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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The "Alones" that are not Alone

October 31, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On this date in history an obscure Roman Catholic monk posted his famous "95 Theses", a simple request for a debate on some topics. It marks the beginning of the effort to return the Church to its original condition. The Reformation was not "trying to make the Church better"; it was trying to return the Church to its origins.

There are five basic statements that make up the core of the problems that the Reformers were addressing. They have become known as "the Five Solas", where "sola" is Latin for "alone". (We could call them the "five alones", but that just doesn't sound as cool.) These five "alones" were sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, and soli Deo gloria. In English, it is Scripture alone, the claim that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and the doctrine that all glory goes to God alone.

You have to admit that, in spite of the fact that we're talking about a lot of "alones", these can be quite confusing. I mean, if we're saved by grace alone through faith alone ... then neither is alone, are they? This "alone" function, then, becomes problematic in discussions. So what is critical for our understanding of these Five Solas is that we understand what they meant by "alone" ... because they did not mean "utterly alone".

The first problem with Roman Catholic theology to the Reformers was their three-sided authority structure. Roman Catholicism holds that authority in regards to what we believe and how we are to practice what we believe is in Scripture, in Holy Traditions, and in the Church. The Reformers argued that the sole authority is God Himself, and that His Word perfectly and sufficiently transmits His teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness "that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17) So Scripture alone is the authority apart from the Traditions or Church. That "apart from" was the intent of sola scriptura. It was not that there are no other sources for truth, authority in life, etc.

The Roman Catholic theology really liked (and still does) the concept of merit. They have condign merit (the merit of Christ) and congruent merit (where we begin to earn our own merit) and the Treasury of Merit (where those who have had more merit than they needed have stored merit for those who have not). Lots and lots of merit. It was the idea behind Luther's biggest complaint in his 95 Theses -- the sale of "indulgences" where people could buy merit to get themselves or others out of Purgatory. So sola gratia claimed that saving grace was apart from merit. While "grace" (Greek: charis) simply means "favor" and it is certainly reasonable to favor those who merit your favor, but Paul is abundantly clear that the grace of God that saves is apart from merit (Rom 11:5; Eph 2:8-9). That "apart from" was the intent of sola gratia.

The Roman Catholic Church would absolutely nod and agree with the assertion that we are saved by grace through faith, but when you pin them down, it turns out that it is "grace through faith plus." That "plus" is works. They hold that we receive grace from God and that grace becomes works as part of faith. However, they hold that, having received that grace and exercised that faith, it is required that we work to maintain our salvation. The Reformers argued for what they termed "imputation" -- the righteousness of Christ imputed to the life of the believer so that once and for all the believer is now seen by God as the righteousness of Christ. Sola fide was intended, then, to separate (as Paul does) salvation from works. The Roman Catholic doctrine argued that works augmented our justification -- improving it, maintaining it, sustaining it. Sola fide intended that faith apart from works was what was required. It was not a claim that works were no longer significant or required; it was that they weren't required for justification.

The Roman Catholic Church taught that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, but they understood it quite differently. The regenerate (They believe in baptismal regeneration.) received the merit of Christ which produced in them the ability to produce more merit. They taught that the Church was the access point to God, that there was multiple what they called "mediators" (or, in the case of Mary, the "mediatrix", "mediatrices") -- that is, the Pope, the priests, and the saints. "Not so!" the Reformers cried. They argued that Christ alone was the mediator between God and Man (1 Tim 2:5; John 14:6; Heb 7:25; 1 John 2:1). But if we are saved by grace apart from merit through faith apart from works, where does that come from? Solus Christus was aimed at removing all other mediators, leaving Christ alone as the entry point for Man to God, giving us direct access through Christ. It spoke of the exclusivity and sufficiency of Christ. He declared Himself the only way, as He was God's only Son, nullifying all other ways. His sacrifice on our behalf was sufficient -- "It is finished" (John 19:30). As our sole source of merit, His work as God the Son, in His life, in His death, and in His resurrection was sufficient alone to reconcile us to God apart from other mediators, other methods, or other systems.

If you pile up all the "complaints", the issues that the Reformers had with the Roman Catholic Church, you'll find a common thread. They argued that the Church was amassing glory for itself. The Pope was on equal footing with God. The Church was the primary authority, even preventing the laity from reading Scripture. The Church forgave sin, determined merit, distributed merit, handed down salvation, and ultimately arbitrated everything having to do with Christian doctrine and practice. The Reformers, then, declared in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church that God and God alone was due glory (Psa 115:1; 1 Cor 10:31; Isa 43:7). And, let's be honest. Amassing glory for ourselves is something we all do. Even in our salvation. "He did it for me!" We do, absolutely, reap the benefit, but the bottom-line truth is that He did it for His glory (Rom 11:36; Col 1:16) ... all of it.

The point of the Reformation was to re-form the Church back to what Christ had instituted and God had made. The "Five Solas" were shorthand for the specific abuses they saw being perpetrated on biblical Christianity in their day. In this, then, neither the men of the Reformation nor the "Five Solas" -- the language of the Reformation -- were the key issue. At issue was the Gospel, which is Christ Himself. Anything else, Paul says, is a distortion and not another Gospel (Gal 1:6-9). We have God as our sole authority in matters of faith and practice and He has given us His Word as His written source. We are saved by grace apart from merit through faith apart from works in Christ apart from any other mediator or method to the glory of God and no other. That's it ... the Gospel. When you hear of the celebration of the Reformation, keep that in mind. It is a celebration of the Gospel ... soli Deo Gloria.

I filed this under the "Reformed Theology" label because, after all, it's about the theology of the Reformation. I would hope that all believers in biblical Christianity would find it to be biblical and agreeable unlike many other of the "Reformed Theology" topics. I don't think I wrote anything here that all non-Catholics would disagree with.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Problem of the Pledge

In America we all know the "Pledge of Allegiance". No problem. We got that. Did you know that the pledge was actually relatively new in this country?

The pledge was written in 1892 by a socialist minister, Francis Bellamy. The original version was a pledge of allegiance "to my Flag", not including "of the United States of America", which stood for "one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." In 1923 they altered "to my Flag" to read "to the Flag of the United States of America". In the 1950's we had the threat of the godless communists. President Eisenhower asked Congress to add "under God" to the pledge, and that is what we have today.

In 2002 the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals delcared the pledge unconstitutional. You can guess why. It's that pesky "under God" which, of course, is a reference to a religion. What religion? Well, decidedly not the atheist religion. That's about all we can be sure of. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ruling soon after that, not because they didn't think that it violated the First Amendment, but because the guy who brought the suit in defense of his daughter didn't have custody, so he didn't have the standing to bring the suit. A technicality. So it stands as it did from 1954 on.

There are problems, then, with this pledge. Not everyone is happy with it. Some don't like pledging at all. Senator McCain is opposed to nationalism, so this should be right out, right? Others obviously don't like that "under God" clause. Some are the anti-theists who say the government is forcing God on them, but others are Christians who say that every time an unbelieving child recites the pledge, he or she is taking God's name in vain. There are some today that want it changed to include women and LGBTQ concerns while some in the pro-life camp want it to read "and justice for all, born or unborn." I'm sure there are more.

I have my own list. First, what does it mean to have allegiance to a flag? I understand allegiance to a republic for which it stands, but where does allegiance to a flag take you? Is that concept why some are so worked up over football players kneeling? Then there's the concept of "one nation". Does this include, or does it not, the native-American nations? And is this nation really indivisible? I mean, the South tried it in the 19th century, and that might have looked like the answer, but more recently both Texas and California have made noises about seceding from the union. Then there's the whole "with liberty and justice for all." Seriously. Who believes this? Is this really what we think? Our liberties are often infringed. Without much disagreement I think I can safely say, for instance, that the Patriot Act infringes our liberty. Then there is the whole question of the free exercise of religion in a country that fines people who exercise it in the "wrong situations" ... like selling flowers or making cakes and the like. "No, no, you can certainly exercise your religious convictions ... as long as they don't interfere with our religious convictions that homosexuals have rights over yours." And is there anyone at all these days that believes that you can find "justice for all" in this country? I think "sometimes" is the best honest answer you can get.

That leaves just that one real stickler -- "under God". My problem, obviously, isn't the same as the anti-theists. My problem is in trying to grasp just what it means. If I say I'm "under a tree", what does that mean? It means that above my head there is a tree. And what does that tell you? Not much, except, perhaps, the spatial location of said tree. Is that what is meant by "under God"? He's "all around us"? Kind of pointless. On the other hand, if you said, "The Soviets were 'under Stalin'", that would have had a radically different meaning. In that case it would mean "under his thumb", "under his authority", "under his rule". But that can't be what the original framers of that phrase intended. America is not a theocracy. The Establishment clause of the First Amendment guaranteed that our country would not be ruled by a religion or its God. So they couldn't have been suggesting it is "under His rule." What then? I don't think they or we have a clear idea.

Truth is, of all that is said in that pledge, the part I know best to be true is that last part. Since God is Sovereign, then we are "under God" in the very sense that we are under God's rule, under God's eye, under God's final authority. But, look, who of the "many" (Matt 7:13-14) is going to want that hanging over them? I suppose that part has to go, even though, from my perspective, very little of it should truthfully remain. It won't matter to me if they acknowledge that we are "under God" or not.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Church is Boring

Have you ever heard that? I'd guess that if you have (or have had) teenage kids, you've heard it. If not, it's all around. It's often the reason for creating the "seeker sensitive" atmosphere that so many churches go for. It's generally the reason that they've dropped "those old boring hymns" and lept into a morning-rock-concert approach. (Seriously, one church I visited this past summer offered earplugs, warning that "the music may be a bit too loud for you." Isn't that a hint that there is something not quite right?) (Note: They were right; it was too loud.)

So, let's see if I have this straight. God is Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnipresent. He doesn't change, but remains constantly holy and righteous. He defines "Love" and "Good". He is gracious and merciful while also remaining just. God is Sovereign. Not just sovereign, but Sovereign, as in the only Sovereign (1 Tim 6:15). He is awesome (that kind that includes marvel and dread). He is the Maker of all things, from the sun and stars to the amazing scenery we experience all the way down the the single-celled organisms. God is eternal. That is, God is, always was, and always will be. He is self-existent (the uncaused cause), the very essence of all existence. He is steadfast, utterly faithful, cannot lie. He is all-sufficient. He is infinite. He is both immediately present and far transcendent above all that we are. In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). In Him all things hold together (Col 1:17). "From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever." (Rom 11:36)

If church is our opportunity to gather together to learn of Him and worship Him and celebrate Him and that is "boring" ... you're doing it wrong.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

News Weakly - 10/28/17

More Sad Boy Scout News
I'm sure you've seen the story. An 11-year-old Cub Scout asked his state senator, Vicki Marble, about gun control and was kicked out of the Cub Scouts. "The mother was told her son's question was disrespectful and too political." Now, to be clear, the Boy Scouts says that that he's not kicked out; he just needs to go to another scout group.

I think it's sad. It's sad that the public sees this as a free speech issue rather than a matter of disrespect. (If you see what he asked, it's a free speech issue. If you see how he asked, it's clearly a matter of disrespect.) I think it's sad that his parents have politicized him, but never taught him to respect the office. I think it's sad that this boy clearly represents the thinking of the day, that no office ought to be respected. And I think it's sad that this scout leader would think that the best way to help this kid who is not being taught respect is to kick him out ... rather than, you know, teach him to respect. So many sad things.

This is Just Strange
Normally the stuff I put in here is pointed, indicative of our times, that sort of thing. This one is just ... strange. If you haven't been paying much attention, you may not know who Michael Bay is. He's an American filmmaker known for big-budget, big screen stuff like five Transformers movies about giant robots that trash everything and always a pretty young thing who runs around useless but attractive. He is responsible for Bad Boys and its sequel, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor ... stuff like that. And if you don't have little kids, you may not be familiar with Dora. She is a cartoon character from the NickJr network in the children's educational genre. She's an 8-year-old Mexican girl with a purple monkey who goes on travels to teach kids things, but especially young girls that they can be anything they want. So what? Well, apparently Michael Bay is going to direct a live-action Dora the Explorer. I'm assuming complete with killer robots where Dora is scantily clad and an airhead in trouble? What's next? Quentin Tarantino directs a live action My Little Pony? Strange.

Delusions of Gender
You may not be able to wrap your mind around a Michael Bay Dora the Explorer movie, but that might be because our world is losing its collective mind. The UK is demanding that the UN change "pregnant woman" to "pregnant person" because, as everyone knows, it is not only women who can get pregnant; men can, too. Right? Right? So let's erase the word, "woman", from public life. Everyone is whatever they think they are ... as long as we say they are. (I mean, let's not get ridiculous. A white woman cannot become black or anything like that. We're not stupid, you know.)

Lesbian Privilege?
October 25th was Katy Perry's birthday. In celebration of her birthday, Ellen DeGeneres put out a tweet of DeGeneres ogling Katy's breasts. Now, DeGeneres identifies as no gender, but as a lesbian. If anyone else -- say, a Harvey Weinstein or a George H.W. Bush -- were to do that, the outrage would be instant and palpable. But I guess it's okay because it's Ellen, a lesbian, right?

Who's Crying Now?
So, it looks like the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC paid for the dossier of allegations around Trump and Russia. Indeed, according to the story, "None of the major facts revealed this week are being disputed." "Ummm, so?" That's what they're trying to say. Well, if it is no big deal, why didn't you say it was the case in the first place? Looks bad for the Hillary/DNC team.

The Irony is Strong with this one.
Meet Sophia. Sophia is not a female; she is a robot. And, appearing on stage at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, she was awarded citizenship in Saudi Arabia, a country known for sharia law (Sophia appeared without burka) and especially for not allowing women equal rights. "I am very honored and proud for this unique distinction," Sophia told the crowd, as if a robot can feel honored and proud. In a world that no longer knows basic concepts like what marriage is or what male and female is, I suppose this ironic new twist is "reasonable."

Yeah, yeah, it's the Babylon Bee, but it's ... pointed. The headline reads, "Trump Supporter Outraged by Sexual Immorality of Hollywood." The same question I've wondered about from Christians who voted for Trump, but, hey, that's just me, right?

Friday, October 27, 2017

Why I am Not a Conservative

Let me be clear at the outset. I am not saying I would not be ranked among the "conservatives". Nor am I saying I am a "liberal". But just like I would argue that I am a Calvinist and I am not a Calvinist, I would like to explain what differentiates me from conservatives.

We live in a world divided largely by "the Left" and "the Right", "Liberal" or "Progressive" and "Conservative". This is largely in the political realm, but it also bleeds into lots of other areas. There are social liberals and social conservatives, usually in terms of "social justice" kinds of issues. There are religious liberals and religious conservatives, generally in doctrinal issues. But ... just what is "liberal" and "conservative"? I don't think we're really clear anymore.

Conservatives want to conserve the values we have. That's the general idea (despite the false propaganda from the "liberals" that conservatives just want to keep everything to themselves). But it's not quite accurate. Liberals/Progressives, on the other hand, want to move on. (No, they're not more generous.) "Onward and upward" kind of thinking. But that's not quite right, either. Ambrose Bierce described the two this way:
Conservative, n: A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal who wishes to replace them with others.
That's really what's at issue here. The concept of conservatism is to conserve things as they are, but conservatives don't actually do that. If you were to look at the views of conservatives today they would largely coincide with the liberals of yesterday. They have been described as the shadow of a man following him into his grave. The Left moves along at a pretty good clip and the Right follows behind, trying to "conserve", and doing it badly. I don't even want to be that kind of conservative.

I am a Christian. Genuine followers of Christ fall in an unusual category in "Left" and "Right", "Progressive" and "Conservative" terms. They fall in the "both/and" category. The things that God says should remain are things that we should work to conserve. The progress that God says we should seek are things to which we should progress. So believers should stand firm for traditional, biblical marriage (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:5-6; Eph 5:31-32), for instance, as staunch conservatives and should work against racism and sexism (Gen 1:26-27; Gen 9:6; Gal 3:28), as examples, as avid progressives. Move away from what is as it fails to align with what God wants and stay with what is as it aligns with what God wants. Both/and.

The Left constantly wants to move. They have vague motivation. "It will be better if ..." without actually having real knowledge of it will be better. "No-fault divorce is better than requiring a reason" turns out to be a lie. "Killing babies is a mother's right" is a lie from the pit of hell. On the other hand, when the Right refuses to budge on white supremacists or sexual harassment as if these are valid things to conserve, they demonstrate the same lack of direction. Believers should be pursuing the glory of God. Where that is currently the case, they should be conservative. Where it is not, they should be progressive. It defies the categories, just like Jesus did when He was on earth.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Cause and Effect

We live in a world of cause and effect. Every effect has its cause. We know this. The problem for us is that we can almost always more clearly see the effect more easily than the cause. In a obvious recent event, a lone gunman fired into a crowd of concert goers in Las Vegas. We see the effect; we still don't have a clue about the cause.

The problem for us, then, is that causes often elude us. Often it's because we simply don't look for them. Often it's because things are rarely simple. And, of course, there is the standard "human condition" in a world described by God as "blinded", "deceitful", and "desperately wicked" (2 Cor 4:4; Jer 17:9). We don't see causes because we're not looking.

Most of the time, then, we're looking at the effect rather than the cause. This becomes entirely problematic. We know about the issue of gun violence in our culture, but gun violence is an effect, not a cause. We share concerns about rampant divorce in our society, but divorce is a symptom, not the cause. We get that sexual immorality is being subverted to a sexual norm, but sexual immorality is a result, not a cause. We bemoan the fact that the courts have redefined marriage in our legal system today, but that redefinition is an effect, not a cause. It is scientifically irrefutable that human life begins at the embryo stage and abortion terminates a human life, but abortion is not the cause of the problem; it is the result.

So we run around trying to put out fires. We mobilize forces for gun control, create marriage workshops to teach people how to stay married, campaign against sexual immorality, argue the definition of marriage, and try to legislate abortion. We have to. These (and many, many more) are problems. But they are symptoms. And while we try to put out the flare ups, we seem to completely forget the causes. So we treat pneumonia with cough syrup and apply a band aid on a flesh-eating virus.

In a world that is sick, it is necessary that we treat symptoms. It is. But we should never lose sight of the disease -- the cause of the symptoms. Our world would love to convince us that the disease doesn't exist. "People are basically good. Get over your religious negativism." So they can go on treating symptoms without touching the disease. That disease? Sin. And if that is the disease, it's understandable why our world cannot treat it and won't even recognize it. But we have the treatment, the cure. So while we treat symptoms, let's be very careful to keep in the forefront of our thinking that we're treating people who need Jesus. Live that. It's more important than gun violence or poverty. It's eternal.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Asking the Wrong Question

Any Christian who has shared the gospel knows that the gospel, despite the fact that it is good news, is often considered an offense. As it turns out, God's Word anticipated that. Jesus told His disciples, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." (John 15:18-19) Paul said, "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Cor 1:18) He goes on to say, "We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles." (1 Cor 1:23) Paul referred to "the offense of the cross" (Gal 5:11) and Peter referred to Christ as "a rock of offense" (1 Peter 2:8). Yes, it will be an offense.

There are lots of reasons the gospel is an offense. We are warned not to be the reason (1 Cor 10:32) because there are sufficient reasons in the gospel itself. First, the gospel is Christ and Scripture says the natural man is hostile to God (Rom 8:7). Beyond that starting point, the gospel demands repentance and no one wants to start there. The gospel violates the natural "If you do good, you go to heaven; if not ..." In America many have made the mistaken leap from "All religions have equal protection under the law" to "All religions are valid." Lots of reasons. One of the most offensive concepts, however, is the exclusivity of the gospel. There is "no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) Paul told Timothy, "There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." (1 Tim 2:5) Christ Himself declared, "No one comes to the Father but by Me." (John 14:6) So we say, "Hey, we know how to get on the train to heaven, and you can't get there any other way," and it sounds ... unfair. Why so exclusive? Why not other ways? What's wrong with the "all roads lead to Rome" concept where many ways will get there? Seems rather shortsighted of God, doesn't it? Christianity, then, is an intolerant, arrogant religion that thinks, "We have the only way and the rest of you are just out of luck."

I would suggest we're asking the wrong question. The question shouldn't be, "Why would God be so narrow?" The question should be, "Why would God be so generous as to save even one?" It is Paul's apparent question in Romans (Rom 9:22-24). If you find that question disagreeable, I would suggest you might not have a good grasp on the biblical view of Natural Man versus the Holiness of God and are very possibly coming from an anthropocentric -- a Man-centered -- point of view. Lots of people ask, "Why doesn't God save more?" I am baffled at why He saved one ... let alone me.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Black and White in a Grayscale World

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is here. It is in our homes, our businesses, our world. You can ask Google a question and expect an answer, even verbally, and anticipate that it will be reasonably helpful. Amazon and Google both have devices available for your home for these purposes. Recently Michael Sacasas wrote about how the question is no longer trusting machines, but whether or not we trust them too much. The problem with AI is that we are lulled into a sense that they're actually human-like in their thinking. The problem is that they're not. They might be able to find you a good deal on shoes or the closest Mexican restaurant, but they will never be able to make wise moral choices for you. By no means should we ever, for instance, lethally arm them and let them decide who and when to shoot. You see, making those choices is not for a machine. It's a human thing; they wouldn't understand.

The problem is what we call "gray areas". Just what are gray areas? Those are areas that are, by definition, not black or white. ("Duh, Stan. Thanks for the insight.") Okay, for the purpose of this conversation it is areas of morality that appear "gray" rather than clear cut. Here, a quick example. Is it wrong to kill? "Yes! (Whew, that one was easy.)" Oh, yeah? What about the death penalty? (Caution: If you say it's always wrong, you're going to have to contend with God who imposed the death penalty Himself.) What about to defend a life? What about in a just war? Never? And you've just walked into "gray".

Morally gray, then, does exist. Even biblically. Paul talks in Romans 14 about whether or not it is moral to eat meat. He says that it depends on the person. On matters such as this, "Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls." (Rom 14:4) Gray. In 1 Corinthians it is meat sacrificed to idols. He warns against being "too smart" (1 Cor 8:1-2). On one hand, idols are not real, so meat offered to them is fine (1 Cor 8:4). On the other hand, it might damage the conscience or another or your own testimony, so it's not fine (1 Cor 8:7-9). Gray. Gray areas do exist.

So what's a believer to do? Well, by way of answer, I want to look for a moment at the printed "grayscale" you will find in most places. To obtain gray on a piece of white paper, the way it is normally done is to put black dots at intervals on the white background. The closer the dots, the darker the gray. In this medium, then, there is grayscale, but that gray is actually black and white. It only looks gray from a distance. In the same way, I believe in almost every moral question you will find the same thing.

Going back to the "is it right to kill?" question, I showed how you don't have a "black and white" answer, but I think we can say quite clearly ("black and white") that every situation has a right answer. For instance, in the case of whether or not you should kill someone you simply don't like, the answer is "No" (black) (Exo 20:13). In the case of a person rightfully convicted of intentionally killing women and children on the testimony of irrefutable evidence and multiple reliable eyewitnesses, the answer would be "Yes" (white) (Gen 9:6). Just two specific circumstances, but I hope it helps you to see that there is a "gray area" which, on closer examination, turns out to be black or white.

I believe, then, that for the largest mass of moral questions that might occur, there are biblical commands, prohibitions, or principles in play that will govern the believer for the correct response -- black and white. They may not be the same for every believer. They may not be the same for every situation. But I don't think there is a moral question we must face that does not have some biblical principle that directly affects the answer. We can be pretty sure of this because Scripture tells us that love is the fulfillment of the law (Matt 22:35-40; Rom 13:8; Rom 13:10; Gal 5:14). I believe, then, that it is entirely possible for a genuine believer to live black and white in a grayscale world. The real question, of course, is whether or not we're willing to do the work to figure out just where those black dots on the white background occur.

Monday, October 23, 2017

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

I was skimming some articles talking about the passing of Hugh Hefner. Some were complimentary, talking about the wonderful contributions he made to society. Others were ... not. "Objectified women", that sort of thing. One said something that caught my eye. "Hefner waged a much-needed battle against the forces of 20th century American puritanism."

Interesting. What is "American puritanism" and why was it "a much-needed battle"?

These questions may not be as easy to answer as they might appear at the surface. The primary problem, as is so often the case, is definition of terms. What did the author mean by "American puritanism". If you were to examine the Puritans' views on sex, I think you might find that they're not all that bizarre and, in fact, are much more ... lively than you might think from the common perception of the term. The Puritans argued that marital love must include sex, a joyful giving of themselves to their partner. They rejected the Augustinian idea that sex was inherently bad and the Roman Catholic preference for celibacy and pressed for marital passion and intimacy. They argued that sex within marriage was a gift of God and even denied that it had to be solely for procreation. One Puritan wrote, "They do err who hold that the secret coming together of man and wife cannot be without sin unless it be done for the procreation of children." In fact, a spouse who refused to give their partner "due benevolence" could face church discipline in Puritan churches. There is an account of at least one husband who was excommunicated for "neglecting his wife" because he refused for two years to have sex with her. To the Puritans, sex in marriage was to be enjoyed "with good will and delight, willingly, readily, and cheerfully." Look, if you were to ask the Puritans what they thought about sex, they would answer, "It's great!" with the single qualification that it be within the bounds of marital fidelity.

So, this "much-needed battle" was much needed because ...? What is it that was so horrible about the Puritan view of sex that it needed to be shot down like a dog? Given the Puritan view here, the only possible answer is "marital fidelity". That rickety old "20th century American puritanism" that required sex be within the bounds of marriage had to go, and Hugh Hefner was the guy to make it happen.

Back in the day, Virginia Slims cigarettes marketed themselves to women with the phrase, "You've come a long way, baby!" The ad glorified cancer-causing cigarettes for women. Hefner glorified the soul-crushing sexual revolution. Not a lot of difference.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Fearing God

The Bible uses the concept of "the fear of God" or "the fear of the Lord" repeatedly. What do we know about the fear of God? What does it mean?

One of the first things we know is that the lack of fear of God is ... a very bad thing (Psa 36:1; Job 15:4; Rom 3:18). And it is the common condition of Natural Man. Not good.

What else do we know? We know that the fear of the Lord has many benefits. The fear of God provides things like confidence (Job 4:6; Prov 14:26) and motivation for holiness (2 Cor 7:1). It is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7) and wisdom (Prov 111:10; Prov 9:10; Prov 15:33). It produces hatred of evil (Prov 8:13). It prolongs life (Prov 10:27). It turns you from evil (Prov 16:6). It offers riches and honor and life (Prov 22:4). These are all good things.

But just what is the fear of the Lord? "Oh, that's easy," they will tell me. "It's reverential awe." We know this because many Bibles use the phrase, so it must be true. And I'm not suggesting it's not. I am concerned that our modern English doesn't quite encompass the older English word, "awe". We think, "Wow!" But the dictionary tells us that the archaic use was "dread, terror." So we're back to "fear" meaning "fear". Even in the modern understanding of the word, "awe", the dictionary definition includes "A feeling of respect or reverence mixed with dread and wonder." Wikipedia says it is a "mixed emotion of reverence, respect, dread, and wonder."

What about the original terms? The Hebrew version is יָרֵא -- yârê'. It simply means fear or even terror. But the New Testament version is φόβος -- phobos. Perhaps you recognize it. It's where we get our term, "phobia", which means fear. We're right back to the question, then, aren't we? Is it fear -- actually being frightened -- or is it "reverential awe"? And the answer is "Yes!"

We should see God with reverential awe. That is not mere "wonder", but respect and reverence mixed with genuine fear. Why? Because God. Because of who He is. Because of His power and might and holiness and justice. If you walk through the variety of times in Scripture that humans encountered God, you find that they did so with fear and trembling. They were afraid they would die. His presence made them horribly aware of their sin. Adam and Eve hid themselves (Gen 3:8) because they were afraid (Gen 3:10). When Jacob dreamed his famous "Jacob's ladder" dream (Gen 28:12-15) in which God made him great promises, his response was fear (Gen 28:16-17). God's prophet, Isaiah, cursed himself as a man of unclean lips (Isa 6:5). Peter cried, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!" (Luke 5:8) At Mount Sinai the people of Israel begged Moses to never have them face God again (Exo 20:19). Genuine, abject fear is a reasonable response to the presence of God. Those of us who know Him can be a step away from the paralyzing fear that might be reasonable because we who know Him have the Advocate of Christ on our behalf (1 John 2:1), our Mediator (1 Tim 2:5). We can have the comfort of being "hidden with Christ in God." (Col 3:8)

Jesus took our sin and clothed us in His righteousness (2 Cor 5:21), so abject fear is not required. But only someone who does not know God would be wholly at ease in His presence. The fear of the Lord is a good thing with lots of benefits; the absence of that fear produces no good thing. It is only wise and rational to fear God -- to see Him with reverence and awe that includes both wonder and respect along with dread. In fact, it is that fearful aspect of God that makes His mercy so much more grand, knowing what we deserve and what He is capable of and knowing that He sees us in Christ's righteousness all the same. Marvelous mercy!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

News Weakly - 10/21/17

The End of the World as we Know it
Okay, so this came out last month. I just found out about it. An article in the Atlantic asks, "Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?" Now, I have to warn, such a question borders on heresy, on bigotry, on hate, even, doesn't it? I mean, aren't smartphones the best thing since sliced bread? (Sorry, old phrase.) Look at all the benefits of social media and instant information and continuous connection! "No," the article says, "you won't believe the negative impacts on the current generation."

Statistics tell us that teen sex is on the decline, but it's not because they've wiser, better informed, or influenced by Christian values. It's because they're not getting together anymore. The article says that in 2015 only 56% of high-school seniors even went out on dates. They don't "date" anymore; they "talk", by which they mean they engage in texting usually. If they find they are more strongly drawn to the person, they may end up "liking" them, which is what we would have called "dating". They're not as inclined to be independent and not as concerned about spending time in the company of others. Their childhood is extending into high school, maturing later and later. Their smartphones and iPads are making them more and more isolated, not connected. Isolated from friends, isolated from faces, isolated from family, from sleep, even isolated, according to studies, from happiness. "All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness." At the same time, this generation is growing up with a constant connection to pornographic ideas that create impossible expectations alongside untethered morality which, in the end, will destroy sexual relationships for them entirely. The law of unintended consequences.

Double Standards, Anyone?
The Washington Times is reporting that a gay coffee shop owner evicted some folks from his shop who were there for a cup of coffee. The reason? "I'm gay; you have to go." Okay, not quite. They were a pro-life group that had been handing out pamphlets outside the shop. They stopped in to take break and get a coffee, but one of the employees told the owner what they had been doing outside (not inside) and he insisted (with ruthless profanity) that they leave. He was denying them service (according to him) because they were Christians and he was gay. Well, of course, the Washington State anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws -- those same laws that fined and put out of business the florist who asked a homosexual couple to buy their wedding flowers at a competitor's shop -- kicked right in and that gay owner has been fined ... oh ... wait ... no, it didn't. Now, why would that be so?

"Uncomfortable" is the Thing to Avoid
It is wrong, evil, unacceptable that anyone, especially children, ever be "uncomfortable". That's my takeaway from the story that Biloxi has pulled "To Kill a Mockingbird" from their school cirriculum reading list because it "makes people uncomfortable." Heaven forbid you teach kids history or about how to deal with "uncomfortable" or even "what's wrong with that book". Just avoid it. That way, the next time they feel "uncomfortable", they'll likely sue because "comfortable" is a right, right?

Can't Say I'm Surprised
As if to say, "See? We really don't care what Scripture says," Willow Creek Community Church has selected a co-ed team to replace Bill Hybels when he retires next year. "Can our congregation have a lead pastor that’s a woman?" Hybels said they asked themselves and answered, "And because this is a deeply held value in our church, we said, 'No problem.'" Female leadership is a "deeply held value" there ... as opposed to, say, what the Bible says on the subject (1 Tim 2:9-12; 1 Cor 14:32-37; 2 Tim 2:2; 1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6; etc). To be fair, this isn't new info. The woman selected to be one of the two leaders is the current executive pastor, Heather Larson. They crossed that line a long time ago. It's just sad when "big names" wholly affirm positions opposed by Scripture and Church history, making the anti-biblical the norm.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Weinstein Confusion

There are so many things about the Harvey Weinstein scandal that I don't understand that it's beyond comprehension. You know the scandal, I'm sure. Harvey Weinstein is an American film producer and ex-studio executive. He was rich and paid big bucks to create Miramax, produce films, and support a variety of social issues such as AIDS, juvenile diabetes, and MS. He was a major supporter of campaigns for the Clintons (both of them for multiple presidential runs) and Obama and John Kerry. And then the other shoe dropped. A long list of women headed by many prominent names, among them folks like Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow, accused him of sexual assault. He was accused, essentially, of being the epitome of the "casting couch" image. The list continues to grow. In the wake of the devastation he has been fired from several jobs, released from several positions, and his wife left him. Politicians who enjoyed his support have distanced themselves, many returning the money he donated to their cause. The headline from the New York Times shouts, "Harvey Winstein's Fall Opens the Floodgates in Hollywood." Alyssa Milano started a campaign labeled "#MeToo" for women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted in some way to simply tweet "#MeToo" as a show of solidarity and support for all women who have experienced the same. It just goes on and on.

It's not like this is new. We've recently heard very similar accusations regarding names like Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly, and Bill Cosby. Just the other day the 2012 Olympics women's gymnastics gold medal winner, McKayla Maroney, accused her team doctor of repeatedly molesting her and others have popped up with the same story about him. This isn't new. It's as old as humans have been around. But it is bad. So what's the confusion?

I don't understand the furor over it. No, not that there should be furor; that there should be furor now. Why has this not been addressed loudly and forcefully when it happened? When it happened before? When it happened decades ago? When it was happening 50 years ago or more? Why now?

I don't understand why we as a society that knows about this make it so difficult for these women and girls to be able to come forward with their complaint rather than having to endure years of this kind of abuse. Why did they let that happen? Why did we let that happen? Quentin Tarantino said, "I knew enough to do more than I did." Why did he not do? The feminists with their "rape culture" that turns everything into rape, from the actual rape by the Weinsteins of the world to the consensual relations between a married couple aren't helping1. Why have we so blurred the lines so that "Rape!" may or may not be?

I don't understand why we're surprised. The "casting couch" concept of women getting into movies by way of sex with those who can get them into movies has been around since movies began in the early 20th century. The "Who do I have to sleep with to get this job?" notion has lived for a long time. "Surprise!" -- not really. The idea is so ingrained in the Hollywood image that there has even been a monument near Hollywood and Highland in Hollywood called "The Road to Hollywood" with the subtitle, "How some of us got here" that is ... a couch. (Hollywood woke up and removed it this month.) This is Hollywood. Why are we surprised?

I don't understand why the single largest influence on American morality for the past century has been Hollywood. Oh, not Hollywood literally, but Hollywood as an idea -- movies, television, the entertainment industry. We know that Hollywood is morally bankrupt. We know that they have always pushed the limits of morality. And studies have shown that the entertainment industry from Hollywood movies and popular television to everyday Internet porn have absolutely changed the American moral mind by simply making immoral acceptable. "Show it to them enough and make it seem normal and they'll accept it." It's Hitlerian: "If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed." And we do. We believe it in droves, like mindless sheep. "Oh, oh, I know! Let's take the source known for its sexual abuse of its own people and its loose morality as our trailblazer for our national moral views! Yeah, that's a great idea!" I don't understand that at all.

The things that Weinstein is accused of are horrible. The things that so many names in America are accused of are horrible. The things that far too many unaccused have done are horrible. There ought to be better laws. There ought to be harsher punishments. More ought to be done. That is all true. I'm just afraid that, by making Hollywood our moral compass, we've undercut our societal ability to really address the problem by both being rightly outraged at it and considering it normal and expected. You know, like sinners do (Jer 17:9; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:1-3; Rom 1:32).
1 I recently saw a drawing that showed a glass half-filled with liquid and half-filled with air. It gave three perspectives: 1) The optimist: "The glass is half-full." 2) The pessimist: "The glass is half empty." 3) The feminist: "The glass is being raped." It would be funny if it weren't so close to the reality of the problem. You can't call everything rape and then expect people to understand rape.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

By What Authority?

We like to discuss topics. They can vary widely. How bad is Trump? How much religious freedom should we have? What kind of music should be played in church? Politics, economics, cultural or social issues, relationships, religion ... lots and lots of things to discuss. Now, as Christians, these discussions should be informed and shaped and pinned to our worldview as Christians. That is, if "Christ in you" is the primary issue of our lives and the glory of God is always our primary aim, everything we do and say should be informed by those principles.

Here's the problem. Let me illustrate. The other day a Christian friend was discussing with another Christian friend the issue of what we should wear to church. One said, "We should dress up for church ... wear our best apparel." The other said, "No, I think God takes us as we are and we should dress comfortably for church. I mean, I don't think God really cares what we wear to church." Now, I'm quite sure that you, the reader, are already mentally weighing in on the discussion. The question I don't think most of us are asking, however, is "What does God say about it?" And the reason isn't too hard to imagine. You won't be able to turn to the pages of Scripture to find a "dress code for church". It's just not in there.

And that's the problem. We Christians are often willing to debate, to moralize, to strategize, to take stands on things without authority. Mind you, that's not necessarily wrong in itself. It was Paul who said, "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." (Rom 14:5) On matters of nonbiblical nature, the rule is basically, "Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." (Rom 14:23) (There are clearly a few other considerations, but you get the idea.) But we often don't really pay much attention to that. "That guy is wrong for wearing shorts to church!" "Can he even be a Christian if he's a smoker?" We apply our notion to others as a principle, and I have to ask, "By what authority?"

The truth is the Bible does not cover every topic. You won't find a biblical reference to freedom of religion. You won't actually find a reference to smoking. You won't find verses on exercise regimens. On the other hand, the Bible has statements or principles that touch a far greater portion of our lives than we give it credit for. So here's what I'm suggesting. By all means examine all those topics you wish to examine. Discuss them. Debate them. Fine and dandy. But if your basis for why this should be this way or that another is "Because that's what I think", try not to impose that on others. More importantly, try not to make that your basis. Instead, we should always be asking, "What does God say?" He is the Creator and the King of kings. He very likely does have some input on most things. If we are to be representatives of Christ dedicated to the glory of God, it would probably be wise to place every topic under biblical scrutiny -- to let God have the first and last word. And, of course, if God does have something to say about it, then it isn't "by my authority", is it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Disclaimer: I am not taking the song in this entry to task. I am simply using it to make a point.

We sang a hymn in church -- My Faith has Found a Resting Place. Nice little ditty, I suppose. It expresses an extremely popular idea today.
My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device nor creed;
I trust the Ever-living One,

His wounds for me shall plead.
I need no other argument,
I need no other plea;
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me.
The song was written by Eliza E. Hewitt in 1891. And you get the idea. "You can keep your creeds and your doctrines. I'm just going with Jesus." In much of Christendom today those dusty old creeds have been relegated to dinosaur status. No, not quite. Dinosaurs are interesting. But I think when we make this claim we're missing the point1.

Consider. It is true that "we preach Christ crucified." (1 Cor 1:23) Paul said, "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." (1 Cor 2:2) So, that's it, right? We're done. Eliza was right on. Except that I would argue that Eliza (and most of us today) don't grasp the concepts of "creed" or "doctrine" very well. Her faith is not in a creed, and that's actually good, but if you understand the concept of a creed, what she procedes to do is lay out her creed.

A creed, you see, is simply a statement of beliefs. (The word is rooted in the Latin, "credo", which simply means, "I believe.") The moment she began -- "My faith has found a resting place ..." -- she declared a belief -- "my faith". What beliefs does she go on to declare? It's actually rather involved. She declares Christ to be "the Ever-living One", a declaration of the eternal nature of Christ. She claims His wounds on her behalf, a declaration of the efficacy of the Cross. She goes on to claim "He'll never cast me out", an agreement with Jesus's claims (John 10:29) and Hebrews (Heb 13:5), which is a claim to the veracity of Scripture as well as eternal security. She does a more solid claim to the validity of Scripture in her third verse when she writes, "My heart is leaning on the Word, the written Word of God" and goes on to claim that salvation is through His blood. In the fourth verse she refers to Him as "My great Physician". All this and more is part of her creed, her declaration of beliefs. But ... didn't say she needed no device or creed?

It's popular for savvy Christians to declare, as Eliza did, "No creed but Christ!" What they don't realize is that such a declaration is a creed. Creeds existed at the outset of Christianity. Paul's statement in 2 Timothy 2:11-13 is an example of one of the earliest creeds -- a statement of common (and biblical) beliefs. Creeds can be misused. They can be mouthed without purpose or used to coerce. They can be allowed more authority than they should be given the overarching authority of Scripture. But it is a mistake to argue that "all creeds are bad" when that itself would be a statement of belief.
1 Note: If I wanted to take the song to task, it would be on this single point -- "I need no argument." Peter says that if we are to honor Christ the Lord as holy, we should be always prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks (1 Peter 3:15). That is an argument. Jude says "to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 1:3) That's an argument. Arguments are biblical.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Saved by Works

The single most common view that people around the world hold on how we can get to heaven (obviously ignoring those who don't believe we can at all) is the view that we are, in essence, saved by works. That comes in a variety of flavors, of course, the most common of which is the "I'm not as bad as the other guy" kind. This "saved by works" concept labors to reach the "good enough" status (even though "good enough" has no real definition, even in their own minds). Like the little train that could, they go through life thinking "I think I can" without actually knowing what they are trying to accomplish.

Another view, popular among most, is the idea that I can "make it up". You've seen this. "I did a bad thing; I admit it's bad. I'm going to do extra good to make up for it." You know, put in sufficient good to counterbalance the bad and come out even at the end. The idea in this one is that your own works, good and bad, are the standard by which you are measured. If you take all the bad and put it on one side of the scale and all the good and put it on the other and they balance out, you've succeeded. If the bad is heavier, you've failed. (And, it seems, most people really don't want the good to really outweigh the bad; just balance, you know? Don't want to do too much good.) In this version, then, the standard is your own choices and you can't really know the outcome until someone puts them on "the scales".

Even in Christianity where we all know "we are saved by grace through faith apart from works" there are those who still seem to hang on to works-based salvation. They (rightly) deny it in words but then stand back and point fingers worrying that he "isn't good enough" or she "is endangering her salvation if she doesn't repent" or the like. It is seemingly ingrained in our thinking. Be good or else.

There is a fundamental problem here. Oh, sure, we have Scripture that tells us we are saved apart from works, apart from merit, apart from what we do. But there is a logical problem. We don't usually see the logical problem because, well, we're fundamentally deceived. What is the problem? The problem is in the question: "Can you be saved by works?" Not the answer; the question. You see, "saved" has a meaning. It begs the question, "Saved from what?" It demands, "What do you mean by 'saved'? Why do we need to be 'saved'?" And that's where the whole "saved by works" problem breaks down. You see, the command is perfection (Matt 5:48). No violation of God's commands. No violation by commission; no violation by omission. Do everything right; do nothing wrong. So, there are two possibilities here. In one case, you do it all. You succeed at everything and fail at nothing. No error. In this case, there is no salvation. That is, if there is no sin, there is no judgment and no need to be saved. You don't earn salvation; you just succeed. In the other case, you fall short. Maybe just once. One short. But if the standard is everything right and nothing wrong, you've missed it. Doing everything right and nothing wrong from then on out will not recover the one short. You can't provide more than 100%. You can't make up the single error. In this case salvation is necessary (Rom 6:23). "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all." (James 2:10) There is need, but there is no means of recovery. "Saved" exists -- is necessary -- but the "works" that are required are already lacking.

The Roman Catholics believe there is a "Treasury of Merit" where "goods" (the results of good deeds -- "merit") are stored up to be shared by all. There are the infinite merits of Christ, to be sure, but also of Mary and the saints, because they, apparently, have done more good than is required. We know that neither Mary nor the Roman Catholic saints achieved perfection, so they couldn't provide "merit". On the other hand, we know that God "made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor 5:21) Christ did achieve perfection to the highest degree, to the divine degree. We are, then, "saved by works", but not works that we do.
But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)
Saved by works that we have done? Not a chance. Not remotely possible. Not even rational. We aren't saved by working toward nonexistent standards or by measuring ourselves with ourselves so that the top 50% will get in and sorry about the rest of you. There is no means to balance the good and the bad. And there's no coming back from less than perfection when perfection is the standard we must meet. But we are saved by the perfection of Christ applied to us on the basis of grace ... astounding grace. We go from the impossible -- no hope to be saved -- to the unbelievable -- declared perfect in Christ. "Saved by works" is not good news. "Saved by grace through faith apart from works" is stunningly good news.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Good Company

What do they say about us today, those of us who read our Bibles as they did in former days as if it is the sufficient, reliable, authoritative Word of God? How do they refer to us who are serious about following Christ? They have lots of terms. They say we're crazy. They say we're obstinate. They say we're judgmental. They say we're divisive. They say we're haters. They say we're on the wrong side of history. So they say.

When Jesus was on the earth they said of Him, "He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?" (John 10:20) When Paul stood before Festus and Agrippa declaring the Gospel that Christ died and rose from the dead, Festus loudly declared, "Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind." (Acts 26:24) If we are crazy like Jesus and Paul were, we are in good company.

Elijah was a unique prophet. The others always had God telling them, "Go and tell My people that I say ...". Elijah walked in to the king and declared "There shall be neither dew nor rain these years except by my word." (1 Kings 17:1) There is no indication in the texts that God told him to say it. James indicates that Elijah did so on the basis of prayer, not divine calling (James 5:17-18). And it didn't rain for three years. Ahab called him the "troubler of Israel" (1 Kings 18:17) Three years without rain because Elijah prayed that it wouldn't rain and refused to pray that it would rain again -- that's obstinate. If we are obstinate like Elijah was, we are in good company.

When Jesus preached His Sermon on the Mount, He had a lot to say about the Law. No, He didn't set it aside. Indeed, He said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished." (Matt 5:17-18) Then He went on to not only affirm the rules, but to expand them. "You've heard it said ..." He would begin, referencing a particular law, followed by "but I say to you ..." and He would broaden the command (Matt 5:21-47). You've heard that murder was wrong, but He considered anger to be murder. You've heard that adultery was wrong, but He included lust with adultery. You've heard that divorce was okay, but He said it caused adultery. You've heard that you should love your neighbor, but He insisted you should also love your enemy. His standard was nothing less than the perfection of the Father (Matt 5:48). Very judgmental. If we are judgmental like Jesus was judgmental, we're in good company.

Believers throughout Scripture had an ongoing history of causing division. Noah took only 7 others (2 Peter 2:5) with him into the ark "by the which he condemned the world." (Heb 11:7) Joshua exhorted Israel, "If it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve." (Josh 24:15) Elijah commanded Israel to "Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape." (1 Kings 18:40) Jonah told Nineveh to repent or die in 40 days (Jonah 3:4). Jesus denounced "the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent." (Matt 11:20) Of the first century believers it was said they "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6). If we are divisive like these people were, we are in good company.

One of the very popular terms for Christians who follow the Word these days is "haters". It might come as a surprise to them how many times we read that God hates. "You hate all evildoers," David says (Psa 5:5). David hated them, too (Psa 26:5), and the psalms exhort us to do the same (Psa 97:10; Psa 119:113, 128, 168). Solomon writes of seven things the Lord hates (Prov 6:16-19). When Scripture refers to things as an "abomination" to God, they are references to things He hates (e.g., Lev 18:22-23; Deut 7:25; Deut 22:5; Prov 15:9; etc.). If we hate like God hates, we are in very good company.

I'm amused by the latest epithet -- "You're on the wrong side of history." Would that not be what was said against every single one of the people of faith in Scripture? When Israel demanded and received a king instead of God as their master (1 Sam 8:7), who was on the wrong side of history -- those who wished to remain under the Lord, or those who sought to be "like all the nations" (1 Sam 8:5)? When Israel split into two kingdoms, resulting in their downfall and ultimate destruction, who was on the wrong side of history? When the Jews sought to kill Jesus to save their country (John 18:14), who was on the wrong side of history? When the Jewish leaders ordered the disciples of Christ to stop preaching the Gospel and they replied, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29), who was on the wrong side of history? The Bible is a historical record of those who have followed God against the "tide of history", always coming out "more than conquerors" (Rom 8:37). If we follow Christ like they did, ending up on "the wrong side of history", we are in really good company.

These days arguments aren't normally rational; they're emotional. The idea is that if you can throw out some moving epithets to make people dislike your opponent, you can win the argument without actually having to make sense doing it. Sadly, it works that way far too often. Happily, winning the argument are not our marching orders. Our marching orders are to follow Christ to the glory of God wherever that may lead. We do it with the ire of our world, but as we do it in the way those who have come before us did, we do it in good company.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Jesus is for Losers

One of my favorite musicians, Steve Taylor, had a song titled Jesus is for Losers. It echoes one of the most common assertions about Christianity -- "Christianity is just a crutch." Of course, Taylor holds that he is a loser and, therefore, is delighted that Jesus is for losers, but the complaint for most people is that Christians are just weak and need something to prop them up.

If we wanted to examine the veracity of the statement, "Christianity is a crutch", we'd have to figure out what is actually going on. What is a crutch? Well, a crutch is a support device for use by those who are having a hard time walking. We've expanded it, of course, to anything that "props you up", that empowers you when you lack strength. But the basic concept is that there is a problem -- a weakness or disability -- and something is required to hold you up, to allow you to function. Is Christianity something like that?

The question comes down to the question of a problem. Is there a problem? Or are humans capable, in and of themselves, to do whatever is required to do whatever they want? On the face of it, the answer has to be, "No, humans are not capable." We know this for a fact. When "whatever they want" is something outside of human capability, there has to be a "crutch". To cross the Atlantic, you would need the minimum "crutch" of a boat. To reach the moon, you'd need the "crutch" of a spaceship. To fly, you'd need the minimum "crutch" of some sort of flying machine. All humans lack the capability to some degree to do everything they might want unassisted.

This, of course, is not the issue, is it? No, the real question from Christianity is do humans have the capability of being right with God on their own? The skeptic would cry, "Foul! No such thing as God." The Pelagian would answer, "Yes! Humans have the ability in themselves to be right with God." Christianity claims it is not so; there is a God, we are sinners condemned, and we don't have what it takes to be right with God on our own. The bold and final proclamation of Scripture is "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) End of story. We lose. We lack in possibility of being right with God on our own. We don't need help; we need resurrection (Rom 6:4).

I would disagree, then, that Christianity is a crutch. Perhaps a wheelchair, because we don't have anything of the motive capability that a crutch implies. You know, "At least I have one good leg to lean on." Not in this case. Some have compared Christianity with a hospital. Closer, perhaps. Sick people getting better. But it still misses the recognition of the radical problem of being dead (Eph 2:1).

Is Christianity a crutch? I don't think so. In fact, I don't think we have the parallel for what Christianity is given our "dead in sin" condition. We're not "partially disabled" so we need a crutch. We're not "fully disabled" so we need a wheelchair. We're not "really sick" so we need a hospital. We're dead. Nothing in our human experience fixes that.

When we realize the magnitude of the problem, we would start to laugh at the "Christianity as a crutch" claim. "Crutch? Oh, no. We're much worse off than that." The work of Christ on the cross and especially His resurrection would loom much larger when we grasp that He is making dead people alive again. Jesus is for losers, but so much more. Jesus is for corpses. At that point we can only go to, "Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

News Weakly - 10/14/2017

Whence Comes Rights?
Last week the Department of Health and Human Services announced the rollback of the Obama era birth control mandate that all employers must provide contraceptive coverage for their employees. "'No American should be forced to violate his or her own conscience in order to abide by the laws and regulations governing our healthcare system,' Caitlin Oakley, HHS press secretary, said in a statement." The Justice Department issued legal guidelines for the federal government in respecting and protecting fundamental freedoms. And the crowd goes wild. It is an assault on women's rights, an attack on freedom!

Consider. On one hand you have the Bill of Rights that guarantees, among other things, the right to the free exercise of religion. On the other hand you have the right of women to kill their babies in the womb (Note: the issue of whether or not to provide abortifacients is an issue of killing babies in the womb). Which of these two are a recognized right in our Constitution? Which position, then, has its basis in the Constitution? Clearly the ACLU thinks the latter, not the former. It is an American Civil Liberty, apparently, to force companies to violate their religious convictions in favor of providing drugs to kill babies.

We are so quick to seize rights not recognized by either Scripture or the Constitution that I have to wonder about the source of rights conferred. Clearly not God nor the government.

To the Pure
Scripture says, "To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled." (Titus 1:15) Perhaps that explains how authors are boycotting an event at a museum in Massachusetts dedicated to Dr. Seuss because it is a mural on the wall that (apparently suddenly) contains a "jarring racial stereotype." From his book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, taken from the very pages of the book, there is a picture of a Chinese boy eating with chopsticks. Jarring. Racism. Indeed. Or ...?

That's Just ... Odd
Reports are out that Russia hacked the NSA for, among other things, information about how the US defends itself against hackers. Irony. "Psst! Russia! If you can get that information, the answer is 'Not very well'."

Crazy California
California has apparently lost its governmental mind. "Under a new California law, those who work in health care who use the wrong gender pronoun when referring to a transgender patient could face prison time." Not crazy enough for you? The San Francisco democratic senator, Scott Wiener, argued that it was a scare tactic to claim that anyone would be prosecuted for using the wrong pronoun from his law which includes a $1,000 fine and up to one year in prison. Um ... Scott ... if you were writing a law that wouldn't result in prosecution, why are there criminal penalties included? And I want to know when the government of California decided that free speech and the free exercise of religion was erased from the Bill of Rights. (The law specifically does not exempt religious organizations.) "You will agree with -- not merely tolerate, but agree with -- this unscientific, irrational, unbiblical notion of gender fluidity or you will be prosecuted." At this time the law only covers senior care facilities and is aimed primarily at medical professionals who work in them, but that can't hold out for long.

Unclear on the Concept
It had to happen, of course. The Boy Scouts held their ground for a short time on who they would allow to lead ... but caved. Then they surrendered more ground with the transgender question. It seems to be their "thing". They now have plans to admit girls into Boy Scouts, beginning with the Cub Scout program. Now, that's all fine and good, but please, please stop calling it "Boy Scouts". And why are the Girl Scouts not admitting boys? Because the Girl Scouts still excludes boys. (Can you say "double standard"?)

So the public is upset with the Boy Scouts for no longer being boy scouts and the Girl Scouts are upset with the Boy Scouts for allowing girls when that was their domain. How's that working out for you, Boy Scouts?

Wrong on so many levels
I'm not particularly concerned about a Catholic school's "First Communion" rules, but the story was interesting. Nine-year-old Cady Mansell picked out a snazzy white suit to wear for her First Communion at her Catholic school. The school, however, warned that she couldn't participate if she didn't wear a skirt or a dress. Their reasoning? "We should all be equal and wear what we would like." Here ... let's put it another way. "Equality means wearing whatever we like. Your rules don't count. My presence at your school -- which is not mandatory, but voluntary -- means that you must submit your rules to my version of 'equality' and give in to my whims." The school's reasoning? "What? We've always had the same dress code and we've always enforced it. Dress codes exist in lots of places and you don't get to change them on your command." By the way, they said she could take her First Communion in the suit privately; she just couldn't attend the ceremony in that outfit. "We couldn't go to the real Communion Mass." Then the priest did the unpardonable. He told her mother that the parents' job was to teach their child what is good rather than letting her decide what is good. What a loser! The family "dug in their heels" and ended up pulling their daughter out of the school and the church.

Missing it entirely. 1) Communion is not the ceremony, but the practice. 2) "Equality" is not defined as "wear whatever you want." 3) Private entities -- businesses, churches, schools, etc. -- are not obligated to submit to the desires of those who voluntarily go there. 4) It is the job of parents to teach their kids rather than to simply cater to their whims and desires. And when kids, taught to live by their own untaught wishes, run up against others who have been taught the same, it can get really, really ugly.

New Biblical Scholarship
Finally, biblical scholars have cleared up this issue that we've been confused about for so long. Jesus's famous "love your enemies" "was never intended to include those who disagree with you politically." And now we learn that we can say, "I am not ashamed of the gospel—as long as it doesn’t cause me to defy any cultural trends or fads ..." What a relief! Must be true; I saw it on the Internet.

Friday, October 13, 2017

God is Good

The topic of God as Sovereign has often disturbed Christians. It stirs up indignation. "Are you saying I have no free will???!!" No. "Are you saying that God is the cause of sin??!!" No. "You seem to be saying that God is arbitrary, even capricious!!!" No. And, still, it works people up. The concept of the absolute Sovereignty of God is unacceptable even to many well-rounded, biblically-minded believers. All genuine believers will agree with the doctrine that God is Sovereign, but immediately thereafter the doctrine will collapse into a morass of mitigation. "Yes! God is Sovereign," all will agree, and then, "but that doesn't mean that He's absolutely Sovereign." No, no one will ever say that. No genuine believer. Still, as in so many other things, we will often claim a position and almost immediately backtrack from it.

It's not like the question is a question biblically. "Whatever the LORD pleases, He does." (Psa 135:6) "Our God is in the heavens; He does as He pleases." (Psa 115:3) Paul tells Timothy that He is the "only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords" (1 Tim 6:15). The only Sovereign. In Acts 4 the believers pray to God because of the persecution of the Jews. They call Him "Sovereign Lord" (Acts 4:24) and go on to declare that God appointed "Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place." (Acts 4:27-28) God "has mercy on whomever He wills and hardens whomever He wills." (Rom 9:18) We are described as pottery that God makes as He will (Isa 64:8; Jer 18:1-6; Rom 9:19-23). The wicked are described as being made for a purpose (Prov 16:4). He commands kings (Prov 21:1). Everything that is is under His authority (Eph 1:16-23; Col 1:16-17; Col 2:10). Oh, the list is extensive (Prov 16:9; Prov 16:33; Isa 14:24; Isa 46:10; Isa 43:13; Isa 45:5-7; Jer 32:17; Lam 3:37; Dan 4:35; Luke 1:37; Job 23:13; Job 9:12; Job 42:2 for starters.) It is the clear declaration of Scripture that God "works all things according to the counsel of His will" (Eph 1:11). Sovereign. Absolutely.

None of this requires that humans would have no ability to make choices without coercion. We call that "free will". None of it requires that God causes sin (James 1:13). None of it makes God arbitrary or capricious. Instead everything is tied to His purposes (Rom 9:11). Conversely, nothing that happens is random or out of control. Nothing is purposeless. God is not surprised by anything. He is Omniscient but not contingently so -- He doesn't depend on contingencies to know what is true. He does not change (Num 23:19; Mal 3:6).

"Okay," some overwhelmed readers might plead, "fine. I mean, we're not giving in, but so what? What does it all matter? Why make such a big deal about it?"

Good question. Here's why. It is this point upon which we hang everything we believe. We have promises from God, promises of salvation, of forgiveness, of justification and sanctification, of heaven some day. We have promises that He will keep His own. We have promises that the sacrifice of Christ is sufficient to save us. We have promises that the evil one will not harm us. We have the promise that His Word is sufficient for us. We have lots of dear and precious promises from God so depend completely on His Sovereignty. If anything -- Satan, nature, human beings -- can override God at any point, then we have no ground on which to stand that we can rely on His promises. He might want to do them all, but you know how it is. Satan or Man's Free Will or "that terrible storm the other night" conspired against Him and His hands were tied. Too bad. Better luck next time.

Why is it imperative that we know the true nature of God -- His Omnipotence, His Omniscience, His Omnipresence, His Justice, His Love, His Sovereignty? It is His nature that makes Him good and His nature upon which we can stand. Anything less is a slippery slope. (Not a slippery slope argument; like standing on a slope that is slippery.) Who He is determines how good He is. None of these are negotiable. Our God is good indeed!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Just As You Are

Francesca Battistelli is a contemporary Christian singer-songwriter. The first I heard of her was when I tuned into the Christian music station the other day. The name of the song was Free to be me. "Wait," I thought, "that can't be right." It was. "Perfection is my enemy," she sings. "On my own I'm so clumsy But on Your shoulders I can see I'm free to be me."

They call it an "accept-yourself-as-you-are anthem." She says she is a perfectionist, and that's not a good thing, so "Perfection is my enemy." What she has to do is "celebrate the person you are." In fact, Battistelli believes that if she ever had a song that God helped her to write, this would be the one.

This is what passes for good thinking in much of American Christianity. (According to the article, "The song shattered records in becoming the most added song by a female artist in Christian radio history and holding the #1 slot for ten consecutive weeks.") In our contemporary feel-good, "it's all about me" mentality in this world, many Christians are embracing this line of thinking. They think that salvation is more at "saved from thinking bad about myself." Like the Michael W. Smith song, Christ "thought of me above all." Because we believe we are saved apart from works, we think we merit grace. Some argue that "saved" simply means "enabled to be me, the good person that I am on the inside." "Born again" is simply "gaining access to the God within myself." It's the "God loves as we are" thinking that concludes, "so we should, too." And, from that, "If I'm a homosexual, God loves me just as I am and I should, too." You can see, out on this trail, how "If you think otherwise you think so against God" is the conclusion.

But ... is it true? Does God love us for what we are? Or does He love us despite the way we are? There is a critical difference in the two. One concludes, "So I'm free to be me" and the other would end up with "So I need to become what He wants." Which does the Bible support?

There is no text in Scripture that would suggest, "People are basically good." Instead we read humans are deceived (Jer 17:9), sinful (Rom 3:23), hostile to God (Rom 8:7), "evil from his youth" (Gen 8:21), unable to comprehend (1 Cor 2:14), dead in sin (Eph 2:1-3), blinded (2 Cor 4:4) ... for starters. The biblical description of God's view of this human is "wrath" (Rom 1:18). The "me" that the CCM singer suggests Jesus makes us free to be is condemned, not celebrated.

Where, then, do we get the idea that "Jesus loves me just as I am"? It's an easy mistake to make. We know that "while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly." (Rom 5:6) Beyond that, "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:9) (See also Rom 5:10.) And who can forget the definitive "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16)? Well, there it is, isn't it? No. What we learn here is that God loves us, but it does not say He loves us "just the way I am." The ever-popular John 3:16 declares that His love is demonstrated in giving eternal life to "whoever believes in Him", not indiscriminately.

Beyond that, it is abundantly clear that God has other ideas than "just the way you are". We are "created in Christ Jesus for good works" (Eph 2:10). We don't go on living "free to be me"; we die (Rom 6:3-11; Gal 2:20; Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:5; Luke 9:23; Rom 12:1; Gal 6:14). Scripture doesn't celebrate self; it claims a "new creature" in which "the old has passed away" (2 Cor 5:17). God doesn't love us for who we are; He loves us for what He can make us. He loves us by making us new, beginning with our believing in His Son.

It is true that we humans get caught up in the little things. "I made a mistake, an error, a goof," and we'll berate ourselves over it. We shouldn't. That much is true. That was part of Battistelli's thinking, and I wouldn't necessarily disagree on that point. But we should never buy the lie that "I'm fine as I am" or celebrate "me". Our celebration is in Christ, His work, His salvation, and what He can make of us. The "celebrate the person you are" mentality makes God out to be a liar and elevates self to the top of the heap. Christ must always be at the top. That much is certain. The point is not how bad we are; the point is how marvelous He is. We won't get that until we see the drastic difference between what we are and what we should be.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


I've always been amused by these kinds of signs and ads, like they have some sort of direct line with the Holy Spirit:

"So, we can pencil you in for ... let's see ... the week of January 1st and you'll be there for this revival, right?"

"Sure! I've got an opening then. Lucky you asked me for that week. I have three more in January already."

"Great! We'll start putting out the word of revival right away!"

Like it works that way. Like we get to tell God when to show up. Another version of "God is my butler."

So how does it work? Is "revival" a thing? If so, how does it come about?

"Revival" is a bit of an odd duck in Christian terms. Often we think of "revival" as an outreach thing, a bringing of people (preferably hordes of people) to Christ. This is problematic just in the language. The word is built on two parts. One is "re", meaning "again". We're familiar with that. So what is the thing we want to do "again"? The second part is from the Latin "vivere" -- "to live". To revive is to cause to live again. So the idea that "revival" is to cause a bunch of spiritually dead people to live again is problematic since "live again" requires an original "alive once".

This is why the other common understanding of the term is among believers, not as an outreach. In this version, "revival" would be waking up believers to what was once true. And this has some biblical support behind it. The church at Ephesus was told to "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first." (Rev 2:5) That's the idea. They were alive, but they had lapsed. Repent and return to "the works you did at first." There are lots of references in the Bible to "restoring", which only works if there was an original something to which to restore it. So David says, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." (Psa 51:10) See, that "right spirit" to which he wished to be renewed had to have been there once.

If, then, revival is a bringing to life something that was once alive, how does that happen? Well, if we were once spiritually dead and then we were made alive, it would stand to reason that this bringing back to life something that was once alive would occur in the very same way. How is that? A tent meeting? A special scheduling of the Holy Spirit for a week of prayers? No, apparently not. Paul argues that we begin this new life by repentance and faith, so we continue it -- including this revival concept -- in the same way (Gal 3:1-3).

Revival, then, is accomplished in the same way as ... well, "vival" -- the initial coming to life. It is initiated by the power of God, presented by the power of His Word, and carried out by the work of His Spirit. Our part is to agree -- to confess, to repent, and to "do the works you did at first." It is to step out afresh in the work of God in us (Phil 2:13), to go back to the plan God had for us from the start (Eph 2:10). It isn't some 12-step program, a kind of magic, some special meeting, some sort of "revival party." It is God's work. It can start in the individual any time the individual believer chooses to ... obey. It might be assisted by more than one believer going this direction; I'm not saying meeting with other believers for this purpose is a bad idea. But it is neither a method or magic. It's common. Oh, and it's commanded. So ... when do you want to schedule this thing?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Slave or Free?

Years ago in a study I was teaching we read the opening verse from Paul's epistle to Rome in which he refers to himself as "a bond-servant of Christ Jesus" (Rom 1:1). I explained that the term, "bond-servant", was the Greek δοῦλος -- doulos -- and meant literally "slave". The response was immediate. A couple of people in the group said with indignation, "I'm not a slave." As expected.

We're not slaves, right? We're free. We're not obligated to keep the law, right? We're free. We are not under obligation; we're free. Right?

The argument can be made in either direction. Jesus told His disciples, "No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you." (John 15:15) See? No longer slaves. Jesus also told His disciples, "You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am." (John 13:13) See? He is Lord; that makes us His slaves. In Paul's grand epistle in opposition to legalism, Paul wrote, "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law." (Gal 5:18) See? "Not under the law." Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15) See? Still under the law. Starting to feel like a ping-pong ball?

So, which is it? Are we slaves or are we free? Are we free from the law or are we obligated to obey? What say you? I say, "Yes."

The problem is a fundamental misunderstanding of the whole structure of things. We, looking at the world from our own two eyes, see it from our own self-centric orientation. In a very real sense, the world revolves around us, at least from our own perspective. But in reality, we know that's not the case because we know around Whom it does revolve. It is abundantly clear that "all things have been created through Him and for Him." (Col 1:16) It is irrefutable that God's stated purpose is "the summing up of all things in Christ." (Eph 1:10) "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen." (Rom 11:36) The center, the whole point, the prime focus is Christ. And while we nod and think, "Yeah, that's what we believe," we muddle about in an anthropocentric mindset, a man-centered worldview. If it is uncomfortable for Man, it is bad, because Man is the issue. If it is pleasant for Man it is good, because Man is the issue. We don't like being slaves, so that's bad, because we are the issue. We do like being friends, so that's good because we are the issue. We claim Christ-centered thinking, but it doesn't come naturally, so we don't do it naturally.

The truth is that God has always been the Ruler. We have never not been slaves in that sense. We will never not be slaves in that sense. The truth is that God, as Maker and as Love, gave His creation commands for our good. We are always obligated to obey because of His position, but since it is for our good, we are also wise and blessed to obey. Like telling a child, "I command you to eat that cookie." But we have for so long bought the lie that God is not good -- from the days of Eden on -- that we've become dubious about how good that cookie is. And we're just not going to enjoy it ... so there!

We are told that Christ is "the head over all rule and authority." (Col 2:10) We cannot not be under Him. But our Lord and Savior doesn't provide salvation on the basis of our obedience to Him; that comes on the basis of His unmerited favor -- grace -- through faith in Him (Eph 2:8). Freed, then, from the weight of having to obey in order to gain His favor, we are now free to obey out of pleasure -- because we love Him (John 14:15). So our slavery is a positional one based on His Lordship and a voluntary one based on our submission to Him. The result is a hitherto unknown freedom to obey, powered by God (Phil 2:13). We are new creations now (2 Cor 5:17) that enjoy the Lordship of Christ and long to please Him with obedience for His glory because it is our greatest joy to do so. Slave or free? Yes ... yes indeed!

Monday, October 09, 2017

The Original Sin

You know of "Original Sin" as a reference to the sin nature all of us are born with. The term is also used to refer to the first sin, the sin of Adam and Eve. But ... just what was that?

Ask most people and they'll tell you it was when Adam and Eve ate the apple. Not quite. No apple listed. "Okay, it was when they ate the fruit." So, eating fruit is a sin. No, of course not. What was the sin? On the face of it, Adam and Eve sinned by violating a direct command from God. Still, there is something more to it -- something deeper. What was that original sin?

We find a more robust understanding by looking at the event. The serpent, "more crafty than any other beast" (Gen 3:1), asked Eve the leading question, "Did God actually say ...?" (Gen 3:1) At stake, then, was the integrity of God. The serpent, Satan, confirmed this questioning of God's integrity when he responded, "You will not surely die." (Gen 3:4) This is no longer a question; it is an outright claim that God cannot be trusted. Satan didn't leave it there. "God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God." (Gen 3:5) At issue, then, was the goodness of God. "You can't trust God. You can't trust what He says because He's holding out on you." The original sin, then, was to fail to obey God because they failed to trust His goodness. Rather than trust God and His goodness, they wanted to "be like God."

Imagine that. God told them, "I've made all this -- all of creation -- for you to enjoy." (Gen 2:16) "Have at it. It's all for your pleasure. Oh, just one thing ... just one. I've made one tree -- only one -- that I don't want you to eat from. Here's why: It will kill you." (Gen 2:17) "Enjoy the rest." Satan comes along and questions God's words and God's goodness. "He's lying; He's holding out on you." And they ... eat and die.

Think of that teenager. "Dad, can I borrow the car?" "Sure." "Dad, can I borrow the car?" "Sure." "Dad, can I borrow the car?" "Sure." "Dad, can I borrow the car?" "Not tonight; your mother needs it." "Oh, you never let me do anything!"

This thinking is at the heart of every sin. We want to be "like God" because God cannot be trusted to give us what is good. God's Word is under constant attack from unbelievers and self-styled Christians alike because God cannot be trusted to give us what is good. A large portion of people, Christian and not, believe that we have to work hard to get to heaven because God cannot be trusted to give us what is good. An entire alternative group of people believe we are "free from the law" because ... God cannot be trusted to give us what is good. That is, having saved us, He rescinded the requirements of the law because those were bad. In every case, we tend naturally toward, "God cannot be trusted in what He says because God cannot be trusted in what He does." Eve exchanged the truth of God for the lie and so do we.

Even believers do. We think "Obedience is too onerous." We think "God loves us; rules aren't necessary." We beg off the question with "How much do I really have to do in order to please God?" We do all this because we think "Rules are not our friend and God is not kind to give them to us," failing to notice that the reason He gave His creation instructions on living was for our benefit. So we daily shake our fists in His face and say by our deeds, "I will be like the Most High; I will find a better way to happiness than the one You provided." And, of course, we're wrong every time.

To us sophisticated moderns, Eve seems naive. How did she fall for that? And, yet, we do it daily ... instead of embracing all that God gives -- "every tree" as well as every warning -- as for our good from a loving God. What was the Original Sin? Just watch your attitudes and actions for a day and you'll see it for yourself in yourself. "God cannot be trusted to give me what is good. What He has given me is not good enough. I'll do it myself."