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Monday, July 31, 2017

The Nemesis of Worship Services?

I was traveling for a few weeks and got to visit a few far-flung churches. Beyond that, I've been in churches since before I could remember. And I'm obviously aware of my own church's practices. One very common event that seems to happen in many, many churches is, to me, the nemesis of worship services. (Let me stress again -- to me. I am not suggesting this is "God's word on the subject" nor that it is true for everyone.) To me it is the killer of the worship moment, the end of the worship momentum. If church worship begins when the service starts and carries on through the end of the sermon, this singular event is the speed bump of the whole thing. What is it? It's that oh-so-popular "meet and greet" that so many churches practice.

You know the one. "Let's stand and greet one another." It occurs after a song or two, maybe a few introductory remarks from some leader, maybe even some announcements. We've just started "warming up", so to speak. "Let's look at God in song." If there are announcements, it can be, "Let's look at what God is doing in our church." And then ... "Stop looking at God and let's look at each other." For the regulars, it's more popular, although studies suggest that many of them aren't so comfortable with it either. A brief salute to friends you know. For the visitors, it can be harrowing. They often feel like targets. "No one knows us and everyone will try to in the next few moments." As if that could actually happen (getting to know someone in a few minutes). Or, worse, many regulars will greet regulars and ignore new people. (It can be hard to break into a church.) A very common complaint is "I'm an introvert and this is really uncomfortable." Whatever the sequence and whatever the purpose, one thing is consistent; we were on a trajectory to pay close attention to God ... and now we are not.

Now, to be honest, I'm not nearly as concerned about what people feel about this event. I'm more concerned about why. Why do we do it? Why do we do it when we do it? Is there really a point here, or is it random ... "tradition"? Have we really thought this through? Most importantly, if the church service is primarily about worship, what place does this hold in that? It may cause people to feel uncomfortable, but so does the preaching of the Word. It may make people unhappy, but church is not about making people feel happy. My concerns are about purpose and effect on the worship.

I wish (again, "to me") it was gone. I'm not talking about "uncomfortable" or "I don't like it". I'm talking about a practice that is an interruption to worship. I can certainly see the need for "the right hand of fellowship" (Gal 2:9). (I wonder why no one argues for "Greet one another with a holy kiss." (Rom 16:16) It is biblical.) I can see the wisdom in greeting, meeting, fellowship, all that good stuff. My only concern is when. Does it need to be done in the middle of the service, in the flow of worship? Maybe it would work before the worship begins. Maybe it would be better at the end of the service -- "Be sure to greet one another as you go." My one and only thought on this is that in the middle of the service it is simply a distraction from the aim of worship.

But, as ever, that's just me. I doubt that my church will stop doing it at my request. (After all, it's the church I attend, not the church I run.) I doubt that my concern about the flow of worship and the attention it takes away from God at that time is a largely shared concern (or it would have been addressed a long time ago). And, frankly, I doubt that most churches have actually put much thought into the practice. It's just supposed to be "fellowship", "friendly", that sort of thing. "And if you don't like it, go somewhere else." (I would hope that no church would ever say that; it's just the sense of it. "We won't change it. It's your problem. Get over it.") And that's just me. Probably just the curmudgeon in me leaking out. I, however, don't think that a sincere concern for the glory of God is a personal, trivial, or pointless concern. To me.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Psalm 19

You know the opening words of Psalm 19. You've probably seen it on posters, plaques, t-shirts.
The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. (Psa 19:1)
I know. Good stuff. But that's just the first verse. As it turns out, the entire song from David is about declaring the glory of God.

The first 6 verses expound on how we can know God from what He has made. Paul said the same thing in his letter to the church at Rome (Rom 1:18-20). In His creation we see omnipotence, omniscience, His care for His creation. We see infinity and we see precision in the smallest details. God claims that He makes light and creates darkness (Isa 45:7) and David exults in how both day and night tell us about God (Psa 19:2ff). God controls the sun, as powerful as it is (Psa 19:4-6). We can learn a lot about God from what He has made.

But there is a better revelation. God has actually revealed Himself to us in word -- in His Word (Psa 19:7-10). We can draw inferences from His creation, but we have His explicitly spoken Word for a better account of who He is, what He is like, and what He wants. In fact, according to David, His law, His precepts, His judgments revealed in His Word are pleasant, not onerous. These restore the soul (Psa 19:7), rejoice the heart (Psa 19:8), and are altogether righteous (Psa 19:9), just to name a few of the happy benefits. David concludes, "They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb." (Psa 19:10)

The final verses, Psalm 19:11-14, offer another benefit to His Word and to knowing Him. This benefit addresses our condition -- sin. There is a warning in God's creation and in God's character and in God's Word that should drive us from sin. It warns of blind spots we all have, sinning when we don't know it (Psa 19:12). There is the constant sin of presumption (Psa 19:13) -- sins done on purpose that can captivate and enslave us -- that God's creation and His Word should drive from us.

Nature and God's Word are key elements in knowing who God is. His commands, His judgments, and our fear of Him ought to be seen as beneficial rather than problematic. Many see God as the Cosmic Killjoy, like He's looking around seeing who's having fun and trying to stamp it out. To the ones who know God, this must not be. Obedience is good, but rejoicing in it is better.

My constant prayer, then, is found in the last verse of David's song.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer. (Psa 19:14)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

News Weakly - 7/29/2017

Waiting for more kits
Minnesota announced a "transgender tool kit" intended to inform schools how to make transgender kids feel safe and affirmed in school. I'm hoping that they're not going to stop there. Why stop at gender? What about the unhappy white kid convinced she is black? Are her feelings any less valid? Since we're not sure what sexual orientation means anymore, why stop at race? What about the bisexual kids seeking comfort and encouragement? No one seems to be looking out for them. What about the poor young man with aspirations of marrying his favorite anime pillow? Are we really going to limit love? Come on, Minnesota, step up here.

The New Face of the Military
It used to be that the military world was the military world and the civilian world was the civilian world. While civilians might become military members, 1) it was not certain that they would and 2) when they did they stepped into another world -- the military world. The military world was more structured, more regimented, and certainly less free ... by necessity. It would appear that this distinction is fading. President Trump declared that they would not be allowing transgender individuals to serve in the U.S. military. He cited "the tremendous medical costs" and "the disruption" as two reasons for this closed door. And in the older world the civilian population would have said, "Yeah, okay, they need to put limits on people and privileges in order to accomplish their mission and defend our freedoms." Not now. The ACLU and other "pro-LGBT rights" groups are intending to sue the government to force the military to accept the additional costs and disruption (among other things) in order to insure what they see as personal rights override the needs of the military. Oh, and polls say that most Americans think that transgenders should serve. Now the public will decide what the military should and shouldn't do. Welcome to the new face of the military.

The State of the Economy
Linette Lopez of Business Insider wrote a piece explaining how the Trump administration isn't telling us the truth about the economy. White House Trade Council head Peter Navarro blames China for depressing our growth since 1990. Linette is sure it is "the financialization of the US corporation — the process of putting shareholders first, often at the expense of workers and consumers." She blames Reagan and his "laissez faire economics" for that. Linette is pretty sure that deregulation is the problem and the result is the evil of less "income equality" (because the only good income is an equal income for all?).

Me? I'm pretty sure neither the Chinese nor Reagan economics are to blame; looks to me more like sin and greed. Linette thinks that the solution is government regulation and, if you follow the rabbit trail, something like socialism. I think the solution is changed hearts. But that's just me.

Beiber Believer?
So, I understand that Justin Beiber accidentally ran into a photographer with his pick-up truck outside of a church in Hollywood. He stayed with the man until help arrived. No arrests were made. He ... wait ... outside of a church? Rumor has it that Beiber canceled his latest tour to "reconnect with his faith". Well, we can just pray that it's so.

Tyranny Lives
William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, said, "Men who aren't governed by God will be governed by tyrants." The Oil City Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) paid for a public bench to be set up as a remembrance to service members in a public park. In an ironic move by American Atheists, the bench was removed because it "violates the U.S. Constitution" ... thus illustrating the rule of tyrants such as the American Atheists.

More Irony
So, most of you are aware of Richard Dawkins, outspoken atheist and staunch opponent of Christianity. His bestseller, The God Delusion, written by what Amazon calls "the world's most prominent atheist", asserts "the irrationality of belief in God and the grievous harm religion has inflicted on society" with special emphasis on Christians, a book lauded by many. So it is intensely ironic that the Berkeley-based public radio station KPFA canceled his hosting of a live discussion on their program because he insulted Islam. "Yes, Dr. Dawkins, you do well to attack Christianity. Islam, on the other hand, is completely off limits." It's interesting that Dawkins is classified as an "Islamophobe" for his concerns about Islamic violence, but not one word (nor have I ever heard the term1) that he is a "Christianophobe" for his similar statements about Christianity. The latter gets applause, the former censure. Irony defined.

The Newest Human Right
In Oregon 15-year-olds cannot drive, smoke, donate blood, get a tattoo or even use a tanning bed, but Oregon just passed a law that allows them to get a sex-change operation ... without parental notification ... paid for by the state. Yeah, that makes sense ... in some mythical right-is-wrong, reality-isn't-real universe, I suppose.

More Election Troubles
The weekly news wouldn't be complete without something from the Babylon Bee. And what could be more timely than this latest news item from CNN? Jake Tapper is reporting that "The conspiracy goes much deeper than anyone expected. We’re talking tens of millions of people involved in this secret plot to make sure Hillary didn’t make it into the White House and to prop up Donald Trump as the winner." Beyond the suspected interference of Russia, it looks like millions of Americans colluded to get Trump elected and Hillary defeated. Go figure. At least, that's what the Internet says.
1 To be fair, since "Christianophobe" is defined as "A person who irrationally hates or fears Christ, Christians, or the Christian religion" and much of America today does not recognize hatred of Christianity as potentially irrational, you won't likely hear the term applied, unlike all the other popular "phobes" out there today.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Church Membership

When we moved to our new neighborhood years ago, my wife and I set out to connect to a new church. Who knew it would be so difficult? First, of course, there was the problem of finding an actual church rather than a building on a corner with a Christian-sounding name. (One we tried included an offertory performance of Lennon's Imagine. You know, with lyrics like "Imagine there's no heaven; It's easy if you try. No hell below us; Above us only sky. Imagine all the people living for today ..." Seriously? In a church? Well, not a Christian church.) After weeding out the non-Christian "Christian churches", we found another problem. It appears that in many places membership in churches is more difficult than membership in the family of Christ.

In order to become part of the Body of Christ, the family of God, the requirement is ... how did John put it? ... "As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name." (John 1:12) So, in its simplest form, faith in Christ powered by God (John 1:13) is what is required to become a child of God. The rest is downhill, for lack of a better term. I mean, from that point on "it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13) From that point "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." (Eph 2:10) The rest of our lives is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ "so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom 8:28-29). There will be a process, of course. That will include a transformation of heart and mind (Rom 12:2). It isn't short term (2 Peter 1:5-8). All this is true.

But why is it that membership in the church can be so different than membership in the family of Christ?

Some churches have very little in the way of requirements. "Show up and you're welcome to join." No confirmation of faith. No agreement in any meaningful way. "We like it here" is sufficient reason to be called a "member". Others hold up high standards. Some of what we ran into included, "If you don't believe in paedobaptism, you can't join our church" and "If you don't see church as primarily an evangelistic operation you shouldn't join our church." One told us that if we didn't like their style of music, we weren't welcome there. And those are just a couple of examples; others could supply many more. Why is it that sometimes it's far easier to get saved by the blood of the Lamb than to be part of the local church and sometimes it's far easier to be part of the local church than it is to be saved from sin? It all seems so confusing.

I see that there are issues. I see that Scripture calls us to restore brothers in sin (Gal 6:1), that the Bible requires church discipline (Matt 18:15-20). We are warned about tares among wheat (Matt 24:24-30) and false teachers among us (e.g., 1 John 2:18-19). It just seems as if we are, in many cases, not balancing all this together in a biblical way. I'm not at all sure how to address it, but it concerns me at both ends of the spectrum.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Worst Sin

Ask around and you're likely to get a host of answers to what "the worst sin" is. Today's younger people seem to prize excitement and entertainment as the highest good, so "boring" would be the worst sin. Saying it out loud makes it sound as corny as it is. To others it is holding an opinion different than their own. Oh, that's not the term they use. They call it "intolerance", by which they mean something different than the dictionary term. "Tolerance", by definition requires opposing opinions while modern "tolerance" means agreement and affirmation of opinions. But to these folks a failure to embrace opposing views is evil and they won't, even at times by force of law, tolerate it. Or there's "judgmentalism", the recognition that something is actually wrong. These folks are pretty judgmental about judgmentalism. To a growing number it's simply holding a religious view of the world. That last one is a little strange, of course, since "sin" is typically reserved for the religious folk.

Among Christians, then, the list is different. There was a time when it appeared as if the worst sin was divorce. Divorcees entering the church would find themselves stigmatized while coming in saved by the blood of the Lamb. Of course, much of the American church is shifting to a larger acceptance of that particular sin as no longer much of a sin, so maybe not so much today. To a large number, based on the strength of their response, it would appear that it is "homosexuality". That is just the worst of the worst. Other more discerning Christians will apply a larger, biblical term -- sexual immorality. That would include everything from premarital sex to adultery to homosexual sex. And we can understand why, given the amount of time and texts dedicated in Scripture to these sins in both testaments. The most obvious one would come from the lips of Christ Himself. "I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven." (Matt 12:31) It would seem obvious that the "unforgivable sin" would be the worst. And, yet, we aren't all in agreement as to just what that is.

I think that there is another. In fact, I think that this other sin explains a lot. This sin was the cause of the demise of multiple nations, including God's chosen people in the Old Testament. It was the repeated warning in the New Testament as well. John ends his first epistle hanging out on this sin (1 John 5:21). Paul claims it is the basic origin of all sin and the reason we all need salvation (Rom 1:18-23). What sin is this? It is the sin of idolatry.

Idolatry seems remote to us these days, but I'm sure, if you think about it, it's actually still very present. We've just replaced handmade statues with new forms -- cars, money, power, fame, prestige ... self. People who call themselves Christians worship the creature rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25) when they place God under their purview, either passing judgment on His views and acts or expecting Him to satisfy their whims and demands. All humans suffer from this fundamental "missing the mark", placing ourselves in the place of God and thereby falling short of His glory (Rom 3:23). It is this position of serving the creature -- primarily ourselves -- that is the very cause of every sin you could list, from failing to love God to coveting your neighbor's stuff. It is the source of sin, perhaps even the definition of sin. In English, the word "sin" has an "I" in the middle, and that illustrates the problem. "I" -- the ultimate worship of "me" -- am at the center of all my sin.

Idolatry, then, would, in my view, be the primary sin -- the source sin -- and therefore the worst sin. It produces sexual sin and even blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It is the evil in the heart out of which proceeds all evils (Mark 7:20-23). And it is this primary sin -- the rejection of God as God and replacement of ourselves in that position -- that explains all the trouble -- the sin, the violation of God, the need for eternal punishment, the requirement of the sacrifice of the perfect Son of God on our behalf. It is big.

Genuine believers -- followers of Christ -- aim to sin less. We aim to glorify God. We want our good works to so shine before men that they will glorify the Father (Matt 5:16). And, yet, we seem to hardly notice our fundamental problem that every day in multiple ways we seek to be God in our lives ... we who call ourselves followers of Christ. It is the worst of sins, the source of our problem. Shouldn't we seek diligently and desperately and constantly to return to placing God on the throne rather than ourselves? Perhaps the devil's greatest work is in obscuring that problem. It should be our constant work to submit rather than rule.

(Programming note: I'm back. Everything should return to normal.)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

There Be Dragons

I live in Arizona and have friends and family in California, so a couple times a year I head out the I-10 and back to make a visit. There is, on that route, a small town in the California desert called Desert Center. Strange town, but beside the point. At its off ramp there is a ridge on the other side of the interstate that runs perpendicular to the road. It is narrow and a deceptive mile or so long. For years I drove by and saw a ridge. Then, one day, I said, "Hey, that looks like a dragon."
Alligator Ridge, Riverside County, CA
Turns out, I'm not alone. Turns out the ridge is called "Alligator Ridge" and lots of people think there is a resemblance. If you look at the end of it, there appears to be a rock formation that could look like a dragon's head. The ridge has these jagged rocks at the top that look like the back of a dragon. It tapers off at the end like the tail would on a dragon. It really does resemble a dragon. Here's the funny thing. I used to never see a dragon, and now when I go by I can't not see a dragon.

Yes, I know, it sounds odd, but I'm pretty sure you've done the same thing. Staring at a random pattern on a carpet or a wall or rock formation or cloud and you see something definite. Maybe it's the configuration of the car in front of you and you see a face. Suddenly you know it's there. Could it have been intentional? Look away, look back, and you'll still see it. Someone else might say, "I see an elephant" and you know they're wrong. You can't "unsee" it.

We're all like this, and in much larger terms than dragons in rocks. Say, for instance, you haven't considered the idea and someone says, "You know, the whole world is matter. It is physical. There is nothing but matter." And you buy it. You agree. You operate on that premise. At that point, you cannot "unsee" it. You can't not see the dragon. Someone says, "What about love?" and you're pretty sure that love is a chemical reaction, a firing of synapses, maybe some hormones, because the world is matter and there is nothing else. Someone might tell you that God created the world and you know that can't be true, all evidence to the contrary, because you know that the whole world is matter and nothing else. Maybe someone tells you about this guy, Jesus, who was born and executed some 2,000 years ago that came to life a few days later. "Oh, no," you're pretty sure. "That doesn't happen." But this guy is smooth. He lays out the evidence. And it is convincing. So you say, "Okay, I can see that; I'll go along with you." This guy gets excited. "So, you're ready to come into a saving relationship with God?" "What?" you say, baffled, "No. I said I believe that Jesus rose from the dead. Nothing about a relationship with God. I assume that everything is matter and that this Jesus rose from the dead by some natural means that I just don't know about yet, but that's all." Because having seen materialism as the basis for all life, you cannot unsee it.

Beyond the light-hearted dragon in the desert, I have my own basis of operation from which I cannot deviate. God is, and His Word is true. For the materialist, reality is determined by the material. For me, reality is determined by God and His Word. My lifelong effort is to align my understanding of reality with what is in His Word, with what He has revealed about Himself. Why? Well, I've tested both presuppositions and I cannot make the former provide answers to what we see in life, but I'm seeing all sorts of correlation between God through His Word and the world around us. Materialism cannot explain origins, love, morality, and a host of other things, but a biblical premise answers all this and more. And having tested it -- having seen it -- I cannot unsee it. It makes sense out of "rocks". Other versions don't make it.

You're obviously free to run with whatever you want. Some hold to pure materialism, absolute humanism, devout secularism. Others try syncretism, trying to meld humanism and materialism with spirituality. Some even call it "Christian". It's not. There are Christian deists -- claiming a relationship with God but pretty sure He's a "hands off" God -- and practical atheists -- assuring us that they're devout while living as if they're not. None of these seem to hold the answers that a biblical worldview have. So you go with those. I'm going to enjoy mine. And, hey, you're welcome to join me in it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Hall of Faith Revival Meeting

I wrote this some time ago. It speaks to me. I thought I'd share it again.

From Hebrews 11, “the Halls of Faith”, this special Revival Meeting is held in an imaginary tent meeting to hear the testimonials and praise the Lord ...


“Welcome tonight to your Hall of Faith Revival Meeting,” the preacher says. “Tonight we have something special for you. I won’t be preaching tonight. Instead, we’ve invited people throughout time to testify of God’s faithful care for them.”

The congregation offers a polite applause, with a few “Praise Jesus!” calls barely audible mixed in.

“To start us off, we have Abel, the brother of Cain. Abel?”

Abel stands up. “I was a shepherd, and I offered a sacrifice in faith. God called me righteous!”

The congregation applauds, with a “Hallelujah!” and more calls of “Praise Jesus”.

“Over here we have Enoch,” the preacher says. “Enoch, can I get a testimony?”

Enoch stands up. “I put my faith in God, and he prevented me from dying.”

“From dying?”

“Yes, preacher ... from dying. One day He just took me into His presence.”

“Praise God! He is so good! Thank you, Enoch. Now we have Noah. Noah, tell us what God has done for you.”

“I trusted God, and He saved my family and I from a flood that killed the entire world.”

“Hallelujah! Praise God! He is marvelous! Thank you, Noah. Over here we have two people you will remember – Abraham and Sarah. Don’t they make a cute couple? Tell us what God has done for you.”

Abraham stands with his wife. “God told me to leave my home and go to a place he would show me. I did, and He took me to the Promised Land. Then, my wife was barren for nearly 100 years, but God promised us a son, and He delivered!”

The congregation applauds. Several people stand with hands raised. Some shout “Hallelujah!” and “Praise Jesus” and “Praise the Lord!”

Abraham gestures for quiet. “There’s more. When that son was older, God told me to go sacrifice him – to kill him.”

A gasp and sudden hush falls on the congregation.

“I did what He said because I believed God could raise him from the dead. But when I put him on the altar and prepared to kill him, God stopped me and provided a ram to sacrifice in his place.”

The congregation applauds. People leap to their feet and shout “Praise God!” Some are waving their hands. More shout “Praise Jesus” and “Praise the Lord!” The preacher waits for the noise to abate, then speaks again.

“Let’s skip on over to Moses, now. How about it, Moses? Tell us what God did for you.”

A man who looks nothing at all like Charlton Heston stands and speaks. “I grew up in the palace of the Pharaoh, but I knew that I couldn’t place my confidence in man. I trusted God and left the riches of the palace. Although I went to the desert, I knew God had something better for me than the wealth of Egypt.”

The congregation listens with rapt attention. Their faces betray a mixture of puzzlement and anticipation.

Moses continues. “But God used me to free His people. I celebrated that first Passover with the people and we headed out of slavery! And when we got to the Red Sea, and ol’ Pharaoh was bearing down on us, God Himself opened up that water and we walked through on dry land!”

The congregation goes wild. People are standing, shouting, stomping their feet, applauding. They are glorifying God for His greatness and faithfulness. Again, the preacher waits for the noise to subside, then speaks again.

“Now, some of you may not be as familiar with this next guest, and may I say, shame on you.” His smile diminishes the sting. “She was a prostitute in Jericho when God found her. Her name is Rahab.”

“Yes, God found me when I was deep in sin. I lived in Jericho when the people of God sent spies. I recognized them as God’s people and protected them from the people of my city. Because of my faith in God, when the walls fell and Jericho was destroyed, God saved me.”

And as the congregation begins to respond, the preacher adds, “Some of you don’t know this, but God so thoroughly saved this woman that she is in the genealogy of our Lord Jesus Christ!”

The congregation applauds. People leap to their feet and shout “Praise the Lord!” Some are waving their hands. More shout “Praise Jesus” and “Praise God!”.

A few other quick testimonies are given.

“Hi! I’m Joshua, and God used me to capture the entire Promised Land for Israel.”

“My name is Daniel, and I sat in a lion’s den all night, but God shut their mouths and I was saved.”

“We are Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, but you probably remember us as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. We trusted God, and he delivered us from the fire.”

A lone woman stands up. “You don’t know me, but my baby died suddenly. We prayed, and God raised my baby back to life!”

The congregation goes wild again. Almost everyone is on their feet shouting and applauding. They are praising God at the top of their lungs.

Another lone woman stands up. “You don’t know me, either, but I was arrested for being a Christian. They offered to release me if I rejected Christ ...”

An anticipatory hush falls on the crowd.

“... but I refused, and they left me in prison for the rest of my life.”

The congregation is quiet, stunned.

Someone else stands up. “Yes! I was arrested and beaten and chained.”

Another chimes in. “Me, too! But when they were done, they stoned me to death!”

With a rising fervor completely unmatched by the deathly silent congregation, more stand and shout their praises to God.

“I was fed to the lions for the sake of Christ!”

“I was cut in half with a saw!”

“I was stabbed to death with a sword!”

“We had nothing to eat, no decent clothing, and nowhere to live but caves in the desert!”

“I lived in a hole in the ground until I died!”

“I never received what was promised!”

Despite the jubilant-sounding tone of these last testimonies, the congregations sits soundless, bewildered.

* * * * * * *
And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (Heb. 11:32-40)
Is it sufficient that God has provided something better, or do we require that God do “nice things” for us, that God bless us according to our narrow definition? What would it take for us to consider it worthwhile to not receive what we ask for or expect or even see as promised?

Monday, July 24, 2017


So, we've already looked at knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. We know that knowledge is information, understanding is knowing how the information works, and wisdom is knowing what to do with it. Not too tough to understand.

But did you know that not all wisdom is a good thing? In James 3:13-18, James talks about two kinds of wisdom. There is "wisdom from above" (James 3:17) and wisdom that is not from above (James 3:15). Needless to say, one is good and one is not. How are we to tell which is which? Well, it's all there.

Worldly wisdom is evidenced by jealousy and selfish ambition (James 3:16). It is "earthly, natural, demonic" (James 3:15). It is rooted in worldly thinking over against God's thinking. It is predicated on natural ideas instead of God's ideas. Its source is from God's enemies -- demons -- rather than from God. This wisdom requires first and foremost "me". "I decide what is right. I decide what makes sense. My likes, dislikes, ideas, preferences, and views determine what is and is not, what should and should not be, what we should and shouldn't do."

Wisdom from above is the opposite, of course. "The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy." (James 3:17) The word translated "pure" means most literally "holy". It is separate. It is "other". It is not earthly. It is gentle -- appropriate, mild, kind. It is reasonable. Imagine that! The wisdom we are to use is reasonable. Godly wisdom is not illogical, irrational, insane. (Remember, this is the opposite of worldly wisdom.) It is not selfish but is compassionate. It is full of good fruits where worldly wisdom endorses sin. It is without hypocrisy where worldly wisdom wears masks to cover its failures. Where worldly wisdom uses worldly thinking as its source, wisdom from above uses God's thinking -- Scripture. Where worldly wisdom starts with the basis of the natural, the physical, the material, wisdom from above begins with "other" -- God's thinking that is above our own. Worldly wisdom has Satan as its source -- "Did God say ...?" (Gen 3:1) and "You will be like God" (Gen 3:5). Godly wisdom agrees with God's Word and submits to God.

Unfortunately, when we stand on wisdom from above, predicated on God's Word, it is viewed as all the things that it opposes. Instead of holiness, they think it's evil. Instead of peaceable they think it's contentious. Instead of kindness, they consider it cruelty. Instead of reasonable they think it's irrational. Instead of loving, they think it's selfish. Instead of being without hypocrisy, they see it as the definition of hypocrisy.

So, you have to decide. Is the Word of God right, or is the world? Scripture claims that wisdom from below is worldly, earthly, natural, demonic, self-centered. Is Scripture right, or is the world? Does God decide what is and isn't true, what is and isn't right, what is and isn't wise, or do we? Your call. But one thing is clear; godly wisdom and worldly wisdom will show themselves in behavior (James 3:13-14). What do your deeds say about your wisdom?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Will of God for You

"What is God's will for my life?"

If you're a Christian, it is a genuine question to be asked. There is an answer. Of course, the broadest answer is "It's in God's Word." But one of the direct answers is in Paul's letter to the Thessalonians.
In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess 5:18)
I mean, seriously, can it be any clearer? Give thanks ... in everything.

When times are good. When you get the promotion, solve the problem, meet your goals, exceed their expectations. When you are healed, at peace, comfortable, are doing fine. When you get a sudden windfall, a surprise gift, a great day.

When times are hard. When you lose your job, can't get past the problem, can't accomplish what you want, can't get close to what they had hoped. When you're sick, troubled, broken, in pain. When funds are short, nothing is coming your way, times are tough.

For your spouse, your kids, your family, your friends, your job, your home. For running water and hot water. For air to breathe, clothes to wear, food to eat, a roof over your head. For grocery stores and clothing stores and gas stations and money to frequent all of them. For getting out of bed in the morning. For a bed to sleep in. For running water and fresh air.

And I haven't even scratched the surface. In everything give thanks. That is God's will for you ... and me. I suppose we'd better get started.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

News Weakly - 7/22/2017

News of the Week
Okay, now, let's see. Well, the important stuff ...
> Ryan Secrest announced that he's returning to American Idol ... because that's important.

> The lyrics to the hit song, Despocito, have been translated into English. Oh, good.

> Oh, and, hey! Pokemon Go is releasing the Legendary Pokemon character because this ... this is critical to our lives.

> Oh, oh! And Madame Tussauds made their wax figure of Beyonce too white.

Seriously, America, is that what we consider "news" these days?

The Justice System
On one hand, a Tennessee judge has signed an order that will allow inmates to get out of jail early if they have a vasectomy or birth control implant ... because the real cause of crime is being "burdened with children", apparently.

On the other hand, O.J. Simpson, who managed to evade a murder rap and end up convicted of armed robbery stealing sports memorabilia, is being paroled. He assured the parole board he had no intention of stealing anything and he had missed a lot of time with his kids, so clearly he needed to be freed.

I would contend that "justice" has a waning influence on our "justice system".

Killing Not So Softly
Planned Parenthood is suing Texas because any limitation on their ability to murder babies at will is an affront to their "women's rights" position. They are clearly not concerned about babies' rights.

Science Prevails
It's about time! Scientists now believe that "Apple iPhone was not designed, but rather evolved naturally over billions of years." You know, just because it looks like design is no reason to think it is. Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Difference of Opinion

There are those who refer to me as a "fundamentalist", and not in the good sense. (That's a joke. I know of very few who would ever use that word to refer to anything good.) I can see why. I do hold to fundamentals. I believe there is a God. I believe that Jesus is His Son and is, in truth, God. I believe in His death and His resurrection. I believe the Bible is the God-breathed Word of God and, therefore, true and reliable. I believe a lot of those things that are basic, bedrock -- fundamentals. But when those people refer to me as "fundamentalist", I don't think that's what they have in mind. I think they have the "raving lunatic with crazy ideas like all the other fundamentalists I imagine" idea. And I would beg to differ.

Take, for instance, the topic of "same-sex marriage" (using the term loosely). I am opposed, yes, but not for the same reason that so many other Bible-believing, God-fearing, right-thinking people are. They see it as a moral issue. I, at the first of it, see it as a rational issue. At no time in history has "marriage" meant anything that could include "same-sex". No matter what the word or what the culture, the concept has, throughout history, been the same. There have been different practices, different morays, different means, but always the same basic definition -- one man and one woman for the purposes of mutual support and for procreation. That has always been the core. So today we see that marriage means X, but society believes that everyone has a right to Y. And we want to call Y "marriage". It isn't, but now we'll go to war to make sure it is. That, dear reader, is not rational. It doesn't expand marriage; it eliminates X as a meaning to the word "marriage". (If you read the left side of the argument, you will actually find those who argue that this is precisely the aim of the exercise. Change "marriage" to include "same-sex" in order to eliminate "marriage".) Do I think that's immoral? I do, but my first objection is not a moral one; it's a rational one.

Take, for instance, this whole transgender thing. I know that most Christians who care about God's Word are morally outraged. I'm not. I don't actually see it as a big issue in Scripture. It is lightly addressed -- don't cross dress and the like -- but nothing like what we're seeing today. No, I'm not up in moral arms; I am completely baffled. We have, for reasons that don't appear to actually exist, decided that anyone who wants to can decide which gender they are. Science has nothing to say about it. (Note: Science actually has nothing to say about it. There are no tests, no measurements, no means of determining gender by medical means.) No chromosomes, no body parts, no physical functions have anything at all to do with the question. "I feel" trumps every modicum of reality. Oh, but only in gender. "I feel like I'm a black person trapped in a Caucasian body" won't work. "I feel like I'm a 6'6" guy trapped in a 5'4" body" won't matter to anyone. So the girl who believes she's a 7' black basketball player trapped in a 5'4" white girl's body will not be encouraged; she will be treated. But if she thinks she's a guy, then by all means let's do all we can to make her feel warmly about it. Some think that's sin; I think it's crazy. And then our society argues that gender is a social construct, that men and women are not merely equal if value, but in skills, abilities, everything. How dare you think there is a difference! But when one of these misguided people decides they're the wrong gender, they will invariably assume the "false" gender characteristics of the gender they think they are instead of simply "being equal". Insanity. Not moral outrage.

Or consider the question of homosexuals. Do I think, like so many others, that this is a moral question? Well, okay, in this case, yes, I do. But hold on. I'm not thinking "This is the ultimate evil." I'm not thinking "Dirty, rotten homosexuals." In fact, I'm not thinking "homosexuals" at all, let alone "dirty, rotten". I'm thinking that the behavior is a sin, not the condition. And I'm thinking that those who engage in sin -- all types, not just "homosexual" -- without repentance are in danger. So I'm thinking that it would be in their best interest if I do not encourage them to incur God's wrath. No moral outrage. No disgust. Genuine concern for their ultimate well-being. Yeah, yeah, you may say I'm mistaken, but if I actually believe that God loves us and actually believe that His Word is reliable and I actually believe that it clearly states that those who engage in such things will not inherit the kingdom, then it is not moral outrage I would feel; it is abiding concern.

These are just some examples. I know that people like to pigeon-hole me. "He believes in the fundamentals" (read "He's a dirty, rotten fundamentalist") "so he is just like all the rest." I would beg to differ. I would argue that a biblical worldview will cause some to hold the same types of positions without the same types of opinions. We would agree that marriage means the union of a man and a woman for the purposes of mutual support and procreation, but we wouldn't necessarily share the same feelings. We would concur that the transgender thing doesn't work, but not necessarily for the same reasons. We would affirm each others' belief that homosexual behavior is a sin without sharing the same moral outrage. We are not all the same ... any more than all those who disagree with us are.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

When You Can't Find a Good Church

It's a common complaint among many. "I've looked for a good church in my area, but I can't find one." Maybe the music is too loud or too boring. Maybe the preaching isn't ... whatever. Not enough of the Word. Too much of the world. "I'm not being fed." "I'm not able to worship." "I don't feel welcomed." Lots of things. I've seen both "They're King James Only" and "They're not King James Only." Lots of things.

So what do you do if you can't find a church? There is a tendency among many to join the "Nones", the "I'm spiritual but not a part of any organized religious function" group. One famous author said she had given up on Christianity but was still a believer in Christ. That kind of thing. For some of these it's not so much a position as a surrender. "What else can I do?" I, of course, would recommend a biblical approach. What can we find in Scripture to answer this dilemma?

Well, here's what we know. We know that God's Word says that the church will be in trouble. For instance, false teachers will come out from the church (1 John 2:18-20). Jesus said, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:18) and warned that in the end the danger was that the very elect would be deceived (Matt 24:24). I think many of us today could raise our hands and say, "Yep, we're seeing this today."

We also know that Christ's followers are commanded to be in church. There is no getting around the clear command to not forsake our assembling together for fellowship (Heb 10:25). (As a side note, do you know what the very next verse says? "For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins." A bit pointed, isn't it?) We know that the Scriptures are full of "one anothers", commands about how we are to work and relate and interact with each other, starting with "love one another", all of which are impossible if we are not involved with one another. And, of course, we know that each of us is gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit "for the common good" (1 Cor 12:7). In other words, no matter what else we see around us, we know that "the unchurched Christian" is an oxymoron -- both unwise and outside of God's commands.

So, here we are with these two genuine conditions. On one hand, churches will be difficult -- some twisted, some perverted, some downright lost. There can be no doubt that no matter how good your church is, you will not find the perfect church because churches are filled with imperfect people. On the other hand, we know that church is mandatory for believers in order to share in worship, in fellowship, in the Word, and in the building up of one another. Not being there is not an option. I know that it is even possible for Christians to go to church and not be part of church, just as much missing the mark as the believer who does not go at all. So church will be tough and followers of Christ do not have the option not to be involved in the church.

What to do? Not do anything is not an option. We'll call that ... sin. Followers of Christ -- those who call Jesus "Lord" -- will not find that a biblical possibility. So it would seem that, if a Christian is going to follow Christ, it will be necessary to engage in extreme diligence in finding a church. That diligence will begin with prayer -- perhaps extreme prayer. And the road may not be easy. There is no perfect church. Maybe the music isn't what you want or maybe the preaching isn't what you have in mind. Maybe you're not "fed" or "moved" or "welcomed". But I'm pretty sure that there is somewhere that you can plug yourself in, maybe as more of a minister than a visitor, and worship and serve and love the brethren (John 13:35). I once worked with a guy in the military who was a career military guy. His plan, wherever the military took him, was to find a nearby church and insert himself and his family in that church to be involved and to minister wherever that was. This guy understood "church".

Jesus didn't say, "You will build My church." Lots of voices today bemoan the passing of anything resembling Christ's Church in our present time. If it's not dead, it's surely sick. If we don't do something, it will vanish. It's not a new theme, of course. Elijah was quite sure that he was the last believer in his day (1 Kings 19:10). God told him He had kept 7,000 believers (1 Kings 19:18). Maybe genuine believers are harder to find these days, but Jesus said, "I will build My church" (Matt 16:18) against which nothing will prevail. Our command is like Peter's -- "Feed My sheep." (John 21:15) So in churches where Christ is obscured or where mistaken methods are employed or where imperfect people are found (In case you're unclear, it turns out that I'm referring to every church where people are found), Christ still calls His followers to minister one to another. We are not commanded to "be fed" or "feel warmly toward God" or whatever other common complaints are out there. And it is undeniable that many of the groups with Christian-sounding names on the front are no longer Christian churches. But there will be believers everywhere for believers to join in building one another and worship together. Find that. Because "I'm a Christian, but I don't go to church" makes no biblical sense.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Spiritual Gifts

In 1 Corinthians Paul writes about spiritual gifts.
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed"; and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Cor 12:1-7)
He goes on (and on), but I think this is worth considering for a moment.

Spiritual gifts and, in fact, the Holy Spirit Himself seem to be somewhat neglected and misused these days. Either He's some mysterious "Force" like something out of Star Wars or Someone we give a head nod to and move along. Jesus called Him "the Helper" and promised He would "teach you all things" (John 14:26). It was for the Spirit that Jesus said "It is to your advantage that I go away" (John 16:7). The Spirit would convict the world (John 16:8-11), give us words to speak, and lead us into all truth (John 16:13). And in the passage above we read that He alters our perspective and gives gifts.

Now, we know that there are a variety of gifts and ministries and effects -- there is variety in the Body of Christ -- but there are two points that are constant. First, "to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit." God's Word tells us here that all of God's children -- all believers -- are gifted children. Each of us has a gift from the Spirit. These are not talents or skills. They are supernatural gifts. They are gifts from the Lord manifested by the Spirit. Not one of God's children is devoid of at least one of these gifts.

The other key point here is the purpose. Each of us has a manifestation of the Holy Spirit "for the common good." Now, I've heard people tell me, "Oh, yeah, I have a gift; it's the gift of gab." (Why is that the most common?) They smile and I'm supposed to laugh, but how is that "for the common good"? No, this is missing the point. The manifestations we have of the Holy Spirit -- that we all have -- are not for us -- for our pleasure or comfort -- but for the common good.

How is it, then, that so many do not know what their gift is and/or do not use their gift? How is it that many seem to be ignoring this amazing operation of God in us? A large number of believers figure that being invested in the Body of Christ with local believers just isn't that important, but that's the place where these gifts are most needed. Many who do go to church just attend without bothering to use their gifts for the common good. Imagine that! "Here, My child," God says, "I have a wonderful, miraculous gift for you." And you take it and say "Thank you" and put it in the closet. "I wonder if I can regift that?" It is a gift of and by the Holy Spirit -- a "manifestation of the Spirit." "Yeah, yeah, but ..." How do we do this? How do we do this to the God we love and the people we're supposed to?

A primary component of being a believer, a follower of Christ, is the presence and gifting of the Holy Spirit. We have the power of God in us, and that is not a generic power -- that is the person of the Holy Spirit. We are given that presence for our good and for the good of others -- the common good. I would think that we who belong to Christ would be keenly interested in worshiping Him by serving Him in the way that He intended we should by using His gifts for His people. Am I? Are you? I'd think it would be a matter of importance to you and I rather than something we appear to largely ignore.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Words of My Mouth (Psa 19:14)

In the middle of James's epistle, he explains to his readers about the nature of saving faith -- it produces works (James 2:14-26). Necessarily. Faith without works is dead. That faith cannot save. The very next topic that James addresses -- keeping in mind that faith produces works -- is the topic of ... the tongue.

Isn't that interesting?

He talks about the danger of too many becoming teachers (James 3:1). He says that teachers could incur judgment, but that we all stumble in many ways (James 3:2). Keep that in mind. None of us are without error. None of us achieve sinless perfection. "We all stumble in many ways." So, with that in mind, James goes on to talk about the tongue.

He compares it to the bit in the horse's mouth and the rudder of a ship (James 3:3-5), small things that change the courses of large things. Like a spark that sets a forest ablaze (James 3:5), the tongue is a small thing that "it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison." (James 3:8)

It is interesting to note, in James's discussion that, while the bit or the rudder changes the directions of big things, it is not the bit or the rudder that chooses the direction. In the case of the ship, for instance, it is the pilot. The pilot uses the rudder to direct the ship. So, what is the problem with the tongue? It is the pilot, the director. In the human case, it is the heart. Just as the "rudder" that directs the "ship" is the result of the "pilot", our words are the result of the heart. Our mouths, in their most candid moments, evince the ugliness that is in our hearts. James speaks of fountains and fig trees, of the fact that things do not produce both good and bad (James 3:11-14). James warns of our duplicity, appearing to speak good when our hearts are evil. "If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth." (James 3:14)

I cannot imagine a more appropriate message for our life and times. We have honed words to a 144 character knife edge, wielding them like a sword to slice and dice our opponents. People who call themselves Christians will seek to correct wayward opponents with foul language and ugly words as if this is "godly". Corner some "loving Christians" and they will respond with vitriol and vituperative words. Some will even end the string with "love you, brother." From the relative anonymity of the Internet, "We bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God." (James 3:9) James says, "From the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way." (James 3:10)

So, keeping in mind the original thought -- faith produces works -- and keeping in mind that the problem of the small thing that changes big things is not the small thing, but the heart, we need to ask ourselves, "What does my tongue say about my heart?" We need to question our use of words, our choice of language, the things we say to others and why. In a way, the Internet can be helpful here because in a way the Internet provides us a less guarded place to speak, so we can have the evil within more clearly exposed.

We all sin in many ways. We all err in our words because we all fight with a heart problem. But that doesn't mean we're excused, that we should go on about our business. It means that we ought to be in the business of seeking out and correcting the sin in our hearts. That work of God will be displayed in our words. It ought to be the concern of every true believer.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Going Down to Egypt

God had some harsh things to say to Israel. One, however, was a bit odd, don't you think?
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD! (Isa 31:1)
Okay, so what do we know? We know that it's bad. "Woe" is a bad thing. We know that the bad thing is pronounced upon "those who go down to Egypt for help." Umm, okay. So ...?

Well, of course, you know what was going on. Judah's enemies were coming. Assyria, a seemingly invincible powerhouse, was going to consume Judah and enslave them all. So, what do you do? Well, the wise thing would be to ally yourself with another invincible powerhouse. You know, get a strong bodyguard or something. So the best idea for Judah would be to get help from Egypt. They had the military capability to help defend Judah from Assyria. At least, that's what the world would say. And that's what they were doing. So, it is "woeful" to be wise this way? Yes, yes it is. Why?

He doesn't leave us to guess. "They did not look to the Holy One of Israel nor seek the Lord."

There are those who say that it is wrong to use worldly methods. I have yet to find anyone (including Christ) who did not use "worldly methods". Jesus, for instance, wore clothes just like everyone else. His basic approach to spreading the truth was speaking to the crowd just like everyone else. He ate and slept and traveled just like everyone else. Jesus used common methods in His life and ministry. Still, this argument is often floated among Christians. The primary target is in ministry. Some argue that churches shouldn't be using projectors or modern music or other ministry techniques. We should not be "going down to Egypt." But the problem was not the use of human methods. The problem was relying on them. The problem was trusting in them. The problem was failing to look to God.

The question, then, is not "what methods?" but "in whom do you trust?" The question is a heart question. Are we using these means because "What we're doing isn't working" or is it because we're trusting God to use means to accomplish His aims? Are we trying to prop up "a failing church" or are we trusting Christ who said "I will build My church" (Matt 16:18)? Are we relying on church marketing methods and plans or God's Word and power?

God pronounces woe against those who "go down to Egypt", who place their trust in the methods and resources of the world rather than the Lord. The question is who you're going to trust. Is it the world, or is it God? Simple. And you'd think that Christians would have no problem with the answer. We do, to our shame.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Joy and Strength

Nehemiah told the people, "The joy of the LORD is your strength." (Neh 8:10) It's a warm thought, of course. It is (was?) a popular song. We clap and sing and it's wonderful. But in what sense could the joy of the Lord be your strength?

Jesus said He came "that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10) Paul commands, "Rejoice in the Lord always." (Phil 4:4) We know that a fruit of the Spirit is joy (Gal 5:22). Conversely, God warned Israel that they would become prisoners of their enemies "because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things." (Deut 28:47-48) There is, then, joy as part of the abundant life in Christ. And there are consequences for not serving God with joy and a glad heart.

But how is joy strength? Well, first, ordinary scientific studies will tell you that joyful people are better off. They're healthier mentally, emotionally, and even physically. Joy is good for us. Then there is the spiritual issue. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:34)

So, there it is in a nutshell. Where's your heart? Well, it's found in what you value the most. So, what do you value most? If it is Christ ... if your greatest joy is in loving and trusting and serving Christ, then you will find a strength that will encompass your world. If not, don't anticipate the kind of strength that joy brings. Because it is strength only when your joy is in God.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

News Weakly - 7/15/2017

I'm on the road, so news items have been mostly inaccessible. That would be good news, I suppose, since it will make this a short one.

Social Engineering with a gun
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis put on hold the opening of military enlistment to transgender people for 6 months in order to review plans and inform their people. They will be instructing their people that gender is defined by the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) and you'd darn well better get over it. What? Yes, the training indicates that soldiers designated by DEERS but not yet surgically altered will be sharing "female barracks, bathroom, and shower facilities." You object? Well, that's considered harassment and discrimination ... which, apparently, only goes one way.

I've heard of the Army Corps of Engineers, but this is making the military into a social engineer ... with a gun. Did not see that coming.

Email Theft
Now, I'll admit, I'm not really clear on this whole story, and it's all very odd and unpleasant and such, but I'm somewhat baffled by this bombshell that Trump Jr. released incriminating emails about being pleased that Russia had stuff on Hillary. I'm baffled because I would expect the X Political Candidate team to be happy about having negative information about Y Political Candidate. I'm confused because haven't we all agreed that the release of private emails is bad and it is unfair to expect it? Or is it a good thing when it's dirt on the candidate we don't like but evil when it's "our guy"? I have nothing good to say about Trump, his party, his presidential run, or his team. It just seems to be another double standard and it's getting pretty tiring.

God in Trouble
Well, as we would expect, God is afraid He might be on the wrong side of history. Apparently God is realizing that His "objective morals seem to be more and more out of step with the current culture’s ever-changing standards." You can see that, for sure. Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Only God ...

You know the sentence: "Only God can judge me." You also know the verse. "Judge not." More to the point, we all know that it's not cool to judge others. And the truth is we do not have the option of sending someone to or relieving them from Hell, so any judgment we might have available to us is limited anyway.

In a world that demands that we not be "judgmental" (I put it in quotes because the current climate seems to be extremely judgmental about being judgmental.), I'm trying to correlate that idea with these words from Christ:
"Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him." (Luke 17:1-4)
Jesus said this with some urgency, it seems. I mean, "It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea" seems pretty stark. Jesus thinks it's important. So when He says to His followers, "If your brother sins, rebuke him," it would seem to me that Jesus is telling His followers to be ... judgmental.

Mind you, it's for a good cause. Jesus appeared to focus here on His followers. Judging outsiders does not appear to be in view here. And there are certain characteristics that are often present that shouldn't be. No "righteous indignation". No self-righteousness. No superiority. When Paul addresses the same topic, he warns, "Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted." (Gal 6:1) This isn't a pleasant or triumphant thing. It's a humble thing. It's an act of love. The aim is to restore, not punish. In fact, Jesus's primary point is to forgive.

There are all sorts of ways we can go about this wrong. We ought not do any of those. But clearly if we are commanded to do this -- to rebuke a brother who sins -- then the other wrong approach would be to tell the Master, "No! I won't."

We have a duty. We have a duty to follow our Leader. We have a duty to be obedient children. In that, we have a duty to "Pay attention to yourselves!" That is, we have a duty to watch out for each other. If sin is there, we have a duty to rebuke and restore. And forgive. Very important -- forgive. But it is a duty, a sacred duty handed to us by our Savior. The current climate of ignoring and even embracing sin flies in the face of this sacred duty. Followers of Christ need to be careful here.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Highway to Hell

I've said it before. We are not where we are on a short term jaunt. We've worked hard to get where we are.

"Stop it, Stan, and make sense."

Okay, I'll try. Bible-believing Christians (and most rational people) understand that marriage is defined as the lifelong union of one man and one woman for the purpose of procreation (family) and mutual support. (I included "most rational people" in that because it has been the definition for all of history until the 21st century. It's not just "a Bible thing".) We have arrived, now, at a different place, where marriage is defined as ... well ... an arbitrary relationship between an arbitrary number (two) of arbitrarily-gendered people. (All others -- animal, vegetable, or mineral -- need not apply.) How did we get here? Contrary to popular theory, it is not due to some "gay agenda" that fomented revolt over the past 20 years or so. No, we worked a long time for this. We dismantled every piece, decade by decade, until nothing was left. We discarded "for the purpose of procreation" with legalized and celebrated birth control. We jettisoned "for life" with "no fault divorce" (a complete oxymoron). We threw aside "family" and "special relationship" by embracing "cohabitation". And that leaves us with ... well, nothing at all -- what we have today. We worked hard for what is called "marriage" today, and we earned it, but it wasn't "the gays". No, we did this together.

As a result, fewer people are marrying. Why? It means nothing. More people are divorcing. Why not? It means nothing. More kids are born out of wedlock. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, some 41% of babies born in America are born to unwed mothers. (Among Blacks, that number is at 72%.) That's up from less than 10% in 1965. More single-parent kids are suffering the negative outcomes of missing a parent. Why? We built that. We drove down this road and we've arrived. Marriage, family, stability, parenthood, all these and more have been dashed aside so we can have ... what we have now.

It's not just "marriage", either. Look at how far women have come. From those miserable days when unkind, overbearing men oppressed women, we've moved through the "suffragettes" and the Feminist Movement up to today. The difference is day and night. And it has been a long struggle. They've gone from the often-abused gender to the ascendant gender where many rules in society actually give them priority rather than mere equality. Sure, not in all aspects, but in many. There are companies owned by women for the purpose of getting lucrative contracts with various organizations that prefer "minority-owned" status including women and excluding men, especially white men. There are women as doctors and lawyers and engineers and other fields they never were allowed in. There are women in politics, women as CEOs, women as ambassadors, women in most all areas of life. In some circles the mere presence of men is considered "sexist".

And, yet, here we are, dissatisfied. Now men can become women. Women can become men. We've pushed this cart so far up the hill that we've arrived at "gender dysphoria" -- delusions of gender that makes gender impossible to test and impossible to define. It was once good and right for men to give way to women ("Ladies first") and now it's an insult. If we can no longer define sex, how can we have sexism? We know now that gender is a social construct and men and women are only different by means of stereotypes, not objective reality. It can only be the archaic types that would take umbrage at a Donald Trump speaking and acting rudely toward women as he does because we've demolished all that "women are different" and "women deserve respect" stuff, right? Well, no, of course not. Because we've arrived, in this long battle for "female equality" -- at a schizophrenic position that says women do not need your help, they are not different, they deserve no additional respect or support, and ... if you fail to offer help, fail to see them as different, fail to respect them and support them, you're an evil sexist pig. Considerate, thinking men now have a conundrum at the door: "Will she slap me for opening it for her or for failing to do so?" One never knows.

Just a couple of examples. We've worked hard getting to where we are today. Maybe "work" isn't the right word. For the most part it has been more of a train ride than a march. Just some careful track switches here and there and we went with the flow. Unfortunately we've arrived somewhere that doesn't make much sense and no one is really happy with and we're all pointing fingers at each other because our current stop looks more like a prison camp than a resort and we're not going to like this.

But, don't worry. If you campaign for better politicians and urge better laws and, perhaps most importantly, impeach the current president, things will get better. Pay no attention to the long set of tracks that brought us where we are or the human condition called sin that got us here. As it has always been,
Although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up to ... (Rom 1:21-24)
There is a way back. It's not a short trip. Nor is it accomplished by self-help and hard work. The biblical term is "repentance" (Matt 3:8; Luke 5:32; 2 Cor 7:10). Given the twisted thinking of today's world where "marriage" doesn't mean "marriage", gender is not real, and the definition of life is whatever you want, repentance is going to have to be the work of God in the human heart (Acts 16:14; 2 Tim 2:24-25).

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Faith and Works

In the middle of James's epistle we find a principle explained that should seem obvious but eludes many. I believe, in fact, that this principle in his epistle is the primary point of the epistle, that everything else revolves around it. The primary principle is about faith ... and works.

You know the passage. James 2:14-26 begins with a rhetorical hypothetical. "What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?" (James 2:14) Obviously he is not actually asking the question. The answer is a given. But it leads down some interesting paths. "What is important," he seems to be asking, "believing the right thing or doing the right thing?" His next hypothetical is about believing the right thing. You see a brother or sister in need and you don't help, but you wish them well. "What use is that?" he asks (James 2:15-16). None, of course. Good intentions -- right beliefs -- don't actually accomplish anything. In the same way, "faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself." (James 2:17) Imagine that! Dead faith.

Okay, so, obviously right belief isn't the answer ... right? Right works is what's important. Until James addresses a hypothetical naysayer. "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." (James 2:18) You see, works without faith is of no use either. On the other hand, right beliefs without works merely qualifies you to be in the company of demons (James 2:19).

Imagine that! In the domain of demons there is better theology than in our domain. There are no atheists among demons. There are no agnostics. They know the truth. No doubt. No skepticism. No quibbling.

What then? As it turns out, to the question "Is it faith or is it works?", the right answer is "Yes." It is right belief and right actions. We are saved by grace through faith apart from works (Eph 2:8-9) for good works (Eph 2:10). We are called to repent and we are called to "bear fruit in keeping with repentance." (Matt 3:8; Acts 26:20) Right beliefs, right doctrine, right faith is required for right works. Conversely, right beliefs that do not produce right works is of no use. Both are required.

Are we saved by works? No, we are saved by faith in Christ. Oh, then we are not concerned about works? No, faith in Christ alone that does not produce works is dead faith and cannot save. We are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone. Believing the truth and acting on it are both important.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Gracious Judgment

In Romans 1 Paul lays out a sequence of God giving Man over to worse and worse sin, starting with "though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks" (Rom 1:21) culminating in a list of evils of the "depraved mind" (Rom 1:28) that takes up 6 verses (Rom 1:28-32). And as the chapter ends, we sit there and nod our heads and say, "Yep, those are really evil persons." Of course, the passage doesn't end at Romans 1:32. Paul has not finished his thought.
Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? (Rom 2:1-3)
You see what he did there? He set us up. "You can all see that this is bad," he said, followed with "you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things." We were so clever to recognize that sin in those rotten folk and so blind as to miss it in ourselves. "Because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." (Rom 2:5) Oh, not good, brothers and sisters, not good at all.

But wait! It's okay. What is he warning about? "The judgment of God." Oh, whew! What a relief! Turns out that God's judgment is gracious, not harsh. We're okay!

If this is what you believe -- if this is what you draw out of Scripture somehow, then you're not paying attention.

In this text alone Paul warns not of "gracious judgment", but stored wrath. "God," he says, "will render 'to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation." (Rom 2:6-8) This is not good. And it's not just Paul's idea. Jesus told those who asked Him about people that Pilate killed, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:2-5) "Likewise." "In a similar way." Crushed, splattered, utterly defeated, no escape. Doesn't sound like grace. In Revelation it speaks of multiple rounds of God's wrath being poured out. The Scriptures say, "The great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" (Rev 6:17) What wrath? "The wrath of the Lamb." (Rev 6:16) That's Christ, and that's not grace.

There are voices today (I won't name names, but one in particular might ring a Bell) that want to tell us that it's all okay. Jesus saves. Nothing to worry about. If it's not universal salvation, it's nearly universal. This ranges from "everyone will make it" to "only those who really, really don't want to in the end will not make it." "And," they assure us, "it's not going to be that bad. At worst, it's simply being snuffed out of existence, not some eternal suffering or some such." This is why they're happy to say, "Only God can judge me." It's because He's a nice old man who, I guess, is just tired of all that Old Testament "smiting" and just wants to hug all of His creation. It will all be fine.

It won't. It's not biblical. It's not rational. It's not real. The judgment of God is not gracious. Grace is the opposite of judgment. Mercy is opposed to judgment. And God reserves His grace and mercy for, in Jesus's words, "few" (Matt 7:12-14). For those of you who are trying to relieve the potential fear sinners have of the judgment of God, you're not doing them any favors by telling them it's gracious. It's not. The Old Testament God didn't think so. The New Testament God (Jesus) didn't think so. The final book (Revelation) doesn't think so. Convincing someone standing in front of an onrushing bus that it won't hurt is not doing them a favor. Convincing them God's judgment is gracious is worse.

Monday, July 10, 2017

From Foolishness to Wisdom

Scripture lists three virtues along a common line. You will find knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. What is the difference? As it turns out, you can find a common line in the opposite direction as well -- ignorance, stupidity, foolishness. What is the difference? Turns out these two trajectories are parallel.

Ignorance is not stupidity. It is the lack of information. It is "don't know". Now, there is "willful ignorance" -- "I refuse to know" -- but I'm just talking about the basic form here. It isn't bad -- evil -- to be ignorant. The solution to ignorance is information. The solution to ignorance is knowledge. "Knowledge" is knowing something. It is the possession of facts, data, information.

Stupidity is something different. Basically, in juxtaposition with "ignorance", stupidity is the failure to grasp the truth. It is improper use of the truth. It differs from a lack of knowledge in that it has the knowledge, but simply fails to understand it and, therefore, misuses and abuses it. Understanding, on the other hand, is a step past knowing. It is a grasp of the knowledge. It is a comprehension of how it works. A person, for instance, may know all the pieces of a car engine, but it takes understanding to put together how it works. A person can know that Bill killed Marty, but it takes understanding to know why. Stupidity lacks this understanding.

Then there is foolishness. Foolishness assumes knowledge and even understanding. The fool knows truth and even has a grasp of it to some degree, but the fool fails to properly apply it. David wrote, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" (Psa 14:1) Now, this fool has the knowledge of the world around him and can understand that it all points to God's invisible attributes and His power (Rom 1:19-20), and then declare "There is no God." Silly, sure, but the idea of "foolishness" is that kind of thing -- the misapplication of truth. A fool has the necessary information and understanding but fails to use it properly. Wisdom, then, is the opposite. Wisdom is built on true knowledge that has matured into an understanding of that knowledge that leads to the correct application of that understanding.

On one hand, then, we might move from ignorance -- not knowing -- to stupidity -- knowing but not understanding -- to foolishness -- understanding, but failing to properly use it. On the other we can have knowledge -- correct information -- that leads to understanding -- grasping how that information works -- and ultimately to wisdom -- a correct view of how to properly apply what is known and understood. Two paths leading to bad or good.

The Bible is clear. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Psa 111:10; Prov 9:10). Interestingly, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge," too (Prov 1:7). Therefore, to start with proper knowledge (God) and arrive at the correct way to use that knowledge (the fear of the Lord) starts with (as we would imagine) a fear of the Lord. It would follow, then, that no fear of God leads to foolishness. And the Bible takes a dim view of fools (Psa 14:1; Psa 92:6-7; Prov 10:14,23; Prov 12:15; etc.).

Sunday, July 09, 2017


Paul wrote:
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please Himself, but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on Me." (Rom 15:1-3)
Did you see that? Has the church in America seen that? This is so counterintuitive to American thinking or, to be honest, human thinking. In fact, there are many -- even Christians -- who would cry, "That's wrong!"

What was it? Let's see if I can break it down for clarity. "We who are strong have an obligation ... not to please ourselves." It's easy to miss in all the "bear with the failings" stuff. Good stuff. "Yes! We need to bear with the weak." Indeed. But underlying it is "not to please ourselves." Why? What reason does he give? Simple. We are followers of Christ, and "Christ did not please Himself."

It's not like this is a unique text. He told the Philippian Christians to have "one mind", a singular focus. What focus? "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves." (Phil 2:3) There it is again. Of course, Paul goes on to explain that the mindset we are to have is the one that Jesus had (Phil 2:5-8). In that He "emptied Himself" (Phil 2:7). "Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor." (2 Cor 8:9) Again, we are followers of Christ; we ought to follow Christ. He said, "I seek not my own will but the will of Him who sent Me." (John 5:30)

It clearly flies in the face of normal human thinking, where "I am most important", but if "I have been crucified with Christ" and "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20), then it only makes sense that I would not be my primary concern. If "it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13), it is only reasonable that I should seek to please Him above everything else ... including myself. I would be at the bottom of my concerns. I just don't want to be one of those who ignores such clear instructions from my Lord and Savior because it seems so counterintuitive, so much against the grain. That is one of the "old" that I want to pass away to be replaced with the "new" (2 Cor 5:17).

Saturday, July 08, 2017

News Weakly - 7/8/2017

Programming note: I will be traveling for a few weeks. I may not post your comments immediately. And if I miss a day, don't be concerned. I'll do my best, but ...

Evangelical Scizophrenia
The New York Times put out an article about Paul Williams, "prominent in the evangelical Christian world, chairman of an organization that started independent churches around the country." He had something to tell his son. He was no longer going to be Paul; he was going to be Paula. Now he's still married to his wife, but they don't live together. He said their therapist told him, "You’re a lesbian and she’s not." But they "share a Christian counseling practice". In his efforts to become more accepted in the evangelical world, he visited Doug Pagitt, founder of the Organizing Progressive Evangelical Network ... because this guy is completely unclear on the point of "evangelical" -- a resistance to "progressive" and "greater inclusiveness" (read "trying to make homosexual behavior acceptable").

His son is pastor of Forefront Brooklyn. He said, "Abortion I didn’t have an opinion on. Premarital sex, same thing." At his church they wouldn't hire a gay person because "we’re under the Orchard Group umbrella, and they take a stance that says this." Not exactly a biblical footing. "He was moving Forefront Brooklyn toward affirming gay members." Because the Bible says nothing at all about the value of human life (abortion), sex outside of marriage (premarital sex), or what God thinks of homosexual behavior (e.g., 1 Cor 6:9-10). Now his church includes worship songs about "'a rainbow of race and gender and color' and claiming 'for everyone born, the right to be free'" and the pastor preaches how Jesus was about upending social structures.

Funny. I never read about that Jesus or calling "include everyone regardless of what Scripture says" "Evangelical". Something's gotta give.

The Harm Ethic
I'm sure you've heard of the theory that "moral" should be determined by "harm". If it causes harm, it should be immoral; if it does not, it should not. This assumes we can identify "harm" and, when we do, we would carry through with our declaration that it is immoral. Neither is true. But then we come across this. You remember the European Court of Human Rights that determined that Russia was passing illegal laws against homosexuals. Now they've decided that Charlie Gard would have his rights best defended ... by killing him. The 11-month-old boy from the UK has a rare condition that makes him unable to move or breathe unassisted. His parents want to take him to the U.S. to have a treatment that might, even if it's remote, save his life. The so-called European Court of Human Rights thinks that attempting to save his life will cause "significant harm" and three UK courts have told them they cannot take him for treatment. So much for the "harm ethic". So much for the Court of "Human Rights".

We'll see what happens. Trump has promised to get him treatment for free if he comes. It's strange that one of America's most hated presidents is a voice of kindness here.

Google It
Google, as a corporation, is not known for its "conservative views". They will, for instance, make "doodles" for an amazing array of events -- Nepal Republic Day, 121st anniversary of the first published timetable in Japan, obscure birthdays, etc. -- but not Memorial Day. Google supported "gay marriage" in California before it was legal. That sort of thing. So it has to come as a surprise that they would invite Tim Keller (twice) and, recently, Stephanie Gray to speak. Stephanie is "a Canadian pro-life apologist. She travels the world making the case for the humanity and personhood of the unborn. She’s co-founder of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform and now leads a ministry called Love Unleashes Life." Her video surpassed hits for Planned Parenthood president, Cecile Richards within 24 hours. Interesting. The truth is out there.

Not a Good Sign
Walter Shaub Jr., the Director of the Office of Government Ethics, has turned in his resignation. "The move follows months of clashes with the White House over issues such as President Trump's refusal to divest his businesses and the administration's delay in disclosing ethics waivers for appointees." Enough said.

In Brief
So ...
> California is planning to have its own climate summit to force Trump to opt back in to the useless Paris climate agreement ... because California has that kind of power.
> Oregon is planning to force insurers to pay for killing babies.
> United Airlines ... need I say more? They messed up again.
> Get this. Missouri is lowering their minimum wage. Go figure.

These kinds of things need little commentary from me.

Finally, someone is doing something about it
Apparently "the President and Commander in Chief led a squad of White House aides on a wild chase through the West Wing early Monday morning, after the team of assistants attempted to confiscate Trump’s smartphone to prevent him from posting anything on social media." The story goes on to say, "Sources claim a female aide attempted to distract the President while the others sneaked up behind him and made an attempt for the phone."

About time someone did something. And it has to be true; I saw it on the Internet.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Christian Living Expenses

On more than one occasion I've gone on record to say that Jesus does not command His followers to sell all their possessions. This, of course, is in response to the skeptics who say, "You claim to follow Jesus but don't follow His teachings" and to the "Social Justice Warriors" (SJWs) who claim "You ought to obey Jesus and sell everything" (omitting, tellingly, "Even though we don't."). The easiest way to tell that Jesus did not intend His disciples to sell everything they possess is in the fact that Jesus owned things. Thus, if His command is to own nothing, He violated His own command. (I gave more reasons than that; that's just the easiest one to see.)

Of course, neither the skeptics nor the SJWs will go, "Oh, hey, thanks for clearing that up. We're all good now." So that won't work. Unfortunately, those who agree that Jesus didn't actually command abject poverty for all His followers might also have the wrong reaction. Many will see this as vindication. "Hey, it's okay! Go ahead and be filthy rich!" And that would be a mistake as well.

In Luke's Gospel Jesus makes what today's American Christianity might consider a bad move. He tells the crowds, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:26-27) I can hear the health-and-wealth folk turning in their living graves. "Oh, hey, don't say that. That sounds too harsh." I can hear the "seeker-sensitive" folk stirring as well. "Whoa, whoa, Jesus, pump your brakes. No one is going to want to come into the fold if you're telling them things like that." Too late. He already said it.

He goes on to speak of counting the cost. He uses examples -- building a tower or going to war -- and explains that you must know what it will cost up front in order to accomplish what you set out to do. This is why He was being so upfront about the cost. If you want to be Jesus's disciple, it will cost you everything. He concludes,
"So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:33)
To the skeptics and the SJWs out there, Jesus didn't command us to sell everything. To the "best life now" folks, Jesus wasn't pro-rich folk. To the would-be follower of Christ, Christian living is expensive. How expensive? His requirement is "all that he has".

Does that not mean, then, that we are supposed to be poverty-stricken and homeless? Not the point. The point is that nothing must stand between you and Christ. Not "father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life" (Luke 14:26). "One's life," Jesus told one man, "does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (Luke 12:15) So the idea that we are not commanded to sell everything is not permission to place anything above Christ. The call is to surrender all. Count the cost. Anything less means you cannot be His disciple.