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Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Nashville Statement

"Anti-Gay Manifesto" the headline reads. Let's see if there is any truth to the claim.

The reference is to the Nashville Statement on Human Sexuality, a document from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood signed by 150 prominent Evangelical leaders. The document was drawn up in the city of Nashville, so, like the Nicene Creed in Nicaea or the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy from in Chicago, as a matter of tradition, they named it the "Nashville Statement". It is a statement on biblical sexuality.

What kind of "anti-gay" stuff is in there? Well, they affirm that "God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church." (Article 1) Culturally accepted? No. "Anti-gay"? That's what they say. But all it is is a statement of biblical marriage. Article 2 calls for chastity for all but the married. No surprise there. Is that "anti-gay"? They say it is. Article 3 affirms the straightforward biblical claim that God created humans as male and female (Gen 1:27). Nothing "anti-gay" there. Article 4 (a bit odd to me) claims that it's good that God made male and female. Article 5 says that one primary difference between male and female is reproductive structures as integral to God's design. Clearly these last few are "anti-transgender" in the sense that they deny the claim that a person can be "a female born in a male body" or something like it, but, seriously, it doesn't take a Bible to know this. Try science. So science is "anti-transgender"? Article 6 acknowledges that it is possible to be born with "a physical disorder of sex development". This article affirms their dignity and worth. Definitely not "anti-intersex". Article 7 affirms that "self-conception as male or female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption." As such, they deny that "adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes." See, it's things like this that get labeled "anti-gay" or "anti-transgender". Article 8 affirms that people who experience same-sex attraction can live rich and fruitful lives as long as "they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life." Again, this will get labeled "anti-gay", but it is wrong to do so. It is anti-homosexual-behavior. Article 9 condemns both homosexual and heterosexual immorality and denies that "an enduring pattern of desire for sexual immorality justifies sexually immoral behavior." Are we really going to claim that "an enduring pattern of desire" qualifies that behavior, whatever it is, as moral? Not "anti-gay"; anti-sexual immorality.

The one that has most people in a tizzy is Article 10.
WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.
The claim is clear. They are saying that approving of acting on homosexual desires or denying the God that made them male and female is sin and is a departure from Christian faithfulness. These are not morally indifferent. Writer Bonnie Fuller of Hollywood Life says it "makes our blood boil." (Hey, isn't that hate?) She says, "Well then so much for TOLERANCE which Jesus teaches in the Bible!" (And isn't that intolerance?) There you have it, folks. If you call a sin a sin, you're deviating from Christ. He never called sin sin. He embraced it. He didn't merely tolerate it (in the original use of the term) -- He approved it. Not the Jesus I read about, but, hey, what do I know?

There are more Articles. The Nashville Statement affirms that those who experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria are in just as much need of Christ as every other sinner on the planet ... which is all of us. They deserve to be loved and valued. That does not mean that these particular sins are worse than others. Nor does it mean that their particular sin is automatically justified. Articles 12 - 14 affirm the availability and effectiveness of Christ's death and resurrection for sinners, including those guilty of sexual sin ... of all types.

Well, you know where this is going. Nashville Mayor Megan Barry is outraged that they used "Nashville" in the name. It "does not represent the inclusive values of the city & people of Nashville." Translation: "We will have none of this 'Christian values' or 'biblical Christianity' in our town." The rest of the loudest voices assure us that it's "Anti-LGBTQ". Multiple outlets assure us it's "hate". Is it? Well, that depends on your original premise. Start with Man and you'll get one answer. If you start with God you'll get another. So if God says, "Do this and don't do that" and you are concerned about yourself and others, you will want to encourage yourself and others to do what God says. That's not "anti-gay". Further, if "gay" is defined as "same-sex attraction", this document affirms the value of that "gay" person. It is the behavior that is the question. This document affirms the value of the person who struggles with sexual identity. These are not, therefore, "anti-gay", "anti-transgender", "anti-LGBTQ", or hate.

Does the document oppose sexual immorality? Yes ... yes it does. Does it opposed same-sex sex and gender transitioning? Yes ... yes it does. Does it oppose approving of these? Without a doubt. But consider:

1) The statement is on biblical views for Christians. Not a Christian? Move along. This isn't aimed at you.

2) The statement comes from Evangelicals, a group whose definition includes the principle of the inerrancy of Scripture. That they affirm Scripture, then, is not startling. That anyone would expect otherwise is. The headline should read, "News Flash! Christians Declare What They Have Declared From The Start!" The news flash would be that anyone claiming to be a Christian would disagree.

3) The belief that sin is not approved of and the hope that anyone -- everyone -- would come to Christ are not "anti"; they are biblical. Just like Christ -- "Go and sin no more." (John 8:11) It is not loving, kind, caring, or even wise to approve of sin. It is loving to warn others from it and offer them Christ as a solution to it.

But we have arrived at a place that says, "We will not tolerate a biblical worldview or any that hold it. We will classify them as 'intolerant' and 'hateful' and 'anti-Christ'." We have arrived at a place in Christendom that says, "We will no longer allow God's Word to determine what is or is not true. We will determine it. God will just have to get on board." It requires the end of rationality.

One of the signers was Rosaria Butterfield, a woman and a former lesbian. She explains why she signed the document. Important point: "The issue is not primarily homosexuality; it’s Scripture."

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Father of Lies

After the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus spoke in the temple (John 8:20). He ended up in a discussion with the Pharisees (John 8:13) in which they, obviously, take Him to task. (Did they ever not take Him to task?) In that discussion we see this exchange:
They said to Him, "We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God." Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of My own accord, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me." (John 8:41-45)
Now, of course, they aren't happy about Jesus characterizing them as being of their father, the devil. What's interesting here, however, is His characterization of Satan. He lists two features: 1) He was a murderer and 2) He is the father of lies. We see that he was a murderer "from the beginning" when he managed to kill the entire human race by inducing Eve to eat the forbidden fruit (Gen 3:1-7). It constituted the spiritual death of all and, without divine intervention, all humans would have ended up eternally dead.

What I want to focus on here is the second feature. Jesus calls Satan the "father of lies". In fact, He says it two ways. "He is a liar and the father of lies." The devil continually lies and originates lies. If there is anything we know about Satan, it is that he lies. It's his forte, his modus operandi, his standard approach. We know that he likes the "Did God actually say" (Gen 3:1) gambit. It's one of his favorites, judging by history from the start up to our own day when God's Word is constantly questioned and denied even by so-called Christians. We know that he lies to God about Christians. In one scene in heaven in Revelation John says, "And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, 'Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.'" (Rev 12:10) The image isn't vague. Satan stands before God accusing us "day and night". His end is coming, but is not yet. So "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." (1 John 2:1) We have a Lawyer who paid for our sin. "Yes," our Lawyer can say to each and every accusation, "that's true, but I paid it in full." The truth, then, in this case is yes, the accusation is valid, but the crime is paid for, the penalty paid, the story is over. The accusation is valid but incomplete. It is, then, a lie.

As it turns out, this is critical for us to know ... for our own benefit. Satan lies. Now, he is also called "the god of this world" (2 Cor 4:4), so you can be quite sure that his lies are prevalent. That is, in a world whose god is the father of lies, expect lies ... everywhere. As such, you can expect the world to lie to you. You can expect your friends, your family, your coworkers, your spouse all to lie to you. It's going to happen. And anyone with any intelligence knows it. What we fail to understand is that we lie to us. All the time. And we need to know that, to be on the look out for that.

How do we do that? Well, we tell ourselves that we know best when God says "X is true" and we say, "No, Y is true." "Yeah, yeah, Scripture is clear that sex outside of marriage is a sin, but we know better." Lies. "Sure," husbands will say, "we're commanded to love our wives, but she's just unlovable." Lies. "Oh, no," you will certainly hear, "wives don't have to submit to their husbands." Lies. We lie ... to ourselves. We lie to ourselves when we tell ourselves about ourselves. Many of us will tell ourselves, "I'm not that bad of a person." Lies. Others will be more "honest" and say, "I'm a loser." Lies. Most of us suffer to some degree or another with guilt. "I did these things wrong and stand condemned." "I've done so many bad things God could never love me." "God may have forgiven me, but I'm pretty sure He doesn't like me very much." We range from "I'm God's gift to the world" to "I am good for nothing." Lies.

Brothers and sisters, we ourselves suffer from a daily barrage of lies. Most of them are lies we tell ourselves. That's why Paul warns us to "be transformed by the renewal of your mind." (Rom 12:2) We believe lies about God, about Christ, about doctrine, about how we should behave. We believe lies about ourselves and we do it in both directions -- too highly and too lowly. We lie to ourselves about what's important, what's good, what's right, what's true. Counteracting these lies is a full-time job. And a necessary one.

The good news is in Jesus's words.
If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:31-32)
So the take-away is this. Abide in Christ. Abide in His Word. I love the way Paul puts it. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." (Col 3:16) Let it wash over you. Soak in it. Live there. We live in a world of lies and we tell ourselves lies, but Jesus says the truth is there. Jesus said, "When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth." (John 16:13) So, remind yourself that you tend to lie to yourself and that the world is of its father, the father of lies. Remind Satan that he's a liar. Instead, abide in the Word. It will set you free.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

My Little Rant

In all the years I've been doing this -- over 11 -- I've never actually done this. I've never actually just done a rant. A personal complaint. I mean, look, I don't have a LOT of readers and it's not like my complaints will be heard, and, in all honesty, I'm mostly a fairly satisfied guy, so it's just not something I do. Having said that, I'm frustrated and thought I'd vent. At least a few might see it. Normally I try to write something helpful; not today. This will just be sort of therapeutic for me.

I have driven Hyundais for years now. I have found them to be safe, reliable, reasonably priced, and good gas mileage. If an American car company would do that, I'd go with them. They don't. One key element is size. I want practicality and such, so I aim for smaller vehicles with low cost of maintenance and good mileage, but I'm long in the legs and need what no American automaker gives -- leg room. Odd that the Korean car would do it, but they do. So, I drive Hyundais.

My current one was 10 years old and had over 200,000 miles on it and things were starting to give out, so I thought I'd trade it in and get a "new" one. Used, actually. No need for a brand new one. So I went online to my local Hyundai dealer and looked at their listings for used cars. I sorted for low-to-high prices and looked for gas mileage and price. And they had a beauty. Now, I'm not much for "gadgets"; I don't need all the bells and whistles. But this one had it all. It had what I needed -- leg room, good mileage, low miles, and less than $13,000 for a 2016 model. Really good. But it also had the extras. The website listed all sorts of goodies. There was a navigation system, a bluetooth-to-link-your-phone-to system, heated seats, leather seats, dual temperature zones, automatic temperature control, keyless entry, keyless ignition, backup camera, alarm system ... the works. Sounded wonderful. And it was in a color I liked (as if that mattered much). To top it all off, I wasn't interested in a large monthly payment or a long-term loan and this one said I could get 3.15% interest for 72 months and pay $172 a month to drive it home. That's what it claimed.

Well, I printed out the promise and the info on the car and went on down. Nice sales-kid. (Sorry, at my age most people are "kids".) He did a fine job of talking it up and showing it off. No razzle-dazzle. No, "Sorry, that car isn't available, but maybe you'd like ..." He didn't recommend a double-the-price new car instead. Just let us see what we wanted to see and try it out. I noticed right off that there was no space in the dash for a navigation system. There was no provision for a phone connection, either. No leather seats, no dual temperature zones, no ... well, none of those "bells and whistles". In fact, it turned out that the car had been purchased and retained by the dealer as a loaner for people getting their cars worked on. That was it. It didn't offer keyless anything and had only the standard equipment. Well, okay. It drove nice. It wasn't experiencing any of the problems my older car was. I fit in it. All good.

So, with i's dotted and t's crossed, we went in for the "What's it gonna cost?" section of the visit. We knew, right? I mean, the website told me what my trade-in was worth, what my loan would be, what my payments would be. I could "Drive it now!" the website had told me for just $156 a month. "Here," the website said, "prequalify, print this out, and take it with you." And I did. So they came back with "Oh, your trade in isn't worth anything at all" and "Your payments will be for a year longer than we promised at $100/month beyond what we promised as long as you give us an additional $3000 as a down payment," I was not amused.

Why do they do this? Why do they promise so much and deliver so little? Why do they bother putting, "You can pay this month for this long" when they know you can do neither? Why do they tell me "Your trade in is worth more than you would need as a down payment" online and then tell me in person, "Yeah, we're doing you a favor to take it off your hands and you'll have to pay us much more than that"? I understand that sometimes the car advertised and the car you get aren't the same -- "Sorry. We sold that one. But here's another." -- but this wasn't the case. It was the identical car -- same VIN number -- as the advertised one, but lacked all the amenties that made it so much better. Why do they do that? The funny thing is that lots of readers will tell me, "Hey, that's just what car dealers do." And I would agree, but why? I would think that they might want to make customers who find them trustworthy and reliable, customers who would then rave about how trustworthy and reliable these people are and "You should shop there, too!" But, no. They all want to promise big and deliver small and you'd better like it.

I said at the outset that this wasn't something helpful. I guess, in all this, I will disagree with me. I guess I'll try to do what I wish they would do. I'll deliver more than promised. Here are some "helpful thoughts". Sin promises big and delivers small and you'd better like it. It doesn't matter if you think you have it all figured out; sin doesn't deliver what it promises. Worse, it infects everyone and everything. The trick, then, is not to be like that. "Let your 'yes' be yes and your 'no' be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation." (James 5:12) In a dark world, "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matt 5:16) We shouldn't be car dealers, known for promising a lot and delivering a little. We ought to be living lives that will cause people to ask, "Why are you so different and how do I get it?" Lessons from a bad experience at a car dealer.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Bible is a Hard Book

We refer to the Bible as a book. Technically, it's a library of 66 books. Okay, fine. Whatever. But one of the key discussions/disagreements over the Bible is its value. Is it true? Is it valid? Is it from God or from men? And even if we accept that it's true and it's from God, can we understand it?

On the surface I think we'd all agree that the question is obvious and understandable. I mean, look at the amount of disagreement there is over the thing. You get everything from "I believe the Bible, but you know the creation is a myth and Jesus never really came back from the dead and, hey, we're not even sure there ever really was a Jesus" to "I believe that Jesus is an actual door with hinges because He said He was the door and I take my Bible literally." Theologians have referred to the principle of what they call "the perspicuity of Scripture" (which I always found ironic because "perspicuity" is supposed to mean "easily understood", but who understands "perspicuity"?). The principle, then, is that "the meanings of the text can be clear to the ordinary reader, that God uses the text of the Bible to communicate His person and will." But, look, if Scripture is clear, why is there so much disagreement? Obviously, it's not so clear.

Well, I have two answers here. Pick one for yourself. Or both, if you wish.

First, there is no doubt that certain parts of the Bible are hard to understand. No "principle of perspicuity" will be able to dispel that fact. There are problems of translation. Just what, exactly, did the writer mean when he wrote "X", because, frankly, it's a dead language and we're not entirely sure how to translate it. There is the problem of translation related to the available texts. Now, we have a lot of texts, but some don't agree with others. Most modern Bibles include notes that will say, in places, something like, "Some older manuscripts do not include this passage." Mark 16:9-20, for instance, is not found in the earlier manuscripts. You know, that stuff about drinking poison and picking up snakes? Not in the earlier manuscripts. In fact, there is a phrase, typically at the end of verse 20, that doesn't appear in some manuscripts and in the ones that it does it varies. Some put it after verse 8 and others after verse 20.

"Oh, now, see? You can't trust your translation!" No, we can't go there. I don't mean merely we shouldn't. I mean we can't rationally go there. First, the number of these texts is miniscule. Second, the content of these texts do not change much of anything. For instance, this Mark 16 text covers the resurrection ... with much more detail and corroboration offered in the other gospels. If Mark's gospel didn't include this, what would we conclude? It's not safe to pick up venemous snakes ... which most of us already knew. So it's not an issue. The number is small and none of these questionable texts are required to prove any major doctrine of Christianity. No problem. I might suggest we don't build major doctrines on these passages. Take, for instance, John 7:53-8:11 -- basically the story of the woman caught in adultery. Only found in the later manuscripts. Interesting story, but let's not build a doctrine of "never say anything about sin to anyone" on it or, worse, "Jesus doesn't care about sin" (which I've actually heard based on this text).

Beyond translation, however, there are other difficulties in the clarity of Scripture. Consider James. He writes, "Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, 'He yearns jealously over the Spirit that he has made to dwell in us'?" (James 4:5) In my Bible alone there are three different translations of that last phrase. You have "He yearns jealously over the Spirit that He has made to dwell in us" or "The spirit which He has made to dwell in us lusts with envy" or "The Spirit that dwells in us jealously regards us as His own." Similarly, one translator writes it as "The Spirit which He implanted yearns tenderly over us." All different. It may be His Spirit in view or ours. It may be our spirit that lusts and envies or God's Spirit who is jealous about us. It may be ... well, we're not sure. Presumably the ones to whom James wrote got it; we're not completely clear on it. Then there are things of which we have no correspondence. There are a few mentions of various stones, for instance, in Scripture, some of which we don't know what they are. Translations vary because exactly what stone corresponds to today's stones isn't clear. Or how about the pits in Genesis? There is a reference in Genesis 14:10 to a valley called Siddim that "was full of ... pits." What kind of pits? Tiptoe through the translations and you'll find "slimepits" (KJV), "bitumen pits" (ESV), "asphalt pits" (LITV), "clay pits" (CJB), "tar pits" (NIV) ... oh, I like this one, from the Amplified Bible, "slime or bitumen pits" ... nice. So, what's up with that? Well, the actual text says "pit pits". It simply repeats the word. A Hebraism where repetition increases intensity. In this case, "very pitty".

So one answer to the problem of disagreement is that there are difficulties, both in translation and in content. I said I had two answers. What's the other? Let's face it, all of this stuff is negligible. I mean, if they translated the word as "carbuncle" and the author actually meant "diamond", how will that change our understanding of God, biblical doctrine, or how we should then live? Not one iota. What, then, really is the issue in the clarity of Scripture? Why don't we all get along in that regard? While I am sure there are a few matters of actual disagreement between serious students of Scripture who are genuine believers, I would have to guess that by far the problem of disagreement of what it says and means is not in the ambiguity of the text or translation. I'd guess that most of it is in the willingness to believe it.

An obvious example is Genesis. Did God actually create the world? It says He did, but, hey, we know better today because Darwin proved He didn't. It's not that the text is unclear, ambiguous, or hard to translate. It's that people choose, based on science, to reject the clear intent of the text. Some do so with malice. "You Bible people are all nuts. Anyone can see that." Some do it with good intentions. "Well, if we understand the text to mean something different than all of history has understood it to mean, it can align with science and leave the Bible intact." But neither of these are due to the texts.

I would argue that more often than aligning Scripture with science, the most common shift occurs in aligning Scripture with preference. Clearly those who argue that the Bible has nothing to say about homosexual behavior, for instance, are arguing not from clear texts, but from a prior position that wants to allow the behavior. The texts are not hard to translate, unclear on their content, or ambiguous in their intent. No, it is the reader that changes it, so the reader is the one causing the division on this topic that was always clear in the Church before. The same is true on many of the "differences of opinion" held today in the church. Sex outside of marriage, divorce, abortion, the definition of marriage, women in church leadership -- on and on -- these topics are not vague. Scripture is not unclear. Many have simply opted to choose their preferred view to override a biblical view. So adept are we at this that eventually we end up with the notion that a biblical view is our view rather than shaping our view by Scripture and we don't even realize how confused and convoluted we are.

The truth is the Bible is God's Word -- breathed out by God. The truth is that God used men in the past to write down in their own words under the Spirit's supervision to say what God wanted said. The truth is that God's Word, then, is reliable and truthful, without error in the original text, (which we have a 99% certainty we hold). And, the truth is that in terms of important doctrine and important instructions for living, the Bible is abundantly clear. The problem, then, is not the Bible. The problem is us. Will we bend to it or twist it to ourselves? You'll have to answer that for yourself.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

One Thing

In City Slickers Jack Palance played Curly, a grizzled old cowboy taking the city slickers out for a cattle drive. Billy Crystal played Mitch Robbins, a city boy scared of Curly. So he tried to strike up a friendly conversation. And Curly shares the secret of life.
Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
[holds up one finger]
Curly: This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean nothin'.
Mitch: But, what is the "one thing?"
Curly: [smiles] That's what you have to find out.
One thing. That's it. Of course, the writers didn't know what it was, so neither did Curly. It was just ... whatever you wanted it to be. David had a different idea.
One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple. (Psa 27:4)
I know. It's Sunday. "Stan must be telling us to go to church again." No, of course not. I don't understand "the house of the Lord" to be limited to the church. But ...

That's where I want to be. That's the "one thing" I want, in fact, the secret of life. The one thing that we should be seeking after is to be in the presence of the Lord, be it here or in heaven. Whether it's in church or at work or at home or wherever. Whether it's Sunday morning or evening or Monday or any day of the week at any time. One thing.

We ought to be there, in that one desire, that one request, that one guiding passion. It is my suspicion that the extent to which we are not is the distance from where, as believers, need to go in our sanctification. And, of course, we won't arrive there in this life. But someday ... oh, happy day!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

News Weakly - 8/26/2017

Hypocrisy isn't just a Pharisee thing
This is disturbing. While big companies like Apple, Yahoo, Cisco Systems, Amazon, and Microsoft claim outrage against the original American values like faith and country and work to redefine things like marriage and family and human rights, they're kowtowing to enemies of freedom and human rights like China. The hypocrisy is obvious.

As Predicted
All the furor over statues and the Confederacy has led to speculation, verbalized by the president, that statues of Americans like George Washington and the like are next. Turns out, it's true. Can you say "slippery slope"? Well, it's not a slippery slope if it is happening. And it is happening. Christopher Columbus has got to go. Protesters in Columbus, OH (which, by the way, will have to change its name, right?), San Jose, CA, and New York City all call for the removal of various statues of Christopher Columbus ("purging" one lawmaker called it) for his treatment of Native Americans. (Hey, I thought Columbus never actually made it to America. Shows what I know about history.) The NAACP is seeking to remove the Stone Mountain monument, a large stone carving on the side of a cliff depicting three Confederate generals. They want to blow it up. And ESPN decided to remove broadcaster Robert Lee, of Asian descent, from covering the University of Virginia's season opener because of the proximity of his name to the Confederate general. Insanity reigns. I can only hope this writer was only kidding about blowing up Mt. Rushmore.

(Oddly, polls are reporting that a majority of Americans do not favor removing statues. Go figure.)

Also as predicted ... it was more than a year ago that I warned that while Bernie or Hillary had the capacity to do great harm to the country, Trump had the capacity to do great harm to the country and to the party. My concerns haven't changed. As predicted, see his assaults on Republicans in Phoenix and elsewhere this week.

Rising Hate
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), hate is on the rise. They point, of course, mostly to the Charlottesville event, but that's primarily for illustration. "The SPLC estimates that there are currently more than 900 hate groups," the story says, and defines for us what a "hate group" is -- "organizations with beliefs that attack an entire group of people." Well, now, that's interesting. Their list includes the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Traditional Values Coalition, the Conservative Republicans of Texas, the American Family Association, the National Prayer Network, American Vision, and Chick Publications (not all of whom are taking it lying down). Now, it seems to me that they find anyone with biblical Christian values to be a "hate group", and it seems to me that they're attacking the beliefs of an entire group of people. I wonder if they're on their own list? They ought to be, based on their definition.

Girls Just Want ...
... what they want. The Girl Scouts are miffed at the notion that the Boy Scouts are possibly recruiting girls to join the Boy Scouts. Among their complaints was "it is inherently dishonest to claim to be a single gender organization while simultaneously endeavoring upon a co-ed model." True. But it wasn't that long ago that girls were pressuring the Boy Scouts to allow them to join. And females have repeatedly assaulted "boys only" organizations insisting that women should be allowed. Now, which way is it going to be?

Positive Spin
The report is that Iceland has nearly eradicated Down Syndrome. Quite impressive, isn't it? Except that it's not quite accurate. "Since prenatal screening tests were introduced in Iceland in the early 2000s, the vast majority of women -- close to 100 percent -- who received a positive test for Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy." That is, Down Syndrome has been "eradicated" by killing the victims. Oh, it's not an Iceland thing. Most countries are seeing this. In Denmark, for instance, the rate is 98% of mothers who kill their babies if they are detected with Down Syndrome.

Let's see if anyone will suggest we carry that forward with other maladies. AIDS, cancer, the flu ... any of these can be eradicated if we just execute the victims, right?

"The operation was successful, but the patient died." This, dear reader, is what is known as "positive spin".

Friday, August 25, 2017

Religious Liberty

The ACLU's webpage on the subject says, "The ACLU strives to safeguard the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty by ensuring that laws and governmental practices neither promote religion nor interfere with its free exercise." Nice thought. Is it true? Well, that question is harder than you think.

First, there's the obvious. The ACLU often leads the charge against those who are exercising their religious beliefs. The ACLU came out against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). They argue that religious liberty is only valid if it doesn't affect anyone else. Since religion must affect every aspect of a believer's life (regardless of what religion that believer is), this is just nonsense. In their view, those who wish to practice homosexual behavior have rights that supersede those who wish to practice their religious beliefs. I'm looking ... I'm looking ... nope! Nothing in the Constitution or Bill of Rights that says, "We have the right to indulge in whatever kind of sex we wish and you have to support us."

Then there's the claim that they strive to provide safeguards for the First Amendment "by ensuring that laws and governmental practices neither promote religion ..." Stop right there. What does the First Amendment say about promoting religion? On the freedom of religion, the First Amendment says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." I'm looking ... I'm looking ... nope! Nothing there about promoting religion. Now, that's odd, isn't it? I mean, everyone knows that promoting religion is against the First Amendment. Just ask the Freedom From Religion folks. Ask anyone. You know ... "separation of Church and State". Somehow, somewhere along the way we've built this structure, this "sure thing", that says that there must be a vast gulf in America between religion and government. And we're all certain it's there.

But it's not. The prohibited item is not "promoting religion", which, by its very nature, is too vague to be defined. I mean, if a government allows religions to exist, is it not "promoting religion"? Yet, what is really prohibited here? It is the establishment of religion. The government does not have the right in this country to establish a state religion. "You will all be fill in the blank ." Christians, Muslims, Pastafarians, whatever. They don't get to make religious tests for office, don't get to tell you what to believe, don't get to tell you that "Pennsylvania is a Baptist state" (as a ridiculous example). The First Amendment prohibits the government from doing any of that. Nothing in that First Amendment prohibits the government from "promoting religion."

Richard Dawkins, renowned atheist, called himself a "secular Christian" and said that Christianity was "a bulwark against something worse." That kind of thinking -- from an anti-theist -- is a promotion of religion. The early Americans had nothing but positive things to say about religion in general and Christianity in particular as a positive means of defining, moderating, and prospering a nation. That's promoting religion. Nothing in the Constitution prevents the government from promoting religion. We've bought a lie, and the ACLU is working to safeguard it.

Now, I want to be clear. This is not about the ACLU. What I've written here about the ACLU is simply what you'll find in most places and hear from most people. "Oh, yes," most of them will say, "we're in favor of the First Amendment. We're in favor of religious liberty. We're just opposed to the government promoting religion." And they'll likely throw in that "separation of Church and State" thing. And when you point out that they're forcing people with religious convictions to violate their religious conscience by enacting laws to do so, they will deny that the government is making a law that prohibits the free exercise of religion. Why? Well, their answer is the same as the ACLU's. "It's just not." Their answer is, "You can't have the free exercise of religion if it infringes on the rights of others." If they say that, by no means must you ask, "Could you please point me to the Constitutional right that ensures the free exercise of sex?" It just won't go well ... all that logic and such.

But down here at the end, just between you and me -- fellow Christians -- who believe that the Bible is the sole authority in matters of faith and practice, who believe that our view of the world must be determined by God and what He says in His Word ... I'd like to point out that none of this is biblical. So before you go on getting your knickers in a twist because your religious freedoms are being impinged upon, please note: You do so as an American, not as a Christian. There is no command from God that we have the right to the free exercise of religion. Just to keep things clear. Go to court, fight, whatever you think you need to do. Just keep in mind that it's not a Christian issue; it's an American issue. The two are not synonymous.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Seen and Not Heard

In my younger days one of my favorite Christian bands was Petra. I enjoyed their music, and most of the time their theology wasn't too bad, either, so they were high on my list. Even saw them in concert ... with Steve Taylor. Now that was a treat. One of their well-known songs was titled Seen and Not Heard. The chorus included these lines:
Seen and not heard, seen and not heard
Sometimes God's children should be seen and not heard
There's too much talk and not enough walk
Sometimes God's children should be seen and not heard
We've seen it before. It's not new. There has been a famous quote going around, generally falsely attributed to Francis of Assisi, that says something like "Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary." Same idea. Live your faith more than talking about it.

I get it. I really do. It is true. Too many people talk the talk but don't walk the walk. Too many people, self-identified Christians, speak boldly and loudly for Christ and live like practical atheists, like God is not really there. In the Christian life, "Do as I say, not as I do" is not an option. Jesus said He gave us examples to live by (John 13:15). Paul repeatedly told his readers to "follow our example" (Phil 3:17; 2 Thess 3:7,9) and told others to be examples (1 Thess 3:7; 1 Tim 4:12; Titus 2:7). Jesus said, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matt 5:16) No mention of "fine apologetics" or "well-formed sermon". We do need to live the gospel, to live Christ. We are the mirrors God designed to demonstrate His Son and His glory.

That being said, it is a false dilemma to argue that we should be "seen and not heard", that we should "use words if necessary." We are commanded to use words. The Scriptures commend preaching as much as working. Paul said that whoever would call on the name of the Lord would be saved, but continued, "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?" (Rom 10:13-14) Timothy was told to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction." (2 Tim 4:2) We are commanded to speak the truth (Eph 4:15,25). We do indeed need to live the gospel, but we absolutely must speak the gospel as well.

The truth here is that too many of us don't walk the walk. But I would also disagree with Petra that there's "too much talk". Too many of us talk, but not the gospel. We're talking, too often about peripherals, but are we sharing the truth, God's truth? What we need is to live in such a way that people will glorify God and demand from us a reason for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15). Our lives should invite questions like "What makes you different?" that demand a verbal answer. God's children should be heard and seen. It's our calling.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Lost Art

The topic of forgiveness is a well-known topic in Scripture. Once Peter asked Jesus "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" I'd think Peter thought he was being generous. Jesus answered, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times." (Matt 18:21-22) After teaching His disciples how to pray, Jesus said, "If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matt 6:15) That ought to get our attention. We are supposed to forgive. We all get that.

There is, however, another aspect that I think, just by observation, is sorely missing these days. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, was talking about how murder included anger at a brother (Matt 5:21-22). He offered a remedy.
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt 5:23-24)
I think most of us read this and think, "So, if my brother has done something against me, I should forgive him rather than be angry." That's not actually what it says. What Jesus is talking about is that you "remember that your brother has something against you." Oh, now, that's different. The transgressor in this scenario is not your brother. The transgressor is you.

I think that one of the forgotten aspects on forgiveness today is not as much giving it -- in which I think we are often negligent -- but in seeking it. Jesus says not to proceed with your offering before being reconciled to your brother. That's pretty strong. The implication is "God doesn't want your gift as long as you have not made things right with those you have offended."

Asking for forgiveness is not an easy thing. It requires first the recognition that we did something wrong and, let's face it, most of us aren't particularly keen on doing that. Instead, we give reasons we did what we did or said what we said or didn't do or say what we should have. "She made me mad." "I was having a bad day." Echoes of Adam's, "It was that woman You gave me." (Gen 3:12) We've missed the point. The point is not to justify ourselves. The point is to be reconciled to your brother.

It begins, then, with repentance and humility. It owns the error rather than condoning or excusing it. It requires a recognition of the injury done rather than justification for it. There needs to be some empathy here ... because the aim is to be reconciled, not justified.

It includes actual words. Now, there are no magic words; it's all about attitude. "Here's what I did. I know that I was wrong. I know that I hurt you." Words that express a recognition of my transgression and repentance.

It includes listening. Perhaps you aren't quite aware of all that you did, of the injury you inflicted. There may be more to apologize for.

It includes, as far as possible, making things right. This can be difficult. It may be one of the most common reasons that we don't do it. In some cases, it may be impossible. But when it's possible, there should be restitution, resolution. Whatever can be done to make things right should be done.

We need to forgive others. We also need to seek forgiveness from others we have offended. Yes, we need God's forgiveness, and that ought to be at the top of our "to do" list, but it isn't always only God whom we have offended. We need to do whatever we can do to be reconciled to our brothers. Scripture suggests that to fail to do this is to interfere with our relationship with God. It has, then, horizontal and vertical repercussions. Since "love God" and "Love your neighbor" constitute the embodiment of the law, I would think this would be important to believers everywhere.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


The term is new to me. Antifa is short for "anti-fascism". It's the term of choice for the groups in all the news demonstrating against fascism.

But what is facism? The dictionary says it is "a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition." That's fine, except that almost all definitions include "right-wing system" in that definition. Wikipedia has all that stuff in it and adds, "Opposed to liberalism, Marxism, and anarchism, fascism is usually placed on the far-right within the traditional left–right spectrum."

I'm not actually understanding. If "fascism" is essentially "radical authoritarian nationalism, characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and control of industry and commerce" and is "far-right", what is the "far-left" version of radical authoritarian nationalism marked by forcible suppression of opposition and control of industry and commerce? Because we see a lot of that. The far-left does indeed wish to forcibly suppress opposition and control industry and commerce (think everything from ecology to socialism). The far-left (face it, any version of any stance, right or left) does indeed want power. So what is "fascism" that the current "We will not tolerate those who don't agree with our view on these topics", "We will declare as 'hate' views that disagree with ours", "We will work to pass laws to prevent others from believing and practicing those things we consider wrong on these issues" kind of thinking is not? When Bernie Sanders said that those with Christian values were "really not someone who this country is supposed to be about", how is that different than fascism? When the far-left bans people because they're saying things this group doesn't like, how is that different than fascism?

The Atlantic has an article titled The Rise of the Violent Left. They detail violence from the anti-fascist side, the Left. While assuring us that "Antifa believes it is pursuing the opposite of authoritarianism", they point out that "in the name of protecting the vulnerable, antifascists have granted themselves the authority to decide which Americans may publicly assemble and which may not." The left is growing in intolerance of the free exercise of religion, the freedom of speech, and the freedom to assemble, just to name a few.

What I want to know is how is this different than "fascism"? When the voices opposed to fascism exhibit the same defining characteristics as the definition of fascism, how am I supposed to tell them apart?

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Company We Keep

It is a proverb of ours: "Birds of a feather flock together." It's in Scripture, too. Paul wrote, "Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals." (1 Cor 15:33) It's not like Paul was offering something unusual. Solomon wrote, "Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm." (Prov 13:20) The psalmist wrote, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers." (Psa 1:1) All the same idea.

We know it's true. We are shaped by the company we keep. There have been studies that show that the longer a couple is married, the closer they begin to physically resemble each other. It's the nature of the human being. Spend time in "the counsel of the wicked", "the way of sinners", and "the seat of scoffers" and you'll become wicked, sinning scoffer. It's just the way we are.

And, yet ...

In many endeavors, such as sports, we know that the way to improve ourselves is to do things with others who do what we want to do well. I learned more about playing tennis from losing to good players than by beating lesser players. You can learn more about the Bible from a good Bible teacher than from a casual reader. Spending time with those who have something valuable to offer on something you wish to obtain, whether it's skills or character traits or whatever, is the best way to obtain it. Would you like to know the secrets, for instance, of longevity of marriage? You probably won't find it spending time with the fellow that has been divorced 5 times and is working on his 6th. We know this.

And, yet ...

Who we spend time with, who makes up the cadre of closest associations, where our largest amount of time is spent -- these things will determine a lot of how we think and live. So why is it that we spend a lot of our time where we know we're being lied to? Why is it that we pay so very much attention to "the counsel of the wicked", "the way of sinners", and "the seat of scoffers"? "How?" you ask? We do it with our televisions and other choices of entertainment.

Television belongs to the world. They set the standards. They set the messages. Occasionally a Christian one might sneak through, but, if you're paying attention, it would only be extremely rarely. Every show that addresses the question of origins -- life, the planet, people, animals -- addresses it from an absolutely evolutionary way. "Evolution is true. You doubt it? You're just a stupid loser." But they don't even need that judgment in it. They state it long enough and loud enough that it's true, and everyone will believe it's a fact. Look at every representation of Christians in the media. Almost without exception they are caricatures at best and, most often, outright assaults. Look at the standards offered by the media today. If you were to judge life in America by what you see on television, everyone everywhere is having sex all the time. You'll find cop shows about cops who are solving crimes and having sex with each other. You'll find doctor shows about doctors and nurses who are taking care of patients and having sex with each other. Then there are lawyer shows ... well, you get the idea. Then throw in the underlying and unavoidable message that "gay is normal and morally acceptable" sifting into every corner of your television experience. We are being lied to. And we choose to imbibe the kool-aid.

We call it "entertainment". Better, "amusement", with an eye to the origins of the word -- "a" for "not" and "muse" for "thinking" ... "not thinking". We swallow it whole, laugh at the humor, indulge in the drama, and rarely ever consider the message. We are commanded not to be conformed to this world (Rom 12:2), but we drench ourselves with their values. We are told to "be transformed by the renewing of your minds" (Rom 12:2), but largely avoid putting much in that would transform our thinking away from the world's thinking. We nod at the command not to be friends with the world (James 4:4; 1 John 2:15) and find ourselves inviting the world into our living rooms nightly for an indoctrination session. Why?

In the words of three little known lepers, "We do not well." (2 Kings 7:9) Or in the words of James, "My brothers, these things ought not to be so." (James 3:10) If the Bible is true and Paul was correct when he said, "Bad company ruins good morals", then we might want to put some thought into our choice of nightly entertainment. If it's largely your television, then it's largely lies from the world that we're shoveling in all while we're claiming to want to be transformed into the image of Christ. Doesn't make much sense, does it? Some might even suggest that it's unbiblical.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

To Him be glory forever. Amen

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor? Or who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen. (Rom 11:33-36)
Paul writes this at the very end of eleven full chapters of deep, rich doctrine. He covered Man's sin condition and the only possible remedy of being saved by faith in Christ's payment on our behalf. He talked about the new life, the "baptized into His death and raised to His new life" kind of new life. He illustrated the ongoing problem of sin and the solution, the Holy Spirit at work in us. He talked of the ultimate goal -- formed into Christ's image -- and waxed eloquent about the promise that is in God's choosing, not in birth. He spoke of the power of the Word and of faith and explained how we are grafted into the tree, the root of which is Christ. Really, really big concepts. Lots of deep doctrine. So as Paul transitions from right thinking (orthodoxy) to right living (orthopraxy), he offers this doxology.

You see, Paul understood that the whole aim, the whole point, the whole purpose ... of everything is God -- His riches, His wisdom, His knowledge, His ways, His glory. God isn't a peripheral. He isn't an add-on. He isn't something we can tack onto our lives, a component of our existence. No. He is the giver of all gifts, beyond our comprehension. All that is is from Him, through Him, and to Him.

We muddle around down here thinking that we're something, thinking that we're everything. We think it's all about us. It's not. And if we could get this right, if we could see that everything comes from Him, is sustained by Him, and is for Him, it would radically alter every corner of our existence. It must.

To Him be glory forever. Amen.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

News Weakly - 8/19/2017

Pot, Meet Kettle
The president took Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to task for not repealing and replacing Obamacare yet. "Maybe," the president suggested, "he should step down." Given the impressively short list of the president's accomplishments in his current term, I wonder if he'll apply the same rule to himself?

In other news, the president is a great defender of the free market concept unless it's someone he doesn't like.

Killing Babies as a Right
Oregon has signed into law a bill "expanding coverage on abortions and other reproductive services to thousands of Oregonians, regardless of income, citizenship status or gender identity." This new law will offer free, state-paid abortions (read "your tax dollars") including sex-selective and late-term abortions. Companies will be required to cover abortions with their health insurance at no cost to the patient. Oregon has sent the nation a message. "We are willing to kill the unborn for any reason at any time on your dime and call it 'progress'. Your rights are secondary. Deal with it."

Killing Others
Not to be outdone by Oregon's generous murder laws, the Netherlands is expanding their euthanasia laws from the old and infirmed who ask to die to those with psychiatric and dementia issues without ability to decide for themselves. Their current law is for patients with unbearable suffering with no treatment alternatives, but they're aiming more toward those that don't want to live or even who might have expressed at some point "Why am I still alive?" but are no longer able to affirm their desire, even if they are not in the "unbearable suffering without possibility of treatment" category. Because in our world today human life isn't the highest value; personal preference is.

The Real Target
We're all aware of the nastiness (that's called "understatement") of last Saturday in Charlottesville. Protesters, counter-protesters, fights, mayhem, and murder ... it all got too ugly. Then, of course, the president failed to say the right thing. "There are bad people on both sides." No, no, not good enough. Try again. "Racism, neo-nazis, and white supremacists are bad." No, no, not soon enough. You should have said that the first time. Try again. "I think there is blame on both sides. What are you going to do ... take down Washington statues, too?" Nope! The military and his own party want him gone. Indeed, since he cannot say what we want, he should be impeached.

What happened in Charlottesville was horrendous. What has happened since is not making it better. And I'm not sure anyone is paying attention to where it's going. First they came for their Confederate flags. Then they came for their Confederate statues. Next is George Washington And the American flag. Once this kind of thing starts, there is no end to it. All have sinned; all ought to go down. Will they actually take it to its logical end?

The Communication Problem
We're all happy with "social media" -- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram ... more names than I can list. It's making us "more connected". It's giving us all a voice. We're more able to communicate. The problem, however, is that we are able to communicate without filters. That's why Missouri state senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal put a comment on her Facebook hoping that Trump gets assassinated. With no reflection on liberals, Democrats, or anyone else, this is what we get when there are no restraints to communication. It's not all good. You should keep that in mind the next time you text, tweet, comment, or post. We don't communicate in a vacuum. There are consequences. If not here ...

Not So Funny Humor
The Babylon Bee has a way of speaking truth with humor, but this time it's not so funny. The headline reads, "Organization That Murders 200,000 People Of Color Each Year Takes Stand Against Racism." Ouch!

Friday, August 18, 2017

His Strength is Perfect

Meet Jerry Salley. You probably don't know his name (unless you're a real music geek). He's an American country and bluegrass singer-songwriter. You may not know his name, but you've probably heard one of his songs. In 1990 he won a Dove award for Inspirational Song of the Year for the song he co-wrote with Steven Curtis Chapman -- His Strength is Perfect.

Back in the day when I was a worship leader, I included that song in the church's repertoire. It sounds so right.
His strength is perfect when our strength is gone.
He'll carry us when we can't carry on.
Raised in His power, the weak become strong.
His strength is perfect, His strength is perfect.
Good stuff, really, but I noticed something. While the focus is (correctly) God's perfect strength, there is a subordinate message in there as well. The song says that His strength is perfect when our strength is gone. It says He carries us when we can't carry on. The implication here is that at the end of our strength, God kicks in, so to speak. We do what we can, and when we reach that limit, God does the rest.

I think that's how most of us think. I think most of us believe that we work as long and hard as we can and then God takes over. We have some ability, some gifts, some talents, some power -- and anyone who thinks these are sufficient for all we have to do is deceiving themselves -- but at the end of the day it's not enough. Thank God He has the strength to carry us to the end. That, however, is not quite what we see in Scripture.

Jesus said, "Apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5), and, to misquote Martin Luther, "That's not a little something." Paul urged the Philippians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling not because they had the capability of doing so, but because "It is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:12-13) Just the other day I came across a statement from Jesus that I've come across a hundred times and saw it there, too. He said,
Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. (John 3:21)
Here Jesus is talking about two kinds of people. There are those who "loved darkness rather than the light." (John 3:19) Then there are those who come to the light. Only two. And Jesus says here that those who come to the light do so "in God", the same thought that Paul was offering.

Jesus said, "No one is good except God alone." (Luke 18:19) Therefore, any good that is accomplished, from believing to obeying (which, by the way, appears to be the same thing in Scripture -- see, for instance, John 3:36 or James 2:17) is accomplished by God in those who obey.

It leaves no room for boasting. It leaves no ground for self-satisfaction. It leaves no option of "my strength is good enough up to a point, and then He takes over." In the language of the song, "when our strength is gone" and "when we can't carry on" is from the start. On one hand, that concept diminishes us. On the other, it puts us squarely and securely on the shoulders of our God ... whose strength indeed is perfect and in whom indeed the completely weak become strong.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Is God Fair?

Stand to Reason offered a video from Greg Koukl on whether or not God is unfair. I like Stand to Reason, so I link to it here for your edification.

The question, however, struck me as ... difficult. Is God fair?

Merriam-Webster has a lot of definitions for "fair". There is "not dark" (as in "fair skin"), "not stormy" (as in "fair weather"), "clear and legible" (as in a manuscript written with a "fair hand") and "favorable to a ship's course" (as in a "fair wind"). No, not those. God isn't those (although there may be some lunatic white supremacists that think that God is "fair-skinned"). God is not "fair" by those definitions.

Merriam-Webster also defines fair as "pleasing to the eye or mind especially because of fresh, charming, or flawless quality; superficially pleasing." No, God is not fair. He is not "superficially pleasing". The pleasure He provides is not superficial, merely "to the eye", or "charming". Indeed, much of the pleasure God provides is abhorrent to those in the flesh (Rom 8:7) and even difficult for His own children to grasp.

Another definition is "marked by impartiality and honesty; free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism". God, by definition and by necessity, is self-interested. As the Highest Being, He needs to be. We are commanded to do all to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31); He would do no less, nor should He. Beyond that, God clearly "plays favorites" in human terms. There are "the elect" (e.g., John 15:16; Mark 13:20; Rom 8:33) who have special standing with God (e.g., John 1:12-13; Acts 13:48; Eph 1:3-6; Rom 11:5; Titus 1:1-2; 2 Peter 1:1). We know that Paul wrote, "God shows no partiality." (Rom 2:11) Don't stop there. The "no partiality" there refers to "all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law" (Rom 2:12) -- equal judgment. And again in Galatians 2:6, but there he was saying that God doesn't save based on "the influential" (Gal 2:2,6). God is not partial in saving based on status, race, gender .. the world's standards.

One that we're familiar with is "conforming with the established rules." Now we're getting somewhere. Yes, God conforms to established rules. The glitch here, however, is that they are not the rules that we establish; they are the rules established by Him -- His nature, His character. And since everyone conforms to their own character, this isn't really getting us anywhere on the topic, especially given the certainty that "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways." (Isa 55:8)

I think the definition most people have in mind for the word, "fair", is the one in, for example, the Cambridge Dictionary: "Treating people equally." Clearly -- absolutely -- God is not fair in that sense. No matter how you turn it, He does not treat people equally. If He did, not one of us could stand. Not one of us would be saved. Not one of us would have any hope. Equal treatment of violators of God and His glory would required equal damnation. And, quite frankly, none of us want God to be "fair" in that sense.

I think we're asking the wrong question. "Fair" is too vague, too varied, and, frankly, we're asking it from a human perspective. Our question, in effect, is "Does God treat His creation in a manner that His creation considers fair?" The answer to that is clearly "No", especially since His creation is naturally hostile to Him. He is just (right, correct, justified, righteous) (e.g., Gen 18:25; Eze 18:25; Rom 9:20-21), but we don't get to pass judgment on God's fairness. Ours task is to submit.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

James on Conflict

The Book of James is an imminently practical book about how Christians ought to live. It revolves around the claim that faith produces works and includes all sorts of topics about what works faith produces. In the 4th chapter James takes on the topic of conflicts. "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?" he asks (James 4:1). James lays it out for us. There is our own personal desires (James 4:2). There is our failure to ask (James 4:3). There is the problem of selfishness, asking for things we wish to use for our own pleasures (James 4:3). But he gets down to the bottom line in the 4th verse.
You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)
Now, hang on, James. You reference "adulteresses" -- female. What's that all about?

James uses the feminine form of the word. Some translate it as "adulterers and adulteresses", but there is only one word in the original, and it is the feminine. Why? Well, it's just an idea, but I think James is addressing the Church, the Bride of Christ. That would be feminine, not masculine. And what exactly is adultery? It occurs when a married person determines that the spouse he or she has is insufficient. It is a looking for something else, something better, something more suitable. Thus, to call believers "adulteresses" is to say, "You are not finding your sufficiency in Christ. You're looking elsewhere." So, where does James suggest we are looking?

It isn't a guess: "friendship with the world". James is saying that, at the end of the day, the reason we have conflicts is because we are trying to be friends with the world instead of being satisfied with our Beloved.

And what is friendship with the world? Some think of "just getting along". Others call to mind "a seeker-sensitive mentality". Still others warn against syncretism, the melding of the world with the church. All are valid. The problem, James says, is that friendship with the world is "hostility toward God." Now that's not what most think. Most think it is "ministry" or "marketing the church" ... or "just getting along". After all, we have to live in the world; shouldn't we be friends?

James says that when we aim to be friends with the world -- agreeable to the world systems, the kind of thinking driven by the god of this world, the world of sin -- we make ourselves an enemy of God. So James is not saying, "Make yourselves an enemy of the world." He is saying, "Don't be a friend to the world." Don't make it your aim, your goal, your purpose to be part and parcel of this world's thinking, ethics, or standards.

Lots of Christians try to walk this narrow tightrope. "Can't we just get along?" They try to be friendly with the world just to avoid the conflicts. They find themselves adapting to the values and views of the world. Eventually, when faced with a biblical viewpoint, they more closely align themselves with the world than with the Word. James calls it spiritual adultery -- cheating on your Spouse. It is a primary cause of conflict. Don't do it. Just ... don't.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Christian Universalism

Most of us have heard the term "Universalism" or, at least, the concept. It refers to the idea that everyone is saved. There is even a denomination called "Unitarian Universalists". Now, I've read their "statement of faith" and it turns out that you can be a Jewish or a Christian or even an atheist Unitarian Universalist. You can believe in God, no God, any sort of "higher power" or none at all. You can follow sacred texts or not. They are as "diverse and inclusive" as it gets. This is the extreme "Universalism" -- universalism without reason.

I've recently become aware of a different form. They call it "Christian Universalism". They poo-poo those silly "so open-minded that their brains leaked out" Universalists and tell us that theirs is true, right, even biblical. It starts first, I think, with a distaste for Hell, that eternal judgment Scripture seems to talk about. They prefer a finite judgment from an infinite God regarding an infinite offense. If not eternal damnation, then what? Well, they'll point to passages like Romans 5:18-19.
So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
There, see? "There resulted justification of life to all men." They'll find further support with things like "We're commanded to love our enemies, so God must do the same" and "We're all equal before God" (Col 3:11) and the ever-popular "God is not willing that any should perish." (2 Peter 3:9)1 They don't argue that all religions are valid. They simply say that Christ died once for all and God has reconciled all things to Himself so that salvation is universal, often in spite of other religious beliefs (or the lack thereof). All are saved by the blood of Christ and the power of God. They oppose the "You've eliminated justice" argument, holding instead that either all punishment is meted out in this life or that justice is upheld by loss of rewards in the next. One form also argues that faith is required -- that anyone can choose to go to Hell -- but that they only choose to do so after death with the whole truth before them, fully forgiven but refusing that forgiveness.

You can see that this isn't the soft and gooey "Universalism" of the Unitarian type. This stands instead on 1) a denial of Hell, 2) an affirmation of Scripture, and 2) a view of God that appears higher than others. That is, this God can be Just without supreme judgment and Salvific without requiring anything from His creatures. The squishy Unitarian type denies any reality of the deity of Christ, the inerrancy of Scripture, monotheism, the Resurrection ... just about anything Christian. Christian Universalism claims to embrace all that. What could be wrong with that?

As it turns out, a lot.

A running standard requirement in Scripture from beginning to end (see, for instance, Hebrews 11) is the requirement of faith. The most basic statement of Scripture is "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." (Heb 11:6) Christian Universalism is a denial of this basic concept. They use Romans 5 to prove their position and ignore completely Romans 1-4 (For instance, Romans 4:5 says, "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.") Paul states categorically, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." (Rom 10:9) Beyond that, Scripture is full of warnings -- what people refer to as "turn or burn" statements. Jesus warns of "eternal punishment" (Matt 25:46) and Christian Universalism dismisses all that language. The author of Hebrews writes, "It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment," (Heb 9:27) but the Christian Universalist necessarily denies a judgment at all since all have been restored to a right standing with God. Jesus warned of a sin that could not be forgiven (Mark 3:28-29), but Christian Universalism denies such a sin can exist since all sin is forgiven.

The doctrine of Hell -- of eternal torment for sin -- is the basic thing to be avoided because, in all honesty, it's a horrendous thought. Christian Universalism avoids it. In doing so, it voids Scripture. In fact, the doctrine of eternal torment comes first in Scripture from the lips of our Savior. The Old Testament warns of "the day of the Lord" and "the day of His wrath" and such, but the clearest statements on the subject come first from Christ (e.g., Matt 5:29-30; Matt 10:28; Matt 13:36-43; Matt 18:9). The Christian Universalists would have needed to have stood by Christ and said, "There, there ... not to worry. All that goes away when you die and rise again." They void these warnings. The rest of the New Testament does not. Paul (e.g., 2 Thess 1:9), Jude (Jude 1:7), and John (Rev 14:11; Rev 20:13-15; Rev 21:8) are all examples of concurrence, not denial of Christ's warnings about eternal torment for sin.

Christian Universalism, as it turns out, has been around since the early days of Christianity. Origen pushed for it. They like to use Scripture to argue for it. The Church has generally declared it, throughout Church history, a falsehood. Still, the idea has persisted. The notion was popular in among the Quakers and the Anabaptists (no relation to "Baptists") and the Moravians and their descendants. And, of course, there are those who cling to it today, insisting, even, that it's biblical. I can't imagine how, given the fundamental denial of the most clear statements on eternal torment from the lips of Jesus Christ Himself. Nullifying all references to the need for faith and all warnings to the threat of judgment, this segment still insists they're biblical and Christian. I cannot. It negates the reliability of Christ's words, eliminates God's Justice, diminishes the nature of sin, negates God's Justice, and elevates Man to a position requiring God to "be nice". Premised first on the "We don't like the concept of Hell" argument, it necessarily deconstructs too many Scriptural points, principles, and passages to be classified as either "biblical" or "Christian".
1 That one keeps coming back to bite people. On one hand, they argue "God is not willing that any should perish, but His hands are tied, hoping they come" and limit God's Sovereignty, or, on the other, they argue "God is not willing that any should perish, so none will" and eliminate His justice. There has to be a better way.

Monday, August 14, 2017

John the Baptist

I'm reading through the Gospel of John. Just started out. I found John the Baptist to be an interesting fellow.

We are first introduced to him this way:
There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. (John 1:6)
Clean, straightforward. Most of us don't blink an eye. But I was fascinated by the phrase, "a man sent from God." He wasn't merely a voice in the wilderness, a nut in a camel hair suit, an oddity. He was a man sent by God.

The text makes it abundantly clear what John's purpose was and what it was not. He "came as a witness" (John 1:7) to Christ. That was his purpose. On the other hand, "He was not the Light" (John 1:8). Yes, he was sent from God. Yes, he was a witness. But don't get ahead of the story. He was not the Messiah.

Then there was John's testimony. When he actually saw Jesus (his cousin), he "cried out, saying, 'This was He of whom I said, "He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me."'" (John 1:15) Now, hang on a minute, John. Jesus is your cousin ... your younger cousin. We know that Jesus was 6 months younger than John. Yet John claims "He existed before me." If that's not a clear claim to the deity of Christ, I don't know what is.

I want to be a John the Baptist. I want to be a witness, pointing to the Light. Not me. The Light. I want to be sent by God for that task. Not me. Sent by God. I want to point to the real Christ, the Christ who is God rather than a nice fellow. The Christ who is God above all others rather than "one of the boys." A Christ who brings light with authority that demands our attention and ought to be obeyed and followed -- the Christ who is a higher rank than I. Not me. He gets all the attention.

I know, I know. "We've read about John the Baptist, Stan, and you're no John the Baptist." I know. But I want to be.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Short of Glory

In Paul's most concise statement on the universality of sin, he writes (feel free to quote along with me ... you know the words), "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) Anyone who has spent any time in the Word knows that one. It's the standard answer to "Who is a sinner?" "Everyone, because 'all have sinned'." We get it. What we miss is the nature of that sin. Paul says that in that sin we "fall short of the glory of God." And therein lies the problem. Therein lies the reason for Hell rather than a slap on the wrist, a time of "purgatory", a "time out". The magnitude of the crime determines the magnitude of the consequence, and "fall short of the glory of God" is massive.

We humans are pretty much set in the "I am the center of the universe" kind of thinking. We can hardly escape it. Even Christians who should know better. When David said, "Against You and You only have I sinned," (Psa 51:4) many of us are uncomfortable if not a bit peeved because, after all, the big sin here was murder and adultery ... because we are the important ones. When something bad happens we question God's goodness because we are the important ones. It's this kind of thinking that produces such nonsensical heresies as "health and wealth" theology that turns God into our butler to make us happy, healthy, and wealthy. (And apparently not wise.) So, as a matter of course, we "fall short of the glory of God".

But I'm not here to berate us all for our sin. I'm offering another path. There is an alternative. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:34). That which you most prize determines your focus. If you find your greatest joy in the glory of God, your heart will go there.

Now, think about that. Imagine how that might work out. Say, for instance, you have problems with lust. Maybe it's sex. Maybe it's another person. Maybe it's pornography. Whatever. As long as you find your greatest joy in those things and what they bring, they will remain your problem. But once you find your greatest joy in God and His glory, those things don't matter so much anymore. It's not a case of "will", a matter of "effort", a travail of "self-control"; it's a matter of joy. Where's your joy? It works in lust or greed or depression or pride or ... you go on with your own list. Imagine an alcoholic trying to stay off the sauce. He is offered a drink. "No, thanks," he says. "I'd better not." Fine. One approach. But if his greatest joy is God's greatest glory, his answer would be different. "Why would I do that when there are so many better things to do to glorify God?" Not only a change in direction; a change in attitude.

If your life is aimed at God's glory -- not falling short of His glory -- then your highest joy is bringing everything into alignment with glorifying Him. If you offered a meat-lover the choice of a steak or a salad for dinner, he might say, "I could eat a salad for dinner, but I'd much rather eat a steak." In a similar same way, "I could commit those sins I'm fighting, but I'd much rather glorify God." It stops being an effort, a hardship, toil and starts being a joy. It's not just a change in direction; it's a change in pleasure. Now your highest pleasure is in His glory.

If you don't fall short of the glory of God, your goal is to "do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31) Not out of duty; out of joy. Don't fall short of the glory of God. Indulge your passion for His glory.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

News Weakly - 8/12/2017

The Shroud Might Be Real!
Apparently CNA (the Catholic News Agency) is reporting that there is more evidence now that the Shroud of Turin is possibly authentic. Catholics are thrilled. Me? Not so much. I mean, what do I care about relics, all highly coveted by Roman Catholics? My faith is not in the shroud or the lance that pierced His side or the goblet from which He drank, all highly coveted items "from Christ." My faith is in Christ. And most Protestants will feel much the same. "Really? Who cares?" That is, until an archaeological dig finds evidence that substantiates something from the Bible or when science affirms something from Scripture. Then they're just as delighted. You go ahead. As for me, if I place my faith in science to affirm these things, then when science does not, I will need to deny these things. I just don't trust science that much. So when science agrees with God's Word, good for science! I'm glad they got something right. I'll still put my faith in God.

Safe not Sane
Have you heard about Rainbow Day Camp? It's a day camp in El Cerrito near San Francisco, California, that provides a safe place for transgender kids as young as 4 years old. They get to make their own nametags with their own pronoun of choice. Some change their name or pronouns daily "to see what feels right." Because as everyone knows, science has nothing to say about gender, reason has nothing to offer these kids, and safety without sanity is the very best we can offer them. After all, who knows what's true or not better than a 2-year-old, right? This is what we get for ignoring Scripture (Gen 1:27), science, and reason and opting instead to consider children the wisest beings on the planet. Some call it wonderful. Not me. The Washington Times reports, "The physician credited with discovering Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in American football players said that anyone who lets children play football could be held accountable for abuse." This kind of mishandling of children's gender (read "irrational desires") I call child abuse.

The New Arms Race
This is serious. Japan says that North Korea has a missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland and "it was possible that the regime had acquired the ability to miniaturise nuclear warheads." This is a no-win situation. The Cold War was fought with rational heads, knowing that if one side launched, the other could destroy it. "Mutually Assured Destruction" was the thing that held the Soviets and the Americans in check. The North Korean dictator gives no indication of rationality and the alternatives and possible responses all seem bad. And the rhetoric just continues to ratchet up.

I write this not to scare anyone, but to remind believers to follow Paul's entreaty. "First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity." (1 Tim 2:1-2) (Can you imagine what would happen if believers prayed and God opened the heart (Acts 16:14) of a Kim Jong Un to receive Him? That would be awesome!)

The Irony of Tolerance
We're all about "tolerance" these days and we won't tolerate anyone who disagrees. So when James Damore, an engineer for Google, wrote a memo criticizing Google's approach to diversity, they fired him. And when Google attempted to follow that up with an all-staff diversity meeting, they had to cancel it because staff members were afraid to ask questions for fear of reprisals. Tell me again about "tolerance" and "diversity" ... where we eliminate those we won't tolerate who are diverse.

The Latest in Autocorrect
If it hasn't happened yet, it's bound to. Google announces new technology that "autocorrects any errant thoughts its users are having, replacing them with positions approved by the company." Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, August 11, 2017

God's Name

In Paul's epistle to the church in Rome, he writes this.
As it is written, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." (Rom 2:24)
No one is entirely sure to what Paul is referring with his "as it is written" statement. Written in Scripture? Written elsewhere? There are a few possible Old Testament links there; Matthew Henry lists three (Isa 52:5; Ezek 36:22-23; and 2 Sam 12:14). None are a word-for-word quote. The intent, however, is clear.

The text is talking about those of us who know what is right. After listing the moral decline of humans from knowing God to all manner of evil (Rom 1:18-32), he tells his readers (who would be clucking their tongues and agreeing that "those people" are evil), "Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things." (Rom 2:1) Oops! Walked into that one. Paul tells his readers that they know what is right and what is wrong and they point their fingers at those who do wrong while they themselves are guilty of the same things. Paul goes on to do what we called in the Air Force some "wall-to-wall counseling" (something you don't want to actually experience) explaining to them that "You think you're so good? Well, you're not. You're equally guilty of sin."

So, sinners who recognize sin and indulge in it while claiming to be followers of God are causing the name of God to be blasphemed among unbelievers. Okay, got it.

But ... isn't that every one of us? We who call ourselves followers of Christ -- who know the truth, who affirm and endorse God's Word, who long to be conformed to the image of Christ -- do we not manage to violate His commands? This is a problem.

I, for one, am delighted that "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) I need that. But rather than needing ongoing forgiveness, I would much prefer to stop misrepresenting my Savior, to stop being an example of why I need salvation and be an example of what Christ can do in a changed life. I'd much rather demonstrate the power of God at work in His children than be a cause for people to blaspheme the name of God. It is my goal, my day-by-day aim, my constant prayer. I want my life to be a reason for people to glorify God rather than a reason for them to question Him. I have not yet arrived, but I press on (Phil 3:12), because my shortcomings here are my heartbreak and His successes here is great joy to me.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Against Thee and Thee Only

I grew up with the King James Bible, so there are things in Scripture that are etched in my memory in King James English. "Even so, faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." (James 2:17) "Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name." (Matt 6:9) You get the idea. The title phrase comes from the King James version of Psalm 51 in which David writes (using normal English),
Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment. (Psa 51:4)
If you know the circumstances, you know what David is talking about (2 Sam 11:1-17). David had had a sexual encounter with Uriah's wife, Bathsheba. It would have ended there, but Bathsheba was pregnant as a result. So David tried to get Uriah to spend the night with his wife. He wouldn't. So finally David had Joab arrange to get Uriah killed in battle. We're looking at covetousness, adultery, deception, and murder. Then Nathan the prophet confronted him and David repented (2 Sam 12:1-14). Psalm 51 is David's prayer of repentance to God.

It's a very good prayer. It has all the necessary elements. There is a plea to God for mercy without any sort of self-defense. There is the recognition of guilt without excuse. There is a singular focus on restoring a right relationship with God rather than avoiding consequences. There is a primary concern for God's glory rather than self-preservation. It's all about how God is good and right and David is not ... from birth (Psa 51:5). All the right stuff.

But this phrase -- "Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight" -- seems ... problematic. "Um, David, I think you need to reconsider that," some might say. (In a recent discussion of the text some actually did say that.) There was adultery -- a violation of Bathsheba. There was the deception and murder of Uriah. And, of course, as a consequence of his sin, the baby did not survive. There was the violation of the trust of the nation in their king and the violation of his own family as husband and father. "Lots of sins, David. Lots of them. In what sense is this 'Against You, You only'?"

Some say that this text is proof that the Bible is wrong. Either the heading in verse 1, "A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba", is wrong, or David himself is wrong. Some say that David believed himself justified as king to do as he pleased with Uriah and Bathsheba, so the only sin was against God. I would disagree with these. What does the text say?

David gives the reason that he says, "Against you, you only have I sinned" -- "so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment." In the story, no one else brings judgment against David. Joab, his general, never says, "You know, David, having me get Uriah killed was wrong." Bathsheba doesn't say, "David, you shouldn't have been looking at me from your roof and you shouldn't have called me to your bed." No one else brings judgment to David. But God did. And David argues that God was right to do so. God was right in His judgments that David still faced -- lifelong strife (2 Sam 12:10), the loss of his family and their place in the kingdom (2 Sam 12:11), and public humiliation (2 Sam 12:12). Also, take note that God calls it sin against Him rather than against anyone else. "Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight?" (2 Sam 12:9) In this context, the sin against God was to despise His commands; the result of that sin was adultery and murder.

Bottom line, I think I see our problem. In the story of David and his sins, we see first the evils he did against other people. The assault on the throne of God is secondary in our minds and, perhaps, even less worrisome. I mean, God's a big guy; He can take care of Himself. I think that we see person-to-person sins as worse than the violation of God's glory that we perpetrate every time we sin. The magnitude of that violation is far beyond what evils we do to one another, but being sinful people, I think we miss that. If we got it, we would love much more (Luke 7:47).