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Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 in Review

January 23 - A 15-year-old student of Marshall County High School in Kentucky opened fire, killing 2 and injuring 14 others.

January 24 - Larry Nassar, former USA Gymnastics doctor, is sentenced to up to 175 years for sexually abusing more than 150 girls.

February 14 - A former student from a high school in Parkland, Florida, shot and killed 17 people.

April 26 - Comedian Bill Cosby was convicted on 3 counts of aggravated indecent assault.

May 3 - Kilauea volcano on Hawaii erupted, flowing lava into residential areas on the big island.

May 18 - A 17-year-old killed 10 and injured 13 at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas.

August 28 - Puerto Rico declares its official death toll from Hurricane Maria to be 2,975.

November 7 - Twelve people were killed in a shooting at the borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, California.

November 8 - A fire breaks out and burns through the town of Paradise, California -- the most destructive and deadliest wildfire in California history.

These are the kinds of things that stand out to most people in a "year in review" kind of thing. They're shocking, devastating, horrible. some are human-caused and some are not. They are news because they aren't common, but that doesn't make them any better.

It is this world, along with the "every day horrors" (like abortion) that don't make the news, that makes me so relieved to believe in a Sovereign God who works all things together for good to those who love God. It's a scary world out there, but if God is for us, who can be against us (Rom 8:31)? "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good" (Gen 50:20). It is in His hands that I find my rest.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

That Last Sunday of 2018

It's the end of the year; it's the beginning of the year. We're coming off Christmas week and starting a new year. Is there a connection?

I see Christmas as really, really huge. Oh, no, not the trappings, the holiday, the trees and decorations and lights and gifts. Not the traditions and commercialism. No, the actual event -- the Incarnation. God became flesh and dwelt among us. I see it as a sort of nuclear option of grace. The Son gave up "godness" to be human. We're all born into a cradle that swings over a grave, so to speak, but none of us are born for the purpose of dying. He was. This God-Man, this Savior in the manger, would save His people. All of us. He would arrive in the utmost of humility taking on the lowly human form so that He could accomplish all He intended, starting with our salvation.

So, there is that starting point, where He became flesh, laying there in an animal feeding trough surrounded by animals and lowly shepherds. His message was "Peace on earth." Not just any peace. Not "world peace" or anything so trivial. No. Peace with God. It was the beginning, so to speak, of His "Mission Accomplished." And because of that, we know that He fulfills the prophecies, accomplishes His plans, completes what He starts.

And there it is, you see? That's the connection. You and I are headed into 2019, a new year, an unknown. Is Trump going to blow up the world? Is the Left going to foist new nonsense on us? Is Congress going to fail? Is the judiciary going to mess up more stuff? Is the economy going to slide? Is the border going to open or close? Will your unsaved loved ones come to know Christ? Lots and lots of unknowns. So let me, today -- this last Sunday of 2018 -- assure you; whatever He plans He will accomplish. Whatever is best He will do. Whatever He wants to happen will happen. He will continue to work all things together for good to those who love Him. He will not fail. We can know that because He says so. We can also know that because we just celebrated the penultimate proof -- His birth.

A new year. Yes. Pleasant or unpleasant, I can guarantee you it will be good. The trick, I suppose, will be in getting yourself to agree with Him on that.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

News Weakly - 12/29/18

A Christian World Gone Crazy
Last month a group at Wheaton College (Christian college, remember?) invited Ryan Bomberger to share his story. He is a black man with a presentation on "Black Lives Matter -- In & Out of the Womb." Ryan's mother was raped, but she gave him life. He was adopted into a multiracial family and adopted children of his own. He is definitely pro-life with a pro-life message. So it puzzles me that, in the days that followed, the student government felt it necessary to protest. "His comments, surrounding the topic of race," they said, "made many students, staff, and faculty of color feel unheard, underrepresented, and unsafe on our campus." They went on to say, "We are committed to the College's mission to promoting student programming that 'pursues unity, embraces ethnic diversity, and practices racial reconciliation so that it will contribute to the education of whole persons', and therefore, felt it necessary to respond to the offensive rhetoric from the speaker at this event that compromised this mission."

Let me see if I understand. A black man made "students, staff, and faculty of color felt unheard, underrepresented, and unsafe," so they "embrace ethnic diversity" by protesting a black man who speaks of the most unheard, underrepresented, and unsafe group, the black unborn? Have these people lost their minds? This theoretically Christian community is more concerned about some "hurt" and "grieving" students without any concern for the daily slaughter of 2,500 innocent humans through abortion? When did "makes me feel unsafe" become the single most important moral value over every other thing ... like murdering children? When did our society in general and Christians in particular become so deeply confused?

Looks Bad for the Left Team
No one on the Left liked Judge Roy Moore. No one. He had a lot of detractors from the Right, too. But he almost won his bid to become a senator in Alabama despite all the negative press he received. "See?" the Left says, "The right side won!" Except now it looks like the Democratic candidate beat Moore not because of honest information, but intentional disinformation. Potentially criminal disinformation. They even admit to "disinformation tactics" if not illegal tactics. I guess some can't win with the truth, so they have to appeal to lies and fears. Looks bad for the side that won that one.

Most Questionable
The media is reporting a stunning change in public opinion. "Former first lady Michelle Obama has been named this year's 'most admired woman' in Gallup's annual poll, marking the first time in 17 years that Hillary Clinton didn't nab the top spot." It is stunning to me because I cannot fathom Hillary Clinton as the most admired woman in America for the past 17 years. Really?

Of course, the actual facts should give you pause. Michelle Obama won 15% of the votes. That's "#1". Oprah Winfrey was #2 ... with 5%. Interestingly Hillary and Melania tied for third place with 4% each. That's gotta sting. For men, Barack Obama took first place with 19% and Hated President Trump (that should be his official title, right?) took second with 13%. Not much in the way of helpful information in any of that.

Bus Control
In China at least five people were killed and 21 injured when a hijacker stole a bus and ran down pedestrians. The chinese government are seeking better background checks and tighter bus control to prevent this kind of tragedy in the future. Oh, wait ... hijacking buses is illegal. Now, hang on a moment ...

At least they've mandated a 5-day waiting period on Nerf gun sales. That must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Regulative Principle of Worship

Maybe you've heard of it. It's primarily a Reformed-circles thing. We have the principle of Christian Liberty in which we believe that Scripture teaches that whatever is not specifically commanded or forbidden is not commanded nor forbidden. It's a matter of liberty, a matter of choice. There are principles to keep in mind, like not causing a brother to stumble, but, in general, that's the idea. The Regulative Principle of Worship is kind of the reverse. As far as worship goes, that which is not specifically commanded is not allowed in worship.

I get where it comes from. I've even argued it from time to time. The basic premise is the one offered to Aaron on the event of his two sons being burnt to death by God. "By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy" (Lev 10:3). Their sin? They "offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them" (Lev 10:2). So, that which is not commanded is not allowed for worship of God. That's the principle.

Here's my difficulty. While I see the idea in Scripture, I find myself running incredibly short on commands. What has God commanded? What is it that we are to do (and, by inference, not to do)? If you ask the Reformed community, you get all sorts of answers. Only worship on Sundays. Sunday is the Lord's Day and that's the only day allowed. Use the Psalter. The Psalter provides worship songs taken directly from the Psalms. Those are okay. Oh, and do not, under any circumstances, have images, pictures, artwork, or the like in your worship. (It's a 2nd Commandment thing.) Well, okay, but 1) I don't find those things commanded in Scripture and 2) that leaves precious little for what we call "worship."

I can find the biblical explanation of the principle of Christian Liberty (primarily Rom 14:1-23 and 1 Cor 10:23-33), I don't find a command not to worship God in any way other than what He commands. I can see that we've clearly opted to often move God out of the center of our worship to Him. We often fail to regard Him as holy in our worship. We think that more secular and less religious is better worship. We think that more worldly music and certainly minimizing those sermons would make sense ... except it doesn't serve to treat Him as holy. It serves to treat Him as common. It is a problem. I just don't think that it's a problem that is addressed by the argument that we do nothing to worship Him that He doesn't command since I can find no such commandment. The Heidelberg Catechism, Question 96, asks, "What is God’s will for us in the second commandment?" The answer they give is "That we in no way make any image of God nor worship Him in any other way than has been commanded in God’s Word." Well, that's pretty definitive ... but it's not in there. The 2nd commandment covers worshiping other gods and/or making idols (or images if you prefer), but nothing about "do nothing to worship Him that He doesn't command."

The regulative principle leaves tracks in the pages of the Bible, but it doesn't actually show its face. The Bible has lots of things laid out to do and not to do. Even Christian Liberty is spelled out for us. The regulative principle, while possibly implied in places, isn't that kind of clear. Exactly what is included in commanded worship isn't spelled out for us. What worship God deems as acceptable and only what worship is acceptable isn't listed anywhere. I am thoroughly convinced that we are really, really cavalier about what we call "worship" (and much of it isn't), but I'm not convinced that the Regulative Principle of Worship is thoroughly defensible from the pages of Scripture. I guess you'll just have to figure it out for yourself.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Thoughts on Thinking and Truth

In two recent entries -- Think Not and Does Truth Matter? -- I asked similar or at least related questions. Why aren't we thinking? Does truth matter? The kind of response one typically gets to things like that is, "Oh, yeah? You're not thinking very straight, are you? Jesus never said anything about gay marriage or transgender stuff, but you still think it's wrong."

That's what I was talking about. Why don't people think? Does truth matter?

Let's think about it for a moment. Jesus never said, "Gay marriage is a sin" or "Transgender is a sin." So far, so good. We're in agreement. Jesus never said, "You can only marry one person" or "You can't marry your dad." So we're still in agreement? Jesus never said, "Don't drink and drive" or "It's wrong to molest children." Still in agreement? Here's one. Jesus never said we're not saved by works, but by grace. Still in agreement? Well, we should be (up to this point) because we have no record whatsoever of Him saying any of those things. But if we conclude "Jesus never said anything about gay marriage" should be understood to mean "Jesus thought it was okay," now we're going to have a problem. We're going to have a problem because we all believe that polygamy, incest, drunk driving, and child molesting are wrong and "saved by grace apart from works" is right. That should clue us into something. It's not just about the red letters that represent Jesus's spoken words. I don't believe it is and neither do you.

What, then? Well, if Jesus is "the Word" (John 1:1) and the Bible is God's Word, then it would stand to reason that Jesus said, either in person or in print, everything in the Bible. As such, we should be able to find answers to these "missing things" that Jesus never said. Those answers would be in the rest of God's Word.

So, let's see. Jesus never said, "Don't wear white after Labor Day." What does the Bible tell us on this? Not a thing. Not one blessed, single thing. Good. I won't fault you for wearing white after Labor Day. What about gay marriage? Well, there is not one single reference in the Bible anywhere that talks about that subject. That being said, every biblical reference to homosexual behavior lists it as a sin and every biblical reference to marriage lists it as "man and woman." Think about that for a moment. If Scripture -- God's Word -- was so abundantly clear, it seems like the answer to the next question would be obvious. "Why would Jesus say anything about a subject that God has already made abundantly clear?" I wouldn't expect He'd need to. So, no, Jesus said nothing about gay or marriage between same-sex couples, but He had no call to do so. It wasn't regarded as good in His day. (I should point out that neither Jesus nor the Bible has much to say about "transgender". It's a completely brand new thing and, beyond the fact that God made humans male and female (Gen 1:27) -- binary gender -- it doesn't seem like you'd expect Him to say anything either. I will also point out that I don't actually think of it as a sin -- a violation of God's commands -- except insofar as it is a product of the Fall. I do see it as a sickness, primarily mental. Not the same thing.)

This is just an example. People -- even people who are Christians -- don't think. They throw out irrational, unexamined ideas like they're valid and logical without thinking through their basis or their outcomes and think that they're thinking. They don't ask, "Is it true?" They don't actually think truth matters. What matters is "What I think is right" -- pursuing personal opinions and preferences. And that's a natural thing, but it's neither thinking nor truth.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A Christmas Miracle

The day after Christmas, and it makes me think. One word we often associate with Christmas is "miracle". It feels like a natural. You may come up with a variety of images when I say, "Christmas miracle," but you won't likely draw a blank. Maybe it's the Classic A Miracle on 34th Street where a store Santa turns out the be the real thing. Maybe it's the news of the day. This year a cruise ship crew rescued two fishermen lost at sea for 20 days. "I don't know about you," a Royal Caribbean International representative said, "but I've already seen a Christmas miracle." Or maybe it's the warmth and joy of the season. Or something else.

I never taught my kids that there was a Santa Claus. You can surmise, then, that it didn't make me or them particularly popular at this time of year. One mother took me to task for it. Her kids went to the same Christian school mine did. "You need to make your son be quiet about Santa. He told my daughter there was no such thing. Do you want him to ruin the miracle of Christmas for other children??!" Yes, that would be one of the things that would come to mind with the phrase, "Christmas miracle." It's that guy from the North Pole who visits every house in every place in one evening delivering whatever it is each child wants. Quite a miracle. If it was true.

It is true that "Christmas" and "miracle" go together, but why is it that we come up with so many varied thoughts? Why is it that we think of some fictional guy in a red suit and beard who delivers coal to bad kids and gifts to good kids in the blink of an eye overnight before we think of the God-become-Man, Savior-born-of-a-virgin, God's-answer-to-our-universal-sin-problem miracle? Why is it that "Santa Claus is coming to town" is more of a Christmas miracle than "Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Php 2:6-7)? Jesus fulfilled multiple prophecies offered hundreds, even thousands of years before His birth. Precise predictions filled to perfection. How is that miracle less than a mythical gift-giver who offers good to "good children" and bad to bad children?

I believe in the Christmas miracle. I just wish we -- especially we Christians -- could keep in mind just what that miracle was and savor the magnitude of it. That Christmas miracle is a life-changing, forever kind of miracle. The Son of God born to die for my sin? Now that is a miracle to celebrate ... year-round.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas -- Enough Said

"I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." (Luke 2:10-11,14)

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Nativity

Now there's an intersting word -- "Nativity." It is the past tense of the Latin, nāscī -- "to be born." Yes, it is connected to "native." It means "to become native," in a sense. It conveys taking that which is not native and making it native via birth. The word with a lowercase "n" simply means "birth." In its capitalized form it refers to one birth -- that of Christ.

We know a lot about Jesus's birth -- more, in fact, than is actual. We know that Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem riding a donkey even though no donkey is mentioned in Scripture. (They likely walked.) We know that there was no room for them at the local hotel ("inn") although the better translation of the word would be "guest chamber" and likely didn't refer to a hotel at all, but someone's house. Likely a relative, since Joseph and Mary were ancestors of David (Matt 1:6; Luke 3:31). In fact, they went to Bethlehem because it was their own town (Luke 2:3). You can probably forget the mean old innkeeper who stuck them in a barn. The common suggestion is that the stable was in a cave. We get the notion that He was born in a cave not from Scripture, but from 2nd century sources. We don't know that, either.

Look at any Nativity display and you will realize that we also know that it was crowded that night in the stable. There was the family, the animals, the shepherds, and the three wise men (who hopefully were wise enough to leave their camels outside). Now, we don't know how many shepherds there were. And we do know it was crowded in that manger. (How Mary and Joseph and the baby all fit in that manger (Luke 2:16) is beyond me.) But we are pushing the envelope when we include 3 wise men. We don't know how many there were -- we only know of 3 gifts listed (Matt 2:11) -- but we can be quite certain that they weren't there that night. We can surmise this from 1) the fact that they came to the house, not the stable (Matt 2:11), and 2) Herod, having been properly informed on when the baby was born from when they saw the star (Matt 2:7), ordered the deaths of all male children under the age of 2 (Matt 2:16), so it looks like the family had been living in Bethlehem for nearly two years before the wise men came.

The Nativity (that scene we know of with all those characters, right or wrong) is important not because of the specifics of who was there or how they got there. It is important because of the principles. It includes a birth in less-than-opulent conditions -- a lowly beginning (Php 2:5-7). It includes the meager worshipers (shepherds) and the glorified worshipers (wise men). It includes those who hate Him. (Herod tried to have Him killed.) All important principles. His nativity -- the lowercase "birth" version -- however, is critical. It is only this God-become-human that could bear the sins of humans. It was only as Man that He could pay the price and only as God that it was sufficient for all. It was only as Man that He could be able to bear our burdens (Heb 2:18; Heb 4:15). This nativity, this birth of the Savior, of "God with us," is the best news that all mankind could receive. And, in the end, every knee will bow and every tongue confess this Savior as Lord to the glory of God (Rom 14:11; Php 2:10-11). You and I could start that now, right?

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Incarnation

Most of our Christmas stories come from two sources. We have Luke, the classic "angel appears to Mary" to "the Bethlehem birth" and the shepherds with the angels, and we have Matthew, where Joseph is told about it and wise men come. Mark studiously ignores that story and starts with John the Baptist and Jesus's baptism. But what about John?

There's no Christmas story in John ... but there is. His is the story of the Incarnation. Now, before we go there, you have to understand "incarnation." The word itself is intended to convey "in the flesh." "Incarnate" as a verb means "to make into flesh." And, at its core, this is the critical Christmas story.

John's version begins before the Incarnation.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2)
"In the beginning" is John's original starting place. This Word was both with God and was God. The same, yet distinct. This Word was uncreated. We know this because "All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:3). Anything that was made was made by this Word (so He could not have made Himself). He is the Creator of all things created. He is called "the true light" (John 1:9). And then we get to the important part -- the Incarnation.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)
A single, simple line. Not even a complete sentence or thought. (There's more to verse 14.) But it is critical -- the Incarnation. He existed before anything was made. He was with God and was God. He was the Creator of all that was created. And He "became flesh." Incarnation.

On this basis,
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:10-13)
He was in the world prior to His Incarnation, but it was this "being made flesh" that produced this result. God Incarnate could be received, could be believed in, could give us the right to become children of God. Now that is a joyous Christmas story.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

News Weakly - 12/22/18

Lights That Shine
"Let your light so shine that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven," Jesus said. Meet Wayne Price. The story on Today introduces him this way. "Wayne Price has been driving a school bus for five years, but his faith is what really drives to him to do everything in his life." Nice. Last week the school had to open late due to weather. Price knew that his busload of kids wouldn't get to eat, so he stopped at McDonald's and picked up 50 McMuffins so all his kids would get fed that day. Why? "I'm driven by faith and Christ." The story ends, "To the bus driver, Christmas is all about giving in the spirit of God. And give he did." Well done, Mr. Price.

Faithful Disobedience
We complain about the persecution we are seeing in America. Oh, sure, it's minimal, hardly comparing to real persecution, but it is persecution since Jesus said it was (Matt 5:10-12). But we have to admit that real persecution is happening elsewhere, like the Chinese government arresting pastors, church leaders, and members. I can only hope that when we do end up receiving greater persecution like they do in those other countries we can be as faithful to Christ in our disobedience to anti-Christian government as they are.

A Christmas Miracle
Roxli Doss is an 11-year-old Texas girl who had an inoperable brain tumor. That is, until her church started praying for her. She recently had an MRI and the doctor said the tumor was undetectable. The doctors have no explanation; the church people do.

Bankruptcy
The Boy Scouts of America are considering bankruptcy. They're reeling from multiple sexual abuse charges as well as sharply declining membership. Now, I can't imagine how that could be since they caved in to the crowd on homosexual leaders and letting girls into the Boy Scouts. Could it be they're filing for moral bankruptcy?

Medical Needs
This is rich. Apparently "Sure, I'm a guy, but I feel like a girl" constitutes a "medical need." U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill said, "Inmates have no choice but to rely on prison authorities to treat their medical needs," so he ordered the Idaho Department of Correction to provide gender reassignment surgery. Why them? Well, this guy was convicted in 2012 of molesting a child. It's interesting that the convict was diagnosed with gender dysphoria by an IDOC psychiatrist. It's interesting because he was not diagnosed by a doctor (which would have indicated that there was actual science behind such a diagnosis) and because the treatment for the problem is to pander to it. That makes sense, apparently, to the judge who called it "a serious medical need."

Santa Lives
In Glendale, California, David Carter, a local mall Santa, was arrested for punching a shopper who denied the divinity of Christ*.

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.
________
* In case you didn't know, the original Saint Nicholas of Myra was arrested for punching Arius at the Council of Nicea because he denied the divinity of Christ.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Captivated

In 1521 Martin Luther was called before the Holy Roman Emperor to defend his writings and teachings. His works lay before him for anyone to see. "Are these your works?" they demanded. They were. "Will you recant?" Luther begged for a night to consider and it was granted. The next day, he gave his response. "Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason ... my conscience is captive to the Word of God. ... To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me." Now, we moderns picture the man, standing firm, defying the authorities, bold and brassy. Accounts, however, say that he was more mousy than brassy. They asked him to speak up. Luther wasn't unaware of the gravity of the situation nor the danger he faced. In his loudest whisper, he barely stood his ground. He said why. "My conscience is captive to the Word of God." What else could he do?

I was raised "standard". I grew up with the same standard theology that most others have. We all know, thanks the the fame of Billy Graham types, that Christ did 99.99% of what was required to save me and I only have that last 0.01% to do -- faith and repentance. I only have to receive (we normally call it "accept") Christ. Marvel upon marvels, grace upon grace, now I'm saved. That's what I grew up with.

And then I hit a biblical wall. (I know ... the normal phrase is "brick wall", but it really is a biblical one in this case.) I came up against clear, consistent Scripture that made it impossible for me to continue in the position that I had been. From Genesis to Revelation there is a constant picture of the nature of Man. From Adam and the Fall (Gen 3:16-19) to Noah and the Flood (Gen 8:21) we are sinners. "The intention of man's heart is evil from his youth." We are born in sin (Psa 51:5), telling lies from the womb (Psa 58:3). It turns out that we're not just sinful; we're broken. We have deceitful hearts (Jer 17:9). We have been blinded (2 Cor 4:4). We aren't just naughty; we are by nature hostile to God (Rom 8:7). It's not just bad choices; it is inability (1 Cor 2:14). We aren't merely sin sick; we're dead (Eph 2:1-3). I wanted to believe that we had the full capability to traverse that last 0.01%, that easy step, but the distance is, biblically, too vast. It would be a complete violation of the nature of Man. It would require action on the part of the dead on information given to those who cannot understand to accomplish that which we hate -- an impossibility. I would like to have wormed my way around that biblical brick wall, but I couldn't. There were no responses, no explanations, no biblical answers to these biblical claims regarding our condition. Face it; I'm stuck. So I respond in my loudest whisper, "Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason ... my conscience is captive to the Word of God. ... To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me."

At this point the outlook looks so grim that it appears hopeless. Does Scripture offer hope? I know that our popular theology does, but does Scripture? Our popular theology tells us to "choose to believe." That makes no sense. Worse, Scripture indicates we're sinners at the core and beyond the capability to alter that. Does Scripture give a response? Indeed it does.

Jesus explained to the Jews why they didn't believe. "You do not believe," He said, "because you are not among My sheep" (John 10:26). Who are Jesus sheep? We would typically answer, "Those who believe." But Jesus turned it around. They didn't believe because they weren't His sheep. Thus, it is necessary to be His sheep before they could believe. Jesus said, "I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice" (John 10:16). That would be sheep who were not yet believing but certainly would. Jesus explained why cynics and even some of His disciples didn't believe. "No one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father" (John 6:65). Coming is granted by the Father. God grants faith (Phil 1:29). God grants repentance (2 Tim 2:25). God appoints who will believe (Acts 13:48). God opens hearts (Acts 16:14).

I know. This isn't the best known approach. There are lots people I know, love, admire, and respect -- people I regard as genuine, sincere, Bible-believing Christians -- who don't see it this way. But, like Luther said, "I cannot do otherwise; God help me."

In this version, then, Christ did not do 99.99% of what it takes to save me and I do the last 0.01%. He does it all. He came, He died, He rose. He exchanges my sin for His righteousness. He grants faith and repentance. He regenerates; He makes the spiritually dead spiritually alive. He empowers and sanctifies. I do exercise faith and repentance, but He enables it. He does it all; I have nothing in which to boast. Not even my faith or repentance. Paul says, "By His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord'" (1 Cor 1:30-31). That's what I believe. I am held captive by what I see in Scripture and, God help me, I don't know where else to stand.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Does Truth Matter?

Pontius Pilate famously asked, "What is truth?" He infamously asked it of the Truth (John 14:6). He blithely asked God's-Word-become-flesh (John 1:14). But he walked away. Jesus never got the chance to say, "You're looking at Him." He never had the opportunity to answer. You have to think that's because Pilate really didn't mean his question. That is, it was rhetorical ... no answer.

The question still hangs there. I work in a heavily academic arena with PhDs and MS's and more -- educated people. I recently overheard a discussion between two coworkers (neither of whom were Christians) over the concept of gender fluidity. One was arguing that it made no sense, that it had no science behind it, that it wasn't true. The other said, "Why does it matter?" Thus the question: Does truth matter?

Jesus said He was the Truth (John 14:6). I think we can come to some reasonable conclusions from that singular claim. First, since Jesus made the claim, there must be truth. Truth is that which aligns with reality. No truth, no reality. There must be truth. Philosophers love to dance around, "It's all just an illusion," but if they were right they'd need to stop dancing. You know, if it's not real there's no reason to keep doing anything. Since all of us keep doing things, we clearly know that there is truth, there is reality.

Second, since Jesus said it, it would seem patently obvious that truth can be known. We can know Jesus. He is the truth. Ergo, we can know the truth. We may not know all the truth. We might be deceived on some points. But truth can be known to some degree.

Third, if Jesus is the truth and Jesus matters, clearly the truth matters.

I think it is abundantly clear that there is truth, that we can know it, and that it matters immensely. That's why I cannot fathom how it is that so many today don't care. I'd like to say, "It's those on the Left" or something that would get one side or another to applaud, but it's not. The Left often doesn't care. The Right often doesn't care. Those among both heathens and the religious don't care. "My view" matters, but the pursuit of truth isn't a priority. For many people, truth just doesn't matter.

Going back to Jesus, if truth doesn't matter, that's going to be a problem. Since He is the only way to the Father (John 14:6) and He doesn't matter, we're headed in a cataclysmic direction. Some of us might want to reexamine our view of truth. Either it is important -- nay, vital -- or it is not. If not, then that will suggest massive changes to what we do, think, and feel, and not in a good way. If truth does matter, that, too, will require new directions -- choices, thoughts, feelings. It ought to be considered.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Language Fails ... Again

This is an interesting study. According to this survey by LifeWay Research, there is a real problem with "evangelicals."

About 1 in 4 Americans identify as evangelical Christians. (If you ask me, if a genuine 1 in 4 Americans are actually Christians, I would be delightfully surprised.) An interesting number, but it only breaks down from there. You see, the term, "evangelical," includes a set of beliefs. And, as it turns out, about 45% of those who identify as evangelicals actually agree with evangelical beliefs. But wait! There are a significant number of Christians who do agree with evangelical beliefs who reject the term, "evangelical." According to the study, only 69% of those who hold the beliefs identify themselves as evangelicals. And all of the sudden, we're in really murky waters. So when we hear that "81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump," you might begin to see that this is a vague concept. What evangelicals? Were they evangelicals? What does that number actually tell us? Precious little, I think. (Note: That claim was aimed specifically at "white evangelicals" -- that is, voters (as opposed to those who didn't vote) who self-identify (given the vague nature of "self-identify" versus "actual") as evangelicals (considering the problem of whether they really hold evangelical beliefs or not) who are white (as opposed to other ethnicities). Among self-identified evangelicals, 58% are white, 23% are African-American, 14% are Hispanic, and the rest are another ethnicity. More confusion regarding evangelicals and voting.)

I found this data after reading an article complaining (again) about the misguided claim about the 81% of white evangelicals that voted for Trump. The number is misleading. It implies that American evangelicals all love Trump (or, at least, 80% of them do), but 1) it ignores the 40% of evangelicals that didn't vote (Do the math. If 80% of voting evangelicals voted for him and only 60% of evangelicals voted, then only some 48% of evangelicals voted for him.), 2) ignores the fact that only 58% of evangelicals are white (leaving an inconclusive number of evangelicals that voted for him when all ethnicities are included), and 3) since "evangelical" is defined solely as "I said I was," it appears to make the claim nearly meaningless.

To me, however, the most disturbing part is the entire collapse of "evangelical." Less than 15% of Americans claim to believe in the doctrines that the term "evangelical" was intended to convey, but we're all pretty sure that "evangelical" is your basic politically conservative representative of what Christians are ... except that many of today's self-professed evangelicals are not representatives of what "evangelical" means. And once again we'll have to go hunting for a new term that expresses what "saved", "born again", "fundamentalist", "Bible-believing", and "evangelical" (in my lifetime) were all intended to convey but no longer do. We're not talking about your "CINO" -- Christian-in-name-only. We're talking about people who have a saving relationship with Christ. People keep stealing the old words; I need a new word.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Think Not

I cannot tell you how many times I've heard this story. "I used to believe that homosexual behavior was a sin, but then a family member came out as gay and I changed my mind." We got a clear example of this recently. Lauren Daigle, if you don't know, is a contemporary Christian music darling. Recently she was interviewed on a radio show and asked about her views on homosexuality. "Do you feel that homosexuality is a sin?" She couldn't give an answer. "I can't honestly answer on that," she said. "I have too many people that I love that they are homosexual. I don't know." I was interested in the question: "Do you feel that ...?" It demanded the response. No one asked her what she thought. So what she "thought" was determined by how she felt.

We're not doing that much anymore -- thinking. Think about it. (Small joke there.) There is a crowd demanding a minimum wage of $15/hour, but is anyone thinking about where that will come from? No. They like the sound of "$15/hour." It feels good. Women's rights people are demanding the right to kill their babies at will and prosecute for murder those who kill their unborn babies (they use that term then) if they did not will it. Inconsistent and emotional. Our culture minimizes faith because Science is reasonable right up until Science declares that they're foolish for declaring, for instance, that there are actual differences between men and women. Not thinking things through. The current morality demands the right to redefine marriage so that two people of the same sex can wed, but fervently refuses to allow anything else -- polygamy, polyamory, marrying a fence post, whatever. On what basis? No logical one, to be sure. It is compassion and not reason that causes people to embrace "gender fluidity," not facts or reasoning.

We are not being trained to think. Logic classes used to be taught at the grade school level and are now hard to find at the college level. Analytical thinking, critical thinking, logic, these kinds of things are no longer part of our experience. We're not taught to think. We're not encouraged to think. It's not our purpose in life, our goal, our aim. The one and only question worth examining is "How do you feel?" And, look, didn't Jesus Himself say, "Think not" (e.g., Matt 5:17; Matt 10:34; John 5:45)?

Here's a little hint. What I just did there ... was ask you to think. Did Jesus say that? If He did, what did He mean? Because renewing our feelings is never listed in Scripture as something to do but renewing the mind is (Rom 12:2; Eph 4:23). Jesus did say, "Do not think ...", but it was the beginning of a sentence that went on to say what not to think and what to think. The feeling person would have felt good that Jesus said, "Think not"; the thinking person would have objected.

In Matthew 21 the Pharisees challenged Jesus to tell them His authority. He offered a counter question. "The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?" (Matt 21:25). It goes on to say, "And they discussed it among themselves, saying, 'If we say, "From heaven," He will say to us, "Why then did you not believe him?" But if we say, "From man," we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet'" (Matt 21:25-26). They thought it through very carefully ... without ever considering the truth. They were afraid. They felt like it was a no-win question. They never thought about the truth.

Scripture talks a lot about thinking. "Finally, brothers," Paul writes, "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Php 4:8). Isaiah wrote, "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You" (Isa 26:3). Paul declared, "We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Cor 10:5).

So, you decide. Are you going to lead with your heart (Jer 17:9) or renew your mind? Are you going to feel your way or "think on these things"? In a world that seems to be hardly able to think its way out of paper bag, where are you going to operate? In a renewed mind or by "following your heart"?

Monday, December 17, 2018

What He Said

D.A. Carson said this and I had to pass it on. It is something that I've been trying to say for a long time; he just said it so well.
The aim is never to become a master of the Word, but to be mastered by it.
That's what I've believed and emphasized over and over to myself and to as many others as I could. It's not about "my opinion" or "my hunches" or even "my wise interpretation." It is letting the Word speak for itself and conforming my thoughts, my views, my emotions ... my worldview to God's view. It's not that I've mastered it. I want to be overcome by it. And if I find nothing in Scripture that challenges my current views or positions, I've ceased to pay attention because "'My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,' declares the LORD" (Isa 55:8-9).

(And they said I couldn't do a short post. Ha!)

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Inexpressible

In Romans 7 Paul speaks about the problem of sin and law. The law, Paul said, served the function of defining sin for us (Rom 7:7). The problem was that defining sin for us produced sin in us (Rom 7:8). Paul believed in the law -- good, holy, righteous (Rom 7:12) -- but bemoaned the consequences -- death (Rom 7:13). But Paul's big problem was not the problem of the existence of sin. His problem was that he wanted to do good but didn't do it (Rom 7:14-24). That's the problem.

There are debates around that passage. Was Paul talking about himself or was it just a hypothetical? Was he talking about himself as he was or himself as he was in his early days (a new, immature Christian) or as he was before Christ? I've heard these arguments. People I trust have given all of them. I won't fall hard over on any of them -- "and the rest of you are misguided fools!" Not this time. But I can tell you my view.

I personally side with the "mature Christian who struggles against sin" version. Paul himself says that he hasn't arrived (Php 3:12), but it's more than just Paul's comment there that convinces me. It seems to me that every mature Christian I've ever known or heard of has expressed this same struggle with sin. It's odd. The more mature one gets in Christ, the less sin is visible. "These are super-Christians," we tend to think. But talk to them and you'll hear comments about their horror over their sinfulness. "What sinfulness?" you might be tempted to ask. And they might share with you and you would likely think, "I wish I was that holy." But they don't think that. They are horrified by their "lesser" evil. Why is that?

Sin, at its core, is simply the failure to glorify God (Rom 3:23). It is, then, an assault on God's glory. If a Christian -- say, a mature Christian -- has the primary aim to glorify God, any failure to do so would be awful. So the more one is concerned about glorifying God, the more one is upset about not glorifying God. Add to that the problem of the deceitful heart (Jer 17:9). Paul says that one of our main problems is the suppression of truth (Rom 1:18). So the more tuned we become to the truth about our sin condition, the more aware we are of our sin condition. In this case, it would follow that the more mature the believer, the more aware they are of their sin and the more horrified they are of their sin, even if the quantity of sin was diminishing.

Maybe Paul isn't talking about a mature Christian in this passage. Fine. I think, however, that only when we become horrified by our sin can we truly appreciate God's grace and mercy. Only when we face our wretchedness (Rom 7:24) can we truly exult in "no condemnation" (Rom 8:1). Personally, I'm in favor of magnifying God and diminishing me. I would classify gratitude to God for His inexpressible gift of grace (2 Cor 9:14-15) as a good and right thing. I will go with that.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

News Weakly - 12/15/18

Sadly, Not News For Long
Meet Peter Vlaming. Peter is a French teacher at West Point High School (in Virginia, I think). Oh, sorry, was a teacher. He has been fired. You know what for. "Sexual impropriety?" No. "Racism?" No. "Anti-science positions?" No. He refused to use the "preferred pronoun" for a transgender student in his class. "We are here today because a specific worldview is being imposed on me," he told the school board. And that's the truth. "You will use the preferred pronoun the student desires and you will not make any reference to science or religion or the like." As was noted by Mr. Vlaming, firing someone under these conditions is not tolerance; it is the opposite. The very sad thing to me is that this won't be news much longer. Expect it coming soon to just about anyone who disagrees with the prevailing sexual-orientation/gender-identity winds.

The Scum
You remember Kid Rock. He was fired last week from Grand Marshall of Nashville's Christmas parade because he used an unacceptable word about a beloved left TV host. The scum. Now he has exceeded all bounds of decency. He paid off Walmart layaways for 350 families. Loser. Can't trust anyone these days.

Where We've Come From
The rest of the "civilized" world is already there, but now Ireland has decided to join the "wrong side of history" and legalize baby killing. It is an "historic moment" for women now that they can choose to kill their children in the womb. Now they will "care for women with compassion" and murder babies with abandon. The only plus side is that they have a 12-week limit, so only the absolutely most vulnerable are in danger.

Where We're Going
This probably isn't new, but it's still here, and I'm wondering if anyone is actually paying attention. The mayor of Woodland, WA, saw to it that the decades-old tradition of a Nativity display in a public park was put to death this week because of "a handful of complaints." It's a constitutional question, it seems. Something to do with the "Establishment Clause" (not to be confused with the Santa Clause) because, you see, if a government entity recognizes a religious entity in any way, it is establishing a religion. Get it? If you do, you're better than me.

If we carry this to its logical end, we have a lot of changes to make. We'll have to censure every document in American history that mentions God, starting with the Declaration of Independence -- that will go right out the window -- or religion (because in the earliest days of this nation the "religion" to which they always referred (positively) was Christianity). All the national figures who prayed, who stated, "God bless America", who even hinted at anything Christian would need to be erased. Government-related entities -- offices, schools, whatever -- would have to cease recognizing Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter (at least). The next government office that takes Christmas off would be in direct violation of the Constitution. Prayers before government events like congressional gatherings would have to be canceled. The military would need to fire all their chaplains. For starters. I'm sure you can come up with more. It will be interesting to see if there is a single government officer (or a single atheist) who refuses time off at Christmas on the grounds that it is not constitutional. Yeah, right.

What We're Getting To
This story is so twisted. In Cleburne, TX, three men were protesting outside of St. Mark United Methodist Church during a "Breakfast with Santa" event. "Do you let your kids believe in a fake Santa," one asked, "or do they know who Jesus is?" Well, that was too much, of course. A mother of four was outraged. "When I told them not to ruin Santa and Christmas for my kids they started to shout out that Santa was not real and that I was wrong for teaching them that, I got really verbal with them over it." The church asked them to leave. Two did, but the 3rd refused and was arrested for trespassing.

Twisted. A church had someone arrested for trespassing. He was trespassing because he wanted to talk about Jesus and they wouldn't allow it. Christmas is ruined if you tell kids that Santa isn't real. The protester will get coal in his stocking for Christmas. (Seriously, that's what the mayor suggested.) I'm not supporting the protester -- defending Christ is right, but "with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). That a church and its visitors would favor Santamas over Christmas at Christmas is beyond me. Like I said, twisted.

What Ulterior Motives?
Her name is Letitia James. She "is an American lawyer, activist and politician." And she was just elected to be New York's Attorney General. (Just for reference, the job of a state attorney general is to be the chief legal advisor to the state government and to be the state's chief law enforcement officer.) Well, she's promising to be right on top of things, planning to "launch sweeping investigations into President Donald Trump, his family and anyone in his circle" for any potential violation of the law. Let's see ... a lawyer, an activist, a Democrat, planning to investigate "anyone in his orbit." Seems fair and reasonable to me. Oh, wait! How is that fair or reasonable? How is that not a "woman on the edge"? "I've got a loaded office and I'm not afraid to use it!" Hope she has time to, you know, do the rest of the job she was elected to do. (I'm just wondering. When the "anti-Obama" conservatives made efforts to examine questionable items in Barack's past, the left criticized them harshly. Do you suppose they will do the same when Letitia does the very same with Trump and everyone in his orbit?)

Assault on Free Speech
California is at it again. Now they are considering a "text tax". They want to charge users for texting. They plan to tax users for their texting so they can provide free phone service for low-income residents. I mean, seriously, that is an assault on free speech, isn't it? (That's what we call a "pun" in the vernacular.) (By the way, they're talking about a retroactive tax that would go back 5 years. Nice.)

Wait ... What?
First, they tell me, "My little baby brother, who's never read a book, Knows one sex from the other, All he had to do was look." Then they tell me, "Oh, no, gender is a societal construct. Genders are variable and even fluid. There is no actual difference between the sexes." Now they tell me, "Exciting new research in neuroscience highlights sex differences of the brain at all levels, from structure and function to nervous systems. It is now understood that sex is a significant biological variable in areas beyond reproduction." Now, come on! Can't you rein in your god -- Science -- and make sense here? (The story is stunning in its content and implications. Read it fast. I can't imagine it will be available for long.)

Friday, December 14, 2018

I Mean, WOW!

Back in 2013 I wrote The Christmas Carol Conspiracy where I kind of had a laugh at the expense of popular, secular singers who, with no genuine faith or intent to preach the gospel, were preaching the gospel by singing popular Christmas carols. I concluded with Paul's statement.
Some ... are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love ... the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives .... What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice (Php 1:15-18).
I still smile to hear Christ proclaimed from the lips of heathens. "Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed." Works for me.

My wife loves Christmas music. Recently she discovered an online music channel that features Christians doing it. You may have heard of WOW. I haven't been able to find out what it stands for, but they are a music company that puts out compilation albums featuring contemporary Christian music. Well, they have a Christmas station now, too. And she's loving it. Me? Not so much.

Turns out that while non-Christians -- even anti-Christians -- are singing all sorts of praise to the Savior at Christmas, too many Christians are opting for Christmas fare like "Last Christmas" (a song about how he gave his heart to a girl last Christmas and she broke it), "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." (One actually did "Jingle Bells" complete with the "Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg" verse.) I mean, hey, I get it coming from unbelievers. It's what I expect. But Christians? With the tide of anti-Christian sentiment in the public square and the absolute dilution of anything in Christmas having to do with Christ, you opt to go with the flow?

I don't anticipate that unbelievers will intentionally appreciate (value) or promote the Christ of Christmas. It's just not in their nature. But for a buck they might sing a song or two that does. On the other hand, can believers afford not to make Christmas all about Christ? I think not. I suspect they're not thinking.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Problem of Belief

You remember the story (John 11). Jesus and His disciples were informed of Lazarus's illness. Jesus didn't go. When He heard Lazarus was ill, "He stayed two days longer" (John 11:6). And Lazarus died. So they went to see him. Well, there is the whole sad exchange with Martha. "If You had been here, he would not have died." "Your brother will rise again." "I know, in the resurrection." "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:21-25). Martha didn't believe. So the sisters took Him to where Lazarus was buried and Jesus raised him from the dead (John 11:38-44). He walked right out of the grave, four days dead and all bound in burial wraps. Right in front of everyone.

Some believed (John 11:45), but some of the eyewitnesses tattled to the Pharisees (John 11:46). As a result, the council planned to kill Jesus and Lazarus (John 12:9-11). Now, I ask you. How does that make any sense? We're not talking about a speech, a teaching, a matter of interpretation, an opinion, or an idea. We're talking about a bone fide miracle acted out in the plain presence of hostile witnesses so glaringly clear that it could not have been interpreted as anything but a miracle. And what miracle? An actual resurrection of a dead man. Not in secret; right out in the open. And these witnesses and those they told about what they saw planned to kill ... the miracle and the miracle worker. How does that make any sense?

We think that this should be fairly straightforward. Give them the good news. Tell them the necessary Bible verses. Maybe the Four Spiritual Laws or the Romans Road or whatever 12-step program is currently in vogue. If you do it right -- you hit all the right points with the right feeling and the right conviction and maybe even the right heart -- people will believe. How could they not? So you'd think. But the story of Lazarus argues to the contrary.

A few takeaways, then. 1) A failure of your audience to respond as you'd hoped is not a reflection on you, your skills, your presentation, or your heart. Jesus executed the perfect resurrection and many of the witnesses did not believe. 2) It's harder to believe than not to. For fallen humans -- blinded by Satan, operating with a deceitful heart, hostile to God, dead in sin -- coming to faith makes no sense. The father of lies makes it hard. The cross is an offense (1 Cor 1:18). Faith and repentance come hard to unbelievers. 3) Given that it is not a matter of lack of evidence or poor presentation (The story of Lazarus offered both perfectly and you saw the results.) and the fact that Natural Man is naturally opposed to faith, we can rest with confidence in the One who has sent us to share the gospel. He will produce the results He intends. In that He cannot fail. The problem of belief is one that He can overcome at will. We get to be part of that by making disciples.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Fundamental Error

Don't stop me if you've heard this. "My wife won't have sex with me anymore and I don't know what I'm going to do." Don't stop me because I'm pretty sure you have. You've heard it on TV, heard it in the papers and the journals, heard it from friends and/or family, maybe even said it yourself. If not "wife", it might be "husband", but I'm pretty sure most of us have heard it at one point or another. There are variations, of course. Maybe it's not "sex". Maybe it's more general like, "He just doesn't make me happy anymore" or "I want more than she's willing to give." One I heard recently was, "I just want some 'me' time." They all come from the same root -- "I'm not getting what I want out of this marriage." If we haven't said or at least thought it, we've certainly all heard it. And we all understand it.

Here's the problem. This is the way we act and think -- all of us at some time or another -- but this is not the way we were designed.

We have a lot of information on how we are supposed to work based in input from the Designer. We know, for instance, that wives should expect ... to submit to their husbands (Eph 5:22-24) and husbands have a reasonable expectation ... that they should be sacrificially loving their wives (Eph 5:25-29). Now that's strange isn't it? Not what we normally think. We are commanded ... get this ... to "with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves" (Php 2:3). That is not what we're told by those around us. That is not what our friends are telling us, not what our society is telling us, not what our own minds tell us. "Looking out for #1" -- that is the right thing to do. But Scripture says otherwise. You are instructed to love God and love your neighbor without a single command to receive love from either. And Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). It's all outward, you see? We naturally look out for our own interests, but we're supposed to look out for the interests of others (Php 2:4).

Well, you can see where this is going. Considering the quite standard complaints in the first paragraph, can you see the fundamental error? They all come from "I deserve" or "I want." But we were designed for something better. We were designed to look out for what others need or want, what is best for those around us. We're not doing that very well. And I think we can agree that to the extent that we fail to do that, we fail as followers of Christ and as a society.

It comes down to this, then. What direction are you headed? Are you operating in that fundamental error that it's all about you -- your needs, your wants, your desires, your comfort, your rights? Or are you aiming outward? We all know the complaint, "My spouse isn't giving to me ...", but how many have heard, "My spouse is all about me"? Can you imagine a world in which everyone is counting on their needs to be met by God, so they're functioning in a "looking out for others" mode? Well, of course, that would be the fabled "year-round Christmas", only better. It's only possible, of course, if you know Christ, but if you do, does that describe you? If not, why not? (Those are rhetorical questions; I don't need or expect answers.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Is Christmas Dead?

I've heard it for years. You know, the complaints from Christians about Christmas. They range from "It's too commercial" to "It's too pagan." Is it true? Is Christmas a mistake for Christians to recognize? I mean, look, no one knows the date of Jesus's birth. December 25th? Well, maybe, maybe not. "Jesus came to save us. Why don't we just focus on that and leave all this commercial nonsense alone?" (I actually heard that.) Is Christmas dead? At least spiritually? I don't think so.

"But, look," I'm sure some are saying, "you know that our Christmas traditions all come from pagan celebrations, don't you?" No, actually, I don't. Oh, we've been sold that story for a long time -- so long we're believing it. But it's just not true. The first Christmas trees weren't documented until the 1600's, not the day of the druids or Babylonians or whatever. "It's all part of the Saturnalia celebration, don't you know?" No, I don't.

One of the key concepts in the New Testament, repeated over and over, even by Jesus Himself, was Jesus in the Old Testament. By that I mean the New Testament repeatedly claims that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Promised One from the Old Testament. New Testament authors repeatedly point to Old Testament Scriptures to show how Jesus met the prophecies. Jesus Himself did that (Luke 24:27). If He thought it was important, I think I should also. As such, much of the story of His Incarnation is fulfillment of Scripture. It's in there. His virgin birth (Isa 7:14), birthplace (Mic 5:2), heritage (Gen 12:3; Gen 17:19; Num 24:17; Gen 49:10), His naming (Isa 7:14), His flight to Egypt (Hos 11:1), the deaths of the children in Bethlehem (Jer 31:15), and more are part of the prophecies fulfilled by Christ in the Christmas story. I think that's important.

One of the key concepts of His death and resurrection is that He died in our place. As it turns out, that could only be done by a human, not a deity. Only a sinless man could pay the debt for sinful Man.

Because something is used improperly does not mean that it should not be used at all. You know that. When folks in the name of Christ carry out atrocities, large and small, you can't conclude, "Well, I guess Christianity is false." In the same way, because the world has turned Christmas into a commercial enterprise, even banning Christmas in the process, doesn't mean that Christmas is wrong. The question is is it dead? Does Christmas -- the story of Christ's Incarnation -- have any reality or value in Christianity? I think it clearly does. So the next question is for you. Are you going to see it through the eyes of a hostile world or for what it really is, the story of the Incarnation -- God becoming flesh to dwell among us? Your call.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Desires

Paul writes to the Ephesians about Christian living. He contrasts the unbeliever with the believer when he says "you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds" (Eph 4:17). They operate in darkened understanding and alienation from God due to internal ignorance and hardness of heart (Eph 4:18). "But that is not the way you learned Christ," he says (Eph 4:20). How, then?

"Put off your old self," he says (Eph 4:22). That old self is part of the former life and "is corrupt through deceitful desires." Instead we should "be renewed in the spirit of your minds and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph 4:23-24).

Imagine that! Old self? Shed like a set of dirty clothes. "Corrupt." We don't think like the old self, but are "renewed in the spirit of your minds." The new self is in the likeness of God. That's something.

I'm interested in that depiction of our desires. The old self gives itself to sensuality, greedily practicing every kind of impurity (Eph 4:19). That's easy to see; just look around you. It's the everyday news. But Paul calls those desires "deceitful". Really? You know it. We are promised joy and satisfaction in all those things. Take this drug, drink this drink, do this act ... we're quite sure this will be good. Fulfilling. And it is! For about two seconds. Then it's not. We need more. More drugs, more alcohol, more sex, more money, more power -- more. We think indulging our desires will bring happiness and instead it brings dissatisfaction. "Greed", essentially, means "not enough" and that's us. Satan holds out the promise of happy living his way -- Satan, the father of lies. These are "deceitful desires."

Paul contrasts here two lifestyles. One is characterized by futile thinking and the pursuit of personal pleasure. The other is characterized by "the new self" with a renewed mind, a living reflection of God "in true righteousness and holiness." The "deceitful desires" are set aside and replaced with new desires from God. That's what we need, you see. Desires from God. Which is it with you? Is your primary pursuit your own pleasures, or is it something new?

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Unto Us a Child is Born

She wasn't from this country. She was a Jewish convert. "What's all this stuff about Christmas?" she asked. "I worship Yeshua, my Savior. Why all this stuff about His birthday, wise men, angels, shepherds? Seems like a waste of time." Interesting question.

Christmas is important to me. Not December 25th as much as the fact that He came, that He was born. His arrival is as important to me as the end of His ministry, His death and resurrection. Partly because He came. We needed that. Partly because He came as a child. Lest we forget, we needed that, too. Partly because His arrival was the glorious collision of many prophesies regarding the coming Messiah. All at once. The virgin birth. The place. The lowly nature of it. The events. All of it.

I suppose, however, that the birth of Christ is important to me because of the distance He traveled, so to speak. Remember, He was "in the form of God" (Phil 2:6). He didn't think it was something He had to cling to. Instead, He "emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Phil 2:7). If that isn't staggering, you aren't paying attention. From the Almighty to that tiny baby born that first Christmas. Born not only to be human, but to humble Himself further to that ultimate end of death on my behalf.

"Unto us a child is born," Isaiah wrote (Isa 9:6). Any rational being would have considered that foolhardy, a colossal mistake on the part of God the Father. He placed His Son in our hands. But this one is called "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." And He humbled Himself even to death on the cross. For me. And you.

"What's all this stuff about Christmas?" she asked. That. That right there. I don't like the tinsel and commercialism and the banning of Christ from Christmas. (I mean, what's the point of "Merry mas"?) But I love it for what it truly represents -- my salvation.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

News Weakly - 12/8/2018

Official Democrat Statement on the Religious
The Massachusetts Democratic Party has passed a resolution "regarding the religiously unaffiliated demographic" that, I think, says a lot about the Democrats and their view (as a group) of Christianity. The resolution states that the largest religious group in the Democratic Party (28%) is the "Nones," those with no religious affiliation. "Nones" include atheists, agnostics, and the "spiritual" who are not connected with any religion. It states that those with religious views have "misplaced claims of 'religious liberty'" and use their views to threaten the civil rights and liberties of many Americans including the LGBT, women, and ethnic groups. It claims that people with those views are "threatening not only the United States but the entire planet."

Now, really, why don't you tell us what you really think?

Climate Change Causes Riots
Oh, that's not the headline they're using. But ... France saw some of the worst rioting in recent history this week. "Yellow jackets," far right and left, and anarchists burned and destroyed nicer parts of Paris because they are opposed to President Macron's fuel tax hikes, "necessary he says to combat climate change," and more. The elite in America poo-poo "climate deniers." People in France riot because the president strongly believes in it.
Postscript
If you've followed this story, you know that the French president gave in to the rioters and withdrew the taxes necessary to solving climate change. In deep gratitude, the rioters ... "took to the streets of Paris for a third weekend of violence and looting." Because as we all know, giving in to the violent evil amongst us is the best way to ... reward it and keep it coming.

Inexcusable
Kid Rock was fired from the Nashville Christmas parade because of a comment he made about ultraliberal Joy Behar. No, not a nice comment. But the single expletive was enough to get him removed from the job. Because insulting a woman of the caliber of Joy Behar is inexcusable. Insulting the president's daughter is fine and suggesting the beheading of the president is fine, but not insulting Joy. When folks like Samantha Bee and Kathy Griffin can proceed essentially without much consequence from much worse things against conservative figures, it makes you wonder how "justice" in these cases is determined.

This is What We've Come To
A cute and traditional winter song is no longer acceptable. WDOK Christmas 102.1 in Cleveland has banned Baby, It's Cold Outside from their playlist because it's "date-rapey". I mean, look. One character (It has been sung both with the male as lead and female as lead) says, "Say, what's in this drink?" See? "Date-rapey." That same character clearly says, "The answer is no." We all know, "No means no." And the other character keeps asking them to stay. Definitely inappropriate. The public has spoken. And we've lost all sanity on the subject. What next? Cancel The Christmas Story because of the bullying scenes?



Identity Fail
In the consummate double standards that rule the day, it turns out that Emile Ratelband is still 69. He was the guy who felt 20 years younger, so he sued to get his age changed. In this case "I identify as" doesn't rule the day. So our society will continue to choose when "identity" wins ("the opposite gender", "homosexual", etc.) and when it doesn't (another race, another age1, etc.), and it is still completely arbitrary. The definition of "truth" is "that which correlates to reality." We like our lies way too much to give them up now. "Who are you going to believe? Me or reality?" Depends.

I'm Just Sayin'
The reports are out. Apparently archaeologists 50 years ago found a 2,000-year-old ring. They cleaned it up recently and found it had an inscription that indicates it belonged to Pontius Pilate. You know, like, "Yeah, we told you so." Well, okay, maybe not. I mean, it doesn't take an archaeological discovery for me to believe. But it is interesting. Science keeps coming up with evidence. I'm just sayin'.
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1 Even age appears to be negotiable, as in the case of the 50-something father who identifies as a 6-year-old girl who was adopted by a family (as a 6-year-old girl) to be the younger sister of their 8-year-old. Go figure.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Countercultural

Counterculture (noun): the culture and lifestyle of those people, especially among the young, who reject or oppose the dominant values and behavior of society.

You know this one, right? In my day they were the hippies. Now they're the "goths" or the gangs, the KKK or the homeschooling movement, the "alt-right" or the "alt-left." They were the Abolitionists and the Suffragettes and the Anarchists. Unlike the sub-culture, where they have a noted pattern within the culture, like tattoos, piercings, or neon-orange hair, these are the ones who identify themselves as "this group" that is counter to the existing status quo. We know them. But ... are we them?

John wrote, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world" (1 John 2:15-16). Biblically we who love the Father ought not to "love the world." Now, let's be careful about that. It isn't intended to convey not loving people or even not loving nature around us or something like that. "The world" in this context is a reference to the values and norms of a sinful universe, "the world" as a system opposed to God. In this sense, we should be "countercultural," right?

Here's the problem with "countercultural." It is defined as that which is in opposition to dominant values and behavior. It is defined, then, by what it rejects or opposes. Is that what we're supposed to be? I don't think so. I think too often we are. We are not called to oppose the world or its systems. We are called to go another direction. In Galatians, for instance, Paul contrasts "walk by the Spirit" with "gratify the desires of the flesh" (Gal 5:16-25). He doesn't say, "Oppose the latter." He tells us we ought to be walking by the Spirit. That means that we will have a different character (Gal 5:22-23). We will not be like those of the flesh, but neither will we aim at opposing them. We are not called to change the world by legislation or other means or to oppose the world. We are called to be something different so that God can change others. We are told not to love the world system, but that means we are to work in such a way as to glorify the Father (Matt 5:16). We aren't to be living against something, but living for Christ. We should not be counter to the culture, but in contrast to the culture.

As believers we will be "countercultural" -- living an identity that is not this world's system. (If we are not, "the love of the Father is not in you.") If there is precious little difference between your lifestyle and that of the world around you, you might want to examine that issue. As for us, we will not be focused in opposition to this world's system. The difference in how we live should bring glory to the Father and salt and light to the world. I think we (me included) often miss this. Are we noted for what we oppose or for what we live for?

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Success and Failure

You know the story by now of John Chau. He was a young man who fervently intended to take the gospel to a group of people on a remote island who had never heard it. He wanted to "evangelize" them -- to take them the good news. From all indications, he failed ... miserably. He visited once, escaped with his life, went back the next day, and did not escape with his life. There was no reason to believe he brought them the gospel and we're quite sure he didn't survive the encounter. Failure. Right?

We're pretty confident we know what "success" and "failure" mean, but I'm pretty confident we're often wrong. The way we measure success and failure appears often to differ with the way God does. As God clearly indicated, "The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart" (I Sam 16:7). I'm pretty sure the same is true in success and failure.

Take, for instance, the story of this church I know about. A young itinerant preacher came on the scene. He made a bit of a splash. He was unusual in his presentation and in his words. He gathered several followers and began his "mission". He had healing skills and could do some reportedly remarkable things. Within a year he had growing crowds coming to hear him preach. Thousands at a time would show up. Right now we would say that this young man was "successful". Soon, however, he ran afoul of the local authorities. They didn't like some of what he said and some of what he did. They started to hound him. At the same time, some of what he said and did started to offend his own followers. He went from a dozen to hundreds to thousands of followers, but when he was arrested, they all fled and he was alone. He was taken into custody and summarily executed. At this point, we'd say that this young man was a "failure" and his movement a bust.

I am, of course, speaking about Christ. He didn't meet our expectations of "success" and "failure". But there isn't the slightest question as to the success of His mission. Though it cost Him His life, that cost was His absolute success. We, you see, are the ones who are confused about success and failure.

We continue to mess this up. We tend to think that a successful church is a big church. Not necessarily (even likely) so. We tend to think that the missionary who dies without sharing the gospel with one person was a failure. Not necessarily so. We tend to think that if we aren't in the front of things in ministry or service, we're not successful. Not necessarily so (1 Cor 12:1-27). Perhaps we would do well to serve our Master where He puts us and accept from Him the success He gives us and call that "sufficient" instead of some other, unnecessary measurements we try that don't really measure anything God cares about.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Ministry of Reconciliation

This week I wrote how "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself" (2 Cor 5:19). We've run over that so many times that I suspect we aren't even seeing it. So let's look.

What is "reconciliation"? Basically, it is the restoration of friendly relations. Included -- required -- in that concept is that we do not currently have friendly relations. So there is a conflict that has to be settled. In the topic at hand, then, who has the conflict? God and us. Who is at fault? Us. So who has to do the reconciling? Us.

But, wait! Do you see that this is not what Paul wrote? He said that God was reconciling the world to Himself through Christ. Our conflict -- a massive sin debt -- was in need of reconciliation and God paid the price. God the Son canceled the debt we couldn't begin to pay off.

This is all wrong. God isn't supposed to do the reconciling; we are. God isn't supposed to pay the price; we are. God is the offended party; we need to make that right. But, of course, we can't. He did. Jesus redeemed us (Rom 3:24) when we were sinners (Rom 3:23). Jesus was "put forward as a propitiation by His blood" by God (Rom 3:25).

I don't know how to express my wonder and gratitude at that. I don't even know if I've communicated it sufficiently. Our self-righteousness gets in the way. Our "I'm not such a bad person" trips us up. "Why wouldn't He?" comes into play. None of it is rational or truthful. That God the Father would send God the Son to die on my behalf to restore friendly relations between us and fill me with God the Spirit is beyond my comprehension. But ... I'll take it. And be grateful for it. And I'll pass it on; that's the "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:18).

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

If I Got What I Wanted

Have you ever imagined if the world was exactly what we all seem to want it to be? You know, what they call "the best possible world." I doubt that any of us would actually want it if we got it.

You know what I'm talking about. Bad things happen. Or good things don't. Loved ones die. Dear people get injured or sick. We lose jobs, stuff, relationships. We want X and we pray dearly for X and ... we don't get X. In fact, sometimes we get Z instead. Like that was the answer we were hoping for. But what if all that we expected from God we got?

I think we couldn't imagine the consequences of such an existence. Never mind the problem of trying to worship a Holy Butler. If we arrive at the point where we dictate what God will do, then we will be God.

Then, of course, you have the obvious problem of conflicting prayers. "Lord, we need rain for our crops." "Lord, we need clear skies for our family vacation." Which will it be? But that would be the least difficult of the problems.

If death is one of our biggest problems, what would it be like without it? People complain about crowded conditions, but if no one ever died, you could not imagine what that would be like. "Oh, no," someone might counter, "we'd just stop having children." That's all well and good, except we're operating here on a "whatever I want" basis and lots of people want children. Conversely, if we stopped having children, the joy of parenthood would vanish. No win.

One serious casualty would be gratitude. If we always get what we want, we would always expect to get what we want and whatever we got would be expected, not appreciated.

A problem for humans is that we don't understand consequences. We can't really see the future. So we think up "good things" that we're sure would be helpful and positive and they turn out to be destructive and fatal. Take, for instance, cohabitation. "We want to live together first to see if we are compatible." Seems simple, even reasonable. Except that, as it turns out, people who live together before marriage have a 50%-80% higher likelihood of divorce than those who don't. So in working to "test the waters", it seems, you poison the well (so to speak). (And, oh, by the way, having your first child after marriage reduces divorce risk somewhere between 24%-66%.)

We think we know what's best. We don't. We think we know how all things should work together for good. We don't. Jesus taught, "Pray then like this: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven'" (Matt 6:9-10). Really? Do we want His kingdom to come, or would we like to just establish our own? Do we really want His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven? Because in heaven His will is executed perfectly and completely every time. Is that what you want?

I cannot imagine a world predicated on "what I want." That, I suppose, is because I concur that I have a deceitful heart (Jer 17:9), that I am a man in need of saving. I like to think that I'm pretty good at this kind of stuff, but the truth is the best I ever get is agreeing with God. What He does is good and right and best. Just because I can't always see it doesn't make it not so. I don't always understand what He's doing, but I do know I'm not the one that should be telling Him what's best. I'm pretty sure you aren't that one either. So I'll just trust Him, even when it isn't comfortable. It turns out, I believe, that this is the "best possible world."

Monday, December 03, 2018

Burden of Proof

The term, "burden of proof", refers to the obligation to prove one's statements. In our legal system, the burden of proof -- the obligation to prove their claims -- rests on the prosecution. Without sufficient proof, the defendant is innocent ("innocent until proven guilty"). Here's the problem. What constitutes "proof"?

I've been told that all understanding of Scripture is pure opinion, not fact, and cannot be claimed to be fact because it cannot be proven. That is, "You're making claims about what Scripture says; you have the burden of proof." But that's not all that is being said. Included is the claim, "It cannot be proven." So "You have the burden of proof" is followed by "It can't be proven" and we are given an impossible task. Under this particular method of reasoning, then, there is no actual, reasonable claim to anything biblical as fact. Did Jesus say what it says He says or not? Can't know for sure. Did Elijah actually call down fire from heaven? Can't know for sure. Is the Bible actually God's Word as it claims to be? Can't know for sure. Was there an actual Adam? Can't know for sure. When Jesus said, "No man comes to the Father but by Me," did He actually mean that no man comes to the Father but by Him, or did He mean something else entirely? Can't know for sure. Those who claim to know answers to these questions do so from a false impression that their opinions are facts because none of it can be proven. Of particular note is that last thought. No proof is possible. Ergo, no fact can be known in regards to Scripture.

I played that game when I was younger. "Prove it!" It didn't matter what they claimed. I would answer, "Prove it!" "My name is Jim." "Prove it!" "I have a birth certificate to prove it." "Prove it!" And so on. It didn't matter what the claim was, what the reasoning behind it was, or what evidence was presented. As long as I questioned all of them, there was no proof possible.

Proof, you see, is a tricky thing. The dictionary defines proof as "evidence sufficient to establish a thing as true, or to produce belief in its truth." Do you see the problem? "Sufficient to establish a thing as true, to produce belief in its truth" depends on the willingness of the listener to believe. If the listener is unwilling to believe, no evidence or argument is sufficient and proof is impossible. So "the burden of proof" becomes impossible if the audience refuses to allow it. That's why our courts use the standard, "beyond a reasonable doubt." Except, of course, nowadays "reasonable doubt" is vague and variable. And so it is in biblical interpretation.

So, here's how it goes. I say, "The text says X" and I say, "The context says X" and I say, "X is the same thing said over and over everywhere else in the Bible" and I say, "X has been the historical, traditional, orthodox position" and I conclude, "X is true." "No!!" they deny. "That's your opinion, your idea, your 'hunch'. It is not fact!" So you, the outsider in this conversation, let me ask you. Did I present evidence? I think I did. Did I provide rationale? I think I did. So for you, in your mind, what would constitute "proof"? There is text, context, the whole text of Scripture, the history of the textual understanding, and more. What is required to consider it "proven"? Or is the burden of proof in these matters an impossible task? Can we never actually know what is true? Is proof nonexistent? Shall we always be asking, "Did God really say ...?" and concluding, "Can't be sure."? What is the measure of "proof"? Is it "beyond reasonable doubt" or is it "only if everyone agrees" or something else? I would say that the requirement of proof while disallowing the possibility of proof is a nonsensical concept. Further, I would say that a God who gives us His Word without giving us anything reliable with which to grasp even the simplest concepts is a sketchy God.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

In Recognition of Christmas

In his epistle to the Romans, Paul writes, "While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom 5:6). That is remarkable. He goes on to talk about how it is reasonable that someone might give their life for a good person, "... but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8). That, dear reader, is a big "but". That same "but" shows up over in Ephesians. There Paul describes us as "dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience" (Eph 2:1-2). Again we read, "But God" where he says,
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:4-7)
A really, really big "but". It constitutes a significant break between "what we're like" and "what God is like." It demonstrates the immensity of His grace and mercy and love and kindness.

In Paul's second letter to Corinth we read, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself" (2 Cor 5:19). Adam's sin brought sin to all (Rom 5:12) and Christ's death reconciled us to God (Rom 5:10). Did you catch that? We -- sinners, dead, enemies of God -- were in conflict with God and God reconciled us to Himself through Christ's death. That's a huge distance to go, especially given our sin condition and the lack of any obligation on His part to do so.

This month we celebrate the Incarnation -- God became flesh. This month we celebrate the event that provided the only possible answer to our sin problem. This month we recognize the one true answer to global climate change, dirty politics, school shootings, rampant crime, sexual abuse -- the general sinful and depraved condition in which we find our world. That answer is Christ. "God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ." He reconciles us to Himself through Christ.
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5:18-19)
Let that be part of your Christmas celebration and the rest of your year.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

News Weakly - 12/1/18

Filed Under "How Is This News?"
So, horror of horrors, it appears that Jack Ma, richest man in China and founder of e-commerce giant, Alibaba, is ... wait for it ... a member of the Communist Party. Yeah. Take that in. Because that's bad, right? And it's news that someone who is high up in China is a -- gasp -- a communist? Arizona didn't care that they elected a communist for their new senator. Why would this be news?

Always Believe the Woman
David Edelstein was a film critic for NPR. He isn't anymore. His crime? A bad joke. He made a joke about a sex scene in The Last Tango in Paris, unaware (he claims) that it was a rape scene or the backstory of the actress who was in it. "I have never and would never make light of rape, in fiction or in reality," he said. Doesn't matter. No room for error. Gone. Now, shall we begin lopping of employment heads of other people who have made bad jokes by accident? No, I suppose not. That would be consistent and if we are anything at all these days we are inconsistent (called "double standards").

No Sense Like Common Sense
So, on one hand they demand that the legal system allow teens to require their parents to let them get gender reassignment surgery. On the other hand, parents who force minor girls to have genital mutilation is defended by the justice system. Female genital mutilation is banned worldwide and is outlawed in more than 50 countries, but ours thinks it's perfectly okay. How does that make any sense? One might disallow it on "common sense," but it appears to me that we have no such sense anymore.

Biodiversity
I've always argued that the planet seems to take care of itself. While others are running around warning that the world is coming to an end because we're messing it up, UT Austin is finding "nearly two dozen new types of microbes" that, get this, consume greenhouse gases. Go figure. Of course, I'm not counting on humans to save the planet, nor am I expecting the planet to last forever, so it's only mildly interesting, but I think we humans are arrogant if we think we've got it all figured out.

Unclear on the Concept
To be clear, I am the one who is unclear on the concept. It seems that thousands of migrants have repeatedly violated international borders, refused offers for assistance, and ignored the laws of various countries in order to get to Tijuana, Mexico, to "seek asylum" in the United States. "The truth is we are fighting for our rights" one of them said. Now they're hungry and tired and leaning hard on the thinly-stretched resources of Tijuana, so their idea is ... a hunger strike???

I'm not getting it. Why do people who are already hungry go on a hunger strike? Why do people offered help refuse it in order to get someplace that told them two countries ago they wouldn't get it here? Why is it their right to enter whatever country they wish to obtain whatever they wish? And, seriously, why is it that news media outlets can't report stories without such blatant bias? I mean, seriously ...

Illegal Immigration
Yes, all this stuff is disturbing. The president closed border crossings due to protests1. A mother tried to climb a wall at the border and skewered herself (in front of her children) on some rebar. (She is recovering.) Border agents fired tear gas at little children2. All bad stuff. But have you heard the latest? Apparently the migrant caravan has disappeared, but they left a cool wooden horse at the border. Go figure.

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.
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1 I don't know if you noticed, but that story about the closing of the border crossings was from 2009 when it was actually closed (not just a threat) and it was actually during the Obama administration and the president who closed the border was the Mexican president. Where's their outrage now?
2 Obama's administration used tear gas often for similar purposes, and the report is that some 500 migrants rushed the fence trying to climb or dig under it.