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Saturday, September 30, 2017

News Weakly - 9/30/2017

Double Standards
A Christian in a government job says she cannot in good conscience, both because of her faith and because of the state constitution, issue a marriage license for a same-sex marriage. The country is outraged. "She can't do that," they shout. "It's free speech and the freedom of religion," others respond, but they are adamant. "Oh, she can say it, but she will have to pay the consequences. She should be fired! Maybe even imprisoned!"

Right or wrong, President Trump suggested that football players that refuse to honor the nation for which they play ought to be fired. The players' union and the NFL respond, "[We] will never back down when it comes to protecting the constitutional rights of our players." Right or wrong, one thing is abundantly clear. It is a double standard. A Christian is free to exercise his or her constitutional right to free speech and the free exercise of religion, but there may be consequences. Football players should not face consequences for doing the same.

Meanwhile, while the Pittsburgh Steelers team opted to remain in the locker room for the national anthem, a former Army Ranger, Alejandro Villanueva, left his team and paid tribute to the flag. Turns out sales for his jersey have gone through the roof. His team was not exactly pleased. Head coach Mike Tomlin was “looking for 100 percent participation.” Put another way, they were defiant about being allowed to protest and not happy that a patriotic player exercised his own freedom of speech.

(And you gotta love this. "It took a few years, but Tebowing has finally taken over the NFL.")

Let's See if I Got This Straight
Okay, so apparently California has a problem -- too many prison inmates. "Too many prison inmates?" Yes, apparently federal judges have declared "You can only have this number of prisoners. If you exceed that, you are in trouble. California does. Their solution? Release prisoners, of course. On what basis? For the severity of the crime? Or maybe it was a questionable verdict? No. "California lawmakers want to release more of the state's older prisoners and more of the inmates who were young when they committed their crimes." Age. Release younger prisoners and older prisoners. That'll solve the problem. And it will ... if you see the problem as "too many inmates." If you see the problem as "too many criminals", then that will simply put convicted criminals on the street. (This while the FBI reports a second year of increase in violent crimes.) And remember, "No justice, no peace." Yeah, maybe they'll try that solution out for awhile.

Not All Bad News
I find myself complaining at times because all I see on the news is bad news. So, in order to avoid my complaint being about me, here's a story that is not bad. Meet Staff Sgt. Cory Hinkle of the North Carolina National Guard. He and another man were on the scene immediately after a woman was in a head-on crash in Shelby, NC. Together they pulled the woman from her burning car just before it exploded, Hinkle shielding the woman with his body. "I made the decision right then that if something came off the car, it’d have to go through me first," Hinkle told the newspaper. It was instinct, he said. He had served in Iraq clearing roadside bombs. Heroic.

The Sky Is Falling!
Well, now we have the story. It's the one we all feared. The Russians didn't merely hack the DNC and release (true) information about their nasty goings-on. They actually hacked the voting machines of 21 states. Well, that's what we're hearing. That's not what's being said. What's being said is that the DHS notified 21 states that Russia attempted to hack their election systems. Be careful here. The story actually says, "In the majority of the states, the Department of Homeland Security only saw preparations for hacking." (Emphasis mine) Voting machines are not connected to the Internet and cannot be hacked. Read the key paragraph.
The United States intelligence community believes that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and other political targets in an attempt to influence the election. They do not, however, believe voting machines were hacked or votes were directly altered by Russia.
So, no voting machines or votes were hacked or directly altered by the Russians. Their "hacking" was an attempt to influence the election. Voter rolls may have been compromised, but not the votes.

The complaint, then, if understood from this information, is that Hillary lost and Trump won because the voters got more information than Hillary and the DNC wanted them to have. But you know that the general public won't see it this way and will yell long and loud that Trump was elected because Russia "hacked the election". Sensationalism over substance. And, no, the sky is not falling.

Why Science Makes a Bad God
They tell me that believing in God is foolish because you can't test for Him and you can't measure Him, so you can't know (and, therefore, believe) He exists. They tell me that Science is much better. That is something we can know, test, measure, rely on. So, Science tells us that coffee can cause cancer and prevents cancer. It is, in fact, this firm basis that may require coffee in California to have a cancer warning ... because we know that it causes and prevents cancer. That's why Science makes a bad God. Not reliable.

(Great line in the story. "Experts in the field think the suit has no grounds." Get it? No grounds? Coffee? Oh, never mind.)

Not to be outdone
Oregon already has the new and improved method of killing babies in the womb -- using tax dollars. But that's what you might expect from a left-leaning state, right? So it is with great sadness that we learn that Illinois' governor signed into law the very same taxpayer-paid murder plan. Governor Rauner (R) had promised to veto the bill but failed to do so. "I believe that a woman living with limited financial means should not be put in the position where she has to choose something different than a woman of higher income would be able to choose." Where that "something different" is whether or not to murder a baby. If rich people can do it, poor people should be allowed to do it, too ... on your dime.

Note: Governor Rauner is a Republican who has long supported the rights of a mother to kill her baby. I would suggest that voters who expected something different simply bought a lie. Caveat emptor -- Buyer beware.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Is Original Sin Biblical?

The doctrine of Original Sin is a given. No one reading the Bible can dispute it.

"Oh, come on," I can hear some say, "lots of people dispute it."

I suppose that depends on your definition of "Original Sin". You see, there are two concepts that go by that name. The first is "The eating of the forbidden fruit by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden." That would (quite obviously) be the "Original Sin". And that is the clear testimony of Scripture (Gen 3:1-7). That one is not in dispute.

The other, of course, is. The other definition is the doctrine that all humans (with the sole exception of Christ) are born in sin, have a sin nature, are sinners from birth. Now that one isn't as widely accepted.

So where does it come from? Certainly not from the lips of Jesus. He said not one word about it. This, of course, is a dangerous premise to take when determining biblical truth. Jesus never said a word about rape, incest, bestiality, a range of sexual sins. That means they're all fine, right? I hope you don't even begin to think so. Jesus never once used the word, "grace." Apparently He didn't believe in it? Again, don't even start. Determining all true doctrine solely on the basis of Jesus's absence of comment is not a reasonable method. When planning to use Jesus as your sole source for doctrine or practice, remember a few things. 1) It is dodgy logic that makes its proof from the absence of a statement. 2) Jesus said far more than is recorded in the Gospels (John 21:25). Don't assume you have a comprehensive understanding of Jesus's beliefs and values from the few texts in the Gospels. 3) Jesus is called "the Word" (John 1:1). He is the expression of God and anything that God has said (or breathed) comes from Jesus. All of Scripture, then, is "the words of Jesus". If you want a more comprehensive understanding of Jesus's beliefs and values, look at the whole Bible.

So if not from the lips of Jesus, where does it come from? You'll find that the Jews don't believe in it and the liberal Christians don't believe in it and so it must be that Christians that believe in it do so against Scripture, right? It's just those crazy Bible-believing Christians and we can ignore them, right?

I'll tell you where it comes from. It comes from Scripture, where we find some startling statements, even to those who agree with the doctrine. David claimed, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." (Psa 51:5) (Note: if David had been born of adultery or sexual immorality, God forbade him being king (Deut 23:2). He is not saying, "My mother was sinning when she conceived me.") More surprising, David wrote, "The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies." (Psa 58:3) We think of babies as "innocent"; David disagreed. And, as it so happens, so did God. He said, "The intention of man's heart is evil from his youth." (Gen 8:21)1 (The Hebrew term is, literally, "from childhood".) Solomon assured us, "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child" (Prov 22:15) (remembering that biblical foolishness is sin, not mere silliness). You can see, then, that the origin of this doctrine is the Old Testament. That Jews don't agree is not a good basis for approving or denying a doctrine found in their Scriptures. (If you're going to determine true doctrine from what the Jews believed, you'll need to remove big things -- essentials -- like the Trinity and salvation by grace through faith. "Jews don't believe in it" would necessarily exclude Jesus as Messiah, too. Don't go there.)

It is also a New Testament claim. We know, for instance, that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) "But," some will object, "that doesn't say that all are born sinful." Maybe, although a universal effect ("all have sinned") requires a universal cause. Paul offers it. "Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned — for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given." (Rom 5:12-13) Another argument for the doctrine is found in the sad case of infant death. Scripture tells us that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23). No one dies who has no sin. Infants die. Indeed, sin itself is not the acts we do, according to Jesus. Those acts that we call sin are the result of a heart problem (that we call "sin nature"). Jesus said, "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person." (Matt 15:19-20)

There are those friendly and kind voices that would like to tell you that all people are basically good. They do so in the face of the Scriptures, Old and New Testaments. They will tell you that children are innocent. They do so without regard for the staggering numbers of children who die, pointing a finger of horrifying accusation at the justice of God. They will tell you that all we have to do is find our inner good selves and we'll be fine. They like to tell you that, but keep in mind that it disagrees with the constant accusation of Scripture regarding the universal need for salvation because of the universal problem of sin. They do so because of a prior commitment to Man, not God nor His Word. So you should probably consider to which of those two you will give your allegiance.
1 It is important to note that God's assessment (and this was God's assessment -- God speaking) is not about actions (sins), but intentions. From childhood the intention of the heart is evil. David said "from the womb." Jesus said that the intention to commit adultery qualified as the sin of adultery (Matt 5:28). The argument that "Sure, they have a tendency to sin but they haven't sinned" doesn't work in Jesus's understanding.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Mirror

Many have wondered about the origin of sin. Where did it come from? I mean, originally. We know that the serpent in the garden tempted Adam and Eve to it, but where did the serpent get it? That, of course, was Satan, so ... where did Satan get it? Scripture says he was once a prime angel. How did he fall so far? God made him perfect (Ezek 28:15). What happened?

Scripture describes Satan today as an "angel of light" (2 Cor 11:14). At one time he was "an anointed guardian cherub." (Ezek 28:14) He hung around with God. The Bible tells us he was both beautiful and wise (Ezek 28:17). What happened? Well, we're unclear on the details because, well, God doesn't give them. What we do know is that his beauty corrupted his wisdom because of pride (Ezek 28:17). As a result,
"You said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.'" (Isa 14:13-14)
Pride was what brought Satan down. He suffered from the same malady we do -- unholy desire (James 1:14-15). And the result was a fallen angel.

What did it take to bring Satan down? Now, I'm not saying it did, but all it took in his case was a mirror. Imagine that. All Satan had to do was look in a mirror and recognize his own beauty and wisdom. How is this a problem? Well, by looking at his own glory, he fell short of God's glory. A focus on himself was a focus away from God. In dwelling on his own splendor, he sought to overcome God's splendor.

It is, actually, a very small step. A shift of the eyes, a turn of the attention, a single misdirection. Just recognizing that God had made him beautiful wouldn't have been a problem; it was dwelling on it. It required time, time for what Ezekiel described as corrupted wisdom for the sake of his splendor (Ezek 28:17). But it was simply time spent away from God's glory basking in his own.

You have to admit it's the same tendency we have. When God is good to us, we think, "I deserve it." When things go bad we think, "I deserve better." When troubles arise we seek to solve it by our own strength. When there is glory to be had, we tend to try to grab it for ourselves. The nature of the human being is standing with fist clenched toward God, declaring, "I will be like the Most High in my own life." God wants hands raised in submission and worship.

The problem, then, is not Satan. He is simply a cautionary tale, so to speak. "See what he did? Don't do that." And we do. So we have to confess ... again ... and turn ... again. We have to remind ourselves that we are not God -- not the Master, not the Creator, not the Lawgiver, not the point -- and He is. We need to distract ourselves from the mirror -- giving ourselves the attention -- and turn our eyes on Jesus.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Stay Together

It would be difficult for anyone with any reasoning capacity and reasonable knowledge of the Bible to argue that "no-fault divorce" is a good thing biblically. I think it is abundantly clear that divorce, both biblically and in society, is a bad thing. The Scriptures describe the marriage bond as two becoming one. This is more than a mere metaphor. There are bonds formed that make a married couple one body, one soul, one spirit. Paul warned against sex with a prostitute for this very reason (1 Cor 6:15-17). Divorce, then, is a very literal rending of a union. It's akin to tearing off a body part. When Jesus was asked under what conditions a man could divorce his wife, He said, "What God has put together let no man separate." (Matt 19:3-6)

In that conversation, they went on to ask Him about Moses and divorce.
They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so." (Matt 19:7-8)
Okay, so, where are we? We know that the Bible does not favor divorce. We also know that "because of your hardness of heart" there are cases in which divorce is allowed. In this passage Jesus seems to speak of sexual immorality as a reason (although I would urge great care in how you read that). Later, Paul speaks of abandonment as another (1 Cor 7:12-15). Modern views throw in abuse, although, again, I would urge great caution in defining "abuse" for this purpose.

Given that the Bible is, at the core, opposed to divorce, any Bible-based church would urge couples to "stay together". And for the most part this is good and right. It is, I would suggest, also too short-sighted. I mean, if it stops there, it falls short.

Too often we tell wives to "stay with your husband" and then walk away, patting ourselves on the back for having upheld God's standards. We tell husbands, "Live with your wife in an understanding way" and congratulate ourselves for holding the line, not giving in to modern "no-fault divorce". We do so to our own shame.

It is true that couples wishing to live lives in accordance with Scripture should "stay together", but don't think that means "remain in close proximity". It means to stay together. Marriage is a union. Divorce rends that union. And mere nearness does not make it a union. If we fail to involve ourselves with the situation, counseling him and her to change, to conform to God's instructions, to be the husband and wife they ought to be, to give to their wives and husbands what God prescribes -- to be of one mind, one body, one soul, one spirit -- then we are doing them no favors by simply urging, "Stay together." It is the problem of James. "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?" (James 2:15-16) If we tell a struggling couple "Stay together" and don't give them the support they need to remain united, what good is that?

We are commanded to be involved with one another. We are to love one another (John 13:35), bear one another's burdens (Gal 6:2), instruct one another (Rom 15:14), serve one another (Gal 5:13). We are to teach and admonish (Col 3:16), be kind (Eph 4:32), encourage and build up (1 Thess 5:11), and exhort (Heb 3:13). We are supposed to "consider how to stir up one another to love and good works" (Heb 10:24). "Stay together" falls way short for a couple having marital difficulties.

Yes, married couples should stay together. But they needn't do it alone. And the bare instruction -- "Stay together" -- shouldn't be all they get from you and me. It should be the beginning of a united process in which we come along side both of them and stir them to love and good deeds in biblical methods of staying together. It's what each of us would need in similar circumstances. It is God's command.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Modern Family

Something has shifted. I don't know when or even why.

There was a time when the job of every parent was to raise their children to be responsible adults. Their job now appears to be to follow them around, find out what they want, and give it to them. Oh, it's not normally expressed that way. Usually it's much more noble sounding. "My job is to support you in whatever you want to do." Something like that. But no one ever asks, "What if what they want to do is foolish ... or wrong?"

We've been brainwashed. Instead of the traditional idea that people with wisdom derived from experience (requiring age) should lead those with less wisdom and experience, we've been told that the really wise people of this world are the young -- the younger the better. This is what our TV shows, movies, stories, media, and other entertainment all try to tell us. Stupid old dad and mom have to muddle through until the wisdom of their 4-to-14-year-old gets through to them and they see the light. Oh, I'm sure it's more than that, but it's a key feature of this shift in our society today. Mind you, it's not that the traditional notion was all light and glory. No, back then we had bad parents who abused their kids in the name of "good parenting". Today's abuse looks different. It is either neglect (of the child or of their duties as parents) or, worse, encouraging the wrong. Today, truly "heroic" parents will say, "Well, you were born a boy, but, hey, if you think you're a girl, then I'm going to do everything in my power to turn you into one." Not leading; following.

Solomon wrote, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Prov 22:6 KJV) Now, that seems problematic. There are endless anecdotes of kids gone bad. "I raised him to be better than that." Good kids from good homes that end up criminals, on drugs, all sorts of bad things. Isn't this a promise we can count on?

Well, there are a few things here. First, this isn't a promise; it's a proverb. By nature, proverbs are short sayings stating a general truth. They are proverbial, not absolute. "Too many cooks spoil the broth" may be true and may even be true often, but not always. It's a proverb. So taking Solomon's proverbs as promises would be a mistake.

Second, no parent is perfect. Not one. If this was a promise, not one parent could rightly claim it since not one parent has fully trained their children in the way they should go. Therefore, it would be a promise without a recipient.

The other issue, however, is interesting and, if true, disturbing. Scholars suggest that the King James Version may not be accurate in its translation here. As it turns out, the words for "the way he should go" are literally "the road of his mouth." There! That should clear things up, right? No, of course not. But that's why the Literal Translation (LITV) translates it, "the opening of his way." You an see that from "mouth". But it isn't getting much clearer. While other modern versions like ESV and NASB prefer "the way he should go", the Douay-Rheims Bible (DRB) and many others translate it "according to his way." That is, the idea here is not the direction he should go, but the direction he would choose naturally. This, then, would be a warning, not a promise. "Parents, be sure you don't give your children the reins. You won't be able to fix it later."

If this is the notion in this proverb, then you can see the implications based on today's most popular parenting techniques. If you let the child choose his own direction, shape his own character, select his own morality, determine his own beliefs, form his own values, then you can be pretty sure that ripping these things loose later in life will be nearly impossible to accomplish. And, in Jesus's words, "It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble." (Luke 17:2)

If this is not the notion in this proverb, it remains true that 1) it is a proverb, not a promise, but 2) it is certainly the duty of every parent to train up their children in the way they should go, not in the way the child wants to go. It's our job as parents to distinguish the right and the wrong and teach it to our kids, sometimes uncomfortably. God does it to His own (Heb 12:5-6). And "if you are without discipline ... then you are illegitimate children and not sons." (Heb 12:8) Discipline is for the good of the child (Heb 12:10) and is a product of love (Heb 12:6). Failing to train our kids is not love and not good for them.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Reading the Bible

There was an interesting article at Discipleship Research about reading the Bible. It's titled "Wrestling with the Biblical Text: When we don’t like what it says". The question at hand: How do you read the Bible? Do you take it face value? Do you not? Do you take it at face value when it agrees with your preconception and not when it doesn't?

The writer, Ruth Perrin, talks about our problem as Bible-believing Christians. We claim to "adopt a plain sense reading of Scripture (it means what it says) and assume it to be accurate", but when we run into something that causes a difficulty, we don't. We have to employ some strategy to explain why it does not mean what it says. Often we will overlay a theological value to explain why it doesn't mean what it says and "simply get the Bible to say back to us what we already believe." (Interestingly, our canon of Scripture came about largely because of a guy named Marcion who put together his own "canon". He scrapped the Old Testament and much of the New because he didn't like the "angry God" he saw there. Sound familiar?) Ruth says, "We might think we read the Bible in a straightforward way – but we really don't."

So, what to do? Millenials, according to Ruth, had a variety of approaches. They might accept the difficult text without question or find some historical or cultural way it made sense then ("We must be missing some information."). They might give up and say, "We don't know why, but we'll assume it says what it means." They might disagree with the text -- "That's not the God I know" -- and figure the wording was wrong or the translation was wrong or maybe the writers were wrong -- too backward or something. You know, like when God struck Uzzah dead (2 Sam 6:1-7) it wasn't really God who did it; it was Uzzah's fears that probably caused a heart attack or something. Or they might just reject it out of hand. That might range from "I don't believe that" to "Well, God permitted it but He didn't cause it even though it says He did."

The question, then, is what do you do? What should we do? Scripture is certainly littered with stuff that is ... sticky. There's all that "smiting" and stuff. There are tough passages that seem to say God does things that we're not really comfortable with Him doing. There are, if we are honest, worldview-shaking things in our Bibles. What do we do? Do we interpret the Bible by what it says? Or do we interpret it by what makes us comfortable or agrees with our preconceptions? Do we allow it to reshape our ideas and, therefore, our lives? Or do we force it to conform?

If the Bible is breathed out by God (2 Tim 3:16), if it was written by men who were "carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), then we can be fairly sure of some things. First, it is reliable. Second, it is important enough to shape our lives and thinking. Third, coming from God who is above all, it will not always agree with our own finite, sin-tainted thinking. So what will you do? Will you let Scripture speak for itself as God's Word and do so consistently? Or will you rearrange it to suit you?

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Jeremiah's God

A lot of Christians don't like the God of the Old Testament. The God of the New Testament is cool, what with that "God so loved the world" stuff and all, but that OT version with all that smiting and ordering of deaths and all ... well, He's not a nice God. "That's not the God I know," people will tell me.

Jeremiah is sometimes referred to as "the weeping prophet". The reason is that besides his original book, Jeremiah, he has a second book titled, "Lamentations". As you might guess, the book is full of laments. Go figure. Jeremiah was a prophet in Judah from about 626 BC until the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC. The book of Jeremiah talks about his work as God's prophet among the people of Judah giving warnings of impending doom that weren't heeded. Lamentations is his aftermath report.

In Lamentations there are four basic players. There is Jeremiah and there are the people of Judah on one hand and there is God and the enemies of Israel on the other. In this book Jeremiah laments the destruction of Jerusalem, the defeat and imprisonment of his people, and his own sorrows. Jeremiah rightly lays blame to the destruction and imprisonment of his people at the feet of their enemies, but it is unavoidable that Jeremiah equally affirms repeatedly that all of it is by God's design. Jeremiah is not like many of today's believers whose God is "not like that". Jeremiah is convinced that He is. Jeremiah was sure of it. And it wasn't pleasant. It is five chapters of agony, personal and corporate. All about what his enemies did to his people and to himself. All about the loss and the pain and the destruction. They were a laughingstock. Chapter 3 begins with a long list of things that God has done to Jeremiah personally. "I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of His wrath," he writes and it only gets worse from there (Lam 3:1). Verses 1 through 18 are about the torture God has intentionally inflicted on Jeremiah himself. "Remember my affliction and my wanderings," he says, "the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me." (Lam 3:19-20) So it is a little bit baffling when he follows that with "But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope." (Lam 3:21) What, in all this pain, gives Jeremiah hope?
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. (Lam 3:22-23)
Jeremiah in his God-given torment places his ultimate hope in one place -- God. Not because good times are coming; just in knowing Him.
For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love; for He does not afflict from His heart or grieve the children of men. (Lam 3:31-33)
So how does Jeremiah put this together in his mind? How does he correlate "all this tragedy and pain" with "the abundance of His steadfast love"? We might argue that God didn't do it; He just permitted it. Jeremiah argues, "Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?" (Lam 3:37-38) Jeremiah would tell you you were mistaken if you thought bad stuff didn't come from God. So what does Jeremiah do with this?
Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins? Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the LORD! (Lam 3:39-40)
Do you see that? Jeremiah the prophet of God understands that any bad that befalls us comes ultimately from the hand of God and we deserve it.1

Jeremiah has a much more robust view of God than most of us do, and this from a man suffering vastly more than most of us do. He understands the outrage of sin, the affront to God that our constant rebellion against Him causes. He understands that a God who is Just owes us nothing given our sin. He understands that if God were to annihilate us all on the spot He would be perfectly right in doing so. In sharp, vivid contrast to this, then, God's steadfast love is much, much bigger. Immense. Unfathomable.

We think that we have a better God if we just cut out those "smiting" shenanigans of the Old Testament. Jeremiah would urge us not to do that. We think we're much kinder and gentler if we say, "God only gives good things; bad things come from somewhere else." Jeremiah disagrees. I would argue that Jeremiah's God is vastly bigger, better, and more marvelous than the "kinder, gentler" version many prefer today. Jesus thought something similar (Luke 7:47).
1 Note, by the way, how Jeremiah handles an apparent dichotomy. He says that both the enemies of Israel and God brought this about. God, however, is without fault in this. He was doing what was right. The enemies of Israel, on the other hand, will pay dearly for their sin of carrying this out (Lam 3:49-66). Jeremiah has no problem holding God's Sovereignty in one hand and Man's free will and personal responsibility in the other.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

News Weakly - 9/23/2017

My Eyes Are Up Here
Last week, CNN's Brooke Baldwin included Fox Sports analyst Clay Travis in a discussion about Jemele Hill and the White House's stance that her statement that Trump and anyone who supported him were white supremacists was a "fireable offense". The "classy" (read "rude") Fox Sports guy said that as a journalist, "I believe in only two things completely: the First Amendment and boobs." Baffled, Baldwin terminated the conversation. It is never right to say that. "Note to men," she tweeted, "that is never okay."

I get it. I really do. I even fully agree. I do wonder why women who rightly are offended when men are that rude continue to wear outfits clearly intended to accentuate the features men are not supposed to comment on in a world that has made those features a prime topic of attention on television, movies, billboards, malls ... you get the idea. She (and I) thought it was rude for him to say it. I think it's also rude for people to be constantly throwing it in our faces as well. Yes, guys like Clay Travis are rude, but they have a lot of help.

As Predicted
I've often said that redefining marriage from "man and woman" to today's version would lead to all sorts of bizarre, nonsensical definitions. As predicted, there is a story about a girl in the UK who ... wait for it ... married herself. They even have a name for it -- "sologamy" -- a term without meaning since the suffix, "gamy", references marriage and in no former reality did "one" equal "married". (Note: "monogamy" is from "mono" (one) and "gamos" (married). "Sologamy" has no meaningful definition.) She says it is "a growing movement for men and women, with consultants and self-wedding planners popping up all over the world." (The fact that her father gave her away only highlights the madness.)

"Marrying myself has helped me to appreciate my own company, to make time for myself and, quite simply, to love myself." See Narcissus.

As I've often said, it's not a slippery slope fallacy if it's happening.

Yeah, Like That
Maybe you've heard. September 23 is the beginning of the end according to the Bible. Oh, you don't remember that date in yours? Wait ... so you're saying you also haven't read about the planet Nibiru that is headed toward the Earth? Oh, you're really not into biblical Christianity, are you? Not like David Meade, "the self-described 'specialist in research and investigations,'" who has determined from the Book of Revelation all this is true. So convincing is this guy that he "has some nervously eyeing Sept. 23."

Paul warned, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." (Rom 2:24) This guy illustrates it.

Dear Lord, we apologize as a people for the foolish things done and said in Your name. Amen.

Filed Under "It Must Be True"
In Seattle a progressive believer read several chapters of the Gospels and published a blog post about how Jesus wasn't very Christlike. It must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Down the Wrong Road

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron. (1 Tim 4:1-2)
This is a stunning statement from Paul to Timothy. Paul says that some will fall away and he explains how. Notice the two components.

First, the origin of the problem is "deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons". I've often suggested that there is a conspiracy on many fronts. Some think I'm talking about people -- the Left, the "LGBTQx", whatever -- but I'm not. I'm talking about Satan. I'm talking about a spiritual conspiracy from spiritual forces that blind (2 Cor 4:4), mislead (Eph 2:2) and deceive (Rev 20:3; Rom 16:18; Jer 17:9) the world against God and His Word. Paul is saying the same thing. The error that those who fall away fall into is derived from spirits and demons offering deceitful doctrines.

The confusion regarding my conspiracy claim is that it's easy to confuse the source with the outlet. If you buy a pair of Nike running shoes and someone asks, "Where did you get those?" when you tell them the name of the store, they need to keep in mind that the store didn't make them; the store sold them. That's the difference between the outlet (the store) and the source (Nike). The deceitful doctrines that people fall into are sourced from demonic forces, but the outlet from which they get these doctrines is "the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience."

Now, that's a phrase, isn't it? Let's unpack it. At its center is the basic component -- liars. These people are not speaking the truth. They are deceiving. Why? Paul says they are hypocritical. They say they're trying to enlighten you, trying to encourage you, trying to lead you to the truth. They say that they've arrived at the truth and you haven't and they'd love to help. They're lying hypocrites. They haven't arrived at the truth; they've jettisoned it. They had it and they let it go. The third part of the phrase, then, is how they let it go. They are "seared in their own conscience".

You get that, don't you? All humans, even the very young, have a conscience. It's a mechanism that is built in that says, "This is right and that is wrong." We train it when they're young -- refine it, adjust it, inform it. But it's there. I've seen little children react with fear and regret when they get caught doing something they know to be wrong even when they've never been told it was wrong. Well, just as it can be improved and refined in youth, it can also be scorched over time. With enough ignoring of the conscience, it eventually ends up burned, leaving its owner without the natural "This is right, that is wrong" mechanism. They no longer are aware of it. Violate it and ignore it long enough and it stops working. "Seared in their own conscience."

So, folding all this back together, the Spirit explicitly says that in later times (like ours) it will be that people who appear to be in the faith will exit. They seemed to be there, but they fall away. Why? They pursue lies offered by hypocritical teachers who no longer have a working conscience and offer, in the place of the truth faith, deceitful doctrines of demons. Now, you know that something that doesn't fool anyone is not considered "deceitful", so it's not like this stuff isn't believable; it's just wrong. But, notice ... what came first was "the faith". These deceitful doctrines carried by hypocritical liars comes after. An easy clue, then, is when someone starts with the biblical, historical faith and then jettisons it for "something better".

Scripture is clear. We need to remain in the faith, to persevere, to continue (e.g., Col 1:23; 1 Tim 4:16; 2 Tim 2:12; 2 Cor 13:5; Heb 3:12-14; 1 Cor 15:2; Matt 10:22; Matt 24:13; Heb 10:26-29; etc.). Don't misunderstand me. Scripture is equally clear that God ensures that His own do (e.g., John 6:37-39; John 10:26-30; Phil 1:6; 1 Thess 3:11-13; Rom 8:1-4; Rom 8:28-29; Jude 1:24; etc.). So God's Word tells us that perseverance is necessary and God works in His own to make sure they do persevere. That leaves two other categories. There are those who never believe or even appear to believe and there are those who appear to believe but, not persevering, demonstrate that they are "not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us." (1 John 2:19)

There is a clear message here. We need to persevere in "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 1:3) That perseverance is something God does (Phil 2:12-13). Outside of that faith there is no shortage of deceitful doctrines of demons offered up by hypocritical liars who are no longer aware that they're wrong or even clear on what is good or bad. The first category is where you want to be -- in the faith. Avoid the latter.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Bad Sources

I'm sure you've seen this. Bob makes an argument to a group about how 2 + 2 = 4. Jim says, "Oh, yeah? Well, you know Bob divorced his wife last year, right?" So the idea is we're supposed to ignore Bob's argument because Bob's a bad person. It is a standard logical fallacy. In fact, it's one of the most popular. They call it "ad hominem" for short (although there are actually valid ad hominem arguments). The idea is to attack the character of the source rather than the content of the argument. You understand, I hope, what's wrong with this. Basically, it doesn't address the question.

I'm not entirely clear on why we do this. Oh, we all do. But why? It seems to come from a fundamentally flawed perspective: "If you do something wrong, you can never be right." We use it all the time. We assume that if that person has divorced, then they're bad, unreliable, unworthy. If this person came from a homosexual culture or criminal background, they are untrustworthy and suspect. Beyond that, if "that song" came from a group that is suspect, "that song" is bad without regard to what it says. If a false teacher makes a statement, the statement is wrong because this teacher is a false teacher, not because the statement is wrong. We use it all the time.

Maybe it's laziness on our part. I don't know. Maybe it's just too hard to examine the truth claims and evaluate the logic and the evidence and the reasoning and come to a conclusion. Maybe it's just easier to dismiss someone because of something wrong in their character or associations. But we do so at our own peril. You see, if the truth was told, we are all flawed (Psa 130:3).

How do I know for a fact that it's a mistake to dismiss out of hand truth claims that come from bad sources? Well, turn with me in your Bibles to ... every single book. Every one of them is written by fallen men. Look at so many of the Psalms written by David, the adulterer and murderer. Look at the books written by Solomon who pursued idolatry in his latter years. Look at the New Testament written largely by the self-professed killer, Paul. Look at the letters written by the disciple that denied even knowing Jesus. If all of that is true and all of it came from "bad sources", you can be quite sure that God's truth can be provided from sources that are not, in and of themselves, good sources.

I've seen it before. "Don't listen to that song; it comes from Hillsong and everyone knows they're heretical." "I'm not even going to listen to you if you cite C.S. Lewis because he was wrong in his theology." "You know, that pastor disgraced himself and his church when he fell into sin. Don't listen to anything he says." Perhaps it is laziness ... at best. I suspect it is more often self-righteous arrogance. We should be better than that. Paul said, "Brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Phil 4:8) Even if the sources are not perfect. They used to say, "Even a stopped clock is right twice a day." If God could use a donkey to speak the truth to Balaam, surely there might be truth in other poor sources as well.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Judging Rightly

If there's one thing we all know, Jesus did not judge. I mean, He said so, right? Wasn't it Jesus who said, "Judge not"? Wasn't it Jesus who said, "I came not to judge the world, but to save the world"? Wasn't it Jesus who said, "Neither do I condemn you"? Clearly, Jesus didn't have a judging bone in His body. The only people He had anything judgmental to say about anyone were the Pharisees. Am I right?

So why is it that we run into totally off-the-wall instructions like this one from the end of James's epistle?
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)
Isn't that precisely what we're supposed to avoid? To not be correcting others' mistakes is exactly the kind of thing "Judge not" is intended to convey, isn't it? So, hold on here. Do we have James contradicting Jesus? Let's see.

1) It is quite clear that Jesus's harshest words were to the hypocritical religious leaders of His day (Matt 23:13-39). This is only exacerbated when you realize that the Hebrew concept of "woe" is a curse. Jesus was pronouncing curses on the scribes and Pharisees and lawyers (Luke 11:52). But it wasn't only the religious leaders. He used the same phrase against Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum (Matt 11:21-24), entire cities of Israel. He used the same term for the rich (Luke 6:24) and even for one of His disciples (Luke 22:22). This is much more than religious hypocrites. This encompasses all who do not repent (Luke 13:1-4).

2) In Matthew's Gospel, the first teachings from Jesus's ministry were, originally, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt 4:17), followed by the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus didn't narrow definitions of sin, but expanded them (Matt 5:17-48). Listing expanded ways to be evil doesn't qualify as "nonjudgmental".

3) In the famous "Neither do I condemn you" line from the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), Jesus followed the line with "Go, and from now on sin no more." (John 8:11) Clearly "sin no more" means "You've been sinning; stop it!" This is not "I'm ignoring any sin you might have."

4) There is the account of when Jesus threw out the confusing, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you." (John 6:53) It upset people. John specifies that it upset "many of His disciples" (John 6:60). To His disciples He said, "But there are some of you who do not believe." (John 6:64) Now, that is judgmental. "Wait ... are you saying I don't believe? Who are you to tell me if I believe or not?" And, of course, add to that Jesus's own words, "Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (John 3:18) I don't know of any standard of "judgmental" that would say "You're damned" is not classified as "judgmental".

We know that there is a righteous judge (Gen 18:25). We know that judgment is necessary and right. And we know that Jesus said, "If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world." (John 12:47) On matters of judgment He also said, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment." (John 7:24), "As I hear, I judge, and My judgment is just, because I seek not My own will but the will of Him who sent Me." (John 5:30), and "You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, My judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent Me." (John 8:15-16) So, either Jesus is contradicting Himself ... or we're failing to grasp what He is saying when we say, "Judge not means never judge." We can be quite certain it is not that Jesus was crazy, so we're going to have to go with the second option. Jesus said, "As the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself. And He has given Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man." (John 5:26-27) Jesus is the judge, the righteous judge, the Judge of all the earth. As such He does judge. He wasn't doing it during His lifetime -- that kind of judgment that metes out final condemnation or release. He was judging during His lifetime the kind of judgment that identifies right and wrong, sin or not sin, and calls for repentance. And He was doing it rightly.

And we are called to do the same. That's what the James passage tells us. Further, the James passage says that it is an act of kindness. It saves people from death and covers sins. No, not eternal salvation -- only Jesus does that -- but it is a participation on the process that God uses to complete the good work that He began (Phil 1:6), to "keep you from stumbling" (Jude 1:24). And these are good things.

Quickly, then, if Christ was doing it rightly, how are we to do it rightly? First and foremost, Jesus said that His Word is the judge (John 12:48). We don't get to make stuff up; it has to be biblical. Beyond that, however, there are a couple of key ingredients that must be included. We find one set of components when Paul says, "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." (Gal 6:1-2) The aim is restoration, not retribution, punishment, or anything else. It is part of bearing one another's burdens. And, most importantly, it must be in "a spirit of gentleness". Gently, not with "righteous indignation" or some sort of moral superiority. You could be next. (That's what Paul says; "Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.") Finally, we read, "Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph 4:15-16) Love is the key. Love is critical. Love is absolutely necessary. Love is the primary motive for doing it at all. It is love for the person, love for the Body, love for Christ.

The world (and many Christians) wants to tell us, "Only God can judge me" (by which they generally mean "And I don't expect He will") and "You're not supposed to judge." Why? "Jesus said so." Be careful. Given Jesus as our example and the rest of Scripture as our instruction, don't accept a simplistic, word-modified version of "Don't judge". Use the biblical version, the version that Jesus practiced, the one that is because of love rather than opposed to it like today's "Don't tell me what to do while I descend into more God-declared problems." That's just a lie.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

It Can Get Under Your Skin

Meet Euhaplorchis californiensis. This little bug is a parasite that lives in salt-water marshes in southern California. It is a strange little bug.

This thing, as it turns out, lives in three different hosts. Try to follow this. The eggs of this parasite arrive in pools of water in shorebird (host #1) droppings. In these pools of water there is a water snail called a horn snail (host #2) that consumes these eggs. The thing is, these parasites don't like to live in horn snails. I mean, who would? So they hatch in larva form in the horn snails. They use the snail's digestive system to asexually produce clonal forms called rediae. These radiae become a new form called cercariae that can swim. Thousands of these things exit the snail a day. In the water, where they find killifish (host #3). When they find this fish, they bore into the sides of the fish and work their way into the killifish's brain where they excrete a substance that forms a shell around the parasite and then alter the brain function of the host. These killifish start acting erratically in ways that will naturally call attention to themselves from ... you got it ... shorebirds. Since it is in the shorebird gut that they can reproduce, this is their final aim. The shorebird sees these "crazy fish", consumes them, and puts the parasites into its intestinal tract so they can lay eggs and restart the cycle. By accident. All as a matter of Evolution. Trust me.

"Oh, that's weird," I can hear you say already. "A parasite that manipulates the behavior of one host in order to end up in another? Really?" Yeah. Really. And there is more than one.

Meet Toxoplasma gondii. Estimates are that 11% of Americans are infected with this single-celled organism ... and possibly half of all people worldwide. How is this parasite so successful? It functions similar to the shorebird/snail/fish one. Get this. This little thing likes to live in cats. Go figure. According to the CDC, "The only known definitive hosts for Toxoplasma gondii are members of family Felidae (domestic cats and their relatives)." So this parasite only reproduces in the digestive tracts of cats and its spores reside in cat feces. Problem: How to get into more cats? Well, their spores get into the soil or water or on plants which are then consumed by rats. Getting a connection here? I mean, cats love rats. So ... but wait ... how does this help? Well, once in these rats, they make their way to the rat brains. Once there they alter their behavior. They make the rat react to cat urine so that, instead of fleeing the danger, they become aggressive ... against cats. They will charge them and attack. This, of course, is not a winning strategy. It simply makes them more easily eaten ... by cats. They become zombie rats, in essence, and the cats eat it up ... literally. So, given the ubiquity of rats and cats, it is easily possible for these parasites to get into humans as well. Now, humans are not a good host for these things and typically there are no effects, no symptoms, no problems. However, some scientists have wondered if this might be one contributor to schizophrenia? Probably not, but you have to admit that "This all happens from a natural, Evolutionary process" seems really far-fetched.

I ran into these two (who are not, by the way, alone in their bizarre stories) recently in a couple of scientific reports. It was interesting. I showed the information to a couple of my colleagues who are, by no means, Christians. Both had identical responses. "Wow, that kind of makes 'natural selection' look nigh unto impossible." One said, "I can't believe I'm saying that, but it sure looks like the only possible answer is Intelligent Design." Yes ... yes it does.

Monday, September 18, 2017


(For those who don't get the reference in the title, it is from The Princess Bride.)

Steven Landsburg wrote, "Marriage is a contract." The article, The Marriage Contract, is subtitled, "Divorce is just a breakdown in negotiations." I get it. When my first wife told me she was leaving, I tried this idea out. I sought out a lawyer -- any lawyer -- who would help me sue her for "breach of contract". After all, she had promised before God and witnesses "'til death do us part" and, as far as I knew, we were both still alive, so how was that not breach of contract? I didn't want compensation; I just wanted to get the law to hold her to her agreement. (No, no lawyer would try it.) (Doesn't that suggest it isn't really a contract?)

The article in Slate, however, was about a change (back in 1997) in Louisiana marriage law. They were changing from one "marriage contract" to two types. One was the standard "no-fault" contract like every other state. The second was called "covenant marriage" and made divorce much, much harder. It was the first "covenant marriage" law in the U.S. Landsburg observes, "Even if you never divorce, your choice among contracts can affect the entire course of your marriage." How? Well, if you have the possibility of divorce, it will affect your motivation to keep your spouse happy. That is, "If I cannot get out of this marriage, I had better make it the best I possibly can." Actually makes sense.

We understand marriage as a contract. "If you do X, I will do Y. If you don't do X, I am not obligated to do Y." So, "If you will love me for the rest of your life, I will love you for the rest of my life. If you don't ..." We get that. And some have modified their language to something like "'til love do us part." What, then, is a covenant marriage. Well, contracts are characterized as limited in time, requiring specifics of each in the contract, based on an "if/then" kind of thinking, and motivated primarily by "What will I get out of this?" Covenants ... are not. Covenants are aimed at the benefit of the other and, as such, contain promises for rather than from the other. In a marriage covenant, love becomes a choice as much as an emotion, where you can practice it even when you don't feel it. That is, "I promise to love you for the rest of my life" is not a promise to "feel warmly toward you", but to "always seek your best." A covenant is not intended to be temporary. More importantly, a marriage contract is a conditional promise to each other; a marriage covenant is an promise to God regarding each other. As such, a covenant marriage would be a marriage first and foremost aimed at glorifying God and, before anything else, seeking to give to the other all that is for his or her best. Not quite the same as a contract.

A website on the topic explains the difference between contract and covenant marriage this way.
Contract: I take thee for me.
Covenant: I give myself to thee.

Contract: You had better do it!
Covenant: How may I serve you?

Contract: What do I get?
Covenant: What can I give?

Contract: I'll meet you halfway.
Covenant: I'll give you 100%.

Contract: I have to
Covenant: I want to
When I argued that marriage has for all time meant "the union of a man and a woman for purposes of mutual support and for procreation", they fired back, "Don't force your definition on us" and "It won't change your marriage if you give same-sex couples marriage, too." This, of course, isn't true. It has changed marriage in general. Certainly not solely because of same-sex marriage, but because that is the end of an arc, a "ballistic missile" launched back in the '60's that has impacted all of society ... and not for the better.

In a few short months my wife and I will celebrate our 25th anniversary. It is often traditional to renew vows at milestones like these, so my wife and I plan to renew our vows and switch our "standard" marriage in the eyes of the law to a "covenant marriage" in the eyes of the law. "Till death do us part." For real. As God intended. Will it fix the current degeneration of marriage in America? Of course not. But it will be a clear message for those in our sphere of influence, and that's all we can do. The rest, as always, is in God's hands.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Be There

It was an adorable video. She was maybe 3 years old. She sat in front of a laptop with a video playing. She held a guitar about 4 sizes too big for her and she strummed that guitar for all she was worth (without, you know, actually playing it) and sang to the video loudly. "How wonderful! How marvelous! And my song shall ever be. How wonderful! How marvelous is my Savior's love for me." Really cute.

But ... you know ... she was three. I was pretty sure that she didn't know what "marvelous" meant. She didn't really get all the words in the right places. She was mimicking, not worshiping. And that's fine. But it got me to thinking. Do we do that? As adults?

I can't tell you how many young people I've sat down with who listened to their "favorite tunes" and I've asked them, "Do you know what it's saying?" "No," they tell me, "I just like the tune." Some tell me, "Sure", but they don't really. I remember an interaction with a pastor who was saying how much he liked Olivia Newton John's I Honestly Love You. I said, "Have you actually looked at those lyrics?" "Yeah, sure," he said. And then I pointed to the last verse. There it is revealed that the singer and the one to whom it is sung are both married ... to someone else. This was an adulterous love. "Are you sure you like that song?" He pulled it from his list. But that's often what we do. We get inculcated. We get sucked into the music. We get hypnotized in a sense. We're no longer noticing words; we're more into the music. If we know the words, they're coming out robotically, not from the heart. Maybe we're even swaying to the music (or whatever body language would fit). But we're not in the song; we're ... unconscious -- unaware of exactly what is being said.

When we go to church on Sundays, we tend to think of the singing time as "worship". Fine. I mean, worship is much larger than that, but the singing would be included in "worship". So if the intent is to glorify God, to praise God, to lift our hearts to Him, wouldn't it be good to do it consciously? Wouldn't it be wise to do it intentionally? Shouldn't we be there when we worship God rather than being cute and mimicking like that little 3-year-old with the guitar? I mean, sure, it's adorable ... but is it worship? We've always heard, "God doesn't want robots." Maybe not. I'm pretty sure He's not impressed with mindless worship. Let's give Him our best.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

News Weakly - 9/16/2017

Like Jesus Said
Recent research has found that Protestants are not Protestant. "What??!" Well, according to the report, less than half (46%) of American Protestants believe that faith alone is required for salvation. More than half (52%) argue that good deeds are needed to get to heaven. Less than half believe that the Bible is the sole source on matters of faith and practice. That same number hold that the Bible, the church's official teachings, and tradition form the source for matters of faith and practice, the specific position opposed by the Protestants. Combining the two questions, one third of Protestants affirm both sola fide and sola scriptura. Another 36% believe in neither of the two.

We need new designations. "Catholic" and "Protestant" are merging again. "Evangelical", once a division of "Protestant" that held firmly to biblical theology, has shifted closer to "Liberal". What category do we have now that refers to a Bible-believing follower of Christ? I'd like to say "Christian", but only if Jesus (Matt 13:24-30) and Paul (Gal 1:6-9; 2 Tim 3:16-17) were right.

Case Closed
Finally, the case is settled. Perhaps you've seen the monkey selfie, a picture taken when some crested macaques commandeered a nature photographer's camera and took pictures of themselves. Well, PETA sued on behalf of the monkeys, claiming that they took the pictures and, therefore, they had the rights to the copyright and to the financial control of the pictures. PETA was pushing toward "expanding legal rights for non-human animals." You can't make this stuff up, folks. The photographer retained his rights to the photos and agreed to donate 25% of the proceeds to charities dedicated to protecting the macaques in Indonesia. But this is the irrefutable logic of Evolution if you ignore ... you know ... Scripture, science, and reason. "Animals are people, too, you know!" No ... no, they're not.

News or Not News
The story was released this week that Hillary Clinton is convinced that "associates of candidate Donald Trump helped Russia meddle in the 2016 presidential election." Is that news? She has been saying all along that it was someone else to blame than her and her campaign. But, look, here's what occurs to me. Granting that the information that got out that slewed some at the last moment to vote for Trump instead of Clinton came from Russian sources, there is an interesting sideshow here. Hillary (and the rest) are convinced that Russia did it and the Trump camp colluded. Okay. But what no one is saying is that the information released from the DNC emails was wrong. It seems to me to be a tacit admission that the information was accurate. So, the complaint is, "They gave out the truth and it allowed Americans to vote on more truth than they should have had." Now that sounds like news.

Kind of like ESPN's Jemele Hill. You know her. She claimed publicly that Trump is a white supremacist and "His rise is a direct result of white supremacy. Period." She offered her apology that said, "I'm sorry I suggested that ESPN was painted in an unfair light." Not "I'm sorry for my comment." Not "I'm sorry I painted all Trump supporters as white supremacists." Like Hillary, it's "The negative information is true; I'm just unhappy with the outcome."

Unclear on the Concept
Senator Bernie Sanders is introducing a bill aimed at replacing the Affordable Care Act with what he calls "Medicare for All". It's a single-payer health system similar to the one in the UK where we all pay a significant tax increase (currently about 10% across the board in the UK) in order to pay for everyone to have free healthcare. He tried it in 2013 and it failed miserably, but he's hoping to "stand with the people and take on the special interests that dominate health care."

I don't think Bernie gets it. If we're all paying exorbitant taxes for a single-payer system, it's not free. (Or perhaps you don't think another 10% tax on your income as "exorbitant".) (Hint: My current payout for health insurance is less than 4% of my pay.) Further, for most of America our concern is not to assist "special interests". It is to avoid paying huge amounts ourselves. And we're concerned about the quality. (For instance, in the UK, there is a shortage of GPs by half of what is needed and getting routine testing can take months.) Bernie believes universal healthcare is a right (by a source I don't know) and the "enemy" of his plan is "special interests", not us. He doesn't seem to understand that someone is going to pay for his plan and it's not him; it's us.

Who's the Problem?
The LA Times said, "Hundreds of law enforcement officers, many in riot gear, prepared for violence and seized potential weapons." Nine protesters were arrested and some carried weapons. One attacked a police officer. The report is that the security for the event cost $600,000. Just before the event the local police chief successfully lobbied the city council to adjust the ban on the use of pepper spray. What horrific event was this? Who produces such venom, such hate, such antipathy? "We don't want your racist hate" was scrawled on sidewalks. Who's this racist? Ben Shapiro came by invitation to speak at Berkley. A traditionally liberal school in a left-leaning community, they keep proving themselves anything but generous, open-minded, or concerned about freedom. Shapiro was part of something they called "Free Speech Week". A junior at the school said, "I guess there is a limit to free speech." Yes. That would be "when they disagree with us."

The Story Not Told
Here's a story you literally will not hear. The Australian 60 Minutes program was set to present a story about a mother who, believing her son had been diagnosed as transgender, was feeding him estrogen tablets from the age of 12 to help him transition to a female. At 14 the boy said, "Mom, I don't think I'm a girl." The damage was done. He had developed breasts. He would undergo surgery to have them removed. There is the danger of liver damage and blood clots and the legal questions about giving sex hormones to kids under 16.

Well, the "detransitioned" boy story didn't air. It doesn't fit with the current narrative. Besides, Australia was having a national survey on same-sex marriage. Although these two aren't directly related, they are certainly connected in the minds of most people. So that was right out. There are some stories that don't line up with the "accepted thinking" that should just not be told ... right?

Friday, September 15, 2017

Biblical Interpretation

I've been thinking about the different ways people interpret Scripture. No, I'm not going to give you a course in hermeneutics. I'm just going to outline the various approaches.

There is the basic approach. "The Bible says X and means X." This is a simple and mostly effective approach. It works most of the time. It makes good sense. If Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God," (John 3:3), it seems like a pretty sure bet that one who is not born again cannot see the kingdom of God.

Similar to the basic approach but a little more nuanced, you might find "The Bible says X and means X'." These two approaches are not mutually exclusive. This second one simply takes into account other factors -- content, context, original language, other Scripture elsewhere, that sort of thing. So, yes, the text means what it says, but in a fuller, more encompassing sense. For instance, Paul wrote, "Abstain from all appearance of evil." (1 Thess 5:22) Now if you think about that, it is practically impossible. That is, just about everything appears to someone as "evil". The Pharisees thought the disciples were doing "evil" by spreading the Gospel. It "appeared evil" to them. So there must be some nuance here. And there is. The original language doesn't intend "appearance" but "form", and newer translations write it as, "Abstain from every form of evil." Okay, so what was in question here was what exactly "X" was in the text, and now that we're clearer on the actual word used, we're clearer on the interpretation -- X'.

There is the woodenly literal approach. "The Bible says X and means two diagonal crossed lines." This idea sometimes works, but often misses the point. Sure, Jesus said, "I am the door" (John 10:9), but if you limit that to "He has a doorknob and hinges because He said 'I am the door' and I take my Bible literally", I think you're missing what Jesus was attempting to say. This view fails to take into account figures of speech, modes of communication and the like.

There is the left-leaning approach. "The Bible says X and means Y." "Yes, sure, the Bible says, 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth', but, look, everyone knows that this just isn't so. Evolution created the heavens and the earth. Chance and the Big Bang created the heavens and the earth. No, no, it says that 'God created the heavens and the earth', but that's just an allegory, a legend, a myth." They will tell us that the whole story comes from ancient Mesopotamian mythology and is as real as the "world on the back of the turtle" kind of claims of other religions. This is just a stylized account of God (in general) figuratively bringing order out of chaos ... you know ... by means of natural Evolution. Now, try as you might, claim what you want, this is clearly a case of "The Bible says that God created the heavens and the earth, but He did not." That is "X" and "Y", where X does not equal Y in any real sense.

Just before His arrest and execution, Jesus promised His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit who would "guide you into all truth." (John 16:13) In the very next chapter, just before heading to the Garden, He prayed for His disciples.
Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth. (John 17:17)
If God's Word is truth, then it is important. If the Holy Spirit will lead God's people into all truth, then it is understandable. So Paul told Timothy, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." (2 Tim 2:15) We have the same commission. God's Word is truth. We need to rightly handle it with the confidence that the Spirit has been and will continue to guide His people into the truth. Some approaches to biblical interpretation, then, are valid and helpful. Some are not. And claiming that "God's Word says X so it means X" (or even "X'") does not constitute a "hunch"1, a mere opinion, a "speaking for God." It is simply taking God at His Word. We should not be ashamed of doing just that. Martin Luther said, "Let the man who would hear God speak, read holy Scripture." I agree.
1 There is a serious misunderstanding about "hunches", about opinion on biblical interpretation. While it is true that lots of people can have their own ideas on this stuff, whether you call it a "hunch" or an opinion or even an educated guess, it is not true that all of these are valid. Using the Genesis 1 example, one person says, "It means what it says" and another says, "It's myth, a reflection of a completely different reality." Both are interpretations; both are opinions. This is true. But both are not true. They cannot both be true. While it is possible for lots of people to have lots of opinions about what the Bible means, this does not mean that all of them are true. The Bible is not a book that bends to the will of the post-modern thinking that says that truth is whatever we think it is and words mean whatever we want them to. The question, then, is not "Is that your hunch?", but "Is that true?"

Thursday, September 14, 2017

What Is Truth?

That was the famous question from Pilate (John 18:38). He walked away when he asked it, so I don't think it was an actual question, but it is certainly one worth asking.

Anyone who has followed my stuff here knows that I'm often about words, definitions, meanings, that sort of thing. And it wouldn't be far fetched to think that I might want to pursue the definition of "truth" as a word or concept. But, this time, that's not my aim. Let's just go with the basic understanding. "Truth" is simply that which corresponds to reality. I don't think that would be too controversial. The question, though, beyond the definition is actually quite large. What is reality? More to the point, who gets to determine what reality -- truth -- is?

In the Modern Age the determiner of truth was Science. Unfortunately (or not), philosophers discovered that Science was a poor god. Science, by definition, is knowledge gained by study, practice, experimentation ... that kind of thing. Thus, as it turns out, the knowledge is always changing. "The Earth is flat." "No, it's round." "The Sun revolves around the Earth." "No, actually, the solar system is heliocentric." "Coffee is bad for you." "No, coffee is good for you." "No it's not." "Yes it is." And on and on. Enter Post-modernism. Truth is relative. Truth is whatever you think it is. There is no absolute truth, no objective truth. Now, of course, that can only go so far. I mean, an airplane built with a post-modern designer would not likely be very safe. You wouldn't want a post-modern banker. So today we're in the Age of Empathy. Similar to the post-modern view, truth now is determined by how we feel. "I feel like a girl even though I have all male parts." "Oh, well, then it's true! You are whatever you feel you are." "Reality" today is defined by how individuals feel and it is wrong, offensive, hostile, even "hate" to argue otherwise.

What do we do? If our definitions of how to define truth change all the time, we're left without any solid ground. We're back to the original question. Who gets to determine what reality -- truth -- is? Now, of course, it's not something we get to vote on -- truth is reality and doesn't really care what your opinion is -- but I would vote in favor of the Creator. I would say that the Maker of all things should be the one that is gets to define what Truth really is. It is ludicrous to make the Creator dependent on the creature to decide what reality is and is not. It seems only reasonable and even prudent to me to let the Author of All Things determine what the reality of all things is.

What would that look like? That would mean that if God said, "Women are inferior and worth less than men", no amount of Feminism would be able to change that reality and no amount of culture wars would alter the fact. Notice I said if, because it's not in there. So if God said, "All people are of equal worth because they are made in My image" (Gen 9:6) and "women are fellow heirs of the grace of life" (1 Peter 3:7), then the male chauvinist that urges that women are chattel is urging for that which is not real, not true. That is, in every case, whatever it is, what God says as Maker of All defines what is true -- what is real -- and our job is not to correct Him, but to correspond to His judgment on the matter. We are to "think God's thoughts after Him", not make them up ourselves and insist that He not "lose the culture war" or "don't be on the wrong side of history".

The creature, the culture, the world does not get to determine what is true. The Maker of Heaven and Earth does. How we feel, how we think, how we wish things should be or think they are all are irrelevant unless they are in line with His version. Everything else is just ... a lie. And we know who the father of lies is. What is truth? Whatever God says it is.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Follow the Money

In most of the TV detective shows, the rule of thumb for solving the crime is "follow the money". Now, of course, it doesn't always have to be money. It is just "Who will profit?" and "Who will lose out?" The basic idea is there must be a reason for people to commit crimes. Who has the reason?

In life, as it turns out, this is generally true. We have to have a reason to do what we do, think what we think, and so on. Sometimes the reasons are clear and obvious. Sometimes not so much. Sometimes we ourselves aren't even aware of the reasons for what we do. But they're there. Generally, it is "hope for gain" or "fear of loss". Even when we don't see the gain or loss clearly, we sense it and it drives us.

I've been told that I'm wrong for pointing to Scripture and saying, "This is a sin and you need Christ." Most often the "this" is, of course, things like homosexual behavior (Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9-10) and "same-sex marriage" (Matt 19:4-6) kinds of issues, issues where the public at large and the left-leaning self-proclaimed Christians disagree with the plain statements of Scripture. Okay, so what we have here are two events. On one hand, I'm saying, "This is a sin and you need Christ." On the other they're saying, "That's evil and hateful." So let's "follow the money."

Assuming I'm wrong -- I've committed "the crime" -- what is my motivation? What am I trying to gain or afraid to lose? I can't figure it out. It makes no difference (at least so far) if that person is "gay", homosexual, attracted to the same gender. It doesn't make me do anything or cost me anything. I don't have to "become gay" or give up my beliefs or anything like it. There are some who argue that it's about loss of power. What power? What does it matter to my life if that person is homosexual or transgender or ...? I can't see what they think my motivation is.

Assuming they're wrong, that they've committed "the crime". Why would they do it? Well, obviously, if I'm right they have to change. They have to stop doing what they want to do and, let's face it, no one wants to have to do that, from the kid with his hands in the cookie jar to the junkie. We all want to do what we want to do. And, let's be honest, none of us wants to admit we're wrong. In this case, the "wrong" would be "worthy of God's wrath" and "not inheriting the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9-10). Real consequences.

If you're "following the money", I think it looks like I have no motive and they do. But I've also said that we don't do anything without a reason. So if I have no fear of loss or hope for gain in this matter, why do I bother? Why would I stick my neck out? There is only one reason that I would do so, given the current level of animosity from both anti-Christians and left-leaning self-proclaimed Christians toward people like me. Well, to be more precise, two reasons. One is that I'm commanded to "preach the gospel". Gotta do it. The Master has told me to. But that command isn't merely by way of rules. That command is by way of love. The only human reason I would bother telling someone that their behavior is sin and they need Jesus is that I don't want them to fall under God's wrath. Love.

Now, I know, the whole group that constitutes the left-leaning self-proclaimed Christians are quite certain that there is another reason somewhere that people like me would choose to put my welfare and reputation and comfort on the line to maintain a stand that they consider "out of touch", "a losing proposition", "on the wrong side of history", and, yes, even hateful. I can't imagine what that would be because, I'll be honest, I like my welfare, reputation, and comfort. So if you "follow the money", you might come to a different conclusion about why I do it than they do.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Know When to Hold 'Em

We live in a fractured Christendom, where Christianity around the world is often as much at war with itself as it is with the world. The well-known term, "Evangelicals", is a term intended to fragment. "Those churches are headed into the oblivion of liberalism, so we will separate ourselves from them and remain true to the truth." And that's a single example. Much of denominationalism is largely a matter of preference, I think, but a significant portion is due to serious differences. I, for instance, wasn't allowed to join a church that held to infant baptism unless I changed my theology, and another church offered to change my thinking for me on the purpose of the church as God's tool for building the saints rather than evangelizing the neighborhood because my thinking was wrong. The Eastern Orthodox church is sure that the Baptists are wrong and the Baptists are sure that the Lutherans are wrong and the Lutherans are positive that the Methodists are wrong and they're all pretty sure the Roman Catholics are wrong, and by "wrong" I don't mean "misguided", but "possibly not even Christian at all".

As a result, there is a large and growing number of voices that cry, "Can't we all just get along?" They decry the fact that doctrine divides and want all Christians everywhere of any stripe to just be nice and play well together. "Let's agree to disagree, set aside our differences, and sing Kumbaya." Seems like it should be simple to just settle for the lowest common denominator ... which is very little truth.

Post-modernism had its day in our society, leaving behind a loss of meaning, a destruction of clarity, the demise of certainty, and, of course, rampant relativism. Many in our society and even in our churches believe that "all beliefs are valid" (and will argue with you about how wrong yours are if you don't agree). This, of course, makes no sense. As an obvious example, a theist and an anti-theists cannot both be right. Simple logic. So there is truth and that which is not truth is falsehood. The question, then, is how far we should go in defending the truth? Because the question is how sure we are that we have the truth.

Instead of "going along to get along", we need to be more careful. There are various questions and positions that carry different weight. Dr. Al Mohler lists them in orders of magnitude, so to speak. He lists three orders.
- First order - Fundamental truths of the Christian faith, the denial of which eliminates Christianity.
- Second order - Believing Christians may disagree without denying the faith but causing significant disagreement (e.g., meaning and mode of baptism, women as pastors).
- Third order - Believing Christians disagree, but can remain in fellowship (e.g., eschatology).
I would add a fourth category, one that is called "adiaphora" -- that which is debatable and spiritually neutral (Rom 14:1). (e.g., identity of the two witnesses (Rev 11), dancing, men and women swimming in public). (Seriously, you can find those who argue that males and females should not swim together in public.)

With these in mind, you can begin to see the levels of agreement and disagreement. You can see that there are places where we need to hold our ground, to not give in, to stand firm. "Agree to disagree" is not sufficient for these, because if we disagree on these, Christianity is ended. What would these be? Well, easily, these five:

1. The Trinity: God is one "What" and three "Whos" with each "Who" possessing all the attributes of Deity and personality.
2. The Person of Jesus Christ: Jesus is 100% God and 100% man for all eternity.
3. The Second Coming: Jesus Christ is coming bodily to earth to rule and judge.
4. Salvation: It is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
5. The Scripture: It is entirely inerrant and sufficient for all Christian life.

Based on Scripture, I would certainly add the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:3-8,13-19). And the universality of sin is basic to Christianity, given that salvation is basic to Christianity (we need to be saved from something). But it's not a really long list.

I think that too often we "get fuzzy", trying to get along, trying to avoid disputes, trying to avoid division. I think that too often we gear up for war where it's not needed, trying to defend "key doctrines" like whether or not Christians can drink alcohol. There are times that we need to stand firm. There are times when we don't. We need to know which is which.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Bad Interpretation

Have you ever noticed how so many are so often so bad at interpreting Scripture? No, not just "them"; us.

Take, for instance, the ever-popular story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). A woman "caught in adultery" (I question the truthfulness of the Pharisees' accusation because if she was caught "in the very act", there should have, by law, been a man there, too.) is brought to Jesus for judgment. Jesus says His famous, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." They left, and Jesus told her, "I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more." Now, that's all pretty clear, but the most popular understanding of that text these days is "Jesus didn't care about sin (and you shouldn't either)." That is, they ignore completely the "Go and sin no more" and hang on the "I do not condemn you," as if that was the whole point. They ignore all the other texts where Jesus condemns sin and see this one as proof that we should all just hug the sinner and embrace the sin. Bad interpretation.

Take, for instance, Paul's "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." (Rom 10:4)
Did you know that there are those who argue (often angrily) that this means there are no more rules, no more laws, no more thought at all regarding how we should act. "You have Christ?" they ask. "Well, that's all you need. You can sin all you want." The theologians call it "antinomianism", the view that Christians are released by grace from the obligation of observing the moral law. Now, much of Scripture speaks of how we ought to live. James even says that faith without works is dead. But these folks ignore that and interpret the text as proof of their position.

I'm always amused at this one. Well, this approach. An example would be "The Lord loves a cheerful giver." (2 Cor 9:7) The take-away for many is, "Well, I'm not happy about giving, so God does not want me to give." That's a long way from "The Lord wants you to give and loves it when you're cheerful about it." But it's a common approach.
Scripture: "No one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:12)
Interpreter: "Well, I know lots of people who do good, so this must not mean what it says. We know that lots of people do good." (rendering the text meaningless)
Scripture: "We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29)
Interpreter: "That means I should ignore what any authority tells me and do what I feel like God wants me to do."
Scripture: "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." (Phil 4:13)
Interpreter: "I want to live my dream, so God will strengthen me to do it."
These are examples of people who look at the texts, yank it out of context, twist it to mean what they really want it to mean, and put it back down on the page as if it's God's Word.

There are lots of ways to misinterpret Scripture and all of us suffer from it at times. Lack of knowledge, lack of understanding, lack of information ... these and more. The bad interpretation we should not be guilty of is the "Did God really say?" kind. It's the kind that was in all the examples I gave. The primary goal of the interpreter was "How can I get it to say what I want it to say?" It is likely an unspoken goal and maybe even not a conscious goal, but in all the examples I gave the faulty interpretations did not let Scripture say what Scripture was trying to say; they made it say what they wanted it to. In Paul's words, "Let God be true, and every man a liar." (Rom 3:4) If you find God's Word always saying what you like, you may be failing to properly interpret God's Word. (Hint: If it is God's Word and God is "not a man" (1 Sam 15:29; Job 9:32), but an infinite God, it should be pointed, difficult to take, and surprising at times.) James says we should be "be swift to hear, slow to speak." (James 1:19) I think that should include how we read and understand the Word. Let God speak for Himself rather than superimposing our preferences. I think there is enough imposing of preferences in our world these days.

Sunday, September 10, 2017


Fictional character Stuart Smalley (from Saturday Night Live) started this phrase: "I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me." It was part of a self-help spoof. The sentiment, though, is no spoof. Most of us think something very much like that. Most of us think of themselves, in the words of Paul, "more highly than he ought to think." (Rom 12:3) And that can get us into trouble.

I'm Good Enough

We buy this, for the most part. We do it at different levels. "Oh, maybe I'm not good enough to be a professional baseball player or singer -- that's one stage -- but you know I'm not as bad as ..." and we'll fill in the name that corresponds with the "good enough" we're aiming for. "I'm not as bad as those liberals" (or "conservatives", depending on your standard of measurement) politically. "I'm not as bad as Hitler" morally. "I'm not as bad as those rich people" economically. "I'm not as bad as that fat oaf over there" athletically. You get the idea. So "not as bad as" becomes "good enough". Sure, we may seek to improve ourselves. We may wish to improve our economic standing or our athletic skill set or whatever, but that's just to be better, not to stop being "not good enough". Because we are "good enough".

The Bible disagrees. That is, God's opinion differs from our own.

Scripture says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) Paul writes, "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:10-12) That doesn't say "No one does good all the time." It says, "No one does good" and emphasizes, "not even one." Good enough? The biblical verdict is "Not good at all." The biblical verdict is not even "sin-sick"; it is "dead trespasses and sin" (Eph 2:1-3).

I'm Smart Enough

This one is ambiguous, thanks to our current post-modern language where words are ambiguous. What is "smart"? Is it "as measured by an IQ test" or is it "as indicated by my ability to think straight"? Or something else? Again, it's a matter of standards, isn't it? What standard do we use to say we're "smart enough"? There are always those who are lower than us on the IQ scale, but, frankly, most of us aren't thinking IQ when we think (feel?) "I'm smart enough." No, we're thinking, "I can think straight." At least, straight enough. We believe we are rational, thinking beings who can see straight, figure straight, think logically step by step to the right conclusion. That's "smart enough". And, in general, we all figure we are, even those of us who don't think we're particularly smart.

The Bible disagrees. God's opinion differs from our own.

Scripture says, "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot." (Rom 8:7) That's "cannot", not merely "does not." Elsewhere we read, "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor 2:14) That's "not able", not "does not." Smart enough to get by? Rational enough to think straight? The biblical position is that human beings are "blinded by the god of this world" (2 Cor 4:4) and suffer from a defective heart (Jer 17:9), broken at the core.

I'm Liked Enough

Whether it's people or God, we're pretty sure we're okay in this category as well. Most people believe that they're liked ... at least liked enough. They're pretty sure that God likes them. I mean, after all, haven't we been told repeatedly that "God loves you"? And we all know that "love" is stronger than "like". So we are liked enough by people and by God, right?

The Bible disagrees. God's opinion differs from our own.

We certainly do have the wonderful assurances that "God loved the world" (John 3:16), but it isn't an unqualified love. More often than "God loves you" we read things like "You hate all evildoers" (Psa 5:5), "The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence" (Psa 11:5), and, among the things that God specifically hates (Prov 6:16-19), "a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers." We know that God said, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." (Rom 9:13) We like to think God is warm and fuzzy and pats us on the head while we spit in His face. The truth is that God hates sin and those who do it. He opts to place His saving love on those He chooses to save, but we cannot count, in our natural condition, on a kinder, gentler God who will embrace all our rebellion and assume "I'm liked enough by God." It's not a biblical position.

The bottom-line problem, then, is a radical self-deception. We tell ourselves we're okay. We're not. Even as believers who know enough to say, "No, I'm not good enough", we still tend toward the lie. It is deceiving ourselves. We all do it.

The truth, then, sounds harsh. We are not good enough, not smart enough, and God has no obligation to like us at all. When we arrive at this biblical place, then, the sweetness of the good news can comes full force. Christ died for sinners (Rom 5:8), not saints. He didn't come to save the healthy, but the lost (Mark 2:17; Luke 19:10). When we begin to grasp the magnitude of the problem -- the problem that we are -- we can begin to appreciate the magnitude of God's grace who rightly judges but out of His perfect love shows mercy to some. In Jesus's words, "He who is forgiven little loves little." (Luke 7:47) When we think of ourselves as good enough, smart enough, and worthy of God's affection, we sell Him short. When we recognize the truth, God is magnified.