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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Hope and Change

Our current president ran with the flag words, "hope" and "change". The right might respond, "Yes, and we're hoping for a change." But a little peek at politics today should assure you that, while we might possibly get some sort of change, there is precious little reason for hope. Fortunately, I'm not anticipating some sort of salvation from a political source, I take to heart the words of the psalmist: "Do not trust in princes, In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation." (Psa 146:3)

If you share some of my skepticism for politics, let me share a different hope ... a better hope. Paul wrote,
Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col 1:25-27)
Paul spoke of a "mystery", a mystery hidden from past ages, a mystery that "has now been manifested to His saints." Paul was a minister of a hidden mystery that is now abundantly clear in God's people. What is that mystery? Simply put, "Christ in you."

Politicians may promise hope and change. Political forces may even produce hope and change, although the former is not often fully realized and the latter is not always change we want. The good news is that in Christ there is the real hope, the certain change. In Christ we have the absolute certainty of glory to come. Now that is hope and change. What insures that certainty? Christ in you. We, His saints, are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We have Christ in us. Christ -- the "image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15), the "head of the body" (Col 1:18), the one in whom all the fullness of the Father dwells (Col 1:19) -- lives in us.

Don't expect help from the world. It won't be coming. On the other hand, don't expect defeat, either. We have the certainty of the Son of God dwelling in us, producing absolute hope and genuine change.
Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! I will praise the LORD while I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. (Psa 146:1-2)

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Who's looking out for the B's?

I'm sure you've seen the acronym, LGBT. Maybe it was spelled differently. I don't know the rules. Often there are added letters, like LGBTQ or LGBTQa or something. I've seen LGBTQIA. I've even seen LGBTQQIP2SAA. Way too much to figure out. But in the shorter versions I do okay. Let's see, the "L" is for lesbian and the "G" is for gay. Now, to be honest, I'm not actually clear on the distinction there. I thought "gay" referred to anyone with same-sex attraction, but, hey, what do I know? The "T" is clearly for transgender (or transsexual, I suppose). The "Q" can be confusing because some sources say it refers to "queer" which, as I understood it, was the same as "gay" which, as I understood it, referred to anyone with same-sex attraction, but, as we've already seen, what do I know? Others say the "Q" refers to "questioning", which is equally mysterious since everyone asks questions. But let's assume it's about someone not sure if they are any of the other letters or maybe just an H (heterosexual). In the "IA" version the "I" is for "intersex" which, as far as I can tell, is, in the final analysis, no defined gender at all, and the "A" is for "allies" of the LGBTQQIP ... well, you get the idea.

If you were paying attention, I skipped one. No, not one of the obscure ones. Not even one of the extended ones. Given the "standardized" LGBT acronym, I skipped the "B". Now, defining it is pretty easy. It refers to the bisexual, people who are attracted to both sexes. Fine. We understand the concept. But what I'm wondering is this. In all the work that the LGBT groups and organizations and movements are doing, who is looking out for the B's? We've all seen where the LG groups have come out of the closet in order to push all sorts of new rights (like the right to redefine "marriage" into oblivion) while wielding unprecedented power of the courts and the lawmakers until the public has been swayed to set aside their minds and embrace their feelings instead. Morality aside, the only way this could take place is by, well, putting morality aside. And they have managed to do that by simply defining it away and sweet talking some and bullying others into agreeing. We've recently seen the shift for the so-called "T" group, where now their gender is so well defined that no one knows anymore what it actually means ... but it is well protected. Now they can use any bathroom they feel like. If you doubt the mainstreaming of the gender insanity issue, just look at the American winner of the 1974 Olympics men's decathlon -- "Call me Caitlyn, please" -- and we have mainstream "T" with a vengeance. You had better get your pronouns right. (So, is he going to return those medals from the men's events he competed in as a girl?) In these and many other ways we see that the LGBT has worked hard for the L and the G and the T. What about the B?

If the bisexuals were to get their rights secured, wouldn't we need to allow for polygamy and/or polyamory? (Polygamy would be one gender married to multiples of the opposite gender. Polyamory is mixed genders -- say, three guys and four girls married. Or not married. And it's not new.) If one of the key aims of the LGBT is to secure equal rights, this would have to be key. Somehow it hasn't been. Somehow even the LGBT crowd seems to prefer to define "marriage equality" as "what we say it is" and not "what works for the bisexual as well". They seem to say, "That 'only a husband and wife' thing? It's out. Any two will do. But, no, not more than two. Why? Because we say so." So, who is looking out for the B's?

Did you know there exists in the community that calls themselves "homosexual" a condition known as "biphobia"? (The source -- a gay pride location -- says it's "rampant in the LGT community.") That's right. There is a condition of discrimination among the LGBT (minus, of course, the "B") against the B's. So, who is looking out for the B's?

Well, I will if no one else will. I will -- and will encourage my fellow believers to -- give them the gospel just like anyone else. I'll encourage my fellow Christians to embrace the sinner without embracing the sin just like everyone else's sin. Someone has to look out for them. Clearly the LGBTLMNOP's aren't. But we know a Savior who will, don't we? We need that Savior. The "LGT" folk need that Savior. And the B's need that Savior, too. Total equality!

Friday, July 29, 2016


It seems as if we're making a real art of substitution in America these days. High on the list of the dieter's list, for instance, is the "sugar substitute". We don't want to give up sweet, so we'll find something that will substitute for sugar. Oh, it's not easy. That one has been shown to cause cancer and this one has been shown to cause memory loss. I suppose if you used them both you would get cancer, but it wouldn't matter since you couldn't remember.

We're all aware of the "surrogate mother" concept. In this approach to producing children parents will find a substitute sperm, substitute egg, or maybe just a substitute womb.

Philosophically, modernism was once king. Modernism believed that careful, rational thought could provide the answers to all of life's questions. We now have a substitute: post-modernism. Replacing modernism is the complete rejection of rationalism. We've substituted "I think" with "I feel and, therefore, it's right."

For the first 200-or-so years of our national history, the Judeo-Christian ethic has been our moral guide for the most part. Well, not any longer. We've found a substitute. In sexual matters, instead of a sexual morality that called for marriage before sex we've substituted "adult" and "consent" as the only requirements. Anything else is fine. And they're working on removing the "adult" part. Some don't want to limit it to "human". Of course, it has been a long time since we substituted the primary purpose of sex from procreation to recreation.

Our country was founded on a Bill of Rights that outlined necessary protections of basic rights against government encroachment. We've started substituting new rights for these old ones. Last year the courts substituted gay mirage for the longstanding, historical, traditional definition of marriage ... in the name of "equal rights". States have moved to put protections in place for religious rights promised by the First Amendment, but "gay rights" preclude those. When a clerk in Kentucky refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, there was an outcry. When a gay judge in Texas refused to perform heterosexual marriages, there wasn't a peep. The florist who suggested that her gay friends use a different florist for their marriage ceremony found that exercising her First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion cost her her business. As have others. The Bill of Rights was a nice idea, but today we're making some substitutions.

It certainly isn't new, but most don't really notice the substitution of "love your neighbor as yourself" (which even unbelievers applaud) with "love yourself before your neighbor". I suppose that's why we're doing this substitution with a vengeance.

Then there's the gospel. Most Americans in the mid-20th century had heard it. Today, it's a mangled mess. "Hell" has become "unpleasant circumstances" and even "a better place to be" ("I wouldn't want to be in heaven if my friends, family, or dog wasn't there."). "Heaven" has become little better than the Islamic "72 virgins" where all my personal preferences are catered to. The road to avoiding one and achieving the other is basically "Be all you can be." We've selected a substitute gospel with a substitute Christ to avoid a substitute Hell and achieve a substitute Heaven.

Sugar substitutes can harm your body. This final substitute will destroy your soul. Substitutions are not always a good idea.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

American Christianity

From my youth I've seen many examples of "American heroes" on the TV and movie screens. John Wayne was probably the quintessential hero. He stood alone, strong, individual, fighting for what was right, that sort of thing. Most of them are like that in American lore. In comic books and their television and movie offshoots we have superheroes like Batman, Superman, and Spiderman. And they're not all fictional types. Abraham Lincoln, for instance, stood alone against slavery and, by his positions and choices brought about the emancipation of slaves in America. Heroic. That's our hero image, a stand-alone kind of hero who does what is right with strength and courage.

It's interesting to me how this image has leaked into American Christianity ... and not in a good way. Recently I read that actor Bruce Willis was an atheist. Another source, however, denied this. Willis was quoted as saying he had no use for organized religion. Thus, "atheist". But another quote was offered that said he believed in God. So, not "atheist". The "no use for organized religion" concept seems to be a direct offshoot of American Christianity where we admire the lone wolf, the Lone Ranger, the rugged individual who needs no one and just does what is right. "That's the kind of Christian I want to be," many American Christians might say. So they stay away from church and just slog their way through life, "Just me and Jesus."

How odd that Scripture never presents Christianity this way. Yes, sure, it's "me and Christ", but never "Just me and Christ." Biblical Christianity is presented as Christians in a body (1 Cor 12). Paul says, "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ." (1 Cor 12:12) He says, "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." (1 Cor 12:27) He warns against the two extremes -- either "I'm not that part, so I'm not important" (1 Cor 12:15-17) and "They're not the part that I am, so they're not important." (1 Cor 12:21-22) The claim, in fact, is not that we're simply supposed to be a body, but that "God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose." (1 Cor 12:18)

This "body" functionality, where each has his or her own function to perform for the body, is accomplished by the gifting of the Spirit. "Oh," I've heard far more than a few times, "that doesn't include me." Or they'll tell me, "I know my gift ... the gift of gab." But Scripture says, "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (1 Cor 12:7) It's not that some get a spiritual gift and some do not. Each gets a gift. More importantly, that gift is not for your personal pleasure. it is "for the common good."

It seems to me that many American Christians have carefully removed passages like 1 Corinthians 12 from their Bibles. "Christianity is about relationship, not religion. We don't need a church to commune with God." Oh, and the ever popular "Just me and Jesus." Sounds brave, except it is not what Scripture describes. The Christian life is an interconnected life where we serve one another and are, in turn, served by one another. God's Word says that each of us has been given a spiritual gift and if you're not actually connected to believers, particularly a local body, you're not likely using that gift for what it was intended, for the purpose it was given. Imagine the insult to the Holy Spirit! "Thanks for that gift of ____. I'll just put it in the closet, stored nicely. I don't think I'll really use it."

Christianity is a uniquely "other" way of life. Built on "love one another" (John 13:34) and functioning as an interconnected body of Christ where "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (1 Cor 12:26), we are not designed to be a John Wayne or Captain America or Wonder Woman. We are designed to heroically invest our lives in each other. When we fail to do it, we weaken the body of Christ. When we succeed, we become a powerful force for God's work in this world. There is no room in Christianity for Lone Ranger Christians, no matter what American individualism tries to tell you.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Communion Inquiry

Every Christian knows (or should know) about Communion. It goes by various names -- Communion, the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper. (Why they call it that last is odd since a tiny piece of bread and a thimble of juice hardly qualifies as a "supper". But I digress.) I've always had questions about this, one of the few sacraments common to all Christians.

Paul's explanation is succinct and often quoted at various celebrations of the event:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, "This is My body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me." In the same way also He took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. (1 Cor 11:23-26)
You may have heard that word for word at your latest honoring of the Lord's Supper.

I get the part about remembering the Lord's death in the broken bread (representing His broken body) and the cup (representing His shed blood). That's all clear and good. The part I don't really understand is "as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup." To what bread and what cup is He referring? It's interesting to see the wide range of "as often as you" do this in various churches. Some do it weekly. Some monthly. Some quarterly. I think there are some who do it once a year. How often was this to be done? The reference to the bread and the cup would be a clue, I think.

I've heard some argue that it means that any time we eat and drink anything we should remember His death and proclaim it. Okay, I only heard that from one person. The most common view is that the bread and cup to which he refers is simply the elements of the Lord's Supper. But I've also heard from Jewish Christian sources that Jesus was in a specific point in the Passover celebration and that there is significance to the bread and the cup that we Gentiles don't realize. Could he have been referring to the Passover bread and cup? That would put it at once a year ... or never for Gentiles. But that surely can't be right.

For kids like me who grew up in church, the Lord's Supper became somewhat passé. The symbolism was lost on us. Look, there was no "bread broken". It was prefab crackers. And that grape juice we got was not the product of us having "drained the blood of grapes", so to speak. It came from a bottle of juice. Yet, Paul said, "We preach Christ crucified" (1 Cor 1:23) and "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." (1 Cor 2:2) The sacrifice of Christ on the cross on our behalf is the critical message of the gospel and our sole means of salvation. So how is it that this essential "proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" piece can get so diluted?

I'm asking questions here. I'm not trying to call for change or make a point. It just seems to me that remembering His sacrifice and proclaiming it to others is, well, part of our purpose statement. And it feels like a cracker tab and a thimble of juice is a poor way to do that. We know, for instance, that the early church did much more. Paul's explanation of Communion is in a passage where he is berating the Corinthians for their excess at the Lord's Supper (1 Cor 11:20-30). My history of celebrations of the Eucharist give no reference point for the concept of "excess". We know as well that the early church was "day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes" (Acts 2:46), which sounds a lot like both sharing meals and celebrating the Lord's Supper together. I'm not saying we need to do that. I'm not saying we shouldn't. But I'm wondering if this often quarterly cracker and juice exercise is the best way to remember and proclaim His death. Just wondering.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Danger of OSAS

You know OSAS, right? "Once saved, always saved." When I was growing up, I thought I was a Calvinist because I believed "once saved, always saved" and those miscreant Arminians didn't. Of course, I didn't realize that "Calvinism" (poorly named) has 5 points and I was ignoring 4 of them. Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across the rest of them, saw the Scripture involved, and rejected OSAS.

"Okay, now, hold on," I can hear you saying. "Aren't you a Calvinist? Don't you subscribe to that point as a Calvinist?" No, I don't, and I'll tell you why. I cannot tell you how many people in my lifetime I've heard tell me "I'm a Christian" while they indulged in open, admitted sinful practices which they defended on the basis of "OSAS". "You can't tell me I'm going to hell," they would tell me, "because I accepted Christ when I was younger and once saved, always saved, right?" This is a problem.

"Why?" some might ask. "Because it violates your views?" No, because it violates Scripture. It ignores all the biblical warnings about testing yourself and falling short. It ignores all the biblical statements about the nature of a genuine believer. John wrote something that was startling. "No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God." (1 John 3:9) When Paul wrote, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Cor 5:17), it wasn't trivial. OSAS would argue that it is not only trivial; it is wrong.

If I told you, "It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13) and left it at that, I think you'd find that I had told a half-truth. That is, left alone, it sounds like God working in believers is all that is needed and we can just go about our merry way. But the statement is actually at the end of a previous sentence. "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for ..." (Phil 2:12-13) Yes, it is God who works in you, but this is something He does so you will do something. So you will do what? So you will "work out your own salvation." "Well, sure," you might say, "but we're not saved by works." No, we aren't. But this working out of salvation is not minor or incidental. It is accompanied by "fear and trembling". Yes, God is at work in us to have both the will and the power to do it, but we must do it. Where does that leave the OSAS side which insists we don't have to do anything? Where is the fear and trembling of adherents to OSAS? Going with the popular perspective of OSAS, where we can sin all we want once we're saved because salvation can't be lost, it would suggest that we don't have the sense that demons have (James 2:19).

The other problem is that OSAS is cavalier about salvation. It is more of a "I've got my 'get out of hell free' card so I can do whatever I want" mindset. It doesn't take into account the cost. It doesn't take into account the change in nature that a relationship with Christ brings.

I should be clear here. I'm not saying you can lose your salvation. If you are able to simply go on sinning to your heart's content, you never had it. That's what John said. "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us." (1 John 2:19) Jesus said that those who are in the Father's hand cannot be removed (John 10:28-29). Paul said, "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil 1:6) If He does not, the work was not begun. The work that we do doesn't secure our salvation, make us more acceptable to God, or anything of the sort. It is Christ working in us. From that perspective, we cannot not work. The "5th point" is not "once saved, always saved". It is the claim that God will keep His own and that, through the working out of His power in our lives, we will be changed, transformed, sanctified, conformed to the image of Christ. No change? No salvation to start with. Saved? Then change will occur. It's as simple as that.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Christian Liberty Relinquished

The standard definition for the doctrine of Christian Liberty is something like this. Believers are free to do that which God has not commanded them not to do or to not do that which God has not commanded them to do in accordance with faith. That is, if God didn't say anything about the subject, your conscience (guided by the Holy Spirit, of course) should be your guide. The doctrine comes from a couple of biblical passages. One is Romans 14 and the other is 1 Corinthians 8. And most Christians who have heard of this principle are rather pleased with it.

Odd thing, however. If you actually read the texts involved, you would actually come away with something rather different. Romans 14, for instance, speaks about each of us being responsible to God. He offers examples -- eating meat or being a vegetarian, observing days or considering them all equal -- and suggests that we don't pass judgment on each other for either position. See? Christian liberty. Paul says, "I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean." (Rom 14:14) Again, Christian liberty. He does warn that "whatever does not proceed from faith is sin" (Rom 14:23), but it's still about Christian liberty, right? Well, in truth, this is not the message Paul is trying to convey. He goes on to say, "If your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died." (Rom 14:15) And therein lies Paul's main thrust. "Do not destroy the one for whom Christ died."

He really drives this point home in the 1 Corinthians 8-10. Here he points out that food offered to idols means nothing since "an idol has no real existence" (1 Cor 8:14). So it doesn't matter, right? Paul says it doesn't. But, Paul argues for another consideration. "Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do, but take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak." (1 Cor 8:8-9) This is his key idea. He says, in fact, "Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble." (1 Cor 8:13)

Lots of Christians like this Christian Liberty principle. If God didn't say anything about it, we're free to live up to our consciences. Nice. And while this principle is valid, we need to be aware that it is not what Paul was trying to convey. The principle by which we ought to live is the principle of surrendered rights in favor of love for the brethren. The principle that Paul teaches is "Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor." (1 Cor 10:24)
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. (1 Cor 10:31-33)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Heaven is a Happy Place

You know the promises. So does everyone else. Heaven will be a place with baby shampoo, right? You know ... "no more tears". (Sorry -- bad joke.) But, seriously, Scripture is clear that "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Rev 21:4) Heaven, we all know, will be a place of eternal bliss. Sure, we may not fully grasp "pearly gates" or streets of gold that are transparent (Rev 21:18), but we're absolutely clear on this joy-in-heaven thing.

So, let me ask you. If you were to find out that heaven would be a place of happiness ... but Jesus would not be there, would you want to go?

I heard that question some years ago and it stunned me. First, it was "Well, who wouldn't?" But it started to sink in and I had to shift almost immediately. Is our goal joy and peace away from this mess we're in now, or is it Him? Are we aiming for comfort or relationship with Him? Is it even possible to have joy where Jesus is not?

The psalmist wrote, "Sing for joy in the LORD, O you righteous ones; Praise is becoming to the upright." (Psa 33:1) Nehemiah said, "The joy of the LORD is your strength." (Neh 8:10) Paul wrote that the fruit of the Spirit is "love, joy, peace ..." (Gal 5:22-23) Now, we can look all sorts of places for happiness, but true joy is found in the Lord. The abundant life is found in Christ (John 10:10). We were built to be with Him. Heaven is a happy place, but that happiness is found in His unmitigated presence. There is no joy in Heaven if He isn't there. And if He isn't there, I don't want to be, either. I want to be where He is.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Voting Question

So, things are getting really tight here. We know the candidates. We have a leftist who would like to further the damage brought about by the president of the last two terms and a Republican that the Republicans can't stomach. They comprise two of the least liked candidates in history. Both are dangerous. The "lesser of two evils" concept doesn't come into play here. We're facing bad choices. So ... what now?

I've been wrestling (continue to do so) with the voting question. I've never been here before, but I cannot, in good conscience, vote for either of these two candidates. I ignore your "A vote for someone else is a vote for Hillary." With that kind of logic, we should simply be urging Democrats not to vote, as "A vote for someone else besides Hillary is a vote for Trump" or whomever you prefer. Nonsense. A vote for someone else is a vote for someone else. But should I vote?

An article by Ben Sasse about voting caught my eye. In it he says that "the act of voting is also a civic duty that tells people what we think America means, what we want to teach our kids about moral leadership, what face we want America to present to the world, and what sort of candidates we want more of in coming years." I think Mr. Sasse is right. It isn't about electing someone. It's about something much bigger. I mean, I've seen where candidates for which I've voted have put in judges that I've abhorred. I've seen where candidates I've disliked have run into gridlock from a counter Congress. And I always keep three facts in mind. First, the president is not the king. He doesn't rule. His (or her) election promises are, in fact, generally lies since he (or she) lacks the ability to carry them out, being only one part of the government. Second, I do not, in the final analysis, determine what that government will be. That's God's job (Rom 13:1). Third, my salvation is not in my government. Those of you who see your vote as a way to save the world have an extremely small view of "save the world".

So, how is the best way for me to vote? Some tell me to ignore it. I suspect that's more apathy than love for their fellow man. Some tell me to vote for one of the dangerous ones. Well, to be clear, all I've heard from this group is to vote for the dangerous Mr. Trump. Any other vote is a vote for evil. I don't see a vote for Mr. Trump as less than a vote for a more frightening unknown than Hillary. But if I want to teach others about moral leadership, about what face I would like to see represent America, about what kinds of candidates I want to see more of, how would I vote to do that? I don't see how a non-vote would accomplish it. That's a non-message. Yes, God establishes authority, but He uses means and in almost all cases He uses us as His means. So if I conclude that it is my duty to vote, how do I do that? As I said, I'm still wrestling with this stuff.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Making Disciples

We are commanded, of course, to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." (Mark 16:15) Let no one convince you otherwise. However, that is only the beginning. We aren't sent to make converts; we're sent to make disciples. No, more than that.
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matt 28:19-20)
We are to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to observe all that Christ commands. No small task. And you can ask anyone -- this is the "Great Commission". That is, it's important. Why, then, do you suppose that it is so very rare to find it being done or to find a church that teaches it? What's up with that?

Years ago at a church at which I was an elder, a church at which I ministered and thoroughly enjoyed, I spoke to the pastor about it. I thought it would be a good thing, for instance, if the pastor would find a young man or two, maybe late high school, who might think they were called to be pastors, and mentor them. Have them hang around while he does his "pastor thing". Visit the sick, go see people, maybe in some counseling and the like. Teach them by word and deed what it means to be a pastor. The church might sponsor them to go to Bible college or seminary. They would might lead children's ministry stuff and, as they grow and learn, higher age groups. They would be known by the church. They might give a sermon when the pastor is away. When it came time for the pastor to retire, no "search committee" would be required; one of these would naturally step in. "Too much work," he told me. Is that why? Is it not worth the time and effort to disciple? Is it too much work to obey Christ?

Discipleship is the process by which a Christian with a life worth emulating commits himself for an extended period of time to a few individuals who have been won to Christ, the purpose being to aid and guide their growth to maturity and equip them to reproduce themselves in a third spiritual generation. If a person commits to bringing 100 people a year to Christ, at the end of 15 years he would have produced 1,500 converts. If a person commits to discipling two people a year, in that same 15 years he would have produced 32,768 disciples. That's the power of discipleship.

Paul told Timothy, "The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." (2 Tim 2:2) That's basic discipleship. If Jesus is our example, discipleship is not simply teaching information. It is a "walk alongside" process of teaching and demonstrating Christ, of encouraging and exhorting, of pouring your life into another with the end in view of being their example to follow to Christ -- their local Christ-mirror, so to speak. We often use the word "mentoring", and that might work as long as it's understood that it's long term and not merely situational. (Often a mentor is thought of as teaching one subject or handling one crisis.) Jesus told His disciples, "I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you." (John 13:15) Peter said we were called for the purpose of suffering for our faith "since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps." (1 Peter 2:21) Paul told Titus to "speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine." (Titus 2:1) He told him to teach older men what they should be and younger men what they should be and older women to teach younger women (Titus 2:2-6) Most importantly, he told Titus "In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us." (Titus 2:7-8) Paul told the Philippians, "Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us." (Phil 3:17) That's discipleship -- being and staying close enough to be observed and imitated.

Maybe that's why we don't disciple much. It's frightening to any of us who know ourselves as the sinners we are. "Who am I to demonstrate Christ to others? Who am I to be an example?" This, of course, fails to take into account the work of Christ in each of us. Discipleship is a scary thing, the walking alongside of a more spiritually mature believer with a spiritually younger Christian to be the local display of Christ. Parents ought to be discipling their children. Husbands ought to be discipling their wives (Eph 5:25-27). And it surely should go beyond that. True, this discipler is growing at the same time. Sure, the one doing the discipling has not arrived at perfection. And, yes, this is a daunting task. Still, we're commanded to do it. So who is your Paul? Who is your Timothy? How are you doing at following the Great Commission? I ask because I have not yet arrived and I thought maybe -- just maybe -- I'm not alone in this.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Something I Don't Understand

Warning: Rant Alert!

There are, as it turns out, lots of things I don't understand, but something is nagging at me right now. Turn to any of the current TV sitcoms, movies, whatever, and you'll find out that the main goal of every man on the planet is to have sex with girls. Now, of course, this is a product of an exaggerated media bias toward sexual immorality, but, still, who doesn't know that, at least with young males, between hormones and culture they are heavily pushed in that direction? Certainly most young men know it. And older men who were once young men know it. Mothers ought to know it. It isn't a state secret or anything. It seems rather clear and unambiguous.

So why is it that so many Christian young girls are dressed to attract males to lust? I'm not talking about the non-Christians. They will do what they will do without guidance. But it seems as if Christians, especially in a Christian home, shouldn't be doing this. It isn't kind. It isn't loving. It isn't conducive to relationships not centered on sex. It doesn't highlight their modesty and discretion (1 Tim 2:9), their good works and godliness (1 Tim 2:10).

Now, it may be because their examples are often dressing the same. Certainly their cultural examples are, but clothing that accentuates the sexual to the exclusion of the character is not uncommon in Christian homes on Christian wives and mothers or even in church. Just as in politics where character no longer counts, it seems as if Christians don't think it counts among believers, either.

Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica,
Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. (1 Thess 4:1-7)
The object was "how you ought to walk." The overall goal was "sanctification". And Paul explains that first in this way: "that you abstain from sexual immorality." To fail to "possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion" was called defrauding. When we encourage "lustful passion", whether in ourselves or in others, it is fraud.

It isn't that the Scriptures are unclear. And in the text the warning is "The Lord is the avenger in all these things." It isn't a small thing. And yet, here we are, in a world where the worst kept secret is male hormones and general lust. Here we are where Christian girls ignore the biblical injunctions to modesty and character and parents apparently don't see it or don't care. So why is this the case? I just don't understand.

Sorry. End of rant.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Christians and Weed

I recently took a trip through Oregon and Washington, both states where recreational marijuana was "legal". (That's in quotes because it's still illegal by federal law, but I guess no one is looking.) In the lobby of the hotel we stayed in where they have all those brochures on things to do in the area, there was a brochure on where to find weed as well as enlightening information about cannabis in its various forms and effects. Coming from a state where it is NOT legal, of course, this was shocking.

For my entire life where I grew up in the era of the drug culture I've had no problem answering the question, "Is it okay for Christians to smoke marijuana?" It was easy. "The Bible says to obey the authorities (Rom 13:1). They say 'No'. So, our answer is 'No'." But some states have changed that position and others (mine included) are preparing to follow suit. Now I'm going to have to pursue the question further. Is it okay for Christians to smoke marijuana?

First, I need to say that I disagree with those who see a clear answer in 1 Corinthians 6:19. You know, the standard "Christians shouldn't smoke because 'your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.'" With that kind of perspective, you'd need to avoid living where there is smog, failing to exercise, even eating Twinkies. You would have to see anything unhealthy as sin. The text, however, is about sexual immorality. So I can't give that one as a blanket answer.

So, the first question you'd need to ask should be easy (since I already used it): "Is it legal?" It isn't in the United States. Some states allow it for medical purposes; others for recreational purposes. Federal law still calls it illegal. But it could be argued that "It's legal in my state" ... if it is. If not, you have your answer.

A real question you'd need to ask yourself is "Why?" Why would you want to? What do you hope to accomplish? As believers, we are supposed to love God and love our neighbors, the two rules of Christian living. How will it assist you in doing so? We are commanded to make disciples. How will this make that happen? That is, is this something of value? I can't actually see how it could be. There is, of course, the medical side that could be considered and it might be argued that, from the medical point of view, it might make you better able to serve God. I cannot find any justification from a perspective of God's purposes for us that would include the use of recreational marijuana, but you should ask yourself these kinds of questions.

As it turns out, there are several aspects to marijuana. One is THC, the compound in marijuana that produces psychoactive effects. In nature, plants don't exceed about 30% THC, but we've improved on it and you can get concentrates up to 95%. Clearly the aim of this product is ... psychoactive effects. Another component is cannabidiol (CBD). This stuff isn't psychoactive. In fact, it can counteract the effects of THC. This is the source of medical effects. Some tests suggest that it can reverse alcohol-induced brain damage, decrease social anxiety, treat schizophrenia and even "turn off" the cancer gene found in metastasis. In some forms, it is also a sleep aid. There appears to be a large number of conditions that CBD can affect. So this form would be a different question.

So, what about Scripture? What does it have to say? Obviously, nothing. The effects of marijuana weren't discovered until 1964. Still, God's Word is not completely silent on the subject. We know, for instance, the command
"Do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father." (Eph 5:18-20)
Paul says we shouldn't be "intoxicated". We would say "under the influence." Paul says it's "dissipation". The word is "profligacy", a shameless waste. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, make melody in your heart to the Lord, give thanks. Lots of things better than "under the influence." But maybe you don't like the connection of "drunk" and "stoned". So how about this?
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19-21)
The deeds of the flesh are focused on self. Part of that selfishness includes "drunkenness". Included in the list is "things like these." Surely you'd have to admit that the use of recreational marijuana is aimed at exactly the kinds of things Paul is warning against -- immorality, impurity, an appeal to the senses, drunkenness or, at least, "thinks like these".

The good news for you is that I don't get to make the rules and you get to examine the Scriptures for yourself and see if this is what was intended. As for me, I cannot seem to correlate "getting high" with anything remotely positive in the life of a Christ-follower. You'll have to decide that for yourself. If it's illegal, the question is pointless. God says not to violate the law. But I'm pretty sure, as America's moral conscience dies, it will be a question for you to examine beyond the legality of it. I hope I've given some useful places to look when you do.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


The word for the day. The Oxford Dictionaries define the word "demagogue" as "A political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument" or anyone who uses those tactics. Alexander Hamilton, in both his introduction to and conclusion for the Federalist Papers, warned about the dangers of these types. The aim of the Constitution was to avoid them.

Mind you, it is not the appeal to emotion and prejudice that is the problem. A situation logically explained can certainly produce emotions and prejudices. It is the appeal to emotion and prejudice to the distortion of logic that is the problem. A prime example in history would be the McCarthy era where an irrational furor over Communism spawned the House Un-American Activities Committee and the political equivalent of the Salem Witch Trials. Not reasonable; demagoguery. A modern example is Donald Trump's Wall. Yeah, right. We'll build a wall from California to Texas and make Mexico pay for it. That might make some people feel better, but it makes no sense. It isn't rational; it's demagoguery. Then there's the whole "transgender" thing. Logic demands that XX is female and XY is male and we're done, but emotion cries out for "how we feel" and is quite pleased to arrive at compassion for the XX trapped in and XY body or vice versa until we cannot define gender at all. This isn't rational; this is demagoguery.

Politicians delight in it. Various causes are rife with it. Entire movements and even governments are built on it. Appeal to their emotions and their prejudices and you'll win the day ... even if you're dead wrong and even dangerously so. And it's not possible to argue against it because you're arguing logic against their feelings. That is, if you are right they'll be miserable. Good luck with that. You'll find this in the liberals and the conservatives, the atheists and the religious, the left and the right. Don't let it be you. We are to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." (Matt 22:37) We are to "be transformed by the renewal of your mind." (Rom 12:2) You might not always be able to fix the demagogues or those who fall prey to them, but you can be sure you aren't among them.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Promises, Promises

I could simply say "Romans 8:28" and many of you would know already what I'm talking about. It's a great promise that begins with "we know".
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.
Ah ... sigh. Just hearing it is pleasant. What a marvelous promise! The question, however, is whether or not we believe it.

Most of us have bad things that happen in our lives. From uncomfortable circumstances to downright disasters, things happen to "those who love God" all the time. Now, standing out here, where it's not going on in my life, that promise is glorious. You know, ready and available for when one of those things actually occurs. But when one of those things occurs, do we believe it? Because I can tell you from personal experience that "all things" do not seem to be good, especially when you're in it.

So, we have to wonder. Does it exclude, for instance, those things I've done? "Sure, God can work those things together for good, but I've done some real doozies." Does it perhaps mean "all things work together for good based on a version of good I cannot grasp"? Or maybe it's an "escape clause", where "If it doesn't appear good to you, you must not love God." Maybe we'd say, "Well, it's true, perhaps, but who could ever know (or fully trust) God's purpose?" Oh, and let's not forget that God states His purpose.
For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Rom 8:29)
"Conformed to the image of His Son." Let's see ... mocked, beaten, crucified ... do we really want to be conformed to that image?

I think there is a gap between the promises we embrace when we don't need them and the promises we question when we do. We're happy to hear, for instance, "God is faithful, and He will not let you be tested beyond your ability, but with the trial He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." (1 Cor 10:13) Nice. But how many of us have been in the midst of a trial thinking, "This sure is beyond my ability! Where's the escape?" We comfort others when they're suffering with "All things work together for good" and then get a bit miffed when the "all things" we're in the midst of don't look good at all and someone offers us the same comfort.

The question is what will you believe? Believing these precious promises when it's easy is, well, easy. They are a lot harder to believe when we need them most. So what will you believe? Like the punchline in the bad joke, "Who are you going to believe; me or your own eyes?" Who are you going to believe; God or your own feelings? Because if we're honest we must admit that it doesn't always feel like the circumstances we're in will work together for good or even conform us to the image of His Son or are in the least inside our ability.

So, who are you going to believe? Yourself or your God?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Out of Control

Our adult church group starts out with prayer requests. On a recent Sunday one prayer request was, "Please pray that people will vote for the right person for president." I shuddered. Who is that? How are we supposed to vote? I don't feel like I have any options that would be classified as voting for the right person. Just an example. There is the news media that comes into our homes every day to tell us that horrible things are happening and you can't do anything about it. Terrorism and killing, useless and overbearing governments, poverty and too much money, sickness and death. Thanks for that, news media. But it isn't the media's fault. It's the nature of "news". Then there is the "biased media" (as if an unbiased version exists somewhere) that is "on your side" and wants to tell you about the evil forces of government or that other political party or whomever is plotting to steal your freedoms (whether it is your freedom to abort babies when you want or to pray when you want and so on). Yeah, that's not helping. Besides, if I turn off the TV, get in my car, and drive a little, the radio tells me there is a flash flood warning. And I realize it's time for an oil change "and, oh, by the way, while we have it, your car needs a lot more work." In other words, without the help of the media, the universe tells me that it is out of control and I cannot change that.

This is why I love reminders like this.
Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is Yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and You are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all. In Your hand are power and might, and in Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.
What a relief! We thought it was up to the government or even the people to rule, to obtain riches and honor, to sustain our world.
Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases. (Psa 115:3)

His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, "What have you done?" (Dan 4:34-35)
Good to know. We can muddle about down here and try to stop God from accomplishing His ends, but He does what He pleases and none can stop Him.
"I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted." Job 42:2)
He possesses all power so that He will always accomplish His purposes.

The universe appears to be out of control, and it is out of my control, but I know the One under whose hand it is managed and by whose glorious will it is sustained and directed. And I'm okay with that. Let politics roil and the media shout. Let the world rage. I'm in the hands of the One who is in control.
To the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim 1:17)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

I Need a New Word

I've been in the Christian world for most of my life. Born into a Christian home, we attended church "whenever the doors were open." (That's in quotes because it's an old saying and because it is hyperbole.) I went to Christian school from kindergarten through 8th grade, hung out with Christians in high school, and so on. As long as I've been alive, it seems like we've kept changing terms.

At first, the question was, "Are you a Christian?" You know, the opener to determine if we need to share the gospel or enjoy the fellowship. It wasn't too long before we realized that "Christian" was too generic. Instead of the connotation of "follower of Christ", it was more along the lines of "go to church", "mostly moral", and even "not entirely opposed to your beliefs." I remember a friend of mine speaking to a woman. He told her in the conversation, "I am a Christian, you know." She blinked a couple times and said, "Well, aren't we all?" No, we wanted to be more specific. So we started asking, "Are you saved?" Ah, now, see? That's a cryptic word, a "secret handshake". "Saved." Not just connected by birth or nationality with "Christian". And that worked fine for a short while until people figured out that "saved" was simply a term for "Christian" and answered appropriately. So we moved again. "Are you born again?" You see, that was Jesus's term to Nicodemus. That was specific. That was different. That was clear. In fact, it was a good question because if they didn't know what it meant, they might ask you and that would lead into the gospel. Good stuff. Eventually "born again" went the way of "Christian" and "saved". We need a new word, some way to identify ourselves as distinct from all the other clutter, from all the non-Christian Christians.

Christendom -- that historical body of people and beliefs connected with Christianity -- has long had various branches. There was the catholic church which shifted to the Roman Catholic Church and split into the Orthodox Church. There were Anabaptists and Reformed and Baptists and on and on -- someone said there are now more than 40,000 of them. All of them are listed as "Christian". Not all of them are. On the other hand, many of them that are actually Christian have differences with many others that are actually Christian. Genuine Christianity shifts about a bit in its application. At one point the effects of the Enlightenment threatened to wash out Christianity entirely. "Biblical scholars" were explaining away the miracles and the words of Christ. It was becoming watered down and meaningless. Still is today in many of those denominations that are labeled "Christian" without actually being Christian. At some point it got to be too much. During the Great Awakenings in the UK and North America voices began to be heard calling for a return to the gospel, to the key doctrines of "saved by grace through faith in Christ" and the authority of the Bible and certainly the necessity to spread the gospel. They were called "Evangelicals" and they were a split from liberal Christianity back into biblical Christianity. For more than a century "Evangelical" has been a term that meant something. Oh, it has shifted, to be sure, but only slightly. It was premised on that original concept -- the basics. Like the terms I referenced before, this one was useful in determining the actual beliefs of the self-identified Christian. "I'm a Catholic" had its meaning and "I'm a Baptist" had its meaning and "I'm an Evangelical" had its meaning. (Note: Generally "I'm a Baptist" overlapped with "Evangelical". I wasn't suggesting otherwise.)

Well, no longer. Like all those terms -- "Christian" and "saved" and "born again" -- "Evangelical" has finally gone the way of dilution. It once meant a call for conversion, for (I like this term) crucicentrism -- the centrality of the cross -- for biblical faithfulness, and for sharing the gospel with the world. No longer. First, it became linked to "angry right-wing zealots" who hate ... and that's about it. Fortunately (tongue in cheek), others rescued it. Now, so-called Evangelicals are embracing homosexual behavior as good. "Evangelical" is more about social justice than the cross or the truth of Scripture. Today's Evangelicals hardly know their Bibles at all. Earlier Evangelicalism understood the call to "come out from among them and be separate", but today's version tends more toward "be just like them." Formerly Evangelicals were concerned about the gospel. Now they're concerned about politics. And they can, because in earlier times Evangelicals, by standing on basics and on the Word and on Christ alone, made themselves marginalized (as they should be), but today's Evangelicals have power (as demonstrated by Trump's felt need to meet with them). Earlier Evangelicals put their trust in Christ and the power of God; today's have their own source of power in the form of public opinion, votes, and voice.

There are lots of theories about why this change came about. Some suggest it's actually because of the success they enjoyed, like when Newsweek magazine named 1976 "The Year of the Evangelical" and when they formed their own National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Others trace it to the watering down of the Emergent movement that managed to water down much of the church. has an article that offers multiple reasons for the changes and suggests it needs to change again ... by returning to its roots. As for me, I'm no longer comfortable with the term "Evangelical" as a reference to those most closely tied to a biblical worldview (2 Tim 3:16-17), a focus on the cross (1 Cor 2:2) and the gospel (1 Cor 15:1-8) -- defined in views and lifestyle as followers of Christ.

So, I need a new word. "Christian" is so worn that it is entirely possible for someone to call himself a "gay Christian", even an "atheist Christian". A genuine connection with "Christ" is no longer expected with the term "Christian". "Fundamentalism" meaning "a belief in the fundamentals" has been taken, dragged through the mud, and rendered worse than useless. Use that word and you'll be vilified as an evil person ... right next to the fundamentalist, bomb-vest-wearing Muslim. "Bible-believing Christian" might be helpful except that "Bible" has become more of what you want it to say rather than what it actually says and "believing" is too generic -- you can "believe" it without actually acting on it -- and "Christian" ... well, I covered that. I need a new word. Something that would express what all of these once did. Without this new word -- required because of theft, not merely slippage -- I don't think I can be classified by any of the existing terms. That would be theological "taxation without representation", so to speak.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Can I get divorced and remarried?

I use a Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (NASB) for my normal reading. It's nice to have some commentary from someone who knows the languages of the original text. The other day I was in 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul talks about divorce. In the notes, the commentary author recommended I read his book on "Can I get divorced and remarried?" If you are married, you may have asked the question yourself. If not, you've surely heard it. If you haven't heard it, you've the evidence of the question is everywhere. They tell me (whether or not they're correct) that divorce is just as prevalent in Christians as in the world. So the question is everywhere. We Christians, of course, are supposed to find our answers not in the examples of the culture but in the Word of God. As it happens, the question is there, too.

"Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" (Matt 19:3)

What is the biblical answer to this question?
"Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate."
(Matt 19:4-6)
Short version -- "No."

"Hey, wait!" some will object. "Is that all you got?" Okay, let's look further. Is it okay to divorce?
For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. (Rom 7:2)
Short version -- "No."

"Come on! We know that's not true!" Okay, let's look further. Is it okay to divorce?
"I hate divorce," says the Lord, the God of Israel. (Mal 2:16)
Do I really need to give you a short version here?

"No, seriously, we know this isn't the case." Well, let's see. Is it okay to get a divorce?
To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. (1 Cor 7:10-11)
Short version -- "No." Okay, with a little longer version, "Well, perhaps, but only if you don't remarry."

"Oh, stop! You know that's not the answer!" It is true that this isn't the only answer, but it is amazing to me that people who wish to follow Christ consider it inadequate. Scripture repeatedly gives this answer and we're not satisfied. Why is that?

So, what does Jesus say when the Pharisees had the same objection that we just did? What was Jesus's response when they said, "Stop! You know that's not the answer; you know that Moses allowed divorce."?
"Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so." (Matt 19:8)
There, that should make you feel better. It's okay to divorce because of the hardness of heart. Oh, wait ... that's not comforting? I don't think He meant it to be.

"So," you will say, "you're saying that we are not allowed to divorce?" No. God said He hates divorce and Jesus said that what God put together let no man separate and that divorce is a product of hard-heartedness. But, at the end of the day, there is an allowance for divorce. Why would we push it that far? Why would we wish to do that which God hates, that which is product of a hard heart?

"So," you may sigh with relief, "we can divorce and remarry." What does the Bible say? We already saw that Paul commanded ("Not I, but the Lord") that if you divorce you should remain unmarried or reconcile to your spouse. Not good enough? What else can we find?
"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." (Mark 10:11-12)
Jesus classifies remarriage after divorce as an act of adultery. You make the call.

I have presented a one-sided view here to a long-and-hotly-debated topic. I offer it because it is the Word of God. I offer it because it comes first from the lips of Jesus Christ. I offer it because I'm hoping that Christians want to follow Christ's instructions. I will admit that the question isn't this simple although the core of Scripture takes this view. And I will certainly stress that divorce and remarriage doesn't constitute the "unforgivable sin". Divorce and remarriage are no worse than pride or lust or the other sins we all suffer from. Yes, there is more to the question. But I'm wondering why the repeated message from Scripture that marriage is for life is not a satisfactory answer. When do we Christians decide to agree with Christ?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Your Honor, No Objection

There is a passage that seems abundantly clear to one side of the discussion and equally clear to the other and never the twain shall meet. The question at hand is how God chooses whom He will save. The passage in question is Romans 9. One side says, "The passage is explaining how God has chosen for there to be an 'Israel' and for there to be a 'Church'. It is about groups -- corporate election -- not individuals." The other side says, "It is clearly about individuals and claims quite clearly that God chooses apart from our choices." Those are the two basic takes on the Scripture in question.

Now, the first side could go on and on about how "'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated' (Rom 9:13) is a quote from Malachi 1:2-3 where God is clearly speaking about Israel and Edom, not two brothers, Jacob and Esau, so clearly the text is about groups, not individuals." The other side is going to say things like, "But all of the references are to individuals, so it is clearly about individuals, not groups." I'm going to ask a different question.

Paul takes an interesting literary approach to this subject. He has an imaginary conversation with his readers. First, he makes a claim. "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) He explains this by way of Sarah and Rebekah who had "children of promise". Of Isaac and Rebekah's sons he says, "Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad -- in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls -- she was told, 'The older will serve the younger.'" (Rom 9:11-12) That is, Jacob was chosen over Esau not because of works, but "because of Him who calls." Then Paul takes on the expected objection. "Hey, God is not fair!" (Rom 9:14)

We've arrived at my question, then. The very common view is that this passage is about corporate election, not individuals. The position taken is simple. "God made it such that each person's election (or non-election) depends upon how that person reacts to divinely revealed truth." Most of you will likely nod your head (you know ... after you've examined it carefully). That is the prevalent view. God chooses those who choose Him. Those who argue that this passage is about groups, not individuals, would say that the way any of us gets into this "group" we'll call "the elect" is to choose Christ, to respond positively to Christ. God chose Jacob because He foreknew that Jacob would choose Him and did not choose Esau because He foreknew Esau would not. Simple.

So, if this is the case, what is Paul answering? I don't know of anyone at all who would object to the notion that God chooses to save those who want to be saved. That seems abundantly fair in the eyes of most people. Who would object? That is, "Your Honor, I have no objection." Yet Paul answers the objection he expects: "What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means!" (Rom 9:14) Who would say that being chosen because you chose Him was unjust?

Paul's answer muddies the water. "So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy." (Rom 9:16) Paul calls on God as Sovereign. "So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires." (Rom 9:18) And his hard answer spawns a second objection to be answered.
You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? (Rom 9:19-21)
And we're left with the same question. If "He has mercy on whom He desires and He hardens whom He desires" and it's only talking about groups, where you simply get into the "mercy" group by responding positively to the gospel, what is this objection? We respond positively. We decide if God will choose us or not. We determine if we get into the group. How could anyone object? Who resists His will? Well, everyone who does not decide to respond positively. End of objection.

I cannot see this passage as groups. Trust me; I've tried. If groups are in view here, "It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy" doesn't make sense. If it is corporate election in view, no one would question God's fairness because we're getting what we choose. If Paul is saying that God will certainly save all those who wish to be saved, no one would complain about resisting God because they regularly do. You might see it that way, but it makes no sense to me. Even after the pastor at my last church sat down and explained it to me. I suppose it's just the curse of being dense.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Easy Challenge

The rule of thumb for distinguishing between the scientific and the unscientific is what is called "falsifiability", the ability for a statement, a theory, or an hypothesis to be able to be proven false. If there is no way to prove something false, it may or may not be true, but it is not scientific. So says Sir Karl Popper, a philosopher of science. "So," they tell us, "since religion cannot be proven false, it cannot be scientific and should be excluded from the public square." You see, religions are generally held as a matter of faith, not evidence or reason, and thus cannot be falsified.

Recently someone was complaining about another's lack of "acting like a Christian". The other was pointing out the errors of another religion, and that, according to the first person, was wrong. "There is no 'one true religion'," she claimed. There you have it. Proof! Or, rather, falsification.

Christianity is unique in this regard. Most religions claim to be exclusively true. Agree with them and you're right; disagree and you're wrong. Simple as that. Logically this would require that at best only one of these religions was true, since they can't all be exclusively true. But, of course, it's not as black and white as that. It could be that the adherents of the religion in question are mistaken. It could be that what they understood as a claim to exclusivity was not such a claim. In this case, the religion with the exclusive claim could be true with the exception of that claim. Someone goofed.

What we have here, then, is a falsifiable point. If it can be proven that religions with the claim to exclusivity are not exclusive, you can eliminate that those religions. Or, at least, most of them. But, of course, there is that "They were mistaken" caveat.

Christianity doesn't get that "out". Christianity is under the gun here. Christianity, if you recall, is based on Christ. Beyond that, it is based on Christ as God. Very important. If that isn't true, Christianity isn't true. So we have Jesus's own words on the topic of exclusivity. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6) So this is simple. If it is true that there is "no 'one true religion'", Christianity has been falsified. Maybe not Judaism. Maybe not Islam. But certainly Christianity. Why? Because 1) it was Christ who said it and 2) Christ is God. If He was wrong, we're done. That's "falsifiability".

Lots of people balk at the exclusive claim of Christianity. It's mean-spirited and closed-minded. It's not inclusive. "We need more inclusivity and we will exclude you if you're not more inclusive." It's not like we have an option here. We can hold to Christ's words that He is the only way and be exclusive, or we can be inclusive and reject Christianity outright. There are no other choices. So, easy challenge. Prove that there is no "one true religion" and you've falsified Christianity.

I thought the complaint was ironic. "You're not acting like a Christian" followed by "There is no 'one true religion'." That is, logically, "You're not properly following your false religion." I wonder how that works?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Free Ride

There is a story in 2 Samuel about King David. He was told to build an altar to the Lord, so he went over to a man named Araunah to buy his threshing floor. Araunah told him he could have the floor. David made an interesting reply. "No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing." (2 Sam 24:24)

Now, we're way beyond burnt offerings, to be sure. I mean, we have the complete and perfect offering of Christ. But what about our other offerings? What about our other worship? David refused to give to God that which cost him nothing. What about us?

We're pretty good at doing those things that benefit us. We gain from a good sermon or a good, soul-stirring song. A singer feels pretty good when he or she sings to the Lord before the congregation and gets the accolades for doing so. And, of course, there are those who profit greatly from their "worship" ... those self-aggrandizing preachers who call for you to "give to the Lord" while they enrich themselves on your offerings.

But what about sacrifice? You know, "Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name." (Heb 13:15) "I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service of worship." (Rom 12:1) Sacrifice.

For so many these days that which we offer to the Lord had better not cost us much. Not much time, not much money, not much effort. We are a long way from "I will not offer to the Lord that which costs me nothing." And, oddly enough, I think we are the ones that are missing out.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Job Posting

Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He *said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest." (Matt 9:35-38)
"Distressed and dispirited," those are the words used in this translation (NASB) to describe how Jesus saw the people. The ESV prefers "harassed and helpless." The first Greek word has its roots in the concept of skinning or flaying something, except it carries with it the connotation of "to give one's self trouble." The second refers to being thrown away. I guess "distressed and dispirited" might be okay, but it includes the concept of self-inflicted. And isn't that the case? Aren't we, like lost sheep, suffering from trials and tribulations inflicted by sin?

Jesus told His disciples to go out and bring these people to Him. No, wait ... He didn't. Isn't that interesting? He told them to pray. "Beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest." Odd. You'd think He would have assigned it to them. Well, in fact, He did (Matt 28:18-20). But here His point is the magnitude of the job, the need for lots of workers, and mostly to direct their attention to the only One who can help -- the Lord of the harvest.

Backing up, though, I think there is an interesting description that I skipped. Jesus saw sinners, to be sure. He was, after all, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. His response, however, was not disgust or moral outrage at their sin. Notice what it was. "He felt compassion for them." We are supposed to be Christ-followers. You would think that we would aim for the same. Too often we don't. We are offended by those who flaunt their sin and seek to shout them down. Jesus did not say, "That's okay; sin all you want." Neither should we. And there is room for outrage at sins against God. He did it. But the key here is compassion. That is, the key response of the workers He is beseeching God to supply is compassion.

We do spend a lot of time pointing out sin. "That's sin. So is that. And that. No matter what you tell me, that is still sin." But our reaction to that sin should not be disgust. They aren't lepers. They are "distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd." And we know the Good Shepherd that can address that problem. Compassion is what is needed here. They're already aware of the outrage. The Lord Jesus Christ is seeking workers for His harvest. Will you volunteer? Do you have compassion for the lost? If our primary response to the sinfulness of others is not compassion, are we being Christ-like? I have to wonder.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Point of View

You can stand outside on most days in most parts of the world and see the sun. You can feel its warmth. You can see its light. With special filters, you can even look at it. What do you know about the sun from this perspective? Well, it is warm and it is light. Good! Got it! All we need to know.

While you're standing outside examining the sun, look around you. What do you know about the Earth from this vantage point? Well, you can tell certain characteristics, but the truth is you won't be too well informed because from here it looks mostly flat and mostly land while, in fact, it is mostly spherical and 70% water.

Now, imagine if you were to do this same examination in reverse. Imagine if you stood on the face of the sun and looked at the Earth. What would you know about the Earth? Well, it's quite small, mostly spherical, and lots of water. It would be, then, a more accurate representation of the Earth. And what would you know about the sun? That is much hotter and brighter than you anticipated and it is not solid like the Earth, but largely gaseous, a more accurate representation of the sun.

This is what we tend to do with God. We look at ourselves and, through our own filters, we determine what He is like. We include things as silly as "He must have two eyes, two ears, a mouth ..." and the rest of it because, well, we do. He must look like us and think like us and act like us ... because we do. How accurate would that be? Only slightly. We know that we are made in His image, so there must be some similarity, but that's about where it would end. Like evaluating the sun from your back porch, the comprehension would be minimal at best and certainly distorted at worst. Now, what if we did it in reverse? What if we took God's position, like the sun analogy? What if we examined Man from God's view and examined God from God's view? Wouldn't we have a much more accurate understanding of both?

Well, that's a nice "what if", like "What if you stood on the sun?" How are you going to get to that view? You can't stand on the sun. You can't see God or even Man from God's perspective since God is infinite and we are not. So?

This is where God's Word comes into play. God has revealed Himself in His Word. Starting with "In the beginning, God" (Gen 1:1) and ending with "The revelation of Jesus Christ" (Rev 1:1), God has given us His perspective. He has told us what He is like. He has explained what we are like. Over 2,000 years and 66 different books He has outlined His nature and ours. He has told us His requirements, given us His commands, explained His plans, detailed His gospel. (Scripture repeatedly refers to "the gospel of God" (Mark 1:14; Rom 1:1; Rom 15:16; 1 Thess 2:2; 1 Thess 2:8-9; 1 Peter 4:17) and "gospel of Christ" (Mark 1:1; Rom 15:19; 1 Cor 9:12; 2 Cor 2:12, 2 Cor 9:13; 2 Cor 10:14; Gal 1:7; Phil 1:27; 1 Thess 3:2).) He has explained our origins, our nature, our need and our serious shortcomings. Why is it, then, that we tend to start with us and try to grasp God from our own perspective? Why is it that so many of us think that viewing God with Man as the starting point is the best way to go?

God has said that it is a mistake to assume that He is a man like us (Psa 50:21). We are formed in His image, not vice versa. And we have distorted that image, but God doesn't distort His image or ours. So we should begin with God's perspective of God and continue through to God's perspective of Man. It will be revolutionary, but it will certainly be far more accurate than our modern "Man-to-God" approach.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

I Was Wondering

I came across a couple items and had a few thoughts that don't exactly add up to "Thus saith the Lord", but made me wonder.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree." (Gal 3:13)
I am just thinking out loud here. Paul refers in this verse to something that the Jews knew because God told them this (Deut 21:22-23). So, I got to thinking. Did the Jews demand that Pilate crucify Jesus for this purpose? Surely there were many other ways they could have asked for His execution. Did they want Him to be not only dead, but cursed? I don't know. It would be something that Satan would think of. Of course, as the verse indicates, it played right into God's plan to redeem us from the curse.

Unrelated to that ...
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23)
Have you ever noticed that some of the things described as "the fruit of the Spirit" here are more often thought of as feelings than character traits? I mean, sure, "patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" are things that we can do/have as a product of the Spirit. But we don't think of "love" or "joy" or "peace" as things we can do or as character traits. I wonder if that's a mistake? I wonder if it shouldn't be that those who "walk by the Spirit" (Gal 5:25) should be characterized as people who love, who are joyous, who are at peace. I think that paints those terms in a different light. Instead of experiencing love, joy, and peace, we live them.

Just wondering.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Biblical Parenting

Look around. You can find all sorts of offerings on parenting. There are studies and methods and perspectives and tools all over the place. There are professionals who know this stuff and there are the practical types who have lived it. Most of it, however, simply comes down to whose word you wish to take. I'm not going to offer you that. I'm simply going to see what, if anything, the Bible says on the subject. You can take it from there.

Starting Point
Let's start at the very beginning. It might seem odd to some, but the Bible is not unclear on its view of children. "Behold," Solomon says, "children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. (Psa 127:3) Now, you will not hear that very often these days where having kids is an option in most marriages and a much disparaged option at that. Even among Christians. That's fine. You might have good reasons not to have kids. Not enough money. Need to pursue a career. Don't really like kids. That's fine. But God's Word says that children are a reward from the Lord. You'll have to decide if He's right or the world is.

Scripture also gives a baseline on parenting. "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Eph 6:4) Fathers are not to provoke their children, but they are also not allowed to surrender their training to their mother, their teacher, or their church. These are certainly good tools that fathers may incorporate (and, clearly, monitor carefully), but it is the father's task to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. As Solomon says elsewhere, "Hear, my son, your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching. Indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head And ornaments about your neck. (Prov 1:8-9)

Often at the top of the child-training questions is the question of "chastening". How are parents supposed to discipline their children? Are they to take a "hands off" approach, don't stifle their creativity, and let them bloom where they are planted, or is it a more "hands on" approach? I will offer, first, God's approach with us.
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him. For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (Heb 12:5-13)
I had to put that whole passage because 1) it explains without equivocation that God uses "corporal punishment" on the ones He loves, as indicated in the words "discipline" and, most glaringly, "chastise". The KJV, NASB, Douay-Rheims, and Young's Literal Translation all use the word "scourges". The Literal Translation of the Holy Bible prefers "whips". It's understandable that there is this kind of consensus because the Greek word is the word for flogging. It's hard to get around. "Discipline" is to teach or train, but "chasten" or "scourge" or "whip" is to use painful methods of training. This text says God does it, and He does it on the basis of love. Further, if you do not experience this at the hands of God, you should question your connection to Him at all (Heb 12:8).

Now, if you start with "God the Father uses painful methods at times to train His children", you must read the rest of the texts on the subject in light of His example.
He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently. (Prov 13:24)

Discipline1 your son while there is hope, And do not desire his death. (Prov 19:18)

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. (Prov 22:15)

Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol. (Prov 23:13-14)

The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. (Prov 29:15)
Now, to be clear, we have it on good authority that spanking is bad for your kids. That good authority is another study from the University of Texas at Austin that proves that "spanking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children." So, there you have it. You decide. The Bible says that the Father "chastises" (scourges, whips) the children He loves. The Bible says that "If you are left without discipline ... you are illegitimate children and not sons." The Bible demands that we love our children, that we teach our children, that we do the very best for our children, but the bulk of Scripture on the subject unavoidably includes corporal punishment as part of the training of children administered by parents that love them. Not abuse. Not torture. Please, feel free to eliminate all of those types of things. But you will need to decide if God Himself and all the instructions in His Word on the subject are wrong, or the UT Austin study is wrong, because the two disagree and both can't be right.

On the subject of teaching, it is important to start with a reminder of the purpose. We aren't looking for "smarter kids" or even "well-educated kids". The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Tim 1:5) One of the most famous verses in the Bible regarding training children is the one from Proverbs. "Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it." (Prov 22:6) It's good to know that proverbially they will not depart from it, but the primary goal in teaching your children is love for the purpose of producing purity, a good conscience, a sincere faith, a "way to go" instead of mere knowledge. In all cases we are to be "Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ." (Eph 4:15) Thus, the primary goal of teaching is to point to Christ, the source of all those other outcomes

We already saw that God places the primary responsibility of teaching children in the lap of the father (Eph 6:4). Dads, it is first and foremost your responsibility. Sure, Solomon also told children to "not forsake your mother's teaching." Thus, while fathers bear the primary responsibility, that does not mean that they are the sole source. But what else does the Bible tell us about teaching?
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)
This text includes two words for the subject here: teaching and training. Thus, the best tool parents have for educating their children is Scripture. It is profitable for presenting truth, for demonstrating error, for showing the path to recovering from error, and for practicing righteousness -- what is right. This single source is so complete that it equips for every good work. Parents, your primary teaching tool must be Scripture.

It may counterintuitive, but our children are not our children. Remember? They are "a heritage from the LORD." It is our responsibility as believers to take good care of that which God has given us to take care of, and that would definitely include our children. For some, that process would begin with a change of mind that says that we're better off without children. For most of us it is the realization that we are called by God to love our children, pursuing what is best for them that would include teaching and training our children by example, by teaching techniques (that may include pain at times), soaking them in the Word and lifting them to Christ. Of course, you may choose to go with your own parenting flavor of the day. "After all, they're my kids. What does God know about raising children?" I've seen how that is working out in our society today. I'd recommend against it.
1 The Hebrew word here is yâsar. It means "to chastise, literally with blows". It is intended as a method of teaching.

Thursday, July 07, 2016


A key disagreement today is between "big government" and "limited government". Liberals typically strive for more and more government and conservatives typically aim for less. Libertarians edge toward none at all. (The actual "none at all" group would be anarchists.) But the question is "Why government?" If we cannot recall the purpose of government, how can we determine which form -- big or limited, a democracy or a republic or socialist/communist, benevolent dictatorship or totalitarian, whatever -- is the best? There is a reason for government and I think most of us have forgotten what it is.

In God's original design there was no human government. It was every man for himself, so to speak. The result of this arrangement was "every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes." (Deut 12:8). God instituted a theocracy in Israel, but they voted that down. In the New Testament we read that "there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God." (Rom 13:1) Government, then, was established by God. Why?

Thomas Jefferson argued that for a nation to be successful it required a moral foundation. "The practice of morality being necessary for the well-being of society, [our Creator] has taken care to impress its precepts so indelibly on our hearts that they shall not be effaced by the subtleties of our brain," Jefferson wrote to J. Fishback in 1809. James Madison wrote, "To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea." Why is morality key to proper function of a nation? Because the more moral people are, the less government they need. That is, people who carefully govern themselves as individuals need little external government. Government, then, is required to the extent that individuals fail to govern themselves.

If it is true, then, that government is necessary where individuals are not sufficiently self-governed, it would also be true that the form and size of government would be determined by the magnitude of this absence of self-government. In other words, the less moral the individuals of a group or nation, the bigger and more restrictive the government will need to be.

Welcome to the 21st century, where our national moral code is so slippery that new and harsher laws are needed to regulate us. Why is government as big as it is? We've made it necessary. Will it get bigger? Given our propensity to indulge individual immoralities and call them "protected" and even "identity", I cannot imagine any other outcome. In fact, given the current trajectory of our combined morality, I don't imagine that democracy can continue too long. Less self-government will bankrupt the system both from voting self more money and from demanding more enforcement. More control will be needed. What can lead people from this kind of personal anarchy to self-control? Only one thing I know of, and it's not better laws (Gal 5:22-23).

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Jesus as Lord

Some time ago John MacArthur wrote The Gospel According to Jesus in which he explained, among other things, the concept known as "Lordship Salvation". Using passages like Paul's response to the Philippian jailer on how to be saved (Acts 16:31), he argued that we aren't saved by simple profession of faith, but by submitting to Christ as Lord. There was and has continued to be no small furor over the notion and I do not intend to discuss nuances or prove one or the other here today.

Instead, I'm going to face the question of being a basic Christian. I'm going to look at it through Christ's words. What did Jesus say was required to be a Christian? Here is the clearest statement I find.
"If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me." (Luke 9:23)
Okay, so let's unpack this, beginning with "wishes to come after Me." We call ourselves Christians today. The first term was "followers of the Way." Same thing. "Christian" isn't like "Jewish". "Jewish" is a religion, but not always. There are Jewish atheists, for instance. No, it's something else. It's bloodline, a family, a culture, a philosophy. The religion we call "Judaism" is only part of it. "Christian", on the other hand, refers to followers of Christ. That is exactly the phrase Jesus used. Those who wish "to come after Me" -- to be followers of Christ. The question He is answering here is "What does it take to be a Christian?"

Part 1: Deny himself
This isn't hard to figure out. This is the basic definition of repentance. It is a turning from sinful self, ungodliness, and worldly lusts. It is throwing out self-based righteousness and self-made glory. It is setting aside the pleasures and purposes formerly embraced that compete with Christ. It is releasing worldly expectations and demands and turning to one singular aim -- to be Christ's bondslave.

Part 2: Take up a daily cross
Perhaps "cross" isn't something we are familiar with. His listeners weren't unclear at all. If you saw someone carrying a cross, you saw a dead man walking. Life was over. All that had gone before was at an end. Jesus said to make this your existence. I used the Luke version because Luke included "daily", but it can be drawn from the Matthew and Mark quotes as well. The Christian life is one in which we die daily, immersed in Christ's death in order to share in His new life. In a way there should be little correlation between life before and life after Christ. Same body, perhaps, but living an ongoing, continuous dying to self and to the world and to the flesh and a new life lived in Christ. Taking up your cross is embracing Christ's death on your behalf, your own death to self and the world, and whatever pain and hardship this walk with Christ will include. It is submission and it is work.

Part 3: Follow Him
Having turned from self and taking up an ongoing cross, we are to follow Him. Where is He going? Wherever that is, follow. What does He want of us? Whatever it is, do it. What if He runs afoul of our thinking or our world's views? Wherever that happens, follow Him. Follow. Be His disciple.

Jesus had some strange things to say about being His disciple.
"If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:26)

"Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:27)

"So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions." (Luke 14:33)
If He is not first in my affections, I cannot be His disciple. If I do not accept that cross, I cannot be His disciple. If I cling to what I have rather than surrendering it to Him, I cannot be His disciple.

Now, maybe that's not "Lordship". I don't know what else you would call it. And certainly this is a process, the completion of which doesn't come this side of the grave. But this is Jesus's description of following Him, of being His disciple, of being a Christian. Paul said, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." Simple. Straightforward. However, it seems abundantly clear that remaining the lord of my own life is not on that list. We need to surrender that self-rule as it becomes apparent, but clearly we need to deny self, take up our cross daily, and follow Christ. That's what Jesus said.