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Saturday, December 31, 2016

News Weakly - 12/31/2016

May the Lord bless you in the coming New Year.

According to Science
A recent study discovered that pregnancy changes a woman's brain. Apparently, for at least 2 years after giving birth, a mother's brain is altered by hormones and such that cause intensified perceptions of feelings and perspectives of others. It appears that the brain becomes streamlined, so to speak, making it more efficient at mothering skills such as nurturing, awareness, and teaching. That is, God designed the female body to, after giving birth, adapt the brain to focus on the task of being a mother. Or Chance did that. Pretty smart fellow, that Chance is. I don't think so. I think I'll chalk it up to a Creator.

The Divorce Question
Okay, somebody help me out here. You have read or heard, I'm sure, that more than 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Sad state of affairs. And we buy it without thinking. That statistic, in fact, is one of the biggest reasons given for decline in marriage rates these days. "Why marry? Most marriages end up in divorce."

And then you run into something like this. Using 2015 statistics, the chart shows marriage by age. Obviously, from 0-14 shows 100% of people have never been married. From there it starts to change. By age 31 52% have been married once. At the same age, 43% have never been married. Then it goes to 4% of 31-year-olds who have been married twice and a .22% married three times. At the end of the chart (90-years-old) it shows that less than 5% were never married, more than 75% were married once, and the remaining 20% were married two or more times.

So here's my question. If "more than 50% of all marriages end up in divorce", how is it possible that 80% of the population by age 90 have not been married more than once? Where are these large numbers of divorces coming from? I would argue that they come mostly from repeat divorces, not new marriages. So where is your "Why marry? Most marriages end up in divorce" now? It does not appear to be true.

Honor the Emperor
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is scheduled to sing at Trump's inauguration. Well, we'll see. One member has already quit over it. Others are petitioning to stop the entire choir from singing at it.

Strange thing. My Bible says, "Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor."
(1 Peter 2:17) That is particularly striking since Peter's very next thought is telling slaves to "be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust." (1 Peter 2:18) We're called to pray for those in leadership (1 Tim 2:1-2). We're supposed to be subject to them (Rom 13:1-2). I'm looking ... I'm looking ... nope! "Boycott them" and "Resist them to the end" doesn't seem to be in my Bible. I wonder what Bible the Mormons are using?

The Shocking Headline
According to the Washington Post, "2016 is over, and we’re no better morally than we were 100 years ago"

I know, I know, you're outraged. We all know better. We all know ... oh, wait ... that's news?

In 2016 we saw battles over sexism, civil rights, racism, abortion, and religious liberty. In 2016 school districts were banning books like Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird. Reports are out that real wages have been stagnant for 40 years, that life expectancy has actually declined in recent years, that suicide rates and deaths from drug overdoses are rising. Marriage has been declining. Divorce is high. An inordinately high number of people are cohabiting rather than marrying; an inordinately high percentage of children are born to single mothers. Politicians are sexting. Nope, we're not getting better.

My prayer is that in 2017 Jesus will return and ... well, I can ask, can't I? I mean, it's not like Man, sinful to the core, is going to suddenly become a gem. Even so, come Lord Jesus.



May you all have a blessed New Year. I hope, especially, that you meet Jesus in it, whether for the first time or anew, deeper, and repeatedly.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Asking the Wrong Question

A lot of us, Christian or not, want to know what's wrong with God. Oh, no, we may not put it that way. But, whether it's the singular question that keeps someone from God or just that nagging doubt at the back of the Christian's head, lots of us struggle with this question. It takes various forms, of course. Often it's "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Sometimes it's "Why doesn't God save more people?" And there are others. They're the same question at the heart of it. Why doesn't God do something about all this bad stuff?

I once heard one teacher answer the question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?", with a simple, "They don't." Trite, sure. Preemptive, perhaps. But there is a point. Yes, bad things happen. But according to Scripture there are no good people. Jesus said it -- "No one is good except God alone." (Luke 18:19) David said it (Psa 14:3). Paul affirmed it (Rom 3:12). So, let's be more clear. Bad things -- unpleasant or some other sense of "bad" -- happen, and our complaint is that they happen to people who are not as bad (evil) as other bad people. Most accurately, our question would be "Why do unpleasant things happen to lesser sinners as well as greater?" And when we put it that way, perhaps the answer becomes more apparent.

We're asking the wrong question(s). Why would bad things happen to bad people? Because that's what should happen, given Justice. No, the better question would be "Why do bad things not happen to people?" Given that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23) -- given that God's glory has been transgressed -- and given that "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow." (James 1:17), I'm more inclined to ask "Why?" Why, if we have so badly tarnished the good name and shining glory of our Master and Creator, does He give us one, single, solitary good thing? Paul wrestled with this in Romans 9. In discussing the objection that God isn't fair for choosing whom He will save apart from those whom He saves (Rom 9:6-19), he characterizes humans as "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" and indicates that God's purpose is to show His wrath and power (Rom 9:23). You have to wonder, then, not why God doesn't save more. You have to wonder why He saves one.

We're asking the wrong question. And, it's understandable. We are really closely allied with humans, you see. God is holy, holy, holy -- apart, other, different, not us. We are in His image, sure, but God is "not a man" (Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29; Job 9:32). His ways are not our ways (Isa 55:8-9). And we like best to compare ourselves among ourselves (2 Cor 10:12) because we cannot stand against God's standard of measurement. In our arrogance, then, we think God ought to be nicer to us. We're not as bad as, say, Hitler. There are lots of people worse than we are (and it doesn't seem to matter how bad we are ... there is always "worse than we are"). Why doesn't God see our great value and be nicer to us?

Wrong question. "Why does He do one kind thing to us at all?" might be better. "How astounding is it that He does so much good for us?" would be good, too. "I'm totally amazed that He would deign to choose me to save" would be a reasonable course to pursue. "God's grace is absolutely astounding" is the only possible conclusion.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

In Defense of the Electoral College

The recent hot topic was the election of an "unpopular candidate" by a "minority" accomplished by this rickety, outdated system called "the Electoral College". It's gotta go. It isn't democratic. It's not fair! And I have to wonder.

First, what are they teaching at this college? Is it an online college, or does it have an actual campus? Is it accredited? All to be humorous, of course, but just what is this thing? So, first, a "college" may be defined as "an organized group of people with particular aims, duties, and privileges." No, this one is not part of the Big 12 or any such thing. And where does it come from? First and foremost, it is a product of the United States Constitution -- Article II, Section 1. (Thus, eliminating it would require a Constitutional amendment, not merely a change in law.) Fine, so what is it there for?

Well, as it turns out, the founders of our country were not exactly fans of democracy. Not real democracy. Not "one person, one vote" democracy. They were concerned (as are many today) about "qualified citizens". And they were deeply concerned about what Alexis de Tocqueville called "the tyranny of the majority". That is, if you could get more than 50% of the voting public to agree, you could make life miserable for the other 49% just by popular vote. So they set out a way to deter that kind of problem. They wanted more of a State-based election than a popular vote, so each State got votes. There are two for the senators and then some based on population, amounting (today) to some 538 electors. (James Madison was concerned about demagogues. If only he knew what we were going to get in our time ...) They were concerned about the Congress doing the job because they could be more easily influenced as a standing body, so the Electoral College was a gather-once-then-disband procedure. And, of course, there was the whole problem of "qualified citizens". Some of what they meant by "qualified" was in contrast with "uninformed". We still have that problem today. The Electoral College was supposed to adjust for that.

Part of the problem can be seen today in the numbers. Over 70% of Americans live in large metropolitan areas. And, generally speaking, each of these metropolitan areas these days vote the same way. Look at a state-by-state voting map. The most heavily populated states like New York and California are blue states; most of the rest are not. And that means that the 30% that don't essentially have no voice in an actual democracy.

Consider some numbers. Wyoming has an whole 586,000 residents in the entire state. The City of New York has something like 8.5 million. That's 14 votes for each person in Wyoming. Never mind, Wyoming; we don't really need to know your votes. But then, dig into these states. Look, for instance, at a voting map of New York. Turns out, geographically, that New York is a red state with the exception of New York City, Syracuse, Buffalo, and Albany. Minnesota was a blue state ... mostly just in Minneapolis. Nevada was a blue state exclusively in Las Vegas. That is, taken in terms of geographical area versus numbers of people, the country is almost exclusively Republican.

"Oh, no," you will tell me, "Hillary won the popular vote." She did. She won because California and New York voted for her. Remove California's votes (both for Trump and Hillary) and Trump would have won the national popular election by nearly 1.5 million. Take away New York, too, and Trump would have won the popular vote by more than 3 million. In other words, without the Electoral College we'd be letting California and New York decide who is our president. Do we really want them to decide?

This election saw the greatest number of "faithless electors". The term refers to people, assigned the task of representing their state in the Electoral College to vote for the person their state voted for, who do not. Prior to this election, the largest number was 2. This time it was seven. And, really, are you surprised? There was a large call in the days following the surprise election of Trump for just such a thing. They were urged to "Vote your conscience" and to switch sides from Trump to Hillary. Two did. Five switched from Hillary to Trump. Trump won with 304 votes to Hillary's 227. Without those darn faithless electors, it would have been 301 to 230. In other words, in order for this call for electors to ignore the rules and vote for Hillary to make a difference, there would have had to be 31 faithless electors that switched from Trump to Hillary (and 0 from Hillary). Of course, that would have put the outcome into the hands of the House of Representatives ... which is Republican-dominated. Not a particularly likely plan.

Maybe not. Maybe we want a democracy. Maybe we want the largest group of people to decide who our president will be. Do we also want the largest group to decide what we do about, say, gun control? Right now the numbers look like less than 50% are in favor. A poll this year said that 49% of Americans think that abortion is immoral while only 38% did not. Gallup reports that 50% think it should be legal only under certain circumstances and another 19% think under no circumstances with only 29% thinking that it should be legal under any circumstances. Shall we put it to a vote? Oh, here's one. Apparently 43% of Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement. Vote anyone? Of course, this is nonsense. I mean, this stuff changes. Sometimes it seems to turn on a dime. The majority of Americans were opposed, for instance, to "gay marriage" until the Supreme Court made it law, and almost overnight opinions changed. Shall we really run the country on popular vote?

I'm not entirely sure that we really want a democracy. In the end it boils down to "How highly do we think of people?" If we view them as basically good, then surely we want them all to decide. If we view them as basically evil, then we would want to mitigate that evil. Of course, we know which side Scripture falls on. And, of course, we know Who is the ultimate government. Just some thoughts on that question of the day.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Who's the Boss?

Everyone is under authority. Everyone. Well, everyone but God, I suppose. The question is what authority? What I'm considering here is what authority in matters of the faith?

I know a lot of people calling themselves Christians who are under their own authority. Their Christianity is formed by their own sense of right and wrong, their own sense of good and bad, their own sense of fair. If you say, "You know, the Bible says ..." and contradict their view, they'll look at you like you're crazy. What difference does the Bible make? Oh, sure, they don't say that ... because they're Christians, right? But that's what it comes down to. So they read their Bibles by the light of their own standards and come to their own conclusions. "This part is myth. That part is legend. Most of this section over here is metaphor -- like most of the Old Testament. You can't take this thing at face value, you know." And they serve as their own ultimate authority.

I know others who are bound to their Bibles. I will exaggerate to make the point. "It says Jesus is the door, so we believe He is an actual door, with latch and hinges." There is no room for context, for literary style, for variation. Many of these are the "KJV Only" types where it's not merely a woodenly literal version that they demand, but the King James woodenly literal version. It doesn't matter if it makes sense. It doesn't matter if it contradicts itself. It says it; that's the end of it.

I know some who are careful to follow their particular teachers. Maybe it's some Pentecostal favorite or some Word of Faith preacher. Almost always it's someone who tells them what they want to hear. Good things. Pleasant things. "God will make you healthy and wealthy." Things like that. Because it sounds so pleasant. These teachers will pull it from skewed texts and personal revelation. "God told me so." For these people their teachers are their authority. To be more clear, their appetites are their authority and their teachers feed those appetites.

All of us operate under some authority in our Christianity. Maybe it's a favorite teacher. Maybe it's what we were brought up with. A lot of people only recognize themselves as the authority. They do what seems good to them. All other authorities are subject to this highest authority. And while we all suggest our highest authority is God, I think that remains to be seen. If that teacher or that upbringing or our own preferences serve as the authority, can it really be counted as God? If my final authority is my own thinking and judgment, who is my final authority? My own thinking and judgment.

We need to be careful as believers. We have one ultimate authority -- God. He has spoken in His Word in a miraculous and unparalleled way. No skillful reasoning or special revelation or alternate authority claim can match up to the God-breathed Word (2 Tim 3:16-17). Any other authority is less. It's important that we learn to rightly handle His Word and rightly submit ourselves to His Word. He is the authority, not our history and upbringing, our teachers, or even our own clever minds. When we substitute anything for God and His Word, we substitute an idol for God.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Warfare Worldview

The problem of Theodicy is the problem of evil. If there is a Sovereign God, how can there be evil? Conversely, if there is evil, whether moral or just bad things happening, what does that say about God? Lots of people have taken lots of approaches to this from lots of angles. There is the, "See? Proof that your god doesn't exist" on one end and the "The existence of evil proves the existence of God and, oh, by the way, He intends it for His good purposes" on the other. Of course, most people are somewhere in between.

It is my conviction that most people are in between not by choice, but by lack of it. They haven't considered the ideas, arguments, and ramifications. They just prefer not to think about it. As such, they end up with a rather casual approach holding in one hand "Bad stuff happens" and in the other "God is good" without ever actually putting them together. Probably the most popular view of this middle majority is what I'll call the "warfare worldview". We're stuck in the middle of a royal battle between good and evil. We're pretty sure who will win, but it's quite a tussle getting there.

In this view Satan is bad and God is good and Satan does bad things and God goes around mopping up after him. Good enough. Leaves God off the hook. All well and good. Except it's not. I mean, it's popular, but it's not all well and good. You'll find it in books and movies and the like, even from Christians. It largely fits in with the religious views of many groups outside of Christendom. The titanic struggle of good and evil. The hitch, however, is that it doesn't fit in with the biblical claim of a Sovereign God. And if you start with that claim, the logic breaks down all down the line. As it turns out, then, this popular Warfare Worldview is not an answer, but an evasion. To the question, "Why is there evil if there is a God?", they answer "Because there is evil and there is God." Not an answer. To the question, "What does the existence of evil say about God?" they answer, "Nothing, nothing at all." If they were honest, they'd need to tack on, "He's doing the best He can." As it turns out, evil exists not by God's will, but because God has opted out of ending it once and for all and has surrendered His Sovereignty to the whims of evil. He'll pick up the mess later. And, with that, they subside into satisfied silence. The Bible says, "Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases." (Psa 115:3) But apparently that's not to say that He actually does all that He pleases. Some things (like Man's Free Will) please Him more than others (like His own will), so He goes with the higher priority (Man's Free Will) and is pleased.

I don't know how to hold that contradiction in both hands and consider it good. I know how to find peace in difficult situations because God is actually in control, but finding any comfort in "Bad stuff happens and Satan wins ... a lot" is outside of my grasp. Believing that all authority is given to Christ (Matt 28:18) while affirming the authority of Satan and Man over Christ doesn't work in my head like it does in so very many others'. So this notion of a world stuck in a grand battle between good and evil -- God and Satan -- in which we're pretty sure we know who will win, but ... well, this doesn't work for me logically, emotionally, or biblically. It sells books and movies. Popular Christian authors have done it. I can't. Maybe it works for you.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Perseverance of the Saints?

Let me state at the outset that I believe the Bible teaches that anyone who is born again, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, whose sins are forgiven by the blood of Christ, and is raised to new life is saved for eternity. I don't like to use the phrase, "once saved, always saved." I think it can be misleading. It suggests that you can become saved and then live the most profligate life imaginable and it won't matter at all because you're always saved. I believe that the Bible teaches that the one who is born of God does not make a practice of sinning, that, in fact, he or she cannot make a practice of sinning (1 John 3:9). I believe that the Bible teaches that we must continue in the faith (Acts 14:22; Col 1:23) -- must work out our salvation (Phil 2:12) -- but that we do so because "it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13) That is, there are three certainties for the saved person. First, you will remain saved. Second, you must work. Scripture refers to it as "sanctification". It is the necessary result of a changed heart. Third, that work is the product of God at work in you. Therefore, it isn't by your effort but by His. In the end, then, I believe that genuine believers will persist in the faith, working until the end because God is at work, and, so, will surely be saved once that salvation has begun.

There are lots of people who argue against this. That's fine. I can't align their arguments with the Word of God. There are lots of people who argue for this and, while they are in agreement with my basic idea -- that those who belong to the Lord will remain saved until the end -- they disagree with the whole "work out your salvation" thing. That's fine. I still can't align their arguments with the Word of God. Many argue for "eternal security" with the explicit demand that there is nothing more required of us. "You know," they say, "'not of works', like the Bible says." I agree that we are not saved by works but by faith alone, but, like Martin Luther, I contend that Scripture teaches that it is faith alone but not a faith that is alone. So there are lots of arguments (by "arguments" I mean truth claims and lines of reasoning, not verbal battles, although there are lots of those, too), good and bad.

So it was interesting to me to run across a new one I hadn't considered before. Reading in Hebrews, I came across the familiar passage in Hebrews 8 about how our High Priest, Jesus, is superior to all others. The author tells that one way He is superior to other priests is that He is present with God instead of here on Earth, an immediate intermediary. As an immediate intermediary, it says that "Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant He mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises." (Heb 8:6) So there was the Old Covenant with Israel and now there is a New Covenant (Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25). Then it makes this interesting observation about the Old Covenant.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. (Heb 8:7)
Okay, now, hold on. That first covenant was instituted by God. Is the author of Hebrews saying that the covenant instituted by God was faulty? Yes, he is. So in what way was that first covenant faulty?
For He finds fault with them when He says: "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in My covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord." (Heb 8:8-9)
Oh, now, see? That makes sense. The fault was not with God or His covenant. It was with the "other party". The fault with the Old Covenant was that they did not continue in it. Thus, in order to correct this fault, the author of Hebrews is claiming, God has made a New Covenant. What is the New Covenant?
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the Lord: "I will put My laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more." (Heb 8:10-12)
So, here is the situation. There was an Old Covenant that was great, except that Israel didn't keep their side of it. In order to remedy that, God has made a New Covenant that solves the problem of the failure to keep it. In this New Covenant, God puts His laws into their minds and hearts and they don't merely know of Him; they know Him. In return, He is merciful and sets aside their sins.

Now, we understand that the new "Israel", according to Paul, includes "the children of promise" (Rom 9:6-8) -- all who come to Christ. With this "Israel" God has made a New Covenant that fixes the problem of the Old. The problem of the Old was that the ones with whom the covenant was made didn't keep it. The New fixes that fault. That is, God's New Covenant with believers includes provisions so that they will keep His covenant because He will make it so. This idea, then, includes both the eternal security of those who have been saved as well as the certainty that those who are in Christ will work. And it does so by basing the works believers do on God's provision, not their efforts.

That's not an argument I've seen before on the topic of whether or not a true believer can lose his or her salvation. That is, I don't believe it is new information; I just haven't seen it applied to that discussion before. So where am I mistaken? What have I misunderstood or misapplied? In what way have I strayed? I don't see it. Do you?

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Christmas Story - A Compilation

I compiled this years ago. It's the Christmas story the way I like to tell it. I've posted it before. I'm offering it again. And ... may you and your family and friends celebrate with great joy the Incarnation of the Son of God sent to save us from our sin!
________________________

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth1. And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good2. But all of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way3. There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.4 All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God5. The wages of sin is death6.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us7, sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins8.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men9. Although He existed in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men10. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth11. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God12.

Unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace13.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn14.

________
1 Gen. 1:1
2 Gen. 1:31
3 Isa. 53:6
4 Rom. 3:10-12
5 Rom. 3:23
6 Rom. 6:23
7 Eph. 2:4
8 1 John 4:10
9 John 1:1-4
10 Phil. 2:6-7
11 John 1:14
12 John 1:10-13
13 Isa. 9:6
14 Luke 2:7

Saturday, December 24, 2016

What Child Is This?

Hey, it's Christmas Eve! Did you actually expect a "News Weakly" today?
________
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." (Luke 1:26-33)

But when [Joseph] had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." (Matt 1:20-21)
Picture that moment. They're in Bethlehem wherever that manger was in which they laid Him when He was born. Jesus has just come into this world, just taken His first breath, with His earthly mom and dad. Both of these people know Who this is. He is "the Son of the Most High." "His kingdom will have no end." His name is Jesus because "He will save His people from their sins." He was conceived "of the Holy Spirit". There, in their arms, with freshly cut umbilical cord and being wrapped in swaddling clothes, what goes through Joseph and Mary's minds? They're in the presence of the Son of the Most High. What do they do? What do they think? What do they feel? I can't imagine.

The Bible tells us that Christ was "tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin." (Heb 4:15) What was that like? What was it like to have a baby that was not "speaking lies from birth." (Psa 58:3) Imagine a child who continually practiced a love for God and a love for His neighbors. Humans as a race are sinners from birth; Jesus was not. What would that have been like to be the parents of this child?

We don't know what happened to Joseph. We don't know much of what Jesus did between His birth and His ministry. What was it like for Joseph? He was asked by God to be the dad for this child. And he did it. He taught Him God's Word. He took Him to "church". He probably taught Him carpentry. But the time that Jesus scared them by asking questions in the synagogue and missing the return trip home, He told His earthly dad, "Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house?" (Luke 2:49) How did Joseph deal with that in his own head?

We aren't given any insights into His early years, except that He "increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man." (Luke 2:52) We know that she "treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart." (Luke 2:19) We know that at one point she came with His brothers to "seize Him" because they thought He was out of His mind (Mark 3:21). He said, "Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother." (Matt 12:50) When she asked her Son to provide wine at a wedding, He almost rebuked her. "Woman, what does this have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come." (John 2:4) But He did as she asked. We don't know how Mary felt about any of this. We know that she was at His crucifixion. What was she thinking there as her son was dying, this "Son of the Most High" whose kingdom was to be without end and who would save His people from their sins? Mary didn't dream this up. This was straight from the lips of the Archangel, Gabriel. What was she to think?

I wonder, sometimes, what a shock to the system Jesus must have been. I can truly imagine, for much of His growing up with brothers and sisters and all, Mary had to ask at times, "What child is this?" Because this was not a normal child. And we are so grateful that this is so.

Friday, December 23, 2016

So This Is Christmas

In 2005 there was a Christian Christmas firestorm (and again in 2011). What brought about this maelstrom? Christmas had the audacity to fall on a Sunday. The dilemma, of course, was what to do? Many churches were backing off -- "Only one combined service today" -- or closing entirely "in honor of Christmas". "We need to be sensitive to our staff and volunteers so they can be with their families on Christmas." Seems odd, given the apparently large numbers of what I like to refer to as "Chreaster Christians", those folk that consider themselves Christians because they dutifully attend on Christmas and Easter. The truth is Christmas services are among the most attended Sundays of the year. Just not when it is actually Christmas Day. Others howled. "How can you close the doors (a lot or a little) on Jesus's birthday?!"

Welcome to 2016. It's doing it again.

Churches are offering different options this year. Maybe it's a heavy focus on Christmas Eve services. Maybe a pre-recorded online service at your leisure. And, of course, a good number are taking a quick, single-service approach. You know, so they don't mess up the real Christmas -- family and opening gifts.

In earlier times I might have been animated about this. Not so much now. Sanders did too well in the primaries. Hillary looked like a shoe-in. Trump was elected. First World nations are more secularized than ever. So are their churches. The new "Evangelicalism" bears no resemblance to ... you know ... Evangelicalism. Oh, and my Bible says that "in the last days" this is how things will go. It won't be pretty. When Jesus asked, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8), the answer was surely "Yes" with the clear caveat that it won't be a large number. It used to be that Christians called Sunday "the Lord's Day" and regarded it as the "Christian Sabbath" -- a mandatory day of rest and a day in which every Christian was sure to be in church. Well, we've thrown most of that out now. Show up if you want on any given Sunday. Or not. Whatever. Today's Christian sees church as a more personal experience, not "the communion of the saints".

So, when we see that churches would much rather defend the tradition of being with family opening gifts on Christmas than the tradition of worshiping Christ with His followers on the celebration of His birth, it should come as no surprise. I am not complaining. I'm merely suggesting that each of us ought to examine our own hearts in the matter. Is it more important to open gifts or to give the gift of worship (Rom 12:1) to the One whose birthday we're recognizing? Is it more important to be with family (Luke 14:26) or to be with the family of God on such a day? I'm not saying that gifts or family are bad things. I'm just asking you to consider what is your higher calling. Just a Christmas 2016 priority check. You're welcome.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

For My Daughter

This is for my daughter whose birthday is Christmas Day and for all the rest of you who share the same fate ...

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Essential Virginity

One of the most hotly-contested biblical concepts today (and by "today" I include "at this time of year") is the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. We hold that Jesus was born of a virgin (Isa 7:14; Luke 1:27), that He had no earthly father but was produced by the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:20; Luke 1:35) impregnating Mary who had "never known a man" (Luke 1:34). This, of course, is outside of the realm of "normal". I mean, no human being actually comes into being that way. Ergo, clearly, the story is not true. And, look, it is certainly tradition, but can't we just all agree to disagree on this one? Does it really matter in the overall scheme of Christianity? One of the primary schisms between conservative Christianity and liberal Christianity was specifically this point -- the Virgin Birth. But is it really that important?

First, let's keep the question clear. We're talking about virgin conception, not anything beyond that. "Virgin Birth" is a bit misleading in that regard. Second, we're not talking about either the "Immaculate Conception" -- the claim that Mary was sinless, tacitly impossible since she referred to Jesus as her "Savior" (Luke 1:47) -- or the perpetual virginity of Mary, a second Roman Catholic (but not biblical) doctrine. Neither is in view here. Just whether or not Jesus was born of a woman who had never had sexual relations with anyone, but was fathered by God. Just that far.

Detractors (starting from the position of denying miracles because if miracles are possible, there is no problem with this one), argue that "virgin" (Isa 7:14; Matt 1:23) should be translated "maiden" and that all that "virgin" stuff isn't necessary. The fact that "maiden" referred to an unmarried woman who was expected to be a virgin is irrelevant. Clearly the disciples simply worked in a "virgin birth" because that was so popular at the time among the followers of pagan deities and, hey, if they can have a god of virgin birth, we can, too. Never mind that the whole Mithras connection is a fabrication. Still, can't we just get along? How important is this Virgin Birth thing?

It is, as it turns out, not peripheral. It is essential.

1. The Bible teaches it. Included in that, the authors of the Gospels believed it. Beyond and because of this, the Church has always believed it. Never, prior to the Enlightenment, was there a question regarding that particular claim of Scripture. Thus, if there was no Virgin Birth, then the Bible is not reliable and the Holy Spirit failed to lead His own into all truth until the 19th century or so.

2. The Virgin Birth is necessary for our understanding of Christ. First, it is only in this Divine-Father-and-human-mother scenario that we can get to the biblical identity of Christ as both human and divine. If He was the product of human father and mother, He was only human. Second, the Virgin Birth is essential to explain how Christ did not inherit the sin nature. Scripture teaches that He "in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Heb 4:15) No other human can make that claim because all other humans are born with a sin nature (Rom 5:12; Psa 51:5).

Consider the alternative. Yes, Scripture refers to the Virgin Birth, but let's say it never happened. As it turns out, then, Mary was a ... sexually immoral woman, either with Joseph or another man. Jesus was born out of wedlock and the Pharisees' accusation of Him being an illegitimate child (John 8:41) was valid. Jesus was a product of sin, complete with a sin nature. If He managed to live out a sinless life, then it is a distinct possibility than any other person could do the same. However, that "if" would be a massive one and we'd likely have to actually rule it out because 1) no one else has ever done it and 2) the Bible says it can't happen. Well, now, we're starting to run into real problems here. Apparently the Bible is not reliable. After all, it claims the Virgin Birth and, yet, we've ruled it out. The Bible says that Jesus was sinless but that's not likely, either. And, oh, by the way, if He was not sinless, He is also ruled out as ... wait for it ... Savior (Heb 7:27). So, if the Virgin Birth is a myth, we have a failed Holy Spirit who could not lead us into all truth for thousands of years, an unreliable "Word of God", and, ultimately, a non-Savior.

Given the impact if the Virgin Birth is a lie, it is not a side issue. Jesus's divinity, His sinlessness, His ability to save, and the reliability of both the Bible and the Holy Spirit all hinge on this point. That makes it a fundamental issue.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

That's (Not) Christmas to Me

Most people can tell you what "Christmas is to me." Funny thing. A lot of what Christmas is to a lot of people is not Christmas to me. But, then, I am a bit of a curmudgeon at times.

We know, for instance, that Joseph was much older than Mary when he married her, but the kind old man walked to Bethlehem while he let his wife ride the donkey. Of course, the idea that Joseph was older comes from extrabiblical writings that supported the Roman Catholic "perpetual virginity" of Mary. You won't find a hint of it in Scripture. And, if you look, you also won't find that donkey she rode. That's not Christmas to me.j

We know plainly about the three kings or wise men that rode camels into Jerusalem, inquired about the newborn king, then found the newborn in the manger and worshiped with the shepherds. Hey, we even know those guys' names. There was Melchior, a Persian scholar, Caspar, from India, Balthazar, a Babylonian scholar. In fact, we have confirmation written into Lew Wallace's Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ (1880). There you have it. Everyone knows it. Except, as it turns out, it's not in your Bible. Oh, sure, wise men (or magi or kings, depending on the translation) road into Jerusalem, asked about the new king, and visited Jesus in Bethlehem, but that's all that actually comes from your Bible. No manger. No mention of three. No names or origins. No, the "three" comes from the number gifts given, even though 4 of them could have given gold, 6 others frankincense, and another 2 myrrh (pulling numbers out of the air for effect). And the rest of it comes from other Roman Catholic apocryphal writings. Scripture, in fact, indicates that they traveled a long time and went not to a stable, but a house (Matt 2:11). And, if you recall, Herod ordered the deaths of all male children under the age of 2, a quite unnecessary thing to do if, after diligently inquiring when they saw the star (Matt 2:7), Herod knew He was only just born. Killing all 1-year-olds would have been overkill (to make a bad pun). I include the wise men in my Christmas, but have no love for the "three", their names, or their origins. (In fact, I personally greatly doubt that they were as scattered as the tradition holds.)

Oh, and then there are those angels. We love those angels. Imagine the choir that serenaded those poor frightened shepherds with the "good tidings of great joy." Many a Christmas song has been written to mimic their singing. Except, of course, the Bible doesn't say they sang. The Bible says "And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.'" (Luke 2:13-14) Now, maybe they sang it and maybe they didn't, and maybe Christmas to you requires that they did, but that's not Christmas to me. What they said was what was important.

There is so much more. For some it's snow, of all things. Then there is the lights, the gift exchange (or just given), the trees and decorations, the annual neighborhood competition of who can put up the most brilliant display and the disdain of those who don't play, the Christmas songs blaring from every speaker in every store and beyond ... these are Christmas. Just not to me.

My point is not to be negative. My point is not to knock Christmas. My point is that the traditions of Christmas are not the point; Christ is. We often get so wrapped up in wrappings and tied up in tinsel that we miss the real thing. While we're thinking of gifts and lights we're missing the Gift, the Light of the world (John 8:12). The Christmas story is one of God's gift of His Son to whomever believes in Him and shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16). Everything else is just ... glitter -- not gold, not even valuable, just shiny. Not Christmas to me.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Road Less Traveled

There is a wide range of information you can find at your local church. Some churches are really good at "working the crowd", so to speak. They know how to whip up the good feelings. Not much actual biblical truth going on, but people sure feel good about that church. Others offer increasingly more. There are the topical preachers that give some biblical insight on everyday topics and the expository preachers that preach through biblical texts and then there are Bible preachers that really dig in deep. A range of stuff.

It seems, however, that no matter how wide that range seems to be, there are still some roads less traveled, so to speak. Why do you suppose it is that in even good churches with good preachers and teachers some of these things don't seem to be very hot topics?

Take, for instance, marriage. We get a smattering of marriage messages. You might even find a "young marrieds" group. But the predominance of dysfunctional marriages suggests that we're not getting that message out. I mean, there are separations and divorces among believers. There is a host of misinformation and lies offered in churches. Some husbands are overbearing, even abusing authoritarians that use (read "misuse") the Bible to beat their wives over the head with "submit" and more, all the while ignoring "love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her." Perhaps more husbands are the opposite, passive, mealy-mouthed, quiet, "go along to get along" types who fail to take the responsibilities God gave them for wife and kids. In my experience, the gap between these two is large in principle and operation, but very sparsely populated by actual husbands. I can find lots of examples on both ends, but very few genuinely godly, biblical husbands.

How about wives? They are taught by some to "submit under every circumstance" and told that if there are marriage problems they are all their fault. They didn't submit enough. Do what he wants! Or they are taught some version of "look out for #1" where the #1 in view is themselves, their dreams, their feelings, their personal desires. Very few women, either pre-marriage or in marriage, are actually taught about biblical marriage. It seems like most of what's being offered in churches is lies from some chauvinistic, sexist patriarchy (as opposed to actual, biblical patriarchy), the world's warm, embracing "don't let anyone get in the way of your dream" ... even if it means violating biblical commands, or a vapid silence punctuated from time to time with vague suggestions about womanhood and wifery. (I made that last word up; you know what I'm talking about.)

What about parenting? This is so absent from most churches these days. Why would I say that? Because most churches have children in them and most of those children would disqualify their parents from being elders (1 Tim 3:4; Titus 1:6). I know of churches where a mother or a father is serving in roles like "Head of Children's Ministries" with kids who are out of control in the children's ministry. There is no instruction about raising kids, teaching kids, responsibility for kids, loving kids. It's like these churches take a "hands off" approach to teaching biblical parenting. Too controversial, perhaps? Won't be appreciated or well received? Undoubtedly.

In fact, it seems like many of these "roads less traveled" are in that category. They won't be well received or appreciated. Men don't want to be held accountable to either surrender self and love their wives or to step up to their God-given responsibilities to love and lead their wives and children. Women do not want to hear "submit to your husbands as to the Lord" or anything approaching it. "Me? Submit to him? He doesn't know enough to come in out of the rain!" Parents really don't want to hear that they are held responsible by God to teach and train their children in a world where "Be you kids' best friend" is the rule of the day. It's true, in fact, of the others of these types of issues. We don't really want to hear teaching and preaching on giving, sexual sin, submission to government, or even discipleship. We seem to largely ignore areas like qualifications of elders/bishops/overseers or deacons, prohibitions of women teaching in authority over men, and other "unfriendly" biblical positions. Lots of roads down which we don't want to go and too many churches oblige.

On the other hand, these seem to be both entirely relevant and fairly central in Scripture. And this is problematic. If the command is to "teach them to obey all that I have commanded" (Matt 28:20) and we demur on key points and important issues of the day, should we, as churches and Christians, consider ourselves as being obedient? I don't see how we can. Is it because we have not been taught to obey all that He commands? Possibly. But if we intend to reasonably claim to love Jesus, we will need to keep in mind Jesus's words: "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15) Hopefully that doesn't fall under the "road less traveled" category, too.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Once for All

"Once for all." We know what that phrase means. It is something done or supplied once and covers everything else afterward. So when we read the phrase in Scripture, we think we're quite clear on it.
For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. (Rom 6:10)

He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for His own sins and then for those of the people, since He did this once for all when He offered up Himself. (Heb 7:27)

Nor was it to offer Himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
(Heb 9:25-26)

And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Heb 10:10)
Repeatedly we get this message that Christ sacrificed Himself "once for all". So, we get it. All sin is paid for because His sacrifice was "once" for all sin, right?

While this would appear to be a reasonable conclusion and, in fact, a popular one, it only takes a moment to figure out we're in trouble. You see, if all sin is paid for, then no one can justly be condemned for their sin. Thus, all that stuff in Scripture, even from the lips of Jesus, is nonsense -- stuff about damnation and eternal torment and all that. "Saved by faith" is nice, but pointless since all sin is already paid for, you see? A just God cannot consign to Hell people who are now blameless because their sins were paid in full. So the Universalists are right and our message of "repent and believe" is unnecessary. Everyone has made it. Oh, and Scripture contradicts itself, so it is unreliable.

Is that what is meant by this phrase in this application? Does this "once for all" require "paid once for all sin"? I don't think so. Logic doesn't require it. It simply requires that something was done once that would take care of all of something else. The phrase doesn't give you the object. Once for all what?

I think you'll find the answer to that question in that last passage in Hebrews 10. A few verses later we read
For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Heb 10:14)
Same two pieces. "A single offering" -- once. "Perfected for all time" -- all. But note that this single offering did not perfect for all time everyone. It doesn't claim to have covered all sin. It claims to have perfected all "who are being sanctified". Thus, this "once for all" isn't talking about covering all sin, but covering all sin for all those who are "being sanctified" -- for the elect.

What's the point? In the phrase, "once for all", in these texts, the point is not "all", but "once". Prior to Christ's death and resurrection, sin was paid for repeatedly. Christ's sacrifice was better. It occurred once and all the sin He intended to cover was actually covered -- once for all.

What's the point? Christ's sacrifice is better than the sacrifices of the Old Covenant. We have absolute assurance that the single sacrifice of the sinless Christ ("once") produced complete satisfaction for sin for all who are in Christ ("for all"). "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Rom 8:1) Incredibly good news!

What's the point? Scripture is important and true -- God's Word. Be careful, when you find what appears to be a contradiction. In this example, it was the apparently clear reading that all sin is paid for by Christ's sacrifice over against the very clear statements that there is condemnation for those not in Christ. You can choose to reject both as obviously contradictory and discard the Bible as reliable. You can choose to hold on to contradictions, living in cognitive dissonance, not actually finding the truth. Or you can examine it with the prior commitment that God's Word is true and arrive at an actual answer. It's called "rightly handling the word of truth." (2 Tim 2:15)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

News Weakly - 12/17/2016

You Don't Get That Right
Two Christian filmmakers in Minnesota wish to decline providing their services for gay weddings. Minnesota law says they cannot. Launch the lawsuits.

Why is it that fashion designers can refuse and encourage others to refuse to provide dresses for a First Lady they don't like, but Christians cannot refuse to violate their constitutionally protected religious freedoms? They call it "free speech". But Christians don't, apparently, have that right, either. It is the product of the denial of rights "endowed by their Creator", leaving us with rights endowed by ever-shifting public opinion.

A Christmas Tale Twist
Erik Raymond at Gospel Coalition wrote an interesting Christmas piece. He starts with the rank immorality in the cave at Zoar when Lot's two daughters got their dad drunk, fornicated, and bore two sons. This is bad news. Really bad news. It gets worse in that the two sons were Moab and Ben-Ammi, the fathers of two tribes, the Moabites and the Ammonites, who did horrible things to Israel in the desert -- the sin of Baal-Peor (Num 25) and the worship of Molech (2 Kings 21:6; 2 Chron. 28:3). So, it's worse. So where's the good news in all this?

If you recall, there was a famine in the land of Judah, so a man from Bethlehem went to Moab (Ruth 1:1). He had two sons who married Moabite women. One of those women was Ruth. After her husband died, she married Boaz ... and became the mother of the line of David on down to Jesus (Matt 1:5-6).

Our redemption, then, came from the line of incestuous offspring, a thoroughly idolatrous race that tormented God's people. Our Redeemer is the redemption of those of the worst kinds of evil. Sin is bad, but sin does not win. Now that is good news.

The Peril of the Cross
The ACLU and a local resident are suing Knightstown, Indiana, for including a cross in Christmas decorations. Actually, the lighted cross has been atop a tall evergreen tree for a number of years; there are no other decorations. They are suing for removal of the cross, monetary damages, and agreement that the cross violates the First Amendment.

"Monetary damages?" you ask. Yes, indeed. The poor resident in the suit was "forced to come into direct and unwelcome contact" which cause him "irreparable harm", so he's demanding monetary damages. Who knew that seeing a cross could cause irreparable damages to the viewer? Do you suppose it's all crosses, or just the ones on trees?

On the Up Side
You may recall the news item (one that I included in my October 15, 2016 News Weakly segment) that the UN in their finite wisdom had named Wonder Woman as their "ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls". That, in short, was ludicrous. (Okay, maybe "ludicrous" isn't short.) But on the up side, they figured it out and have decided to drop Wonder Woman. I love the title from the Guardian story: "One less woman in politics".

Unfortunately, the reason they removed her ... well, the reason was the complaints, so the reason for the complaints was not what you might think. "A cartoon character for this? You're not very serious about it, are you?" Not at all. The reasons they complained? Well, she was "not culturally encompassing or sensitive". That is, she is too white and too strong. And it was inappropriate "when the headline news in United States and the world is the objectification of women and girls." So, Trump, and she's too shapely and scantily clad. The wording in the petition was "Although the original creators may have intended Wonder Woman to represent a strong and independent warrior woman with a feminist message, the reality is that the character's current iteration is that of a large breasted, white woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring body suit with an American flag motif and knee high boots -- the epitome of a pin-up girl."

In other words, there is a very narrow band in which "empowerment of women and girls" takes place. It does not include white, shapely, pretty, or, strong women. Good for them. They figured it out.

Legal, Moral, and Allowed
Have you heard of the Family Movie Act of 2005? It was a law enacted by Congress that allowed the development of technology to sanitize potentially offensive movies for home use. It's legal. So when a new company, VidAngel, tried it, they got shut down. You see, it's legal, but that doesn't mean that you're legally protected or it is allowed to happen. Hollywood won't allow it.

It is true that just because something is legal does not mean that that you should do it. In this case, just because it's good to do and it's legal does not mean that you actually can do it.

Crying "Islamophobia!"
We've all been told it's a bad thing to "Cry 'Wolf!'" No one told Yasmin, apparently. Yasmin Seweid was the pretty 18-year-old Muslim girl who went missing on a New York subway. She was found and claimed that she had been assaulted by some young white men invoking the name of Trump, declaring her to be a terrorist, and telling her to get out of the country.

Turns out, Miss Seweid made up the story. She had violated her curfew and fabricated the "hate crime" story to cover it up. She blamed it on Trump and attackers who didn't exist, knowing that the current atmosphere of Trump haters and anti-bigot bigots would give it plausibility. The question is, will we listen the next time a Muslim makes the same claim? We should, but things like this don't help.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Birthday Party -- a Riddle

It was my birthday the other day. Lots of friends and even people I didn't know gathered all over to celebrate it. I thought it was touching. There were pictures and displays and even stage plays depicting my birth. They had written songs about it and everything. It was really something.

Odd thing, though. When I arrived on the day of the celebration, no one seemed to notice. No one was paying attention. No "Happy birthday to you" sung to me. I noticed the decorations were strange. I mean, colorful and all, but ... not much at all to do with me. Or birthdays. Mostly winter, I think. There were a few signs with my name on them, but mostly it was not about me at all. Nor could they be bothered to visit my house on this particular day ... of my birthday.

Lots of good food, I suppose -- I didn't get to taste any and they didn't actually have me in mind when they did. Lots of people were cheerful. Others were drunk. Others were sad. Very, very few even thought of me.

Then the gifts came out. How nice! Wait. All the guests were giving gifts to all the guests. Not a one for me. Not a single one.

Very strange birthday party for me. But, then, it's been going on for some years now. And I keep attending, even though fewer and fewer recognize it. In fact, in some places it is actually forbidden to mention me around the time of my own birthday. I'm just wondering why it is that my true friends and family participate in this travesty of worship. I feel sorry for anyone else who was born on Christmas. Hasn't worked out so well for me.

Who am I?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Fractured Christmas Carols

I don't know. Maybe I'm missing something. I just don't get what everyone sees in these Christmas songs you hear all around.

Some of them do it to themselves. On what planet, for instance, could you see "three ships come sailing in to Bethlehem", a landlocked town in Israel? And everyone knows that you put decks on ships or on patios, but not in halls. And I have to say I think it is cruel to be pointing to the mother who just delivered her first child and referring to her as "round yon virgin". Mean ... just mean. And, seriously, how exactly do you "troll the ancient yuletide carol"? Seriously. Say, when did "jingle belling" and "mistletoeing" become verbs? And what, do you suppose, the verb tenses would look like? "Jingle belled", "jingle belling", "have jingle bellen"?

Others, however, just seem really out there if you're not paying close attention to the words.

Take, for instance, the Nat King Cole classic, Merry Christmas to You. I mean, sure, it's true. I'm sure that everybody does know a turkey -- that office clown or the conspiracy nut down the street or something -- but why put it in a song? "Everybody knows a turkey, and some mistletoe helps to make the season right." In what way does some mistletoe make it better knowing a turkey? Or is it safe having Santa flying around while under the influence? "We know that Santa's on his way. He's loaded; lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh." I mean, that's just not right.

Bing Crosby was known for his song about his thoughts about the girth of Christmas. Why? Who dreams of a wide Christmas? What does that even mean? Winter Wonderland isn't much better. "Later on we'll perspire while we sit by the fire." Ooo, that's really appealing, isn't it?

And tell me, why did Olive pick on Rudolph? You know, "Olive, the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names." Someone should have done something about that bully reindeer.

Something I've never figured out is exactly who Harold Angel is. You think about that a moment while I try to decipher "In egg shells is Dale."

Strange stuff in those cheerful tunes.

Afterthought
Do you suppose what I've just been doing would be correctly termed "trolling the yuletide carol"?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Purpose-Driven Life

Rick Warren wrote the bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life, that was praised by many Christians and spurned by others. This is not that. I'd like to come at it from another direction.

We know from sheer logic that it is important that there be a purpose for life. Man has asked for his entire existence, "Why am I here? What is the meaning of life?" Atheists, if they are honest, have to admit that the answer is "whatever you want it to be" which, in its final analysis, is both "nothing" and "everything" where "everything" is singularly small. They might have something like "personal fulfillment" or the like, but in the end it has little weight. No, if there is to be grand meaning to life, it must have a grand origin, not an "I live so I matter" start.

The fact, however, that even the honest atheist builds a purpose for life, even if it is a merely individual one, shows that purpose is indeed important. In the end, whether or not you like Warren or his book, we humans do need to have purpose-driven lives. Now, to most their purpose is tiny. More money, more power, a better car or house, that spouse to fulfill me, the list goes on and on into shallow oblivion. Others build grander schemes for themselves -- "become president" or "cure cancer" or "world peace". Because we all need a purpose. But if we are created by God for a purpose, it would seem to me that 1) there is indeed a purpose for our existence, 2) we should find out what that purpose is, and 3) we should live our lives according to that purpose. If we are to live a purpose-driven life, what is that purpose?

We like to think that we are our own. You'll commonly hear, "I am my own man." But it's not the case. We are creatures, created beings owned by a Creator. He made us for a purpose. Thus, it would stand to reason that our purpose ought to be whatever His purpose is. What is that? The purpose of life is clear -- God's purpose (Eph 1:11) which is God's glory (1 Cor 10:31; Isa 43:7). At its core, a purpose-driven life must be aimed primarily and continually at "the praise of His glory" (Eph 1:6,12,14). Our failure is that we "fall short of His glory" (Rom 3:23). The command is "whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31)

Living for His glory may take many forms. There is obedience without legalism, but as worship. There is sacrifice (Rom 12:1). There is serving in various ways and shapes that God has ordained and explained. The appearance is not always the same (1 Cor 12:7,11; 1 Cor 12:14-25). It takes many forms with various facets, but always one purpose. This runs completely counter to the standard human perspective which says, "I get to make my own purpose." The question we are told to ask ourselves is "What do you want to do?" when the question ought to be "How can I glorify God?"

If we were built for a purpose and fail to aim toward it, we are missing the mark, spinning our wheels, failing to live up to our reason for living. The world tells us that our purpose is personal satisfaction. Reach for the stars. Live the dream. Don't let anyone get in your way. They are wrong in their emphasis, but right that we need to have purpose for our lives. What we need is to recognize our Maker's purpose for our lives and engage that purpose. The Reformers had a Latin phrase for it: soli Deo gloria -- Glory to God alone -- the divine purpose for His creation.
Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name give glory, for the sake of Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness! (Psa 115:1)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Seeing is Believing

My mother tells people, "I believe none of what I read and only half of what I see." She is, of course, engaging in hyperbole, but you can understand the intent. On one hand, people lie, people are mistaken, people are confused. They tell me that eyewitness accounts of catastrophic events are often twisted by the eyewitness's own emotional response, so it isn't always accurate. We know that people will tell us things with a straight face that they know are not true because they want to believe it. And, of course, others will repeat it as if it is true because, well, they heard it. Or most of us have heard, "It must be true; I read it on the Internet", which is a joke based on the fact that so many people seem to take nonsense spewed on the Internet as absolute fact. Then there's the whole problem of "seeing is believing". Given Photoshop and CGI and all that can be done to manipulate images these days, what can we really believe of what we see? Probably my mother's hyperbole is too far, but it is really undeniable that any thinking person should treat with some skepticism most of what they read and even see.

So when it comes to faith, you can understand that believing might be somewhat difficult. I mean, we're asking people to believe in an all-powerful being they cannot see and take as true words they cannot hear. We present to them a Savior they've never known who ... get this ... died, rose again, and now lives in heaven. Oh, and in our hearts. Yeah, that ought to fly. Ask many skeptics, "What would it take to convince you?" and what you'll get is precisely a form of "seeing is believing". "If your Jesus was to stand here in front of me right now and talk to me, I'd believe." Or something like it.

You'd think that made sense. You'd think that it was reasonable that God should show people Himself, His Son, His reality. He could heal and He could walk among us and He could demonstrate His power and who, then, could deny it? You'd think that, but you'd be wrong. That is a materialist view, based on the world around us, not reality. Because, you see, "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor 2:14) That is, we're not dealing with normal, everyday stuff. We're dealing with spiritual warfare, with issues of which "the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Cor 4:4)

I'm not making this stuff up. Look at the biblical evidence. Beyond what I've just given you, consider. In John 10 the crowd demanded, "If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus told the crowds, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name bear witness about Me." (John 10:25) He fed crowds with a few fish and loaves, healed blind and lame people, raised the dead, and more. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He did it in their presence (John 11:32-44). The skeptics that were there ran off to tell the skeptics that were not (John 11:45-46). Their response was not belief. They determined they had to kill Jesus and Lazarus both (John 11:53; John 12:9-10). Elsewhere Jesus told the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (different Lazarus) (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man, in torment, begged that someone could be sent back from the dead to warn his brothers. He is told, "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead." (Luke 16:31)

How about a Christmas example? Zechariah (Luke 1:5-20) was a priest married to Elizabeth, a relative of Mary, who was barren. While Zechariah was doing his priestly duties in the temple, an angel -- the archangel Gabriel, in fact -- appeared to tell him that Elizabeth would bear a child. Well, now, that is seeing, right? An angel from heaven shows up to tell him what is about to happen. How did that work out? "And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time." (Luke 1:20) Seeing without believing.

We'd like to think that people are rational beings. We tend to believe that if only they saw enough evidence, they'd come to realize the truth. We prefer to conclude that seeing is believing, and, whether they physically or simply mentally see, they will be convinced. But seeing is not believing in all cases. It is certainly not the deciding criterion when it comes to spiritual faith.

When the skeptics in Jesus' day refused to believe even when Jesus was doing undeniable miracles in their presence, He explained, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name bear witness about Me, but you do not believe because you are not of My sheep." (John 10:25-26) Apparently, then, the problems of the deceitful heart (Jer 17:9) and spiritual blindness (1 Cor 2:14; 2 Cor 4:4), need to be overcome before believing occurs. And that's not accomplished by seeing. This is why the Lord must open hearts (e.g., Acts 16:14). In terms of saving faith, despite all our bold claims to the contrary, seeing is not believing. In this case, it takes a miracle, a miracle we all pray for in our own lives and the lives of those we love. A miracle, as it turns out, God is quite good at.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Chicken or the Egg?

Some time ago there was a popular bumper sticker going around. It read, "God said it, I believe it, that settles it." Good, solid, Bible-believing bumper sticker. All well and good. Unless, of course, you think it through. This sticker begs the question.

Take a look at it for a moment. The conclusion is that something is settled. The question is what settles it? The statement suggests two things are required to settle it -- God said it and I believe it. Do you see the problem? This has placed "I believe it" on equal footing with "God said it." It is possible that "God said it" and "I don't believe it" and it would not then be settled.

Now, of course, it's just a bumper sticker. Not really a doctrinal statement. We can let it go. But we must not let go of the base issue. Is "God said it" sufficient to settle it? Which comes first, "God said it" or "I believe it"? Is my belief required for something to be settled? Sure, it may require my belief for it to be settled for me, but we need to acknowledge that "I believe it" is not required for "it" to be settled. That is, it is settled and what is necessary now is for me to believe it.

It's only an illustration of the basic problem today. We hold God's Word up for examination. "You know," our world tells us, "those Christians who believe that it's a sin to have sex outside of marriage are out of step and wrong." "But," a Christian might answer, "if I am to follow Christ, I have to follow His Word, so I have to go along with that." "No, no," they assure us. "Clearly that part is wrong and needs to be discarded/amended." And we do. To our own peril. Because if God said it, it is settled. And yet there are too many -- including self-professed Christians -- who determine what is or isn't true by "what I believe" rather than by "what God said."

Yes, it's only a sticker. And, in fact, I don't see it much anymore. So the sticker problem is nearly gone. The idea remains. If we were to be rational Christians convinced that God is true though every man a liar, then we would need to hold a different position: "God said it, that settles it, I believe it." For the rest of the world, whether they are unbelievers or self-styled believers, snatching up the right to evaluate God's truth and determine where the Word is wrong based on their own personal preferences is an arrogance we should all be wary of.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Dawn of Redeeming Grace

It's a line from the Christmas favorite, Silent Night. Jesus's arrival, they say, was "the dawn of redeeming grace".

Think about it. For millennia God-fearers -- from Abel and Noah and Job on up through the Jews and converts -- had been sacrificing and going through the rituals God put into place that provided salvation. These all pointed to One person -- the Incarnate Son of God. So on that day when the Christ arrived, we see the culmination of God's plan to save His creatures out of His own amazing grace and mercy.

It's the most wonderful time of the year, not because of tinsel and songs and decorations and snow or even gifts. It is the most wonderful time of the year because it points to that highest Gift, that stunning moment when the God of the Universe became flesh and dwelt among us, bringing with Him a grace previously unknown -- redeeming grace.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

News Weakly - 12/10/2016

On a Positive Note
We live in a sin-sick world. As such, we might expect that news will be ... unpleasant. I thought I'd share an item that is not.

Bethany Jenkins at the Gospel Coalition put out an interesting piece on Ed Moy, a Christian who became director of the U.S. Mint in 2006. Apparently the U.S. Mint -- basically a coin factory -- was a miserable place to work, rated 211th out of 217 places in the Federal government. He set out to change that. He tried some of the standard stuff which didn't seem to work and then came up with an approach from a biblical worldview. Well, you can read it for yourself. His results were amazing, and the ramifications for you and me are clear. God worked; so should we. Seeing what you do as part of a bigger thing (think "God's work") provides greater satisfaction. And thinking in biblical terms rather than the world's view can be remarkably better.

The right to not have your conscience disturbed
Okay, follow this closely. So, back in 2014 the Global Down Syndrome Foundation prepared a 2-minute video entitled Dear Future Mom assuring potential mothers of potential Down Syndrome babies that their child could live a relatively normal life and be happy, "and you'll be happy, too." Fortunately, the French state has swooped in to save society (at least French society) from this travesty of justice. The courts upheld a ruling that the French Broadcasting Council was right to ban this video. "The court said the video's depiction of happy Down syndrome children was 'likely to disturb the conscience of women who had lawfully made different personal life choices.'"

Wow, that's a new one. The right to not have your conscience disturbed. Never heard that one. Well, of course, this new right cannot be said to be "endowed by the Creator", since the Creator is pretty good at disturbing personal consciences. And, of course, society will dole this new right out cautiously. It's not for everyone, you see. Like the Christian whose conscience is disturbed by being required to personally endorse the union of two same-sex-attracted people. Or the Muslim women in France whose religion requires them to wear a veil. You know, that kind of thing. Their consciences may legally be disturbed. Just not the consciences of women who kill their babies, I suppose.

The Coercion of the Right by the Left
Ever feel like those "other guys" are trying to force you into a "progressive" box? You know, "Go along with us ... or else." We're constantly being told it's not so and we're just paranoid. But remember, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. Should we expect a new kind of witchhunt? "Are you or have you ever been associated with a Christian church?" Maybe not, but ...

Another One Bites the Dust
And another elector from the "great state" of Texas refuses to do his sworn duty. Why do these people agree to do their duty ... and then refuse if it's not to their liking? If the Electoral College is not "democratic" enough for some and can't actually be expected to do its job in other cases, what else in our Constitution needs to be tossed out? Might as well change it as desired; we're not using it anyway.

I'm Just Curious
Senate Democrats are threatening to force a government shutdown this weekend to pressure Republicans for better benefits for miners and for "Buy American" language in legislation. Hmmm ... I don't get it.

First, I don't know why the benefits for miners is a government issue, not a private industry matter. Second, I don't know why "Buy American" language ought to be a law. It would seem to me that both of these issues are in direct opposition to Capitalism and the Free Market concept. I mean, I can see requiring industry to not treat employees unfairly and I can see government encouraging a "Buy American" approach, but by legislation? My real question, however, is why is it that when Republicans threaten a government shutdown they are "just playing politics" but when the Democrats do it they're not?

This, I suppose, is an illustration of why I'll never understand politics ... or trust myself to government. This is why I won't put my trust in princes (Psa 146:3), so to speak. This is why I'm so pleased to serve the Risen Savior, the Sovereign Lord.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Doctrinal Whack-a-mole

Michael Kruger wrote a nice piece comparing the conspiracy theory that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene to the old whack-a-mole game. Remember that game? Mostly for younger kids, we played it at the arcades. This mechanical device that looks (sometimes) like a mole pops up in a hole and, as fast as you can, you hit him with your hammer. Successful or not, that one goes down and another one pops up somewhere else. No matter how good you are at it -- no matter how quick, unerring, accurate -- they just keep coming. Kruger says that this conspiracy theory is like that. You find this claim being made and you carefully, biblically, reasonably, factually give it the smackdown, only to see it popping up over there again.

I'd argue that he was right, except that it's not just the "Jesus was married to Mary" story. It's most biblical doctrines. Paul, for instance, carefully shot down the "saved by works" dogma of his (and our) day, only to have Peter kissing up to the judaizers and have to shoot him down (Gal 2:11-21). In his epistles he had to take down that "saved by works" thing repeatedly. That mole has been beaten down over and over and still comes up today.

Consider the Scriptures themselves. The early church had what they considered to be God's Word. It was a given. They all knew what it was. Then some upstarts came along and started parsing out their own "Scriptures". "This, not that, a little of my own." So they got together at the Council of Laodicea (AD 363) and clarified what was already known -- that the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament were "God's Word". Settled. But not. They did it again in the Council of Hippo (AD 393). And again at the Council of Carthage (AD 397). And even today we're hearing about "the lost books of the Bible" as if such a thing exists. Whack that mole and another appears. Indeed, since the origin of Man "what God said" has been debated endlessly long after having been settled. Whack!

Take the Trinity as an example. The Arian Heresy said that Jesus was a product of God, not God Himself. So Constantine called a meeting (called the Council of Nicaea) in AD 325 to settle the matter. (Constantine would have preferred them to settle it in Arius's favor.) They decided that Arius was wrong and the doctrine of the Trinity was settled ... right? You'd think so, but even though Scripture is replete with it, multiple councils since and the rest of the Church have had to over and over whack that mole while more spring forth right around the corner to today in such groups as the Jehovah's Witnesses, some Pentecostal groups, and the Mormons to name a few.

We see this a lot. Every major biblical doctrine is picked up, confirmed, decided, argued, denied, and the circle starts again. Why is that? Why is it, for instance, that if Scripture is as clear as the Church has long claimed that the argument is still made that the Scriptures aren't as clear as the Church claims and we can't really know for sure? Is it because they're right? Are the moles correct?

No, of course not. Whack!

The Bible promises that this will be the case. The New Testament is full of warnings of false teachers. Paul, Peter, and especially Jesus have multiple warnings of false christs and false teachers and false prophets. Jesus says you can tell them by their fruits (Matt 7:15-16), which must disturb those who warn of examining others and their lives. Of these false teachers John says, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us." (1 John 2:19) Paul warns that it is partly the people who are to blame for this problem, not being willing to endure sound teaching, "but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions." (2 Tim 4:3) Their "new and improved" gospel, Paul warns, is not a gospel (Gal 1:6-7) and those who teach such things are accursed (Gal 1:8-9), to be avoided (Titus 3:10-11), a product of the last days (2 Tim 3:1-9).

So, yes, it is a bit like a doctrinal whack-a-mole. You find a heresy, you "contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3), you pray and leave it in God's hands, and you move on, knowing it isn't over and that pesky heretical mole will pop up again sooner or later despite the sound beating it has taken over and over from God's Word and His faithful followers. And we pray with John, "Come, Lord Jesus!" (Rev 22:20)

Thursday, December 08, 2016

There is an I in Sin

Okay, quick spelling test. Spell "sin". Oh, you peeked! Notice the letter at the middle of the word. As it turns out, "I" at the middle of "sin" is actually somewhat of a reasonable explanation of the word.

Turns out that we are not the center of the universe. I know, that may come as a shock to some. We read at the beginning of everything, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." (Gen 1:1) Not you. Not me. God. As Creator, He qualifies as the Center of the Universe. We, however, are quite happy to steal that title for ourselves. We are perfectly satisfied, even as Christians, offering the oxymoronic "No, Lord" to God. Because above all else what we want and think and feel are the highest priority for us. God says, "Thou shalt ..." and "Thou shalt not ..." and we'll evaluate His command, determine whether or not it suits us, and then decide if we'll go along with Him. Some of us do it self-consciously. Others do it unconsciously. All of us do it at one time or another.

The problem, you see, is not the devil. Oh, he is a problem. He and his sort cause all sorts of difficulties. But, like the saying goes, "Lead me not into temptation; I can find it on my own." Or, in biblical terms, "Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." (James 1:14-15) James lays the blame for our sin at our feet. Because "sin" has an "I" at the very middle.

This is why the Bible doesn't talk about reforming people. It talks about transforming people (Rom 12:2). It doesn't talk about reparative therapy; it talks about death to self (Rom 6:7-8; Col 3:3; 2 Tim 2:11). We aren't looking for a "better you"; we need sanctification (1 Cor 6:9-11; Heb 10:10,14). He isn't planning to repair the old; He will make something new.

Because at the center of sin is "I". And that "I" is the problem.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is a growing problem in our world. Maybe it's a woman on her way to work in the morning putting on her makeup. Maybe it's a guy juggling a burrito and a turn. Often it's one of seemingly thousands of people who are reading and responding to texts as they hurtle down the highway at 70 mph. It is everywhere. It might even be you. It might even be me.

I find that this is one of Satan's favorite ploys. It doesn't have to be a grand scheme, some horrible evil. It might be an innocuous, seemingly harmless, even a good thing. A musician may set out to use his or her talents to worship God. Lots of people notice. The applause is addictive. Soon he or she is performing rather than worshiping and not even aware of it, distracted by the accolades. A pastor may feel called to the ministry and start to minister. Overcome with the pressures, the work, and the discouraging numbers, he may opt to resign, distracted by worldly standards of measurements. A church may start out to preach and teach the Word and worship God, find itself inundated with people (along with more income, etc.), and get distracted from the message.

Distraction is insidious. We head out with all the right motives and ideas and find ourselves missing the mark (which, if you're paying attention, is the meaning of the biblical word, "sin"). It's like the parable of the mountaineers. A group of intrepid climbers set out to master a particularly difficult peak. They worked and climbed and fought their way forward. Then they came to a chasm. They puzzled for some time, devised a clever method of bridging it, and headed on. At the next one they had less trouble because of their former success. They stopped after the third one, opened a "Bridging Shop" to sell the necessary items and teach others to bridge chasms as they do their climbing. Distracted by their success, they never made it to the top. Like looking at the finger pointing to the moon.

This is why we read,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1-2)
Weights and sins encumber and distract. Don't go there. Set them aside. Instead, look to Jesus. Don't get distracted.

Paul wrote about what an excellent Jew he was. He didn't stop there.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith -- that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:7-11)
That's avoiding distraction. That's assigning worldly gain, be it name or fame, money or romance, power or anything else, as loss. Neither applause nor dissent count. What really matters is knowing Christ. The aim is to be found in Him, to have the righteousness that comes from Christ, imputed by faith. The real value in life is not found in makeup, burritos, or answered texts. It isn't in finding yourself praised, feeling yourself inadequate, or gathering large numbers of followers. It is in knowing Christ, including both the power of His resurrection and sharing in His suffering. It is in becoming like Him -- His life and His death. Don't get distracted. As in driving, it can be fatal.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

More Sure

Peter wrote his first epistle as a sort of equal. You know, he refers to himself as a "fellow elder" and the like. That's because he was writing about the coming suffering that all endure, including Peter. His second epistle, however, was written with false prophets in view. As such, he establishes himself as something of an authority.
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18)
You see here Peter is claiming to be an eyewitness. He's not giving "cleverly devised myths" or some sort of hearsay. No, he was there. In fact, he was one of only three who saw Jesus glorified at the Transfiguration. This is pretty heady stuff. This is authority. This is an Apostle. So it might come as a shock to read what he writes next.
And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. (2 Peter 1:19-20)
Do you see that? Peter says that he was an eyewitness and, as such, deserves to be believed. And then he says, "We have something more sure ..." More sure? More sure than an eyewitness? Yes!

Various translations give us various nuances on the phrase, "more sure." The Douay-Rheims Bible says "more firm". ESV says "more fully confirmed". The Literal Translation of the Holy Bible (LITV) says "more established". You can see different senses in these, but the idea is the same. This is established, confirmed, solid, reliable, certain ... "more sure".

What is more sure than Peter, the eyewitness, the mouthpiece for God, the Apostle? "The prophetic Word." That's right. Peter claims that the Scriptures themselves provide a proven source better than even an eyewitness. "More sure."

Dabble with Scripture if you wish. Tear it apart and lay it, bleeding and dying, on your bookshelf. Assure us that no one but you has figured it out or that no one at all has it figured out or that it just doesn't mean that much anymore. You may even feel like you have a newer and better revelation, personally from God. But you do all of this in the face of a more sure source than the eyewitnesses that saw it. God's Word is proven and the interpretation of the Spirit is true. There is nothing more sure in this world.