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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Religious Relationship

Christians know the Good News. We're all sinners (Rom 3:23), but while we were sinners, God sent His Son to die for us (Rom 5:8). If you place your trust in Him, your sin can be forgiven and you can be given the righteousness of His Son (2 Cor 5:21). Good news, indeed.

But, as, we are often reminded, "It's not a religion; it's a relationship."

Imagine, then, this Judge before Whom we stand clothed in sinner's rags. "How do you plead?" He asks. You can answer nothing but, "Guilty." But your trust is in Christ Who stands alongside. "Yes, Judge, but I paid for it. His crimes are pardoned and he is now as pure as the driven snow and as righteous as I." The Judge slams the gavel. "Case dismissed!" Then He gets up from the bench. He comes around to where you stand. He removes the dirty garments and places new, clean robes on you. He puts His arm around you and says, "I'm adopting you. You will come home with Me and be My son." (Gal 4:4-5)

If "religion" is defined as "a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices", Christianity is a religion, without a doubt. But if the essence of Christianity is a personal relationship with Christ, an adoption by the Father, a partaking of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), then it is far more than a religion; it is a relationship worth celebrating for eternity.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

News Weakly - 4/29/2017

Trigger Warnings
A pro-life club on the University of Fraser Valley campus in British Columbia held an art show. (The link gives three examples of the art that was shown.) Nothing graphic. But the university required warning signs at every entrance. "The event conducted just beyond this sign may contain triggering and/or sensitive material. Right to life and or Pro-life messages and imagery are some of the topics included within this event. If you feel triggered, please know that there are resources to support you ..." Seriously? "Feel triggered"? As in, "Does your conscience bother you? We'll try to ease your conscience about killing babies."

Who Knew?
Muslims avoid pork as a matter of religion. Who knew it could also be fatal for them?

Can you say "double standard"?
Rebel Wilson, actress well known for insulting others, is, of course, maintaining the standard of "do unto others" by suing a media outlet for insulting her. This is the kind of double standard we've come to expect from folks. Don't let it be yours.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Right vs Real

A longtime friend of mine has always drawn a distinction between "right" and "real". Ask a Christian a plainly-known question like "Are we saved by faith or by works?" and they'll likely answer the "right" way -- "By faith." But examine how some of them live and you'd think the "real" answer might be "by works" given their mania for works and their guilt and fear when they fail. Well, you get the idea. We often answer with the "right" words, but sometimes they aren't what we really think.

One of these is often found in our prayers. Most of us spiritually-minded believers would echo Christ's prayer in the garden, "Not my will, but Thine be done" (because, as everyone knows, Jesus prayed in King James English). You know what I mean. We say we only want God's will. The ugly secret is that it just isn't true. What we want is for God's will to align with ours and then we'd be happy.

How do I know? Well, it's pretty obvious. Look at the reaction when something unpleasant happens. We will cry out and complain and question the "fairness" of God. Our faith will be tested because "bad things aren't supposed to happen to good people." I'm not talking about the questioning response: "Why, God?" That's not an assault on the character of God. It is a question because we lack the information. Nor am I talking about the understandable, normal, expected grief and pain these events cause. I'm talking about conclusions we often draw contrary to God's goodness and love. Because "a loving, good God wouldn't do that -- wouldn't allow that. And He did. So ...?"

If my prayer was "yet not my will, but Thine be done" (Luke 22:42), we could ask why and we could grieve and hurt without being angry with God. Why? Because we could rest assured that what God did (or allowed) was His will and, therefore, both good and loving (Rom 8:28). It is that flush of negative emotion and angry response that tells us that, while the right prayer is "Not my will, but Yours", the real prayer is "Do what I want." And when voice is given to that prayer, it becomes quite ugly.

I suspect all of us suffer from this slip up of "right answer" versus "real answer" sometimes. I suspect we ought to guard our hearts for this and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:5). Not my will, but Yours, Lord ... the right answer that ought to be the real one, too.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Marital "Misstep"

I once talked with a young man who believed in Perfectionism. That is, he believed that you could become completely sin-free ... and, in fact, he had. "Really?" I asked. "You never sin?" "No," he assured me. "Oh, I make mistakes, have some missteps." I see. Change the language and you eliminate sin. So, using his word, I think I've come across a serious misstep among Christian husbands (and, in case you missed it, I'm not talking about a mere misstep).

Most of us know about the commands to the married found in Ephesians 5:22-31. You know ... "Wives submit" and "Husbands love." That stuff. Now, there is a small number of husbands that classify themselves as Christians and see "Wives submit" as permission, nay, even a command to lord it over their wife and children. Abuse is not an issue to them. It's right there in Scripture. Fortunately, most of us would see that as wrong. No, we see how it is. The command is "Husbands, love your wife." So we seek, however vaguely it might be, to love our wives. On the other side of this bell curve, there are others who read further and see more. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her." (Eph 5:25) Yes, that's a bit more. There is a sense of surrender in it, the idea of giving oneself up for one's wife. Farther down this curve there are even those who recognize that "as Christ also loved the church" was Christ dying for His Bride when she was running from Him. This wasn't a warm and friendly relationship that He was in. He was arrested and left virtually alone by His "beloved". And He died for her. "While we were yet sinners." Now that is a step farther.

Way on down at the very end of the curve, however, is what I believe to be a very, very small number of husbands who bother to read and appropriate the entire thought.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. (Eph 5:25-27)
There is, as it turns out, a whole lot more to "as Christ loved the church" than "love" and even "gave Himself up for her." There is a purpose. According to this text, Christ loved the church by giving Himself up for her (while she wasn't devoted to Him) for the purpose of cleansing her "by the washing of water with the word" so that "she should be holy and blameless."

Husbands, did you know that was your task? Maybe you knew that you were supposed to love your wives. Maybe you even knew you were supposed to love her sacrificially. Did you know that the example we have in Christ with His bride, however, says that what we must be doing is loving her sacrificially to be washing our wives in the water of the word? We are to be taking responsibility to present her holy and blameless. Now, how many of us are doing that? If you're not, it is a ... marital "misstep" (read "sin").

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Not the Same

You remember the Sesame Street theme, "One of these things is not like the others." A few similar items, but one of them stands out as different than the rest for some reason. Well, we have this same thing these days in the world's religions. What you will hear repeatedly is something like, "All religions are basically the same. They all have the same 'god', just with different names." So "Allah" and the God of the Bible are, to these people, no different. Especially among the three primary monotheistic world religions, we are assured that they are different in name only. I would contend that the opposite is true, that "One of these things is not like the others," and the differences are critical ... in multiple ways.

Allah of Islam and the God of the Bible

There has been much debate about whether or not the "Allah" of Islam is the same God as YHWH, the God of the Bible. "Sure he is!" they all assure us, unbelievers and self-professed Christians alike. In fact, linguistically, the word "Allah" appears to have its roots in the Hebrew "El" for "God" and the Arabic translations of the Bible might include the word "Allah" for God. But are they qualitatively different? Is the "Allah" of Islam different than YHWH of the Bible? Indeed, they are. From the view of Islam, "There is no god but Allah." The Quran specifies, "Jews and Christians believe in idols and false deities" [4:51]. The Quran specifically denies that Allah is a Trinity [5:73]. Surah 4:171 explicitly denies that Jesus was God's Son. Islam teaches that Christ was a prophet and nothing more. It denies His death and resurrection. While Jesus is the literal embodiment of God in the New Testament, Islam specifically denies that claim. This is fundamental to Scripture and to Christianity. The two cannot be the same without eliminating one or the other as truth.

The Trinity in the Old Testament

What about the Judeo-Christian God? At the beginning, this is the same God. That is, the God of Abraham and Moses is the same God of Christ and the disciples. Christianity, in fact, isn't actually its own religion; we worship the Jewish Messiah. Christianity is God's idea of what Judaism ought to be. So, yes, it's the same God ... or was. I can't say that the God the Jews recognize today is the same as the God that Christianity recognizes ... or that the Old Testament recognizes. What's the difference? The primary difference is the aspect of the Trinity. Modern Judaism does not recognize God as a Triune being; both Christianity and the Old Testament do.

Jews today will tell you that God is not three-in-one and that Jews have never believed He was. Whether or not they ever did, I think we can find the Trinity in the Old Testament. If so, that would make the God of Judaism the same God as the God of Christianity. The first hint of a multiplicity-in-one God is in Genesis. "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.'" (Gen 1:26) The word used in Hebrew -- 'ĕlôhı̂ym -- is a plural word for "God". It isn't "the royal 'we'." That's a big hint, especially when laid alongside God's statement, "The LORD our God, the LORD is one." (Deut 6:4) So, "one" and plural.

The Old Testament is littered with references to God the Spirit. For instance, we read, "'Draw near to Me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there.' And now the Lord GOD has sent me, and His Spirit." (Isa 48:16) Note that "His Spirit" is differentiated from "the Lord GOD", requiring two-in-one.

Of course, the Old Testament is also rich with references to the Messiah to come. Again in Isaiah we read, "Behold My Servant, whom I uphold, My Chosen, in Whom My soul delights; I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations." (Isa 42:1) What we see here is a reference to Christ. We see it fulfilled in Matthew 3:16-17 when Jesus was baptized and the Spirit of God descended with God speaking from heaven, "This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased." That same Trinitarian image is right there in Isaiah 42:1 with all three-in-one characters present. Immediately after His baptism and temptation in the desert, Jesus went into the synagogue, took up the scroll, and read from Isaiah. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19) It is Isaiah 61:1-2. And Jesus said, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:21) Where was that quote from? The Old Testament. What was the content that was fulfilled?" It was a Trinitarian statement including "the Spirit of the Lord" as well as "the Lord" upon and anointing the Son.

Now, you can see that this theme is not unusual in the Old Testament. The Jewish Scriptures (our Old Testament) are full of prophecies and promises regarding the coming Messiah whose name would be "Immanuel" -- "God with us." (Isa 7:14; Isa 8:8; Matt 1:23) Indeed, the Trinity was present in the Old Testament. Now, did the Jews understand that? Surely not. But neither did they understand that their Messiah would suffer and die ... yet He did. The question, then, is not whether they agreed with the idea, but whether or not the God of the Old Testament was Three-In-One just as the God of the New Testament. I think it's clear He was. As such, He is the same God, regardless of Jewish understanding.


The question here is not "What do people believe?" The question is "What is true?" Islam teaches that Allah is not the same as the God of the Bible, blatantly illustrated in the Triune nature of the God of the Bible and denied by Muslim scriptures of Allah. Not the same. The Bible is absolutely clear that Jesus is the Son of God (denied by the Quran), the second person of the Trinity (denied by the Quran), and the basis of our salvation (denied by the Quran). Not the same. Judaism teaches that the God of their Scriptures is one (which Christianity confirms) but that He is not Triune. They do so without a proper understanding of their own Scriptures. As such, the God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament, misunderstood by Judaism.

As for the rest, differences abound. Atheism (because that is undeniably a faith) has no god. Others such as Buddhism and Confucianism have no god. Then there are religions like Hinduism (330 million gods) or the ancient Greek religion (12 Olympian gods) and the like that are polytheistic. Not the same. There are those who classify themselves, at least in some sense, as "Christian", such as the Latter Day Saints or Jehovah Witnesses, whose God is substantively different than the God of the Bible. Mormons, for instance, are not monotheists. Jehovah's Witnesses deny the deity of Christ. Not the same. So the next time you hear someone say, "Oh, all religions are basically the same," remember that it just isn't true, and it isn't true in important ways.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"Sell all your possessions" Revisited

My all-time most read entry was way back in October of 2006. As long ago as that was, I'm still getting comments and it's still being read. (As of this writing the counter says there have been 25505 views and 161 comments on this one alone.) The title: Hard Sayings - "Sell all your possessions". You understand, of course, why that's so popular, right? On one hand, genuine believers read something like that and say, "Hey, am I doing what I'm supposed to be doing here?" On the other, skeptics seize on it as "proof" that Christians aren't following Christ. That, at least, accounts for the largest number of readers. I have no answers for the skeptics. Skeptics are gonna skept, you know? Okay, too hip. Skeptics aren't looking for answers; they're being skeptical. But for the genuine believer wondering, "What, exactly, did Jesus mean and what, exactly, am I supposed to be doing?", I thought I'd look at it again.

My first answer was, basically, this. We know Jesus did not mean "If you want to be My follower, it is mandatory that you sell everything you own and live in abject poverty." We know this because Jesus Himself didn't do it and because His followers didn't do it. No, they weren't rich folk, but Jesus, at His death, owned an expensive cloak and we know the disciples continued to own things like boats (fishing boats) without a correction from their Master. So it cannot mean that. What, then? I understood it to mean "Own nothing. It all belongs to Christ. You are just a steward. Do with it as Christ would have you do." Again, that's the short answer.

Now the revisit. I was looking at the instances that Jesus made the statement.
Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." (Matt 19:21) (See also Mark 10:21 and Luke 18:23, the parallel stories.)

"Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. (Luke 12:33)
Surprised? He said it, actually, only twice. Seems like He said it a lot more, but it was only twice. But, of course, the number of times He said it doesn't tell us much. We need more context.

The first time (carried in three of the four Gospels) Jesus was talking to the rich young ruler. Seeking eternal life, the man asked Him what he had to do. Jesus told him, in essence, to be good to people. "I have been," he basically answered. But Jesus had left out another aspect of the commandments -- the "vertical". He had listed the ones that fall under "Love your neighbor" and skipped the "Love God" one. So He asked the rich guy to sell his possessions. "Who do you love? God or your riches?" "But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property." (Mark 10:22) Greed, according to Scripture, is idolatry (Col 3:5). The man demonstrated himself to be an unrepentant idolater.

The other reference was in a discourse Jesus was having with His disciples (Luke 12:22-34). He was telling them not to worry about life or food or clothes, that God would take care of them. Their job was to seek the kingdom (Luke 12:31). In that vein, then, He told them to "Sell your possessions and give to charity." (Luke 12:34) And He told them why. "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:34)

It seems to me, then, that this is a lot of concern over a couple of statements of Christ generally taken out of context. The first one was a specific statement to a specific man at a specific time for a specific reason. (Note, also, that it is the only one that required "Sell all your possessions.") Think about a parallel. God commanded Israel to kill the Amalekites (1 Sam 15:1-3). Now, regardless of what we think of this command, one thing is abundantly clear. It was a one-time command to the people of that day. It wasn't for all time. It wasn't for all believers. It was then and there. It looks to me that this command of Jesus to the rich man was this kind of command. It was for a specific guy -- a rich man -- for a specific reason -- to highlight his idolatry. There is every reason to believe Jesus meant it when He said it to the man, but there is no reason to think it is applicable to all believers for all time. In context that just doesn't make sense.

And the second one does apply to believers. It was a general discourse of Christ to His followers. But He tells them what they're shooting for. "Don't worry about money. Make Christ, not money, your treasure." Kind of like what I said the first time. If our treasure is in Christ and our aim is God's kingdom, money and stuff will not mean anything to us beyond being useful tools for God's kingdom. That would be the proper perspective on possessions.

I don't think I'm being circuitous. I think I'm reading the text and the context. Based on what we see Jesus and His disciples doing and based on the text and the context, I don't see a blanket command to all Christians for all time to live in poverty and own nothing ... nothing at all. Maybe you do. If you do, by all means carry out that plan, because "Whatever is not from faith is sin." (Rom 14:23) As for me, until someone comes up with a compelling reason to believe that Jesus and His disciples failed to keep His commands, I'm going to have to go with this. And, trust me, this isn't easy, either.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Bad Strategies

Have you ever noticed how bad Jesus was at strategies for accomplishing His goals?

He wanted to be the Savior of the world, but He kept telling people not to tell others who He was (Matt 16:20; Matt 17:9; Mark 7:36; Mark 8:30; Mark 9:9). He sought to reach the masses but spent an inordinate amount of time with 12 men. He was offered the kingship (John 6:15) and He went and hid. When a rich man asked Him how to be saved, He pushed him away with "Sell what you possess and give to the poor," the last thing this guy would want to hear (Matt 19:21). When others came to Him to follow Him, He blew them off with harsh language. "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." "Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:57-62). Instead of just getting along, He angered the local religious leader with His intolerance (Matt 21:23-46). He put harsh requirements on people to follow Him, like "Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:27) He intentionally withheld information from potential listeners (Matt 13:10-17).

These are failed strategies. Jesus was clearly unaware of superior marketing techniques. We know His strategies failed because, while He managed to accumulate thousands of people who wanted to hear Him, He ended up dying almost alone. He started with 12 and ended with less than that. At the end of His time on earth the biggest number we can find is "500 brothers" (1 Cor 15:6) when there were previously crowds of "five thousand men, besides women and children." (Matt 14:21) Bad move.

Or ... not. Maybe His strategies were good, accomplishing exactly what He intended. Maybe He sought to make disciples rather than converts and followers rather than crowds. Maybe He intended to teach them all that they needed to know rather than simply acquaint them with a surface idea and let them go. Maybe His purpose was relationship rather than religion. Maybe His aim was not the marketing of the faith, but the making of believers who would bear fruit and could pass it on to others. But ... if that's the case, could it be that we, today, might have some faulty ideas about what we are supposed to be doing and how to do it? Because we sure don't seem to be doing it His way.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Meditation on Meditation

One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD And to meditate in His temple. (Psa 27:4)
David wrote that. Beautiful. A singular aim. To "dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD And to meditate in His temple." But ... to "dwell in the house of the LORD"? How? Well, the last answers the first. By meditation.

Lots of people see meditation as "Eastern mysticism" or the like. To be sure, they do it there. But it's biblical, too.
How long will you love what is worthless and aim at deception? Selah. But know that the LORD has set apart the godly man for Himself; The LORD hears when I call to Him. Tremble, and do not sin; Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah." (Psa 4:2-4)

I will meditate on Your precepts And regard Your ways. (Psa 119:15)

On the glorious splendor of Your majesty And on Your wonderful works, I will meditate. (Psa 145:5)
Just to list a few. (There are five references to meditating in Psalm 119 alone.) Different words are used in different places. One means "to plough". You know, turn that soil over and refresh it. One means "to murmur" -- to tell yourself the truth. One means "to say". For instance, in the Psalm 2:4 reference, it is translated in some versions as "commune" -- "commune in your heart" -- and others "speak" or even "ponder". You get the idea. This isn't some "transcendental meditation". This is letting your mind and heart dwell on God's Word and God's truth. And it appears, given the frequent reference to it, that this is a recommended practice for believers.

Of course, in order to do this, you have to ... you know ... have to have God's Word and truth available. Maybe it's out of the Book. Better yet, out of your memory. Another factor is time. This isn't a "quiet time", a short time spent reading God's Word. It's ... stewing in it. It's embracing, examining, turning it over, considering, repeating, over and over. It's a lifestyle, not an event. It's a practice.

David considered it his one desire. We tend to think of it as our once-a-week-if-absolutely-necessary obligation. And, if we're really diligent, once a day for a short time. David thought it was the place to live. So should we. -- to live there in God's Word, God's truth, observing God's glory and God's beauty. Scripture says it will change your life. It prevents sin, produces peace, anchors the soul in times of distress and false teaching, and enhances your relationship with God, to name a few effects. As it was David's prayer, it, too, is my prayer. And my prayer for you.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

News Weakly - 4/22/2017

Illegal Love
A Christian pastor was arrested in China for singing "Jesus Loves You". Apparently the song is considered "illegal religious activity." And the story only gets worse from there.

We are concerned in America about our loss of our First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion and we call it "persecution". While Jesus would, too (Matt 5:11), I think we can all agree that there are believers around the world experiencing much more persecution than we. We should pray for them.

Leaky Boat
A female teacher at a Catholic high school for girls came out as transgender. The Catholic order decided she will be "fully accepted as a man" and not fired. The boat that is Catholic theology appears to be leaking more and more and could easily capsize as it flounders in cultural rather than biblical standards, a self-made religion.

Pop singer Katy Perry told Vogue she was glad to jettison the Christianity of her childhood and is "recalibrating her life on many levels." She has gone from protesting Madonna and Marilyn Manson concerts to joining and delighting in the whole thing. She refers to it as a process of "reeducation". You know, out with the good, in with the bad. But perhaps it's not as much of a reeducation as an outworking of what was already there, given that her starting point was her song, "I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It". Parents, teach your children well.

Umm ... Huh?
So, apparently among teens lesbians have higher pregnancy rates than heterosexual women and gay teen males are substantially more likely to impregnate a female sex partner than heterosexual males. Now, hang on. How is this possible? According to the story, among the youth, "gays and lesbians have a two to seven times greater rate of pregnancy and double the rate of abortion." (Emphasis in the original) Now they're arguing for "sexual fluidity", meaning nothing is fixed. Tell me again how this is "just like race".

Seen on the Internet
Don't miss the newly released Food Pyramid for Baptists. Oh, and the story of the man called by God to be a missionary in a remote jungle in the video game world of World of Warcraft. "Just pray for traveling mercies so I won’t get ganked* by some jerk high-level player, and ask the Lord to grant me a hedge of protection," he said. “Seriously, I’ve almost unlocked the Hedge of Protection ability."

*"Ganked" is a gaming term where a powerful character or group of characters in a game attack one or more players that do not have a chance.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Understanding LGBT

I'm trying to figure out LGBT, and I'm not doing well. I can get as far as what words go with what letters. L-Lesbian, G-Gay, B-Bisexual, and T-Transgender. Great. I have a start. Then they'll throw in Q. What is that? Well, some say it's "Queer" and others "Questioning" (or, apparently, both or either). And instantly I'm lost.

I get the T, at least by definition. It's someone who doesn't believe they are the gender they were born with. Maybe they've switched through some physical means; maybe not. But, as we all know, gender is a fluid thing, not ... what do we "normal" thinkers call it? ... not binary. Okay, we'll work with that. And, of course, I'm clear on the B. Bisexual is someone who is attracted to both sexes. But wait! Didn't we just determine that gender isn't binary? Oh, that's a problem. Maybe they need to make an "O" category -- "omni" ... attracted to anything at all. And, of course, it's a further problem that the LGBT forces have done nothing at all for the B of their group. No one has suggested a remedy for the problems of the bisexual. They generally allow what they term "marriage" between two people of any of the two accepted genders, but obstinately disallow "marriage" among more than two ... and the B is out of luck. Again ... I'm lost.

The L is pretty easy. Lesbian is self-explanatory: a female who is sexually attracted to the female gender. She is not attracted to the male gender and she is not attracted to both (or multiple?) genders. Pretty clear. But that G thing throws me. Yes, yes, it's "gay", but I thought "gay" referred to "homosexual", not "male homosexual". I mean, when they refer to "the gay lifestyle" or "gay rights", aren't they talking about all homosexuals? But, since "LGBT" is supposed to mean something, I suppose I have to assume that the G refers to male homosexuals only. Fine. Except not always. Fine.

And then there's that nagging T thing back again. You see, if someone is actually transgender in some sense, can they be classified as "L" or "G"? If a guy believes he's a girl and is attracted to women (you know, like a heterosexual male would be), would he be a lesbian? And, of course, vice versa. I heard the story of a girl adopted by two homosexuals who taught her that the homosexual life was the best. Now, she was attracted to males, so she pursued a sexual transition to male so she could be "gay". Sadly, she died (of a drug overdose) before that was reached, but I'm still completely confused. Is it right to think of "L" (female), "G" (male), or even "B" (bi) when genders are so fluid as to be almost undefinable?

Well, I am questioning, obviously, so does that make me "Q"? No, of course not. But you have to admit it can all be very puzzling. Especially for someone like me who reads "So God created Man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Gen 1:27) and considers it to be definitive and conclusive. Perhaps it's not me who's lost here.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

What's In A Name?

I saw a guy on the bus the other day with a book entitled God Has A Name. It made me think.

Something I've never quite understood. The Old Testament Scriptures are full of the name of God, but serious Jews refuse to use it and it doesn't actually appear in our translations. Why?

Our standard translations use a capital "L" followed by smaller capital "ORD" to give us LORD. Sometimes it's GOD when used together to form the term, "Lord God". If the first term is God's name and the second is elohim (god), then it's LORD God. If, however, the first term is adonai (lord) and the second is the name of God, then it is "Lord GOD" (see, for instance, Gen 15:2). But why? And, more to the point, what's with this name?

The biblical name of God is the Tetragrammaton, that 4-letter sequence1 taken from the Torah. It is a word consisting of four Hebrew letters (that I can't print here) that correspond in English to Y, H, W, and H. In Latin the transliteration was JHVH, but ours is YHWH. Thus we get our name for God -- the Tetragrammaton, the unspeakable name of God. Sticking the "a" from adonai and the "e" from elohim in there, we get a word ... either YaHWeH (English) or JeHoVaH (Latin). And ...?

The name refers to God's self-existence, a unique aspect of God. He alone is actually self-existent. He alone is the Uncreated One. He alone is the Self-sustaining One. To the child's question, "But ... who made God?", the answer is YHWH. He is self-existent by definition. That's His name ... who He is.

Why is it, then, that we never see that word in our bibles? You won't find Jehovah in modern translations. You'll find it in four places in the King James. But in modern translation it's only LORD or GOD. And since God's name appears repeatedly, why only four times in the King James? In two of those four it references specifically His name. In Exodus 6:3 God said "I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by My name JEHOVAH was I not known to them." In Psalm 83:18 it refers to Him "whose name alone is JEHOVAH". In two places in Isaiah (Isa 12:2; Isa 26:4) we find a unique term: LORD JEHOVAH. In this one there is a contraction for YHWH that is essentially yaw and then the whole name. But our modern bibles don't tell us this except by capitalized "LORD GOD".

Also puzzling to me is the whole problem of pronouncing the name of God. Jewish tradition says that they consider the name of God to be so holy as to be a sin to pronounce. (They won't even write the word, "God", but prefer "G_d" to avoid even that potential error.) Our sinful lips shouldn't even say the name. Now, God's Word has the name in it (as difficult it is for us to figure out how to pronounce), so how is that supposed to work? The pious Jew, conservative or orthodox, will go to the synagogue weekly and hear the Word of the Lord read. They will necessarily come across these very clear appearances of the Tetragammatron. And they will ... not pronounce it. Why? If God saw fit to include it and the authors of Scripture saw fit to include it, why do they not?

History tells us that over time the Jews, attempting to protect the name of God from blasphemy, stopped using it themselves. This is why you read of "the kingdom of God" in Luke's Gospel, but it's rendered "the kingdom of heaven" in Matthew's. When they read the Scriptures in synagogues today, they read it as our bibles do, with "Lord" or "God" in there rather than His actual name. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the translators substituted "Lord" (kurios) for God's name. So that's apparently how we ended up with it, but ... why? Sure, we're not entirely sure of how to pronounce it and, sure, it's all Hebrew to us, but I still wonder why we don't use it.

Now, in truth, there is only one name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12), and that is not YHWH, JHVH, or any version thereof. It's not an issue. So it's mere curiosity about the name of God in our Scriptures, how we pronounce it, how the Jews avoid it, and why it's not in there anymore. Jesus is the sweetest name I know. I guess I just wonder because "LORD" and "GOD" appear to be titles rather than names and we worship a personal God. I'd like to be able to use His name.
1 I found it interesting to learn that these four letters (three letters with the last one a repeat) are the consonants for the Hebrew verb tenses of "to be". These consonants (Hebrew doesn't have vowels) give the abbreviated forms of the imperfect tense, the participial form, and the perfect tense of the verb for existence, giving us "will be, is, and has been" -- the eternal, self-existent One.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


We live in a "diversity" world, where everything is viewed as "equal". We claim "equal rights" and "equal pay" and "racial equality" and "all genders are equal". We believe that all religions are equal, too. And, as a consequence (just like in the use of the vague "equality of the sexes" concept), people often believe that all religions are equally valid. Now, this can be easily demonstrated as false. That is, without accepting any of the truth claims of any religion, you can simply take their truth claims, lay them side by side, and see that they contradict each other (and often themselves). Thus, it is not logically possible to conclude that all religions are equally valid. So, are they all equal?

In America, for a large part, we allow equal existence to all religions. In that sense, they're "equal". You're free to have your religion, whatever it may be. (Just don't ask me to believe it.) It's part of our Bill of Rights. This does not require, however, that all religions be considered equal in content or in concept. Some have tried to boil it all down, saying that all religions are, at their core, the same in that they are all about the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of Man. I would argue that it's too much of a distillation to conclude this. And we're still stuck with competing truth claims. Ultimately, if multiple religions claim "Ours is the only way", then they might all be wrong, but they cannot all be right. And, yet, here I am, standing in the midst of Christianity saying, "Here is the way; walk in it." Why? What makes Christianity different than all those other religions?

On the surface, of course, it's easy. Christianity is different because, well, Christianity is true and the rest aren't. But that's not a satisfactory answer. Is there, for instance, a difference between the Judeo-Christian "God" and the "Allah" of Islam? Aren't these the same? Don't we have commonality? As it turns out, when you really take a look, you'll find that Christianity truly is unique among religions. And, no, God and Allah are not the same. (One of the absolutely unique things about Christianity is the doctrine of the Trinity, the "three-in-one", which Islam denies and, therefore, which sets their "Allah" as radically different than our God.)

The most obvious difference between Christianity and every other religion is the Resurrection. The claim that the founder of Christianity -- Christ -- was executed and came back to life is, shall we say, unusual, but the fact of the empty tomb and the other surrounding data is unique. No other religion claims such a thing. No founder of any older religion is alive today. The Resurrected Christ is the pivotal point of the Christian faith (1 Cor 15:3-8; 1 Cor 15:12-19) and the singular proof of our faith. Nowhere else will you find this event of a person, born of a virgin, living a sinless life, being executed all in perfect accordance with centuries-old prophesies, coming back to life unaided as predicted. Just doesn't happen anywhere else.

One glaring difference between Christianity and every other religion out there is salvation by works. Whether it's one of the popular "Nones" -- they don't have any formal religion but are "spiritual" -- all the way to the devout Buddhist or Hindu, you will find they all agree on this one point -- you get to "a better place" in the end by being good. At least, by being more good than bad. Works. Christianity alone subscribes to salvation by imputation. All others hold to "saved by works" as opposed to the Christian claim, "saved through faith apart from works" (Rom 3:28). While everyone else is trying to be "good enough", Christianity teaches salvation by the assigned righteousness of Christ. "What must I do to be saved?" all religions ask. Christianity alone says, "There's nothing you can actually do. You must simply place your trust in the death, resurrection, and life of Christ. End of story." So prevalent is this notion of "saved by works" in the human thinking that some Christians (probably a lot) will usher it out the front door and then smuggle it in the back door. "Yes, yes, we're saved by faith ... but no bad people will go to heaven." The fact that so many see Christianity as another "good works religion" tells me that Christians often miss this vital point. Christianity is the only religion that sees good works as a result rather than a cause.

Christianity differs radically from every other religion in its relationship with God. You will hear it said, "Christianity is not a religion; it's a relationship." While this isn't strictly true ("Religion" is defined as "the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power." Pretty sure that Christians wouldn't say "We don't believe in or worship a supernatural being."), it points to a primary difference. In all other religions, if there is an actual deity (in some there isn't), that deity is "out there". It is "somewhere else". In Christianity alone we believe we have an actual relationship with the Divine. We have the Spirit residing in us (Eze 36:27; 1 Cor 6:19; 2 Tim 1:14). We are animated and motivated by God's working in us (Phil 2:13). We actually become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). This relationship is unique.

There are, of course, a host of other unique aspects. Many religions, for instance, have their own Scriptures, but none are as well documented and attested to as the Bible is. Lots of religions claim miracles, but none so remarkable or supportable as Christianity. There is the impact that Christianity has had over against all other religions. Christianity has produced massive change in our world. Modern science owes its existence to the Christian worldview. Much of modern ethics are shaped by a Christian worldview, including monogamy and marital fidelity, compassion and mercy, and a work ethic. The first book that was printed was a Bible. Mass education was instituted so people could read their Bibles. Christianity was the first to challenge gender roles when Christ appeared first to Mary Magdalene and the value of children when Jesus said, "Let the children come to Me." (Matt 19:14) Christianity has produced charitable organizations and hospitals as part of its "love your neighbor as yourself" mantra. There is the quite unusual rooting of the faith in history rather than mere "faith". From Creation to Israel, from the Jews to the Gentiles, from Adam to the Second Adam, from the God of the Old Testament to the God Incarnate of the New, ours is an historical religion deeply connected to historical events. Just to name a few.

It cannot be true that all religions are equally valid since all religions contradict each other. It is true that there are many religions, and most of them bear the same basic "markings" -- be good and you'll be fine. In the particulars they may differ, but they're largely the same. And, yes, it is true that many within Christendom hold positions differing from Christianity. These produced the Crusades, allowed slavery in America, and argue for racism on a biblical basis ... and they're wrong. Christianity stands alone in its truth claims. Jesus said, "No man comes to the Father but by Me" (John 14:6), declaring Christianity as the exclusive means of getting to God. There are many fundamental components of Christianity that make it completely unique. Now, it could theoretically still be true that Christianity is wrong, but what cannot be true is that it bears equal validity as any other religion. Either it is the one, true religion or it is not true at all. Of course, given the massive body of Apologia, that which defends the faith, and that singular component, the relationship of the believer to God Himself, I have little doubt as to the truth of Christianity. It is, truly, unique among religions.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Not Enough Faith

The fastest animal on the planet may not be what you expect. Cheetahs are fast, clocked at nearly 75 mph. The Black Marlin is the fastest fish and is said to have a top speed of 80 mph. There is a little bird in Australia in the Swift family that can do 105 mph. But the fastest creature of all by a large amount is the Peregrine Falcon. This bird can do over 200 mph in its power dive to catch prey.

Peregrines occupy most of the Americas, North, South, and Central. They seem to prefer coastal regions, but, then, who doesn't, right? They can be found at the northern rim of Canada and the southern tip of South America. Their cruising speed is maybe 30 mph, and when they pursue prey they may speed up to 60 mph, but when they do their famous dive from on high onto an unsuspecting bird, it's closer to 250 mph. This is, as it turns out, problematic. Breathing at those speeds is difficult. Keeping your eyes open at those speeds is difficult. You know ... doing things you need to do when diving at those speeds is hard to do. And yet ...

Peregrine Falcon in dive
Oddly enough nature (read "God", not "Evolution") has provided the Peregrine Falcon with special design features. For instance, when we started building faster jets, we found that the faster they went, the more the engines were choked out. Above a certain speed, the air would split and go around the engine. So researchers looked at falcons and asked how they did it. It turned out that they had a small cone that protrudes slightly in the nostril. The cone changes the airflow and allows air in without suffocation. That small cone you see in the middle of jet engines was borrowed from the Peregrine. Further, structures in the nostril allow air in but provide baffles to prevent too fast of a flow. Another feature is what is called the nictitating membrane. It is a semi-clear third eyelid that serves as a pair of goggles for the bird, allowing him to keep his eyes open in a dive but not exposed to the air. Then there is another really interesting feature. When in a dive, the falcon achieves optimum speed by folding his wings and taking on an aerodynamic bullet shape. Still, at these speeds, air turbulence is a problem. So, what to do? Apparently these birds have specialized feathers that pop up as needed to smooth turbulence as they increase speed as well as providing maneuverability.

These are just a few of the components of the Peregrine Falcon that make it the fastest animal on the planet. Now, you may see these as "adaptations" produced by blind Evolution, but I don't see how that's possible. The whole thing screams "Design!" It is the most reasonable explanation. To me, just because they say it's not designed doesn't mean it isn't. I guess I just don't have enough faith to believe in Evolution.

Monday, April 17, 2017


The Babylon Bee is an entirely humorous fake news site with a Christian twist. They like to poke fun where they can. A recent item was of research being done at Reformed Theological Seminary’s School of Research to make a device that would detect the elect.
"We found that entire sermons and evangelistic opportunities were being wasted on the ears of those destined to damnation," head of missions research Dr. Cal Perkins told reporters. "Now we can focus our efforts on calling only God’s chosen people to faith and repentance."
I laughed. It's a joke. I get it. But it highlighted (which, I think, was the point) the idea of wasting our time doing God's work.

It's frequently a problem for those of the Reformed bent. "If we can't know who are the elect, how do we know who to preach to?" Now, I don't think you'd often hear such a thing, but I know that many think that. The answer is actually pretty simple. "You don't. You were commanded to 'Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.' (Mark 16:15) That includes the elect and the non-elect. So stop messing around and go do it."

But the problem also arises for many Christians in the realm of prayer. "How can I know what to pray? If it is God's will, He'll do it, but if it's not, He won't. I'll be wasting my prayers on things that are not God's will." At first blush, the answer is pretty clear here, too. "You were commanded to 'pray without ceasing' (1 Thess 5:17). That includes the prayers in God's will and the ones that are not. So stop messing around and go do it." And you would think that would be sufficient ... but it's not.

The difficulty, I think, is this idea of what is "useless" or "wasted". If I preach the Gospel to the non-elect, it is "useless". If I pray outside of God's will, it is "wasted". Do you see the basic premise behind the idea? Obedience is only valuable if there is a positive outcome. We can carry this idea out to all sorts of things. "Why read my Bible if I don't get anything out of it?" "Why go to church if I'm not getting anything out of it?" "Why love my neighbor if they never come to Christ?" Indeed, this can become quite daunting if you think it through. A person who is ignorant is less culpable than a person who is well informed. See, for instance, Jesus's words to the cities of Israel who had His works done there but rejected Him. He said it would be more tolerable for the worst of sinners who never had it than for those who did (Matt 11:20-24). So if you share God's Word with someone and they reject it, aren't you actually making it worse for them? Maybe you should stop sharing the Gospel entirely! This, of course, is wrong. It is a measurement of success by the wrong measure.

So, let's examine the idea. Let's start with an easy one because it is a definitive one. Is it useless -- a waste of time -- to pray for things that are outside of God's will? I think I can say for certain that the answer is "No." Why? Because we know from Scripture that Jesus did that very thing. He asked, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me." (Matt 26:39) It was not possible. His Father was not going to grant that request. Jesus followed that with what we all ought to include: "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." We should always want God's will. But if it is useless to pray for something that is outside of God's will, then Jesus was praying a useless prayer. And since Jesus was never wrong, I don't think it's safe to lay that accusation at His feet. Thus, I would argue that it is not useless to pray for things that do not come to be. And, by extension, it is not useless to share the Gospel with those who may not accept it or to read your Bible even if you're not "getting something out of it" or ... you get the idea.

I think we have a mistaken idea that for obedience to be good and right it should meet our standards of "success". We do this in the face of God's assurance that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways (Isa 55:8-9). It would seem obvious, then, that obedience is never a waste of time. And we must realize that prayer and God's Word and fellowship with believers and sharing the Gospel and all the rest is always beneficial even when we don't see what we might call a "positive outcome". Perhaps what we need to rethink is the idea of "useful" in God's eyes.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Importance of the Resurrection

There are some today who question the Resurrection of Christ. Oh, they're okay with a "spiritual resurrection" of sorts. You know, spirituality is quite popular today. I mean, it's a popular theme that when someone dies they're "up there in heaven, looking down on us." Nice. And that was Jesus, too ... right? No, not right. The bodily resurrection of Christ is not negotiable, nor is it minor.

The Resurrection assures us that there is a God. Its violation of the "Laws of Nature" simply prove that God is the Master over Nature, something we desperately need to know when considering a world where Nature is sometimes not too friendly.

The Resurrection demonstrates a victory. The Cross was a victory over sin, but the wages of sin is death, so we needed another victory. The Resurrection demonstrates Jesus's victory over death. It is in the Resurrection that we can exult, "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (1 Cor 15:55).

It was in the Resurrection that Jesus was ultimately vindicated. It is entirely possible for one to be wrongly convicted and put to death for crimes he didn't commit. That's sad. Did that happen to Jesus? We wouldn't actually know if it weren't for the Resurrection. By rising again, bodily, He demonstrated that His death was necessary and complete, but not the end of the story. He wasn't simply killed by injustice; He died on our behalf and rose again to new life.

It is this new life that is really in focus at the Resurrection. "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:4). That "newness of life" is what the Christian life is all about. All things have become new. Indeed, "eternal life" was the whole idea. A Savior who promises new life and then doesn't actually continue to live is no savior at all. Christ did.

The bodily resurrection of Christ is non-negotiable. Paul said, "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Cor 15:14). He goes on to say, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Cor 15:17-19). Instead, Paul assured his readers that the risen Lord had been seen by the original disciples as well as more than 500 more, "most of whom are still alive". In other words, "Go and ask them!"

There are other important matters that the Resurrection answers:
1. If "They shall look upon Him whom they have pierced" (Zech 12:10), but He is dead and buried, how will that happen?
2. He promised to "destroy this temple" and raise it up again in three days. His integrity was in question if He didn't rise again.
3. Appearing first to the women was a message to all of the importance of women in Christianity in the midst of a culture that demeaned them.
4. His physical resurrection was the sign needed to convince Thomas, the doubter, and continues to convince others today.
5. His Resurrection made Him the "first fruits", the forerunner of what we can expect for ourselves. It is the promise of our own bodily resurrection.
6. "What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power" (1 Cor 15:42-43).

The Resurrection is an absurdity to the unbeliever. Without it, we are without hope. But since it is a reality, we have every reason to rejoice. Some may quibble over it today, but as for me, I will exult in my Risen Savior. The Lord is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

News Weakly - 4/15/2017

When I think of a "weapon" I do not think of, say, poison administered to an assassination target. Now, clearly that's just me. This week "White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated during in his daily briefing on Tuesday that Adolf Hitler 'didn't even sink to using chemical weapons.'" The result was a firestorm of tweets, bleeps, and blurts about how he should be fired and all. Why? Well, Hitler did use gas to kill millions of Jews. And, of course, Spicer has apologized.

To me when someone says that an "attack" was made using "chemical weapons", I would never call to mind, "They rounded up a group of people, put them in a gas chamber, and killed them", so I wouldn't have caught it myself. But, of course, Spicer is "Trump's Press Secretary" and "Trump is evil", so anything he says can and absolutely will be used against him ... you know, like a weapon.

Who Knew?
All these news things over all the years and we said, "Yeah, right" ... and it turns out it was? Who knew? When Mitt Romney was running for president in 2012 he claimed to have "binders full of women" that he was trying to hire (in response to a question about workplace inequality). "Yeah, right," they said. Turns out he was.

Back in August, 2016, in the heat of the American presidential campaign, The Daily Mail, a British news source, put out a story that Mrs. Trump provided more than "modeling services" as a model ... if you catch my drift. Now, no one was saying that they were tampering with the election, but Melania did contend that they were lying. "Yeah, right," they said. Turns out she was right.

Trump famously complained that he had been monitored by the Obama administration. Everyone laughed. Then the FBI admitted that they had actually did do some. "Trump wasn't the target." And now we find that last summer they were monitoring communications of a Trump adviser. Vindication? Well, it's about Trump, so, no, but ...

And while we're there, the accusation has been -- implied if not explicit -- that Trump got Russia to hack the Dems to help him win the election. If this is true, I suppose the Russians are pretty miffed right now since the White House is saying that Russia knew in advance that Syria was going to use chemical weapons and, in fact, possibly assisted in trying to cover it up by bombing a hospital where victims were taken. Again, vindication for Trump? Oh, don't be silly. It's Trump. He could get a sign from God and we wouldn't buy it.

But, hey, who knew?

Call It What You Will
So, North Carolina is at it again. First the "bathroom ban", which has since been rescinded. Now they're introducing a bill to "ban same-sex marriage in the state." Never mind that the bill is the "Uphold Historical Marriage Act" (which is not the same as a "Ban Same-sex Marriage Act"). But, hey, call it what you will. (Why has no one called the Oberkfell v. Hodges ruling a "Redefine Marriage Ruling" or the Roe v Wade ruling a "Kill Babies Ruling"? I mean, they were exactly that, but they don't enjoy the same mislabeling as these bills that promote historical marriage.) Don't worry, folks. It won't pass. They made the worst possible gaff by saying, "the Supreme Court ruling exceeded the authority of 'the decree of Almighty God that "a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." (Genesis 2:24, ESV).'” I mean, seriously, quoting the Bible in a bill? And the ESV at that! Not gonna happen.

Call it a "same-sex marriage ban" if you want, but you will do so in the face of God's Word ... and, frankly, that's a dangerous place to be even if you don't know it.

Is That the Answer?
This, to me, is an odd story. Recently Hank Hanegraaff, CRI's "Bible Answer Man", converted to Greek Orthodox Christianity. Having spent years in apologetics and countering heresies and cults, he has departed from Protestant Christianity and stepped into Eastern Orthodoxy. (Here is a brief piece explaining how Eastern Orthodoxy is different. For instance, they believe in the authority of Scripture, but hold that they -- the Eastern Orthodox Church -- alone have the authoritative interpretation of Scripture. They believe in baptismal regeneration, that baptism produces the new birth and that, indeed, the faith of the recipient has no bearing on its effectiveness. And since they believe only the Eastern Orthodox Church has the authority to administer baptism, there is no salvation outside of the Orthodox Church. They teach "theosis", a process in which we participate by our works to obtain salvation and become god-like. Then there's that whole "chrismation" thing. Some examples from the article.) Hanegraaff explained that, while he was "typically more skewed toward truth", his wife was "more skewed towards life" -- concerned about experience -- and now he has gone over to her side.

Talk about Pointed Humor
The headline reads "Bill Clinton Calls Mike Pence’s Strict Marital Practices 'Excessive'". It is, actually, fake news -- a spoof -- but that is way too close to being too pointed.

In another piece on 9 Things You Should Know About The Transgender Bathroom Debate, I thought, "I couldn't have written that any better." Bravo.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Alas, And Did My Savior Bleed

Issac Watts (1674-1748) is known as the "Father of English Hymnody". He specialized in paraphrasing psalms and wrote some 750 hymns including favorites such as "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross", "O God, Our Help in Ages Past", and "Alas, And Did My Savior Bleed". Great stuff.
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
(Note: Perhaps you've heard that last line as something like "For sinners such as I?" That was not the original. Earlier Christians didn't have any problem with "self-esteem issues" (like David in Psalm 22:6) and agreed that sinners -- all of us -- were "worm-like".)

Charles Wesley (1707-1788) was the brother of John Wesley. In his lifetime he wrote over 6,000 hymns. One of his hymns had 27 stanzas. (We've pared it down to the requisite four now.) He was charged by a grand jury with "introducing into the church ... hymns not authorized." One of his most popular hymns has enjoyed a contemporary reintroduction with Chris Tomlin's "Amazing Love". The original hymn was titled "And Can It Be That I Should Gain?" and went something like this.
And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
It's Good Friday, the day we celebrate (Imagine that ... celebrating Someone's death.) the Crucifixion. It is a celebration and, in this case, right. Paul said, "We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles." (1 Cor 1:23) In his straightforward presentation of the Gospel he began, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures ..." (1 Cor 15:3). Jesus's death on the cross was planned and executed according to God's hand and plan (Acts 4:27-28). He died for us in part as a demonstration of God's love for us (Rom 5:8). It is both horrible and wonderful.

There is, however, a question. Were Watts and Wesley right? Did "my Sovereign die"? Did "my God" die for me? Did God die on the cross?

There is a problem with the idea. If "in Him all things hold together" (Col 1:17) and He died, then ... all things ceased to hold together. Some reword Wesley's hymn to say "How can it be, That Thou, my Lord, shouldst die for me?" for that reason. If God is defined as eternal and immortal (1 Tim 1:17), then a god who dies is not God. It cannot, then, be said that God died on the cross.

I take a slightly different view. What does it mean to "die"? Referring to beings (as opposed to machines or ideas, etc.), death is defined as "the end of the life of a person or organism." We die when our bodies cease to live. The heart stops, the brain quits, the breathing ends ... death. The truth, however, is that we do not believe that we cease to be when we cease to live. We go on. "Life after death". Some to glory and some to eternal death, but we go on. Death is not a divine possibility. It is a function of "creatureliness", of being a creation. In this sense, then, it would be true that "God died". That is, God the Son ceased to live on in physical presence while His essence went on. The human part of God the Son stopped living. In this sense I have no problem speaking of God dying for me. And, in this sense it is quite reasonable for Scripture to say that God obtained the Church "with His own blood" (Acts 20:28).

No, the Son did not cease to live entirely; His body did. That's "dying" by our definition. As such, His death is a demonstration of God's love for us and His answer to our sin problem. For that we rejoice.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Are We There Yet?

I often feel like the little kid on the family vacation. You know, the old station wagon with the travel accoutrements (luggage, camping gear, whatever) tied up on the roof and the whole family bundled inside. Mom tries to amuse the kids with games or singing. Dad just tries to keep the car straight -- it's a long way to the end of the road. And so shortly into this drive I'm in the back going, "Are we there yet?" You see, I want to be there.

Some time back I was talking to a friend about going home to Jesus. A coworker happened by and overheard. "What's the matter?" she asked. "Is life so hard here?" I answered with a parable.

"You live in a nice place, don't you?" "Yes, close to the beach ... a nice place." "Okay," I said, "now imagine that you get a knock on the door and when you open it there's a guy there in a suit and tie with an official briefcase and all. When you let him in he tells you you've won a sweepstakes. It's quite a prize, too. They will buy a lot in the place you want to live and then build you a house to your preferences. They will furnish it with all the nice things you could want. They will provide servants and help for life. They will give you and your husband new cars and even chauffeurs if you like. And when those cars wear out, you'll get new ones. All is paid for, tax free."

"Now," I finish, "would you take the prize?" "Oh, sure!" she answered enthusiastically. "What's the matter?" I asked. "Is life so hard here?"

I do so want to go home. No, I'm not miserable. No, it's not that I'm trying to escape anything. No, it's not that there is anything wrong. Well, mostly. To be fair, I am sick and tired of sinning. I am looking forward to ending that part of my existence. But I am certainly looking forward to going home. Are we there yet?
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Phil 1:21)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


If you've read the Gospels, you know the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders of Jesus's day. You know they were hypocrites (Matt 23:2-39). That was bad. Jesus pronounced some of His worst curses on them for it. Bad. You also know that they were more righteous than most (Matt 5:20), that they gave to the poor (Matt 6:1-4), that they prayed diligently (Matt 6:5-6), and that they fasted (Matt 6:16-18). (How many of us do that?) They tithed (Matt 23:23) and they searched the Scriptures (John 5:39). Lots of good things there. So they had that hypocrite thing wrong, but all that other stuff right ... right?

As it turned out, of course, they got all that other stuff wrong, too. They searched the Scriptures and missed the One about whom the Scriptures spoke (John 5:39-40). They tithed on the little things and neglected the weightier things (Matt 23:23-24). They fasted, prayed, and gave to the poor as a matter of show, for which they already received their reward (Matt 6:2,5,16). Despite getting so many things "right", they were constantly wrong and, therefore, their "righteousness" wasn't so right after all.

So we come to the delightful story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. You know the one. They begged Him to come because Lazarus sick, so Jesus ... didn't (John 11:1-6). He waited until Lazarus died, then went. He told His disciples, "For your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe." (John 11:15). Well, they went to the mourning; Lazarus had been buried for four days by the time they arrived (John 11:39). Jesus had them move the stone, then He called Him out of the tomb, and Lazarus emerged alive. Amazing stuff. Perhaps more amazing was the reaction of some of the eyewitnesses who went and complained to the Pharisees (John 11:45-46) who saw the event as a good reason to put Jesus (John 11:53) and Lazarus (John 12:10) to death.

It is here that we read of John's account of the Triumphal Entry (John 12:12-15). Crowds gathered to see Jesus and Lazarus (John 12:9) and gave Jesus a parade, calling Him, "King of Israel!" (John 12:13) And then we read this.
So the Pharisees said to one another, "You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him." (John 12:19)
If you've been paying attention, I've been pointing to the errors of the Pharisees. Notice that they got it wrong again. The world had not gone after Him. They just wanted to see the "cool signs". It was more of a circus atmosphere -- "Look at the guy raised from the dead!" -- than a gathering of believers. And in the week that follows this "whole world" that had "gone after Him" would vote to have Him executed.

It turns out that it is very possible to look very good without being close. Sure, they had hypocrisy, but look at how good they were. Jesus spoke of their righteousness, their prayer and fasting and giving, their tithing, and their dedication to Scripture. And they were wrong. Dead wrong. We don't want to be Pharisees, I know. But when we say that, we're talking about the over-emphasis on religious rules or the hypocrisy. We might also want to make sure we're right with God -- genuine followers of Christ -- rather than going through the motions. Because the world is not going after Christ, but we must.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


Not having visited most churches today, I perhaps shouldn't actually comment on "most churches today", but it seems as if most churches today are in some area between "traditional" and "contemporary" worship modes. They may have switched to a dual "traditional" service and a "contemporary" service. They may have a "blended" service. Or maybe they've ditched what would have been termed "traditional" for full-on "contemporary". This distinction is primarily in the music, although some people would include more than that. The hymnals are all but gone. The majority use projections on screens and PowerPoint presentations for the sermon and the like. But it's mostly in the music that we find the difference between "traditional" and "contemporary". "Traditional" is hymns with simpler accompaniment -- piano, organ, that kind of thing. I mean, there can be a range of instruments, but the music is primarily hymns ranging in age from hundreds of years old to maybe half a century or more. "Contemporary" has more "upbeat" music with "upbeat" instruments and "upbeat" beats. Choirs are out; stereotypical rock bands are in.

I'm not going to discuss the good or bad of switching or not. I'm not going to try to ask about what "style" Jesus would want. I am not going to examine which music is more godly than which. What I want to know is why. What is the motivation for this shift? Clearly churches are changing from something to something. Throughout Church history worship styles have changed and rarely without conflict. The 3rd century church was upset about instruments at all. The 6th century church didn't like the congregation singing much at all. The only "correct" version of singing in the 9th century was chanting. In the 15th century John Wycliffe complained that the choir was too loud and the music drowned out the words. In the 16th century they were offended that Martin Luther used contemporary tunes with his music. In the 19th century the founder of the Salvation Army was quoted as saying, "Why should the devil have all the good music?" Sure, things change. Regardless of whether or not it's a good thing, why are they doing it?

The question at hand is about changing musical styles for worship. Clearly there is no "biblical definition" of what style is the right style. You can't find any commands in Scripture that say, "Thou shalt use pipe organs and piano and thou shalt not use drums and electronic instruments." It's just not in there. So we aren't going to go with "We're changing musical styles to more closely conform to biblical commands." So why? There are a couple of answers.

First on the list is, essentially, numbers. More people like contemporary music than hymns. You want to attract more people, therefore, you need to shape your music to what would attract them. It's kind of a marketing thing. Find out what people like and, if you can, give it to them. They'll come. The standard view is "If you want to keep growing, you need to make it interesting for the younger generation." What is interesting to the younger generation? Cool music. What is "cool music"? That's a matter of feel, I suppose, but there definitely needs to be drums. Because this attracts people. The #1 answer, then, is reaching people for Christ. Isn't this what we're here for? If you want them to come in, you'll have to give them a reason. Music they like is one of them.

Close behind this one is the idea that contemporary music is more "feeling". It is more emotional, so to speak. (I'm not sure I'm expressing this adequately.) You want people to feel close to God. Most hymns are dirges ... not "close to God". Let's pick it up a bit. Let's liven it up some. Worship shouldn't be "ho-hum"; it should be expressive, enthusiastic, exciting.

Those are, I think, the primary reasons that churches have shifted. They want to improve the numbers (want more people to come) and they want to engage people emotionally. I am, of course, interested in knowing if there are others, but those are the two primary reasons I've found.

You see, I think the motivation is more important than the substance. I think that we've missed the biblical motivation for "church". If this is true, then we might want to rethink changing from something to something if that "to something" isn't in line with the biblical purpose of church.

So what is the biblical purpose of church? The first is found in the word. It refers to the "called out ones". It is a gathering of the saints. Sure, unbelievers will be present (1 Cor 14:24). But the purpose of the church is for the saints -- believers. That's found in the name -- "church". Paul goes on to explain that the primary function of the church is "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ" (Eph 4:12). "There, see?" they will tell me. "Building up the body of Christ. Bring in more people." No, that's not what he is talking about. He is talking about maturity. He says the building of the body of Christ is "until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes." (Eph 4:13-14) That is the primary purpose of the church. And how are we doing with that? How are we at "the unity of the faith"? How are we at maturity? How are we at no longer being tossed about by every wind of doctrine? I would argue that we are clearly failing. Is it because we've shifted from "building up the body of Christ" to "bringing in the sheaves"? Is it because we've aimed the church more toward evangelism than equipping the saints?

I think we've really missed the point in churches today. Worship is not about entertaining the masses or bringing up attendance. It is about God's people offering a sacrifice of praise to an audience of One, not about feeling good about God. It's about maturing believers, not enlarging the congregation. Mind you, mature believers will feel good about God and a church of equipped saints will increase attendance, but these are not the point. I think we've missed it. And I think it is our own loss to our own shame. You see, it's not about taste, about "old" vs "new", about preferences. It's not even about music. It's about unity rather than personal preference, about theology rather than experience, about participation rather than consumption or entertainment. We are engaging in worship of the Creator with all the saints and angels. Now, tell me again why we're changing from "traditional" to "contemporary"? There may be reasons for change, but do they conform to that kind of purpose?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Monday Lite

I was away for the weekend and didn't have a lot of time to write, but I saw this last week and was amazed at the clear thinking of a self-identified "Left" millennial.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

It Is Finished

We are celebrating the Resurrection next week. In the timeline of events, of course, the Crucifixion occurred first. When else did such horror produce such good?

You know the story. You know about His betrayal -- Judas's kiss -- and arrest. You know of His trial. Before they put Him to death, they performed all sorts of cruelty. There were the false witnesses and the scourgings, the beatings and the blood. There were the crown of thorns, the whipping, the robe. It was more than we can imagine. And Scripture says, "He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not his mouth." (Isa 53:7) There is no record of Jesus ever crying out through it all.

Then came the Crucifixion. They forced Him to carry His own instrument of death to the place of execution, something He couldn't complete because of the torture He endured. There they stripped Him naked and drove spikes into His hands and feet and lifted Him up to the abuse of all. Even one of those crucified with Him taunted Him. Here is one point where Jesus is recorded to cry out. It is when He experienced the worst torment possible. Not the physical horrors, but that single moment when He became sin for us and His Father turned His back on Him. "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matt 27:46)

Jesus's final words from the cross were most amazing. "It is finished." (John 19:30) He died there. More accurately, He "gave up His spirit." He died by choice.

It is, then, an astounding outcome from a horrendous event. "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor 5:21) The Father forsook His Son as the worst possible thing that could happen to His Son in order that we might "become the righteousness of God." In this, "God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:8) Jesus paid it all, a supreme act of love, the outcome of which we might be saved.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Saturday, April 08, 2017

News Weakly - 4/8/2017

Even She Gets It
Erin Gloria Ryan from the Daily Beast wrote a piece on Mike Pence's "Billy Graham Rule". She admitted that "Mike Pence respects his wife" and thought it was understandable albeit somewhat childish and foolish that he would refuse to be alone with another woman without his wife being present. Her primary concern was that Pence preferred to save babies' lives rather than enlarge abortion options. She was, therefore, not a Mike Pence fan and she was not even a fan of Christian values. So I thought it was pretty amazing that she made this statement. "Pence’s choice to avoid being alone with women is a function of his religious faith. It’s hard to fathom similar left-wing backlash if Pence’s conduct were informed by a non-Christian faith." Wow! In all the errors she wrote, she really hit that nail on the head.

You asked for it ... you got it
Play with fire and you get burned. Redefine words and you'll find it coming back around to bite you. Move "life" to "what we want to call it" and you get ... Himalayan glaciers as "living entities". There ya go. It used to be that "life" meant something. It used to be the thing that distinguished plants and animals from inorganic matter. No longer. Now it means whatever we say it means. Because India has given two rivers "human rights" and declared Himalayan glaciers as "legal persons", something we couldn't do with actual human babies. We have truly redefined reality ... except, of course, we haven't. Just because we feel something is true (or not) doesn't make it so.

Given global climate change and that "any injury or harm caused to these bodies shall be treated as injury or harm caused to human beings", I wonder who's going to get prosecuted first for murder? (I think India is currently one of the biggest contributors to global climate change, isn't it? I told you it will come back and bite you. Karma?)

Eyes Wide Open
Vimeo is a leading video-sharing platform. Last week Vimeo removed 850 videos from Pure Passion Ministries and deleted their account. Why? Dr. Foster, director of Pure Passion Ministries and a former homosexual, offers a "cure" for homosexual behavior -- Christ. "The healing," he said, "comes through faith in Christ." Vimeo says, "We consider this basic viewpoint to display a demeaning attitude toward a specific group, which is something that we do not allow." Or, to put it more correctly, "We do not allow a demeaning attitude toward a specific group unless it's a specific group we wish to demean ... like Christians who disagree with our celebration of homosexuality." Of course, this shouldn't be a surprise. "The John Milton Project list of censorship offenders includes Facebook, Google, Twitter, GoFundMe, and Apple." You should have seen this coming, right?

1984 All Over Again
So Tuesday was a "global Trump protest" where nearly 200 movie theaters worldwide planned to screen the film version of George Orwell's 1984. Orwell's book found a resurgence of interest recently after senior Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway used the term "alternative facts" on a news show. Apparently a lot of the Left sees the Trump administration in a "Big Brother" light.

Funny thing. I, too, reread 1984 recently for the same reason. I was struck by Orwell's amazing characterization of the 21st century Left. They've been the ones rewriting history, redefining terms, and arguing "a boy isn't a boy until he says he is" kinds of things. Does Trump tell the truth? Don't be ridiculous. It has been a standard maxim for a long time: "How do you tell if a politician is lying? If his lips are moving." But it seems to me it's Progressives that are most concerned with "thoughtcrime" like "microagression", "intolerance", "hate", and "bigotry" where they don't exist and controlling the masses by rewriting the language. I'm not at all sure this was a well-aimed protest.

And they're at it again
So, I'm not protesting the ruling, but I am pointing out the logic. According to NBC News, "A federal appeals court in Chicago ruled Tuesday that long-standing federal civil rights laws prohibit discrimination on the job against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees." Fine. Okay. How you prove that they didn't give you the job because of your sexual orientation is a bit vague, but, fine. The reasoning, however, was amazing. "Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination." You see, federal law prohibits workplace discrimination on several grounds including "sex". That is, what gender you are. But the court said "it would require considerable calisthenics to remove the 'sex' from 'sexual orientation.'" Because, you see, who you have sex with is the very same thing as what gender you are. Which is really odd since we don't appear to be clear on the definition of gender either.

As I said, I'm not commenting on the ruling. I'm just wondering when what "sex" you are became synonymous with what gender you like to "have sex" with. Chief Judge Diane Wood said, "It is actually impossible to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without discriminating on the basis of sex." Perhaps her great learning has muddled her brain, because I have no problem telling the difference between orientation and gender.

A Couple of Last Thoughts
This last week saw Equal Pay Day, addressing the gender gap in pay. I was just wondering. If there are ... oh, I don't know ... what ... 50+ genders out there, what does that do to the "gender pay gap" calculations? Just musing ... you know. I don't suppose I'll actually expect studies and numbers and rallies for "equal pay for pangenders" or the rest.

You remember the furor the previous week over the outrageous behavior of the vice president in refusing to let himself get into any questionable situations with women-not-his-wife. You know, the "Billy Graham rule". Because only an immoral, sexist perpetuating patriarchy and pushing prophylactic gender separatism would do such a thing. I was just wondering if anyone noticed 1) the sharp distinction between the president's view ("Hey, you get whatever sex you can get.") and the vice president's view ("You publicly and carefully limit sex to the wife.") and 2) the outrage of loud-mouthed America toward both. "No, no! You can't be coming on to women whenever you want! And, no! You can't avoid it, either. You two are evil, evil men." The other side of the double-standard coin, where you're castigated if you do and castigated if you don't.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Sub Standards

"Here's what I do," he told me. "I know I'm not perfect. I know I do a lot of bad things. So what I aim for is to do more good things than bad. I try to do good things to make up for the bad. I know I hurt people when I was younger, so I try to help people now. That kind of thing."

It was a conversation with a coworker. I don't actually know where it came from. He gave me his "road to salvation" out of the blue. "Make my good outweigh my bad." I suppose it's fairly common. He's not alone in it, I'm sure. And I'm still puzzling over it.

How do you know? A business hires bookkeepers to keep track of outlay and income because accounting is essential. I was taught to balance a checkbook because accounting is essential. But in this arrangement they're just winging it. No way of knowing how much bad or good has been done. Just hope for the best, I suppose.

What is good? Or bad? They're not tracking good or bad, and they're aiming to do more good than bad, but how is "good" and "bad" defined? By what standard is this "good" and that "bad"? "How I feel", I suppose.

Infinite variability is a problem. Not knowing how much bad has been done means you can't know how much good is required to "balance the books", so to speak. Not knowing what is good or bad simply multiplies that problem. Factor in the changing feelings of what constitutes good and bad and it becomes an absolute impossibility. "Well, I thought this was bad before, but now I think it's good. And I know that is bad, but it doesn't deter me in the least from doing it anyway. Must be okay."

I don't really see how any of this provides comfort to the bearer of this standard, such as it is. If your standard is, of whatever sort, "whatever I make it to be", you're on some very thin ice. We have to go by the standards of the One who is perfect (Matt 5:48). Anything else is perilous. And, of course, that standard means we're all in need of a Savior.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

The Emperor's New Clothes

Hans Christian Andersen wrote the story about two scam artists who called themselves weavers and declared they could make a marvelous suit of clothes. Not only was it unparalleled in beauty, but it carried the added characteristic that it couldn't be seen by someone that was unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent. Well, you know the story. The emperor ordered a set and paid big bucks and sent advisers to check on the progress and eventually put them on and walked out to show. No one said anything about the absence of the clothes because everyone knew that if you didn't see them, it was because you were unfit for your positions, stupid, or incompetent. A small child finally called out, "He isn't wearing anything at all!" and the whole thing collapsed.

Now, lots of scholarly people have written lots of scholarly things about the meaning and intent of Andersen's tale. It was political satire against the emperor. It was about maintaining the courage of one's convictions. It was about the expansion of democratic power. Right. Better minds than I, I suppose. What I see is today's perspective. They tell us, "If you believe that gender is accurately recorded on a birth certificate, you're a bigot." They assure us, "If you don't embrace the beliefs and values of others, you're intolerant." They are quite sure that if you don't agree with them on the redefinition of marriage or the celebration of sexual immorality or the like, you're "on the wrong side of history".

A left-leaning mom in California wrote a blog entry about an experience she had with her kids at Disneyland. A clearly male guy walked into the women's bathroom. No one said a thing. Some fled. "There were women and small children using the restroom and this man was walking around knowing no one would say anything." Why? "We had been culturally bullied into silenced."

It's not hate to be concerned for the eternal soul of another person engaged in sexual immorality, adultery, homosexual behavior, theft, or the rest (1 Cor 6:9-10). It's not bigotry to call sin sin. It's not sexism to agree with God regarding submission of wives to husbands (Eph 5:22-24; 1 Peter 3:1-6) or excluding women from church leadership (1 Tim 2:12-14). It's not wrong to side with God. We need to remain like that child (Matt 18:3). "He isn't wearing anything at all!"

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Who Are These People?

I read the Parable of the Sower (Matt 13:3-9) the other day. I find it disturbing. Who are these people?

You know the parable. A sower sows seeds. The seeds fall on different types of soil. The seeds on the path are scooped up by birds. The seeds on rocky soil are scorched. The seeds in the weeds are choked. Only the seeds on the good ground produce grain.

Fortunately, we have Jesus's explanation for this particular parable (Matt 13:18-23). So far, so good. The seed is "the word of the kingdom". The one who doesn't understand has the word snatched by the evil one. The rocky soil is one who "receives it with joy", but tribulations and persecutions cause him to fall away. The thorny soil also appears to receive the word, but it is unfruitful because of "the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches." And, then, there's the good soil. We get that one.

Now, that's what the text tells us. What else do we know? Well, we know that "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one." (John 10:27-30) We know that God "is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy." (Jude 1:24) We can be "sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil 1:6)

So, let's feed these back into the "equation". There are four types who receive the word. The first never "experiences" it, so to speak. The last produces "grain". So there are two "soil types" that receive the word, but lose it. Who are these people? You see, if we say they are genuine believers, then Jesus would have to have been wrong when He said that "no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" because apparently tribulation and the world are quite able to do so. Jude would be wrong when he said that God was able to keep you from stumbling because persecution and riches are greater than God's ability. Paul would be wrong in his confidence in God because the world would appear to be more powerful than the Father. And we know that cannot be. So ... who are these people?

If John is right -- "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us." (1 John 2:19) -- then it would appear that there are some "Christians" who are not at all. Note how closely they resemble the genuine article. You receive the Word; they receive the Word. You receive it with joy; they receive it with joy. You experience tribulations and persecutions; they experience tribulations and persecutions. You have pressures from the world; they have pressures from the world. In John's version they are in our midst, among us, indistinguishable. They teach and they share and they move among us. Jesus describes (in the very next parable after the Parable of the Sower) the "tares among wheat" (Matt 13:24-30), growing up in the very midst of the real stuff and looking very much like the real stuff and left there by God until the end.

Who are these people who hear the Word and even seem to take it in, but ultimately fail? It would appear, all things considered, that they are the tares among the wheat, the false "believers" who are among us. I think it's clear that we can't pick them out very well. It looks like they can't pick themselves out very well. They may be the neighbor or coworker who tells you, "Yeah, I tried that 'born again' stuff; it didn't work." Or they may be a friendly church member, even serving or leading a class. It's a scary group -- scary largely for their own sakes.

What is clear is this. The genuine reception of the Word is dependent on the heart of the one who receives it. The hard heart, the timid heart, the heart cluttered by the world, these cannot take in the Word. It is a heart problem (Ezek 36:26). Another clear message is that those who actually receive the Word will actually have results -- a change in life and behavior, affecting others and bearing fruit of both affecting others' lives for Christ and bearing the fruit of the Spirit -- what we call "sanctification". If there is no change -- no fruit -- perhaps you ought to be checking your own condition.