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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Fundamentally

The New Republic has a story aptly titled The Silence of the Lambs about a scandalous child sex abuse case in an extremely conservative Baptist missionary organization called the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE). It really is horrific. Young girls under the influence of a charismatic leader in the mission field were seduced, drugged, molested, destroyed. The group -- its leadership and its membership -- sought to cover it up and gloss it over. They blamed the girls and told them so. Lives were destroyed. Justice was canceled. It was awful, truly awful.

The article, however, makes an assumption. The core of the problem in the ABWE was not the man doing the deed or the people involved in the cover up, but the beliefs of the system. "Silence and submission make fundamentalist Christians a ripe target," they tell us. "Fundamentalists preach strict obedience to religious authority." As proof that fundamentalism is the core problem, the article lists four "venerated patriarchs" of "fundamentalism" (as if "fundamentalism" is some sort of organization) -- Doug Phillips, Bill Gothard, Josh Duggar (spelled "Dugger" in the article) and Toby Willis -- who were enmeshed at one time or another in massive sexual misconduct cases. Now, we can scratch our heads and say, "Really? Josh Duggar is a 'venerated patriarch' of 'fundamentalism'?", but that's not the point. Apparently authoritarianism is a main part of "fundamentalism" (I keep putting it in quotes because the article seems to think of it as some monolith of beliefs and structure ... it's not.) The article cites "fundamentalist precepts about the nature of sex and women" as the prime reason that the girls, not the perpetrators, were blamed. And the cover-up itself was a "product of the sprawling, disparate world of Christian fundamentalism." At the core, then, very clearly "fundamentalism" is the problem. The reason there is sex abuse in fundamentalist circles is fundamentalism.

I want to say, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." "Fundamentalism" is defined as "A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles" on the Free Dictionary and as "a religious movement characterized by a strict belief in the literal interpretation of religious texts" at dictionary.com. Probably fairly accurate. Since the root of the word is "fundamental", "fundamentalism" would be a strict adherence to fundamentals. Yeah, that's tough to figure out. In the case of Christianity, it would be strict adherence to the fundamentals of what God says. Hey, this isn't that hard. And, yet, it seems to be nigh unto impossible to avoid "It's a hateful belief that all men are lords and masters and all women are to be used and abused and anyone who disagrees ought to be shot." Not in there. In fact, to arrive at that point would be a denial of ... the fundamentals.

You see, the abuse (which does occur) of people, of Scripture, of authority, of privilege, and all that is abuse, not "proper use". Not all "fundamentalists" believe what this author claimed to be basic "fundamentalist" beliefs (such as "authoritarianism", "silence", "strict obedience", or some strange "precepts about the nature of sex and women" that would have a bearing on this discussion). Scripture doesn't support that pastor who did such horrible things to those girls or the leadership that covered it up or the followers who accused the girls rather than the perpetrator. It's not in there. That some abuse God's Word to make you think it is doesn't make it so. That people do it "in the name of God" doesn't make it so. To lay the accusations, then, at the feet of a belief that calls for adherence to basic biblical principles when those basic biblical principles are ignored and tortured and abused themselves is not rational, reasonable, or right.

But, today we've arrived at "rational, reasonable, or right" as something to be ignored. It doesn't feel right, so we're going to stone it to death. And "fundamentalism" becomes an epithet, a disparaging term all by itself. It's a handy way to marginalize the entire question without actually examining the points. Do not think about what the word means. If you hear it, recognize that the person using it is good and kind and the persons or beliefs about which it is being used are evil and horrible. Just look at Josh Duggar or ISIS and you'll see. Fundamentalism is evil. We know this as a fundamental belief!

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Psalmist's Progression

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psa 1:1-2)
It's a well-known Psalm. Pretty clear, too. It precludes three things ... well, only really one. It looks like three: walk, stand, sit. It is a progression.

You see a progression in the actions. You start out walking along. Eventually you become comfortable enough to stop, to stand. Eventually it is "home", a place you can sit, relax, be comfortable. The instruction is, then, pretty straightforward; don't make the world of sin your home.

You see a progression in the people. There are the "wicked", the ungodly, the morally disinclined. They become "sinners", the guilty, those who have missed the mark, who have crossed the line. These become scoffers, openly hostile and derisive of God and His ways.

It's important to notice what it does not say. It doesn't say "Don't walk with the wicked" or "Don't stand with a sinner" or "Don't sit with a scoffer." These would miss the point. Paul says, "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people -- not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world." (1 Cor 5:9-10) You see, not associating with them is not the point. They're everywhere. In fact, our calling is to share the gospel with them.

What's the issue, then? It is their counsel, their way, their seat. It is their worldviews, standards, and positions, their behaviors, their hostility toward God and His Word we are not make our own. We see this clearly presented in the contrast. The one who does not do all those things finds his delight in the "the law of the Lord". The word here -- "law" -- is a specific reference to "torah" and a general reference to God's instructions and precepts ... His Word. This is the defining difference. In this, God's Word, the righteous person "meditates day and night." No, not some mystical chanting. Clearly it is "day and night", meaning continual and habitual. It takes time and effort. And ... well ... why not? It is his "delight". Jesus said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" (Luke 11:28) Meditating on it makes it part of life, part of existence, part of practice. It is the one-for-one replacement of "walk", "stand", and "sit" -- becoming familiar, comfortable, at home with God's Word, affecting thought and action.

We, of course, are not there in much of our Christian society today. So many of today's professing Christians regard God's Word with suspicion. "You can't be too certain." "You can't be too careful." "You should question authority, including quite specifically the authority of Scripture." So many are drawing their views and values from the counsel of the wicked, taking their stand with way of the sinners and choosing to sit with the scoffers rather than with God's Word.

The rest of the psalm spells out the results for these two paths. The one who finds delight in the Word prospers (Psa 1:3). Those who pursue the alternative, deriving life perspectives and principles from the opposition to God's Word, "are not so" (Psa 1:4). They can expect judgment and destruction in the end. Your choice.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Sunday Hymn

It's Sunday. How about a hymn?
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace.
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above;
Praise the mount - I'm fixed upon it - mount of Thy redeeming love.

Here I raise mine Ebenezer - hither by Thy help I'm come;
And I hope by Thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God;
He to rescue me from danger interposed His precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to Thee:
Prone to wander - Lord, I feel it - prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart - O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.
Written in 1758 by Robert Robinson, this old hymn is a favorite of many. It has fallen into the sorry condition of anonymity largely because of the archaic language, but the truths held herein shouldn't be missed.

James writes, "Every good gift and every perfect gift comes down from the Father." The hymn writer concurs. He recognizes God as the "Fount of every blessing." We seem to miss that so many times today, thinking we have earned our good fortune. But the hymn credits God with that.

Further, the hymnist sees gratitude as a need of the heart, an attribute to be learned and developed. "Tune my heart to sing Thy grace." We see ourselves as much larger than we are. We think that with Jesus by our side we can do anything. We don't see that we can do nothing if we don't cling closely to Him. There is no good thing in us ... only Christ. It is His work, even to attune us to gratefulness. And giving thanks is one of the pleasing things to God (Eph. 5:20; Col. 1:9-12; 1 Thess. 5:18).

In our lack of gratitude, we have missed the next great truth that the hymn examines. "Streams of mercy." Some believe that Christ had to die for us, that His love for us required it. They place an undue sense of value on themselves. But God's holiness and wrath require judgment. It is mercy that stands between us and the living God. "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb. 10:31)

Our culture values self above all else. We refuse to believe that we deserve hell. We, after all, are human beings, valuable in our own existence. We've changed the hymns' references that denigrate our worth (e.g., "At The Cross" and "Beneath The Cross Of Jesus"). But without that bad news, the good news isn't as good. If we are, after all, valuable beings in ourselves, then it was only good economy on God's part to save us - and there is no grace. Grace is defined as unmerited favor. If we have merit, there is no grace.

In 1 Samuel 7, God delivers Israel from the Philistines. The prophet, Samuel, leads the nation in a sacrifice and God confounds the enemy with thunder. When it was done, he declared the place Ebenezer (1 Sam. 7:12), the place where God helped them. It was a symbol of God's faithfulness. Robinson raises his symbol of God's faithfulness on the place he found himself. He saw his very existence as proof of God's intervention. "By Your help and Your help alone I've come this far in life." How far? All the way to salvation.

The hymnist places no trust in his ability to maintain his salvation. "I hope by Thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home." All the glory of salvation and all the success of arrival lands squarely in God's lap. Neither the obtaining nor the sustaining of redemption is possible for a human being alone. But God is immensely capable. He proved it at the cross, at the cost of His shed blood.

The current theory in evangelical churches across America is that to become a Christian, we accept Christ. Robinson states it rather differently. "Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God." Scripture is plain to teach that faith is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8), and that we fail to seek God (Rom. 3:11). It is solely grace, favor shown without any merit in the receiver, that causes God to seek those who run from Him. Why? "To rescue me from danger." And at what cost? His blood. This, indeed, calls for songs of loudest praise.

We seem to easily forget God's amazing grace. We embrace it, then take it for granted, then demand it. Would that we could maintain the view that this hymn holds. God's goodness to us, the undeserving, should hold us in His debt. It has been said that the ethic of salvation is grace and the ethic of the Christian life is gratitude. "Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee." That kind of slavery ought to be a welcome part of every believer.

Robinson recognized a trait in himself that we all possess and often miss. He saw his tendency to wander. In later life he did walk away from God, failing to be bound to God's goodness. But wandering, in itself, is not the final problem. Great heroes of the Bible strayed into sin. Abraham, whose faith was reckoned to him as righteousness, feared so much for his own life that he passed his wife off as his sister. David, the man after God's own heart, committed adultery and murder. The faith chapter of Hebrews 11 is as much a rogue's gallery as a museum of the faithful, for each hero of faith failed.

What, then, are we to do? Wherein is our hope? Our confidence is in the One who called us, who sought us while we were yet strangers. "It is God who is at work in you," Paul says (Phil. 2:13). What joy to have the assurance that God holds our hearts, sealed for Him (Eph. 1:13, 14)!

Seeing God, His grace, love, mercy and goodness, in this light must necessarily return us to the first verse of the hymn, for there is the proper response. Lord, fountain of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Your grace. The unending stream of Your mercy calls for songs of loudest praise. Teach me to sing as only the angels in heaven can sing of Your wonders. I'm fixed, grounded, rooted, anchored in Your redeeming love.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

News Weakly - 6/24/2017

Overreach
I don't suppose anyone is particularly paying attention, but I thought it was funny when the New York Times put up the story of how the European Court of Human Rights ruled that "Russia’s ‘Gay Propaganda’ Laws Are Illegal". I was only amused not because I think that Russia is correct in its laws or that it's not. I was amused because a European court of human rights thought they had the authority and power to declare the laws of a sovereign nation "illegal". As if there is some world body that gets to tell nations "You may pass this law and you may not pass that one." I mean, if, for "illegal", they substituted "immoral", "unfair", "unkind", "not in step with other European countries", or even "a violation of human rights as we currently define them", that would be fine. But when did a European Court of Human Rights get to pass ruling on the legality of a Russian law (or the law of any other sovereign nation)? What's next? "Your American 'free exercise of religion' law is no longer legal because we say so" or some other nonsense? (After all, they wouldn't be the first to say that, would they?)

Being Missional
The Diocese of Truro, an Anglican church in the UK, is advertising for a Strategic Programme Manager to lead their missions department. They want someone with an undergraduate degree, good management skills, those kinds of things. What they are not concerned about is whether or not the person is "a practising Christian". No need, as long as they are "sympathetic to the aims and objectives of the Church of England." I just ... I don't know ... I don't get it. Are not "the aims and objectives of the Church" to make disciples who follow Christ? But, hey, no need to be a follower of Christ as long as you ... want others to? Nope, not getting it at all.

Human Rights - New Revised Version
Canada has had an epiphany. All those years (read "since the dawn of time") that people thought that male was male and female was female they were wrong, wrong, wrong. Last week the Senate "passed Bill C-16" which makes “gender identity or expression” a protected right and if you discriminate against someone on that basis you are violating Canadian law. Make sure you get that pronoun right or else. Nor should you anticipate that you actually have freedom of speech in Canada, at least in your use of gender-related words. So, in Canada, at least, gender confusion is a human right and ought to be nurtured and supported and anyone attempting to help set them free of their confusion is violating their rights. It used to be that "human rights" were in place to protect; now we're using them to oppress.

While we're on the subject of Canada ...
Also in Canada, "A new Canadian law considers denying a child's gender identity a form of abuse." Ontario legislators have passed Ontario Bill 89 that gives the government the right to take children away from families if the parents or caregivers don't support the child's gender identity. According to the law, "The matters to be considered in determining the best interests of a child are changed." Good parents will give "due weight" to "the child's views and wishes" and will affirm (Remember that definition? That was "celebrate and encourage".) a variety of issues including "sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression." It is not yet clear if they will actually use this law to remove children from homes that have some sort of rational idea that gender is apparent and gender confusion is something to overcome rather than indulge, but it is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Total Surprise
Now this item was a complete surprise. You may not believe it, but apparently an increase in the numbers of drivers who have access to drugs that impair the senses (like legalized marijuana) produce a larger number of traffic accidents. Wow! Didn't see that coming. Oh ... wait ... yes, we did.

On Politics and Weather
In the wake of Republican Karen Handel's victory over Democrat Jon Hossoff for Georgia's 6th Congressional District, the National Weather Service has issued widespread flash flood warnings because of the downpour of liberal tears across America. Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Furnace

It has been a hot one here this week. Temperatures near or beyond 120°F. They were grounding aircraft and warning everyone to stay indoors. So, there I was, walking the distance to my afternoon bus that would take me home ... in the heat. And I'm thinking, "This is something new." I've been in 105°, 110°, even 115° heat, but this was something different. It felt like ... a furnace, like I was standing in an actual furnace. Which called to mind some guys who actually did.

You remember those three Jewish boys who refused to bow to the king's golden statue (Dan 3:1-30). The king was mad and said, "Look, guys, it's simple. Just bow down at the next sound of horns or I'll have you thrown into the furnace. Can your god save you from that?" And they answered, "We don't have to answer you, but, yes, He can. However, even if He doesn't, we won't bow." The king was hot under the collar, ordered the fires seven times hotter, and got some of his bravest warriors to toss them in. Mind you, this heat was not like what I was walking through. This heat killed the men who threw them in. Well, you know the rest. They didn't burn. The king called them back out, finding the only thing they lost was the ropes that tied them, and he blessed God.

What I was thinking about was what it was that these three were thinking when they declared "Our God can, but even if He doesn't, we won't bow." You will notice that they did not overstate their case. They spoke to God's ability -- He was able to deliver them. They did not speak of God's will. God's power is easy. We can see His power through what is made (Rom 1:19-20). If He can make all that is, He can do anything at all. But in order for anything to happen, there must be two aspects. There must be ability and there must be willingness. These guys knew what God was capable of; they didn't know what His will was.

So why? Why did they defy the king? It wasn't some grand faith thing -- "Our God will save us, oh king!" It wasn't what they hoped to get out of it. For all they knew, they would get incinerated. What were they expecting? What made it worthwhile?

Well, if God's power is shown in what is made, so is His wisdom, His goodness, His love. David wrote the 23rd Psalm while he was on the run from King Saul and in that piece he said, "I will fear no evil." (Psa 23:4) In that context he wrote, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." (Psa 23:6) You see, David was also in on this secret that those three guys had. So was Paul. "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." (Phil 3:8) Not "what God gives me." Not "what I can get." Not "whatever I can name and claim." These guys understood that we are generally looking at things backward.

How? Well, we tend to think, "This happens and it's bad and that happens and it's good." These guys think, "If God does it it's good ... regardless of my perception." To put it another way, "Whatever God gives me is good." If that's a good job or I'm fired for my faith, it's good. If it's health or cancer, money coming in or a financial setback, a long life with those I love or the loss of a loved one, it's good.. Nothing else is as valuable as simply knowing God. No price is too high for this relationship with the Most High. And those guys were planning on paying the highest price.

I will be honest. I'm not there yet. Oh, I want to be. I long to be. I want to be at the place where nothing gives me as much delight as simply knowing Christ. Nothing. Because where my treasure is, there will my heart be, also (Luke 12:34). So it's a lifelong, time-consuming process of relabeling things. "Oh, I thought that was bad. But You're good, so it's not." "For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (2 Cor 4:17-18) That's what I need -- an eternal perspective. Then the furnace doesn't seem so hot. And the only thing I'll lose are the things bind me here.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Pride Goeth Before a Fall

We all know this story. It starts with a lawyer who asks Jesus, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" It ends with the famous Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

When the lawyer asked his question, Jesus answered with a question. "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" (Luke 10:26) And the lawyer answered correctly (Luke 10:28). "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:27) So far, so good. The man knows his Scriptures. He has the right answers to what some might consider the hardest of questions -- how do we inherit eternal life? And then ... he stepped in it.
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29)
There he was, humming along, asking all the right questions, giving all the right answers, and right out of Scripture. Couldn't go wrong ... right? And, yet, he did. Instead of pursuing the known, he was "desiring to justify himself."

Now, don't miss the point. (The word "justify" may confuse us.) He wanted to demonstrate that he was "all that". He wanted Jesus to confirm for him what he already believed -- that he was a righteous man. He was already just. He had already, all on his own, managed to earn eternal life. The question at the beginning, then, was not for information, not that of a seeker. He was aiming to prove that he had arrived and wanted the teacher to verify it for everyone else.

He asked the right questions and had the right answers. What went wrong? He wasn't interested in either. He was merely interested in himself -- a particularly pernicious form of pride, the pride of religious correctness. Trust me, if and when you and I fall into it, Jesus will have a correction for us like He did for this lawyer. "Who is my neighbor?" Oh, that's a big question and your pride won't be able to support the answer.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Internet Etiquette

Imagine a world that is steeped in make-believe. A world where words mean a variety of things with very little to actually anchor them. A world where "Reality is how you define it" and the same for morality. A world where "I read it on the Internet; it must be true." A world, in short, that believes itself to be firmly rooted in truth but wouldn't be able to pick it out in a lineup with the Marx brothers. That's our world.

When someone posted this quote from Lincoln, people repeated it throughout the Internet ... because so few were able to figure out that Lincoln predated the Internet.





When this picture of Steven Spielberg next to an animatronic dinosaur from his movie, Jurassic Park, Facebook exploded at the cruelty of a hunter killing one of the last dinosaurs.
We think we're pretty solid here, but, to tell the truth, we don't know what the gender of the blonde in the dress is, let alone the gender of the person we're happily chatting with on the Internet. Old? Young? Male? Female? Who knows? Because we're not really solid at all here. And then ... we engage in dialog. We pick up our favorite line of banter -- sex, politics, religion, whatever -- and begin a debate of all things ... without a clear understanding of words, morality, reality, or who we're even talking to. (Funny thing. Sometimes when we are sure who we're talking to we take them the wrong way because we're on the Internet, not face to face.)

No, Lincoln didn't comment on the Internet. No, Spielberg didn't shoot a dinosaur. But, as it turns out, the Bible does talk about Internet interactions. May I suggest a strategy for discussion on the Internet? No, not the Internet -- everywhere. No, not suggest -- offer God's perspective.
Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20)
Now, if you think about it, I think that would go a long way toward calming things down ... in all sorts of places. The fix? Oh, no, of course not. There will always be people that believe that you should not kill animals, but should "buy meat at the grocery store where no animals are hurt." And, let's face it, not everyone is going to be rational. Still, it's a start. Better, it's a command. That should make it worth the Christian's consideration.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Old Cloth and New Wineskins

The parable of the wineskins is not new to us. We all know it. (Is it actually a parable?) "No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined." (Luke 5:37) The saying is found in Luke's Gospel as well as Matthew's (Matt 9:17) and Mark's (Mark 2:22).

In context (Matt 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39), the disciples of John the Baptist were asking why it was that the Pharisees fasted and the disciples of John fasted, but Jesus's disciples did not. Jesus's original response was, "You cannot make the attendants of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you?" (Luke 5:34)
Then He went into the explanation of new patches on old cloth and new wine in old wineskins. What did He mean?

Several places I've read suggest something like "Organized religious structures are reticent to change with the times." These types go on to argue that we need to change with the times and that trying to stuff "that old time religion" down the throats of new people is pointless. You'll "burst the bag". Is that what Jesus meant? Was Jesus telling His church, "You have to change with the times"? We certainly are hearing this call today from many corners.

I would think that it would be manifestly clear that this is not the case. Jesus wasn't saying, "Change with the times." He was saying, "Times have changed." No, not just "times" -- the one true religion as God sees it. And not actually "changed". More like "corrected" or "clarified". Why do I say that? It was Jesus's explanation: the "Bridegroom" had come. He was there. This was new. Everything would change. Everything would realign to the truth that had always been the case. The Messiah, the Lamb of God, had come.

With the arrival of Jesus, things have changed. We see this in His "Sermon on the Mount" when He says (repeatedly), "You have heard it said ... but I tell you." (Matt 5:17-38) We see this in the very next event after the wineskins comment, when the disciples ate grain on the Sabbath and Jesus informed the Pharisees, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27-28) We see this in Paul's day on the issue of circumcision, where the real circumcision in view is the circumcision of the heart, not some body part (Col 2:11-12). We see this in Jesus's fulfillment of the sacrificial system, so that the Lamb of God has come to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). It is the contrast of old and new covenant. The old was with Israel; the new is with all who come to Him. And the conditions are changed. The Old Testament saints were saved by faith in the future Messiah. After this, we are saved by grace through faith in Christ who came.

This is not Jesus telling the church "You need to change with the times." This is Jesus telling the world, "Now that I'm here, things have changed. Don't try to fit your 'work hard to be saved' mentality onto what I'm doing. This is a new covenant, a new thing. Planned from the beginning of time, this doesn't fit your old thinking. It's time for something new -- salvation by grace through faith and the works that accompany rather then cause it." Just like in us, "The old things passed away; behold, new things have come." (2 Cor 5:17) It isn't, in the end, a change in the plan; it is a change in the expression. Since Jesus Christ is the Truth (John 14:6) and He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8), the truth doesn't change either. The parables of the new cloths on old and new wine in old wineskins were not calls to change the truth; they were calls to align our behavior with the truth, where the coming of the Bridegroom marked the long-awaited correction to mistaken ideas and their resultant attitudes and behaviors.

Monday, June 19, 2017

You Don't Owe Me Nothin'

Yeah, yeah, bad grammar, but it's a line from a song, so don't give me any grief over it; I didn't write it. But there is a point here.

One of the biggest, most difficult complaints offered throughout history about God is "Why do bad things happen to good people?" or "If there is a God, why is there evil?" It's a dilemma. And not merely for Christianity. If there is Allah, why do bad things happen? If there is Jehovah, why do bad things happen? If there is any all-powerful, all-good being, why do bad things happen? The dilemma is obvious. Reasoning from our experience -- there is evil -- either this being is not all-powerful or not all-good.

Now, lots of sound and ink have been expended making good (and bad) defenses on this topic. (Hint: A "bad" defense of God in the face of evil is "Well, it just happens; He can't stop it.") But I'm addressing here an underlying thought, a basic concept here that appears to often be overlooked. The premise behind, "Why would God allow bad things to happen to good people?" is 1) there are good people and 2) God owes us something better. The truth is this mentality harkens all the way back to the Garden:
"God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Gen 3:5)
It's our core problem -- "I will make myself like the Most High." (Isa 14:14) We have made ourselves into idols. As such, God owes us. He owes us respect, comfort, peace, love, all the good things we think He ought to give us. When these don't come our way or when we lose what we have of it, He's wrong. He has failed to meet His obligations to us. Faith breaks down. Skepticism builds. Opposition replaces submission.

Here's the thing. God does offer us lots of good. He made us in His image (Gen 1:26; Gen 9:6), loves the world (John 3:16), offers love, joy, peace (Gal 5:22), and so on. He does all that. What we fail to see and, therefore, what we've lost is grace. Paul says that grace is not grace when it's owed (Rom 11:6; Rom 4:4). When we stand on entitlement rather than unmerited favor, we've subverted grace. And the loss of grace is a harsh loss.

I'm not hoping to focus on "You don't owe me nothin'". I'm not trying to point out how bad we are. What I want us to grasp is how big God's unmerited favor towards us actually is. Yes, He shows us kindness, but not because He owes it to us. And that makes it huge. I'm sure you've seen this in microcosm in human life. You buy a child a gift. He or she isn't particularly grateful because, after all, it was their birthday or Christmas or something and ... well ... they had it coming. I don't want to be that. I want to exult in the vast grace of God, His unmerited, unearned, undeserved favor. It is so much bigger when it isn't owed.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day, 2017

We are commanded to "Honor your father and your mother" (Exo 20:12). Paul says it is "the first commandment with a promise" (Eph 6:1-3). Nowhere is there an exception clause. "You only have to honor honorable parents." "Honor good parents, but not bad." "You can stop once you become an adult." It's a simple, straightforward command.

I, thank God, have been blessed with an honorable father. He is a man that loves God, loves his wife and my mother, loves his children. He is a man who has always sought to do what is right whatever the cost. Maybe some of my memories of him will serve best to tell you the kind of man my father is.

My father loves coffee. Always has. Well, to be precise, he loves coffee-flavored cream and sugar. He will drink it any time of day, any opportunity. Rarely will he say "No" to a cup of coffee. I remember on multiple occasions he would get a bowl of vanilla ice cream and pour coffee over it, mixing his own "coffee ice cream". I think it's one of the reasons he's still so healthy at 87. He walks a couple of miles a day to his local Starbucks. Good for you, Dad.

Something else my father has always loved is fishing. I have memories of fishing at a very young age. Our summer vacations would be a family camping trip where there would certainly be fishing. We would take extended weekend trips to Ensenada to go deep sea fishing. We took a 6-week multi-family vacation to Alaska to include some top notch salmon fishing. We'd go to the beach and while we played on the shore or romped in the waves, he'd be surf fishing. I remember a backpacking trip we took, Dad and my brother and I with some of his coworkers, deep into the Sierras. I remember standing by that pristine mountain lake with pole in hand and a line in the water ... when my reel exploded. "Dad!" Of course, his fishing was done; he had to take care of my disaster. Calmly, coolly, without any indication of ire or frustration, he started scooping reel parts out of the lake and trying to put things back together. My younger brother, age 8 at the time, was pulling in trout, begging for help, and forced to do it on his own -- get the fish off the hook and on the stringer, throw the half-eaten worm back in, repeat -- but Dad never wavered, never complained, never raised his voice. Because that was his character. I never really knew which it was -- was fishing his excuse for spending time with his sons, or was time with his sons an excuse to go fishing? I wonder.

I remember when my parents decided to move closer to Dad's work and our new church. (My parents changed churches because they were concerned that we kids were not getting fed at the church we had always attended. I tell you that to demonstrate their priorities.) In the search for a new place, Dad bought a fixer-upper. On weekends he took us boys to the house where he would work and we would play. We hunted gophers in the yard, capturing them and putting them in a special glass cage Dad built so we could watch them tunnel and live. He gave us sledgehammers to help him take out a wall in the house, real fun for preteen boys (and beyond). He fixed it up and sold it, but I remember the time spent with us because he did that a lot.

In retrospect, it was hard to tell if he was doing a lot of what he did for what he did or for time with his boys. He took us fishing. He took us camping. He took us hiking. He took us to men's prayer breakfasts. He took us to skid row. Yeah, that's right. He took us to where he was bringing the Gospel to street people. We helped out in the rescue mission. We went with him on the street where he offered tracts and the Gospel. Because if there was anything that described my dad, it wasn't "camping" or "fishing" or "flipping houses" -- it was a deep and abiding love of the Lord. If the church's doors were open, we were likely there. He took us to Billy Graham events and revivals at church. He saw to it that we went to winter and summer camps with the youth group. (He even used them as additional training techniques where he paid for us to go by having us do work around the house to earn the money.) I remember my father gathering the family in the dining room one day and sitting us all down ... to confess. Yes, to tell us how he had been wrong. He hadn't been serving God as he should. He hadn't been the example he should. He hadn't been loving his family as he should. And through tears he asked if we would forgive him. Because above anything else, my dad loved the Lord. Still does.

There is a lot more. We have discussions about church and worship and the state of things. He's pretty sure my theology is skewed, but that's okay because one thing he has demonstrated time and again is his abiding love for his kids -- even me. I remember, at 18 (or so), leaving home to go live with a girl. I tried to sneak out, leaving a note, but he caught me and stood at the door. "I'm not letting you leave," he said. "Dad," I answered, "you can't stop me. I'm an adult." His answer has been with me ever since. "If you were on a raft in a river and I knew that you were headed for a waterfall, I would do everything I could to pull you off that raft." Because my dad loves me that much.

Today I honor my father. I thank God for him. I rejoice in God's kindness in giving me this father when it seems like so many other fathers fall so short. And I hope that it is not only today that I honor him. He has always served as a shining example of God at work in one of His own children. Thanks, Dad.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

News Weakly - 6/17/2017

Just When You Thought It Was Safe
Stories of bakers and florists and photographers and innkeepers and all who didn't want to be forced to violate their religious convictions and thought they were protected by the First Amendment only to find that they weren't were everywhere. We figured, given the ludicrous nature of the whole thing, it would stop. It hasn't.

In Michigan, a Catholic farmer who owns and operates Country Mill Farms and believes that marriage is between a man and a woman opted not to host a gay mirage on his property. He sent the women to a nearby farm where they were wed in 2015. In fact, where he lives, that's perfectly legal. However, in East Lansing they have anti-discrimination laws and, although the farm is not in East Lansing (or even in the same county), the city is banning them from selling produce at their Farmer's Market. (The referenced Forbes article is titled "Government Officials Try To Ban People Who Hold 'Wrong' Beliefs.")

Not to be outdone, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services have adopted "enhanced" policies for foster parents. In order to be a foster parent under these new policies, the foster parents must be "affirming", defined as "Acknowledge and support the individual's rights to self-determination of gender and sexual orientation." Now, at some point in the deep dark past there was this idea that adults were there to help the children grow, mature, and learn to navigate their world. The idea was that kids don't have the knowledge, experience, or maturity to do this and parents/caregivers were supposed to provide this. No longer. Now "It is critical to respect the child/youth's gender expression and self-determination, including the child/youth's choice of clothes, make-up, hairstyle, friends, and activities within appropriate boundaries (e.g. if a caregiver permits a cisgender heterosexual child/youth to date at a certain age, the caregiver may not prohibit a gay or transgender child/youth from dating)." That is, if you're going to let one date, you'll have to let the other (that's the boundaries that are approved), but how they dress, who they're friends with, and what they choose to do is basically outside of your purview and you'll need to be "affirming" by not only acknowledging, but supporting their choices. You can't? You can't be a foster parent in Illinois. "If your beliefs don't align with our insanity, you're out."

I Just Don't Get It
There are a lot of news items that don't make sense -- irrational, you know? I understand them; I just think they're crazy. Every so often there comes a story that I just don't get. This is one. There were protests across the U.S. protesting ... get this ... Sharia law. Now, I know that there are places Dearborn, Michigan that have a large Muslim population and are accused of importing some Sharia aspects, but, seriously, I know of no one who is actually suggesting that anyone could get Sharia into American jurisprudence. But, some of these protests turned violent because of counter protestors, so ...?

I don't get it. Counter protesters had signs like "Stop the Trump agenda of racism, sexism, bigotry and war!" What does Trump have to do with Sharia law, and why is that part of the protest of anti-Sharia protests? Some of the clashes were over the mistreatment of Muslims. The former Seattle Mayor said, "We stand against bigotry, against racism and with our Muslim neighbors in the state and beyond." I get the bigotry part, but what does "Muslim" have to do with "racism"? Muslim is not a race. I tell you, I just don't get it.

Such Hate
So great is the hate for Donald Trump that Los Angeles replaced its "Gay Pride March" with a "Resist Donald Trump March". Now that's something. When hatred for a sitting president overrides personal lust, you've really got something. Because, as we all know, President Trump is out to arrest gays.

Like I Said
You've probably seen this, but I had to point it out because it's the kind of thing I've been talking about. A woman in Plainfield, N.J., was performing the dangerous "distracted walking" maneuver. You know, she was so engrossed in her phone that she tripped over a door and fell into a basement. We know about distracted driving. Our smartphones are producing a new hazard zone called "the sidewalk" for people who can't seem to function without being totally engrossed in their phones. Are smartphones making stupid people? I don't think so.

The Latest and Greatest
You've heard of the old tradition of the "debutante ball" where parents would throw a large party to present their daughters to society. You've heard of the "quincineara", a tradition of the 15th birthday party that marks the transition from childhood to young womanhood. Well, here's the latest. Mr. and Mrs. Murphy of Tampa, FL, hosted their child's "gender reveal party." Everyone was delighted when they revealed "their precious little high schooler to be a gender-fluid possum possibly having kinship with an anime character from popular anime 'Attack on Titan.'” Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Conservative and Progressive

These days there is a loud group that assures us that anything "conservative" is bad, that the really good thing to be is ... well, the word for it varies. It might be "liberal" because, clearly, that's more generous. Or it might be "Left" because clearly that's more right. (Huh?) Or it might be "progressive" because, after all, progress is better than regress, right? Well, no ... and yes ... perhaps.

There is a lot of confusion over the term "conservative". "Conservative" is linked with "rightwing" (and "rightwing" always has the implied "whacko" tacked on even if it's not explicitly there). "Churches," they tell me, "are too conservative." And we all know that "conservative" is always, well, wrong. What we apparently don't know is the definition of "conservative".

One reason for this is the old-style contention between "liberal" and "conservative". You see, "liberal" means "generous" and the opposite of "liberal" is "stingy", so clearly "conservative" means "stingy". Nice little word/math equation, but it doesn't actually work. Why? Because we've lost the definition of "liberal" in that equation. The word once meant "generous", and in some applications it still does, but the primary meaning today is different. The Oxford Dictionary says it is "open to new ideas" including "political and social reform" and "Regarding many traditional beliefs as dispensable, invalidated by modern thought, or liable to change." "Liberal", in this context, seems to mean "generous about changing what is." Or, to put it another way, "progressive".

Often "conservative", when placed in juxtaposition with "liberal", is understood as "stingy". It just isn't so. "Conservative" has a meaning as well. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists, first, the definition of "preservative". That is, "to preserve what is." The 2nd definition is the political one, but the third is the common -- "tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions." That's the same as "preservative". The Oxford Dictionary says it is "Averse to change or innovation and holding traditional values." Same concept.

So, having laid down these two -- "liberal" or "progressive" and "conservative" -- which is right? This question is what is called a "false dichotomy". It offers no context and allows only one of two possible answers. "Mr. Jones, answer 'yes' or 'no'. Have you stopped beating your wife?" If Mr. Jones has never beat his wife, he has no answer, yet either of the two required would paint him in a negative light. The question, then, is broader. "Which is right when?"

Well, this isn't as complicated as it might seem at first. The correct answer begins with the question of what we are conserving or moving toward. Take, for instance, the question of theology -- the complaint that "churches are conservative". The question is not whether or not they are conservative, but what are they conserving? If they're conserving human traditions ("Thou shalt not dance", "Thou shalt not drink caffeinated beverages", "Thou shalt serve casseroles", etc.), then they're likely too conservative. If they're conserving biblical principles, on the other hand, then there is no such thing as "too conservative" (Matt 24:35). We don't get an option there.

Conversely, for those who are hard over for conservatism, may I suggest a possible positive for progressive ideas? If we're defending human tradition without biblical support, it might be time to move on. Progress. Adjust. Maybe that's a realignment with Scripture. Maybe biblical principles have no bearing here. You won't find, for instance, "Thou shalt not use PowerPoint in your churches." It's not in there. For those who don't like drums in church, consider Scripture (Psa 150:4-5). For those opposed to dancing, consider Scripture (Psa 149:3). Think progressively. You might want to progress from a judgmental attitude toward sinners since Scripture is clear we're all in that category. You might want to progress into a love for neighbors and even enemies because Scripture is clear on that as well. Maybe there is no Scripture related -- then it's a matter of intent. If there are no biblical principles involved, there is always the 1 Corinthians 10:31 principle: "whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."

There is a tendency in our thinking today to think of "Progressive" and/or "Conservative" today as "evil", depending on which you think you are. I would argue that you (both) would be mistaken. When "progressive" finds "conservative" to be evil in the face of preserving biblical principles, "progressive" is wrong. When "conservative" opposes "progressive" in the face of mere human tradition apart from God's Word, "conservative" doesn't have a leg to stand on. The question always has to be "What am I conserving?" and "What am I progressing to?" Some things need to be conserved; others do not. We need to know the difference. And conserving biblical principles and a Christian Worldview while progressing in the kingdom of God would be the right approach -- a both/and approach.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Why Are They Leaving?

Back in 2011 the Barna Group released a report about a study on why it is that young Christians are leaving the church based on Barna president David Kinnaman's book titled You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church. Since I've been talking about some of this idea, I thought I'd look at what they said on this.

I note a problem right off the bat. According to Scripture, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us." (1 John 2:19) According to the title, "Young Christians are leaving the Church." There is a fundamental contradiction here. I would argue, then, that the number one reason that young people are leaving the Church is that "they were not really of us", that "they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us." But I understand the problem of language today. I understand that genuine believers might stop attending church for some reasons other than not being genuine believers, so let's examine the six from Barna's study.

The Report
The church seems overprotective. They feel the church is preventing them from connecting to ideas and worldviews outside the church, that the church demonizes what is not church, ignores problems of the real world, and is concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful.

The church experience is too shallow. By "shallow", most mean "boring" and "not relevant to my career or interests." Others mean a lack of Bible teaching or the suggestion (20%) that "God seems missing from my church experience."

Churches appear antagonistic to science. In this category, the most common complaint is -- you may have guessed it -- "Christians are too confident they know all the answers." Right behind it is the suggestion that church is out of touch with modern science and below that is "Christianity is anti-science."

Churches are judgmental about sexuality. Barna argues that, while young Christians are "more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality", they also "are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers." Some say they feel judged for their sexual "mistakes". Others believe "the church's 'teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.'"

Christianity is exclusive. In a society that values above everything "open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance", the younger generation would like to find common ground, "sometimes even if that means glossing over real differences." They believe that churches fear other faiths and force them to choose between faith and friends.

The church feels unfriendly to doubters. Young adults (and, let me suggest, it isn't only young adults) don't feel safe in asking questions or expressing doubts. They don't feel safe in wrestling openly with tough questions of faith. They also feel that the church doesn't address emotional problems.

Kinnaman says, "Churches are not prepared to handle the 'new normal'", referring to views on marriage and sexuality, delayed families, technology, alienation from institutions, and skepticism toward authority. He warns of the two extremes, one of minimizing their concerns and the other of trying to shape church to appeal to the young. He urges a top-down change, suggesting that "Cultivating intergenerational relationships is one of the most important ways in which effective faith communities are developing flourishing faith in both young and old."

My Response
I see a couple of different types of issues here. The first, obviously, would be valid concerns about potential or real issues in the church. There is (or could be) a problem here and we ought to address it. The other is the opposite. Many have "problems with the church" out of a deep and abiding desire to bend the church to "the new normal", meaning "our present sinful desires" or they have an outright disregard of God and Scripture for which leaving the church is a smokescreen. (Trust me; I know whereof I speak.)

I think a huge part of the problem is America. Okay, too general. America has elevated individualism to the point of godhood. The "question authority" of the '60's and the endearing "follow your dreams" concept has morphed into things like "expressive individualism" -- the idea that each individual determines one's own identity, that living out that identity is good, and that everyone else ought to respect and affirm that identity. Coupled with "nonjudgmentalism" and the new "tolerance" (which simply means "embrace what we want or you won't be tolerated"), they end up believing that "what I want" is the right thing and those who stand in the way are wrong ... even if that's God. No one is urged to ask "Is what I want good?" "Is the dream I want to follow a good thing?" And "question authority" is a rule, a function of its own authority, apparently. We're supposed to question authority, so "You can't tell me what's right!" And, predicated on the Ultimate Authority, Christianity and the Church would represent the perfect synthesis of both authority and questioning what is good.

Having said that, valid concerns are ... well ... valid. Church ought to engage in the real world. Church ought to be deeper than a warm feeling on Sunday and should be teaching more than Bible-lite. Sometimes some churches do oppose science for the sake of opposing science, even though the church has no inherent fight with science; only where science opts to dispute the Truth. That is, the church has an inherent connection to the Truth, especially considering that the ultimate Truth is a person. The church does often fail to restore the one caught in sin (Gal 6:1-2), taking instead a "holier-than-thou", self-righteous anger approach. The church ought to be engaging people with their burdens, their doubts, their real problems. These are valid issues.

On the other hand, the church cannot embrace worldviews opposed to Christ. Makes no sense. They must not pit science against God's Word and assume God was wrong all along and science wins. They must side with God on matters of sexuality, even when modern society does not and especially when self-identified Christians are engaging in sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:9-10). That Christianity is exclusive is a given. Jesus said it; reason demands it. This is not stuff we can change to entice people to come or to stay.

We don't get to make God's Church into whatever we want it to be. "What we want it to be" might be a "we embrace all views and ideas" place or a a tight-laced, narrow-minded, self-righteous place. These are equally not our right. We cannot align church with our preferences; we need to align God's Church with God's preferences and God's Truth. Of course, if we're going to deny the authority of God and the Bible, then that becomes pointless and Christianity is done. But, let's face it, much of the time it doesn't happen; we don't align our churches with God and His Word. It ought to be a concern of every believer who calls Christ "Lord" ... because it's His Church, not ours.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

From Church to Hell

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the parable of the tares among the wheat (Matt 13:24-30). You remember the story. A man sows a field of wheat. An enemy sneaks in and sows weeds (tares -- seeds that look like wheat). When the wheat comes in, so does the tares. The servants ask if he wants them to pull the tares out and he tells them to leave them for harvest to avoid damaging the wheat. "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matt 13:41-42)

Okay, we got it. In among the genuine people of God there will be fakes. More than that, these fakes will be hard to distinguish from the real. And if you work to hard to weed them out (little joke there) you can do damage to the real ones. John speaks of false teachers -- actually "antichrists" -- who "went out from us" because they were actually in the church (1 John 2:18-19). They will be among us.

The whole concept calls first and foremost for each of us to be aware of that fact. Primarily, it calls for us to "take the log out of your own eye", so to speak. Like the disciples at the Last Supper, we really need to ask, "Surely not I, Lord?" (Matt 26:22) Or, as Paul puts it, "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith." (2 Cor 13:5) It's wise, and it's important.

That's first, but there is another thought from this whole "tares among wheat" concept. Jesus indicates that some remain until judgment. That means that there are people in our churches who are 1) not actual believers, but 2) hard to recognize, and 3) bound for Hell. That's what Jesus indicated, wasn't it? "They will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." These "weeds" are bound for eternal torment along with the rest of those who reject Christ. These, however, reject Christ within the confines of church.

Now, I recognize that there is nothing we can do to weed them out, per Jesus's instructions. And I recognize that there is nothing we can do to make them change their minds. This is true of everyone. But I find the thought of people there in church with me who will end up in "the furnace of fire" even more unpleasant than those who go there shaking their angry fists at God. I find it unpleasant to think that people inside the church are outside the Church. And I, for one, don't want to let that go without any effort. I want to know where we're being unclear, uncaring, wishy-washy, evasive, or blind and move away from it. I want to be sure that the Gospel, with its prerequisite Bad News, is fully preached in the church as well as out. I want to make sure that people are not merely attending, but connected in churches so that believers can support believers and mistaken unbelievers with love and the truth. Scripture is clear that there will be people going from church to Hell. I want to minimize those numbers. I think God does, too.

Postscript
There is something about entries like this one that upsets people. They think I'm being too "high and mighty", too judgmental, too ... something. Please note what it is I have offered here. I didn't make up the story of the tares among the wheat; Jesus told that one. I didn't suggest that I know who the saved ones are better than anyone else. I didn't suggest we need to test ourselves to see if we're in the faith; Paul did. Nor did I offer any means to do that. There are things written in God's Word that offer suggestions. Jesus said we'd know by fruit (Matt 7:17-20). James said, "I will show you my faith by my works." (James 2:18) Nearly the entire first epistle from John is written "that you may know that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:13) There are lots of biblical means. I didn't write this to gloat. I wrote it to weep, to weep for those who are in the church but not of it, to weep for those who Jesus said were worse off because they have the truth and ignore it. I wrote it to ask you to consider. If that is offensive, I apologize ... but I don't retract the request. Because I care.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Reprobate

In Psalm 15 David asks, "O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?" (Psa 15:1) The rest of the chapter is his answer (and it's only a total of 5 verses). Among the characteristics of those who will live with God is this interesting phrase:
in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD (Psa 15:4)
"Vile person", eh? What ...? Well, that was the ESV; let's look at some other translations. What do they say is a "vile person"? King James uses the same term. The Douay-Rheims version says "the malignant". The Literal Translation of the Holy Bible (LITV) uses the term "the reprobate". Wait ... "the reprobate"? What ...?

It turns out to be a single Hebrew word, מָאַס -- mâ'as. It doesn't actually translate directly to either "vile person" or "malignant", but means "to spurn". It is a reference to that which is cast away. So Young's Literal Translation (YLT) refers to "a rejected one". That's more like it. The notion appears in Greek form in places like 1 Cor 9:27 and 2 Cor 13:5-7. That word is ἀδόκιμος -- adokimos. This word is literally "not approved" or, therefore, "rejected". And, again, the King James translates this word in the 2 Cor 13:7 text as "reprobate".

We think of "reprobate" as someone who is unprincipled. (In fact, some use the term as humorous affection -- "You old reprobate.") That's today; that's not the original. It refers to being rejected. In theology, it refers to one rejected by God. Now that's a chilling thought.

The doctrine of reprobation is a formalized version of the idea, but I'm not going there. I'm just asking what the Bible says. Does the Bible say that there are people that are not simply "bad people", but who are rejected by God. I think it is unavoidable. Does the Bible say that God chooses people to reject? I think that you won't find that one in Scripture. Biblical election is about God's choice of you (1 Thess 1:4). It is repeated ... multiple times (Col 3:12; Titus 1:1; Rom 8:33). It is undeniable that He "chose us in Him before the foundation of the world." (Eph 1:4) How He made that choice is something that we debate among ourselves, but that He made it and made it "before the foundation of the world" (Rev 13:8) is undeniable. Biblical election, then, is God choosing whom He will save (by whatever means He chooses) and, of course, actually accomplishing that act. The objection comes, then, over this whole "reprobation" question. If He chooses whom He will save, does He choose whom He will not? Is His rejection of some an active rejection? Are people forced to choose Hell?

Nothing in Scripture speaks that way. One reference is in Jude. He writes about certain people who "have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation" (Jude 1:4). The phrase, "long ago were designated" is a tricky phrase, and you'll find different translations of it in different Bibles. The King James says "before of old ordained". The NASB says they were "long beforehand marked out for". But the term itself isn't obscure. It simply refers to being written beforehand. So the LITV says "having been written before to this" and the YLT says, "having been written beforehand to this." What can we conclude from this? There are a couple of clear things. First, it is clearly in advance. This judgment is known before it happens. And, if God is God (Omniscient), then what He knows before it happens is accurate. However, it is equally clear that it is not active. One term is to "write out before" and the other is to "destine before" (predestine). One is passive and the other is active. When Isaiah recorded his messianic prophecies (e.g., Isa 53), he "wrote out before" what would happen, but there was no causal connection. Isaiah recorded it; he didn't make it happen.

Both "election" and "reprobation" are clearly biblical. This is the difference between the "elect" and the "reprobate". In the case of the elect, God takes an active role to choose them (John 15:16) and draw them to Himself (John 6:37,44,65). He takes no such role in the case of the reprobate -- those whom He rejects. They earn that all on their own (Rom 6:23). He just documents it in advance. I think that there well may be people in heaven that wonder, "How could it be that I made it here?" but there won't be a single one in Hell that wonders, "What did I do to deserve this?"

Monday, June 12, 2017

Ambition and Contentment

A short while back Marshal Art and I had couple of brief (and friendly) disagreements on the topic of healthcare and on the topic of greed. I'm leaving the healthcare thing alone. It was never my intention to solve the healthcare crisis with Jesus. My point was that the problem is much bigger than an insurance plan can fix. But I did spend more time mulling over the greed question.

Marshal (if I can be so familiar) held that ambition -- "the mere desire to earn as much as one can in order to live a life with the least possibility of financial distress" -- was not greed and certainly a moral perspective. I'm having trouble with that. Not, surely, from a worldly view, but looking through biblical-tinted glasses. (Please note: I said I'm having trouble with that, not "He's wrong and everyone should knuckle under and agree with me." I'm not actually taking a position. I'm more or less asking the question.)

I know Paul wrote of having an abundance (Phil 4:12). Therefore, having much is not, in itself, a sin. And I know he said, "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content." (Phil 4:11) It was, in fact, about this that he wrote the famous, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." (Phil 4:13) Contentment with much or little was the "all things" Christ strengthened him to do. It would seem, then, that contentment is a virtue. But, aren't contentment and ambition in opposition?

First, clearly, the answer has to be "No." I can be ambitious to further the kingdom without being discontented with what God has given me. I can have a drive for missions or for a particular charitable aim or a specific ministry or the like and it wouldn't contradict contentment. So what's the difference here? The primary difference is who the ambition is for. That is, ambition and contentment could be opposed, but they don't necessarily have to be.

So, what about the "American Dream". We live in the most affluent nation in the world. We live for comfort. It is not a distant wish; it is, to varying degrees, attainable and, therefore, quite expected. On the other hand, "It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 19:23) The Bible equates greed with idolatry (Col 3:5). So, is that the problem? Is it greed when we worship "stuff" over God? Maybe. But ...

I'm having a hard time putting these things together. It wouldn't seem necessarily greedy, but, rather, prudent to seek to be free of potential financial distress if you can. I mean, that's just good stewardship, isn't it? And then I read things like, "The one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life" (Gal 6:8) and "Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Gal 6:14) So how do I put the drive to satisfy my physical desires for comfort and financial security next to passages like these? How do I correlate that kind of ambition with the warnings against sowing to the flesh and the claim that the cross has crucified the world to me and me to the world?

I'm not settled on this. I am not personally particularly ambitious. I'm not trying to "get ahead", to "keep up with the Joneses". I don't dream of winning the lottery. (Well, I think it would be cool if I won but never bought a ticket, just to say, "See? Look what God can do." But ...) On the other hand, I have no wish for my family to have misery. I want to be ready and able to support my wife and help my kids as well as other family, like brothers and sisters in Christ. You know, like Paul wrote to say that thieves should stop stealing, but "let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need." (Eph 4:28) That kind of ambition isn't a problem. I'm trying to watch my motivation. Not as much what do I do, but why. If it's for me, I question myself, but not as much if it's for others. Much less if it's for God. But I'm not clear on the correlation of "the mere desire to earn as much as one can in order to live a life with the least possibility of financial distress" and "crucified to the world" with "content in everything". I'm not clear on that yet.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Plugged In

There are long and loud complaints and concerns these days about declining church numbers. Millenials (whatever that means) are staying away in droves. There is a sharp rise in what is termed "the Nones", people who identify as spiritual but not religious -- no affiliation with organized religions. And, of course, there is the constant and sizable leak of kids raised in church but departing once they hit college age. And then there's the problem of "church growth". They tell us that most of what is called "church growth" is actually just transplants from "church decline", where someone leaves Church A (decline) and goes to Church B (growth) -- a net zero.

It's not good. We're trying to figure out solutions. Maybe if we appeal to their sense of emotion. Maybe if we account for their lowered attention spans and heightened need for entertainment. Certainly we need to "dumb down" the sermons; people don't want all that doctrine and stuff. Yes, that's what we need to do -- give them what they want. So people like Rick Warren go into the neighborhoods and do a standard market analysis -- "What keeps you from church? What would you like to see at church?" -- and then gives it to them ... and makes a megachurch. Others, like many of the mainline churches, just ease up on all that "Bible" stuff and go to a more "let's all just get along" model. "Embrace them all, and they'll all come in." Neither appear to be working. While numbers are high (the definition of "megachurch"), studies show that numbers don't equate to spiritual growth or maturity. In other words, this strategy is failing.

What works? Turns out that the biggest factors that people give for attending church are not good worship, social activities, or outreach, but sermons that teach you about Scripture and how to connect God's Word to your life. Now, that's odd, isn't it? The actual preaching of the Word has power where other "church growth" ideas don't seen to work. But, then, that's biblical, isn't it? The "attractional model" is today's marketing philosophy, but God's Word tells us to look intently into God's Word (James 1:23-25), to preach doctrine (1 Tim 4:13; 1 Tim 5:17), to "preach the Word" (2 Tim 4:2). The early church model was to continue "steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship and in breaking of bread and in prayers." (Acts 2:42).

And, perhaps, in that early church model there is another component that we've neglected. Today's local churches are largely "event driven". That is, church is "Sunday morning" or "worship service" or, if you're really spiritual, you're part of a "small group", but it's primarily events. You go, you take part, you leave, end of story. In the early church model, they "devoted themselves" (ESV) to this -- "day by day" (Acts 2:46). I'm not suggesting a "day by day" literal thing, but more of a "church lifestyle". I'm suggesting that local churches would be better served in preaching the Word extensively and creating a "plugged in" atmosphere rather than an "event" atmosphere. This is where your friends are. This is where your family is. These are you closest connections, your deepest interactions. You aren't attending church; you're personally invested in it -- spiritually, socially, financially, emotionally, etc.

The Bible is full of this kind of language for Christians. It is full of "one anothers." Christianity is not a "You and me, God" idea, but an interactive structure that requires both vertical (me and God) and horizontal (me and other believers) relationships. Indeed, Scripture is so thick with this idea that it would suggest that the decline of churches are simply an indication of John's comments in his first epistle. He speaks of those who "went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us." (1 John 2:19) If people who call themselves Christians are not part of the "us" that is Christians, then it begs the question: Are they leaving because they are not of us? I am not saying it is so; I am not saying it is not. (That is, don't point to your closest Christian friend who isn't part of a church and scream, "Unbeliever!") I'm saying it bears consideration.

Church is designed by God for believers. It is "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 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." (Eph 4:12-13) It works by the preaching of the Word and by fellowship -- shared lives. We need to avoid cliques, where small gaggles interlink to the exclusion of others. We need to avoid "openness" where "whatever you want to do" is the accepted path. "You want to come and go as you please? No problem." We need to be willing to invest our lives. Ah! And therein lies the problem. It gets expensive in terms of time, effort, money, even emotions. So the question is, what do you believe? Is Christ truly all-important? Or is there something else? Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Luke 12:34) Our investment in the Body of Christ tells us something about our hearts.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

News Weakly - 6/10/2017

Guilty Until Proven ... Guilty
Protesters gathered in Washington D.C. calling for "a congressional independent commission to investigate connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government." In truth, the question to them is not "Did it happen?", but "How much?" As one protester said, "I want to know how Russia has infiltrated our government. I don't think there's a question that they have."

An "independent commission" is not, actually, what they're looking for. Like so many other times it is a group of angry people looking for a lynching before guilt is proven. They're looking for an independent commission that can disassociate from Trump. Or, to put it another way, a commission that opposes Trump and, therefore, will find what they want ... what they know to be true.

Test for Public Office
Last year a Wheaton College professor opted to wear a hijab in solidarity with Muslims because "we worship the same God." (She is no longer at Wheaton.) Russell Vought wrote an article explaining why she was wrong. "Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned." In April, President Trump nominated Vought to serve as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. On Wednesday the Senate opened hearings to consider that nomination. The ACLU complained. A person who believes that Christianity is the truth and other religions are, by process of elimination, not the truth should not be allowed to be appointed to office. Senator Bernie Sander's offers this religious test for Christians in public office. If you believe that Muslims don't know God because they have rejected Jesus, you hold an "indefensible" belief system and are "hateful" and "Islamophobic". You are discriminatory, intolerant, and unfit for public office. He stated, "I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about." The Constitution forbids a religious test for qualification for office or public trust, but it looks like some would like to rescind that part of the Constitution, too. (The video is here, with relevant comments from 44:20 to 51:20.)

Side note: Pray for Senator Christopher Van Hollen Jr. of Maryland. In the same session Senator Van Hollen self-identified as a Christian. In the hearing he said, "I'm a Christian, but part of being a Christian in my view is recognizing that there are lots of ways that people can pursue their God." By definition Senator Van Hollen called Christ a liar (John 14:6; John 8:19). He is in a dangerous position of thinking on one hand he's a Christian while denying on the other his Lord and Savior. God has the ability to open eyes. Pray for Christopher (1 Tim 2:1-2).

Twittersphere
What does Twitter tell us about public opinion these days?

When California Senator Kamala Harris decided that pestering a witness rather than letting him answer her question was the right thing to do, committee chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, told her, "The chair is going to exercise the right to allow the witnesses to answer the question, and the committee is on notice to provide the witnesses the courtesy." And the Twittersphere went wild, delighting in her discourteous attitude. One wrote, "I❤Kamala Harris. 'Ma'm may I have a chance to answer your question?' Kamala Harris: 'NO'." Like that's a good thing. The disgraceful ones in this story were those who asked to allow the witness to answer and asked for courtesy. I would argue that someone who asks a question and doesn't allow the person to answer is not asking for information. This, apparently, is a good thing to the Twittersphere.

When congressional candidate Karen Handel said she didn't believe in the right to a livable wage, but "an economy that is robust with low taxes and regulation," the Twittersphere erupted. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee holds, "Every American deserves a living wage." When did this become a human right? The word there is "deserves". That means "without regard to effort, quality, or any other factor except that they are an American." Whatever you do, don't think about that statement. Because that would require the government to pay my grandchildren, felons, and homeless people a "living wage." And there is, in the end, no definition of what a "living wage" is. Twitter appears to disagree with a "meritocracy" idea where you earn what you get; the Twittersphere appears to lean toward socialism.

New Navy Warship
A new warship is being commissioned by the U.S. Navy honoring Democrat congresswoman Gabby Giffords. The ship is the first gun-free warship, reflecting the Giffords' anti-gun stance. It has "a vegan-friendly galley, unisex uniforms for the whole crew, and numerous 'safe spaces' throughout the ship." Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Other Internet News
In Auburn, California, a 36-year-old man hammered the game-winning homer in a local tee-ball game and won the championship for the home tee-ball team. Nate Ripley identifies as a six-year-old, so he was allowed to play on the team.

As a note, yes, that last story is intended as comedy by the Babylon Bee, but it's not as far out as you might think from real stories, like the 52-year-old father who identifies as a 6-year-old girl.

Friday, June 09, 2017

The Rise of the Machines

Is it possible that the machines have entered into a conspiracy to destroy the human race?

Well, of course not. That would assume machines think. They don't. This is the stuff that science fiction is made of. Doesn't actually happen. And yet ...

I wrote a piece in May entitled Tech Fallout that warned that technology, while perhaps amoral on its own, could have lots of unintended consequences. (I was somewhat surprised at the number of views that one got.) The truth is that our technology does have the capacity to harm us in ways we don't always consider.

The biggest effect, at the core, seems to be a disruption of human interaction. You might disagree, but consider. Many fast food places, faced with the specter of increased minimum wage, are considering automation. Let a machine take the order. Cut out the middle man. Automation has no unions, no minimum wages. And you won't be talking to that bored counter person. No human interaction. Recently I went to my local hair cutting place (sorry, "stylist"). They had a new system in place. Go to the machine and check in. Go to the machine and check out. "Talk to the machine, please. We can't be bothered with you when we've got work to do." There is human interaction with the stylist, but not with a person to check you in or out. And so it is with all sorts of automated systems. ATMs, self-driving cabs, automated checkouts, video games with artificial intelligence (AI) to allow you to play against a computer rather than a person. Even Internet porn -- sex without human interaction. Consider the factory automation that has come our way already. Sure, there were lost jobs. But what about the lost camaraderie? What about all those people who worked side by side and took breaks together and made friends with each other and got together after work? No human interaction. Consider the simple process of texting. There is, of course, human interaction here. You send a text; you receive a text ... we're interacting. But it is disconnected, disjointed. There is no face, no humanity. Beyond the actual process, I've seen too much "walking and texting" to doubt that it also causes a disconnect between pedestrians and the rest of those around them. Microsoft did a study and found that, due to our technology, the typical person's attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds ... which is less than your average goldfish. Try to have a human interaction with only 8 seconds. Thank you, technology.

A single event and you consider it a single event. A trend, and you might begin to consider it a concerted effort, maybe even a conspiracy. Now what do you think of the original question? Is it possible that the machines have entered into a conspiracy to destroy the human race?

No, of course not. But that doesn't mean there's no conspiracy.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Words Mean Something

Both sides of the debate agree: words mean something. Unfortunately, no one can figure out just what. And can you blame them? Look at what we do with words.

It is common to take words and "bend" their meaning -- I get that -- but we've taken them and turned them on their heads. Take the word "moot". The word used to mean a point worth debating. Now it means a point not worth discussing. How did we get there from here? You've heard the word "refrain". It means to hold back from doing or saying something. The word originally meant to repeat something. (That's why in music there is a "refrain" -- a repeated section.) Those aren't even close. We "trim" hair by removing it and "trim" trees by adding to them. "Oversight" could mean "to supervise" or "to forget". You could have left your keys at home when you left the house -- one means to stay and the other not. The Bible says marriage is when a man and a woman cleave together, but we also use the term to describe severing something (like meat). You can have a "light dusting" of snow meaning to add "dust" or you can "do the dusting" which means to remove it. You can use a screen to show something or to block the view of something. The list goes on and on.

There is a whole slew of words used every day by the masses that we all know and all understand and have no clue about. There is "no-fault divorce", "homosexual", "gay", "transgender", "safe sex", and "marriage". No one -- no one that I know of ... except me, I suppose -- scratches their heads over these terms. We use them. We understand them. We get it. But, really, what do any of them mean? There is, for instance, no such thing as a divorce that doesn't include fault. That's like saying that there is an effect without a cause. Doesn't happen. Terms like "homosexual", "gay", and "transgender" have been picked up and used as if they're real things, but they're not. "Gay" means "happy" or "bright", but we've turned it to mean "homosexual", and now that's the number one meaning in the dictionary. "Homosexual" refers to someone who is sexually attracted to someone of their own sex, but we've entirely pushed that beyond its bounds. Now it's an "orientation", a "lifestyle", even a community. It is not a behavior; it is an identity. We're even pretty sure it's genetic ... although there is no such indication from science. How do we end up creating an identity from what we do in the bedroom? But we do. And "transgender". Really? How did we get so confused that a guy can be a girl if he feels like it? Merely if he feels like it? We do that by stripping all meaning from "guy" and "girl", I suppose. Because in all species "male" and "female" have hard definitions and nothing you do can make a "male" into a "female" ... except in the human species where you just feel like it. And, oh, that's the limit. It only works in gender. You're a skinny woman that feels like she's fat? We have treatments for that. You're a white person that feels black? Stop it! That's crazy. You're a middle-class American who believes he's Napoleon? Too bad. See a shrink. You're a high school girl who believes she's a guy? We will bend over backward to see to it that you are endued with all the rights and privileges thereto. Nonsense! And I mean that in the literal sense -- not sensible. They call it "gender dysphoria". Do you know what the opposite of "dysphoria" is? It is "euphoria". So "dysphoria" means to be uncomfortable. Our solution? "Forget reality; embrace it!" Crazy talk. Then there's "marriage". For all of history in all places regardless of the actual word used it always meant the same basic thing -- the union of a male and a female forming a single family for purposes of procreation and mutual support. Various practices have entered and left -- various traditions come and go -- but the definition has never changed ... until now. In the enlightened 21st century now it can mean ... nothing at all, as perfectly illustrated by the "gay marriage" of a fellow and his dead partner. So bizarre is our definition (or lack thereof) of this particular word, this particular concept, that we have simultaneously eliminated its meaning and strictly defined it as not "more than two" or "with anything other than one other human being." Any what other than another single human being? We aren't clear. And why so arbitrary?

The purpose of language is to communicate ideas and information. The concept is to take what is in my head and transmit it to your head in a medium we both understand. Words are symbols of thoughts. A "tree" is not a four-letter word, but an entire ecosystem from roots to stems, but we convey it in a word. Given the disarray of what we call "language" today, is there any question as to why we don't all get along? We're not speaking the same language. You're telling me about someone who has delusions of gender. I'm thinking, "Wow! He needs help." You're thinking, "Wow! She needs help!" Not the same help. Not the same thing. Rodney King famously asked, "Can't we all just get along?" No, Rodney. The answer is no. We don't even know what we're talking about.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Sanctified Repetition

I don't normally do this. I don't want to be "that guy". You know, the curmudgeon that complains about small things because, well, he's a crotchety old person or some such. But I'm going to indulge myself just this once.

Jesus said, "When you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words." (Matt 6:7) And we tend to nod and "tell that to the Catholics" or some such. And then we go into church and sing ... the same repeated phrase over and over and over again. You know what I'm talking about. There's even a standard joke about it. "Modern church music is 7-11 music ... the same 7 words sung 11 times." Neither is true, of course, but you surely understand the idea. We seem to love repeating the same phrases over and over and over again in our contemporary worship.

It's not like older songs. There was, in those, a chorus or refrain. (I wonder where "refrain" came from. Turns out it comes from the Latin meaning "to repeat". Interesting. But I digress.) Sure, they repeated something, but once after each verse. It's not like today, where you sing it over and over ad nauseum.

The content matters, to be sure. We read, for instance, of the "four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, 'Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!'" (Rev 4:8) They "never cease to say" "day and night", but what they never cease to say is of the highest importance. What about the things that our modern songs repeat? Not the same thing.

Take the Tim Hughes song, highly popularized by Chris Tomlin, titled Here I am to Worship. There is a sentence in that song:
I'll never know how much it cost
To see my sin upon that cross.
I have to be honest. I think it's a good phrase. I think it's a good thought. We need to recall what it cost Christ to take my sin. Big, big question. However, the sentence -- and I'm not questioning its accuracy -- claims that I'll never know. So, the thought is, "It cost Christ a lot ... a whole lot", and then I move on. Or, so one might think. Except you can't. That phrase is repeated again and again and again. "Um ... guys ... I get it. I've thought about it. I'm done. Can we move on?" No, no we can't.

Just as often, however, the repetition has much less value. Chris Tomlin (again ... is that significant?) is sung and played repeatedly (small joke there) with his song, Good, Good Father. Even the title is repetitive. He tells God He's a good Father and then repeats to the nth degree "It's who you are." Somewhere a little farther down the repetition road he says, "I'm loved by You" and lapses into more "It's who I am" echoes. There are lengthy circles of "You are perfect in all of your ways." None of it is saying very much. One writer I recall called it "empty calories".

I don't know why Christ said not to be repetitious in our prayers, but singers are quite sure that repetition in singing is good. Nor can I figure out how they know the right number of repeats. I'm sure they'd say, "I'm just following the leading of the Holy Spirit", but I'm equally sure they don't actually get a spiritual "tap on the shoulder" saying, "Okay, that's enough." So it would appear that there is just some feeling, some vague sense of "say it over and over again until ... I feel like stopping ... and I'll say that was the Holy Spirit." But that's okay because it's worship, right? I mean, sure, we don't want to be repetitive in our prayers, but in worship it's sanctified repetition ... right? Is this really offering God our best in worship?

Sorry. I have a blog. Sometimes I just need to say something. I'm done. End of rant.