He was, that He accomplished the payment for our sin debt and it was accepted, that there is hope, that we can be seated with Christ in heavenly places, that we are forgiven, that we can hope in God, that we will someday be with Him in heaven. His death paid for our forgiveness, but His resurrection is the reason for our justification -- that necessary exchange of our sin for His righteousness. His resurrection is the source of power for the Christian life, the reason we bear fruit as believers, the means by which we can combat sin in our own lives daily. Thus, as Paul said, it is "of first importance". Perhaps we don't appreciate it sufficiently. Perhaps we should.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

God and Sex

Speaking of our earthly existence here, someone once said, "There is a worm in everything." Paul expressed the same thing about our world when he wrote, "The creation was subjected to futility" (Rom 8:20). We know that each of us harbors sin, requiring first a new life in Christ and then a process of sanctification, of transformation. We all still struggle with sin and wrong thinking in some areas and we will continue to do so this side of heaven.

One of the primary gods of this world today (and, honestly, always, I think) is sex. I'd like to say that it is sexual immorality, but I'm pretty sure that properly married couples engaging in lawful sexual relations suffer from this same problem of broken thinking and perceptions. While the world has immersed itself in "What I do for pleasure is my business" with sex high on that list, God had a different idea of it and I believe we -- we who are genuinely interested in God's plans and perspectives -- have largely missed it.

Let's start at the beginning. Remember God's definition of marriage: "a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh." (Gen 2:24) This "one flesh" union is a repeated theme in Scripture (see, for instance, Matt 19:4-6 and Eph 5:31-32). In this union is God's picture in human form of the union of His Son to His Bride in the form of the Church. It's an important picture and a vital concept. So why is it that we tend to largely boil it down to "sex"? It's not. It's intimacy. But, of course, Satan got here before me so that "intimate" is now a synonym for "sex". Ask someone "Were you intimate with that person?" and they'll understand you to be asking if they had sex. It is not sex I'm referencing. It's intimacy. Like Peter's command to husbands to "live with your wives in an understanding way" (1 Peter 3:7). Look, everyone knows what it means when we say, "He knew her in a biblical way." And sex is there, to be sure, but why "knew"? Why that word? It's not "acquaintance". It's not like Adam was introduced to Eve at that point. No, it is intimacy. That is, in God's version sex is a physical expression of a spiritual reality that a man and a woman who marry become one -- one flesh, one mind, intimate.

Today we've arrived at something so much better. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) We've arrived at sex for pleasure and, if we are being honest, sex for power, but not sex for intimacy. Think about it. What we do in the bedroom reflects what makes us feel good. Too often it is precisely that narrow -- "What makes me feel good." But even the generous husband and wife will be seeking pleasure for the other along with himself or herself. What we do in the bedroom is often for pleasure and if it is not pleasurable we don't do it because pleasure is the point, is it not? Now, I would argue that the answer to my own question is "No" not because it isn't pleasure in view, but that it most often is not merely pleasure in view. Most people who know will tell you that rape is not a sexual thing, but a power thing. I would contend that much of what happens in the bedroom today is not a sexual thing, but a power thing. You have various sex acts that are painful. There is the whole world of bondage and sadomasochism specifically aimed at giving and receiving pain and humiliation. Much of sex much of the time is aimed more at dominance and submission. More than pleasure? No. Because in these cases pain and dominance and submission gives these people pleasure, just not sexual pleasure.

So what is my point? My point is not about sex. It's about our failure even as Christians to grasp that God intended sex for the union of a man and a woman in the ultimate physical intimacy as part of the ultimate intimacy of persons. We've accepted the world's interpretation of sex for power or pleasure and figure that marriage sanctifies that lie. We're wrong. If what you do in the bedroom, husband or wife, is predicated on "what I like" or "what makes me feel good" or "what leads to an orgasm", you're missing the aim -- intimacy. And if you understand "intimacy" to merely mean "sex" instead of "knowing at the deepest levels", you've clearly missed the point. God intended so much more. It would be a shame for us to miss it in favor of so much less.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Taken in Vain

Most of us know the command from the Decalogue: "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain." (Exo 20:7) Yeah, we know. We're not to say the word "God" as a vain or frivolous word. You know, like a swear word or something. Well, of course, that would include "Jesus", too. We get it. Do we?

"The name of the Lord" is actually a foreign phrase to modern America. It wasn't as unclear in former times. Back when people understood authority far better than we do today in our "individualism" and "question authority" days, they understood that there were those in authority who were to be obeyed -- a different class, a different echelon of people. Kings, masters, rulers, these people needed to be obeyed because these people had authority. In addition to these people, the underlings would need to obey those who came "in the name of the king". That is, an authority had the right to assign some of that authority to one of his people, and those under that authority would need to submit to this person operating "in the name of the king" as if the king himself was there, not because of the name, but because of the king. "The name", in these times, represented the person. You've heard, I'm sure, someone concerned about "my good name". It refers to their character, their reputation, much more than the term with which you address them.

We see this in Scripture. Jesus said, "I have come in my Father's name." (John 5:34) That's not a term, but a character reference. He wasn't saying, "Please address me as 'the Father'." He was saying, "I have come under the authority of and in the character of the Father." Jesus promised "If you ask me anything in My name, I will do it." (John 14:14) That's not "if you tack on 'in Jesus' name'." It is "under My authority and according to My character".

I think we get this. I think it's clear that there is nothing magical about "in Jesus' name, amen" in our prayers. I'm fairly sure, if we think about it, we know that "in My name" is not a mere reference to a term, but a reference to the character and authority of Christ. Now, if that is true, what about that command in the Ten Commandments? What does it mean to "take the name of the LORD your God in vain"? It means that we are not allowed to claim for yourself the character and authority of God vainly. Sure, that would include using God's name as a swear word, but that is only the start of it. It would include the lack of the proper reverence and respect for a holy God. It would include claiming to be a Christ-follower while not following Christ. It would include worshiping God with your lips while being far from Him in your heart. It would include attitudes and actions that bring shame upon His name while we are claiming His name for ourselves.

Most of us accept the Ten Commandments as valid moral instructions for modern Christians. If this is true, then "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain" is one of those still-valid commandments. If this is true, perhaps we ought to be more diligent in this regard. Are you carrying around the name "Christian" without a thought of how your life reflects on Christ? Are you a "God-fearer" who has little fear of God? Maybe you manage to avoid saying God's name in a frivolous or crude way. Do you live as if your relationship with God is of little value? That's what it means to take the name of the Lord in vain.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

The Remnant

I read this in Romans the other day.
And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: "Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved. (Rom 9:27)
So, way back in Isaiah's day God was declaring that not all would be saved, but "only a remnant". Now, to be sure, Paul was talking in this particular passage about how "not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel" (Rom 9:6) which means "that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring." (Rom 9:8) Thus all of God's offspring will be saved; it's just that not all of Israel is part of God's offspring and, to be sure, not all people are God's offspring.

This concept is a theme through Scripture -- the concept of the remnant, the concept of the few. At the Flood, only 8 out of the entire population of the Earth survived, saved by God (1 Peter 3:18-20). Of the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, only 4 escaped (Gen 19:15) and only 3 survived (Gen 19:26), saved by God. When Elijah complained to God that he was the last believer, God told him that He had retained 7,000 faithful followers (1 Kings 19:17-18; Rom 11:1-5). (Note Who kept them.) When God sent Assyria to wipe out Judah, He promised a "surviving remnant" (2 Kings 19:30). Jesus referred to the "many" who would take the gate that leads to destruction and the "few" who would find the narrow gate (Matt 7:13-14).

This concept of "the remnant" is both difficult and encouraging. It is difficult for obvious reasons. For those who think that God is trying to save every last person on the planet, it is a sign of failure. Instead of saving all, He saves "few", a remnant. But even for those who understand that He is not trying to save all, it means that there is a large contingent of human beings that God knows will come into this world, ultimately reject Him, and face judgment. Only a relative few will be saved. And, as it touches our humanity, that is heart-breaking. As someone once asked me, "How can I be happy in heaven knowing that my mother is in Hell?" So it has its difficult side.

On the other hand, there is that remnant. That remnant, the elect, is an amazing story. Jesus said of the great tribulation, "For the sake of the elect those days will be cut short." (Matt 24:22) This remnant is chosen by God (Rom 11:5), called out by God, saved by God, retained by God, and ultimately glorified by God (Rom 8:30). This remnant is "predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son", making Christ "the firstborn among many brothers" (Rom 8:29). Saved by grace apart from works, this remnant has nothing of which to boast (Eph 2:8-9) and nothing to fear (Rom 8:31-39). This select "few" are adopted by God (John 1:12-13; Rom 8:16-17). In a time when the world appears chaotic, morality declines, and Christians appear fewer and fewer as they stand up against Christ in the name of Christ, it is of great comfort, as it was to Elijah, to know that there is a remnant, a "few", a group chosen by God out of all types of people to be kept by Him, to represent Him here and be with Him in the end. That can be nothing less than encouraging.

I've heard discouraged Christians speak fearfully about what's coming. It looks, to many, as if the Church with its true believers is vanishing. Rest assured that God has a remnant, a kept crowd, a "few". He cannot fail. And not one that He plans to save will be lost. This is a source of great confidence in a turbulent world.