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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Unclear on the Question

When bad things happen, it is very common to assume that it occurs as a judgment from God. Very common. When fires scorch California or hurricanes cause devastation, you'll often hear some well-meaning-but-likely-misguided individual jumping to the conclusion, "It's God's judgment on America." It may be, or it may not, but it's common. I remember when Katrina hit in the first decade of the 21st century there were loud voices saying, "It's God's judgment for our embracing of homosexual sin" or the like. "Do you know how much gambling goes on along the Gulf Coast?" That kind of thing.

I am quick to suggest that these people ... well ... think again. Not all "bad things" are judgment from God. I say this because ... well ... Jesus did ... on more than one occasion. When the disciples came across the man blind from birth, they assumed "blind from birth" = "bad things" and "bad things" = "judgment from God", so they asked the obvious question. "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" (John 9:2) Jesus answered ... wait for it ... "Neither." (John 9:3) According to Jesus in this instance the man was born blind "so that the works of God might be displayed in him."

Another time some reported to Him about some Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices (Luke 13:1). It's interesting. It says they reported, but Jesus appears to detect a question behind the report, because He answered them. They clearly supposed, just as the disciples had, that "bad things" = "judgment from God", and Jesus knew it. So He corrected them.
And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:2-5)
These people clearly assumed that people that suffered "bad things" were worse sinners than those who didn't because "bad things" was a judgment from God. Jesus told them, in essence, "You're asking the wrong question. Not 'Aren't these sinners worse than me?', but 'Why have they experienced this but I haven't?'"

Paul wrote, "When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding." (2 Cor 10:12) The problem is the standard. We start with "I'm not too bad" and conclude "If something bad happens to them, they must be worse than I am." Jesus said that every single one of us has earned what the "worst of us" gets. The question is not "How bad are they?" The question is, "Why am I not also being judged?"

We're pretty clear on what "they" are doing wrong. We're pretty muddled about the magnitude of our own wretchedness. If we were clearer on that point, the result is a given. He who is forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47). Are you waning, at times, in your passion for Christ? It might be because you've lost sight of the magnitude of His grace and mercy toward you. Remind yourself of that, and you might find yourself loving Him anew (Rev 2:4-5).

For 2018, then, here's a resolution we might try.
Resolved: Remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first.
Feel free to quote me on that if you wish.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

News Weakly - 12/30/17

God gave them up to a debased mind
Canada has a "summer jobs" program in which the government provides funding for small businesses to hire full-time students for a summer job to gain work experience and some income. Nice. But they've just changed the rules. Now, in order to be eligible for this funding, an employer must affirm the values of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. "So?" Those rights and freedoms include "reproductive rights" and no discrimination on the basis of, among other things, "sexual orientation or gender identity or expression." In other words, if you are an employer -- say, a church or a Christian employer -- and you would like to offer some student(s) a job through this program, you will need to affirm the murder of children in the womb and deny that the Bible is clear on homosexual behavior and gender. Oh, it gets worse. The government calls this a "blueprint for moral conformity." No, it's not just a policy; it is a morality code, a statement of what will be regarded as moral. In this, it overrides religion, Scripture, what God has to say on the matter, anything else. It does this while affirming "freedom of conscience and religion" and "freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression." They intentionally place sexual orientation as a higher moral value than religious freedom or religious equality. In other words, the Canadian government has lost its collective mind.

Kind of what you would expect if Scripture is right (Rom 1:28; Rom 8:7).

National Pastime
It used to be, at least in word, that baseball was America's national pastime. I think we're so over that. Now? I think the obvious choice is litigation.

Eight northeastern states have sued the EPA because of pollution in the Midwest. They want to be part of the "Ozone Transport Region".

Three cities are suing the Pentagon because of failures to report some crimes to the national database for gun control. It was spurred by the mass shooting in Texas. (None of the cities suing the Pentagon are in Texas.)

Men are suing Iliza Shlesinger for her "Girls Night in with Iliza — No Boys Allowed" show. Perhaps it's fair, considering the number of women who sued "men only" clubs and such for the same thing. It's just ... come on ... does everything have to be a lawsuit?

On the other hand, the court threw out the Trump administration's appeal to reinstate the ban on transgender enlistments. The court gets to decide who is suitable for military service, not the president or the Pentagon.

Who's Telling the Truth?
The billboard in Phoenix, aimed at encouraging Arizonans to legalize marijuana, tells readers that there has been no increase in marijuana usage since Colorado legalized it a couple of years ago. A recent study would beg to differ. Marijuana use among pregnant women is up ... way up. "Among pregnant teens younger than 18, marijuana use climbed from 12.5% to 21.8%, and among women 18 to 24, marijuana use climbed from 9.8% to 19%, the researchers found." Who, do you suppose, is telling the truth?

Unclear on the Concept
The World Health Organization (WHO) is planning to classify gaming addiction as a behavior addiction. Fine. On the other hand, "I have all the body parts of a male but I think I'm a female" is not a mental health issue while "I'm white but I think I'm black" is. I suppose we should have a high level of confidence that the WHO is competent to make such a classification.

The Penalty Stands
Once again the courts have ruled that the feelings of homosexuals outweigh the Constitutional rights of Christians. They ruled that the Oregon baker owed the lesbian couple $135,000 for emotional distress. Clearly violating their freedom of speech and freedom of religion overrides the (not Constitutionally protected) feelings of the few. Perhaps this isn't news; Constitutional rights for Christians are in a general decline. And we're still waiting for the SCOTUS to rule on the same issue in the case before them. Perhaps God can work there as He did in this case.

My Bad
Yeah, I apologize. I missed this. I thought Jesus cared about sin, but apparently they've found the lost fragment from the Gospels where Jesus actually affirms everyone's sin. From the Gospel of Mark, it reads,
And so Jesus went up to the mountainside to preach to the crowd, saying, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, you're beautiful no matter what they say. Don't ever change."
My mistake.

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Sex Problem

Mindy Belz of World Magazine wrote an article about the "Great Sexual Reckoning", this flood of harassment cases we're looking at for the last half of 2017. They remind us "that sex is sacred and transgression is costly." Mindy is not wrong; sex is sacred and transgression is costly. But I wonder ... are the people who are bringing the accusations doing so because they think sex is sacred? I don't think so.

It is true that God holds sex between humans in high regard. The command is "Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge." (Heb 13:4) When Paul lists the sins that will prevent people from entering the kingdom, he lists three sexual sins (1 Cor 6:9-10). Conversely, he speaks of marriage as the union of two people and concludes, "This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." (Eph 5:31-32) Very important to God. Clearly far more important to Him than to most humans. For the majority it's more recreation than procreation, more fun than union, more physical pleasure than spiritual mystery. Yes, sex is sacred and transgression is costly.

I just don't think that the people bringing charges these days are doing so because they think it is. I think they're doing so because they think they are. God is not particularly sacred to society these days, but self is. "It's my body." Nothing can violate that. "It made me feel uncomfortable." No one should be made to feel uncomfortable. "They created a hostile work environment." All hostility is bad. Not just bad, evil. Not just evil, worthy of a big payout.

Now, be careful. "So, you're defending these monsters?" No, not in the least. I'm saying that Mindy there was right, that God sees sex as sacred and transgression is costly. I'm saying sexual abuse is bad. I'm actually saying that it's worse than most think. They think, "That poor person's rights were violated." I'm thinking, "God's glory has not been served." Much, much worse. Definitely not defending them. But those who, based on their own elevated sense of importance, complain about such things are guilty of their own violation, the violation of God's rights. Not too many are concerned about that, are they?

Thursday, December 28, 2017

People Are Too Much

There is a famous line from the popular comic strip, Peanuts, where Linus says, "I love mankind ... it's people I can't stand!" Sure, it's intended as humor, but I think there's a salient point here. You see, while we know that we are made in God's image and, therefore, have God-given value, there are just some people who make it hard to remember. Let's face it; people will let you down. That crazy driver, that neglectful spouse, that unkind parent, that ungrateful child, the friend who can't be bothered to call you ... ever. They're everywhere, people who aren't the best reflections of the image of God. Likely every one of us falls into that category sooner or later. So, what to do?

It is easy to become a curmudgeon, that cranky old man yelling, "You kids get off my lawn!" "People? Who needs 'em?" The more society feeds their anti-God bias, the less pleasant society becomes and the easier it is to feel distressed, hurt, or resentful. This, of course, won't work for Christians. Our highest instructions are 1) love God and 2) love your neighbor, so "I don't like people" isn't going to fly. How, then, should a Christian who has been hurt or has tendencies to be negative toward people (perhaps even with just cause) manage this problem?

We suffer from megalomania of a sort. We think "It's all about me" even when we're not consciously doing so. "What's in it for me?" is the first, even if unspoken, question we ask about whatever we're considering. We even go to church to "get fed", to "be blessed" ... to get served. Scripture, on the other hand, appears to instruct us to an entirely opposite perspective -- an "others" perspective. Instead of a life lived to get what we can out of it, the Christian life is a life lived to give what we can. It is a life aimed at glorifying God and loving people. When Paul says his famous, "My God shall supply all your needs" (Phil 4:19), he's not talking about a Mercedes and two vacation homes; he's talking about everything you need to do what God requires.

So, think about that. If you are living on God's supply aiming to glorify God and love people, in what sense will people be a problem to you? They can't let you down because you're not expecting anything from them. They can't disappoint you because you aren't basing your relationship with them on hopes and expectations of them. If you are not living from people, but to people, you are essentially immune to their shortcomings.

I would suggest that when we feel cheated by others, it will likely be because we were expecting something from others. When we are frustrated by others, it is likely because we were hoping for something from them rather than what we can give them. Sure, people let us down and people hurt us. It's a given. One of the common traits of all human beings is that they're "only human" ... you know. But I would suggest that the best and right way to deal with it is not to become bitter or frustrated, but to repent of your own self-centered thinking and figure out what you have from God that you can give them instead. We -- I -- need to stop being here to "get" and be here to glorify God and love our neighbors. A life lived for God and others is a life well-lived, not wasted. All that other stuff is peripheral.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Now That We Know

(or "An Exercise in Sarcasm")

It used to be that much of God's views was well known, already clear, largely accepted among His people. We all knew that we are saved by grace apart from works. We all accepted that sex was reserved for marriage and the biblical sexual morality was monogamy (which, by the way, included "one marriage", not just "one sex partner"). We all accepted that homosexual behavior was a sin. Lots of stuff. Used to be.

We live in enlightened times. We now know that all that stuff about "men lying with men" and "women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature" (Rom 1:26-27) (see also 1 Cor 6:9-10) was not what we thought it was. Wise Christians have come out (small pun there) to point out that all Christians of all history were mistaken on this point. It's no sin. Well, it begs the question. Where else did we miss it?

One point that was never in question was the concept of marriage. And by "never" I mean not even in the secular mind. Marriage for all time has been the union of a man and a woman for purposes of procreation and mutual support. Always, be it Christian or not. Practices differed. Sometimes there is a preference for "church weddings" and sometimes there is the basic "a man and a woman" with the option of multiplying that practice, but for all time a man is not married until he weds one woman and a woman is not married until she weds one man and "marriage" is defined. Repeat (polygamy)? Perhaps, but that's the definition ... until now. The Bible says, "A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:5; Eph 5:31), but today we know better. All this time for all the world they were wrong. It can mean a man and a man or a woman and a woman might do the same. So wrong for so long.

Clearly the whole "monogamy", "sex in marriage only" thing was a mistake. Christian swingers swap partners and work to spread God's word (a quote from the article). Open Christian polyamorists declare their heartfelt love for God. Sure, the Bible says "Flee sexual immorality", but, look, just what is sexual immorality? Studies suggest that Christians divorce, have children out of wedlock, and commit "sexual immorality" at the same rates as non-Christians, so obviously we were wrong for all this time on that subject as well. (Note: There are lots of websites that argue precisely this point, calling themselves "liberated Christians". I will not offer those links.)

As we pursue this line of thinking, it turns out that very little of what we thought we knew can be trusted. Jesus did not die for our sins; He just died to be an example or something like that. We are not saved by grace through faith; that's just a starting point after which our works save us. Did Jesus even actually rise from the dead, or was that just a "spiritual resurrection"? Oh, no, we can't say for sure. We've managed, in our enlightened years, to clear up all the confusion that the Holy Spirit wrought in the first 2000 years of the Church. Now we're quite sure that "gay" is good, sex is not just for marriage anymore, that, in fact, marriage isn't clear at all. "Sexual immorality" is a dim concept that we don't really grasp, "murdering babies in the womb" is a throw-back to a confused idea of the value of human life, and "saved by grace" means "You're pretty much free to do what you want without anyone telling you you're wrong." You thought the Bible was God-breathed and sufficient to complete and equip you (2 Tim 3:15-16)? Think again.

What, with all the redefinition of terms -- "tolerance", "judgmentalism", "marriage", "God's Word" and so forth -- that we have today, we're pretty clear that nothing is pretty clear anymore. The "age of enlightenment" is upon us. Not "enlightenment" in the sense that "We can now more clearly see the truth," but "enlightenment" in the sense that "We no longer have to bear the burdens of biblical morality." We've managed to defeat that pesky sin of "certainty". Now that we know better than all those Christians from all those centuries, Christianity is a much better thing. Oh, not at all what you might see in the Bible, but did God really say all that stuff?

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The War on Christmas

"That's a myth," people will say. Christmas? Well, maybe, but what they're really referring to is my title, the suggestion that there is a "war on Christmas." "Get over yourself. No one is at war with Christmas." The Pew Research Center would beg to differ.

According to them, the "religious aspects of Christmas are declining in public life." And what does that mean? Their study says that currently only 57% of Americans believe that the biblical Christmas story actually occurred, down from 65% in 2014. Among Christians, only 76% believe in the biblical story down from 81% three years ago. Only 51% planned to go to church on Christmas or Christmas Eve, down from 54% in 2013. In 2014, 72% thought it was okay to have Christian Christmas displays on government property but that's now down to 66%. Of equal interest, only about a third of Americans are bothered about the shrinking role of religion in Christmas.

I found one aspect of this survey really interesting. Looking at how different groups view the major elements of the Christmas story -- comparing 2014 to today -- among "white evangelicals" (I hate that category because what does "white" have to do with "evangelical", why are "evangelicals" of other races not included, and do we even know what "evangelical" means anymore?) there was little to no change. There was a 1% drop in belief that Jesus was born of a virgin, a 1% drop in the belief that wise men visited, and, in fact, a 3% increase that Jesus was laid in a manger1. Compare that to the "white mainline", the liberal churches of America. They're vacating any sense of a biblical Christmas story in larger numbers. According to an additional 12%, Jesus was not born of a virgin. Three percent more say there was no angelic announcement to shepherds. Eight percent more no longer buy into that whole "wise men" thing. And 81%, down from 87%, have even discarded the manger. These numbers are big -- bigger than any other Christian group.

No war on Christmas? Maybe. Maybe it's just a pathetic death by attrition. The country founded on Christian values and launched by virtue of a belief in a Creator is shoving out its belief in Christian values and its belief in a Creator. This is being driven largely, obviously, by unbelievers (duh!), but fed solidly by "mainline Protestants", self-professed "Christians" who don't believe in Christianity.

Funny thing, though. Christmas remains. Likely will. The fact that they're moving Christ out of everything won't mean that Christmas will stop. The term, mas, refers to the church, but they're happily jettisoning "church" while keeping Christmas. All the symbols -- the gifts and the lights and the trees and "the joy of the season" and the rest -- are predicated on the gift of the Son of God Incarnate, the only means of "Peace on earth", but they're fine with tossing out the gift of the Son and keeping the symbols. Our latter day "more rational world" is tossing out the core of Christmas and the basis for its celebration and clinging to its dead shell. Hey, they still call it a "holiday", originally meaning a "holy day". But, look, no one believes that anymore. "Yes, we want Christ out of Christmas -- even many of us mainline Protestants -- but we still want to keep the empty carcass. We like that." You can have it. "We like the warm feelings of Christmas without the essence." That's really the point, isn't it? "Warm feelings" without Christ. Welcome to a vague "we're likely good enough to get to heaven" kind of salvation, more irrational (and useless) than a biblical Christmas and a saving Christ.
1 Herein is a window into our problem of defining "Evangelical". The original definition was predicated, in part, on the belief in an authoritative, literal, inerrant view of Scripture, yet self-professed "Evangelicals" are discarding clear Scripture. They might be Christians and they might be "believers" of some sort, but if you are going to toss out the definition of "Evangelicalism" and apply the word to these folk, it's time for a new word ... for actual Evangelicals.

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Real Christmas

I know ... I've done this one before, but it bears repeating, I think, so here it is again.

What is Christmas really all about? It's about white. You know, "white Christmas", like the one I'm dreaming about.
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Psa 51:7).
Yeah, white ... like snow.

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without trees. Trees symbolize Christmas.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us -- for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree" (Gal 3:13).
The tree is an important component of Christmas.

It's not possible to think of Christmas without thinking of Christmas lights. They sparkle and shine and light up the darkness.
Jesus again spoke to them, saying, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life" (John 8:12).
Lots of lights.
"There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man" (John 1:6-9).
Lights are a key part of Christmas.

And, as the commercials are quick to remind us from way back in October, Christmas is very much about gifts.
Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water" (John 4:10).
More gifts.
The free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many" (Rom 5:15).
Lots of gifts.
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (1 Peter 4:10).
Oh, yeah, very much about gifts.

Of course, the real reason for the season is Christ, His birth, His coming.
While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:6-7).

There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:9-13).

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:5-11).
Yes, that's Christmas, in the end. It's the coming of Christ, His adoration "to the glory of God the Father". It's the gift of God's Son, the gifts He gives, the Light of the World who became a curse for us on the tree so that our sins can be made white as snow. I love that Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Godliness with Contentment

It's Christmas Eve ... and the Lord's Day. Do we think about "all I want for Christmas", or do we think about Christ? I think I'll go with "both".

The standard question of the day, spoken or not, is "What do you want for Christmas?" Eartha Kitt recorded a famous Christmas tune in 1953 entitled Santa Baby where she outlines all the things she wants for Christmas. Simple things like a sable coat, a yacht, the deed to a platinum mine ... just the simple things that a girl might like. I recently heard a fairly contemporary Christmas song where the lyrics essentially said, "I want it all, and I want it now." For far too many of us that may be an exaggeration, but it's Christmas.

In Paul's first letter to Timothy he warns of people with doctrines different than what he was teaching. He tells of their mistaken thinking which includes this: They "suppose that godliness is a means of gain" (1 Tim 6:5). I suppose that I could point to modern day folks self-identified as Christians who think that they can claim great health and economic gains from God. Others who are, perhaps, less offensive see Christianity as a way to obtain things like love, joy, and peace. That's less offensive, of course, because there is some truth to it, but when it is from the position of demand rather than being grateful recipients, it still falls in that category of thinking that godliness is a means of gain. Paul lists this as a mistake in the thinking of people who are not aligned with Christ.

Paul further confuses the issue with the next statement:
But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment (1 Tim 6:6).
"Well, there you have it, Stan. Why don't you just back off?" Before I do, let's look at what he's saying.

Paul is confirming that there is great gain in godliness, to be sure. So why did Paul say that these false followers of Christ were wrong in their view that godliness is a means of gain? I would say that there is a missing link in there. It's the one that Paul mentions -- "when accompanied by contentment." Contentment, then, is the catalyst of gain in godliness.

In Philippians Paul writes, "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am" (Phil 4:11). He goes on to say that he is content with little ... and with much. You see, what he has does not define his level of contentment. In the Philippians passage, he explains the source of his contentment in all circumstances. "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13). That is the secret of contentment -- resting in the hands of the One who provides all things we need, whether that is "stuff" to get by or comfort when we don't have "stuff". It is an "other world" view, an ambassador's view. "This world is not my home; I'm just passing through."

You know what I want for Christmas? Less of me and more of Him. I know, I know, to those of you (you know, like family) who are wondering what to get me for Christmas, that's not helpful at all. But it's the truth. I want to stop thinking about "What do I want for Christmas?" and settle into the contentment that makes godliness truly great gain. Now, if any of you know where to buy that for Christmas, please let me know. I think it's a great gift idea for a lot of you.

So, you see, if "all I want for Christmas" is Christ, then it's both -- "all I want" and worship -- for the day before the celebration of His birth.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

News Weakly - 12/23/17

Wrong on So Many Levels
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is challenging the government's policy "of discouraging" undocumented teens in custody from terminating pregnancies. That's the story, but it runs afoul of reason all over the place.

Apparently the Trump administration "has strong and constitutionally legitimate interests in promoting its interest in life, in refusing to facilitate abortion, and in not providing incentives for pregnant minors to illegally cross the border to obtain elective abortions while in federal custody." The ACLU disagrees. The ACLU believes that the government should facilitate abortion, should incentive pregnant minors to illegally cross the border to obtain elective abortions, and should not promote life. Got it.

I thought that it was illegal to do a non-emergency medical procedure on a minor without the consent of the parents. Did that change?

Apparently the American Civil Liberties Union is not about American civil liberties, but is working beyond American civil liberties. Oh, and, by the way, the only Americans in this case would be the babies, should they be born in this country, that the ACLU is seeking to have executed.

The ACLU argues that this "strips them of their right to make an independent decision about becoming a parent" ... which, apparently, did not become a moot point when they got pregnant in the first place.

Wait ... it's not done. One of the two minors is 22 weeks pregnant. Since 22 weeks is the normal age of viability, such abortions are illegal in many states.

So it's civil liberties for some, apparently, but not all Americans. Life is not a consideration.

Intolerance Lives
A Phoenix art institute ran afoul of public opinion when they posted on Facebook that they would be having an art exhibit that included, among other things, a couple of pictures of a guy in blackface. The Phoenix Institute of Contemporary Art removed it at the first sign of backlash and the artist has apologized. Not good enough.

Let's see. "Art" that depicted a crucifix in urine has been displayed from its introduction in 1987 to today, amid much controversy and outrage, but "blackface" is a step too far.

Message received. Insult Christ; defended. Hint at suspected racism; not tolerated. And they try to assure me that "tolerance" has not been redefined.

It's Not Life Until We Say It Is
"Benjamin and Tina Gibson were blessed on Nov. 25 with their 'sweet miracle,' Baby Emma Wren, weighing in at 6 lbs., 8 oz., and 20 inches long, the National Embryo Donation Center announced Thursday." What made that baby a "sweet miracle"? She was the product of a embryo frozen for 24 years. Not life, right? This baby came from "not life". And they think we don't make sense.

On a Positive Note
Did you hear about the guy in Kentucky who literally gave the shoes off his feet to a man in need? The poor guy's shoes were held together by duct tape, so Mark Townsend took off his own shoes and gave them to him. Very heartwarming. Seriously. The only mistake he made was when his granddaughter asked why and he answered, "Because God spoke to me, and said to give him my shoes." So close. One story I read on this complained that it was ironic that someone would show Christian charity at a place like Chick-fil-A, what with their values. His granddaughter learned "A lesson that all starts with the Word of God." Not cool in today's culture, but I say God bless him.

I Had to Do It
With the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I have been amused at the number of people arguing, sometimes vehemently, about the plot holes and problems with the movie ... or not. So I had to share this story about "a 4,000 word blog post published in the early morning hours after his first viewing of Star Wars: The Last Jedi" by a "local grown man Kyle Marion" who "reportedly complained about plot holes in the film about space wizards fighting with colored laser sticks." Seriously, people, it's fiction. You know that, right?

Of course, it has to be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Two Questions

The first chapter of Luke is the beginning of the Christmas story. In reading it over, I was struck by two very similar questions with two very different outcomes.

The first question comes from a priest. "In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias." (Luke 1:5) Described as "righteous" and "walking blamelessly" (Luke 1:6), Zacharias encountered the angel Gabriel in the middle of his priestly service (Luke 1:11). His wife was barren, and Gabriel came to give him the good news. "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John." (Luke 1:13-17) Zacharias asked what was, on one hand, the most obvious question in the world and, on the other, perhaps the most stupid: "How will I know this for certain?" (Luke 1:18) He was old; she was old. Zacharias, understandably, had ... doubts.

Gabriel's answer was, seemingly, harsh. "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time." (Luke 1:19-20) So, his question was one of what Gabriel termed unbelief, and for that unbelief he would be dumb for something like nine months.

The second question is in a different encounter with an angel. The angel was the same -- Gabriel -- but the conversation was with the virgin, Mary. We're all pretty familiar with this one. He calls her "favored one" (Luke 1:28) and tells her that she would bear a son whom she would name Jesus (Luke 1:31) who would be "the Son of the Most High." (Luke 1:32-33) Mary had her own question. "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34) Gabriel didn't censure her. He didn't silence her. He answered her plainly. "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God." (Luke 1:35-37) And Mary's response? "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord." (Luke 1:38)

Two similar questions with two different outcomes. Why were they so different? The reason is that one question was from unbelief and the other from faith. Zacharias didn't ask, "How can I know this?" because he had faith that he wanted bolstered. He asked it because he found it unbelievable. Now, you and I might see why. He and his wife were old. On the other hand, he was talking to the angel Gabriel. That was the angel's response. He declared that he stood in God's presence, that God told him what to say, and he had said it. The counter question, then, should be "How can you not know this?" And Mary simply asked about the mechanism. She said, "There's an apparent problem with the plan; I'm a virgin. How are you going to handle that?" And he told her. She wasn't disbelieving; she was wondering.

It is not a problem for us to ask God questions. Mary did it without any difficulty. She saw a problem, asked what God intended, and learned the answer. It is a problem to doubt God. And we see this all the time. "Did God really say?" We see it in self-identified Christians who seem to think that uncertainty is a virtue. "You can't really know for sure." That's exactly the position Zacharias took. "How can I know this for sure?" When self-professed Christians look at the Word of God delivered by God's messengers and ask, "How can I know for sure?", they're playing the Zacharias card. "It's there, breathed out by God, plainly written, clear as day, and understood by believers for centuries," the response might be. "How can you not know?" Zacharias might warn you that a doubting question for God is a dangerous kind of question. Don't be a doubting Zacharias. The better response is "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord."

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Just Like You

The headline says it all: "I want to be 'treated just like every other girl.'" Nova Maday, 18-year-old student at Palatine High School in Chicago, is suing the school because they have not given him (no matter what pronoun he prefers) the access he demands to the girls locker room. Yes, you got it; he thinks he's a girl. They've given him access to a private changing area within the locker room, but that's not good enough. He wants to be treated just like every other girl. That's the point. That's the only point. If it makes other girls uncomfortable, it doesn't matter. If some disagree with his notion that he can have male DNA and body parts and logically consider himself a girl, it doesn't matter. If he's just plain wrong, it doesn't matter. The demand (by legal force) is that everyone else needs to agree with him that he is "just like every other girl." Note to "Nova" (not his birth name): You're not like every other girl. Here, quick verification ... at 18 "every other girl" is having a period. I'm sure science can suggest a few more easy tests.

The truth is, this concept is prevalent. Most of us want this. "I'm just like you." We want to be viewed as "normal".

Merriam-Webster gives this as their #1 definition of "moron": "dated, now offensive : a person affected with mild mental retardation." Interesting. "now offensive". Why now? The word comes from the Greek, moros. It is in our word, "sophomore", where the first half is sophos for knowledge and the last half is moros for foolish. The actual intent of the word, sophomore, is to indicate someone that thinks they're knowledgeable but is actually foolish. So moros gave us "moron" to indicate "mild mental retardation" (1910) -- a mild mental slowness. It became offensive, so they changed it to "retarded". It became offensive, so they changed it to "intellectual disability". The point, however, is that it is not the word used, but the fact that a word is used that causes the problem. We just want to be regarded as "just like everyone else", so any word will eventually be classified as "now offensive".

Back in the days of the big battles over whether or not to erase "marriage" as a thing and replace it with something else (whatever that may be) that includes the description "gay" or "same-sex", there were several gay authors who honestly pointed out that the community didn't really care about "marriage". They had the rights they wanted with civil unions. No, it wasn't about "marriage", they said; it was about acceptance. One author even suggested that the aim was to tear down marriage for all. The point was this. If they could get their relationship categorized in precisely the same way as the heterosexually normal relationships, they would do it. Because "just like everyone else" was the aim. They didn't want to be thought of as "abnormal", "perverted", or different in any sense. They wanted to be "just like everyone else."

Here's the thing. It seems to be a running problem. For sinners our goal is clear. We want to be "just like everyone else". Okay, not really, because we also clamor to be "individuals", to be recognized as unique. So in what sense do we want to be like everyone else? That would be in our shortcomings -- our faults, our foibles, our weak points, our sins. We want our sins approved, our lusts admired, our rebellion embraced. When it comes to our evils, we want to go unnoticed. It just doesn't work that way. What we need is not to be "just like everybody else". What we need is to repent and be forgiven.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

What if?

Since the beginning of time, it seems, the single most common objection to the existence of God is the problem of evil. If God exists and God is good and God is all-powerful, why is there evil? Why does He allow it to exist? What's wrong with God? The answers to these kinds of questions vary from "Obviously there is no God" to "God allows that which He hates to accomplish that which He loves." But what if? We know there is a God (Rom 1:18-21), so the "there is no God" answer doesn't work, but what if God actually did remove evil? What would that look like?

The first thing we'd have to allow is that all of history would change, starting with Adam and Eve. The moment they sinned, they would not have been sent out of the Garden; they would have been annihilated ... end of story. If humans existed at all after that, they would have existed with different parents, a new start. In the absence of evil, there would have been no evil. ("Thanks, Stan. You're a genius.") I mean, no murders, no crimes, no wars, no sins, no theft, no jealousy, no ... none of it. This world would be so foreign to us that imagining it, I'm quite sure, is far beyond our comprehension, accustomed to sin as we are. And you might start to think of it as Utopian. But think farther.

From a purely practical perspective, if God were to show up today and -- boom! -- eliminate evil (hopefully by removing evil itself rather than those who are evil), what would happen? Well, every security company would be out of business. All the people who work on securing networks and credit cards would have to look for a job elsewhere. No doctors, therapists, rehab centers, that sort of thing. I suspect a lot of people in entertainment and sports would no longer have jobs, but neither would pastors, missionaries, or the like. No law enforcement. In fact, no law-related jobs at all. No courts, no lawmakers, no legal system. No government at all. There would be a huge loss of jobs. And no heroes. No one would stand out as being good, honorable, honest, loving, caring, all the good that we understand because in the absence of evil everyone would be equally good. Another clear loss would be the loss of the freedom of the will. That is, you could no longer choose to do what is wrong -- only what is right. As such, there would be no credit for those who choose to do the right thing rather than the wrong since that was their only choice. But it goes far beyond that.

We comprehend things largely through contrast. Your eye catches motion -- instantaneous change -- better than anything else. We most easily perceive differences rather than similarities, contrasts rather than uniformity. Much of our concepts are defined by this contrast. Wikipedia's article on evil begins with "Evil, in a general context, is the absence or opposite of that which is described as being good." Hate is the absence of love. Mercy is the withholding of justice for the act of forgiveness. Justice is the making wrongs right. We live on contrasts. One of the biggest contrasts is between God and Man. And some aspects of our understanding of God depend on the existence of evil.

God has many attributes. All of His attributes are interrelated and work together. However, as it turns out, many of His attributes would be a complete mystery to us in the absence of evil. For instance, if justice (an attribute of God) is the act of making wrongs right, we could not grasp the justice of God in the absence of wrongs. Scripture describes God as "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Rom 3:26), something which could not be seen in the absence of sin. In Romans Paul says that it was God's will to "show His wrath and to make known His power" (Rom 9:22), but this could not be accomplished without sin. Beyond those, we could never see mercy (Rom 9:22-23) or grace if there was no reason for Him to be merciful or gracious. Jesus said that God loved the world in a particular way; that particular way was to send His Son to save sinners (John 3:16). God's amazing love could not be comprehended in the absence of the need for His Son.

For humans, James says that trials produce completion or perfection (James 1:2-4). Now, in this case, the objection might be "In the absence of sin, we would already be complete," but I think that it should be obvious that the strength of character based on the absence of evil is not the same as the strength of character that is developed through adversity. In fact, the author of Hebrews says that Christ "learned obedience from the things which He suffered." (Heb 5:8) No evil, no suffering, and Christ's obedience is nullified. Suffering serves to erase the notion that we are self-sufficient. The people of God share in God's hatred of evil (Prov 8:13). No evil, no shared hatred of it. So the existence of evil can serve to make us more like God. Jesus said, "He who is forgiven little, loves little." (Luke 7:47) The existence of sin that is forgiven increases our love for God. No evil, no increased love for God.

When Joseph's brothers came to apologize for their behavior, Joseph told them, "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good." (Gen 50:20) The statement speaks of intentions -- intentions of Man and intentions of God -- for a single event. Scripture holds, then, that evil is evil but God intends it for good. He intends it to more fully display His character and, as such, His glory. He intends it to provide benefits to His people. What if God were to remove evil? God's intentions for good for His glory and our benefit would not be fulfilled. As such, removing evil would be bad -- a contradiction that cannot be resolved.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Who's Raising our Kids?

Yeah, yeah, we parents are the ones responsible for raising our kids. We know, we know. But do we really consider who it is that is actually doing that function?

Years ago I asked my younger high school son why he seemed to act more responsibly than his older high school brother. (Mind you, his older brother wasn't a problem kid. It was a relative "more responsibly".) His answer surprised me. "He has friends." How was that the point? Well, my younger son wasn't as sociable as his older brother. As a result, the primary influence on my older son was a group of peers, while the primary influence on my younger son was his parents. Interesting.

The truth is that in our day, even though we all give lip-service to "Parents are responsible for raising their children", we're not really living that out. The influence of parents (and grandparents) has diminished greatly in the world in which we've thrust our children. They are subjected to television, liberal and often anti-Christian public schools, social media, and a range of other things that are "of the world". Sure, there are other influences as well. There are parents, to varying degrees, who seek to guide and lead their kids, but they're not as common as they used to be. Both of them are working to "give their children a better life". So they hand them over to schools -- hopefully private schools because, after all, they are working to "give their children a better life" -- and church and such. But they "hand them over". Of what quality is the school of choice and the church youth structures? They don't really know.

All this is true, but parents are still an influence on their kids. They are the earliest influence and the most ... continuous for the first part of their lives, even if they aren't the most direct or largest influence. The problem here is that parents often don't realize in what capacity they're the influence. For instance, the fact that they often leave their kids to others to educate and train them itself has an impact on the children. The way parents speak at home and live at home and relate to each other all influence their kids. I've known of parents who sent their kids to church on Sunday to get some "good religious teaching" but didn't attend themselves. That is proclaiming its own message to the kids. Our lives influence our children more than our words.

We live in our modern times. ("Thanks, Stan ... Captain Obvious.") I mean, it is hard for us to consider any other way of living. Technology, church youth groups, two-parent incomes, classroom schools, computers, television, social media ... all of this is normal, expected. We rarely ask, "But ... is it good?" Maybe we should. Maybe we should consider being in this modern world, but not of it. Because all of the statistics tell us that, for the most part, good, Christian parents are not raising their kids; the world is.

Monday, December 18, 2017

At the Passing of a Theologian

R.C. Sproul died last week, and I will miss him. No, he wasn't my friend. I talked to him once or twice, but only for a moment and he wouldn't have remembered me. But he changed my life, and I'll always be grateful to God for that.

I first "met" Dr. Sproul in some audio tapes my mom had lent me. They were his signature series, The Holiness of God. He expounded on Isaiah 6, unfolding the text in a way I had never experienced it before. He brought home with clarity and gravity the "holy, holy, holy"-ness of God, the sin condition of Man, and God's grace and mercy at the collision of the two. He wasn't bombastic, but he also wasn't shy. "Here's what it says and we're taking it as it is." This holiness of God was beyond any I'd ever heard before. God isn't merely removed from sin; He is "other", and "other" to an extreme. My view of God was radically changed from that series.

From there I started listening more. I got his tapes. I read his books. I went to his conferences (where I heard many more excellent speakers). He was always the same. He taught Scripture as if it was relevant, accurate, understandable, and authoritative. He didn't twist words or concepts, but merely pointed them out and let them stand on their own. Dr. Sproul gave seminary-level teaching (he had a famous tendency to include some Latin phrase in most of what he taught) in a man-on-the-street way. He was not afraid to take up tough subjects. He contended with Evolution with His argument and book titled, Not a Chance. The universe cannot be created by "chance", he had argued, because chance is not a thing. "Say that again," he would continue. "'Not a thing.' Again. 'Not thing.' Again. 'No Thing.' Chance is nothing." He grappled with those who wished to reduce Scripture's sufficiency and authority in International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. He warned well-known Christians against departing from biblical salvation in their drive to merge Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). But his manner was as significant as his content. R.C. was enthusiastic about God. He was excited about His Word. R.C. was always "up" when I heard him speak, whether it was a teaching session or a Q&A. I don't remember him being harsh or unkind even once. He had the capacity to disagree with friends and opponents without being mean or spiteful or inflammatory, something I find extremely rare today even among Christians I admire.

From R.C. I learned a host of things. I learned church history and I learned logic. I learned soteriology and other fancy theological concepts. I learned of the sufficiency of Scripture and, of highest importance, the Sovereignty (with a capital "S") of God. I learned a lot. I didn't agree with him on all points -- who agrees with anyone on all points? -- but I admired and respected the man and my life has been permanently marked and enriched by his teaching and his life.

One of those Latin phrases I learned from Sproul was Soli Deo Gloria -- to God alone be the glory. And we pronounce that now at his passing. I thank God for Dr. Sproul. He is now in the presence of the Holy God he so loved. He is now the perfect theologian. He is now hearing those seraphim he taught about for so long, crying "Holy, holy, holy!" We have lost a great teacher. He has gained that final closer walk with God.

For a helpful compilation of responses from the likes of John Piper and John MacArthur to Dr. Sproul's death, you can visit Tim Challies' site with an All-R.C. Sproul Edition of his "A La Carte". Lots of good stuff there. (It's somewhat amazing, in reviewing what others have said, to see the number of names -- men like Albert Mohler, John MacArthur, John Piper, and Stephen Nichols -- who all say that this man, particularly in his teaching on the Holiness of God, was the biggest influence on their lives.)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Keeping the Gospel in Christmas

What Child is This? is a well-known carol written by William Chatterton Dix, first published in 1871. Bill (if I can call him that) was a manager for an insurance company in the UK. After a severe illness, he underwent a spiritual renewal. He ended up writing several poems, including The Manger Throne, from which this song was taken.
What child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
The song asks questions. This one is "What child is this?" Who is Jesus? The answer is loud and clear: Christ the King. He is guarded by shepherds and lauded by angels. He is the son of Mary. But He is none other than Christ, the King.
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
The second question, then, is "why?" Why is He in a stable? "Mean" is a reference to "lowly", not "unkind". And, in that, what is He doing here?

The call is for fear. Fear? "Good Christians, fear." The Babe, silent here, is the Word of God (John 1:1) made flesh. And He pleads for sinners. So fear Him, respect Him, hold Him in reverential awe.

Why is He here? Jesus was born to die. "Nails, spear shall pierce Him through." Beyond that, He was born to die for you and me. This is the point of Christmas. God became flesh to die for us -- this Babe, this Son of Mary.
So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
At last, then, is our response. Christ, the King, is come in humble attire, the Word made flesh, to die for you and me. In response, we need to enthrone Him in our hearts. In a quite unique twist, we are to respond in joy that this baby was born to die. Not just any baby -- God, the Son.

When you celebrate Christmas this year and you try to keep Christ in Christmas, remember that the celebration isn't just about His arrival; It's about His purpose and the sacrifice He came to make on our behalf so that you and I can be made right with God. Truly something marvelous. Truly something to celebrate. We must absolutely keep Christ in Christmas, but, more to the point, we must keep the Gospel in Christmas.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

News Weakly - 12/16/17

Apparently Merriam-Webster has decided their word of the year for 2017 is "feminism". The story says, "Yes, it's been a big year or two or 100 for the word." (Emphasis mine) Got that right. The word, morphed and twisted for a century now, has caused more problems than we even recognize, but with the "MeToo" drive, the Women's March, the whole "every guy is a sexual abuser" atmosphere of the day, and all, well, you can see how the word might describe 2017 ... and not always in a good way.

Internet Sensation
Keaton James became in Internet sensation this week with a video of him crying about being bullied in school and asking why they do it. The support was huge. Of course, the GoFundMe account was closed to more donations because it looked suspicious. Why did this unfortunate boy need $57,000 in donations? Seems as if we can't even complain about real problems right. (And what will that kid's life be like in the future now that he is permanently marked as the kid who cried about bullies on the Internet?)

A Simple Case of Mine over Matter
A panel of inquiry in Australia has examined the problem of pedophilia in the Roman Catholic Church and has concluded that the solution is for the Roman Catholic Church to change its theology. All they have to do is to give up celibacy for the clergy. Hmmm.

Now, mind you, I am firmly convinced that the Catholic church is wrong on that point (among others), but isn't it interesting? 1) The Australian panel (along with a whole lot of the rest of the world) believes that a religion can change its theology at will. "God said it, we believe it, that settles it ... Oops! No, it doesn't! We've changed our mind and, we're quite sure, God will change His right along with us. He's a good God that way." I suppose if religion is "mine", that works. Most of them are not. 2) The Australian panel (along with a whole lot of the rest of the world) believes that the problem for Roman Catholic pedophile priests is that they're not getting "righteous sex" and if they were to get sex in marriage the whole perversion thing would go away. I cannot even begin to imagine how anyone could possibly conclude that. Seriously.

To Die is Gain
No jokes, no sarcasm. Dr. R.C. Sproul has gone to be with the Lord. He was a man with a singular dedication to God and His Word, affecting many lives for Christ. He will be missed. On the other hand, he's no longer having breathing problems, no longer getting old, no longer unsure on any point of his theology. I remember him saying once, "People have asked me, 'R.C., if you can ask one question of God when you get to heaven, what will that be? I tell them, 'Ask a question??? I plan to be on my face worshiping for the first 10,000 years or more." R.C. is now in the presence of the Holy One of Israel.

Expect a brief eulogy from me next week.

Chief Among Sinners
As we all know, one of the chief sins of the day is when people (well, white people) commit what is called "cultural appropriation". You know ... like when Ivanka Trump wore an Oriental-style outfit on a trip to India. Or the horrors of non-Moroccans indulging in henna decorations. Or when Jesus took on human form.

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, December 15, 2017


Pope Francis made the news when he suggested that the Lord's Prayer needs to be reworded. Now, to be fair, he was not suggesting that Jesus was wrong. He was suggesting that the translation is ... questionable. Or, more precisely, that modern language might misinterpret it.

First, let me be clear. I am not taking "the pope" to task. I am examining the idea. So please don't think of this as an "anti-pope rant" or something like it.

So, what was the text in question? When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He included the line, "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." (Matt 6:13) The pope suggested that this could easily be misconstrued to mean that God is capable of leading us into temptation. "No, no," he offered, "it should be more like 'do not let us enter into temptation'." So, let's think about this.

First, let's ask if he's right. Is it possible for God to tempt us with evil? The Bible is absolutely clear on this point.
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one." (James 1:13)
It is true, then, that God cannot (more accurately "does not") tempt people with evil. Furthermore, the prayer says "deliver us from evil", so clearly the notion of God leading people into evil is not the idea here. In other words, a simple knowledge of straightforward Scripture eliminates the problem.

But that's not a complete answer. I don't think we properly understand what is being said. So let's look at the words used. First is the word "lead" -- "lead us not". The word is εἰσφέρω -- eispherō. It means literally "to carry inward". It means "to bring into" or "to lead into". I'm sorry, but "do not let us enter" is no the same as this word. The thinking in the modified version is that God takes a more "hands off" approach. He doesn't lead us into temptation; He lets us go into temptation. It's not His fault; it's ours. But the language suggests that the prayer actually is that God would not lead us into temptation.

So, what is this thing called "temptation"? That word is πειρασμός -- peirasmos. It is from peirazō, meaning "to test". That test, that "putting to proof", may be by testing good or by experiencing evil. It is often a reference to "trials", another word for adversity. Thus, this "temptation" would not be "tempted to do evil", but "trials". If that is the meaning here, it is precisely the prayer that Jesus prayed at Gethsemane -- "Let this cup pass from Me." (Matt 26:34) The prayer would be, "Please don't take me into trials I cannot bear."1

Now, sometimes the word is used in the "tempted to do evil" sense. If that is the case here, does it mean that Jesus is suggesting that God would tempt us to do evil, so we ask Him not to? Not at all. As we've already seen, God does not tempt to evil and the prayer is for deliverance from evil. That can't be the meaning. We do know, however, that God hardened Pharaoh's heart (as an example) (Exo 9:12, Rom 9:17-18) and that a hardened heart is evil, so in what sense does God not cause evil but does harden hearts (for example)? That would come about by God removing His hand. That is an active event on His part. We know that He is our protection (Psa 121:7; Isa 41:10; 2 Tim 4:18; 2 Thess 3:3; 2 Sam 22:3-4; Phil 2:13). If He withdraws that protection, we are led into temptation, both to evil and as a protection. He doesn't do the leading, but withdrawing His protection allows it.

There is, at its root, another difficulty to examine with the objection to the current reading of the text. What is in mind here is that God does not take an active role in "temptation". The idea is to keep God from getting accused of causing evil. But "is this trip really necessary?" I don't think so. First, Scripture claims that God hardens whom He will (Rom 9:18). Let's not assume what He does not assume. Scripture also claims, as we've already seen, that He doesn't lead us into evil. We also know that God Himself claims, "I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things." (Isa 45:7). So let's not remove from God what God claims for Himself.

God does allow trials (James 1:2-4) -- "temptations". (Note: That word is the exact word used in the Lord's prayer.) In those cases they are for our benefit. God does allow evil for His purposes (Prov 16:4). While "temptation" may not always mean "tempted to evil" and while God does not tempt to evil, let's not get the idea that God is outside of the business of testing us -- trials. Instead, let's count them "all joy" (James 1:2). And, yes, pray that He doesn't do it too often.
1 I'd like to point out that the word for "evil" in this phrase in the Lord's Prayer is equally ambiguous. The word is πονηρός -- ponēros. It might mean "evil" in an ethical sense (as we normally think of it) but it can also mean physical evil -- disease, etc. -- or even troubles, hardships, perils, that sort of thing. The term would include bad people, bad deeds, bad events, bad troubles, etc.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Rights and Right (or Who's Watching our Rights?)

Roy Moore lost his election bid. "Good!" most of America seems to shout. Fine. You're entitled to your opinion. And I'm not a Roy Moore fan. What I think is sad, however, is the decision of the Left, the media, and, therefore, the loudest Americans on down to deprive Roy Moore of his constitutional rights.

I heard on a fairly conservative radio show with two hosts discussing Moore before the election. "Apparently President Trump thinks it's better to vote in a pedophile than a Democrat." These guys were using their First Amendment rights to deprive him of His Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. How is that good? Like the flood of other people in this country, Moore was accused of sexual abuse. Worse, of sexual abuse of a minor. That would make him a pedophile, to be sure. And I don't know a single person who would say that a pedophile is a good thing. The principle of "innocent until proven guilty" would say that Roy Moore is not a pedophile until he is proven to be one.

But America is having none of that. We know better. The presence of the accusation makes the accusation true these days. Oh, sure, not entirely. There are certain factors. Do we like him (or her)? Do we like or feel for the person who brings the accusation? And, more than anything, what does the media say? Facts? Not an issue. The legal system? We all know you can't rely on that. The Fifth Amendment says,
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger. (U.S. Bill of Rights, Fifth Amendment)
The 14th Amendment agrees. "So?", people ask, and gladly hold Moore to answer for his "infamous crime" without indictment. He lost. Good. Will his case ever see the courtroom? One has to wonder. Will he ever be able to defend himself in court? Doubtful.

In fact, there were voices that tried to shut up Moore. They didn't like his religious views. They didn't like his political views. He should just shut up and go away ... despite the guarantee we have to free speech.

It's not like this is a surprise or a novelty. For years they have been working to deprive us of our 2nd Amendment right to bear arms.
The right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. (U.S. Bill of Rights, Second Amendment)
So they've chipped away at it and chipped away at it and still the loud voices cry out for "better gun control" if not a total ban on guns.

And right now in front of the Supreme Court they are arguing about another First Amendment right ... or rather, the government's right to take it away.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. (U.S. Bill of Rights, First Amendment)
Does an artist have the freedom of expression based on the freedom of the free exercise of religion, or can we just erase that one, too?

There is an irony here. I am not a person so keen on rights as others. And yet, here I am, complaining about rights. No, that's not the point. I'm not defending Moore or demanding my rights. I'm just pointing out that America is no longer a "rights friendly" place. It was argued early on that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." But we've largely pushed "their Creator" out of the window and it only stands to reason that the "unalienable Rights" He endows would be pushed out with Him. My point, then, is not rights. My point is that when we push God out of the center, it has starkly negative results.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Christian What?

Okay, they lost me.

Apparently there are self-identified Christians who argue for what they call "Christian Physicalism". Christendom has argued from the beginning that we are not merely physical, but spiritual beings as well, there are some who argue that the view is "incompatible with a modern scientific worldview", so they're going to change all of Church history and scrub Scripture (see, for instance, 1 Thess 5:23) to make sure we don't think that anymore. I can still hear the echoes of "Did God really say ...?"

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Grace vs Works

So, I'm reading along in Romans and I come across a verse I can probably quote and it struck me as odd.
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (Rom 12:3)
Now, I can hear it now. "So?" Well, I noticed a strange juxtaposition of ideas. Paul gives the Roman believers a command ... on the basis of grace.

Huh. That's a little strange, isn't it? I mean, I know lots of people who use the word "grace" to mean "We don't really have to be obedient anymore." You know ... "It's all about grace, not law." That kind of thinking. And, yet, here we have Paul making a command on the basis of grace.

As a matter of fact, he did it earlier in the letter. In the first chapter as he introduces himself to the "beloved of God in Rome", he talks about him being called as an apostle by Jesus Christ our Lord "through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake." (Rom 1:5) There it is again -- received grace to bring about obedience.

I think that we often abuse grace. We see it as "works don't matter." They do. Martin Luther said, "We are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone." James said that faith without works is dead faith (James 2:17). Our justification is demonstrated by our works. Paul stuck all three concepts together in that verse above, where he speaks of being given grace to bring about obedience of faith. At the end of that epistle Paul says that the gospel reveals Christ, "leading to obedience of faith." (Rom 16:26)

"Saved by grace through faith apart from works" (Eph 2:8-9) is a marvelous concept. Just remember, we are not saved for sin. We are mostly clear on how we're saved, but a bit murky on why. We're saved, obviously, for the glory of God, first and foremost. We're saved to "become conformed to the image of His Son." (Rom 8:29) We're actually saved to become slaves -- slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:17-18). We're not saved to continue in sin. We're saved to make the most of God. Don't abuse His grace. He saved us to follow Him, not thumb our noses at Him.

Monday, December 11, 2017

My Body

Among the pro-abortion crowd the chant is for "the woman's right to do with her body as she chooses." Now, the pro-life side will raise the objection, "Yes, but that baby your killing isn't 'your body'." Still, is it true? Do people have the right to do with their bodies what they choose?

On the surface, despite all certainties to the positive, I think it's quite clear that we don't. I mean, there is the obvious. You can't kiss your elbow no matter what you choose. You can't tickle yourself. You can't sneeze with your eyes open. Then there is the legal. Suicide and euthanasia are still mostly illegal. There is an "age of consent" that does not allow an underage minor to engage in certain practices despite their willingness to do so. If someone engages in "cutting" or in excess alcohol, we seek treatment for them rather than indulge their whims. So, no, it is not true that you can do whatever you want with your body. Still, within limits can't we say it's our body and we can do what we please with it?

I would like to ask, however, the earlier question. Not, "Is it your right to do what you want with your body?", but "What makes you think it's your body?" You see, the rampant sexual sin and rise of the debased mind (Rom 1:28) in our society today is, in fact, premised on the question of authority. Who has the authority here? My generation preached, "Question authority" (for which I apologize). We've gone beyond that, making it rather a question of who is in authority. So when "my candidate isn't elected" you might hear, "That's not my president" (and I offer that having heard it on both sides -- liberal and conservative). Women don't want to submit to any sort of male authority. Men don't want to submit to much of any authority at all. Christians -- self-professed -- are quickly aiming to dismiss the authority of Scripture and, ultimately, the authority of God. The highest authority is self.

And, look, if it is your body, you are the highest authority. So, is it?

Scripture seems to deny this. God claims, "The world and its fullness are mine." (Psa 50:12) Paul says, "From Him and through Him and to Him are all things." (Rom 11:36) To the Colossians he wrote, "By [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things were created through Him and for Him.". (Col 1:16) The author of Hebrews says that all things exist for and by God (Heb 2:10). Paul calls Christ "the head of all rule and authority." (Col 2:10) Who doesn't recognize the title applied to Christ -- "King of kings and Lord of lords" (1 Tim 6:15; Rev 17:14; Rev 19:16)? Abraham Kuyper said, "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'"

The Bible argues that all that exists belongs to the One who made it and the One for whom it was made. The question, then, is who has authority over your body? Because it appears that it's not your body. "Appears"? Scripture is explicit on that (see, for instance, 1 Cor 7:4). And, yet, we stand with fists clenched arguing "It's my body and I'll do what I want with it!" So we push the boundaries of sexual morality and reject the authority of God and His Word.

Well, of course, that's what you'd expect from the unbeliever (Rom 8:7; Heb 11:6). The question is not about them. It is about you, believer. Is that really the position you want to take?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Joy to the World

It's Christmas time. I'm going to do a Christmas carol for Sunday. Let's see what we can learn from a classical Christmas hymn.
Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.
Isaac Watts did not plan this as a Christmas hymn. He based in on Psalm 98: “Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth and sing for joy and sing praises” (v 4). “Shout joyfully before the King, the Lord” (v 6). But it works just fine for Christmas.

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It is the natural result of the recognition of God’s care for us (Psa. 98:1-3; 100). It is commanded repeatedly (Phil. 2:18; 3:1; 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16). Joy to the world!

It is disconcerting to hear secular singers belting out this song because of phrases like this: “The Lord is come; let earth receive her King.” Even we who believe have difficulty calling Him Lord and King, but the song calls on us to “receive” Him. This is the same word used in both a positive and negative sense in John 1:9-13. Negatively, “His own did not receive Him” (v 11). Positively, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become the sons of God” (v 12). Our normal term today for becoming a Christian is to “accept Christ”, but the biblical term, “receive Him”, carries a fuller connotation. When you “receive” a TV signal, it is processed and displayed. When you have a “reception” for someone, it is to honor him. We are to “receive” our King, to open ourselves to Him, to appropriate and display Him, to honor Him.

“Let every heart prepare Him room.” Luke records that when it came time to deliver Jesus, “there was no room for them” (Luke 2:7). Jesus moves only into places that are vacated for Him. For us to receive our King, we must prepare Him room in our hearts.

The last line of the first verse repeats the phrase “and heaven and nature sing.” We live in a world that has divorced science and religion, the natural from the supernatural. We have divided out God and His world, and classified things as secular or sacred. God doesn’t see it as such. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, His detractors told Him to silence His disciples. He replied, “I tell you if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out" (Luke 19:40). The language of Scripture includes nature in adoring God (for example, Isa. 55:12). All of nature and all of heaven sing for joy at the coming of the King.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

News Weakly - 12/9/17

It Figures
In the midst of a huge firestorm about sexual abuse with heavy attention on Hollywood, the film winning awards and favored to win the Academy Awards is a "gay love story" about a teenager who falls in love with his father's assistant. Ironic.

Religious Freedom in Canada
Canada's first Christian law school will plead its case before Canada's Supreme Court. What is at stake is not small. Trinity Western University in Vancouver has been trying to launch a law program for four years. They've been blocked by legal challenges because the school covenant bars sexual activity outside of traditional marriage, and that, opponents complain, discriminates against LGBT students. So far Canada has refused to accredit any future Trinity Western graduates as a result. The school claims that the value is in line with the school's Christian values and does not discriminate -- it applies to all genders, faiths, and sexual orientations.

Canadians are praying; so should all Christians.

The Dangers ... of Cycling?
I just thought it was an interesting article by a guy who promoted the idea about the damage done by the rush by many cities to promote bicycling. Succumbing to the law of unintended consequences, it turns out that bicycles today "consume more road space than they free up, they add to pollution as well as reducing it, they hurt neighbourhoods and business districts alike, and they have become a drain on the public purse." Huh! Who would have thought? Are we really sure we know what constitutes "harm"?

When Christ Comes ...
Jesus asked, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8) Looking at the state of the Church today, I can see the point of the question. However, looking at fertility rates in the world today, we might just ask, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find anyone at all?" Yeah, sure, overly dramatic. Still, we are not producing children at a replacement rate (2.1 births per woman). In 1964 the world was over five births per woman. Today, the world is below 2.5 live births per woman. In Europe the EU is was at 1.58 live births. The forecast in the U.S. for 2017 is 1.77. In 2009 we were hovering around the replacement rate. No more. Kids are out.

God designed marriage as the union of a man and a woman (Gen 2:24) (something both Australia and Austria failed to notice this week) for the purpose of mutual support (Gen 2:20) and procreation (Gen 1:28). We've jettisoned pretty much all of that. It doesn't look good for us.

Good for the GOP, not the Gander
"A group of Senate Democrats is demanding that an immigration compromise be included in any government funding bill, raising the prospects of a possible government shutdown and rankling members of their own party." Odd that when the GOP threatened the same sort of idea, it was "playing politics", but not when the Dems do it?

The Harm Principle
We're pretty sure that "harm" is the necessary component to define morality, and yet ...

... on top of that "damage of cycling" story we have science telling us that birth control pills increase breast cancer risk. Tell me again how we can be confident that we, not God, can properly define morality.

According to the Law
So, back in 1995 the Congress passed a law with overwhelming approval that required moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. It was supposed to be accomplished by June of 1999. President Clinton didn't do it. Now President Trump plans to do it. ANd he's the bad guy. Ironically, people are saying that Trump will destroy the "peace process." They -- from the American media to the angry Palestinians and the rest -- are apparently unaware that this conflict has been going on for something like 4,000 years since Abraham fathered Ishmael and Isaac. There is no peace process here.

Friday, December 08, 2017

How can these things be?

Sure, Mary asked the question when the angel told her she would be pregnant, but that's not the question here. Since the collapse of biblical marriage and sexual morality, it appears that Christians have lost their minds. (Okay, sure, I'm using the word, "Christian", generously.)

I came across this article by "Hippie Heretic" Chuck McKnight who is in a polyamorous relationship. Oh, not clear on what that is? He defines it as "consensually non-monogamous relationships [where] there is an open agreement that one, both, or all individuals involved in a romantic relationship may also have other sexual and/or romantic partners." He's delighted at the rise in conversations about LGBT issues and people "figuring out what it means to be queer and Christian", but bemoans the fact that his group is left out.
But quietly, there are the thousands of faithful Christians who practice polyamory—living lives of giftedness, dignity, and worth, but receiving next-to-no spiritual support.
Because, you see, it's no longer just "marriage" or biblical sexuality that is not understood by self-professed believers. It is the rejection of the clear statements on the subject from God in His Word and the complete collapse of the understanding of the concept of the "faithful Christian". Hint: You can't classify yourself as "faithful" or "Christian" when you are not faithful or Christian (James 2:17-19).

I don't understand why so many so-called brethren (1 Cor 5:11) engage in clear violations of God's Word and then complain that they're not getting help from God or His people ... to continue in their violations of God's Word. I suppose it's what is called the "debased mind" (Rom 1:28). Don't worry, you who call yourself believers while making a practice of sin (1 John 3:9); I'm here for you. I call it "prayer".

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Your Aim Will Help

This last Thanksgiving week my siblings and I along with our spouses, our parents, and some of the grandkids got together to discuss our tradition of a family reunion ... every Thanksgiving. You see, it occurred to us that we weren't sure of the question of why we got together. Because, if we don't know why, we likely won't accomplish "why".

Turns out that this is a very common thing -- the "why". Everything has a purpose. Maybe it's as simple as "filling that void in my stomach" or "because it's cool", but everything has a purpose. Conversely, it's a very common thing, I think, that we fail to ask "why". We assume we know what we're doing and why we're doing it, but if we haven't asked, it's likely we won't actually accomplish the mission.

So, let's look at a timely example. It's Christmas time. Have you finished your shopping? Have you asked yourself why you're doing it? I'd bet there are a lot of reasons we do it. Originally it came from the gifts of Christmas themselves. We know that the magi gave gifts to the infant Jesus. More importantly, we know that God gave us His Son at the Incarnation. So the original intent was to remind us of the gifts. But, let's be honest, that's not the common reason today. At our best, it's because we like to give good things to those we love. But even that isn't always the case. Some give in order to earn favor. The kids will like you for it. The family will appreciate it. Your friends will thank you. Some give because it's expected. Less "They'll be grateful", the thought is more, "They won't like you if you don't." There are even devious reasons. "If I give them a gift, they will owe me." You see, there are lots of "whys" for that question. But if you don't know why you're doing it, you won't know if you met your goal. In fact, you may not realize it if your aim was a poor one. "So they'll be grateful", for instance, is not a good reason.

Just an example to go along with the time of year. Think about all the other things we do for reasons we don't consider. Why go to church? To "get fed"? Or to feed? Because Scripture calls us all to be ministers (e.g., 1 Cor 12:1-27) and, yet, they tell me that 80% of the work and giving at church comes from 20% of the people. Are you among the 80% that go to get and not to give? What's your purpose? Why are you doing the job you do? Some people do it to "get ahead". Very rarely does anyone work to just feed their family. So while we tell ourselves we're working hard to give them the best, we miss the point and don't give them ourselves. Because we didn't ask "why". Or simpler things like "Why are you wearing that?" Do we dress to impress? Is that a good reason? Is there a better one?

Jesus said, "The things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man." (Matt 15:18-20) Our primary problem, then, is what's in the heart. That's the "why" of what we do. Clearly we can fail to do good because we have bad hearts. We can also do "good things" for wrong reasons and lose the benefit. "Why" is an important question because it reveals the heart, and a faulty heart is our biggest problem.

God has work for us to do. In order to do it, we need to know why. The easy answer -- "to the glory of God" -- is a good place to start. Skipping that is an automatic step in the wrong direction. And operating blindly without a genuine aim is simply a poor way to accomplish our primary task -- glorifying God. Think about it.
Helpful Hint: If your "why" is something that requires someone else to accomplish, count on having your task frustrated. If the reason you are doing something, whether as noble as "to make someone happy" or as understandable as "to make someone love me" or everything in between, if it relies on someone else, there is a good chance it won't happen. If you're buying gifts at Christmas, for instance, in hopes that they will be grateful, you're setting yourself up for a disappointment.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Lukewarm and Lovin' It

Lukewarm. No, it's not a reference to someone named Luke. It comes from a Middle English word -- "leuk" or "lewk" -- meaning "tepid". Okay, so there we have it. The term answers the question, "How warm is it?" "Tepid." Of course, it used to primarily refer to food or liquid, but it wasn't long before it was expanded to include the unenthusiastic person. "How hot are you on this subject?" "Eh ... tepid."

I don't think anyone thinks it's a good thing. I know Jesus doesn't. He told the church at Laodicea,
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. (Rev 3:15-16)
And, no, "spit you out of My mouth" isn't a good thing. In fact, the word there is literally "vomit".

So, why does it seem like the majority of Christians are quite happy with lukewarm?

Come on. Let's be honest. How many of us are "on fire" for Christ? Isn't it true that we tend to more closely fit the lukewarm description of Laodicea than anything described as "hot"?
For you say, "I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing," not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. (Rev 3:17-18)
Look, we come from a comfortable society. We have a lot. We are largely prosperous. For the most part, we're doing fine. Just like Laodicea. Which means, if we're a lot like them, we don't recognize the reality of our wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, naked condition. Satiated with worldly comfort, we're fine ... but we're not. Our standard of measurement is off.

It's actually a dangerous place to be. In fact, Jesus would prefer "cold" to lukewarm (Rev 3:15). But we're fine, thanks. We're happy with lukewarm.

It's a simple instruction, really.
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. (Rev 3:19)
Be zealous. Repent. He'll do the rest. Oh, it won't be pleasant. He reproves and disciplines. But He does it out of love. We need to pursue Him for the genuine "gold", "white garments", and "salve", because what we have is mostly counterfeit. But if we're actually among His own, we should be happy to embrace the pain, should be diligent to repent, should be eager to be zealous.

Lukewarm and lovin' it? It describes most of us at one time or another, but it's a dangerous place to be. Be zealous and repent.