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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thanksgiving

I know ... it's not Thanksgiving Day. However ...

In Paul's epistle to Rome, he starts out with a claim: "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness." (Rom 1:18) In what way have we suppressed the truth? Well, we've ignored what God tells us about Himself (Rom 1:19-20). And then we read this:
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Rom 1:21)
The way, then, that we've suppressed the truth in unrighteousness is that we've failed to honor God as God or give thanks.

Really? "Give thanks"? Is that so bad? I mean, look, isn't that what we expect from people? You buy your child a gift and do you expect thanks? No. So why does God expect it of us? Because He's God. Because it's right.

The fact is that this results in "the wrath of God" -- the big, big problem for sinful mankind. It's why sin results in death. It's why Christ had to die. A failure to honor God (Rom 3:23) and thank Him meant that our only hope lies in His propitiation -- His appeasement of the righteous wrath of God toward us.

But, look, I write primarily to Christians. So that's not us, right? I mean, it was but no longer ... right?

So we're heading into a holiday aimed at giving thanks. As if that's enough. As if that's all that is required. Instead of "In everything give thanks" (1 Thess 5:18), we're tempted to think we're okay with a hearty day of giving thanks. But if we know who God is, if we honor Him as God, it would seem to me that "in everything" would be much, much bigger than the last Thursday in November.

So, how about this? Let's give thanks. Today. Tomorrow. All week. Then do it again. And again. Over and over. I guarantee it is not possible to actually run out of things for which to give thanks ... since that's supposed to be "in everything", right? Starting now.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

News Weakly - 11/18/17

This Day in History
On November 13, 1998, then-President Bill Clinton agreed to pay Paula Jones $850,000 to drop her lawsuit claiming that he espoxed himself to her in a hotel room in 1991. He admitted no wrongdoing and offered no apology. Of course, Clinton finished out his term. He was impeached for perjury, but Democrats defended him on the sexual abuse charges. His affair with Gennifer Flowers was completely ignored.

Compare that with the current GOP push to eliminate Roy Moore from completing his senate race amidst the strangely-timed accusations of sexual abuse 38 years ago. Now, there is no defense for sexually abusing anyone. Ever. On the other hand, it is not unheard of for someone to falsely accuse another person. So, I'm not defending Moore. I'm contrasting the GOP's response to questionable suspicions of wrongdoing in their midst as opposed to denial of and defense by Democrats of more reliable accusations of those in their own camp.

Protesting Life
Actress Mila Kunis admitted to Conan O'Brien that she has "a monthly, reoccurring donation to Planned Parenthood set up in Mike Pence's name." The article says it is a "'peaceful protest' to express her disagreement with Pence's pro-life platform." Planned Parenthood applauds her opposition to life.

Rainbows and Unicorns
This week Australians voted to legalize same-sex "marriage". In other news, PETA, the animal rights group, has started the campaign to have unicorns declared an endangered species.

(In case I'm being too obscure, there are no unicorns, and there is no "marriage" that can be called "same-sex". Australians, like so many others, have voted in a nonexistent thing ... to the detriment of the real thing.)

Strange Business Plan
The media is reporting that an "anti-Trump hotel is coming to DC." A "we hate the president so we're going to make a hotel" hotel is going to be opened in Washington D.C.? What does that look like? No frills? No comfort? Certainly no foolishness. (Hey, maybe they could have a Twitter block?) A hotel built on "merging hospitality with progressive social change." Now just what does "progressive social change" have to do with a hotel?

I don't have to support Trump to find this idea completely ... silly.

Another Great Story
Sure, it's the Babylon Bee, but this is a great story. An atheist missionary goes to Papua New Guinea to teach the heathens there that there is no God and their existence is meaningless. They break out in joy ...

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Problem of Polls

As everyone knows beyond a shadow of a doubt, "81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump." How do we know that? Exit polls. There ya go!

Here's the problem. Polls in and of themselves are problematic. They take a sample, not a whole picture. And they ask questions. In today's world, that is a problem. In a society that cannot grasp "male and female", the idea that "marriage" means something, or that a thousand other terms that are commonly understood are not commonly understood, how would we expect a poll to be accurate? Worse, since most polls are "opinion polls" and we know that the world is blinded (2 Cor 4:4) and deceived (Jer 17:9), why would we expect good, valid opinions?

Consider. How many Americans are in favor of banning assault weapons? Well, I'd argue that it is impossible to tell because there is no definition of "assault weapons" available to ask about. The dictionary says "a weapon designed for use in warfare", but that would include knives by that definition. One set of definitions includes rifles with telescoping stock and pistol grip. That's an assault weapon definition? Another says that if a handgun weighs 50 ounces when unloaded, it's an assault weapon. What about baseball bats? Can't they be used for assaulting people? What about knives? On the same day of the terrible Sandy Hook shooting, a man in China attacked 27 school children with a knife. That's certainly assault. But, we have no clear lines, so when we seek to ban "assault weapons", thinking we're all in agreement, we're not.

We know this is the case in these polls about religious beliefs and such. The Pew Research Center recently reported that less than 50% of Protestants believe in Protestant beliefs. Yikes! Except my very next question would be, "So ... how did you determine 'Protestant'?" Because if we're going to determine Christian beliefs, won't we have to ask Christians? And we know there is a large number of "Christians" who are not Christian. I remember one poll at the turn of the century (the 21st century) said that some 95% of Americans believed in God and some 75% of us were Christians. Wow! Some revival, eh? Because, if you followed the line down, you'd have found that only 15% of them went to church and only 5% said it made a difference in how they lived. Now James says, "Faith, if it has no works, is dead." (James 2:17) So James would suggest that "Christians" without a change in how they live are not Christians. But, hey, they self-identify as Christians and they self-identify as Protestants and they self-identify as Evangelicals, so they must be, right?

In a world that allows a guy to self-identify as a girl or even something in between but refuses to allow a white woman to self-identify as a black woman, I think viewing "self-identify" as a valid statement of truth is a dangerous thing. And when "I'm a Christian" is claimed in defiance of everything Christian, I think the validity of that claim should be questioned. So when I read polls or even self-identifying statements, I have to wonder. "Do you know what those terms mean?" It used to be that words mean something, but we're way beyond that now.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Flickering Candle

The longest chapter in the Bible is the 119th Psalm. This is an entire psalm dedicated to the praise of God's Word. It includes such memorable lines as "How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word" (Psa 119:9) and the quite famous, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." (Psa 119:105) That idea is repeated in Peter's first epistle. "So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts." (2 Peter 1:19) God's Word is a light in a dark place. It provides clarity, guidance, and truth. Got it.

Or ... at least it did. Does it still?

If the loud voices these days have their say, not so much. The Bible, they tell us, is a good book and all that, but you can't really be sure what it means. It is dangerous to be too confident. It isn't to be taken as written; it should be held loosely. It has a lot of myth and legend, a lot of metaphor where it looks like history and allegory where it looks like plain language. And, let's be honest, it's not easy at all to understand, so we shouldn't really say "It means this" with any serious conviction.

Let's feed that back into the psalms, then. What we have here is a dim light -- not well lit, not too bright, not clear at all. How can a young man keep his way pure? Not that way, that's for sure. I mean, if God's Word says that those who indulge in homosexual behavior (among other things) won't inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10) and we can't say for sure that this means what it says, what good is it for keeping a young man pure? If we can't take the plain statements of God's Word as plain statements, to what possible degree is it "a lamp to my feet and a light to my path"?

It's simple. "Did God really say ...?" can be a question asked to seek for the genuine understanding, or it can be a question intended to deny what God really said. When we relegate His Word to myth and unfathomable possibilities, it is not a question for understanding. And we cannot say, with the psalmist, that God's Word provides any real light at all. Just a flickering candle that is being replaced by electric light of science these days. God's Word may be true (2 Sam 22:31; Psa 18:30; Prov 30:5; 2 Tim 3:16-17), but if it is as uncertain as they say it is, it is not reliable, useful, or even remotely sufficient. Which, I think, is their point. Is it yours, too?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Theology of Adultery

On more than one occasion, the Bible connects idolatry and adultery (e.g., Hos 4:12-14; Isa 57:1-3; Ezek 6:9; Jer 2:23-24; etc.). Interesting connection. And you can see why. In the Old Testament Israel was referred to as God's wife and in the New Testament the Church is the Bride of Christ. So when the "wife" or the "bride" is unfaithful to the "husband", it is called "adultery". We get that.

But what does adultery say about God? Adultery says the same thing about God that it says abour marriage. In adultery the adulterer says, "This mate you gave me is inadequate. I need something more. You shortchanged me." It demeans the character of God and diminishes His ability to give us what is best for us ... which is the definition of love.

Now, if we say, "Oh, no, it just says that we made a bad choice early on," there is another message here. That message is that God is not Sovereign. That message is that God does not work all things after the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11), that God does not work all things for good to those who love God (Rom 8:28).

Either way, we end up with a god of diminished capacity.

Paul says, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." (Rom 2:24) He is speaking there about God's people who ignore God's instructions, those who affirm the law while dishonoring God by breaking the law. Our sin is not merely a poor reflection on us. It is a poor reflection on the character of the God we say we love. It is much, much bigger than a moral faux pas. It tarnishes His glory. This is why I daily plead the blood of Jesus.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Crush of Culture

We were in a group looking at Leviticus (of all places). We were looking at the sacrifices made. Lots of sacrifices. Daily. Very bloody. A whole lot of work. And one of the women in the group asked, "Why does it say that the men did it? Why not the women?"

Fifty years ago no one would of have likely asked. No one would have likely thought about it. Fifty years ago respectable young men were taught to protect women, to care for women, to respect them and be kind to them. Send them out to slaughter and cut up a cow? Not likely. But we've come a long way. In 1967 nearly half of all mothers were stay-at-home moms. In 2012 the Pew Research Center reported that number was down to 29% after a low of 23% in 1999. Even those in the church are pretty sure, even if they don't say it, that women in the Bible had a pretty poor time of it. Fifty years ago female pastors were frowned upon. Only 30% of households had both parents working full time. In 2000 that number was above 50%. Let's face it; you've come a long way, baby. No longer do you expect to be cared for, pampered, looked after. That's sexist. Submit to your husband? No way! Not allow women to be pastors? What kind of backwards nonsense is that? Even deep in the church we find that the decades of cultural feminism has invaded our thinking until we're pretty sure that when God's Word says something contrary, God is wrong.

Let's talk about child-rearing. The Bible is not vague about the use of corporal punishment. When Solomon (repeatedly) refers to the use of the "rod", he's certainly talking about corporal punishment. You will find the argument that "the rod of discipline" refers to a measuring tool. "They used it to verify the length of things." So "the rod of discipline" was intended just to provide guidance, create boundaries, and track progress. This is all well and good, except that it doesn't fit either the historical understanding of the concept or the texts or contexts (Prov 10:13; Prov 13:24; Prov 22:15; Prov 23:13-14; Prov 26:3; Isa 30:31; Lam 3:1; etc.) (cp Heb 12:3-11). Jewish rabbis always understood the "rod" in these texts to be corporal punishment and Solomon's admonitions to be a warning against abusing one's children by neglecting sufficient discipline. The Church, as well, has historically understood the Bible to teach that corporal punishment, applied carefully and with love, was the right thing to do. No longer! Our culture has decided that God was wrong. More "Christianized" versions still have to argue that the Holy Spirit failed for 4,000 years to get this across and they (meaning modern science) have finally figured out the truth. And, either by twisting the sense of the texts or overriding them with "science" and "data" and "irrefutable proofs" that all of Judaism and Christianity has failed1, they've managed to convince Christian parents that the Jews, the Church, and the Scriptures were all mistaken on this point. Essentially, the culture has fixed another biblical error.

Those are just two examples. Over and over the culture has sought to invade the Church. It is not uncommon to hear people say, "The Church has to change" and mean that biblical beliefs must change. Bishop John Shelby Spong wrote a book about Why Christianity Must Change or Die. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told her audience "religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed." In the wake of the LGBT sexual revolution, modern Christianity is told that the Church must change or die. Individuals -- divorced, gay, pro-abortion folk, whatever their particular axe to grind is -- insist that the Church must alter its theology to embrace their sore spot. We're not talking about adapting to technology or adjusting worship styles. We're not talking about correct correction, like embracing sin that should be rejected or being judgmental toward fellow believers. We're talking about doctrine, biblical beliefs, historical orthodoxy. Despite the clear biblical instructions and explanations we are given, modern society and modern Christians actually think that the culture has the right and capacity to change what God has said all along is right or wrong. And we, so often, fail to see that in ourselves. Why is that?
________
1 Something that surprises me (perhaps it shouldn't) is that the loudest voices in opposition to a biblical perspective of corporal punishment applied in love are often the same voices that oppose restricting the murder of babies in the womb. That seems totally contradictory.

Monday, November 13, 2017

It's Not in There

I cannot tell you how many times I've heard the claim, "That's not in the Bible." Often I've heard it because I'm making it. "Cleanliness is next to godliness" is not in there. It's not in there in words or in spirit. "The Lord helps those who help themselves." Not in there. Not only is it not in there; it is actually refuted. Jesus said, "Apart from Me you can do nothing." (John 15:5) "If we pray, God will heal our land." That's actually sort of in there (2 Chron 7:14), but it's not quite correct. It's a promise to Israel at the time and, while we can count on God always taking care of His people, "our land" is not part of that certainty. How about the ubiquitous "Money is the root of all evil"? Nope, not in there. Oh, you may think you can point to the verse, but what that one actually says is, "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils." (1 Tim 6:10) That is, it is not money that is the problem, but loving it, and it is not all evil, but all kinds of evil.

Amid all of these fallacies offered as biblical and are not, you might think that it doesn't go the other way. It does. Routinely people tell me, "That's not in the Bible" when it actually is. "That homosexual behavior is a sin is not in the Bible." Yes, yes it is. You may not accept it, but it's there. "But there are only 6 references" which, by the way, means that it's there. "But they don't mean that." So, you may disagree with the interpretation (despite the fact that the language says it and that all of history has believed it), but at this point you cannot say it's not in there. One of the most popular ones? "The Trinity is not in the Bible." While it is true that the word "trinity" is not in there, it is unavoidable that the doctrine is. (I gave that last sentence with that link because there is far too much Scripture on the subject to list here.) They say it's not in there, but that is blatantly false. Ever popular is the idea that "The doctrine of election is not in the Bible." I would suggest that it is unavoidably in the Bible. Pick up any concordance. Look for "elect" or "election", and don't forget "chosen". It was no less than Jesus who said, "Many are called but few are chosen." (Matt 22:14) We may differ about the mechanism of election, but the doctrine that the saved are chosen is absolutely certain.

It was this very argument I heard the other day. "You know, you're Penal Substitutionary Atonement is not in the Bible." This is fascinating to me because the entire entry was from the Bible. I took a passage (Rom 5:8-10) and pointed out how every single component of the principle was in those verses. Now, more than one person objected to the doctrine and more than one suggested that wasn't what the text meant, but not one said what it did mean that was not what I said it meant. Beyond that, there was no acknowledgement of the multitude of passages (not merely verses) from Genesis through Revelation on the subject. That is, it is in the Bible. Scripture is full of the penalty of sin ("penal"), that Christ died for us ("substitutionary"), and that His death provided the propitiation of the wrath we earned and brought us into a right relationship with God ("atonement"). The claim cannot be made that "It's not in there." It can be said that this is possibly the primary message of the Bible. A failure to acknowledge this does not constitute proof that it's not in there. The claim might be made that "It's in there, but that's not what it means." Doing so defies the language, but it could be attempted. But the flag was thrown -- "It's not in the Bible" -- and the penalty called and, therefore, we're supposed to assume it's not in the Bible. End of argument.

My point here is not that Penal Substitutionary Atonement is in the Bible. It is, but that's not my point. My point is not that the Trinity or Election are in there, or even that the Bible is clear on the sinfulness of homosexual behavior. All that is true, but that's not my point. My point here is that we need to know our Bibles. We need to know the texts and the contexts. We need to know the cross references, the underlying biblical principles, the overarching concepts. We need to know, as an example, that "the blood" is not the issue, but that "the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life." (Lev 17:11) That is, it is the life that is the issue, not some "blood sacrifice". We are woefully biblically illiterate these days. We are exactly what the author of Hebrews bemoaned.
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:12-14)
We have had so much opportunity for good Bible teaching and good Bible study and access to good Bible tools that we ought to be teachers. Instead, we cannot tell that homosexual behavior is a sin or that cleanliness is not next to godliness. As James said, "My brothers, these things ought not to be." If the Bible is God's Word and if the Word of God proves true (Psa 18:30; Prov 30:5), then we ought to be wholly dedicated to this instead of playing at the edges.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Agony and Victory

As we are all aware, this last Sunday a crazed gunman walked into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and killed 26 churchgoers. The youngest victim was 18 months old; the eldest was 77. The pastor and his wife were not there that day, but their youngest daughter was among those killed. One family, the Holcombes, lost eight family members across three generations. Joann Ward attempted to shield her children with her own body. She and two of her daughters died, but two of her children survived. One couple, the Marshalls, had just retired to the area and were attending the church for the first time to try it out. Both were killed. Robert and Shani Corrigan were dedicated to God and ministry. Recently they suffered the suicide death of their oldest son. Last Sunday they went home to be with the Lord. The pastor's wife said that a quarter of their congregation was dead and the church building itself was likely beyond repair.

It is tragic. It is horrific. It is agonizing. It is only made worse by the perpetrator. Court-martialed for assaulting his wife and step child in 2012 and dishonorably discharged from the Air Force in 2014, he was a known problem. He escaped a mental health facility in 2012 after being sent in there for attempting to carry out death threats against his military superiors. He shouldn't have even been able to buy a gun. He had attended the church but was asked not to come because the pastor considered him dangerous. And then there was his rage at his ex-mother-in-law who attended the church but was not there that day. It's all disturbing because it's so crazy. President Trump said it was a mental problem; I would argue that it is a sin problem.

And yet ...

It is only in Christ that we find any sense of hope in tragedy like this. Christ was perfected in suffering (Heb 2:10). He was despised and rejected (Isa 53:3). The author of Hebrews said, "For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted." (Heb 2:18) That is, in our trials, we know we have one who suffered as much as we do. Peter wrote,
Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:1-2)
Elsewhere he wrote,
This finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (1 Peter 2:19-25)
In Christ we find true comfort and even purpose in the things we suffer, finding both first in His own suffering.

Really high on the list of things to consider as believers is the justice of God. For a moral system to make any real sense, there must be justice. If there is no expectation of justice, there can be no meaningful moral system. And we know that in this life justice is not a given. But God is a just God, and we can be absolutely certain that justice will be served. There is no chance that justice in this and every other situation will not be served.

Another consideration is the claim from Paul that God "works all things after the counsel of His will." (Eph 1:11) This means that nothing happens by chance, that nothing happens without a reason, more so that nothing happens without a good reason. Alongside the promise that "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God" (Rom 8:28), His Sovereignty provides the greatest of comfort when we struggle with why it looks like bad things happen to good people. That is, they don't. Only good. Despite what it might look like. And always to His glory. As Spurgeon said, "When we cannot trace God’s hand, we are simply to trust his heart."

Death is the ultimate horror to most people. Paul wrote,
"O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15:55-57)
Death, for believers, is not the end. Christ was victorious over death and He gives us the victory.

Ultimately, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, 'For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom 8:35-39) Ultimately, even in death, we are more than conquerors, Christ is victorious, and good will come of it all. We have the promises of God on that.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

News Weakly - 11/11/17

How Does That Work?
For a long, long time environmentalists have been warning about, first, that dreaded ozone hole that we have been causing and, subsequently, the whole global climate change issue. We're doomed, I tell you, doomed. So how does that work when the news comes out that "Higher temperatures over Antarctica this year shrank the hole in the ozone layer to the smallest it's been since 1988"? Doesn't that appear to say that "global climate change" is fixing a problem? I'm not sure I can follow this.

(Note: This is not climate change denial. This is the statement that we don't know how all this stuff works and what is good or bad.)

Spike of 1
"Spike in US gun death rate for second straight year," the headline reads. We should all just stop there. We have what we need to know. Guns can kill people and people are using them to do it. Got it. Get rid of guns. Except the actual story is a little different than that. The CDC reported that in 2015 the deaths from guns was 11 per 100,000 people and now it "spiked" to 12 per 100,000 in 2016. That's down from as high as 15 per 100,000 people in the 90's. So 1 is a spike? Or is this less-than-honest reporting? In the military they have a term: "Fire for effect." Is this "reporting for effect" rather than expressing the truth?

"If we do it, it's not playing politics."
In the Obama era, any time the GOP "played hardball", threatening filibuster or obstruction or ... whatever, the president and the media was quick to call it "partisan politics". It was not "principles" or the like. It was pure politics. But now that the Democrats are threatening to shut down the government if they don't get their way on DACA, it's not partisan politics, right? Or is this just more of the long and lengthening list of double standards being paraded in front of the public?

Legally-Mandated Insanity
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that there are two genders -- male and female. It isn't some social construct; it is biology. In every other possible aspect we are not unclear. A white person is not a black person, even sort of. A tall person is not a short person. You won't find a 7'2" black basketball player trapped in a 5'4" Asian body. We know this. But gender is another question, apparently. This is unclear. New York declared 30 genders. Facebook offered 50. And Germany's top court has ordered that lawmakers must legally recognize a "third gender" from birth. They ruled that the "male or female" system ... get this ... is unconstitutional. Materialists, where is your god (Science) now?

In a similar vein, Virginia has elected the first openly transgender state legislator in history. That is, "He doesn't know what male or female is -- or, at least, what he is -- but we are pretty sure he'll be able to make reasonable decisions in the legislature. And don't call him 'him'. Wrong pronouns will get you into legal trouble."

Didn't See That Coming
A real hot button these days is Social Justice. You know, issues of poverty, social well-being, justice, that sort of thing. Well, the research is in. Apparently the #1 social justice imperative -- the thing that goes the farthest in preventing poverty and improving social welfare -- is ... wait for it ... marriage. Didn't see that coming. From better income, education, and life opportunities to decreased child poverty, improved graduation rates, and greater overall success rates, marriage appears to be the single biggest factor. The report says that marriage boosts every measure of human well-being. Now if only we could recover exactly what "marriage" means, perhaps we could make a stand for Social Justice.

Unreformed
The point of the Reformation -- what has become known as "Protestantism" -- was to return the Church to the original plan found in God's Word. You know ... those five solas and such. It was what differentiated the Roman Catholics and the Protestants ("Protestants" = those who protested the Roman Catholic position). And we were proud to do it. That is, we were. Now, some 500 years later, it seems that Protestants are more Catholic than Protestant. Pew Research Center found that less than half of Protestants believe that faith alone is sufficent to get you into heaven or that the Bible is our sole authority in matters of faith and practice. Some 52% say that faith and good deeds are needed to get into heaven (like the Catholics do) and 52% believe that the Bible, the church's official teachings, and tradition form the structure of our faith (like the Catholics do). When putting the two together -- sola scriptura and sola fide -- only 30% of Protestants believe in both. Evangelicals scored highest, but even there it was only 44%. An amazing 30% of Protestants claimed belief in purgatory.

The Reformation occurred some 500 years ago, but the move back to biblical Christianity needs to recur. Apparently often.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Rights and Wrong

No, this one is not about who is right or wrong. And, no, I didn't misspell "rights" in the title. I'm wondering about what we've declared to be our "rights" and whether or not they might be wrong. I'm thinking, first and most obvious, about that whole 2nd Amendment thing. Do we really want to keep that in our "Bill of Rights"? I mean, do we really want to keep the right to bear arms as a right in today's society?

Look, the situation is ... not good. How many ... 58 people killed in Las Vegas and a staggering 546 wounded because of a gunman? And there is the worst mass killing in Texas where 26 people, ranging in age from 18 months to 77 years old, were gunned down by an angry son-in-law. The CDC says gun deaths were up by 4,000 in 2016 over 2015. To call it "not good" is an understatement. So maybe ... just maybe ... it's time to delete that amendment and take the guns out of the hands of the people. All of them. They've done it in other countries and gun deaths plummet every time. (Please tell me you're paying attention here. If you take away guns, gun deaths plummet. If you take away automobiles, automobile deaths plummet. None of this means that deaths plummet.) Maybe it's time.

But, since we're considering one right that might be wrong, maybe there are a few more to look at? I mean, we have been on a rampage redefining the language and their resulting concepts over the last few decades -- think "marriage" or "male and female" for instance. Why not the rights? And we've already tinkered with the Amendments to the Constitution; why stop now? Take the obvious one -- the 14th Amendment. It guarantees the "the equal protection of the laws" to all persons. Except when it comes to the unborn, they decided to define them as not persons. By arbitrary standards. I mean, in the womb they are not, but after birth they are, and when exactly that transition occurs from "not" to "person" is not defined. So, look, if we can tinker with that, why not others?

How about that "free speech" nonsense? Everyone knows that free speech is good as long as it's the speech we allow. It's not good when it's not. So we shout for "free speech" and then seek to prosecute those who use certain terms or whatever we deem to be "hate speech" (regardless of whether or not it really is hate speech). Ask around and I think you'll find the younger generation is no longer on board with the whole "free speech" thing. They want to limit it, to protect people from feeling bad, to stop you from using certain speech.

And we're all pretty sure the "free exercise of religion" clause has got to go. No one wants that if you really think about it. We do not want to let the jihadist who believes that murder is the "free exercise of religion" to go ahead and practice it. And most of us are quite sure that religion needs to stay out of the public square -- by force of law if necessary -- even though religion by definition infiltrates the lives of those who hold to it and, therefore, the public part of that life. That is, a religion that can be compartmentalized is not a valid religion. Still, if a religion believes or practices things we don't accept, shouldn't we be free to block that? Sure, we can be generous, but dangerous things like suicide vests and belief in Creation should surely be eliminated for safety sake, shouldn't they?

You know, I bet if we think about it carefully enough, we could probably solve a lot of problems if we could just eliminate a lot of what have been called "rights" but make us ... uncomfortable. Sure, sure, we may not like the results. And it should be obvious that when we start down this road of stripping off rights that we don't accept it will very likely lead to stripping off rights we do, but that hasn't stopped us thus far, has it?

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Parenting

So, I'm reading along in my Bible -- just happen to be going through Proverbs -- and I come across this:
The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother. (Prov 29:15)
And I found myself wondering. If a child who gets his own way "brings shame to his mother", what does it look like when a nation of children get their own way? Conversely, if we have ruled out the option of "the rod and reproof", what option do we get?

Anyone who is willing to look can see that common sense in our culture is waning. That is, it's not common. But if wisdom comes from the proper discipline and training of children and we have ruled them out, I don't know what else we should expect.
He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:20)

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The Harm Principle

David Benatar is a professor of philosophy and head of the department of philosophy at the University of Cape Town, where he is also the director of the Bioethics Centre. He published a book in 2006 that argued that "coming into existence is always a serious harm." Benatar believes that "People should never, under any circumstance, procreate." Benatar even appeals to Ecclesiastes for support. He argues that "all lives contain more bad than good, and that they are deprived of more good than they contain." Benatar's argument is that it is immoral to have children. (You may be thinking, "What ... is he advocating the end of the human race???" Yes ... yes he is. His concluding statement at the end of this "anti-natalist" essay is, "The question is not whether humans will become extinct, but rather when they will. If the anti-natalist arguments are correct, it would be better, all things being equal, if this happened sooner rather than later for, the sooner it happens, the more suffering and misfortune will be avoided.")

I gave the link; feel free to read it for yourselves. He gives a lengthy argument about the harm done to and by human beings. He spends a significant portion detailing the harm to the planet done by humans. His argument against the existence of human beings at all is an argument from harm. And we all know that's the best way to determine morality -- "Does it cause harm?" I wondered, when I read the article, how a professor that advocated the end of the human race could possibly be the director of bioethics. That's how. And this is the same "high road" taken by many childless people today. "It is impossible to choose to procreate from anything but a selfish and/or irrational reason." Another (interestingly Hindu) source argues, "Let me start by stating three principles that I think you would agree with. One: We should not cause suffering to others. Two: We should not kill anyone. Three: Consent is all-important, and we should do nothing to others without their consent." And since procreation violates all three -- "you are basically bringing a person into this world without their consent, where they are guaranteed to a) suffer, and b) die." -- well, you can see the conclusion.

I've asked this question before. No one seems to have an answer. What makes us humans think that we know what "harm" is? Why do we assume we are clear on what "good" is? We are so sure of this stuff that we are even willing to blame God for not being good. And when Paul claims "No one does good, not even one," (Rom 3:12) we're quite sure he's wrong. It doesn't matter that we've made a practice of declaring "good" that which God says is not and finding that harm results where we never saw it coming.

Solomon wrote, "Those who forsake the law praise the wicked" (Prov 28:4), where "the law" is a reference to "God's Word" (as opposed to "civil law" or some such). Clearly without God's Word we will end up calling "good" bad and vice versa. We can be quite clear that "good" is defined not by our preferences or opinions, but by God. Similarly, we can be equally sure that "harm" is defined not by our ideas, but by God who made us. The "harm principle" as a method of determining morality is a failed system primarily because humans are sinners who are deceived and blind. Followers of Christ and His Word ought to know better.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Thinking about Free Will

One thing we all know for sure; humans have free will. Or ... do we? I mean, do we all know it? As it turns out, the question can get quite difficult. At one end of the spectrum are those who argue, "No, in no real sense do humans have free will at all." Of course, the most ardent on that end are the atheists, the materialists that believe we are biochemical machines and, therefore, all emotions and all choices are mechanical -- hormones, mechanical triggers, chemicals, whatever -- but not "free". On the other end there is the "Absolute Free Will" side. At the very extreme they even argue that we can do anything we choose to do, as if that's even reasonable.

And then there is the problem of defining free will. Dictionary.com defines it as "free and independent choice", with a philosophical definition of "the doctrine that the conduct of human beings expresses personal choice and is not simply determined by physical or divine forces." After that it gets sticky. Characterize "free" and "independent", for instance. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has multiple definitions. There is choosing on the basis of desires, but is that "independent" or is it dependent on one's desires? Another is deliberately choosing on the basis of desires and values. Is that "free" and "independent"? The third is "self-mastery, rightly ordered appetite". Now is that "free" and "independent"? One study suggested that we decide to do something shortly before we will to do it. Now that's strange. And there are different kinds of free will. There is Libertarian Free Will, the idea that we can choose without coercion, cause, or interference, internal or external. There is Compatibilist Free Will, the notion that humans freely choose what God has determined they will choose. And, of course, from there it just gets more and more confusing.

Good news! I'm not going to solve the question! What I am going to do is lay down the structures we have to work with and then you can decide what is and is not the case. Do we have free will? If so, in what sense? And various other questions. So let's look briefly on what we know to be true and you can work from there.

We know from Scripture that God is Sovereign (1 Tim 6:15; Eph 1:11) -- He does whatever He chooses. The same cannot be said about us. We have limitations, from the inability to flap our arms and fly away to the inherent problem of sin and the inability to please God without faith (Heb 11:6). God has no such limitations. We also know that God is perfect (Matt 5:48). In that perfection the Bible is clear that God is Omniscient. He knows all things (John 16:30; 1 John 3:20). No exceptions. No contingencies. And He knows it all perfectly -- no errors.

"So, then, apparently we do not have free will." Not so fast.

On the other side of the ledger there is the certainty that we are culpable for sin. Now, no one who is forced to commit an act can be legally liable for that act. So clearly from our side of the picture we have some sort of capability to choose or not choose sin. We know that God does not tempt anyone to evil (James 1:13). We know that sin is the product of our own desires (James 1:14-15). We are not coerced into sin, and certainly not by God. In fact, Scripture is full of references to commanding us to make choices (e.g., Psa 25:12). If no free will existed, these would be manifestly pointless. So there is something that is "free will" in human beings.

It seems, then, that on the topic of free will we run into a conundrum. On one hand, it is impossible for God to not know all things and not know them perfectly. As such, it is not possible for any of us to choose that which God did not foresee we would choose. On the other hand, we are culpable for our choices and make them, so it is not possible that there is no free will. We have this collision, then, of God's view and Man's view. As a prime biblical example, consider Judas Iscariot. Scripture is not unclear; Judas was predestined to betray Christ. Scripture is also not unclear; Judas was responsible for his choice. These two ideas collide in a single verse (Luke 22:22).

If free will is defined as autonomy, the ability to choose to do anything at all without coercion by others, God or self, then I have to say that this is manifestly nonexistent. All choices have limitations, even without factoring in God. We do not get to choose anything at all ... ever. As such, free will, as it exists, is limited. On the face of it, it is limited to the possible. We cannot choose the impossible. After that, the question of what is possible becomes the issue, starting with both the question of our capabilities as spiritually dead sinful people (Eph 2:1-3; Rom 3:12; etc.) and the influence and Sovereignty of God (Prov. 21:1; Prov 16:4; Prov 16:9; Prov 20:24; etc.). But we can know for sure that some form of free will exists. In the end, then, we have to eliminate the two extremes -- "There is no free will" and "It's all about our own free will." -- and find that middle ground that keeps God as Sovereign and Man as culpable and making choices. When your definition of free will allows for that, you're closer to the truth.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Penal Substitutionary Atonement

One of the most "offensive" concepts in biblical theology is the concept that theologians refer to as Penal Substitionary Atonement. Some call it cosmic child abuse. Some call it a narrow-minded view of God -- "Why does God need a blood sacrifice to forgive?" Others just think of it as too barbaric -- blood sacrifices and all that. All of this is, quite frankly, irrelevant. The only relevant question is does the Bible teach it? I think that much is indisputable.

Look at one place, one passage.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Rom 5:8-10)
Okay, now let's examine the words of the concept against the words of the text.

Atonement is the process of making "at one", of removing the walls between two parties, of bringing about reconciliation by repairing the wrong. Now, let's see ... it says in the text that we have been "justified" and "we were reconciled to God". How do these occur? The first is "by His blood" and the second "through the death of His Son." That is atonement -- reconciliation. It's in the text.

"Substitutionary" means "in place of something or someone else". What does the text say? "While we were yet sinners Christ died for us." "For us" means "in our place", "on our behalf", or, "as a substitute for us". It's in the text.

"Penal" refers to paying a penalty, of paying the just price for a violation of a law. Is this one there, too? Yes. There is a penalty for sin. It is "wrath", being "enemies". When it says "we shall be saved" it means there is a price -- the need to be saved. And it says that "we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him." That's paying the penalty. That is satisfying the debt, paying the price.

The question is not, first, "How does that feel?" "Oh," they complain, "it sounds so barbaric, so brutal, so unkind, so primitive." Fine. But is it right? If God's Word teaches it, then how it feels is irrelevant. If it feels wrong, it could be because we have deceitful hearts (Jer 17:9). The trick, then, is to take God at face value and stop trying to make God make us feel good. Accept as truth what God's Word says is true and, once there, you'll find it actually feels pretty good.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Drops in the Ocean

Hawk Nelson sings a popular song, Drops in the Ocean, that starts with "I want you as you are, not as you ought to be." I, of course, question that. I mean, sure, we come to Him as we are, but is it not a given that He wants us as we ought to be? Even Nelson sings, "I'm the only love that changes you." So He does want us as we ought to be. And my point is that we are not as we ought to be ... and He wants to bring us there.

That stuff, however, is not my ultimate reason for mentioning the song. My point is this phrase in the chorus (the title phrase):
If you could count the times I'd say you are forgiven
It's more than the drops in the ocean
The drops in the ocean.
Really? That's a lot of drops. Or, rather, it speaks of a lot of sin to be forgiven ... and a lot of forgiveness dispensed. And it speaks of the immensity and perfection of the price paid by my Savior. Now, I don't really know Hawk Nelson, his theology, or his doctrine. What I do know is that, given the wages of sin (Rom 6:23), we've sinned much. And those who are forgiven much love much (Luke 7:47).

Most of us think that we're bad, but not all that bad. Scripture appears to disagree. I think that the magnitude of our sin -- my sin -- as suggested in the song is accurate. I think that we don't normally think so, but I think it is. And it is because of the magnitude of my sin, bigger than I imagine, that my view of His grace and mercy is so large. Forgive a slight? Human. Forgive a grievous sin? Noble. Forgive what I've done against my God? Astounding. Incomprehensible. I don't have the adjectives to express it. It makes me want to shout praises to the glory of God.

Some people complain that it seems like an eternity in heaven praising God will be boring. I'm only concerned that it won't be enough time.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

News Weakly - 11/4/17

Prepare for the Cleansing
A 40-foot tall cross that is a World War I memorial from 1925 could be ordered to be removed almost a century after it was put in place. Why? It's on public land. And everyone knows that a 40-foot tall cross is a government establishment of a religion. Oh, it's not? Well, try to tell that to the general public. The article refers to "a 'cleansing'". Picture, as an example, the fields of crosses at Arlington National Cemetery wiped clean. That's how the anti-theist (and their inadvertent lackeys) will paint it. "We're doing you a favor, America. We're 'cleansing' things." As if an anti-God country is "clean" in any sense. As if they'll stop at a WWI memorial.

#MeToo
I am opposed to sexual harassment. I'm opposed to sexual abuse. All bad things. I am in favor of definitions, however, and I'm really, really not clear. The story says, "Women protested sexual abuse and harassment Sunday in 11 French cities under the #MeToo banner." The sign says, "Feminism is the new sexy." Now, if a man says that a woman is sexy, is that harassment? (Hint: It very well could be.) If a woman tells a woman she is sexy, is that harassment? (Possible, but far less likely. See Ellen DeGeneres ogling Katy Perry.) If a woman calls a man sexy, is that sexual harassment? Very unlikely. So when is it okay to call someone "sexy". And if a man agrees with the sign, is that sexual harassment?? And isn't "seeing women as sexy" something they wanted to protest? Oh, it's really confusing.

Casting the First Stone
The church that George Washington helped to found is removing the plaque that honored him. As Trump suggested they would. (AKA "It's not a slippery slope fallacy if it actually happens.") Washington, you see, owned slaves. The article says, "Critics say there is no place in modern America for symbols associated with racism and slavery." So, I'm wondering ... how about any symbol of the Democrats? (Note: According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Republican Party was formed in the 1850's on the basis of an anti-slavery platform, bitterly opposed by the Democratic Party.)

In Answer to the Question
Since the November election of last year multiple people have asked me, "Why did so many Evangelicals vote for that man?" In answer to the question, may I submit Exhibit B. Apparently Hillary's campaign took over the DNC. "Democratic National Committee (DNC) interim Chairwoman Donna Brazile writes in a new book that it 'broke [her] heart' when she discovered evidence that she said showed Hillary Clinton’s campaign fixed the Democratic nomination system in her favor." I didn't vote for the man, but clearly Trump was not the only less-than-scrupulous candidate in the race.

In Celebration of the Reformation
Apparently the pope was celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this week. He was offering "offering thousands of hot deals on indulgences for the forgiveness of the temporal punishments for sin in purgatory." Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Cessationism

There is a group of people in the Christian realm that call themselves cessationists. If you haven't heard the term or don't know the concept, let me fill you in. Cessationism is the principle that the miraculous gifts (usually referred to as the "sign gifts") of the Spirit were only conferred in the New Testament time period, solely for the purpose of establishing the early church, and ended when the Scripture was in place. The view is in contrast with continuationism which holds the opposite -- these gifts continue today.

Back in 2013 John MacArthur had a conference titled Strange Fire. The title is a reference to the "strange fire" offered by Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, for which God killed them (Lev 10:1-3). MacArthur's conference included names like R.C. Sproul and Joni Eareckson Tada, to name a couple. You can find a thorough argument for the case of the cessationists there. (You can still hear the messages on that link I included.) Thomas Schreiner offers his own explanation of "Why I am a Cessationist" on the Gospel Coalition website. The arguments are there.

Of course, there are many (read "all pentecostals and charismatics for starters") who vehemently protest the position. "Of course those gifts haven't stopped. Just look at folks like Benny Hinn and the like." Probably not the best argument. Others are less reactionary. John Piper refused to agree with the cessationists. He characterized himself as open to the gifts, but not advocating them. On the same day that Schreiner's piece on being a cessationist came out, Sam Storm gave his Why I am a Continuationist article.

Me? I would say, "Yes and no." Am I a continuationist? Yes. That is, I do not find the biblical arguments that miraculous spiritual gifts ceased to be a convincing argument. Too vague. Not clear enough. "Oh, then you believe that the miraculous gifts continue?" No ... not really. "Er ... how's that?" Look, I don't find the biblical arguments convincing. I don't really see a clear indication that the miraculous gifts have ended. And what are miraculous gifts? Who gets to decide? On the other hand, I have never seen those kinds of gifts exercised in my lifetime. Not once. Ever. I've looked. I've asked. I've tried. But when I look at what tongues or healing or the like look like in Scripture and then compare that to what I've seen, it has never been like what it looks like in God's Word. As a simple example, at no time have I ever been in a church where "If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God." (1 Cor 14:27-28) Not ever. So while I see no biblical principle that will convince me that tongues have ended, I also see no modern practices that tell me they haven't.

I'm not hard over on this. I haven't been everywhere and seen everything. I'm still open to biblical positions one way or the other. But I'm in this middle ground where I can't see that they've ended and I can't see that they've continued. So what does that make me? Bicessational? Both? Neither? I don't know.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Bait and Switch

You've heard of the ol' bait-and-switch routine. The easiest example is those car ads in the paper or on the Internet. "Come see this brand new Ford/Chevy/Whatever, regularly $45,000, but we have one today for just $20,000" or the like. And, of course, people flock to the dealer to find, oh darn it!, they sold that one just before you got there. But, hey, you can still buy one like it, only it's $42,000. Such a deal! In the consumer market, it's actually illegal. But it happens in lots of other places.

That first example would be in business where it's illegal (but that doesn't stop it from happening, does it?). It happens in politics. You remember the story of Representative Tim Murphy who got himself elected on an anti-abortion platform only to be caught urging his mistress to abort her unborn child. Bait and switch. It happens on social media all the time, where that "really cool guy" on that dating website turns out to be a 55-year-old pedophile. And it happens in churches.

"Wait ... what? How so?"

Glad you asked. Here's the current popular model. We've changed the name from "seeker sensitive" to "attractional church" because, well, that "seeker sensitive" term wasn't very sensitive. But it's the same corpse flower by another name. Here's the idea. Make the church to be so attractive that sinners will want to come in and then we can give them the gospel and -- boom -- we've fulfilled the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20). And that, dear reader, is what is known as "bait and switch". You give them the bait -- "Come on in! We have friendly people, music just like you like on itunes, fun programs for the kids, helpful therapeutic programs for adults ... it's all good!" -- and then the switch -- "Oh, and while you're here, you'll need to pay with a few minutes of the gospel." Just like the "Come in and listen to our spiel and we'll give you a free car!"

There are a few problems with this approach. First, the obvious assumption is that what was going on before wasn't working. You know, all that Bible teaching and stuff. "Preaching the 'Word', hymns, that kind of thing. Who wants to hear that? That'll never bring in the crowds." Because apparently the goal is to "bring in the crowds." Which, of course, you won't find in the pages of Scripture. Not that crowds are bad; it's just that there is no command to bring them. Second, when the goal becomes bringing in people, then the tendency is to eliminate things that get in the way of meeting that goal. One obvious thing would be making people feel uncomfortable about, say, their sin. And, oh, by the way, the gospel is one of those things (1 Cor 1:18, 22-24). So what often happens is that "here's the gospel" moment gets moved farther and farther out until it's no longer visible. I cannot tell you how many youth events I went to growing up where we were encouraged to come and enjoy (and we did) but never actually heard anything like "the gospel". When we did, the unbelievers mostly just turned off anyway. Third and, most importantly, there is a presumption that God is insufficient. The suggestion is that only sufficient means are the tools of the world. "Yeah, yeah, the Bible says there is power in the Word (Rom 1:16; Rom 10:17; Heb 4:12; 1 Peter 1:23; 2 Tim 3:16-1; 1 Thess 2:13; Isa 55:11; etc.), but we know they're not paying attention. We need to get their attention in other ways." The work of the Spirit (John 16:7-11) is insufficient. We have to woo them!

And so we lapse into this "bait and switch" technique thinking we're doing God favors. His Spirit is nice, but there aren't a lot who are listening. His Word has power, but it isn't drawing in the people. It isn't ... attractional. Fortunately we've figured out the techniques that God never had available in His day. Making mature Christians (Eph 4:11-16)? Naw. That's not the aim. Making disciples? Surely not! Too much work! So we settle for marketing techniques that are illegal in the marketing world. Bait and switch.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Orthodoxy

No, I'm not really going to talk about orthodoxy, as in "theological orthodoxy." I'm going to talk about the root word/concept.

"Orthodoxy" is rooted in two Greek terms. The first is ... wait for it ... "ortho". (Surely you saw that coming.) It means "straight" or "right" or "correct". The second is (quite obviously) "dox", meaning a belief or opinion. Thus, "orthodoxy" is simply intended to convey a "right belief". That, of course, is why it is most commonly thought of in terms of religion, but you can also see how "right belief" would occur in lots of places. You can have political, social, economic, scientific, and even artistic orthodoxy. Orthodoxy, then, is simply thinking rightly about things.

Here's the problem. For most of us, thinking is not our thing. Feeling ... now that we can do. So it felt right to one person I was talking to that told me they were in favor of gay marriage because "I can't imagine how I'd feel if someone told me I couldn't marry the person I loved." Careful ... careful ... do not think that through. Because if you actually follow that "line of thinking", it will get you into all sorts of trouble. "Hey, man, do you love your mother?" Don't go there! So, instead of thinking rightly (orthodoxy), we let almost any source we can find do it for us. What we "know to be true" is often only true because we read it on a billboard (or, more likely, lots of billboards) or saw it on the Internet or read it on our favorite social media outlet. It was in the news; must be true. It must. And what do we end up with?

"Buy this car/cologne/hair piece and you will get all the women you want." You know it's true because you've seen the product and isn't there always a pretty young thing hanging around it ... whatever it is? From becoming a popular person by using this popular weight loss program to becoming an effective parent by taking your kids to Chuck E. Cheese, you know you can do it because "the TV told me so."

Our political system has all sorts of conflict, but one thing no one doubts is the principle of "Separation of Church and State." It's in the Constitution ... right? Go ahead. Look it up. I'll wait. Because it's not. The closest you will find is that the government cannot pass laws to establish a particular religion as a State religion. So how does that translate to "We will have no religion at all in the public square in general and in anything related to government in particular"? Can you say "Non sequitur"? But we all know it is the case. Why? Because we've rightly followed the thinking or the text? No. Because we've been told it so many times that no one asks the question anymore. Because the concept itself is ludicrous. Look, if religion is a system -- a way of thinking and operating, a lifestyle -- on what planet can you expect to follow a religion -- any religion -- that you can turn off when you walk into a government building or do a government task? It is not reasonable. It is not ... orthodoxy.

Most of our society has bought this one hook, line, and sinker. "There really are people who are born one gender but really really are another gender ... and none of your 'binary gender' garbage." Let's not get analytical here. Let's not consider science or biology or any of those things. Let's certainly not consider the Bible. (Haven't we, after all, already established the Separation of Church and Mind?) No one is born black but is really white on the inside. No one is born an American in the 21st century but is really Napoleon inside. But anyone can be born male (or female) and be ... anywhere on a continuum of gender between supermale and superfemale and anywhere in between. We know this because we've been told it so many times in the last few years that no thinking person could doubt it. Except I'm not convinced it's the thinking people that are so convinced. It's not orthodoxy.

Okay, look, how about one for Christians? Do we not all know that "Jesus died to save us because we're so lovable and so worth Him saving"? How do we know that? Well, our favorite verse says, "God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son so whoever believes can have eternal life." (Note: I'm not giving you the reference ... primarily because I didn't actually quote a verse.) Never mind that this isn't what the verse actually says. Never mind that it actually flies in the face of what the Bible says. Whatever you do, do not think that through because it will certainly paint us all in a bad light if we buy into that "all have sinned" line of thinking and end up with a "we certainly deserve hell" belief system. Except for the fact that the Bible teaches that we are sinners deserving God's wrath and that the fact that it's true only makes God's grace and mercy that much bigger, I can't think of a single reason to deny how wonderful we are. No! Since the Bible does teach we are sinners, it is not orthodoxy -- right thinking -- to declare otherwise.

One of the most offensive components of Christianity is its exclusiveness. One of the most common messages pounded into our heads on the subject is that it is too exclusive and, as such, wrong. "Hey!" they shout, "Even the Roman Catholics disagree. You must be wrong." In the Second Vatican Council the Roman Catholic Church declared the concept known as the "anonymous Christian". In this concept, the position is that you don't actually have to know Jesus to be a Christian. "Those also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or his Church, yet sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do his will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience." The Roman Catholic Catechism reads, "Those who through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation." Sounds nice. Not biblical, but sounds nice. It is not orthodoxy.

We are subjected, day after day, all around us, to lies. I mean, that makes sense, right? Satan is "the god of this world" (2 Cor 4:4) and "the father of lies" (John 8:44). We have deceitful hearts (Jer 17:9). Why would we expect something else? The question, then, is not whether or not we are subjected to -- inundated with -- lies; the question is whether or not we're going to just buy them without examination. The question is if we are willing to think rightly. To think at all.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The "Alones" that are not Alone

October 31, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On this date in history an obscure Roman Catholic monk posted his famous "95 Theses", a simple request for a debate on some topics. It marks the beginning of the effort to return the Church to its original condition. The Reformation was not "trying to make the Church better"; it was trying to return the Church to its origins.

There are five basic statements that make up the core of the problems that the Reformers were addressing. They have become known as "the Five Solas", where "sola" is Latin for "alone". (We could call them the "five alones", but that just doesn't sound as cool.) These five "alones" were sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, and soli Deo gloria. In English, it is Scripture alone, the claim that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and the doctrine that all glory goes to God alone.

You have to admit that, in spite of the fact that we're talking about a lot of "alones", these can be quite confusing. I mean, if we're saved by grace alone through faith alone ... then neither is alone, are they? This "alone" function, then, becomes problematic in discussions. So what is critical for our understanding of these Five Solas is that we understand what they meant by "alone" ... because they did not mean "utterly alone".

The first problem with Roman Catholic theology to the Reformers was their three-sided authority structure. Roman Catholicism holds that authority in regards to what we believe and how we are to practice what we believe is in Scripture, in Holy Traditions, and in the Church. The Reformers argued that the sole authority is God Himself, and that His Word perfectly and sufficiently transmits His teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness "that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17) So Scripture alone is the authority apart from the Traditions or Church. That "apart from" was the intent of sola scriptura. It was not that there are no other sources for truth, authority in life, etc.

The Roman Catholic theology really liked (and still does) the concept of merit. They have condign merit (the merit of Christ) and congruent merit (where we begin to earn our own merit) and the Treasury of Merit (where those who have had more merit than they needed have stored merit for those who have not). Lots and lots of merit. It was the idea behind Luther's biggest complaint in his 95 Theses -- the sale of "indulgences" where people could buy merit to get themselves or others out of Purgatory. So sola gratia claimed that saving grace was apart from merit. While "grace" (Greek: charis) simply means "favor" and it is certainly reasonable to favor those who merit your favor, but Paul is abundantly clear that the grace of God that saves is apart from merit (Rom 11:5; Eph 2:8-9). That "apart from" was the intent of sola gratia.

The Roman Catholic Church would absolutely nod and agree with the assertion that we are saved by grace through faith, but when you pin them down, it turns out that it is "grace through faith plus." That "plus" is works. They hold that we receive grace from God and that grace becomes works as part of faith. However, they hold that, having received that grace and exercised that faith, it is required that we work to maintain our salvation. The Reformers argued for what they termed "imputation" -- the righteousness of Christ imputed to the life of the believer so that once and for all the believer is now seen by God as the righteousness of Christ. Sola fide was intended, then, to separate (as Paul does) salvation from works. The Roman Catholic doctrine argued that works augmented our justification -- improving it, maintaining it, sustaining it. Sola fide intended that faith apart from works was what was required. It was not a claim that works were no longer significant or required; it was that they weren't required for justification.

The Roman Catholic Church taught that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, but they understood it quite differently. The regenerate (They believe in baptismal regeneration.) received the merit of Christ which produced in them the ability to produce more merit. They taught that the Church was the access point to God, that there was multiple what they called "mediators" (or, in the case of Mary, the "mediatrix", "mediatrices") -- that is, the Pope, the priests, and the saints. "Not so!" the Reformers cried. They argued that Christ alone was the mediator between God and Man (1 Tim 2:5; John 14:6; Heb 7:25; 1 John 2:1). But if we are saved by grace apart from merit through faith apart from works, where does that come from? Solus Christus was aimed at removing all other mediators, leaving Christ alone as the entry point for Man to God, giving us direct access through Christ. It spoke of the exclusivity and sufficiency of Christ. He declared Himself the only way, as He was God's only Son, nullifying all other ways. His sacrifice on our behalf was sufficient -- "It is finished" (John 19:30). As our sole source of merit, His work as God the Son, in His life, in His death, and in His resurrection was sufficient alone to reconcile us to God apart from other mediators, other methods, or other systems.

If you pile up all the "complaints", the issues that the Reformers had with the Roman Catholic Church, you'll find a common thread. They argued that the Church was amassing glory for itself. The Pope was on equal footing with God. The Church was the primary authority, even preventing the laity from reading Scripture. The Church forgave sin, determined merit, distributed merit, handed down salvation, and ultimately arbitrated everything having to do with Christian doctrine and practice. The Reformers, then, declared in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church that God and God alone was due glory (Psa 115:1; 1 Cor 10:31; Isa 43:7). And, let's be honest. Amassing glory for ourselves is something we all do. Even in our salvation. "He did it for me!" We do, absolutely, reap the benefit, but the bottom-line truth is that He did it for His glory (Rom 11:36; Col 1:16) ... all of it.

The point of the Reformation was to re-form the Church back to what Christ had instituted and God had made. The "Five Solas" were shorthand for the specific abuses they saw being perpetrated on biblical Christianity in their day. In this, then, neither the men of the Reformation nor the "Five Solas" -- the language of the Reformation -- were the key issue. At issue was the Gospel, which is Christ Himself. Anything else, Paul says, is a distortion and not another Gospel (Gal 1:6-9). We have God as our sole authority in matters of faith and practice and He has given us His Word as His written source. We are saved by grace apart from merit through faith apart from works in Christ apart from any other mediator or method to the glory of God and no other. That's it ... the Gospel. When you hear of the celebration of the Reformation, keep that in mind. It is a celebration of the Gospel ... soli Deo Gloria.

Postscript
I filed this under the "Reformed Theology" label because, after all, it's about the theology of the Reformation. I would hope that all believers in biblical Christianity would find it to be biblical and agreeable unlike many other of the "Reformed Theology" topics. I don't think I wrote anything here that all non-Catholics would disagree with.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Problem of the Pledge

In America we all know the "Pledge of Allegiance". No problem. We got that. Did you know that the pledge was actually relatively new in this country?

The pledge was written in 1892 by a socialist minister, Francis Bellamy. The original version was a pledge of allegiance "to my Flag", not including "of the United States of America", which stood for "one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." In 1923 they altered "to my Flag" to read "to the Flag of the United States of America". In the 1950's we had the threat of the godless communists. President Eisenhower asked Congress to add "under God" to the pledge, and that is what we have today.

In 2002 the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals delcared the pledge unconstitutional. You can guess why. It's that pesky "under God" which, of course, is a reference to a religion. What religion? Well, decidedly not the atheist religion. That's about all we can be sure of. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ruling soon after that, not because they didn't think that it violated the First Amendment, but because the guy who brought the suit in defense of his daughter didn't have custody, so he didn't have the standing to bring the suit. A technicality. So it stands as it did from 1954 on.

There are problems, then, with this pledge. Not everyone is happy with it. Some don't like pledging at all. Senator McCain is opposed to nationalism, so this should be right out, right? Others obviously don't like that "under God" clause. Some are the anti-theists who say the government is forcing God on them, but others are Christians who say that every time an unbelieving child recites the pledge, he or she is taking God's name in vain. There are some today that want it changed to include women and LGBTQ concerns while some in the pro-life camp want it to read "and justice for all, born or unborn." I'm sure there are more.

I have my own list. First, what does it mean to have allegiance to a flag? I understand allegiance to a republic for which it stands, but where does allegiance to a flag take you? Is that concept why some are so worked up over football players kneeling? Then there's the concept of "one nation". Does this include, or does it not, the native-American nations? And is this nation really indivisible? I mean, the South tried it in the 19th century, and that might have looked like the answer, but more recently both Texas and California have made noises about seceding from the union. Then there's the whole "with liberty and justice for all." Seriously. Who believes this? Is this really what we think? Our liberties are often infringed. Without much disagreement I think I can safely say, for instance, that the Patriot Act infringes our liberty. Then there is the whole question of the free exercise of religion in a country that fines people who exercise it in the "wrong situations" ... like selling flowers or making cakes and the like. "No, no, you can certainly exercise your religious convictions ... as long as they don't interfere with our religious convictions that homosexuals have rights over yours." And is there anyone at all these days that believes that you can find "justice for all" in this country? I think "sometimes" is the best honest answer you can get.

That leaves just that one real stickler -- "under God". My problem, obviously, isn't the same as the anti-theists. My problem is in trying to grasp just what it means. If I say I'm "under a tree", what does that mean? It means that above my head there is a tree. And what does that tell you? Not much, except, perhaps, the spatial location of said tree. Is that what is meant by "under God"? He's "all around us"? Kind of pointless. On the other hand, if you said, "The Soviets were 'under Stalin'", that would have had a radically different meaning. In that case it would mean "under his thumb", "under his authority", "under his rule". But that can't be what the original framers of that phrase intended. America is not a theocracy. The Establishment clause of the First Amendment guaranteed that our country would not be ruled by a religion or its God. So they couldn't have been suggesting it is "under His rule." What then? I don't think they or we have a clear idea.

Truth is, of all that is said in that pledge, the part I know best to be true is that last part. Since God is Sovereign, then we are "under God" in the very sense that we are under God's rule, under God's eye, under God's final authority. But, look, who of the "many" (Matt 7:13-14) is going to want that hanging over them? I suppose that part has to go, even though, from my perspective, very little of it should truthfully remain. It won't matter to me if they acknowledge that we are "under God" or not.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Church is Boring

Have you ever heard that? I'd guess that if you have (or have had) teenage kids, you've heard it. If not, it's all around. It's often the reason for creating the "seeker sensitive" atmosphere that so many churches go for. It's generally the reason that they've dropped "those old boring hymns" and lept into a morning-rock-concert approach. (Seriously, one church I visited this past summer offered earplugs, warning that "the music may be a bit too loud for you." Isn't that a hint that there is something not quite right?) (Note: They were right; it was too loud.)

So, let's see if I have this straight. God is Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnipresent. He doesn't change, but remains constantly holy and righteous. He defines "Love" and "Good". He is gracious and merciful while also remaining just. God is Sovereign. Not just sovereign, but Sovereign, as in the only Sovereign (1 Tim 6:15). He is awesome (that kind that includes marvel and dread). He is the Maker of all things, from the sun and stars to the amazing scenery we experience all the way down the the single-celled organisms. God is eternal. That is, God is, always was, and always will be. He is self-existent (the uncaused cause), the very essence of all existence. He is steadfast, utterly faithful, cannot lie. He is all-sufficient. He is infinite. He is both immediately present and far transcendent above all that we are. In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). In Him all things hold together (Col 1:17). "From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever." (Rom 11:36)

If church is our opportunity to gather together to learn of Him and worship Him and celebrate Him and that is "boring" ... you're doing it wrong.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

News Weakly - 10/28/17

More Sad Boy Scout News
I'm sure you've seen the story. An 11-year-old Cub Scout asked his state senator, Vicki Marble, about gun control and was kicked out of the Cub Scouts. "The mother was told her son's question was disrespectful and too political." Now, to be clear, the Boy Scouts says that that he's not kicked out; he just needs to go to another scout group.

I think it's sad. It's sad that the public sees this as a free speech issue rather than a matter of disrespect. (If you see what he asked, it's a free speech issue. If you see how he asked, it's clearly a matter of disrespect.) I think it's sad that his parents have politicized him, but never taught him to respect the office. I think it's sad that this boy clearly represents the thinking of the day, that no office ought to be respected. And I think it's sad that this scout leader would think that the best way to help this kid who is not being taught respect is to kick him out ... rather than, you know, teach him to respect. So many sad things.

This is Just Strange
Normally the stuff I put in here is pointed, indicative of our times, that sort of thing. This one is just ... strange. If you haven't been paying much attention, you may not know who Michael Bay is. He's an American filmmaker known for big-budget, big screen stuff like five Transformers movies about giant robots that trash everything and always a pretty young thing who runs around useless but attractive. He is responsible for Bad Boys and its sequel, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor ... stuff like that. And if you don't have little kids, you may not be familiar with Dora. She is a cartoon character from the NickJr network in the children's educational genre. She's an 8-year-old Mexican girl with a purple monkey who goes on travels to teach kids things, but especially young girls that they can be anything they want. So what? Well, apparently Michael Bay is going to direct a live-action Dora the Explorer. I'm assuming complete with killer robots where Dora is scantily clad and an airhead in trouble? What's next? Quentin Tarantino directs a live action My Little Pony? Strange.

Delusions of Gender
You may not be able to wrap your mind around a Michael Bay Dora the Explorer movie, but that might be because our world is losing its collective mind. The UK is demanding that the UN change "pregnant woman" to "pregnant person" because, as everyone knows, it is not only women who can get pregnant; men can, too. Right? Right? So let's erase the word, "woman", from public life. Everyone is whatever they think they are ... as long as we say they are. (I mean, let's not get ridiculous. A white woman cannot become black or anything like that. We're not stupid, you know.)

Lesbian Privilege?
October 25th was Katy Perry's birthday. In celebration of her birthday, Ellen DeGeneres put out a tweet of DeGeneres ogling Katy's breasts. Now, DeGeneres identifies as no gender, but as a lesbian. If anyone else -- say, a Harvey Weinstein or a George H.W. Bush -- were to do that, the outrage would be instant and palpable. But I guess it's okay because it's Ellen, a lesbian, right?

Who's Crying Now?
So, it looks like the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC paid for the dossier of allegations around Trump and Russia. Indeed, according to the story, "None of the major facts revealed this week are being disputed." "Ummm, so?" That's what they're trying to say. Well, if it is no big deal, why didn't you say it was the case in the first place? Looks bad for the Hillary/DNC team.

The Irony is Strong with this one.
Meet Sophia. Sophia is not a female; she is a robot. And, appearing on stage at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, she was awarded citizenship in Saudi Arabia, a country known for sharia law (Sophia appeared without burka) and especially for not allowing women equal rights. "I am very honored and proud for this unique distinction," Sophia told the crowd, as if a robot can feel honored and proud. In a world that no longer knows basic concepts like what marriage is or what male and female is, I suppose this ironic new twist is "reasonable."

Pointed
Yeah, yeah, it's the Babylon Bee, but it's ... pointed. The headline reads, "Trump Supporter Outraged by Sexual Immorality of Hollywood." The same question I've wondered about from Christians who voted for Trump, but, hey, that's just me, right?

Friday, October 27, 2017

Why I am Not a Conservative

Let me be clear at the outset. I am not saying I would not be ranked among the "conservatives". Nor am I saying I am a "liberal". But just like I would argue that I am a Calvinist and I am not a Calvinist, I would like to explain what differentiates me from conservatives.

We live in a world divided largely by "the Left" and "the Right", "Liberal" or "Progressive" and "Conservative". This is largely in the political realm, but it also bleeds into lots of other areas. There are social liberals and social conservatives, usually in terms of "social justice" kinds of issues. There are religious liberals and religious conservatives, generally in doctrinal issues. But ... just what is "liberal" and "conservative"? I don't think we're really clear anymore.

Conservatives want to conserve the values we have. That's the general idea (despite the false propaganda from the "liberals" that conservatives just want to keep everything to themselves). But it's not quite accurate. Liberals/Progressives, on the other hand, want to move on. (No, they're not more generous.) "Onward and upward" kind of thinking. But that's not quite right, either. Ambrose Bierce described the two this way:
Conservative, n: A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal who wishes to replace them with others.
That's really what's at issue here. The concept of conservatism is to conserve things as they are, but conservatives don't actually do that. If you were to look at the views of conservatives today they would largely coincide with the liberals of yesterday. They have been described as the shadow of a man following him into his grave. The Left moves along at a pretty good clip and the Right follows behind, trying to "conserve", and doing it badly. I don't even want to be that kind of conservative.

I am a Christian. Genuine followers of Christ fall in an unusual category in "Left" and "Right", "Progressive" and "Conservative" terms. They fall in the "both/and" category. The things that God says should remain are things that we should work to conserve. The progress that God says we should seek are things to which we should progress. So believers should stand firm for traditional, biblical marriage (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:5-6; Eph 5:31-32), for instance, as staunch conservatives and should work against racism and sexism (Gen 1:26-27; Gen 9:6; Gal 3:28), as examples, as avid progressives. Move away from what is as it fails to align with what God wants and stay with what is as it aligns with what God wants. Both/and.

The Left constantly wants to move. They have vague motivation. "It will be better if ..." without actually having real knowledge of it will be better. "No-fault divorce is better than requiring a reason" turns out to be a lie. "Killing babies is a mother's right" is a lie from the pit of hell. On the other hand, when the Right refuses to budge on white supremacists or sexual harassment as if these are valid things to conserve, they demonstrate the same lack of direction. Believers should be pursuing the glory of God. Where that is currently the case, they should be conservative. Where it is not, they should be progressive. It defies the categories, just like Jesus did when He was on earth.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Cause and Effect

We live in a world of cause and effect. Every effect has its cause. We know this. The problem for us is that we can almost always more clearly see the effect more easily than the cause. In a obvious recent event, a lone gunman fired into a crowd of concert goers in Las Vegas. We see the effect; we still don't have a clue about the cause.

The problem for us, then, is that causes often elude us. Often it's because we simply don't look for them. Often it's because things are rarely simple. And, of course, there is the standard "human condition" in a world described by God as "blinded", "deceitful", and "desperately wicked" (2 Cor 4:4; Jer 17:9). We don't see causes because we're not looking.

Most of the time, then, we're looking at the effect rather than the cause. This becomes entirely problematic. We know about the issue of gun violence in our culture, but gun violence is an effect, not a cause. We share concerns about rampant divorce in our society, but divorce is a symptom, not the cause. We get that sexual immorality is being subverted to a sexual norm, but sexual immorality is a result, not a cause. We bemoan the fact that the courts have redefined marriage in our legal system today, but that redefinition is an effect, not a cause. It is scientifically irrefutable that human life begins at the embryo stage and abortion terminates a human life, but abortion is not the cause of the problem; it is the result.

So we run around trying to put out fires. We mobilize forces for gun control, create marriage workshops to teach people how to stay married, campaign against sexual immorality, argue the definition of marriage, and try to legislate abortion. We have to. These (and many, many more) are problems. But they are symptoms. And while we try to put out the flare ups, we seem to completely forget the causes. So we treat pneumonia with cough syrup and apply a band aid on a flesh-eating virus.

In a world that is sick, it is necessary that we treat symptoms. It is. But we should never lose sight of the disease -- the cause of the symptoms. Our world would love to convince us that the disease doesn't exist. "People are basically good. Get over your religious negativism." So they can go on treating symptoms without touching the disease. That disease? Sin. And if that is the disease, it's understandable why our world cannot treat it and won't even recognize it. But we have the treatment, the cure. So while we treat symptoms, let's be very careful to keep in the forefront of our thinking that we're treating people who need Jesus. Live that. It's more important than gun violence or poverty. It's eternal.