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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Train Up a Child

I have a friend who has, for nearly a year, been writing a blog giving reasons that you, Christian, should be homeschooling your kids. Now, to be honest, when he started, I thought the idea was ... well, a little bit over the top. A little bit alarmist. It had the "conspiracy theory" scent about it. I mean, after all, I spent time in public school and I didn't come out a heathen. But the more I've read from his blog, the more I've begun to think about the dangers of Christian parents sending their children off to government-run schools.

Mind you, I'm not saying there are no good public schools. I'm certainly not saying that there are no good teachers in public schools. I am absolutely certain that there are honest, reliable, loving, even Christian teachers working in public schools. I'm not saying otherwise. The problem is not that they don't exist. The problem is that the system is rotten at the core ... like the natural human beings that run it. Today's public school systems in America (again, I'm talking about the systems, not individuals or exceptions) are fundamentally religious -- built around the religion of secular humanism. Why, then, would Christians wish to send their kids to pagan temples for their education?

But, look, I am always of the opinion that opinions are fine, but we need to know what God says before making it a principle. You may be of the opinion that sardines are tasty; I am not. No problem. No conflict. But when you suggest that arsenic is tasty and I know it's deadly, we're going to do more than separate on matters of opinion. So, is this educational thing a matter of preference and opinion, or does God actually have something to say about it? I think He does.

There are, obviously, no biblical references to public or government-run schools. Don't look for them. They're not there. There are, however, references to teaching your children. First and foremost, God places the responsibility of teaching your children squarely in the lap of you fathers (Eph 6:4). Not that this is meant that fathers are required to be the home-school teachers of their children, but certainly fathers are to be responsible for the teaching of their children. Note, however, that there is another aspect to this responsibility in the verse I referenced. "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Eph 6:4) That is, fundamental to the education fathers are to ensure for their children is an instruction of the Lord. Their education needs to be immersed in Christ, not merely reading, writing, and arithmetic, etc. God commanded the Israelites, "And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." (Deut 6:6-7) Yes, they were to teach their children diligently, but what? God's Word. Because, you see, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Prov 1:7) Education is not supposed to be independent of God. On the other hand, the public schools of America mandate it. So sending your kids to public schools is sending them in direct violation of what God says is right.

Beyond the texts on teaching your kids and knowledge, there are Scriptures that are oriented around how Christians are to live. Here are some examples.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers. (Psa 1:1)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:2)

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? (2 Cor 6:14-15)

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Col 2:8)
So, what do we do? We send our kids off to walk in the counsel of the wicked and stand in the way of sinners. We encourage them to be conformed to this world. We yoke them with unbelievers. We immerse them in the philosophy and empty deceit of current tradition driven by the elemental spirits of the world. Now, how is this reasonable, consistent, or obedient?

Educating our kids is our responsibility. It isn't the responsibility of the government, the public school system, or some other teachers. It is not even the responsibility of the church. We might employ tools that include other people, but educating our kids is our responsibility. Fathers, it is, biblically, your responsibility. It is possible to find good teachers, churches, maybe even schools that can assist you in executing your responsibility to "bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." But abdicating that responsibility in favor of churches, teachers, and, worst of all, a public school system fundamentally premised as hostile to God is not an act of obedience for any Christian father or any Christian parent. Too many of us are allowing our kids to be taught, both at school and at church, things contrary to the truth and even hostile to God. Then we wonder what happened when our kids go astray. Wonder no more. It can often be traced to our sin of neglecting God's commands in raising our kids. We ought, then, to follow Christ's command, "Go and sin no more." (John 8:11)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


This is one of my occasional "question" entries. Everyone knows that I don't have all the answers, and I do these from time to time to demonstrate it. I want to ask about respect.

The most common New Testament word translated "respect" is ἐντρέπω. But you knew that. Oh, not helpful? Okay, here, a transliteration -- entrepō. Still not helping? Fine. I have a dictionary. I can tell you what it says. The word can means to either shame or respect someone. If stated in the negative, it is to shame someone. In the positive, it is to respect or reverence someone. There is another word, but that one is using "respect" as in "with respect to", meaning "in such a way". These are fine. I get them. There is one, however, that eludes me.

The reference is in Ephesians. Here's the verse.
Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband. (Eph 5:33)
Okay, the content appears clear enough. Looking through various translations, we find that they're pretty much in agreement. It might be "respect" or it might be "reverence". One says, "shows deference to". Fine. But ... this translation of this word appears only here. The word appears all over the New Testament, but it is only translated "respect" here. What else is it used for?

The word is φοβέω -- phobeō. Recognize it? It is the word from which we get our "phobias". This word occurs 93 times in the New Testament and is almost universally translated "fear", "afraid", even "exceeding fear", but never "respect" ... except this one instance. Oh, wait, it does appear one other place in a slightly different form. That is φόβος -- phobos. And where is this other exception?
In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. (1 Peter 3:1-2)
There it is again in precisely the same context, the attitude a wife should have toward her husband. In fact, the King James actually translates this one "fear". Strange.

So, we have the standard definition of "respect" which is basically "a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements." We get that. Admiration. Okay. And that's the basic notion we think of when we think of respect and is a common idea in biblical terms. Fine. So when we hear, "You don't give respect; it has to be earned", that makes sense. I mean, you can't simply drum up admiration, right? But then there is this other one. It is not the same concept. It is a different word, a different sense, even a disturbing sense.

What sense? What is this version of respect commanded by God for wives toward their husbands? It is beyond admiration. It is something more. It is the same term applied to how we are to view God (e.g., Rom 3:18; 2 Cor 5:11; 2 Peter 2:17). What is this? It is not our normal "respect". What is it? It looks like wives are commanded to have a similar fear toward their husbands that we are all commanded to have toward God. What does that look like?

Monday, August 29, 2016

Change or Die

The University of Vermont Women's Basketball team has cancelled their contest with North Carolina. Why? Well, because of HB2. What's that, you say? Of course, it's the North Carolina law that requires people to use the public restroom of the sex on their birth certificates. And that does not engender feeling "safe, respected, and valued." Never mind that it does not affect the "LGB" of LGBT despite all the popular hype to the contrary. Never mind that North Carolina allows so-called transgenders to change their birth certificate to match their "new gender". Never mind that it will have zero affect on the Vermont women's basketball team. It's a matter of principle. What principle? The principle that you must conform or die. The principle that you must embrace all of the talking points of this particular group or suffer the consequences. Oh, and suffer you will. So, you have principles, too? Well, fine. We'll just see if they stand up to the pain you'll endure for holding them.

It's not just North Carolina. We are, Salon Magazine tells us, now in "post-Christian America". That's right. Say goodbye to "Christian" America and hello to ... not. That old "Judeo-Christian ethic" that has driven the United States since before its inception is gone. We are now in the rise of the irreligious. (Note to those wondering. "Irreligious" can mean either indifferent or hostile to religion. I would suggest we're seeing more of the latter than the former.)

Matthew Sheffield, the author of the Salon piece, says, "While the process of secularization has been slower-moving in the U.S. compared to Europe, it is now proceeding rapidly." He warns that, since most of the "Nones" (as they're now being called) are Democrats, we're looking at the demise of the Republican party. (Why is it not a red flag to people who call themselves "Christian" and hang with the Democrats that "Democrat" is most closely tied with "irreligious"?) If the GOP is going to survive, they're going to have to dump their religious convictions.

But ... since most people without religious convictions are also Democrats, won't we be simply producing a Demopublican party? If we strip the Republican party of anything "Christian", what would be their distinctive? We're already seeing the outcome of stripping the nation of Christianity, and it isn't good. How would it work if we stripped politics of all Christian values? And (a question that has nagged at me for some time, to be honest) if we eliminate "Christian" from politics, how will we not end up with the original problem of "taxation without representation" (or anything else government-related without representation)?

American Christians, I don't think it can be denied that we are in the "last generation", that we're looking at an end of an era. There was "Christian America" and it is no more. I need to point out, however, that I don't say that in sadness. I say it with anticipation. Too long have we lived in a society where "Christian" is "fine" and "Aren't we all Christians?" We're looking at a time when "American" no longer means "Christian" in most people's eyes. And that's a good thing. We're looking at the end of easy-believeism. We're looking at a purging, a burning off of the dross. Around the turn of the century the polls said that some 75% of Americans were Christians, but that only 15% went to church and only 5% said their beliefs actually made a difference in how they lived. We're looking, then, at a scraping off of 95% of America to leave the few who actually believe. Oh, sure, it won't be easy. It won't be pleasant. It won't be comfortable. Still, I think it will be good. Good for America to see genuine Christianity instead of the milksop they're accustomed to. Good for Christians to figure out if they really believe or are numbered among those on the wide road. Today I hear people saying, "I don't know if I'm really a Christian." If this goes the way it looks like it's going, there will come a day when it won't be such a hard question for Christians living in a new, secularized, Christian-hostile world. It will cost you (Luke 14:26-35). That's not a bad thing.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Land of the Easily Amused

While most people would like to tell you that they are working hard to find satisfaction, completion, that sort of thing, I am of the opinion that C.S. Lewis was right when he said that we are "far too easily pleased." Think about it. People are working hard to satisfy their lusts, to find their little patch of happiness, to get a little peace and quiet. They would like to be able to have more stamina, to get along with people, to be remembered as a good person. All well and good.

And then we read,
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)
So we're muddling about trying to appease little demons and finding some success while God has bigger and better things in mind. He'd like to take those lusts and replace them with genuine love. He'd like to substitute joy for that momentary happiness. He'd replace "peace and quiet" with a peace that passes understanding (Phil 4:7). He doesn't offer us mere stamina; He offers genuine patience. We won't be getting along with people; we will be genuinely kind. Memories of being a good person is fine, but He offers actual goodness. And gentleness. And self-control.

While we're busily mucking about here finding little scents of something pleasant and considering that satisfaction, God wants to make us into something really marvelous, replacing our poor substitutes for the real thing, the divine alternative. But not us. We come from the Land of the Easily Amused. We'll pass on that, thank you very much.

Too easily pleased.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Prior to 1994 the military refused to allow military personnel who self-identified as homosexual1. President Clinton enacted a directive that was known at "Don't ask, don't tell" in which self-identified homosexuals could serve in the military as long as they weren't "out", so to speak. In 2011, this directive was replaced with a repeal of the military ban on homosexuals entirely. "Don't ask, don't tell" was replaced, in effect, with "We won't ask because we don't care." In June of this year the military further removed restrictions on self-identified transgenders serving openly. Now the government will pay for their hormone therapy and mental counseling to aim to change the gender they were "assigned at birth". (Sounds arbitrary, doesn't it?) In other words, insofar as the homosexual and even transexual goes, "Don't ask, don't tell" is so far gone as to be only a distant memory.

Recently officials at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs removed an open Bible from a major’s desk based on a complaint from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRRF). One military member said, "It certainly gives the appearance of favoritism toward one religion."

It would appear that for Christians the trend is the reverse of the homosexuals and transgenders. While Christians served openly in the military in the past, it looks like we're already arriving at a "don't ask, don't tell" status for being a Christian in the military. Oh, sure, you can be, but only as long as you're not "out". Keep that to yourself. They already listed Evangelicals and other conservative Christians as examples of dangerous religious extremism. Oh, they took it back, but the military has been silencing chaplains for years, so their "We were only kidding" line was simply a cover for the growing trend toward removing Christians from the military. No, not openly ... just, you know, "don't ask, don't tell." Don't worry, civilian America, I'm sure you won't be far behind. It's already in the works.
1 Please note. I'm using "self-identified as homosexual" as my term for what everyone else simply calls "gay" because I'm tired of allowing for the idea that "I'm born that way" or that one's choices about who they have sex with is a matter of identity or "orientation" rather than choice. Sometimes we use "scare quotes" around words or phrases to indicate that they are being used in a nonstandard or special way. I'm using the phrase "self-identified as homosexual" to indicate that they claim to be a person who cannot help but have sex with others of the same sex, but I don't agree with their claim. The same is true of the phrase, "self-identified transgenders". It is their term, but I don't agree that such a being -- someone who is the opposite sex trapped in their current body -- exists. In both cases, neither does science.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Extreme Poverty

Sometimes Paul wrote some strange stuff. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he penned such things as
In humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Phil 2:3)

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake. (Phil 1:29)

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:10)

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. (Rom 12:1)
Really strange stuff. But this passage in 2 Corinthians is, well, mind-boggling. Notice what he says.
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints -- and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. (2 Cor 8:1-5)
He starts with the "grace of God" that is given to the churches of Macedonia. What grace? Well, they were "in a severe test of affliction" and "extreme poverty". Wait ... grace? Well, no, of course not. Their response to their circumstances was God's grace. But doesn't their response to these things seem really strange? In response to their severe affliction they had an "abundance of joy" and in their destitute condition they overflowed with "generosity". God's grace to them, then, was that they responded precisely the opposite to their circumstances as we might expect.

Paul says that they begged to be allowed to give to the relief of the saints. Really? Weren't they saints in need? You'd think so. But they gave according to "and beyond their means." In our time, giving at all is at an all-time low, but these persecuted and poverty-stricken Christians had an overwhelming need to give to the needs of others. We're rich Americans and protest any suggestion of a tithe, let alone regular giving, but these persecuted Christians were overflowing with generosity. We read, "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor 9:7) and conclude, "I'm not cheerful about giving, so I shouldn't", but these impoverished believers begged earnestly "for the favor" of taking part in the relief of the saints.

What was their secret? How did they manage to appropriate this kind of grace from God? Well, Paul tells us. "They gave themselves first to the Lord." There's the secret. There's how they, and we, can do wonderful, even-to-the-point-of-appearing foolish things for the Lord. Don't hold back. We need to give ourselves first to the Lord. The results will be amazing.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


We all know the term. "Anti-gay" refers to, obviously, being opposed to "gay". But the term is used all over the place and I'm not entirely sure that they mean it as simply that. For instance, it is a known fact that those who are opposed to redefining marriage from "the union of a man and a woman" to "some other unclear union" are "anti-gay". No other possibility. Except it is also true that there are those in the gay community opposed to just that. So they are "anti-gay"? Everyone knows that the belief that homosexual behavior is sin constitutes "anti-gay" and, oh, don't forget, homophobic (another odd and ill-defined term). On both of these I would beg to differ.

It is clear that there are those who are anti-gay. The guy that shot up the nightclub in Orlando qualified. People who commit hate crimes against people on the basis that they believe them to be gay qualify. The Westboro Baptist folk qualify. I'm just not sure that wishing to defend traditional marriage or believing that a particular behavior violates God's commands constitutes an opposition to those folk who find themselves sexually attracted to the same sex.

The dictionary definition of "anti-gay" is basically to be opposed to gays or gay rights. That's problematic on its own, given our loose definition of terms these days. You see, the concept of "gay rights" has expanded way beyond normal "rights". It has overrun the First Amendment protections of religious freedom and free speech. It has trampled the definition of marriage held by mankind since the beginning of time. It has even moved into the Orwellian world of thought police who will hunt you down and eliminate you -- if not actually, at least from public appearance -- for thinking anything remotely "negative" about anything remotely connected to "gay". Indeed, "gay" no longer is just those who have a same-sex attraction. It includes both genders (male homosexuals and female homosexuals), those who are attracted to both genders (bisexuals), and even the completely confused transgender who isn't clear on what gender they are so can't be sure if they're attracted to the same one or the opposite one. That is, if you oppose letting the guy who claims to feel like a girl into your daughter's locker room, you are "opposed to gay rights" and, by definition, "anti-gay".

I personally don't understand any of this. Let's say that Bill defined himself as "gay". Let's further say that Bill was also a serial killer. He believed it was his right to kill people. If you, under today's current perspective, were to say, "No, Bill, you don't have the right to kill people", would you rightly be classified as "anti-gay"? The obvious answer would be "No." Why? Because Bill does not have that right, and because opposing Bill's killing tendencies is not the same thing as hating people who have same-sex attraction. Most people can see this. So why is it that they can't see it in the other questions? We understand that 1) claiming to be "gay" does not constitute permission to do whatever you wish to do and 2) what we are permitted to do is the question we need to answer. So why is it that a person who says "God's Word calls this particular behavior sin" must necessarily be classified as "anti-gay", but a person who says, "God's Word says that killing another person is sin, so Bill would be committing sin if he did it" does not?

There is, of course, the whole problem of calling sin sin. Somewhere along the way it became hateful to point to some behavior and say, "Sin!" Oh, sure, that's not a product of our time. That was long ago. Maybe always has been. But if I point at a rattlesnake on which you're about to step and say, "Snake!", you're not going to complain that I'm evil, mean, or judgmental. If I post a sign -- "Bridge out" -- in front of a bridge that has collapsed, you won't complain that I'm cruel and hateful. But when someone warns that a particular behavior is opposed to God's commands and offers, "You need Jesus", now that is intolerant, judgmental, bigoted, and hateful. Why?

Rev. David Gushee is the Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University. He has written an article warning that "middle ground is disappearing" on whether or not you are for "LGBT equality". He tells us that everywhere in American life "discrimination against LGBT people" has been outlawed and abandoned with the sole exception of conservative religious communities. Gushee (as a Professor of Christian Ethics, no less) has worked hard to get those conservatives to drop their principles. But, he tells us, it won't be voluntary for much longer. He says, "If Hillary Clinton is elected president, making for 12 to 16 straight years of Democratic control of the White House, it is quite possible that by Supreme Court ruling and federal regulation any kind of discrimination against gay people will have the same legal rights and social acceptance as any kind of racial discrimination. Which is, none." Clearly "Reverend" Gushee thinks this is a good thing. Religious schools will lose accreditation and government dollars. Some will be required to change or close. Eventually no corner of American life will be free to think of homosexual behavior as sin. Expect fines and jail time for failure to comply. Loving the homosexual enough to warn him or her that they need Jesus will no longer be tolerated. Nor will adherence to biblical principles if they transgress certain societally sacrosanct values, like the right to choose whatever sexual behavior you wish without having anyone think badly of you. You will no longer be allowed to say, "I have nothing but love for all people including those who have same-sex attraction, but I believe that acting on that attraction is sin and hope that all sinners will come to Christ." If they can stop you from thinking it, they will.

There was a time when a segment of Christianity was "postmillenial" in their eschatology. They held that the kingdom of God was going to occur here on earth and they worked to bring it about. With enough prayer and obedience and civil involvement, they could bring back a theocracy. Through the 19th century they thrived, seeing in America the proof of the concept. World War I put a real clamp on their progress and World War II nearly killed it. Today "postmillenials" are rare. There was a time when American Christians believed in democracy. That is, they believed that if you were biblical and vocal enough, you could make the world a better place. Think of Falwell's "Moral Majority". If you just got the conservatives to vote, you could make secular America a moral America. I think (at least I hope) that the Supreme Court ruling that slashed "marriage" from its moorings and replaced it with "gay mirage" as the law of the land may have driven a stake into the heart of that false hope that democracy and government can be used to produce a moral society. Instead, we're finding that, instead of advancing biblical morality, conservative Christians -- those who believe God's Word -- themselves are vanishing. The so-called "rights" of the so-called "LGBT" bolstered by the so-called "anti-gay" epithet are wearing away at anything called "biblical Christianity". It is not an improvement, but it may wake up the few that remain to the realization that 1) there is a god of this world and 2) our hope is not in him or his followers. We have been warned.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What if ...?

I struggle from time to time with the concerns about my adequacy as a father and a husband. If you don't, you're either not one or the other or both or you're not paying attention because we all are sinners, inadequate to perfection. The other day I saw a man with kids and observed what he was teaching them, not by intent, but by example. His language was painful to hear in the presence of his children. He was not kind to them, constantly complaining about this or that. He wasn't kind to his wife. You get the idea. And it made me wonder, if my kids had grown up to mimic me, how well would they have gotten along in life?

It's amazing what we teach our kids by accident. They just see us in our daily behavior and they learn it. They learn that kids are not that important if Dad is more dedicated to work than to them. They learn that it's okay to be unkind to Mom if Dad isn't a fine example of tenderness and understanding to her. They learn that church is something to endure until they don't have to anymore if, while Dad may have gone every Sunday (and it's just worse if he didn't), he certainly wasn't much "into it". If church for Dad was something to endure rather than enjoy, they learned the same thing. They learn that honesty is not always the best policy if they watch Dad deceive friends and family for whatever reason. Dads mold their children's world and, in so doing, their children's character. And they do it without even trying. (Moms do it, too. As a father, I seem to have a focus on fathers.)

I wasn't trying to describe my life with my kids. Not the point. Each of us has our own failings and God certainly knows I have mine because, after all, Christ has paid for them. And it's good to know that I wasn't the only influence on those kids. There were other parents and other grandparents and other siblings and other friends. There was, above and over all, God at work. Taking human error and parental shortcomings along with all the other fragmented clay He had to work with, He formed out of my kids what He intended, "one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use" (Rom 9:21), so to speak. I was the one placed in the responsible position, but it was God who carried out His plan for my kids. I just want fathers to think, to pray, to seek the Lord, to pursue godliness, to love their wives and kids above every worldly thing from personal ego to cultural pressures. To get to the stage I'm at where kids are grown and out of the house and think, "Did I do that okay?" is the wrong time to ask. So ask yourself while they're still at home. What if they grew up to mimic you? Would that be a good thing?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

In the Vineyard

"I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)
Most Christians are familiar with Jesus's "vine and branches" analogy. Most Christians nod their heads and agree that we need to abide in Him. Most Christians miss entirely the weight of the last phrase.

Jesus said, "Apart from Me you can do nothing."

Wait ... what? Really?? "Nothing"??!

That's what Jesus said. So, what did He mean? You see, if it is true that we can indeed do some things without Him, then He didn't mean "Apart from Me you can do nothing." He was wrong (we'll reject that out of hand) or He was using hyperbole, but He didn't mean a flat "nothing".

Now, it could be that He did mean "nothing at all" After all, "In Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28) "In Him all things hold together." (Col 1:17) "From Him and through Him and to Him are all things." (Rom 11:36) So in a very real sense we can actually do nothing -- not even exist -- without Him.

I don't think, however, that "absolutely nothing" was what, exactly, Jesus had in mind here. I think He was speaking in context of His statement. That is, "Apart from abiding in Me you do not have the capacity to produce fruit."

Now, I know, lots of people are saying, "We could have told you that." But I think it's imporant to think things through. More importantly, however, I think that it is in these kinds of examinations -- even examinations of the "obvious" -- we might arrive at something monumental. And I think we have done just that here.

We are told that we need to abide in Christ. We are told that He will abide in us. We are told that, in this arrangement, we will actually produce fruit. We will be fruitful, productive, useful. We will make a difference. We will have a godly purpose. And we all know that ... except, for reasons we don't fully understand, we seem to often fail to recognize that it is abiding in Him and His working in us that does it. So we come up with plans and programs, cool gimmicks and careful shows, events and spectaculars, lots of things to produce fruit, forgetting that apart from Him we can do nothing.

Those things aren't, by nature, evil. Not my point. The point is that we need to abide in Him. The point is that He needs to be working in us. The point is that He needs to be the point. He is the direction, the purpose, the goal, and the power for producing "fruit". So while we, on one hand, get deeply concerned that we won't be able to do things for the Lord and, on the other hand, find ourselves leaping into "best laid plans" that actually don't come from Him, let's try to keep Christ in mind. We need to be thoroughly connected to Him. He will be working in us. What He plans cannot fail. It will produce. Count on it.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Useful Obedience

I've often played tug-of-war with the ideas of both God's Sovereignty and Man's responsibility. Just look at the current political situation. We are required to vote according to our conscience, but we also know that all authority is established by God. So, which is it? Us or Him? The question comes up all over the place. We are required to plant and water, but God gives the increase (1 Cor 3:6). We are required to work out our salvation, but it is God at work in us to do it (Phil 2:12-13). So, which is it? Us or Him?

I came across this interesting little story in 1 Samuel 25 that makes this point. David and his little band were hiding out and while they did they guarded the flocks and shepherds of a man named Nabal. Eventually David dropped in on Nabal, pointed out the service he had done, and simply asked for a meal for his men and himself. Nabal kicked him out. Well, David was ... miffed. "May God do so to the enemies of David, and more also, if by morning I leave as much as one male of any who belong to him." (1 Sam 25:22) More than miffed. But Nabal's wife, Abigail, got wind of the trouble her husband was bringing down on them. She put together a sizable tribute and hurried off to intercept David before he killed everyone. She was apologetic and kind and David acquiesced. Here's what David said.
"Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me, and blessed be your discernment, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodshed and from avenging myself by my own hand. Nevertheless, as the LORD God of Israel lives, who has restrained me from harming you, unless you had come quickly to meet me, surely there would not have been left to Nabal until the morning light as much as one male." (1 Sam 25:32-34)
So, here's the question. Did Abigail prevent David from killing everyone over at Nabal's house or did God do it? Well, the text tells us the answer.

David starts with God. "Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me." Oh, see? It was God who sent Abigail. So it was God who prevented David from carrying through with his plan. But wait! He goes on to say, "Blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodshed." Oh, now that's different. Now he is crediting Abigail with preventing him from shedding blood. So it wasn't God. But wait! David finishes with, "... as the LORD God of Israel lives, who has restrained me from harming you ..." Now we're back to God doing it.

And that, dear reader, is the right answer: Yes. When God tells you to pray, who accomplishes what you prayed for? You or God? Yes. God uses our obedience to accomplish His plans. When God tells you to share the gospel and someone comes to Christ, who accomplishes that? You or God? Yes. God uses our obedience to accomplish His plans. Over and over the answer is "Yes." God does it, and He does it by using people. Sometimes it is faithful believers. Sometimes it is a donkey (Num 22:28). Sometimes it might even be you. He does it. He uses us. And then He gives us rewards. Such a deal! So do not grow weary in doing good (2 Thess 3:13). God will use your obedience.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Walking on Water

Everyone knows the story of Jesus walking on water. The world knows it. There is even a "Jesus lizard" known for running on water and so-called because of that story about Jesus. Some even use it as a reference to perfection. To someone claiming moral superiority they might say, "You don't walk on water, you know!" Because, as everyone knows, Jesus, the Son of God, walked on water.

Jesus was not the only one.

After the feeding of the 5,000 (Matt 14:13-21), Jesus withdrew to pray while the disciples went on across the Sea of Galilee where they ran into a storm (Matt 14:22-23) and Jesus walked out on the water (Matt 14:25) to help. When the disciples saw Him coming, they thought He was a ghost but He identified Himself and told them not to fear (Matt 14:26-27). Peter said, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." (Matt 14:28) (Strange way to prove it was Jesus, but ...) Jesus told him to come, and "Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus." (Matt 14:29)

There you have it! Jesus was not the only one to walk on water. Peter did, too!

Why don't we remember Peter for that? Well, it didn't last long. "But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!'" and Jesus took hold of him, berated him for his lack of faith, got him into the boat, and the storm stopped (Matt 14:30-32).

A popular story, to be sure, but what's my point? My point is that Jesus walked on water, but so did Peter. My point is that Jesus's disciples have feats of faith they can perform if they're only willing. So what was the limiting factor? What is our limiting factor? What prevented Peter from walking on water long enough to be noticed as "the other guy who walked on water"? Not his lack of perfection. Peter was never perfect. It was his lack of faith. What stunted Peter's faith? "Seeing the wind, he became frightened." (Matt 14:30) Peter was looking at the problem, not the answer. Peter was looking at circumstances, not the Savior.

We live in stormy times -- politics, the economy, education, loss of religious freedom, oppression from without, destruction from within ... on and on. The storm is real. Indeed, the storm was promised (e.g., John 15:20; 2 Tim 3:12). The problem is not the storm. The problem is where we look. If we get our eyes on the problems, we will miss the Savior and the opportunity to act in faith. Jesus makes it possible for all of us to walk on water in a storm. We just have to keep our eyes on Him.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Social-Emotional Learning

According to Education Week Magazine, the "next big thing" in education is "Social-Emotional Learning" and 8 states have signed up to start developing and using this system with 11 more lined up to join in. What is "Social-Emotional Learning"? Well, it's SEL, of course. (What is it with TLA's --- three-letter acronyms?) Okay, SEL -- what is it?

SEL is "the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions." That is, it is a way to make people nicer. They figure that making people nicer will provide better learning, so they want to teach your kids the five core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Through public-school education they want to teach your children to accurately recognize their own thoughts and emotions (Jer 17:9), to learn to regulate their own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors (Rom 3:12), to take the perspective of others with diverse backgrounds while understanding the ethical norms for behavior (Rom 8:8), to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups, and to make constructive and respectful choices (Eph 2:1-3).

Now, to be fair, the idea is that by making kids into better adjusted, better behaved, nicer people, they will be less of a conduct problem and better at learning. I think schooling from an earlier era when kids were better disciplined at home would actually bear this notion out. It's just that the idea is coming at you from a humanistic public school system that rejects God's evaluation of natural humans and ignores the problem of failed parenting, failed teaching, a completely failed social ethic. It starts with "people are basically good" or "neutral" at least, something the Bible disputes. And it sets out to "make a better human" because humans are good, just misguided. The problem with kids in school is not their sin nature; it's a lack of good teaching on being nice. They can fix that.

Just like the fact that we will not find salvation for America in a better presidential candidate, we will not produce better children by ignoring God's perspective and the problems of everyone else around and appealing to "self-awareness" or "relational skills". The plan is to make sinful kids feel better about themselves, a band-aid on a flesh-eating virus. America needs Jesus, a third "Great Awakening". School kids and parents and teachers and society all need Jesus. You'd think, living in a so-called "Christian nation", there would be enough genuine Christians around to demonstrate and declare the Gospel, at least to the nation. That's what is needed. We need to be diligent about making disciples instead of hoping to make sinners who feel better about themselves.

Friday, August 19, 2016

One Anothers

"Did you know," the pastor said, "that there are commands in Scripture that cannot be obeyed outside of the regular and committed involvement with a local body of believers?" Now, the Bereans were considered noble for "examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so" (Acts 17:11), so I thought I'd hunt that down.

There were a few items that jumped out at me. I already covered the 1 Corinthians 12 concept of being part of the Body and needing to participate. You cannot use your gift as commanded if you aren't functioning in the local church. And everyone knows about the Hebrews 10 command not to forsake assembling together (Heb 10:25). Jesus gave instructions on church discipline (Matt 18:15-17) which fall completely outside the realm of possibility for someone outside of the church. We are clearly commanded to obey our spiritual leaders (Heb 13:17). And we have instructions on keeping elders accountable (1 Tim 5:19-21), impossible for those without elders.

The most dominant thing that came to mind, though, was the "one another" commands. The big one, of course, is "Love one another" (John 13:34-35; John 15:12; Rom 12:10; 1 Thess 3:12; 1 Thess 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 Peter 4:8; 1 John 3:11; 2 John 1:5). Big ... really big. Critical, in fact.

Beyond the "love one another" command, there are several more. Jesus said, "Be at peace with one another." (Mark 9:50) Paul told the church at Rome, "Outdo one another in showing honor" (Rom 12:10) and "Live in harmony with one another." (Rom 12:16; Rom 15:5) He told the Corinthian church to "comfort one another" and "agree with one another" (2 Cor 13:11). To the Galatians he wrote, "through love serve one another" (Gal 5:13) and "Bear one another's burdens." (Gal 6:2) He put two together for the church at Ephesus when he told them to be "bearing with one another in love" (Eph 4:2). He went on to tell them, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Eph 4:32) and to submit to one another (Eph 5:21). He warned the Colossians not to lie to one another (Col 3:9) and told them they should be "teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom" (Col 3:16). He told the Thessalonians to "encourage one another and build one another up" (1 Thess 5:11) and "do good to one another" (1 Thess 5:15). The author of Hebrews said to "exhort one another every day" (Heb 3:13), to "consider how to stir up one another to love and good works" (Heb 10:24), and to be "encouraging one another" (Heb 10:25). James warned against speaking evil against one another (James 4:11) and grumbling against one another (James 5:9). Instead, he said to "confess your sins to one another and pray for one another." (James 5:16) Beyond loving one another, Peter added showing hospitality (1 Peter 4:9), serving one another (1 Peter 4:10), and being humble toward each other (1 Peter 5:5).

Now, to be fair, it is possible to obey some of those commands without being in a local body of believers. I mean, look, for some of us it seems like "Be at peace with one another" is best accomplished by avoiding one another. And it says "one another", right? So, just one ... right? But, seriously, that just can't be sustained for very long. Clearly the intent is not "one". And clearly the commands are in view of community, not individuals. "Live in harmony with one another" isn't very easy when you're talking about just two people. It suggests a crowd. "Bear one another's burdens" argues for connections (plural). Then there is "exhort one another every day" which requires an ongoing process, not an occasional one. No, I think you'd have to admit that this list of "one anothers", in its totality, precludes the Lone Ranger Christian concept (or, if you're married but not part of a church, the "Dynamic Duo" Christian concept).

Christian, if you are a disciple of Christ, a follower of the Word, intent on doing what God wants you to do, it would seem essential for you not to attend a church, but to be plugged into a local body of believers, actually connected and interacting and part of a local church. There are lots of "one another" commands to follow and you wouldn't want to miss out on all that grateful service to God because you have some better plan that doesn't include them, right?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The First Church

I'm pretty sure that Acts 2:42-47 does not serve as a mandate for how to "do church" these days, but it isn't a bad model. I don't see it as a command, but it is commendable. Especially when you look at the core of it.
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common. (Acts 2:42-44)
Let's examine those pieces, because I think that the principles are good for then and now.

It says, first, that they were "continually devoting" themselves. I sure wish I could see that in our churches today, or, rather, among believers today. "Continually devoting." The adverb is "continually" and the action is "devoting". In the Greek, however, these are one word. The word is προσκαρτερέω -- proskartereō -- and is literally "to adhere to, to be steadfastly attentive to, to give unremitting care to a thing, to continue all the time in a place, to persevere." It is translated as "continually devoting" because one or the other term was not sufficient to get the strength of the devotion across. This is a diligent attention, a serious commitment to remain.

To what were they so devoted? The text lists four things: 1) the apostles' teaching, 2) fellowship, 3) the breaking of bread, and 4) prayer. Now, mind you, there are likely lots of things to which we could be devoted. Look around; you'll find them everywhere. There is politics and homeschooling and social justice and environmental issues. There are even Christian things like missions and outreach. I think, in fact, the early church failed at that part, although God was adding to their numbers daily (Acts 2:47). So these four must be important.

So, where do we find "the apostles' teaching" today? Well, it's very clearly provided, kept, and translated in the Word of God. The New Testament is a large collection of "the apostles' teaching", and the New Testament is clear that a lot of what they taught was from the Old Testament. In other words, if you'd like to mimic the devotion of the early church, start with a serious commitment to read, learn, study, and follow Scripture. I have to be honest. I cannot imagine what the church would look like today if they had this one, serious, continuous commitment of following the teachings of Scripture. Instead, today's Christians barely know what's in their Bibles and most feel like today's "TL/DR" -- too long/didn't read.

Fellowship isn't hard to figure. But let's be careful; it is not found in church attendance. It is found in church involvement. It is found in being a part of a church -- attending, connecting, ministering, involving yourself in it. Now, let's be fair. It doesn't take any special Greek training or cultural examination to see this, right? So why is it that a growing number of Christians are inclined to either attend church without involvement or skip it altogether?

The "breaking of bread", immersed as it is in the center of all these religiously-oriented things, is likely a devotion to the Lord's Supper as opposed to sitting down to a meal together. (That is found down in Acts 2:46.) While we often tend toward Communion as a dry, lifeless thing that we simply walk through quietly and almost without attention, these Christians were continually devoted to it.

Then there is prayer. They were devoted to prayer. They were committed to praying. They didn't have to be told "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17). It was just part of their devotion, part of their commitment, a primary focus. They didn't mouth it. They were continually devoted to it. They were eager to adore God, to confess sin, to thank God for His gifts and grace, to ask for what they desired of Him. This was important and they pursued it diligently.

The results are also given. They shared a sense of awe which, despite today's more tepid use, included both a feeling of reverential respect and a sense of fear or dread. You know, "God is so good ... and, oh my, God is so BIG." There were wonderful things happening. And they were serious about taking care of each other.

Maybe the text does not provide a standard instruction for how we're supposed to "do church", but I think it is an outstanding model. I think, in fact, that a group of believers that operated with that continual devotion to those things would prove to be a miraculous church, a church where God was at work, a church where things would be really happening for the Lord. I think that kind of church would be a problem for the world that is so quick to dismiss church people as hypocrites and fools.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Talk to Me

A father and son were having a conversation ... one, of course, the son didn't want to have. Dad was trying to explain to him why it was that he wouldn't be allowed to do what he wanted to do. He listened for a brief moment, turned away, covered his ears, and said, "Blah, blah, blah. Don't worry about it. I'll do what you tell me. You don't have to give me reasons." So, of course, a week later when he, exasperated about something else, complained, "Why don't you ever talk to me about stuff?", it just seemed humorous.

It's amusing, isn't it, when we see such silliness in the young? Is it just as amusing when we see it in ourselves? Because we do. I cannot tell you how many times I've heard (or said), "What is God's will for my life?" I cannot guess how many have complained that God is not clear enough. "Why doesn't He just tell us what He wants?" They (we) do it with our Bibles closed. Because in the Bible God speaks. Every word is God-breathed. And sincere questions like "What is God's will for my life?" and "What does God want me to do?" are answered in there ... over and over again.

I think, sometimes, we're not really aware of what we have in this Bible of ours. It is a letter written by God using various secretaries in which He explains to us important things like who He is, what He wants, what we should do, and what is best for His creation (like us). A personal letter written from God. And He's telling us what we need to know. And somehow we often nod and say, "Yes, yes, I love the Bible, but ..."

There are, to be sure, unanswered questions. Should you take that job, move to that city, marry this one or that? Lots of questions that may or may not be answered in the Word. But I think you will find the vast majority of answers to these questions if you prayerfully listen to God when He speaks from the pages of Scripture. Of course, you'll have to keep from covering your ears, closing your eyes, or shutting down your minds, because when God speaks, we often don't want to hear it or don't like what He says or aren't willing to follow. When God speaks, we may not always listen. We may find it hard to hear or hard to take. But we shouldn't be caught asking "Why doesn't God speak to me?" if we're simply ignoring His Word.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Thinking Like the World

In Paul's letter to Titus he warns Titus about those who refuse to follow sound doctrine. "For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach." (Titus 1:10-11) He concludes, "They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work." (Titus 1:16) Have you ever met anyone like that? They profess to know God, but deny Him by the way they live. They are marked by disobedience while claiming to be followers of Christ. So have I. But that's not what I'm writing about here. Paul goes on to tell Titus,
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. (Titus 2:1-6)
Does that strike you as odd? I don't think it lines up with today's mindset, at least in our culture ... in multiple ways.

"Teach what accords with sound doctrine." What's that? Can we even know what "sound doctrine" is? Who can really say? In fact, we shouldn't be teaching "sound doctrine" at all. What is true or not is generally devisive. And it isn't nearly as important how we should live. You know, orthopraxy over orthodoxy. We really don't know what "sound doctrine" is with any certainty, so teaching what accords with it is pretty hard ... by today's standards.

"Older men are to be ..." We object to "men" versus "women". You can't say, "Men should be X and women should be Y." That's sexism. That's bigotry. And then you throw in "older"? Now we're into ageism as well! You can't single out older men and say they should be a certain way. That's just wrong.

"Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified ..." Wow, now this is a real stretch. Who's to say that older men should be sober-minded? Who determines that they -- distinct from younger men, older women, and younger women -- ought to be dignified. Why the limitations? Why not let them be free?

"Older women likewise ..." We already objected to this distinction between men and women. Christians are individuals and equals and ought not have this gender or age tag hung on them to tell them what to be. And, of course, the list of stuff that they should be is equally unfair. "Reverent in their behavior." What a crock! Women should be vivacious, lively. Just be yourself! Don't let anyone tell you what to be.

Older women are to "train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands." Wrong, again, in many ways. They might assist the young women, but why are they required to train them? And, look, it doesn't take a genius to point out that "working at home" for married women with kids is nonsense, especially in this day and age. The "happy homemaker" concept died at the end of the '50's ... primarily because it was a myth, perpetrated by men, mostly. Young women should be able to get out of the house, have a career, fulfill themselves! Someone else can take care of their children (and husband ... oh, wait ...). And, of course, no one these days thinks that younger women should be submissive to their husbands. That is right out! Fortunately, it has been awhile, so there aren't many "older women" who believe it either, so they can't possibly teach it to younger women.

"Urge the younger men to be self-controlled." Keeping in mind the whole gender and age problem, still, you have to wonder, "That's it??!!" Tell them to "be self-controlled"? Nothing more. Everyone else had lists. Not them. Why?

Titus was instructed to tell older men how they should be and urge younger men to be what they should be, but not the younger women. The task of training younger women fell to older women. What is that all about? Clearly sexism is rampant in the Bible.

So, I've listed to you some of the common objections you might hear or even think yourself. All well and good. Here's my question. Who are you going to go with? The Bible or the objections? Basic, bottom-line question. Answer that first. Is the Bible the Word of God? Is it reliable? True? Authoritative? If it is, then you need to evaluate your own objections, whatever they might be. Because it is abundantly clear what Paul told Titus to teach. There is sound doctrine and he was supposed to teach accordingly. Older men do need to have certain characteristics as representatives of Christ. Older women should, for instance, be reverent in their behavior. And, if you are an "older woman", are you teaching younger women? Are you teaching them to be what Paul says they should be? I ask because from what I can see it isn't happening. Just try to suggest that God's Word says that wives should be homemakers and you'll get booed out of the room. (Note: The text does not say that wives cannot earn money or have jobs. It simply specifies that they keep their homes.) Hey, I didn't say it; Paul did ... under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. If you object, take it up with Him. (That's a capital "Him" because it's the Spirit, not Paul you need to take it up with.) Don't like that whole "submit to husbands" thing? Not my command. Again, you will need to either agree with the Spirit on that or discard the Spirit on that. And teaching young men to be self-controlled? Most of the parents I see today aren't teaching their younger children to be self-controlled. Why would anyone expect it of them?

So we end up in a circle here. I gave you the first six verses of the second chapter of Paul's letter to Titus where Paul tells him to do all sorts of things that violate our common cultural perceptions today. You need to decide. Will you accept the Word, or will you prefer the culture? Will you think like the Word or think like the world? If you prefer the culture, you will fall under the category of people that Paul gave as a reason for telling Titus these things. You will be one of those who profess to know God, but deny Him in practice. You will be one of those "upsetting whole families" by teaching what ought not be taught. Now, far be it from me to tell you not to be one of those people. I just want you to do it intentionally. Or not. I would much prefer, in your best interest, that you prayerfully realign your thinking with Scripture -- with God's thinking. But it's obviously your call.

Monday, August 15, 2016


Paul's first epistle to the church at Corinth is a scathing letter. I mean, he really rips into them. He berates them for division in the church (1 Cor 1:11ff), their abuse of spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12), the mishandling of the Lord's Supper (1 Cor 11:20-34), and so on. The big one is the church member who was in a sexual relationship that exceeded the pagans' sin -- having his father's wife (1 Cor 5:1-5). Oh, not good. This one he delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Cor 5:5). This was not, in the main, a cheerful, warm letter. If it had been written today, there would have been complaints that Paul was being intolerant and judgmental.

It's interesting, then, to read in his following epistle to the church about what he thought of his first letter.
For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. (2 Cor 2:2-3)
Paul recognized that his last letter was painful. And, yet, here is what Paul says was his motivation.
For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you. (2 Cor 2:4)
Given the current climate of "Don't say anything negative about other believers because that's mean, intolerant, and judgmental", this statement from Paul is remarkable. Note, first, his personal state of mind when he wrote that first letter. He says he wrote it "out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears." This is not the image of the angry church lady, the Christian indulging in righteous indignation. This is a heartbroken believer who, despite the pain it causes him, feels the need to speak the truth in love.

"'Speak the truth in love'," you say. "What makes you think that?" Well, from the rest of what Paul says. He says he wrote it amidst personal affliction and anguish "to let you know the abundant love that I have for you." Now, surely this is hard for us to hear these days. We do not typically see the kind of letter Paul wrote that we call "1st Corinthians" as a love letter. We typically see that kind of thing as, well, mean. It is motivated by a "holier-than-thou" attitude, probably from a hypocrite suffering from similar problems, and certainly never should have been written at all. But Paul says that he wrote it in agony and wrote it out of love.

I wonder how many times we do that? The Scriptures are abundantly clear, despite our society's certainty to the contrary, that we are supposed to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort" each other (2 Tim 4:2). Jesus says "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline." (Rev 3:19) Correction is for the benefit of the mistaken. And there are quite a few Christians who have taken up that task ... with a vengeance. But how many of us do it in tears -- out of much affliction and anguish of heart? How many of us do it so that they would know the abundant love we have for others? Are we expressing love or something else?

Clearly, both from Paul and from Christ, correction is necessary and it can be made on the basis of love. We mustn't buy that "Don't be judgmental" complaint as if it's wrong and unkind to correct people who are straying. Clearly, correction is to be done with an aim of restoration (2 Cor 2:7; Gal 6:1). When we find delight, even secretly, in correcting others, when it's not out of love, when it carries no pain on our behalf for their well-being, then we're doing it wrong. And when we do it wrong, it makes those who are doing it out of grief for their loss and love for them look bad. In the end, it makes Christ look bad.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus

'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
and to take him at His word;
just to rest upon His promise,
and to know, "Thus saith the Lord."

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I've proved Him o'er and o'er!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!

O how sweet to trust in Jesus,
just to trust His cleansing blood;
and in simple faith to plunge me
'neath the healing, cleansing flood! [Refrain]

Yes, 'tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
just from sin and self to cease;
just from Jesus simply taking
life and rest, and joy and peace. [Refrain]
Written by Louisa M. R. Stead in 1882, this favorite and simple hymn speaks of the sweetness of trusting Jesus. Mrs. Stead knew something about trusting Jesus. She had felt called to the mission field since her youth, but her health prevented her from going. She married in 1875 and then tragically lost her husband who, on a family picnic at the Long Island shore, drowned trying to rescue a boy in the water. Louisa went to South Africa to be a missionary. She and her new husband returned to America after some years to recover from her failing health, but they returned again to Africa -- this time Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). From there she wrote back to America,
In connection with this whole mission there are glorious possibilities, but one cannot, in the face of peculiar difficulties, help say, "Who is sufficient for these things?" But with simple confidence and trust we may and do say, "Our sufficiency is of God."
Louisa ultimately died there in 1917. Her daughter married a missionary and served in the mission field as well. All of this -- the drive to serve, the pain of catastrophic loss, the serving under serious health problems -- all lay on top of this singular thought: "'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus." Her life reflected her trust in Him.

The verses offer powerful points of trusting Jesus. There is His Word, where the simple "Thus saith the Lord" proved sufficient to rest in it. There is His blood, in which she could have release from sin, spiritual healing and cleansing. There is His presence that sanctifies and gives life, rest, joy, and peace. All that is necessary for life, then, can be found in trusting Jesus.

In the refrain she makes two critical points. First, her faith isn't blind. Her trust isn't credulity. She trusted Him to begin with, but after time she proved Him. Hers was a trust from experience. "How I've proved Him o'er and o'er." It is the blessed faith of a saint a little farther down the road. Can I trust Him? Yes, because He has always proven trustworthy. The second point, however, is often missed. Mrs. Stead trusted Jesus for all the essentials of life because He was ultimately trustworthy, but she had a secret. She did not see her faith in Christ as something she mustered up. No. She prayed, "O for grace to trust Him more!" You see, she saw her faith in Christ as a gift, a matter of grace.

In this is faith's critical secret. Louisa trusted Christ through bad health and the tragic loss of her husband and the father of her daughter and through serving in far-flung places. She called it "sweet". Sweet? Really? It is things like this that cause others to give up on God entirely. The difficult parts of life lead others to conclude there is no God. How could she call it "sweet"? It is because she didn't drum up this faith herself. She wasn't counting on her own capacity to trust Him. She was given a measure of faith (Rom 12:3). And she echoed the prayer of the father asking Jesus to heal his child, "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24)

It ought to be our praise: "'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus; I've proved Him o'er and o'er." It ought to be our prayer: "O, for grace to trust Him more." It is certainly her legacy to her daughter and to us.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Don't Drink the Kool-Aid

The phrase comes from the Jonestown Massacre where nearly a thousand people committed suicide by drinking the poisoned Kool-aid provided by their "savior", Jim Jones. Today it refers to those who blindly follow a doomed course.

I'm a bit dismayed at the numbers of people I see who have drunk the Kool-aid, so to speak, in this current election cycle. Oh, I'm not referring to non-believers. They will do what they will do. I'm referring to Christians, people I know and love and even respect. There appears to be a whole group of them that will vote for Trump out of a near anti-Hillary hysteria.

Mind you, I'm not talking about those who, after great deliberation, have decided that Trump is the lesser of two evils. These haven't "endorsed" Trump. There are quite a few who, out of pure pragmatism, think that he is, flaws and all, the better of the two options and they will, as so often in the past, hold their noses and vote for Trump. Those aren't the ones I'm talking about. The group I have in mind are rabid #NeverHillary folk. To them it would be catastrophic if she got into office. To them it would be a sin for Christians to fail to vote for Trump. Sure, voting for Hillary would, to this group, be a sin, but they go farther and say that failing to vote for Trump would be a sin. Because, as everyone knows, to fail to vote for Trump is to vote for Hillary. And, as everyone knows, Hillary is Satan personified, the Devil in a blue dress (or whatever type and color of clothing she happens to be wearing today). It isn't a matter of pragmatism; it is a matter of evil. The sentiment of this particular group is hard to distinguish from plain, ordinary hatred.

Mind you, I'm not saying that Hillary is a viable option. If that's what you're hearing from me, let me quickly and roundly dismiss that. Electing a person like Mrs. Clinton would be electing someone diametrically opposed to most of what I believe in. I don't consider her a sound candidate, a moral candidate, a candidate with character, even a benign candidate. I think she would further damage our damaged country and I come to that conclusion from the positions she has declared to be her own. To start with, a candidate who declares boldly her disdain for the right of our youngest people to live and her desire to have the government pay for their execution is not a candidate who should occupy a position of power anywhere. Even her running mate is opposed to her stance on abortion. In one political index she is 43 points more "progressive" than public opinion on abortion (which is already too "progressive" for anyone who values life). On LGBT rights she is 62 points more progressive than the already left-leaning public. Well, look, on drug policy, education policy, environmental issues, gun control, health care, immigration reform, social security, and tax reform she scores far left of the public and even many progressives. So, no, I don't consider her a viable option.

So what am I saying about the Kool-aid? I'm wondering why there is a section of Christian America (genuine Christian) that has bought into the fear that "If Hillary gets elected it will be the end of the world as we know it!!" I'm wondering why there are genuine Christians who are endorsing Donald Trump out of hatred for Hillary. I may have not gotten the memo. Maybe there was an email glitch. Did God suspend the "love your neighbor" instruction for her? Have we, in these latter days, seen a suspension of Paul's "optimistic" "There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (Rom 13:1)? Or maybe God is just not on His throne? Are these genuine Christians in the "God does what He can, but sometimes humans get in His way" camp? I don't get it.

Christians, don't drink the Kool-aid. Yes, we need to do what's right. We need to vote. We need to vote our consciences. But don't buy the "It's the end of the world if the wrong person gets elected" line. And don't vote for someone because you hate another. That Kool-aid is poisoned. It will be unpleasant for you. Don't do it.

Friday, August 12, 2016


You remember the story of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. He was a persecuter of the church. He was "breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1) and set out with permission to hunt down anyone "belonging to the Way" (Acts 9:2). Traveling to Damascus to persecute the church there, he ran into an unexpected person -- the person of the Resurrected Christ. There, on the ground, he heard, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Acts 9:4) Oh, now, hold on. I think Jesus made a mistake there, didn't He? I mean, the text was clear. Saul wasn't persecuting Christ; he was hounding Christians. It was the church he was after. If that was your objection, I point to this text to help us see that Scripture connects Christ and the Church. Scripture, in fact, refers to the Church as "the Body of Christ" (Eph 4:12).

Given this fact, how is it that genuine Christians might not be part of a church? Isn't that a Christian not being part of Christ?

In his first epistle to the church at Corinthians, Paul really draws a pretty picture. I won't quote it all. You know how it goes. But he gives us two types of irrational viewpoints. On one side, you have the "They don't need me" view, and on the other the "I don't need you" view. He starts with the claim that all believers are part of the body (1 Cor 12:12). Then he writes about a crazy foot. "If the foot says, 'Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,' it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body." (1 Cor 12:15) This foot is thinking, "Because I'm not a 'useful' part of the body (by some strange evaluation of 'useful'), I'm not needed." And Paul says that's stinkin' thinkin'. Then there is the other side. "And the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you'; or again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.'" (1 Cor 12:21) No one can tell any believer, "We don't need you." Paul's point here is that each member of the Body of Christ is important. "To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (1 Cor 12:7) Do you see what he's saying? The church needs each one of us, and each one of us needs the church.

And still we have many people who 1) call themselves Christians and 2) are not involved in the Body of Christ. They aren't exercising their gifts. They aren't ministering to fellow believers. They aren't building up the saints. They find this whole "organized religion" thing a bit tedious, or they complain about "hypocrites in the church", or they just can't find a church that "suits my needs". You can point out that there isn't a biblical paradigm for believers that includes not being part of a local body. They shrug. You can show them verses that tell us to not forsake assembling together (Heb 10:25), and they smile and say, "No, thanks; I'm fine." You can point out Jesus's basic command for us to love one another (John 13:34) and point out that Jesus said it was the hallmark of a Christian (John 13:35), and they'll still pass. They're passing in growing numbers.

There are lots of reasons Christians give for not being part of a local group of believers. Given what the Bible says about Christians and the church, it seems to me like an evisceration, like vivisection. The body is alive, but some of our body parts are rolling around on the floor, being neither productive nor cared for. There's a loose eye rolling around over there and a hand crawling about over here telling us, "Oh, don't mind me, I'm worshiping God in my own way." As if that makes any sense. John Aloisi of the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary considers unchurched Christians "mythical beasts". I prefer to think of them as uninformed or unclear on the matter and in need of teaching, correction, reproof, and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16-17)... which they can get in any decent Bible-preaching church.

Thursday, August 11, 2016


They tell me sex sells. Maybe that title will get some readership?

Genesis chapter 4 starts with this:
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, "I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD." (Gen 4:1)
Now, no one thinks, "Look at that! It took 4 chapters for Adam to finally meet his wife!" No, we know -- we all know -- what is meant by "knowing" his wife. Even the world will refer to "know in a biblical sense" as a euphemism for sex.

But think about that for a moment. You see, for a euphemism to make sense, there has to be some connection to the thing to which it alludes. I mean, you couldn't use, say, "Adam yellowed his wife" and have it be meaningful in any way. Or take a classic biblical example. When Jesus and His disciples heard that Lazarus had died, Jesus said, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him." (John 11:11) Now, His disciples misunderstood. "Oh, good! He's sleeping. He'll get better." "No," Jesus had to tell them, "he's dead." "Sleep", then, was a euphemism for "dead". And that works because "sleep" has characteristics in common with "dead". You know, eyes closed, not doing anything, "dead to the world", that kind of thing. There is a parallel that makes it work. And it really worked in the Lazarus story because, after all, Jesus was going to "wake him up", so to speak.

So what about Adam knowing his wife? That, too, is a less ... direct way of saying that the two had sexual relations. But in order for it to be useful, it has to have some connection with the real thing. How does "know" correlate to "have sex with"? The term, as a stand-in for the sexual relationship, is full of meaning.

When today's world thinks of sex, we often think of recreation, pleasure, fulfillment, eroticism, lots of that kind of stuff. This biblical version is knowing. It is an intimacy, an interpersonal relationship. It is deeper than "acquainted" and it is relational, not merely physical. Today we have terms for sex that illustrate how surface it has become. From "bumping uglies" to "doing the nasty", we've clearly moved off of "knowing".

The word used here, yâda‛, also has another component in most of its uses in Scripture. We read, for instance, God speaking to the king of Judah,
"Do you become a king because you are competing in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink And do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. "He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; Then it was well. Is not that what it means to know Me?" declares the LORD. (Jer 22:15-16)
Or how about this?
A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, But even the compassion of the wicked is cruel. (Prov 12:10)
In both of these cases the "knowing" was not about a sexual relationship, but did have a purpose. That purpose was to be intimate enough with the one known as to give them what was needed. In the first case, it was knowing God well enough to do what He wanted. In the other it was to know livestock well enough to supply their needs. This, too, is in view with Adam knowing his wife. The loving husband will supply his wife with the intimacy she needs, including and especially in the bedroom.

There is another interesting aspect to the word. Later in Genesis we read,
For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him." (Gen 18:19)
That was the King James. It was God speaking to Himself about Abraham. And He said He knew him. But modern translations don't translate it "know". They translate it "have chosen". Because there is, in this word, a special relationship. A covenant relationship. It is seen in Matthew when Jesus tells the false prophets, "And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.'" (Matt 7:23) You see, it wasn't that He had no knowledge of them. It was that He had no special relationship with them. And that, too, is embodied in the biblical "to know".

Our modern version of sex is almost completely physical. In our rush to make it more "available", we've stripped it of all of its nuance and meaning. The biblical version includes intimacy -- knowing. It includes an awareness of the needs of the other as well as an intention of meeting those needs. It includes a relationship, a covenant connection. The biblical picture of the sexual act is not a physical singularity. It is a union, a sharing, a unique relational process of intimacy, deeper than body to body, but soul to soul. Today's version, far more popular, is also far inferior.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Naked and Unashamed

At the end of the Genesis account of Creation we read:
The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Gen 2:25)
Now, seriously, is this not proof that the story is a myth? No, I'm kidding, of course. But how often do you encounter two people, man and wife, who can be both naked and unashamed? Now, I'm not really talking about physical nudity here. I'm talking about being totally exposed, totally revealed, totally open. How many of us, even the happily married, can say that we can be totally exposed and totally open and totally unashamed?

Given that this was the Creation circumstance, I would think that this would also be God's idea of the right relationship between husband and wife. We are supposed to be ... intimate. Not merely physically intimate. We are supposed to be one. While I'm not an advocate of telling your spouse everything about you, I'm only not an advocate because that would simply be too much information. What would it take, on the other hand, to be able to tell your spouse everything? What would it take to tell him or her all about your past? What would it take to have your present completely open? Husbands and wives have private lives, time spent away from each other -- work or "men's outings" or "ladies' night" or whatever. What would it take to have that private life "naked and unashamed"?

Well, clearly it would require love. It would require complete confidence in your spouse's love for you. No questions. No doubt. "He/she loves me and I don't have the slightest hesitation." Because, you see, love rejoices with the truth (1 Cor 13:6), does not take into account a wrong (1 Cor 13:5), bears all things (1 Cor 13:7), and never fails (1 Cor 13:8).

And it would require obedience. Oh, no, not obedience to each other; obedience to God. You see, wives are commanded to respect their husbands (Eph 5:33). That word is phobos, normally translated "fear". I'm not suggesting it is "fear", but I am suggesting it is much more than today's "respect" which is offered if it is earned and doesn't really have any depth to it. This "respect" is "as to the Lord" (Eph 5:22). Something deeper than a "respectable husband". And husbands are told to live with their wives with understanding and honor (1 Peter 3:7). If husbands are to understand their wives as they are commanded, that would require this love-centered desire to know everything without inflicting shame. And the "honor" commanded is not based on her being honorable; it is based on her belonging to Christ, a fellow heir. As such, she, too, is a forgiven sinner ... just like you.

Oh, and, of course, it would require an aim for holiness, a life of constant sanctification. It would require openness about sin but also openness about repentance. It would require mutual accountability and encouragement through the temptations and trials. That would clearly be necessary.

In truth, if we pursued marriage intending to be "naked and unashamed" with our spouses, we would see very few broken marriages. Predicated on love -- biblical love above mere lust or warm affection -- and aimed at biblical service to each other, the wife respecting her husband and the husband loving, honoring, and understanding his wife, it would be nearly impossible, these two as one, to take apart what God has put together. I would think that we would see that as a good thing. So ... when are you going to start working on that "naked and unashamed" kind of relationship?

Tuesday, August 09, 2016


The 2010 census showed that nearly 1 out of every 3 families are absent their biological father. For school-age kids, the number is 39% without fathers. The racial breakdown for fatherlessness is depressing. For white children, the number is around 21% according to the U.S. Census Bureau reporting in 2012. For Hispanic children, it is 31%, and for black children it is more than 57%. In 1960, children living with only their mothers constituted about 8% of the population; today that number is 24%. In 1960, children living with single mothers constituted 4% of the total of children living with their mothers alone; in 2011, than number was almost 46%. In terms of race, in 1960 6% of white children and nearly 20% of black children lived with their mother alone. In 2010, more than 18% of white children and 48% of black children were living with their mother only. While income is a key predictor of a lack of live-in fathers, reports say that the overwhelming fact is this is a black problem. According to the Washington Times, 54% of black children live only with their mothers. In Washington D.C., 85% of white families are two-parent families while only 25% of black families are two-parent families. This is a serious problem.

In terms of income, married couples with children average $80,000 a year while single mothers average $24,000 a year. But that barely scratches the surface of the problem. Studies show that children without fathers have an array of negative tendencies. There is a higher rate of poverty, a higher infant mortality rate, a higher demand for psychological treatment, higher suicide rates, higher behavioral problems, lower educational attainment, and more negative attitudes about school. Young men growing up without fathers are twice as likely to end up in jail. They are at a higher risk for drug and alcohol use and for abuse either physical or sexual. Most boys with confused gender identities come from father-absent homes. The Census Bureau reports that 90% of homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes. So while our society complains about income inequity and poor families and the rising violence, they ignore the elephant in the room ... fatherlessness.

Why do fathers leave their families? Well, of course, there is the overwhelming numbers of kids growing up without fathers who, therefore, learn this from their childhood. "Fathers leave." That is, the more this occurs, the more it will occur, as historical statistics show. But why?

There are lots of reasons offered. Lots of fathers bail on their families because of their own sense of inadequacy. You know, "I'm not the man I need to be." Many are not as "noble". Instead it is because they can. They don't need to bear the responsibility or shoulder the burden. Another frolic without the work is available. Go there, instead. This doesn't even take into account the "absent fathers" who still live at home.

And, let's face it, many times women encourage it. They encourage it by not requiring commitment before being "one body". I read of a woman bemoaning the fact that her three kids were without fathers ... each of which had a different father and none of them had married her. This isn't uncommon in our day. Single mothers are rising to an unbelievable percentage of the mothers. (Currently 4 out of 10 children are born to unwed mothers.) And there is the curse of Eden. When God told Eve, "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" (Gen 3:16), He wasn't saying, "You will have a deep love for your husband." No. As when God told Cain that sin desired him (Gen 4:7), this was a commentary on the fact that women will always wish to rule over their husbands. Husbands will have to respond. They can fight or run. Neither is the right response to a wrong situation.

There are lots of reasons, but, in the final analysis, there is one.
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12)
It looks like a physical and emotional conflict, but, in truth, it is a spiritual one. It is the assault by "spiritual forces of evil." One of most prevalent weapons at hand for those forces is our own flesh. "For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do." (Gal 5:17)

The core of any society is the family. This is why it is "family" that is under attack by Satan. Attack it from the sexual angle so that "sex in marriage" is no longer the only right place for sex. Attack it from the commitment angle so that marriage is no longer permanent. Attack it from the marriage angle so that marriage is no longer meaningful. Attack it from the parent angle so that parents are no longer effective. Attack it from the father angle so that fathers no longer father. And Satan is becoming quite successful at this in our day.

We cannot fix society. The reason we cannot fix society is that it is not a societal problem; it is a sin problem. We can't get laws passed that will solve that. We can't pound our gavels and force it on our world. We don't have the power to remedy this situation. But we do know Who does. We can show what God intends in sex, in commitment, in marriage, in parenting, in fatherhood. We can let our lights so shine "before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matt 5:16) We can share with those around us the good news of the One who can work in them. And we can pray. Pray to the One who has the capability to change hearts. And we can stop being a part of the problem.

I do not believe that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is written to everyone. I believe God was talking to Israel. Still, I think the premise is sound. "If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (2 Chron 7:14) I do not see in this a promise to heal America, but I do see a call for all of God's people to humble themselves, to pray, to seek His face, and to repent. We cannot correct the massive disarray America has wrought, but we can do those things and God can work. Since He always accomplishes His purpose, I'm counting on it.

Monday, August 08, 2016

When Worlds Collide

In the recent past I had the opportunity to observe (without participating in) a disagreement in another family over politics. The dad sent out an email telling his adult children of the evils of the present regime and the angry backlash from said offspring about how narrow-minded and misinformed Dad was. It made me wonder. What do you do when, within a family or even close friends, worlds collide?

It was curious to me because the (adult) children had learned a radically different set of values than their father held. One sibling said that they had learned something different from Mom. (Unverifiable since Mom was no longer alive.) Clearly anyone who believed what Dad believed was bigoted and gullible, the product of listening to Fox News which could not be trusted to report on the weather conditions let alone important matters. What an idiot! No, worse than that. An offensive idiot! "But we still love you, Dad." I found that ending just as curious. The responses (more than one) were harsh, incendiary, accusatory, and abusive, but they always ended with that "We still love you" kind of line.

So, what do you do when your worlds collide with others close in relationship? When your brother or sister produces a position that directly violates your own, what is your proper response? I mean, sure, it would depend on the importance of the position. I get that. "I love avocados." "What?!! You love avocados??!! Well! Never speak to me again!!" Not an appropriate response. I mean, it's just avocados, right? But when it's something important, like "I believe that Jesus was a myth and anyone who believes he was a real person is a mindless robot." What do you do with that? With the relationship?

The Bible has some things to say on the subject. Jesus, for instance, said,
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Matt 5:9)
Paul urged,
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Rom 12:18)
It is clear that the wrong approach is anger and bitterness.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. (Eph 4:31)
On the other hand, we read,
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Cor 13:11)
At the core of our response, regardless of the response, there is a singular command, overarching, that must always be present.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34)
But how does this work itself out in your experience? How do you make peace, avoid bitterness, aim for restoration, and "agree with one another" when disagreements on important issues arise with close friends and relatives? Clearly the response must be based in love. But beyond that, just how does all this look?