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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Common Thread

The New Testament ... the Bible, really ... is full of warnings about false prophets, false teachers, that sort of thing. They had them in the Old Testament. Witness the recurring warning about the error of Balaam (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 1:11; Rev 2:14). Elijah, the "outsider", faced the prophets of Baal, the "insiders" (1 Kings 18:20-40). In the New Testament several of the books such as Galatians and Colossians were written on the basis of false teachings. Others included hefty warnings, as in 2 Peter and Jude. Jesus Himself warned about them (Matt 7:15-23). John said they "went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us." (1 John 2:19) Thus, "from us" indicates that they are in our midst. The fact that we have false teachers today should come as no surprise.

In reading through some of this stuff lately, I came across an interesting thread of thought. See if you can find it ... you know ... if I lay it out for you.
"So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit." (Matt 7:17)

Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned. (2 Peter 2:2)

The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. (2 Peter 2:9-10)

These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. (2 Peter 2:17-19)

For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:4)
It's a sampling, but maybe you see it. (I hope so.) I see a running theme here. As in all unbelievers (Eph 4:17-19), the normal mode of operation is plain to see: they "have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity." And, as it turns out, this is the same modis operandi of the false teacher. They "follow their sensuality", "indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires", "entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality" while becoming "slaves of corruption", and "turn the grace of our God into licentiousness." Repeated also in there is "despise authority" including denying "our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" -- the Ultimate Authority. (See also Jude 1:8.) These are, of course, interlinked. The Authority says to avoid indulging the flesh and they say, "No!"

It's interesting, then, if you look around at the false teachers you may know. They seem to be exactly that -- immersed in sensuality. "It's okay to have sex with whoever you want; God loves love." "God wants you to be healthy and wealthy." "Forget about all those commandments; we're free! God wants you to be happy!" False teachers are precisely today what they have always been. They are bad trees bearing bad fruit. But because they are fruit trees and because they are offering exactly what people want to hear ("If it feels good, do it!"), they thrive.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2 Tim 4:3-4)
Today is that day.

Want to know if you're looking at a false teacher? Find out if he promotes sensuality. Is he (or she) urging you to pursue your desires, to indulge the flesh, to turn away from "the old ways" and stop being on "the wrong side of history"? Or is he asking you to "come out from among them and be separate" (2 Cor 6:17)? Is he asking you to enjoy your lust or escape it (2 Peter 1:4)? Jesus said, "You will know them by their fruits." (Matt 7:16) Go with Jesus on this one.

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Positive Impact

In the early days of the Church believers encountered horrible persecution. Prison, executions, and more. And, yet, they survived. How? By "going along to get along"? By surrendering biblical principles in order to "reach the lost"? No. They survived and even flourished by remaining true followers of Christ. They were despised for their exclusivism -- "Christ is the only way; we can't honor your deities". They were hated for being different -- for being chaste and generous, for being exclusive of other religions but inclusive of all people, for prizing justice and making peace. They were out of step with their culture by being in step with Christ -- on the "wrong side of history" -- and, as it turned out, they drew in new believers and shaped a kinder, gentler world.

The positive impact of the early Church was not as much their message as their lives. People, seeing their difference, were then drawn to their words. Turns out that the same works today. The hot, "new" church growth method turns out to be teaching conservative doctrine and urging biblical living. Turns out that people who live biblical Christianity have a positive impact on their world as opposed to people who set aside biblical Christianity in order to have a positive impact on their world. That is, while innovation in the world may be good, innovation in Christianity is not.

What makes a positive impact on the world, then? "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) There's one from the lips of Jesus. Here's another. "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matt 5:16) In Acts 2:42-47 the early church in Jerusalem is described. It begins with "continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship" and includes a lot of sharing with each other and time together and "gladness and sincerity of heart". The passage concludes with them "having favor with all the people, and the Lord was adding to their number daily who were being saved."

What does it take to have a positive impact in the world? It isn't a rejection of God's instructions in order to get along better. It isn't better programs. It isn't hot, new trends. It is simple obedience. It is simply living out the instructions God gives in His Word in our living and our interactions. Not compromise; following and reflecting the Savior.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

But God

Ephesians 2 begins with one of the bleakest descriptions of human beings that you'll find in Scripture.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
(Eph 2:1-3)
Dead in sins, walking according to the prince of the power of the air, by nature children of wrath, we naturally indulge the desires of the flesh and mind. Not much of a way to come back from that. I mean, you can't say, "Hey, dead guy, maybe you ought to reform your ways." It's not like you can walk to the graveyard and offer a rousing invitation to come out. It's not looking good for us.

That's why the next sentence is so stunning.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
(Eph 2:4-7)
"Human beings are in this horrible condition, but God ..." In contrast to Man, God, rich in mercy, on the basis of His great love, did the only thing that could be done, something that He alone could do. He "made us alive together with Christ." Wow! No invitation. No permission. No offering on our part. No 0.1%. Because of His rich mercy and great love.

Don't miss the point, though. Why did He do this marvelous thing? "So that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." By raising us in Christ, He demonstrates the surpassing riches of His unmerited favor by being kind to us. Saved by grace through faith and not of works (Eph 2:8-9), He saves us "for good works which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." (Eph 2:10) So ... let's do that. Let's walk in the good works He lays out for us. Let's be living demonstrations of His grace and mercy and love. Let's show off our amazing God.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

News Weakly - 1/28/2017

Not the Right Kind of Women
Yes, I know, this is last week's news, but ... I'm sure you've all heard about the women's marches held in protest to Trump's inauguration. Perhaps you didn't get the whole story. Apparently there are "women's rights" and there are "not women's rights", or something like it. A group of feminists were removed from sponsoring the Women's March last week because they were opposed to abortion rights. "The Women’s March platform is pro-choice," the official voice said. "Intersectional feminism1 does not include a pro-life agenda," a feminist author decreed. So diversity among women is not acceptable. "Sure, we're all equal as women, but some are more equal than others." I'm sure I heard that somewhere. I'm just surprised that no one seems to see the utter irony of women tossing out women in the name of women's rights or touting diversity and inclusiveness while excluding the diverse or protesting Trump's use of rude references to female body parts by using rude references to female body parts. Apparently a "woman's right to choose" means "the right to choose what we say."

George Orwell's classic, 1984, included the concept of "newspeak", a language manufactured by the totalitarian government of Oceania designed specifically to control language and limit freedom of thought. By redefining some words and eliminating others, they sought to limit self-expression, free will, and other concepts. So they urged things like "doublethink" to enable people to accept contradictory beliefs. They had "joycamp", the forced labor camp. They had the Ministry of Truth from which they dispensed the lies to control the people, the Ministry of Peace ("minipax") from which they waged perpetual war, the Ministry of Plenty ("miniplenty") where they kept the masses operating with scarce supplies, and the Ministry of Love ("miniluv") where they managed the secret police. Well, thanks to Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway's use of the term, "alternative facts" (which would mean to normal English speakers "lies"), Amazon is reporting that Orwell's book sales are climbing.

Odd that it takes a Kellyanne Conway comment to do it. We've been experiencing this for years, with terms like "tolerance" to describe "agree with us or suffer the consequences" and "judgmental" meaning "You're immoral and evil for saying that I'm doing anything wrong." "Marriage" doesn't mean that anymore, "gender" means nothing anymore while it is one of the hottest fights these days, and people love to fight about the word "love". We have been living in Orwellian times for many years now, but "alternative facts" is what it takes to get anyone to notice ... and I doubt they'll notice now.

The New Racism
The first paragraph of the story reads, "Taraneh Alidoosti - the Iranian star of Oscar-nominated film The Salesman has vowed to boycott the upcoming Oscars in protest at President Donald Trump's 'racist' ban on Muslim immigrants." Bad punctuation aside, I'm surprised to learn that "Muslim" is now a race. This ought to come as a shock to all the white, black, and other Muslims. Even Islam appears to disagree. But, hey, in today's Orwellian world, what should we expect?

What's in a Word?
Hawaiian politicians have come up with a wonderful scheme to solve a serious problem. Well, okay, it's not a new scheme; it's an ongoing one. Just a new application. So, here's the thinking. Homelessness is a problem. (A big problem in Hawaii, apparently.) A lot of homeless people suffer from a lot of medical problems. What to do? Well, it's simple. Just classify homelessness as a medical condition. Poof! All fixed. This way a medical doctor can provide a medical prescription for the solution -- housing. "Here, Mr. Jones. Take this prescription to your nearest pharmacy and they'll see to it that your medical insurance or Medicaid will provide you with a small apartment. Take with water. You're welcome."

Well, yeah, I suppose it makes sense. "Because I feel like it" is the reason that a male can be a female or whatever combination of male/female one might determine. "Because we think it's so" is the reason that "Muslim" can be classified as a race. Why not fix this problem by changing the classification? Easy! Take that you Social Justice Warriors!

More Abortion News
In Washington D.C., a crowd much bigger than anticipated showed up for a "March for Life" rally yesterday. Vice President Mike Pence promised to work at defunding Planned Parenthood. He told them, "As it is written, let your gentleness be evident to all. Let this movement be known for love, not anger. Let this be known for compassion, not confrontation. There is nothing stronger than gentleness. I believe we will continue to win the hearts and minds of a rising generation." Subversive thinking, I know, but what can you expect from a Christian? The media hated it. (Since when did "not Planned Parenthood" become "controversial"?) Oddly enough there was no violence like they had in last week's Women's March. Wonder why?

Equally interesting, a poll revealed that 100% of the women at the Women's March last week were not aborted. Go figure. At least, that's what the Internet says.

1"Intersectional feminism" is "a decades-old term many feminists use to explain how the feminist movement can be more diverse and inclusive." Ummm, yeah ... okay. Except it includes no one who is the wrong kind of diverse. How anyone with any sense can say that? "One way we are diverse and inclusive as feminists is by, as a matter of principle, excluding those who differ from us on the subject of abortion."

Friday, January 27, 2017

Kindness and Repentance

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Rom 2:4)
I'm sure you've seen that one before. Indeed, we really like that one. "It's His kindness that leads us to repentance." Meaning, "Not His wrath or His judgment or all those crazy threats about Hell. No, we are drawn to Christ by His kindness and not 'scared to Him' by fear." Or is that what it means?

Jesus was not shy about warnings. In Luke 13 some people asked Jesus about the murder and desecration that occurred when Pilate killed some Galileans and mingled their blood with their sacrifices. Jesus's response seems harsh.
"Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:2-5)
Harsh, perhaps, but not ambiguous. It was essentially "Repent or die!" In fact, Jesus spoke often of the specter of Hell and warned people to repent to avoid it. Repentance was His original message (Matt 4:17) and "The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many" (Matt 7:13) His early threat. Clearly, then, Jesus was not one to argue that we are led to repentance solely by means of God being kind to us.

What then does it mean?

The context sheds light on the question.
We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man -- you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself -- that you will escape the judgment of God? (Rom 2:2-3)
The context is warning about sin and its certain judgment. The context, then, is that all are sinners and that judgment cries out against us. So when we come to verse 4, Paul asks, "Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience?" And to that I would argue that, from the perspective of a large number of people, Christians and not, this is indeed the prevalent condition today. We think that God owes us forgiveness. At least we think that He owes us the chance to be forgiven. God sent His Son to die for us because we're just so valuable, so important to Him. Ironically, He did no such thing for the angels that fell. Isn't that odd?

The truth is that God is under no obligation to save one person on the planet. It isn't required. On the other hand, justice demands payment in full. If you were to die today and find yourself at the gate of Heaven being asked, "Why should I let you into My Heaven?" the only proper answer is nothing. There is no demand that He do so. It is, then, only on the basis of the kindness of God that we are allowed to repent. It is pure kindness on His part that gives us any option of anything other than the righteous judgment we richly deserve. This is the meaning of the phrase, "the kindness of God leads you to repentance." God leads you to repentance purely on the basis of His kindness, not justice or obligation.

There is another aspect that we miss here and an important one. What else does the phrase tell us besides the fact that we are given repentance purely on the basis that God is kind? Paul said that His kindness "leads you to repentance". On one hand, it is specific -- "leads you" -- rather than general. It isn't repentance generously sprinkled or tossed about. It is specifically "you" -- those to whom this is given. On the other hand, it isn't a mere offer, a mere "allowing to repent". It is actual direction. It says He "leads you." We aren't wooed or enticed. He didn't put up posters with invitations or offer salvation if you come down the aisle. He leads to repentance those to whom He shows this kindness. It is active, not passive.

I don't know about you, but when the import of this hits me, I am stunned -- in amazement. I deserve punishment, the wages that I've so richly earned. There is no reason to expect or hope for anything else. Justice demands it. And then this light dawns. God, out of sheer kindness, reaches down and leads me to repentance, a gift granted (2 Tim 2:25). Not by anything that I have done. Not because I'm valuable or lovable or worth something more than others. Nor because I've figured it out, seen the light, come to my senses. Merely because of His kindness and His purpose (Rom 9:11). Why should He let me into His heaven? There is no reason that He should, so it is all the more astounding that He does so on the basis of the shed blood of His Son applied to the sin of those whom He kindly leads to repentance. As the song says, "Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all."

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Life! What a Conception!

This week was the anniversary of the Roe v Wade ruling, so abortion was a popular topic. The Women's March was for it and opposed to women who were not. The claim was made that a president that favors murdering children in the womb is not morally fit for leadership. Lots on both sides has been out there over the last few weeks.

The question of Roe v Wade was not a question of rights of the unborn. The question that was ultimately put to the court was whether or not the unborn child was a person. It was a question of personhood. The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was a product of the Civil War and was intended to protect the rights of freed slaves by first recognizing their personhood and then declaring that persons had rights. The point was to provide "equal protection under the law" for all persons. In order to legalize murdering babies in the womb, then, it would be necessary to first remove them from the category of "persons". If they are not persons, they have no equal protection under the law. Since the 14th Amendment does not define "personhood", but mentions "persons born or naturalized in the United States", it was a simple step to demonstrate that ... they weren't born and, therefore, were not persons granted equal protection under the law. At this point, then, they argued simply for the right to privacy (which isn't actually spelled out in the Constitution or its amendments) and the court caved.

"Houston, we have a problem."

At this point we run into real difficulties. It is pure, simple, scientific fact that the life of a new human being begins at conception. Yes, scientific fact. Science demonstrates that life is a continual process that begins at fertilization and ends at death. Conception, then, is the first phase of human life. A zygote is not potentially a human being; it is a human being with potential. It cannot be anything but a human being. It is equally a logical fact. If we agree that a senior citizen is a human being, we must also agree that a middle-aged person is a human being. If that, then a young adult is an earlier stage of human being. A teenager (while some might disgree) is just as human as an adult. A toddler is no less human for his or her toddling. An infant is surely human. So why would anyone logically conclude that this logical sequence begins at the birth canal? Clearly "fetushood" is simply a prior stage of that same human life.

Thus far we have argued without religion. It isn't a "matter of faith". It is a matter of science and clear logic. The next step may be less clear. I would assume that, speaking morally, all humans would agree that a basic moral premise is that the stronger human beings ought to protect the weaker human beings. You may see that as a matter of "faith". Given that we've moved away from that idea in our society today -- as demonstrated in everything from the everyday, highly prevalent drivers who seem to think that they own the highway all the way to the legal murder of a million unborn babies a year -- it might be a matter of faith. What was once plain morality for all to see is no longer so. Everyone used to know that it is wrong to torture and kill babies. No more. But I don't think it's a stretch to say that morality generally favors the strong protecting the weak. As such, there is none weaker as the unborn human being. Morality, then, would demand that the stronger -- those humans who have been born -- protect the unborn.

A Crisis of Morality

Is it, then, this final component that has resulted in more than 60 million murders of the most vulnerable Americans due simply to moral failure? Science isn't unclear. Logic is unavoidable. Religion isn't wishy-washy. The only thing I can see that has legalized and encouraged this kind of bloodbath is the new moral standard that demands, above all else, "I should be able to do what I want." It doesn't matter if "what I want" makes sense scientifically, logically, or in any other moral sense. This one moral standard supercedes all others. It isn't solid, however. It's certainly clear that most believe "I should be able to do what I want," but the next step is "You should not be allowed to think negatively about what I want to do." So France outlawed a video intended to tell mothers that Down's Syndrome children could live happy, fulfilling lives simply because it might hurt the consciences of women who had aborted their babies for that reason. So medical professionals with personal faith that won't let them assist in the killing of babies are coerced by law to do so or give up their careers. Those are just a couple of abortion-related examples. I'm sure you can see the parallels in other areas like bakers and florists and anyone in America who dares to say that a particular, popularized behavior is sin and those who do it need Jesus is classified and castigated as a "hater". Because the singular moral code these days is "I should be able to do what I want, and you are free to do what you want ... as long as it's not to disagree with me."

Where do we go from here?

Well, surely the logical outcome of this kind of morality is obvious. It is an descending loop that, if carried to its obvious conclusion, will result in anarchy. It will result in "every man doing what is right in his own eyes" which can only end in disaster. And it wouldn't stop at murdering babies in the womb. Some have already argued that "post partum abortion" (my term) makes sense. Bioethcist Peter Singer considers it "speciesist" to protect human life, even after birth, while killing other species. And, look, if there is no God, if humans are not in the image of God, if we're all just a product of Evolution as in the popular view today, then it becomes impossible to defend any moral position beyond "It's right or wrong for me" and any argument that defends human life at all. I'm not at all sure that's a world in which you and I want to live. I note, however, that, considering, as examples, murder rates in Chicago and bombings in the Middle East and elsewhere, there are many who already do.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

At Any Cost

All of life is a trade-off, a balance sheet. We look at the bananas and wonder, "Are they worth that price?" We weigh "having fun" and "doing school work" and decide which is worth more. We decide if it's more important to us to sleep or stay up and watch that show we like. Trade-offs. Eventually there is this pyramid thing where this is more valuable than that and these are more valuable than this until we get to "This ... this is the singularly most valuable thing of all." Oh, sure, that may change over time (measured in years or microseconds) or circumstances and the like, but there is something at the top.

What is at the top of your pyramid?

Paul wrote that Christ is "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named." (Eph 1:21) God has put "all things in subjection under His feet." (Eph 1:22) Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other." (Matt 6:24) He said, "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?" (Luke 14:26-28)

"Calculate the cost." There it is, the trade-off, the balance sheet. What is the cost of following Christ? Everything. Every last things you have. Your family, your very life. Oh, but the treasures you get in return!

What is at the top of your pyramid? Do you follow Christ while it's comfortable and convenient but draw the line when friends, family, society or someone else pushes back? Do you submit to Him as long as you like what He says, but not when it's not so pleasant? Is obedience okay only as long as you approve? Count the cost. Will you serve Christ at any cost? Or will you not be His disciple? Those are the only two choices Jesus gave.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Truth about Evil

A syllogism is a common form of a logical argument. It takes two or more propositions (that are assumed to be true) and draws the required conclusion (which, if the propositions are true, is unavoidable). The classic syllogism is one like this:
All humans are mortal.
Socrates was human.
Therefore, Socrates was mortal.
Neat and clean. Consider, then, the standard syllogism that puts an end to God -- the problem of evil.
God is all-powerful, so He can prevent evil.
God is good, so He would want to prevent evil.
Evil exists.
Therefore, there is no God.
The problem with the syllogism is in the premises. Here is a restatement that might help clear that up:
God is Sovereign, Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Good.
There is evil in the world.
Therefore, God allows it (Sovereign, Omnipotent) for His reasons (Omniscient) for good (Good).
Now, I know, that sounds a bit odd and perhaps offensive to some Christians. Is there any biblical reason why we might think it was true? Sure! Consider Joseph's words to his brothers.
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Gen 50:20)
In this statement we see a couple of key components of the thought:
The truth: God meant it for good.
The truth: You meant it for evil.
Joseph's statement speaks of two opposing truths -- God's intention and Man's intention. In this bipolar truth, Man's evil is indeed evil and God's ability to use it for God condemns Man and glorifies God.

Another biblical example is in the story of Judas Iscariot. At the Last Supper, Jesus said, "For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" (Luke 22:22) Again, two opposing truths. On one hand the events leading to His death were "going as it has been determined." They were unfolding according to God's plan. Jesus would be betrayed as part of that predetermined plan. At the same time, "Woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" Judas was culpable for the sin of betraying Jesus even though the plan was for Judas to betray Him. (Note: Judas was prophesied. "Even My close friend in whom I trusted, Who ate My bread, Has lifted up his heel against Me." (Psa 41:9) "I said to them, 'If it is good in your sight, give me my wages; but if not, never mind!' So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages. Then the LORD said to me, 'Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.' So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the LORD." (Zech 11:12-13) If Judas had not betrayed Jesus, God would have been wrong.) (Note also that God relied on Judas's free will to accomplish His preordained plan.)

If it is true that God intends evil for good, the question needs to be asked, "What good?" What does the Bible offer to tell us what good might God produce from Man's evil? (Making stuff up won't help. We need to see what the Bible says.)

The Bible says that God's love for us is demonstrated by way of our sin. Paul wrote, "God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:8) That is, no "sinners", no demonstration of love. At least, not that demonstration. You see, loving the lovable is easy; loving sinners is not. That is a bigger love. This is what Jesus said. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) "God loved the world in this way." What way? By sending His Son to give eternal life to those who believe. Without sinners, that kind of love could not be demonstrated.

Another aspect is the contrast of good and bad, right and wrong, righteous and unrighteous. If everyone is righteous -- if there is no bad -- then the good becomes obscure. So Paul said, "If our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us?" (Rom 3:5) Our unrighteousness shows the righteousness of God.

There are several more absolutely essential elements of God's character that require evil to be present in order for us to see them. Paul conveniently lists a few in a couple of verses in Romans.
What if God, desiring to show His wrath and to make known His power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy, which He has prepared beforehand for glory. (Rom 9:22-23)
There are several traits there. We have God's wrath, God's power, and God's mercy. Go ahead and logically throw in God's grace and justice. None of these would be visible in the absence of evil. Many of God's attributes only show up when God allows for their contrasting conditions.

In other words, God can use human evil to exhibit His glory. He does this without causing or excusing our sin. And what He does with it is glorious.

I do like the rework of the "problem of evil" syllogism from Pyromaniacs:
God can do anything He wishes, so He could prevent evil if He wished.
God is good, so He will not allow evil to go unpunished or reign forever.
Evil exists, will be punished, and it both has been and will be dealt with permanently.
Therefore, repent and believe in the Lord Jesus, or be part of that evil that will be judged and dealt with.

Monday, January 23, 2017

On the President

John Piper speaks of President Trump as "unqualified". He declares him such on the basis of immorality. "Donald Trump’s immoral behavior in the past, and his ongoing unwillingness to renounce it as evil, show that he is morally unfit to lead our nation." It is only fair to point out that he says, "So was Hillary Clinton because she approves of killing unborn children." (For those of you who hold out hope that the rumors that Mr. Trump had become a Christian might be true, Trump says that he does not have to ask God for forgiveness. He doesn't have anything to apologize for.) The problem is not that Trump speaks his mind; the problem is the revelation of what is on his mind. And in the article Piper goes on to address why he thinks immorality disqualifies someone from leadership.

I do not offer John Piper's comments or articles to disagree with them. You can read what he wrote and decide for yourself. I offer them because we are facing a new American president. This guy is not a politician, a fact, I believe, that got him elected. I don't think most of those who voted for him did so because of his fine qualifications, his upright living, or his positions on essential issues. I think they did it because they were sick and tired of politicians ... and he is not a politician. Well, that and the large numbers of "Never Hillary" voters that would have voted for Donald Duck if he ran against her.

I offer Piper's article because I wish to remind Christians that Scripture is clear on the topic of government. "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment." (Rom 13:1-2) Thus, for good or for judgment (which is also good), God has appointed the authorities that currently exist in our nation. This is not an endorsement. It is a statement of fact. We are required to honor the office even if we do not respect the officer. To fail to do so is to oppose not the government, but God.

I offer Piper's article because I want to urge Christians to remember what we are commanded:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:1-4)
Without embracing Trump's sin or his policies or even his successes, I urge Christians to pray. Pray for all people. Pray especially for those who govern. Pray particularly for our new president. Pray that he is granted repentance (2 Tim 2:25). Pray that God works so "that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way." Pray that God will be glorified in what He does in this presidency. And pray for us, that we may not grow weary in doing good (Gal 6:9: 2 Thess 3:13).

Some are tempted to exult that "Hillary got hers." Probably not a good Christian response. Others are pleased to applaud that we have a businessman rather than a politician in office. The psalmist says, "It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes." (Psa 118:9) Another group leans toward the terrified side -- "Disaster is upon us!" They think Trump is the worst thing that ever happened to this country. And if you're of the opinion that God has ceded His authority to Man's Free Will, you may well have reason to be worried. Believing, as I do, that the Bible is absolutely clear that God is indeed Sovereign, I would simply like to urge all of us to "be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" (Phil 4:6), to "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving." (Col 4:2) Prayer and thanksgiving and trust in God -- these are the things called for in our times ... in all times.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A New Attitude

You know, I'm sure, that the Bible is in favor of prayer, right? Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow who hounded a judge for justice until he gave her what she asked for (Luke 18:1-18). Why? "He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart." (Luke 18:1) Paul told the Thessalonians to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17). The Bible is full of prayers and admonitions to pray.

In Colossians we read,
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving. (Col 4:2)
Philippians says something very similar.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7)
Both include two components. Yes, pray, by all means. In one it is "Devote yourselves to prayer" and in the other prayer is "in everything". Now, I don't know about you, but I don't really do that well. No, that's not accurate. Truthfully, none of us do that well. Not "in everything"; not "without ceasing".

But there is a second common component in those two verses. Did you see it? It was "thanksgiving". In the first, while devoting yourself to prayer, keep alert in prayer with an attitude of thanksgiving. In the other, prayers and supplications are immersed in thanksgiving, the result of which is sanity found in the peace of God.

If we're not very good at consistent, constant prayer, I suspect we're even worse at thanksgiving. Imagine it. He says to be devoted to prayer with an attitude of thanksgiving. The image is a believer going wherever he or she may be going with a constant, "Oh, there's something I can be thankful for! Oh, there's another!" Think about it! What kind of people would we be if our entire attitude was one of gratitude? How would that change our interactions, our choices, our desires, our prayers?

Brothers and sisters, let me urge you as I urge myself: Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving. It's not my idea, but it is my aim.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

News Weakly - 1/21/2017

Gotta Love It
According to this article at The Christian Post, "Thousands of Muslims are turning to Jesus Christ and what they view as the 'religion of freedom.'" Apparently the "religion of peace" that in many quarters is engaging in heavy bloodshed has pushed Muslims to look elsewhere. They are hearing about Christ over radio broadcasts in the Muslim Middle East. Despite the persecution in these areas, they keep coming. In Iran, for instance, from 500 Christians in 1979, they estimate 360,000 believers today. I am reminded of Joseph's words to his brothers. "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." (Gen 50:20) Nice to know God is alive and well in an anti-Christ world.

Dangerous Christians
Pastor Tim Keller did an interview with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof just before Christmas last year. Kristof said he wasn't keen on ridiculous things like the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection, but liked Christianity in general. Keller assured him that you can't remove these from Christianity "without destabilizing the whole. A religion can't be whatever we desire it to be."

As it turns out, Keller has upset the Christian world. Church leaders took offense at Keller's declaration and at the New York Times for allowing him to represent Christianity on the subject. A religion professor from Hofstra University labeled him as "dangerous" for declaring that the Resurrection is essential to salvation. The Christian Post published a rebuttal from Peter Enns (an op-ed contributor to the Christian Post).

In my opinion, all true Christians should stand firmly on the Word of God like this. Are you that "dangerous"?

Didn't See That Coming
In Idaho Senator Dan Foreman ran for office promising among other things to introduce a law that would call abortion murder. He got elected. And he's doing it. The law would charge mothers and abortion doctors with murder except when the mother's life is in danger. Wow! A politician that promises something like that, gets elected, and is actually carrying through on it? Didn't see that coming.

(By the way, the federal government defined killing the unborn as murder back in 2004 with the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004 -- the Laci and Conner's Law. They then made an exception for murdering the unborn by abortion. Irrational, sure, but, hey, it's the government!)

The Irony is Deep with This One
We all know the uproar that was caused when WikiLeaks released its story telling the world about secret DNC emails documenting their dirty dealings during the campaign this last year. Bad stuff, really bad stuff. Both the stuff they did and the fact that it was hacked and leaked. But no one is denying that it's true; they're simply mad that secret information was leaked. They're so mad that Rep John Lewis (D-GA) called Trump's presidency "illegitimate".

So isn't it ironic that the Democratic president as one of his final acts in office commutes the sentence of Bradley Manning (you can call him Chelsea if you want, but I will not call him "her") for precisely this offense -- leaking classified information to WikiLeaks? Charged with aiding the enemy which could have resulted in the death penalty, Manning was sentenced to 35 years for 22 charges. He then declared himself a "she" and demanded and was granted that the military provide him with gender transition surgery. (His military records still classify him as male.) The president has cut 28 years from his sentence. He will be released in May, 2017. (Does this mean the government will not pay for his surgery?)

The irony is deep with this one. When an enemy of the Democrats releases private emails that paint the Democrats in a bad light, the outrage is vast and heads will roll; the very presidency itself is disparaged. When an enemy of the state leaks classified information that aids the enemy, the penalty is too harsh and the president lets him off.

Side question: Julian Assange promised to allow his extradition to the U.S. if the president granted Manning clemency. Obama did; will Assange? Maybe so.

Good News/Bad News
Is this good news or bad news? Clearly we are happy that reports are out that the abortion rate "has hit its lowest point since the procedure became legal nationwide in 1973." The news item says, "The researchers estimated that there were 926,200 abortions in 2014, or 14.6 abortions for every 1,000 women of reproductive age. That was down 14% from three years earlier." That's a good thing that it's down. But 926,200 children were murdered in 2014. That's not good. And a good portion of the decline, according to the story, is due to better use of abortifacients thanks to the 2010 Affordable Care Act. That's not good.

"Safe, legal, and rare" -- that's what they want. It is legal but it's really hard to classify the murder of nearly a million babies as "rare" ... and that's just the ones we know about. We are a long way from valuing human life.

And in other news, that dirty, rotten WalMart is adding 10,000 jobs this year. Oh, wait ... is that bad or good?

Guns and Grizzlies
Betsy DeVos, currently under the gun as Trump's possible education secretary, was asked if she supported guns in school. She thought it should be left up to local governments. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy was shocked. "You can't say definitively today that guns shouldn't be in schools?" Because in his mind and in the mind of every other outraged citizen like him, it is unconscionable that anyone might think that there could be a safety reason for that kind of tool of defense in a school. She referenced a story from a school in rural Wyoming where bear fences were installed to protect kids from bear attacks and pointed to that as one possible scenario in which a gun in a school might be helpful.

The takeaway? Betsy DeVos is afraid of grizzly bears. Now, come on, media hypes! Are you actually paying attention? As of 2013 18 states allowed teachers to carry guns in schools. The thinking (and, yes, it is thinking) is that if an armed criminal comes into a school to harm the kids or faculty, someone ought to be able to defend them with more than just being shot. Like Assistant Principal Joel Myrick did in Mississippi in 1997 and a school security officer did in Littleton, Colorado ... and several others did. Right or wrong, DeVos offered a possible scenario where a gun in a school might be required for safety and the response of the media is to laugh (called the "ad hominem fallacy"). Dirty rotten Republican, wanting to give greater authority to local government. And ... and ... she promotes traditional family values??!! Who does she think she is, anyway? We're the new America where valuing family and protecting children is bad and where demagogues rule by manipulating with emotion without reference to fact.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Two Kinds of Faith

We know without doubt that salvation is a gift from God given on the basis of grace through faith and not works (Eph 2:8-9). Scripture is quite clear that we are justified by faith apart from works (Rom 3:28; Gal 2:16; Rom 3:20). It is, in fact, one of the largest distinctives of Christianity. Every other religion operates on a works basis -- be good and you get rewarded with a good hereafter. Christianity alone starts with the premise "There is none righteous; no, not one." (Rom 3:10)

So ours is a faith-based religion; the question is one of faith alone. "Do you have faith in Christ?" is the sole question to ask. And if the person responds, "Yes," well, then, you had better not question their status. Because ours is a faith-based religion, not works.

As it turns out, however, the Bible teaches something different. Mere faith is not what it takes to be saved. There are, as it turns out, two kinds of faith.

You can see the two in Jesus's parable of the sower (Matt 13:3-9) and, of course, His explanation of it (Matt 13:18-23). In this story there are four types of "ground". The first is hard and the seed doesn't penetrate. The second is rocky and the seed grows but dies immediately. The third is thorny and the seed grows but is choked out by weeds. The fourth is "good soil" where the seed grows and produces grain. In Jesus's explanation, the first kind never penetrates and the last kind is genuine saving faith, but the other two are not. It must be noted, however, that these do have some sort of faith. The "rocky ground" "receives it with joy". That's a kind of faith. And the thorny ground also shoots up growth, but is choked out. This, too, is some kind of faith. Neither of these, however, is a kind of faith that saves.

Of course, James is less ambiguous. "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?" (James 2:14) We would call that "profession, not possession of faith", but James refers to it as "faith". He says that faith that produces no works is "dead" (James 2:17). James argues that verbal faith is one thing and a faith that produces works is another (James 2:18). There is, then, a living, saving faith and a dead faith. Dead faith does not save.

We see the same thing in Jesus's story of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31-46). We know that the sheep entered eternal life and the goats went to eternal punishment (Matt 25:46). What was the difference? Wait! Don't jump to conclusions. The difference was that sheep are sheep and goats are goats. The difference is what they were. However, this difference was highlighted by ... what they did. That is, sheep act one way and goats act another even if they might appear similar. As Jesus put it, "You will recognize them by their fruits." (Matt 7:16)

The Bible is full of the declaration that we are saved by faith apart from works. This cannot be doubted. The Bible is just as clear, however, that living, saving faith produces works. We are saved by faith apart from works, but not a faith that does not produce works. The faith that saves certainly produces obedience -- what Paul terms "the obedience of faith" (Rom 1:5; Rom 16:26). John says that it is impossible for a person genuinely born of God to make a practice of sin (1 John 3:9). So, yes, we are saved not by works, but by faith. Don't be confused, however. A faith that produces no works is a dead faith and cannot save. Paul says, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?" (2 Cor 13:5) "Christ in you" cannot fail to produce a changed life. Don't be deceived into dead faith.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Sacred and the Secular

We live in a world of sharp distinctions. Very few are concerned about you and your private religion. They are concerned about what you do in public. The vast majority of folk draw a clear line between the sacred and the secular ... even Christians.

What we do in church is sacred; what we do at work is secular. Reading our Bibles is sacred; reading the latest news is secular. Listening to Christian music or Christian preachers is sacred; listening to the latest pop singer is secular. It isn't a matter of debate. Instead, it's a matter of principle. While we've swallowed wholesale "the separation of Church and State", we've also embraced the separation of religion and everyday living.

It's in this dichotomy that self-professed Christians find themselves able to defend abortion or indulge in sexual sin or the like while going to church on Sunday all smiles and piety. We can be holy at church. That's sacred. Secular is something else.

As would be expected, however, while the distinction appears to be quite sharp, it turns out that one must necessarily invade the other. So while "church is sacred" and "the rest of life is secular" works for awhile, what happens when the sacred attempts to encroach on the secular? What happens when the preacher, for instance, says that homosexual behavior is a sin? Oh, now we've gone too far. What has church to do with homosexual behavior?

When the sacred collides with the secular, a winner must be declared. When Scripture speaks of "But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Cor 11:3) or "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord" (Eph 5:22) and the secular demands full equality (by which they mean "the same"), the Christian must decide "Do I go with the sacred or the secular? Do I side with Scripture or with my culture?" And, of course, generally speaking the secular will win out. "The Bible can't mean that because our society tells us otherwise."

I would argue, however, that this is a false dichotomy. I would suggest that we Christians have bought a lie. While our culture tells us to keep our religion out of the public square, our God tells us, "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31) We tend to focus on the spiritual as if that's "something else", Paul tells us "Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." (Col 3:17) Biblically, "business" and "church" are both in the realm of "sacred".

According to Scripture, Christ is Lord over all (Acts 10:36; Rom 10:12). All things are for Him (Rom 11:36). There is no such thing as "sacred versus secular" in God's view. We don't get to make that distinction. That means that every secular thing we do is sacred; we do it with His guidance by His power for His glory. From preaching the Word to tying your shoe, we are to do all things for Him. There is no "secular" for the Christian. Only that which we do for the Lord and ... sin.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Under the Amazons

The tale is told of a race of women warriors known as Amazons. One of these queens participated in the Trojan War. Hercules did some work for Hippolyta. These Amazons ruled over men. Well, the legend goes that they did not allow men in their kingdom, but would occasionally venture forth to mate for the purpose of perpetuating their race. They were known for their hunting and their art of war. The Iliad referred to them as "those who fight like men".

The Amazons were a myth, of course, but I'm convinced they live today. Somewhat diluted, often in disguise, perhaps not your typical Wonder Woman type, but still around. Where? I'd say, to some degree, just about every woman you might encounter. Oh, sure, not every woman. There are still some feminine women out there. But the moment I say, "There are still some feminine women out there", you can be sure the Amazons surface. "How dare you?" "What do you mean, 'some'?" "Male chauvinist!" And it's not just the radical feminists; you'll also hear it from some of your leading church ladies.

Going up against women these days is indeed a herculean feat. You'd think that the worst thing that happened to the planet was the male of the human species. But try reading 1 Cor 14:34 or 1 Cor 11:3 or 1 Tim 2:12 or Eph 5:22 (I'm giving references because it feels like it's not always safe to put the actual words out there to be seen) and you'll see what I mean. "Them's fightin' words." I remember teaching a Bible study years ago where I intended to admonish the husbands in the group to be diligent to know the Word because the Bible said that wives should ask their husbands. We didn't get there. The admonition for them to "ask their husbands at home" was preceded by an opening phrase, "The women should keep silent in the churches" (1 Cor 14:34-35) and the outrage was launched.

Nowadays we men need to be careful. Comment on the morality of killing the unborn? Don't you dare! Note that the Bible is full of patriarchy? Hope you're wearing a bulletproof vest. Here, consider this general truth. In most churches on Mothers Day sermons are preached praising mothers. In most churches on Fathers Day, the sermon is about how men need to improve. A bit unbalanced, isn't it? We've been overrun, you see, by the Amazons, warrior women who want what men have and don't want men to have it. Maybe it's power. Maybe it's worth. Maybe it's leadership at church. And when they demean men and elevate women above them, it isn't sexism. It's only sexism when men speak up about it.

I get it. Feminism is so much a part of our society these days that any hint to the contrary is considered bizarre. Meanwhile, men are supposed to "get in touch with their feminine side". (Why is it that we never hear that women should "get in touch with their masculine side"?) And just writing this will likely upset some people because I'm clearly a sexist. I mean, I'm not, but that's the only conclusion. The really sad part that it will come from Christians, too. Because we really are under the Amazons now. They used to lead behind the scenes. Now they're out in the open and bold. I wonder where Salman Rushdie is hiding out these days ...

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

"What's My Motivation?"

Have you ever heard an actor ask that? "What's my motivation?" They're trying to figure out why their character acts a certain way. It's an acting technique. In life, unfortunately, it's a question we often don't ask.

We have a problem. We are humans. See? Okay, I'll explain.

Humans are born sinners (Psa 51:5; Eph 2:1-3; Rom 5:12; Psa 58:3; Gen 6:5; Gen 8:21). We are "by nature children of wrath" (Eph 2:3). We have wicked, deceitful hearts (Jer 17:9). We are in bad shape from the start. So then people come along and tell us, "You need to be good." Our parents say, "Behave" and our teachers say, "Behave" and our government says, "Behave" and our pastors say, "Behave" and so we try. The problem, of course, is that this goes against our nature. The problem is not behavior; the problem is internal.

Well, we try to overcome this internal problem by providing motivation to be something else. We might point out that there are rewards if you behave and there are consequences if you don't. Motivation. But it is motivation that appeals to that inner problem ... where I am the center of the universe. And when that consequence or reward changes -- "I got a better offer from sin" -- then so does the behavior. The problem, you see, is an inner problem, and schemes and plans and techniques and methods don't address the actual problem.

Time Magazine has put out a story about the problem of ineffectual fitness trackers. The problem isn't that they don't track properly. That's a different problem. The problem is that they don't improve fitness. Turns out that persuading people to exercise is hard and giving them an expensive fitness tracker to accomplish it doesn't work. They've even found that paying people to do it doesn't work. In one study, 90% of those tested stopped using the fitness tracker. There were no differences in health outcomes. In another study they saw that those who wore a fitness tracker lost less weight than those who did not. The problem? Motivation. Fitness trackers are measurement devices, but they are not motivators. If you are motivated, they might be helpful to assist you in doing what you're motivated to do by providing feedback. They don't do anything to get you to want to do what's right.

We know this is true from other things. Showing graphic images of aborted babies should have changed things, but we're still aborting babies. Cigarette manufacturers are forced to put graphic warnings on their product about all the horrible things that happen to people who smoke, but people still smoke. No one is unclear about the dangers of drinking and driving, but people still drink and drive. There are laws and warnings everywhere about texting and driving, but ... well, you get the idea. In the same way, a "read through the Bible" plan won't motivate you to read through the Bible. Tools can be useful, but they don't use themselves. Only people who are already motivated use them. And humans, as sinners, are often not motivated.

The problem, then, is not tools. You're not overweight because you don't have a Fitbit and you're not healthy because you do. It isn't better education or better training. It isn't better methods like more friendly church services, better music, or a hip youth leader. The problem is a heart problem and the solution is not better tools. The solution is a changed heart. That's Someone else's job (Ezek 36:26).

Monday, January 16, 2017

Love Fervently

We know we are supposed to love God and love our neighbors. We know we are even supposed to love our enemies. We know we are to love our spouses and our families. Lots of love going on here. So it is no surprise that we are not told merely to love but to "fervently love".
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:22-23)
That's interesting, isn't it? The command here is not to fervently love your wife or fervently love your neighbor. The command here is to fervently love the brethren. It is to be a sincere love, a love from the heart. In fact, it says that this is a primary function of believers. Peter says, "Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart ..." That "since" and "for" indicate reasons. On the basis of A, do B. What is A? You have in obedience to the truth purified your souls. Purified your souls for what? For a sincere love of the brethren. What is B? On the basis of A, fervently love one another from the heart. Cause and effect.

Christianity, especially in America, has succumbed to the "me" kind of thinking. You'll find all sorts of worship songs about "me" and what He has done for "me" and how much He loves "me". We are fond of saying, "He died for me." This isn't all false, but it becomes problematic when it makes "me" the center of this relationship. So Christianity has largely moved from "us" and "we" to "me" and in that move you'll hear a lot of "I don't need the church to worship Christ." You'll hear a lot of "I feel closer to God in a forest than in a church." And this is missing the point. Peter is saying that the reason we turned our lives over to Christ ("In obedience to the truth purified your souls") is to have a sincere love of the brethren. That ought to cause you to love them fervently. And you can't do that alone in the woods. It's not the point.

We were called to love one another -- believers. We were told it was the hallmark of believers (John 13:35). And still we buy that lie that the key relationship is between me and Christ and we don't need anyone else in this. The key relationship is with Christ, but that relationship demands that we love one another and we do so fervently from the heart. Try to do that without close relationships and constant interactions and involvement with other believers. That wouldn't make any sense.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Spectators, not Participants

"Church" has shifted its meaning. When we use the word we likely think of that building on the corner where Christians gather. If we're thinking, we might also think of the entire group of Christians down through the ages, the "Church" with a capital C. But what we've forgotten is the actual intent of the word translated "church" in our Bibles.

Jesus used the word first. "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." (Matt 16:18) That was it -- "My church". "My ἐκκλησία." "My ekklēsia." "Stan, we've told you this before. It's all Greek to us." Yes, indeed. The word referred to the "called out" ones. Oh, wait, hang on. Where's the building on the corner? Where's the monolith of historical Christendom? No, "church" was neither of those. "Church" refers to the corporate group known as "the elect", those specially called out by God to be His own.

When you see this, the contrast between gathering together of those who are Christ's for the purpose of loving relationship, fellowship, rebuke, exhortation, edification, worship, mutual support, bearing one another's burdens, stimulating one another to love and good deeds, and so on with today's version might be drastic. Today we are perfectly happy attending church. It isn't necessarily an immersion; it's just something we do. Go, sing some songs, hear a good sermon (hopefully), "get fed spiritually", maybe greet a few friends, and then go home. Not really the same thing, are they?

Take, for instance, music in church. Scripture records that on the night that Jesus was arrested, Scripture records, "After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives." (Matt 26:30) Traditionally drawn from the Psalms -- especially Psalms 113-118 -- the word refers generally to any song of worship. Paul and Silas sung hymns in prison (Acts 16:25). Paul included them as part of the standard worship gathering (1 Cor 14:26). There he said, "Let all things be done for edification." Paul commanded in both Ephesians and Colossians to speak to one another with hymns (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16).

Somehow, then, it all seems quite strange how we've become more and more spectators rather than participants in church -- the gathering of the elect. Somehow we've absorbed a different perspective on music -- the world's perspective. More and more churches are treating music as performance rather than participation. We specialize with bands and musicians and singers. We turn up the volume and turn down the lights like any good concert. We've bought the idea that innovation is good in itself, where newer is better -- out with the old; in with the new. Not because it is better, but because innovation is good. We make music about quality rather than content. In doing it, we introduce syncretism. Syncretism is the blending of practices. For example, when Roman Catholic missionaries arrived in the Caribbean, they found it easier to blend the religion of the islands with the religion of Catholicism than try to make them change. The result is Santeria, a mixture of Catholism and pantheistic spiritism. The same blending can be seen in churches when the world's "Let's use music to entertain and amuse" bleeds into the church music.

What we've forgotten is music as message. Paul says to "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God." (Col 3:16) Teach and admonish? With music? That's what Paul says. It is a different perspective than ours. We would need to change our outlook on music in church. We would need to select music for worshipers, not singers. We would need to emphasize the performers rather than the performance because the performers are the congregation, not the leaders. We would have to aim at teaching rather than performing. That would require minimizing performance in the front instead of the careful staging, lighting, and presentation so many go for today. We would need to have a focus on the congregation, engaging them rather than putting on a good show. We would aim for worship rather than "good sound" and "good feelings".

Does worship music matter? I think so. Is it important to sing together? Scripture says it is. There is a joy we share when we sing together. There is a shared sense of community when we sing together. There is the unexpected benefit of remembering Scripture when it is put to music better than when it is not. There are lots of benefits to congregational singing. The fact that it is declining in our day is not an improvement.

Church is the gathering of those called by God. It is for sharing our gifts, both natural and spiritual. It is for edification (Eph 4:12-16) and exhortation. It is for spurring one another to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24) and assisting each other to hold fast our confession (Heb 10:23). Church is the ultimate interactive event, both with God and with the saints. It is much, much bigger than that little building on the corner where we can go and get fed when we want. When that's what it is to us, we've purchased and extremely meager meal when a feast was available.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

News Weakly - 1/14/2017

Another word with definition problems: "hate". As Texas heads toward their own law requiring people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, the "hate" word is coming out again. That is, "If you are uncomfortable having your wives and daughters using a public bathroom in which apparent males can come and go at will claiming to feel like they're females, you are simply mean and hateful. Get over it. Doesn't happen!" Never mind that it does and has.

Hate is defined as "a feeling of intense or passionate dislike". If the "hate" in this instance is "I hate it when perverted males threaten women in their private spaces", I suppose it is "hate speech". It, however, is improperly translated as "I hate transsexuals who want to use the bathroom." The two are not necessarily connected. (I, for instance, have run into apparently biological females appearing as males using the men's restroom. Didn't disturb me much.)

It appears to be another case of "Princess Bride speak".

Hard to be a Christian
Open Doors has come out with the latest "The Top 50 Countries Where It’s Hardest to Be a Christian." As might be expected, they fall largely in the 10-40 window, that area primarily identified as most heavily Muslim and least accessible to the Gospel. It's not all Muslim, of course. Number one on the list is North Korea, a position they've held for 14 years. Close behind is Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Sudan. The rest of the top 10 are all Muslim with the exception of Eritrea, a small country in Africa claiming 50% Christian and 48% Muslim. India, predominantly Hindu, is #15. So it seems a bit odd to have nations like Mexico (83% Catholic) and Colombia (estimated at 90% "Christian") on the top 50 list. It is equally strange to see that China, having been in the top 10 over the last 25 years, ranked 39th this year. And, of course, things aren't getting better. The article says that 2016 was "the worst year yet".

Now, I agree that the Christians in these countries are facing phenomenal persecution and need our prayer and support. I understand that we here in America are not facing that kind of persecution. But I would be remiss if I did not point out that sometimes it's "hardest to be a Christian" where "Christian" is acceptable as long as it means "Don't actually go along with what God says" ... as it is in America today. Here we don't face much in the way of torture, imprisonment, or death, but if you're going to get along in this world, you had better not hold a biblical worldview. So many go along to get along, and that, too, makes it very hard to be a Christian. We ought to remain prayerful and vigilant.

The End of an Era?
There has been and continues to be concern that congregational singing is fading from church life. The influx of "new music" and incorporation of the world's principles of entertainment are contributing to a decline in choirs and even singing, where growing numbers of those who attend are opting out, consciously or unconsciously, of singing in church. Surely this is not a good thing (Col 3:16).

Media Forbid!
You thought Donald Trump was bad. Wait until you hear about his top choice for the Education Department. What's wrong with her you ask? Well, she only went 30 miles from home to go do college. Yeah, can you believe it? Worse, she's a Christian. Yeah! But wait! She's a Calvinist and she's "coming for you public schools." Thanks for the heads up, Newsweek!

It gets worse. During last year's campaign, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, spoke out against Donald Trump. Now NPR and the Wall Street Journal are working to bring him down. Moore said, "I witnessed a handful of Christian political operatives excusing immorality and confusing the definition of the gospel. I was pointed in my criticisms, and felt like I ought to have been." Scum. I suppose it's "Don't go talking against a candidate we hate; only we can do that." Media forbid!

I Saw it on the Internet
It had to happen. In today's "Age of Empathy" where truth is decided by "I feel", this hit the news. A guitar cable refused to be pressed into use because it self-identified as female rather than male. Of course, Rachel Brooks' story is equally plausible. She kept refreshing her Bible app on her phone to see when God would update His stance on homosexual sin since He clearly was on the wrong side of history on that topic.

These must be true; I saw it on the Internet.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Through Christ

For He [Christ] was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
(1 Peter 1:20-21)
What do we get from this? Well, we know that Christ was foreknown before creation. Therefore, He is an eternal being. We know that God raised Him from the dead and glorified Him. We know that His resurrection is the basis of your faith and hope being in God. But did you catch that little statement from Peter? He said that Christ appeared in these last times "for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God."

Now, our tendency, given our "me" society and our "me" natures, is to think something like, "Oh, really nice! He came for me." That is, our focus is there. If it is, we miss what he said. He said that we are believers in God through Christ. That is, we don't come to faith on our own. We don't come to believe in God and then He introduces us to His Son and we become Christians -- followers of Christ. We don't figure out that God is the best option and Christ is His Son. We become believers through Christ.

It's not like it's the only reference on this. After healing the man in Solomon's Portico, Peter told the crowd, "On the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all." (Acts 3:16) Same thing. "The faith which comes through Him ..." And isn't that what we find in Hebrews when we read that Jesus is "the author and finisher of our faith" (Heb 12:2)?

Peter, writing to those "who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father" (1 Peter 1:1-2), indicates that faith in God comes through Christ. This excludes those who have faith in God apart from Christ. The language speaks literally of believing into God. Not mental acquiescence. Not just admission of fact. It is a placing absolute trust into God that is required and this only happens through Christ. And Peter says that this fact demands a response (1 Peter 1:22).

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Free Thinking

I'm pretty sure you've heard the term: "free thinking". It is a term almost exclusively used by atheists. It is primarily defined as "a philosophical viewpoint which holds that positions regarding truth should be formed on the basis of logic, reason, and empiricism, rather than authority, tradition, or other dogmas." Odd, isn't it, that "free thinking" is defined by limiting how it is done? The first step is the rejection of certain aspects of life -- authority, tradition, or dogmas. The second step is the irrational claim that authority, tradition, or dogmas can have no basis in logic, reason, or empiricism which, at its core, is a logical fallacy known as the false dilemma. They pit one -- logic, reason, and empiricism -- against the other -- authority, tradition, and dogma -- as if it is "either/or", as if the two sets are mutually exclusive.

It appears that the aim of "free thinking" is to untether oneself from limitations. That seems to be okay, except when "limitations" include little things like "logic" or "reality". The world these days is indulging in this kind of "free thinking" in the realm of gender, for instance. "You simple people are limited by 'binary gender' -- by the tradition of 'male' and 'female' -- but we are not. We can be anything we want!" Except that science, empiricism, logic, reason, and experience all say otherwise. "Because I feel that way" may feel like a good reason to change genders, but it doesn't make a male body capable of bearing children or a female body capable of impregnating a female body. It doesn't change the bone structures or chromosomes. "I feel" doesn't make a male a female or vice versa any more than it makes a white woman black. It makes no sense. Still, "free thinking" allows for it because, well, it's free thinking.

To further add to the mystery of "free thinking", it appears that the loudest of atheist "free thinkers" do not want to allow you the same freedom if it contradicts their views. So the "Freedom From Religion Foundation" has asked the president-elect to keep God out of his inauguration over against the longstanding traditions to the contrary. Why? To spare the feelings of the 70 million irreligious Americans ... over against the feelings, I suppose of the feelings of the other 252 million who do care or who don't. They want to say that you're free to think your beliefs are true ... as long as you don't bring them out in public. This, of course, is an actual impossibility. Humans always act on what they truly think and believe, so it cannot be that believing in Christ would not affect how we speak or live.

I've seen this kind of thinking in many parents. "Don't limit the kid. Let him discover everything on his own." So they try not to "inflict" thought on him (or her). You know, "thought" like "There is a God" or "Running out in the street can get you run over" or "No, you cannot sit on a broom and fly like Harry Potter did." That's "free thinking", you see. Let them figure it out for themselves. Free thinkers work this way. "Don't bother me with your reality; I'll figure it out myself." Except that they typically go a step further and tell you, "Your reality is wrong! Learn to think my way."

So I'm baffled by this "free thinking" concept. I'm not confused by the idea of being free to think rationally and reasonably to your conclusions. I'm confused by the notion that limiting how you can think is "free thinking", that ruling out possibilities out of hand (like "God" or the like) can be defined as "free". I'm not at all clear how "There is no God because I've thought it through and come to that conclusion" is "free thinking" but "There is indeed a God because I've thought it through, examined all the evidence, and followed the logic" is not. Nor can I figure out why it is not possible for authority, tradition, and dogma steeped in logic, reason, and evidence cannot be of real value. Ultimately, of course, the moral question has to come into this. Who gets to decide that "logic, reason, and empiricism" is "good" and "authority, tradition, and dogma" is "bad"? And if God is out of the question, on what basis would anything be classified as "good" or "bad" in a manner that would affect more than the person making the evaluation? Makes no sense. But, I suppose, "free thinking" as it is commonly used isn't particularly concerned about making sense.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


We all know that the Bible commands, "Honor your father and your mother" (Exo 20:12). In fact, Paul points to this one in the New Testament to urge children to obey their parents (Eph 6:1-3), which would certainly indicate that this command is still in effect in the New Covenant. Of course, almost immediately the objections come out. "Well, sure, when you're a kid, but not after you grow up and leave the house!" Or, "Oh, yeah? What if they're lousy parents?" And so it goes.

The question is worth examining because, as it turns out, we're told to honor other people that aren't always so ... honorable. Take, for instance, the command in Peter's epistle to "Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor." (1 Peter 2:17) You have to ask, "Hey, wait! Everyone? And especially the 'emperor'?? I mean, what if the emperor is a devil?" Surely God wouldn't require a believer to honor, say, Hitler? Right? Well, remember, Peter was writing under the Roman Empire and the "emperor" that he was thinking about specifically when he wrote this was ... shall we say, not a good emperor. Remember, they date Peter's death as somewhere around 64 AD during Nero's reign. Talk about an evil emperor! When Peter told them to "Honor the emperor," he was clearly not saying "Honor good emperors (like Nero?) but don't bother honoring bad ones." So a good emperor or good parents or good people ("Honor everyone") are not in view here.

I would suggest, then, that we might need to revisit "honor". What does that mean? If it does not require people to be good in order to honor them, what does it mean?

The English word means "to regard with respect". Honoring an obligation, then, would be to respect it sufficiently to fulfill it. But in terms of human interaction, it means simply to show respect. Interestingly, this is not the meaning of the original Greek word. At least, not in its literal sense. The word used both by Peter and Paul is τιμάω -- timaō -- which is a reference to value. It means to fix value on, to prize. That is respect, sure, but it isn't mere "admiration" as we use "respect" these days. It is assigning value. Note that the value is assigned. It isn't necessarily intrinsic. Thus, biblical "honor" is ascribing to something a valuation. It is to prize something. Or rather, in the cases we're looking at, to prize someone.

Now, let's not get confused. First, "honor" may be or may not be the same as "obey". It may not require agreement. It may not include enabling. Let's consider a less volatile example than Hitler or that drunk father. Let's say that you have a pet that you value. That pet gets sick. That pet hates going to the vet. So, out of consideration, valuation, honor, you do not take that pet to the vet, right? Because, after all, she hates going to the vet. No! If you value your pet, you will violate her wishes and take her to where the best care can be given. You see, then, that honoring a pet or a person may not include going along with them, agreeing with them, enabling them, or even obeying them. What it will involve in all cases is seeking their best interests, even when they don't agree.

In this sense, then, you might be able to step back again to the question at hand and see that it could be possible to honor your mother and father even if they are bad parents. It would be possible for a wife to respect her husband (Eph 5:33) and, when he refuses to seek help for his drug addiction, turn him in to the proper authorities to try to take care of that problem. Peter, for instance, were he commanded by the emperor to profess him as God, would be obligated out of respect and honor to decline. It would not be in the best interest of the emperor to try to retain that position, so it would not be honoring to the emperor to acquiesce to such a command. As Peter said and demonstrated in Acts, "We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29) To do otherwise is not honoring to parents or emperors or even presidents.

Now, I realize that there are those who would choose to disagree. I realize that some will say, "Oh, no, you do not honor an emperor if he is like Hitler. You do not honor parents who do not earn your respect." I know. I also know that the Bible disagrees. And I know that moving the absolutes like "honor your father and your mother" and "honor the emperor" to "if you think it is wise" is placing God's commands under our approval. At this point, we are merely asking, "What is the threshold at which I can discard a command of God?" Call that what you will; you cannot consider it wise.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Who Does God Worship?

We all know that we're supposed to worship God. We (Christians) are clear on this. We get it. Anything else is idolatry. But, just like the kid who asked his dad, "Who made God?", do you ever ask "Who does God worship?"

At first look, of course, the question is ridiculous. Well, both of them. Because no one made God and God worships no one. Or, at least, that's how we might respond. But if you look at how people -- Christians -- think, I'm not so sure that is an accurate reflection of their actual beliefs.

There have, on multiple occasions, been discussions here over Human Free Will, capitalized because of the view that seems to hold that God sovereignly surrenders His Sovereignty to Human Free Will, elevating that Will over His own. The claim is happily made and maintained that God has tied His own hands, so to speak, in order to allow humans their uninfluenced choices because this is higher in God's estimation than His own plans and desires. I would submit to you that this is precisely God worshiping.

Worship is defined basically as "worth-ship", assigning worth to something. It is an expression of reverence and adoration. It is a "bending of the knee", a bowing to that which you value. So a man might set aside his family to make more money and this is worship, assigning greater value to money than to family. A woman might set aside her own wishes to please her husband and that is worship, assigning greater value to her husband's pleasure than her own. And God might set aside His own plans and desires in order to let Humans exercise their Free Will over against His own. That, too, is worship.

What do you suppose it is? What element of the creature makes the Creator bow? What is it about Human Free Will that causes the Sovereign to surrender sovereignty? What makes the absolute freedom of choice the ultimate value, even over God's absolute freedom of choice?

I have to say I don't understand this. I don't see it in Scripture. I don't see it as rational. I don't see it as godly. I don't believe that anyone created God because God is eternal, the uncaused Cause, the uncreated Creator. And I don't believe that God worships His creatures -- neither for their "Human Free Will" nor for anything else about them. I believe that God rightly places the highest value in that which is of highest value -- Himself. Anything else would be nonsense.

So, who do you think God worships?

Monday, January 09, 2017

Keeping Things Straight

The report is out. The Russians hacked the election. The Democrats are outraged. Some Trump supporters are apathetic. Trump denies it entirely. The problem is (as it seems so often to be the case) that very, very few are actually keeping this story straight. So, let's review.

The official intelligence report is out. It says that President Putin directed a cyberattack aimed at denying Hillary the presidency. Why? According to the report, Putin saw Trump as more "friendly" to Russia. That is, more willing to work with Russia. They were concerned with Clinton's "aggressive rhetoric." (I thought that was incredibly ironic, given the Hillary ads warning about Trump's overly aggressive rhetoric.) They thought Trump would be more likely to form an anti-ISIS coalition with them. (You know, they might have a point there.) They thought that as a businessman rather than a politician Trump might be better to work with. (Which is one of the reasons that Trump got elected at all -- Americans are tired of politicians.)

This cyberattack consisted of hacking into campaigns. Please note: The language of the media suggests that Russia "hacked the vote", sounding as if they got into our networks and software and voting machines and changed the outcome. This is not the allegation. The allegation is that Russia found information against Clinton to release to the public that would defame her.

Those are the facts. Beware of media outlets that say otherwise. So, what am I to think?

First, I'm opposed to this kind of thing. I was opposed to Snowden's release of secrets to the public while others hailed him as a hero. I'm opposed to Assange and WikiLeaks. I'm opposed to hacking into the Democratic campaign emails. All of it. It's wrong. It is illegal. And "heads should roll", so to speak. There should be justice.

That being said, I am really baffled by the response as we see it. The response has not been, "It's not true!" There has been no evidence offered that the information released was false. The outrage is that it was released. So while a large number of people exulted in Snowden releasing true-if-damaging material, an equally large number of people are equally dismayed at the release of this true-if-damaging material. In other words, we can draw some bizarre conclusions. 1) The ends justify the means. If the end (releasing secret info that we want) is accomplished by breaking the law, that's good. 2) Forget about #1 if it is information we don't want released. 3) We are radically in favor of privacy (think abortion rights, the Democrats' emails, etc.). 4) We are really not in favor of privacy (think Snowden, WikiLeaks, etc.). In short, we're a conflicted and irrational society.

So be careful going forward. Remember that people are perfectly happy holding contradictions. Remember that in almost every case right is right and wrong is wrong depending on what they say it is. You can never be sure what it is. It is not a matter of principle. Remember that while the media has been deeply concerned about "fake news", they like to disseminate it themselves. Oh, not really on purpose. It's just a matter of word selection and spin. Like "Russia hacked the election." Not exactly. Not even close. Why do I think that? Because I'm quite sure that if Russia had released the same kind of information on Trump and Hillary got elected, the Democrats would not have been railing against the Russians and the media would not be saying that Russia "hacked the election". When Obama went to the UK to tell them not to vote for the Brexit, they didn't complain that he was interfering in their elections. Some positions require objective morality and guiding principles. These are not the current positions being taken.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

The Lord's Day

At the beginning of John's Apocalypse, the Revelation of Jesus Christ (Rev 1:1), John says, "I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice ..." (Rev 1:9-10). Interesting phrase, there: "on the Lord's day".

From the beginning, for Christians, Sunday has been the Lord's day. That is, it has been the day that Christians gather to celebrate with each other that very first "Lord's day" when the women went to the tomb and found it empty, when the disciples heard He had risen and ran to see, when Jesus spoke to the disciples on the road to Emmaeus and told them how the Scriptures pointed to Him. It was on that "first day of the week" that Jesus breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:19-23). Believers gathered on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2). It was the special day for believers. Even in my lifetime "the Lord's day" was a phrase that was always intended as a reference to Sunday and no other.

When, do you suppose, that changed? It used to be that Christians felt compelled to be in church on Sundays. These days, not so much. In former times even "less-than" believers felt compelled to be in church on Sundays. Now Christians feel like it's a private thing and maybe it's in church with other believers and maybe it's not. Maybe it's all by yourself in a forest ... or your family room ... or wherever. "It's a personal thing," they, often belligerently, claim. "God is wherever I am, so it doesn't matter if I go to church." Sounds spiritual, doesn't it? And if they do go to church, they prefer one that is "all about me", so to speak. They want it to be "interesting" and "relevant" and, by all means, "contemporary". None of that "old time religion." Upbeat, catchy, get my feet moving and move me. You know, get me feeling warmly toward God. So they pick up the music and limit that preaching stuff and when they do preach it has to be relevant and applicable and personal, not all that doctrine and theology stuff. Because it is no longer "the Lord's day". When did that happen?

I don't know the answer. I just know it did. People might go to a good church with good preaching and all, but they're still mostly fixated on self. "What did you get out of church?" isn't an uncommon question. Because it isn't about the Lord; it's about me. Even good pastors find their hands tied because even good church members don't really want to go too deep. Dumb it down. We want to feel good about God. And we don't want you to go alienating people, pastor.

It's still the Lord's day because it's still the day that commemorates His resurrection. I'm just not clear anymore how many actually see it that way. It is supposed to be all about the Lord. It's not as much anymore. Too bad. At least, too bad for God. Probably for us believers, too.