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Friday, August 31, 2018

Cultural Appropriation

Recently celebrity chef Jamie Oliver got in trouble for a new product called "Punchy Jerk Rice." Now, Jamaican jerk is the name of a particular recipe for a marinade for meat and apparently not the kind of recipe that Oliver used, but the real complaint is "cultural appropriation" and he's in real trouble now, the jerk.

What is "cultural appropriation?" When a white chef tells you how to eat Vietnamese food, that's cultural appropriation. When Katy Perry wore a geisha outfit or Miley Cyrus did some "twerking", that was cultural appropriation. When a white girl wears henna (a dye applied to the skin as a temporary "tattoo" type thing, primarily from Middle East and North Africa areas) to a party, that's cultural appropriation. When a college fraternity throws a Cinco de Mayo costume party, that's cultural appropriation. Oh, and many of those Halloween costumes ... yeah, just ... don't.

Cultural appropriation is currently a hot item in a bad way. That is, don't do it. As illustrated by the evil chef who appropriated it for his meal offering. Just don't do it.

Unless, of course, you're a guy who thinks he's a girl. So you appropriate all those feminine things like make-up, eye lashes, dresses, bras, all that stuff. That kind of cultural appropriation is fine, nay, laudable. It's imitation, not appropriation, and it's a good thing ... because our culture has declared it so in this particular case. Back off, haters.

Thursday, August 30, 2018


Some of you probably don't know the term "whelm." That's okay. It's not a modern word -- not used today. It means "to engulf or submerge." It was originally to be overcome by water. Of course, our more common version is "overwhelm." And we know that one is simply to be completely overcome by something, but you get the idea from "whelm," right? You can be "whelmed" in a ship where the water sinks the ship or you can be "overwhelmed" by emotion where the emotions engulf you. Same kind of thing. "Underwhelmed," then, would simply mean to not get too wet, so to speak. The water did not go over your head. The emotions did not cause much of an effect.

All well and good. Now what?

I want to talk about baptism. "What??" Bear with me a moment.

In the church there has long been discussions about "immersion" ("whelm," you see?), "dipping," or "sprinkling." That kind of thing. What is necessary? What is valid? Lots of churches vary on this question. The Baptists tend to insist on "full immersion" while others edge farther and farther until you practically only need to acknowledge the existence of water to be baptized. (I exaggerate, but you get what I'm saying.) Is there a correct mode?

I would argue that, no, there is not. And now I plan to tell you what the correct mode is.

The word in the Greek is βαπτίζω -- baptizō -- from which we get our word "baptize." (I know. "Thanks, Stan, that was truly enlightening." Yawn.) According to Strong's, the word means (get this), "to whelm." Oh, and there it is -- a connection to the first paragraph! Yeah! The word is used in Greek to reference dipping, as in dipping a cloth into a dye to color it. John the Baptist (which is a reference to what he did, not his denomination) baptized in the Jordan "because water was plentiful there" (John 3:23), not an issue if he was merely sprinkling people. Paul wrote that we were baptized into Christ's death. "We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:4). That is not "sprinkled" or even "poured." That is "immersion."

All the language, from the word used to the context to the content, argues that "baptism" was intended to be "immersion." As the image it is intended to convey, we aren't supposed to be sprinkled with Christ's death or wetted into Christ. We aren't supposed to be lightly rinsed for our sins. We're supposed to be in deep -- overwhelmed. The image just doesn't work any other way.

Having said that, it is an image, and the intent is a public display of an internal work. Even in the early church sprinkling or pouring was allowed in cases where immersion wasn't possible. Because the point is not "a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience" (1 Peter 3:21). I'm not the one who will tell someone, "Go try again; you didn't get wet enough the first time." I am suggesting that the imagery of being sprinkled into the body of Christ is a weak one and if you're considering baptism (as every obedient follower of Christ should), I'd highly recommend immersion. Otherwise, it's just kind of underwhelming.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Say No Evil

"If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." That's what we're told. Oh, that's not what we practice, but that's what we're told. And that's what we preach, especially when it comes to God. God must not say anything negative. He's a loving God, after all, and loving gods don't say negative things. Or ... so we're told.

As it turns out, it ain't necessarily so.

I recently read 2 Samuel. In the last chapter we see the interesting story of the "sin of David" in "numbering the people." Really?
Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and He incited David against them, saying, "Go, number Israel and Judah." (2 Sam 24:1)
Now, there are questions about that entire setup. Did the Lord incite David? Or did Satan (1 Chron 21:1)? Or both? Some translations say "it incited David ..." That is, the Lord's anger incited David to sin. And then there is the whole question (and indeed it is a question -- I found at least 6 different suggestions as to what exactly the nature of the sin was) of why numbering the people was a sin. After all, David did it back in chapter 18 and it wasn't a sin. I'm not offering answers here because the really intriguing question to me isn't found there. It is the first phrase that caught my eye. "Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel."

It doesn't tell us why. It does tell us that it wasn't new. "Again." It wasn't for David's sin; it was "against Israel." Again. What was this sin? I mean, if you read the story, it gets really amazing. God gives David his choice of punishments and David ends up with a 3-day-pestilence option (2 Sam 24:12-15). In that event "from morning until the appointed time" 70,000 men died. David's census found 1.3 million fighting men and God's judgment killed 1 in 16. That's some sin. But wait! The story says that "the angel of the LORD" was doing the killing (2 Sam 24:16). And it was so bad that the LORD cut it short. What was this sin?

We don't know. We're not told. What we do learn is that it was costly. What we do learn is that even in this God was merciful, cutting the death toll short. (What was also interesting is that God stopped the judgment at "the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite" which, as it turns out, became the Temple mount, also known as Mount Moriah, which is also the place that God sent Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. That is, God demonstrated mercy on the same spot that He tested Abraham's faith while demonstrating the Lamb to come and set up His temple to, you guessed it, demonstrated the Lamb to come. Mercy indeed.)

We are told to say nice things. Don't talk about bad things. By no means should you point out sin. Just keep that to yourself. Now, mind you, Jesus is portrayed in Revelation as riding a white horse and "is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war" (Rev 19:11). It goes on to say, "From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty" (Rev 19:15). Say what you will -- that does not sound like "only nice things."

So how do we correlate "only nice things" with a loving God who does not "say only nice things"? A couple of thoughts. First, He's God. Always right; always just. He's the judge of all the earth, not us. Having said that, it is a mistake to think that loving is "saying only nice things." A parent that only says "nice things" to their child walking out into the street is not a good, loving parent. There are times that good, loving people need to say harsh things because they love someone. That shouldn't be mistaken for "not love." And if we are to follow Christ, we should expect not to always only say "nice things." We should always say loving things, but that's not always pleasant to the hearer. That's the difference.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Said No One Ever

I live in a very hot place. I was walking downtown the other day and came across a set of "graffiti" -- technically, actual printed signs stuck to the sidewalk -- ridiculing the heat of the place. Like the picture of an oven and the caption, "But it's a dry heat." Then there was the one a little farther on with a dried skull of a steer in the desert and the caption, "'I love running in this heat,' said no one ever." It's a popular meme these days. "'I really wanna marry the guy who whistled at me from his car,' said no one ever." "'No, thanks! I have enough clothes,' said no woman ever." "'If you want to find out about it, just Bing it,' said no one ever." "'I have to say my driver's license picture is the best one I've got,' said no one ever." You get the idea.

I'm wondering if there shouldn't be a Christian version. "'When the Bible talks about forbidding sex between same-sex people, it's only referring to religious rites,' said no one ever." "'Same-sex couples can be married just like opposite sex couples,' said no one ever." "'The Bible is full of myths, legends, and errors,' said no one ever." You know, in regard to the history of Christianity. I mean, sure, lots of people are saying these things now, but on what basis? Prior to the recent assault on God's Word even by people who claim to love God's Word, no believers said these things.

Why are these things so? Why do people claim to love the Bible while denying what it says? Why do self-identified Christians come up with brand new interpretations of certain passages -- interpretations that deny the historical, longstanding, and rational understanding of the texts? I'm not talking about the hard-to-grasp, the questionable, the hard-to-be-100%-certain passages. I'm talking about the absolutely clear ones, like Jesus's "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate" (Matt 19:4-6). "Oh, no," they'll tell me, "that doesn't mean that Jesus defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman." Only in today's world can anyone conclude that. No one ever thought other than that prior to this "new interpretation." Like Paul's abundantly clear, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9-10). "See, you're misunderstanding that. It's referring to religious rites" or "abusive relationships, not committed ones" ... said no one ever prior to the 21st century. So they deny the Master who bought them.

You can read for yourself, "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one" (Rom 3:10-12). The meaning is not unclear. But you will hear folk who "love the Bible" tell you, "That's just hyperbole" by which they mean "Everyone has some righteousness, no one is worthless, and everyone does good." Now, if the text says "No one does good; not even one" and they understand that to mean "Everyone does good," that's not hyperbole (an exaggeration for effect); it's a lie. "Good is everywhere, so I'll say, 'No one does good' so you'll understand." Simple, absolute contradiction. And that is simply one example

When "enlightened believers" understand "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord" (Eph 5:22) to mean "No, wives should not submit to their husbands as to the Lord or anyone else," it's not enlightenment; it's contradiction. When "careful lovers of the Word" understand "The head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Cor 11:3) to mean "There is no biblical hierarchy," it 's not enlightenment; it's contradiction. In this way, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet" (1 Tim 2:12) can be understood as "Women are certainly permitted to teach and exercise authority over men" without batting an eye. Faithful believers can read that God "works all things according to the counsel of His will" and understand it to mean that lots of things happen outside of the counsel of His will. Easy as pie. And we do it all while claiming, "I love God and His Word."

I read an account of a man who claimed he loved his wife so much that he had to kill her. I thought, "I hope no one ever loves me that much." I see what people who "love the Word" do to the Word and think, "That is a strange definition of 'love the Word'" when they take it and mangle it and twist it in new and innovative ways that no one ever did so that it now means the exact opposite of what it ever did before or could mean in any normal use and call it "loving God's Word." It's all very strange to me. But I'm told I'm the crazy one because I prefer to see what it says and try to conform myself to it. Go figure.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Theology and Doctrine

I know. For some I just wrote two naughty words in that title. I mean, seriously, who needs them, right? Let's just love Jesus. We don't need mind games and wooden rules to follow Christ, right?

Turns out it's just not so. And not because the Bible says so. It's because the statements above are theology and doctrine.

When we hear "theology," we tend to think "some high-sounding school-driven description of God." It just isn't so. Theology is simply the study of the nature of God. Every one of us is a theologian; even the atheist. Their study (such as it is) leads them to believe that there is no such being. Everyone else comes to their own conclusions on the nature of God, but everyone has some. As such, everyone is a theologian.

Doctrine is defined most loosely as "a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated." Simple. You can have a doctrine about how to play football or how to make coffee or how to do government. Anything. In religious terms, then, doctrine is simply the principles, positions, or policies you hold regarding religion. If your particular position is "It doesn't exist and it doesn't matter," that is your doctrine on the subject. Everyone has religious doctrines. Some are generic or even unconscious, but everyone has them.

What's my point, then? The point is not whether or not theology and doctrines are of any value. Since they are everywhere and everyone has them, my point is are they right? Why do you hold them? What makes you think they're the truth? Dismissing theology and doctrine as irrelevant is simply your theology and doctrine and doesn't answer the real question: What is truth? Because if biblical theology and Christian doctrines are true, they become extremely important. Finding that out is critical.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Body of Christ

Scripture says that believers are the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27; Eph 1:27; Col 1:18, 24). It means several things -- mutual support, bearing one anothers burdens, working together, that sort of thing. One popular notion is that we are His arms and legs. We are the physical presence that does His work. We're supposed to be doing here what He would do here. Maybe. But the question seems to never be asked, "What would Jesus be doing here?" Well, sort of. You know -- WWJD. "What would Jesus do?" But we don't have to guess at that. Jesus told us. I bet you're not as clear on that as you might have thought. What did Jesus say His purpose was? I would think it would make sense to find out and do that.

Here's one I bet you didn't expect. "I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law" (Matt 10:35). I can hear it now. "Wait! That can't be right!" But I didn't say it; He did. Oh, no, that wasn't His aim. It's just that if we follow Him as He intends, it will produce conflict with those who don't, including family. And following Him as He intends is, well, what He intends.

This one should be patently obvious. "I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me" (John 6:38). Jesus came to do whatever His Father wanted. Not what He wanted. Not what we want. Now that's an interesting perspective, isn't it? Because often when we are told we need to be His arms and feet, they're saying we should do what we or they think is nice or kind when Jesus aimed for what His Father intended.

How about this one? "Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name'" (John 12:27-28). Jesus said that He came for a particular purpose. That was to die. Not just die; it was to die for God's glory. I wonder if any of those urging you to be Jesus's hands and feet are thinking of having you and I die. I doubt it. But that was a primary purpose of Christ on earth.

A couple of very clear statements give us some more insight. At one point He said, "I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in Me may not remain in darkness" (John 12:46). Another time He said, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). Jesus came to spread light and to give abundant life. Now, in all honesty, we don't actually have that capability. But we can share the light and we can encourage others to live the abundant life.

Jesus shared with Pilate one other purpose. "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world — to bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37). The truth was Jesus's primary purpose -- the truth about His Father and His Father's glory, the truth about Him, the truth about us and our sin and our need for Him, and more. Bearing witness to the truth is something we can do, except usually when we hear, "We need to be Jesus's arms and feet" they are talking about doing nice things and often intentionally aim to remove the truth in favor of kindness (as if kindness without truth is actually kind). "They don't need a judge; they need a friend." Jesus came to bear witness to the truth. We should, too.

The concept of the Body of Christ is multifaceted. We are to care for each other. We all have our own functions to perform. We are to do what Christ intends here. Knowing what He intends, then, would be important. Don't let Social Justice Warriors or well-meaning Christians tell you something different than what Jesus did. He has a better idea of His purposes than they do and we should follow Him.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

News Weakly - 8/25/18

What Do You See?
I am trying to figure this out. A Houston middle school has had a saying on the wall above the lockers for five years: "The more you act like a lady, the more he'll act like a gentleman." A woman's got the "sexist, mysogonistic (sic), and discriminatory" quote taken down within 10 hours of her tweeting the photo.

So, help me out. She said it was "perpetuating horrible gender stereotypes." I guess her message is that no one (male or female) has any impact on how people treat them and shouldn't concern themselves with that? I hear her complaining that girls should not act like a lady? I am assuming she did not read the implied, "And you guys -- the more you act like gentlemen, the more she'll act like a lady"? I'm missing it ... entirely. Further, I'm missing why it is that one person has such power that they can force a school to remove a (helpful) quote in record time. By all means, let's not have any of those "horrible gender stereotypes" that are "sexist, misogynistic, and discriminatory" by encouraging people to be responsible for their own behavior and consider the effects of their own behavior on others. We'll have none of that! (And, lady, if you're going to complain that quickly, loudly, and destructively, at least learn how to spell the thing you're complaining about.) I am reminded (once again) that "To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled" (Titus 1:15).

Internal Racism
Disney was beaten up on Twitter over the Wreck-It Ralph 2 trailer because Princess Tiana (of The Princess and the Frog) wasn't black enough. "Whitewash" is what they're calling it. Now, from what I can see the cartoon character is still that of a black girl, but they're angry about the fact that she looks more like Zendaya than the previous cartoon version. Apparently there is a template -- shape of the nose, depth of black skin, curl of the hair, that sort of thing -- for acceptable black cartoon characters and this one doesn't make it. Not African-American enough, I guess. Are the two versions different? Sure. They're cartoon characters, drawn by different cartoonists in different media at different times. Seriously, that's a big problem? It's sad when a fictional black character's lack of "black enough" causes outrage.

Doubled Standards
I've often complained about double standards in our society. This story seems like it would quadruple the standard, just in terms of magnitude. "Actress Asia Argento, one of the first prominent women to accuse disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, agreed to pay $380,000 to an actor who accused her of sexually assaulting him when he was 17 years old." Oh, look ... sexual assault and statutory rape. But don't worry. Sexual assault on males isn't an issue these days. This will go away.

Note: 1) The authorities are looking into the alleged statutory rape, and 2) Asia denies it ... you know, like nearly every other person accused. I wish to point out that my standard has always been "Innocent until proven guilty" and, as such, make no pronouncement of Asia's guilt. That doesn't negate the double standards. (For instance, Asia says her boyfriend paid the guy as hush money and Michael Cohen says he paid money to accusers for Trump. The public now concludes that Trump is clearly guilty but Asia is clearly not.)

Trump's Twitter Protests - Is that news?
The headline was about Trump comparing the Mueller investigation to McCarthyism. That the president is tweeting up a storm is not news. That he is tweeting up a foolish-looking storm is not news. That he is upset about the Mueller investigation is not news. Me? I can't help but think, "Methinks he doth protest too much."

Another PETA Victory
Thank goodness for PETA. They've scored a victory for wild animals everywhere. Well, maybe not everywhere, but certainly in a lot of places. Well, maybe not actual wild animals. If we're being precise, it would be animal crackers. For 116 years Nabisco has produced animal crackers in a box that looked like an old style circus wagon. Finally PETA has forced them to remove the cage-look of the box. Free at last, free at last. One quick question. Are we supposed to take this seriously?

Good News
Finally some good news from the Internet for the Internet. "Studies show it's now just a few bans away from finally only having good opinions on it. Much of social media had become dominated by racism, conspiracy theories, and people who are just plain wrong about things, but by simply kicking off people who pretty much everyone agrees is bad, studies show soon only good discussion will dominate the internet."

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Pray for Fire

When Jesus dictated His letter to the church at Laodicea, He warned them that they had found themselves to be rich and "have need of nothing" -- that they did not know how wretched and miserable they were. "I advise you," He went on to say, "to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich" (Rev 3:17-18). You see, "gold refined by fire" is something special. It is pure. It is valuable. It is top quality.

In Zechariah God says, "I will bring the third part through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are My people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is my God'" (Zech 13:9) There it is again -- rich metals refined by fire. Malachi 3:2 describes God as "like a refiner's fire." A refiner is the one that uses fire to remove dross -- impurities and alloys -- from precious metals. Solomon wrote, "Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel; take away the wicked from the presence of the king, and his throne will be established in righteousness" (Prov 25:4-5). So ... dross -- bad ... silver -- good. Pure gold or silver -- best.

Then we read, "For You, O God, have tested us; You have tried us as silver is tried" (Psa 66:10) Okay, we've got this. We can put this together. The psalmist here says that we have been "tried as silver." What do we know, now, about how silver is tried? Well, it is placed in the furnace. The only thing that remains is silver; everything else is removed or burned up. Easy.

Except now we're not talking about rocks; we're talking about us. James says, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance" (James 1:2-3). "Consider your testing as worthy of joy, brethren." Maybe that makes a little more sense now. The fires that we go through are not mindless, random, without purpose. They are intended to purify, to improve, to make more valuable. They are intended to complete us (James 1:4). And, look, we're in good company there. Hebrews says, "Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered" (Heb 5:8). He learned how to be obedient by suffering? No, of course not. He was always obedient. He learned the full comprehension of obedience through experiencing trials. Jesus Himself was tried through fire, so to speak.
Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin. (1 Peter 4:1)
We are really keen on praying for relief. Turns out that in order to be the most valuable, we need the fire. Pray for rain, sure, but it might not be a bad idea to pray for fire, too.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Problem with Theodicy

I've talked about theodicy before. We live in a fallen world where bad things happen. Why? Is God not capable? Or does He just not care enough? Theodicy is the effort to defend God against these accusations.

Now, I have no problem engaging the questions. I think there are good and viable answers. There are, however, a some issues to consider.

First, why do we think that God needs defending? Does God think He needs defending? I don't think so. In Psalms, God says, "If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is Mine, and all it contains" (Psa 50:12). That is, "I have everything I need; I don't need your help." In fact, it borders on (borders on?) arrogance on our part to think that He needs us to defend Him.

Second, in our efforts to ward off assaults on God's character, we run the risk of misrepresenting Him. You see, if you read the Scriptures, God isn't helping much. We like to say, for instance, that God does good and the bad things that happen just happen or, at best, He "allows." Sure, we would still have a little farther to go in defending that, but, hey, God's not the cause, so it's okay, right? Then God opens His mouth and says things like, "I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these" (Isa 45:6-7). If we were God's lawyers, we'd be advising Him to take on the 5th. He's incriminating Himself while we're defending Him. But He seems to have no difficulty saying boldly that He causes calamity. So if our defense of God includes the denial of that fact, we're misrepresenting Him to others. It's an easy and erroneous thing to do.

Third, our purpose is vague. Defending God to unbelievers is pointless. By nature they hate Him (Rom 8:7). It doesn't matter how good and true your argument is; they hate Him. God might use our efforts to regenerate someone, but that's His work, not our fine efforts. And the ultimate answer to the question is not one that most will buy into ... including too many Christians. David used it. "As for God, His way is blameless" (Psa 18:30). That is, "Whatever God does is good and right. Period."

Which points to the final problem. When we try to defend God against these accusations, we hold God up against our standards and try to show that He meets them. Surely you can see immediately that this is a fool's errand. We don't get to try God by our rules. We only get to abide by His standards. Our job, then, is not to defend Him, but to figure out what His standards are and submit to them.

Now, to be fair, it isn't really God who needs defending. He's fine. If we are doing this right, theodicy is not to defend God as much as it is to bolster believers. We need the support, not God. Doing this task to encourage believers who have questions can be helpful. And, to be fair, God might use these kinds of efforts to open someone's heart to Him, so, as long as we realize that it isn't our skillful, coherent arguments or our good heart to defend God that are important here, I have no problem with theodicy. I'm just hoping that people don't get confused about the issues here. God doesn't need defending. We need to agree with what He says about Himself. Our best arguments won't win converts -- only God can do that. And God is not subject to our human standards. If we can keep all this in mind, then perhaps we can be useful to God in the endeavor.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

How Can I Know? The Test

I've already written about various ways we can know if we have eternal life, if we are among the saved. It's interesting that they are mostly behavioral. They are almost entirely rooted in what we do (Matt 7:17-20; Luke 8:15; John 15:8). Mind you, what we do doesn't save, but faith without works is dead faith (James 2:17) and the notion that you can be born again, indwelt by the Spirit, empowered by God, and have a new heart and not change is, frankly, nonsense.

Biblically, however, there appears to be one test repeated above all others. We've already looked at it, but it is repeated so often that it deserves another look. This test was offered by Christ Himself and repeated in other passages.

This statement is made in John 14. "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). Love is the command. Now, it does not say, "You love Me by obeying Me." That's not there at all. It says that the natural result of loving Christ is obeying Him. And that makes perfect sense. You pursue hardest that which you love the most. Simple. If you love Him, your greatest joy is doing that which pleases Him. Not hard to figure at all. Beyond this, then, Jesus considered it a test of sorts.
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)
The idea is that there is a defining mark, a clear proof, whereby people can look and say, "Yep! They have the mark of a disciple of Christ." What is that mark? "Love for one another." Without it, you have reason to question your relationship with Christ. On two counts, in fact, because we've already seen "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." If loving Christ is the primary connection to salvation and we refuse to obey, there is a logical disconnect if we don't obey and especially if we don't obey in this primary command to love one another.

So important was this test that Jesus reworded it in His High Priestly Prayer as a critical demonstration of His relationship with His Father.
"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me." (John 17:20-21)
Loving one another -- being one -- is the primary test "so that the world may believe that You have sent Me." Our unity in our love for one another tells the world that Christ is God's Son sent to save them. Say that another way. Our unity in love for one another is the proof of the Gospel.

John really keyed in on this in his epistle written "so you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13). He wrote, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God" (1 John 4:7). Love here is the absolutely essential ingredient. "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love" (1 John 4:8). John believes God's love for us makes the clear demand that we love one another (1 John 4:11). Then he goes on to say, "If we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us" (1 John 4:12). He concludes, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1 John 4:20-21). Helpfully, he gives an example of "love his brother." "By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?" (1 John 3:16-17).

Jesus said it. John expanded on it. Paul was clear on it (Gal 5:14). Love is the critical test. Love produces behaviors which include obedience to God and genuine concern for the welfare of others with special attention to loving the brethren. You can't love in word only; it must include action. "We ought to lay down our lives for the brothers." It is the best test available.

So, how about it? How are you doing? Do you love the brethren? Or do you find that a good number of those brethren irritate you enough that you refuse to love them? Could your refusal be sufficient to be classified as hate? How does your interaction with online believers look -- love or hate? (Note that "disagree" or even "confront sin" are not, by definition, "hate." The heart attitude and intent define that.) Scripture considers love for the brethren the best possible test. Each of us needs to examine ourselves to see if we're in the faith.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

New Things

Paul is, at times, a difficult read. Take, for instance, 2 Corinthians. Chapter 5 begins, "For we know ..." (2 Cor 5:1). Whatever it is we know, it is a product of what went before (chapter 4) because of the "for" at the beginning. But scan down the verses in chapter 5 and you'll find "for," "for," "inasmuch," "for," "now," "therefore," and "for" as the first words of verses of 2 Cor 5:1-7. The only reason it breaks at 7 is because verse 8 is the end of the sentence that fed it in verse 7 (which is only part of the entire sentence). In other words, Paul is writing very detailed, very logical "if-then" kind of stuff. So when we get down to the famous, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor 5:17), you can be quite sure (because of the "therefore" at the beginning as well as the entire structure of the chapter) that it is linked to a whole string of "ifs" and "thens" before it.

Still ... what exactly does that mean? "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." Other translations say, "All things have become new." But, look, we know that isn't true, right? I mean, just because you're in Christ doesn't mean you get a new body, new face, new identity, new name. Aren't there really a lot of things that are not new? What does Paul mean here? Let's see if we can make some sense of verse 17 by the links the text has for it.

So, first, verse 18. "Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:18). The origin, then, of these "new things" is God. We don't do it; He does. Good to know. But just what things are new?

Verse 16 gives us an indication on that question. "Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer" (2 Cor 5:16). Okay, that should help a little. Paul is distinguishing here between the fleshly and the spiritual, between old man and new man. The "new things" of which he speaks are the spiritual things. When he says "new things have come" (or "all things have become new"), he is speaking about a brand new spiritual condition. Spiritually, when we come to Christ we change from death to life, so spiritually all things become new. That is an absolute. That helps. That's making more sense.

But Paul doesn't leave it in that general sense. He is more explicit. Just prior to that he says, "He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf" (2 Cor 5:15). One more clarification. This new spiritual condition has a result that is intended to be universal for those with this new spiritual condition: "That they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose on their behalf." Clearer still. The "new things" that have come would be a new spiritual condition in the new believer that includes an inclination and goal of setting aside self and serving Christ. No, not serving -- living for Christ. This "new thing" edges out all other considerations, all other aims, all other plans. It is a new life direction predicated on a new spiritual condition that begins with faith in Christ and death to self.

I think that helps clear up the question regarding what is new in 2 Cor. 5:17. But I also think that there's a little more to it. I think it should be patently obvious that to a genuine believer -- one who has repented and placed their faith in Christ, identified with His death and resurrection, is indwelt by His Spirit, and living for Christ -- now sees everything differently. For one alive in Christ, the entire world is changed to their view. Their worldview is changed. Their values are changed. Their goals and aspirations are changed. What was good is not the same and what was bad is not the same and why for all of it has changed. Their trusted sources have changed and their life directions have changed. In a very real sense, then, everything has changed. Maybe not those things in themselves, but certainly to the believer. To the believer new things abound and the old has passed away ... just like the text says. Much bigger than I originally thought.

Monday, August 20, 2018


I was thinking about Pharaoh the other day, and it struck me how much like some so-called Christians he was ... or how much like him they are. Think about it.

The first part of Exodus -- Exodus 1-14 -- is the story of the battle of wills between Moses and Pharaoh. Okay, not quite. It is the battle of wills between God and Pharaoh. Spoiler alert: God wins. But Pharaoh's approach is classic.

In Exodus 5 Moses and Aaron walk into Pharaoh's office and tell him, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness'" (Exo 5:1). There's the command. There's the point. There's the issue. Either obey God or don't. But it is couched in religious terms. "... that they may celebrate a feast to Me ..." Still, it is God vs Pharaoh; nothing less. So Pharaoh turns them down cold. "Get back to your labors" (Exo 5:4). He even made their work harder by making them meet the same quotas while getting their own supplies (Exo 5:7-8). The upshot was that God's people complained ... about God's messengers (Exo 5:21). So the showdown began in earnest.

God had Moses and Aaron turn the water to blood (Exo 7:17-18). Then it was frogs (Exo 8:5-6). So Pharaoh repented (Exo 8:8) and told Moses they could go (Exo 8:8), but when Moses rescinded the frogs, Pharaoh rescinded his permission (Exo 8:15). Then came the gnats (Exo 8:16-18) and the flies (Exo 8:20-24), and Pharaoh repented. Almost. "Go, sacrifice to your God within the land" (Exo 8:25). You see, the instruction was that he had to let them go. Pharaoh would allow them to sacrifice -- because, hey, Pharaoh was in favor of a good religion -- but on his terms. Not away from Egypt. Moses turned him down. And Pharaoh repented. Sort of. "I will let you go, that you may sacrifice to the LORD your God in the wilderness; only you shall not go very far away" (Exo 8:28). Again, not what God commanded. Religious enough. Giving in a bit. Just not what God commanded. So when Moses removed the flies -- when things became comfortable again -- Pharaoh removed his permission (Exo 8:31-32). So God delivered dead livestock (Exo 9:1-7), boils (Exo 9:8-12), and massively destructive hail (Exo 9:13-26).

Listen, then, to Pharaoh's repentance. It's good. "I have sinned this time; the LORD is the righteous one, and I and my people are the wicked ones. Make supplication to the LORD, for there has been enough of God's thunder and hail; and I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer"  (Exo 9:27-28). Sounds good. Sounds right. Complete. And Moses stopped the storm. And Pharaoh rescinded his permission (Exo 9:29-35). So Moses promised a locust plague that would destroy every crop they had. And Pharaoh repented. Kind of. "Go, serve the LORD your God! Who are the ones that are going?" (Exo 10:8). Moses required everything -- families, livestock, the works. And Pharaoh balked. The men could go, but they would leave their children and women (Exo 10:10-11). So the locust came (Exo 10:13-15). And Pharaoh repented (Exo 10:16-17). Until it got comfortable again. Then he didn't (Exo 10:18-20). (There is a pattern, isn't there?) Next up was darkness (Exo 10:21) ("a darkness that could be felt" -- yikes!) and Pharaoh told them they could go be religious, but to leave their livestock (Exo 10:24). Moses turned him down.

The last one we all know. An angel of death came through, killing all the firstborn. Pharaoh finally repented fully ... right? Well, it seemed that way. He let them go with everything. The people even made donations to get them to leave. But it wasn't a full repentance because after they left, Pharaoh gathered his army and pursued them. And, of course, in the end he pursued them to his own death, drowning in the Red Sea.

How is that like so many of the so-called Christians around? There are a couple of items. How many times did Pharaoh repent? Quite a few. Sounds real. The right words and all. But when it came down to "Do exactly what God said," it was a no-go. That's not repentance. When things were pointed and painful, there was repentance, but when the pain subsided, it was gone in a flash. That's not repentance. It looks like it and it sounds like it, but in the final analysis Pharaoh only made a show of surrendering command to God. Then there was the religious aspect. Pharaoh didn't give any indication that he didn't want them to be religious. "Go and sacrifice to your God," he told them. Religious, see? It's just that every time he told them that, he did so without full surrender. "Go, but not very far." "Go, but stay in the land." "Go, but leave your families." "Go, but leave your livestock." Always religious, but always on his terms. Always under his control. This was a contest between Pharaoh's authority and God's authority, and Pharaoh made every attempt to appear as if he was giving into God's authority without ever really doing so.

And the so-called Christians of today? They give every indication of repentance. They use the right words, say the right things, really seem sincere. Well, of course, they're not going to go so far as to agree fully with God's commands. "No women in church leadership? That's not right." "Wives, submit to husbands? No way." Pick your pet slight of God's instructions. They will sound agreeable and still hold out. When things are uncomfortable they pray and weep and repent. When things are comfortable, it's all gone. And aren't they religious? Sure! Except it is always on their own terms. "Yes, we believe the Bible." See? Very religious. But then, "Well, mostly. Well, okay, somewhat. Well, to be honest, we believe it as we interpret it, and we interpret it as we feel comfortable." You know, these two -- Pharaoh and so many self-identified Christians of the day -- look a lot alike.

But, think about it for a moment. Isn't that what the Pharisees looked like? They liked repentance ... when it served their purposes. They loved to be seen as religious ... when it served their purposes. They would believe, but on their own terms. They would do what was right as long as people were looking. A lot like Pharaoh and today's nominal Christians. Hey, Pharaohsees, right? Okay, I made that word up. But the principles are from Scripture and the practices are from the religious all around us. And the result is the same. Pharaoh died at God's hand. It's what we can expect in eternal form for all who feign repentance and religion without actually possessing either.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Church is Boring

One of the top complaints you will hear about church is just that: "Church is boring." It is my suspicion that if you think that's so, you are missing something absolutely critical about church. I think you're missing the magnitude of the church.

We tend to think of "the church" as the building on the corner. "We have lots of churches where I live." That's not what's in mind when the Bible talks about the church. The term refers to the "called out ones" and the gathering thereof. There will be, in those gatherings, what Jesus referred to as "tares", weeds among the wheat (Matt 13:24-30), but the church is the gathering of the wheat, not the weeds. As such, it is much bigger than any building or group gathering, small or large.
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Heb 12:22-24)
The text is huge. And it isn't a reference to "someday" -- it is now. When we gather, we gather in a huge spiritual company. It includes "innumerable angels" and "the assembly of the firstborn" and "the spirits of the righteous made perfect." Sure, you knew God was there, but did you know it wasn't that meager gathering of those in the room? Did you know that it was so very big? It includes all the saints that are in attendance and so much more.

Brothers and sisters, when we gather to worship God, we do it in the presence of all this. That we could consider worshiping in the presence of God and Christ and the Spirit as boring is bad enough. That we could consider it boring to be in this place with this crowd is unconscionable. There are a few possible explanations: 1) "I didn't believe it." 2) "I don't care." 3) "I didn't know." The first is simply a denial of the plain Word of God. The problem here, then, is something a lot more than worship; it is a serious question of relationship. The second is a similar problem. If this is true and someone doesn't care, there is a genuine question that should be pursued regarding the reality of their relationship with Christ. The third is something that you can address right now. Right now -- now that you see it there in Scripture -- you can correct your ignorance and recognize the sheer magnitude of the "church" -- its size, its purpose, its glory. You can get a sense of "the communion of the saints," the union with saints everywhere and the angels and the entire Godhead all at once. If that is boring to you, then you're doing something wrong. If joining with all believers everywhere and everywhen to glorify God is boring to you, there is another problem ... and it's not the church.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

News Weakly - 8/18/18

You're Not Welcome Here
As has been done for decades, Greg Laurie's Harvest Crusade was advertised for this week in a variety of malls and billboards in southern California. This year, however, it was deemed unacceptable. They first said it was because of the nondescript book he was holding. You and I would know it was a Bible -- there were no overt references to Christ or Christianity -- but the picture isn't clear. And when they changed it to just a picture of Greg Laurie, it was still not sufficient. There was "at least one 'serious threat'" along with "multiple complaints," so the company Harvest had hired took them all down. John Collins, the executive director of Harvest, said, "It's sad that our culture is at this degree of intolerance."

The story speaks for itself.

Insane Politics
The opening paragraph says it all. "A former utility executive from Vermont has become the first transgender candidate to win a major political party’s nomination for governor." Because a person who ignores science and can't figure out "male" or "female" is the one you certainly want to run your state. A related story was more omnious than it intended to be, I'm sure. "Transgender rights advocates touted Christine Hallquist’s victory in Vermont’s Democratic gubernatorial race as a 'defining moment' for the United States." Indeed, proving the biblical, "As they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind ..." (Rom 1:28).

Modern society says, "We don't subscribe to a binary gender perspective nor limit genders to biology." Scripture says, "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Gen 1:27). It's amazing how much modern society has improved on God's original design, diminishing His "in God's image" aspect and expanding His "binary gender" idea.

Can Someone Tell Me ...
... how this works? We have this mad rush to #MeToo and "no more sexual harassment" ... and France offers outdoor, open air urinals along the Seine. I mean, seriously. What could go wrong? Let me count the ways.

Never Thought I'd See the Day
Turns out a black person might be called on the carpet for making a racial slur after all. I thought it was solely the purview of caucasians, but a black Detroit legislator has apologized for making a racial slur against an Asian opponent. Bad for her, but at least someone noticed that "this person" (regardless of skin color) demeaning "that person" (who is of a different skin color) simply on the basis of being a different skin color is racism regardless of who "this person" is.

Watch out, people. You might be seeing a hole in the "double standard" standard. Or not.

Insecurity Clearance
As we all know, former CIA director John Brennan's security clearance was revoked this week. Now retired Admiral William McRaven has "requested" that his be revoked as well in a show of solidarity with Brennan. Touching, I'm sure. I'm just wondering ... why should either of these people have security clearances? They needed them for their jobs, but they're not doing those jobs anymore. Security clearances are not for life. What is at issue here? I had a top secret security clearance when I was in the Air Force and I don't have one anymore. Why aren't they complaining on my behalf? Okay, President Trump revoked Brennan's clearance more than a year after he was out of his CIA position and he said it was because the guy was unreliable. Shouldn't we be talking about that rather than security clearances? Admiral McRaven retired in 2014 and has been Chancellor for the University of Texas System since 2015. Why does he still have a clearance at all? Or should I be offended that they removed mine?

Look, we knew a long time ago that Trump was petty and wouldn't tolerate those who disagreed with him. As far as he goes, we're only getting what we voted for. Seems like the American voter is to blame on this count. But finding presidents (or CEOs or people in general) that don't prefer people who agree with them to people who do not is nearly impossible.

The Upside of Killing Children
This week Chelsea Clinton happily informed a "Rise Up for Roe" event -- a gathering in opposition to Brett Kavanaugh and in favor of abortion -- that Roe v Wade added $3.5 trillion to our economy. See? And you thought there was no benefit to murdering children. Now we have it in cold hard cash figures. So, what is the value of a human life? Chelsea appears to something around $58,000, calculating from the $3.5 trillion and the 60 million Roe v Wade murders since 1973. Good to know, since "made in the image of the Creator" carries no value anymore.

Besides, giving women the right to murder their babies is a Christian virtue, don't you know? I mean, if the woman doesn't want the baby and Jesus came to give us the abundant life, aren't you robbing her of what Jesus came to give her? So, economically and as Christians it's beneficial to kill children. Right?

Friday, August 17, 2018

Those Sinners in Your Church

My wife and I go to a nice church. We have good teachers, good preachers, good fellowship, good friends, good stuff. I'm not writing about our church; I'm writing about yours. You have sinners in your church. You know it. That well-known guy who was seen coming out of a bar late one night. The wife of one who had an affair with the husband of another. The high school girl who is pregnant out of wedlock. You know. Sinners. What are you going to do?

Of course, I'm not being completely up front here. We have sinners in our church, too. And I'm still being a little vague, because if you are part of a church, it has sinners ... by definition. Why? Because the only way to become part of the church (the called-out ones) is to begin with the admission that you're a sinner without the means to solve that problem. Step One. So everyone in church is either a self-proclaimed sinner saved by grace through faith or a sinner who is pretending to be saved. The Christian life is one of increasing love for God that produces an increasing desire for obedience. That's the direction. But perfection is out of our reach in this life (Phil 3:12). So, what are you going to do? Righteous indignation? Moral outrage? Holier-than-thou shunning. Or maybe nothing, since we're all sinners.

They might be what you could expect, but that's not what Scripture says. God's Word says we have all sinned (Rom 3:23) and we will all continue to sin (1 John 1:8-9; 1 John 2:1). That's not the end of the story. Paul wrote, "Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted" (Gal 6:1). We have an assignment ... from God -- restore brothers who sin. This process was detailed by no less than Christ Himself (Matt 18:15-20). We don't ignore sin in the Body (1 Cor 5:6-7); we address it. But the goal is not retribution or vengeance or punishment or justice. All of that is God's job. The goal is restoration. In Jesus's approach, the first step was "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother" (Matt 18:15). Winning your brother is the aim.

So what do we do? The very first step is easy. John wrote, "If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life" (1 John 5:16). Pray. Pray for repentance. Pray for life. Pray for your own approach -- "in a spirit of gentleness" (Gal 6:1). Then we need to address sin personally (Matt 18:15) and pursue it further if necessary (Matt 18:16-17). God's Word does give some harsh measures that may be required. If after addressing the sin personally, then with a couple of other people, and then with the church, it might be necessary to "let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" (Matt 18:17). Paul said "not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one" (1 Cor 5:11). The worst case appears to be "to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh" (1 Cor 5:5), but even that is "so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." (In fact, it looks like that was the result of the event in 1 Cor 5:5; see 2 Cor 2:6-8.) Some harsh measures, but always with gentleness and always with an aim to restore them to fellowship.

These days the tendency is to ignore sin in the church. Brothers and sisters, we do not well. It isn't pretty and it isn't pleasant, but if we are to obey Christ and love the brethren, we need to bear one another's burdens, to urge repentance and restoration, to love each other enough to do the hard thing in their best interest. I'm not talking about self-righteous moral outrage. I'm talking about restoration for the sake of your spiritual family members. Or you. Or me. Sometimes it might be us, too. But in no case is, "That's okay; you go ahead and defy God and we'll just keep quiet over here" a loving thing to do. And we are commanded to love, especially believers (John 13:35; John 15:17; 1 John 3:17-18; 1 John 4:7;

Thursday, August 16, 2018

How Can I Know? 1 John

John tells us his purpose in writing his first epistle.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)
The whole purpose was that you may know that you have eternal life. Note that it was written to specific people. It's not for everyone. It is written "to you who believe in the name of the Son of God." But the intent is clear. You can know that you have eternal life.

It is interesting, then, to read through John's repeated use of the phrase, "By this we know." Since "knowing" was his reason for writing it, "by this we know" is a helpful concept. In fact, John uses this kind of wording eight times in his little epistle. Beyond that, there's a whole lot of "knowing" going on in 1st John.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. Whoever says "I know Him" but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in Him: whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:1-6)
I had to give you that whole text because it contains several essential elements in the question of assurance. First, note that the primary question is relationship. The primary question is "Have I come to know Him?" It is the failure of those in Matt 7:21-23 where Jesus declares, "I never knew you." You are saved if you have a genuine relationship with Christ -- with the Christ of the Bible. Second, the test is obedience. We know we have a relationship with Him if we keep His commandments. This isn't news. Jesus said the same thing (John 14:15, 23-24). The test of relationship is in what we do. Makes sense. "I love God but have no interest in pleasing Him" makes no sense. At this point the third element in this text becomes vital. "Does this mean that if I don't obey perfectly I can't be assured of salvation?" Not at all. John said "If anyone does sin, we have an advocate." That is, we all sin (1 John 1:8). The obedience in view here, then, is not "sinless perfection," but a direction. If you aim toward less sin and more obedience, you can be confident that you have a relationship with Christ. If you figure you're doing fine where you are or just don't really concern yourself over it, you might need to ask the question. If "What does the Lord require of me?" isn't one of your primary questions, you might need to see if you're even in the faith.
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. (1 John 3:14)
John offers certain knowledge here. We can know that we have been saved -- that we have already passed from death to life. What is the test? "We love the brothers." Simple. Do you consider fellow believers of some importance? Do you seek their company, enjoy their fellowship, care about their well-being? Do you actively love believers (1 John 3:17-18)? It was Jesus's idea that this would demonstrate to the world that you are His disciple (John 13:35). For you, not so much? You might need to examine your relationship with Christ.

These two ideas -- obedience and love of the brethren -- are repeated in John's epistle.
By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before Him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him. And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us. Whoever keeps His commandments abides in God, and God in Him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. (1 John 3:16-24)
This one sounds a lot like Paul's idea in Romans. "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God" (Rom 8:16). But remember, that isn't just a warm feeling, a secret conversation between your heart and the Spirit. It is predicated on a changed person who is putting to death the deeds of the flesh, who is walking by the Spirit, who is no longer that same person that pursued sin. If you have had a change of heart, a new direction, a new motivation to pursue God rather than self, that is clear evidence. No one can be born of God and powered by the Spirit without a change. If you think you're a Christian and don't really change much ...
You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:4-6)
How do we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error? The spirit of error is "from the world." If "the world listens to them," it is error. We can know this. Who are you listening to? What is your source? If your source is the world's wisdom and you are evaluating God and His Word by the world's standards, you might have something to be concerned about.

How about this one?
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:2-3)
Now, perhaps you already see the connection. Remember that we already learned that one way we know that we have passed out of death into life is if we love God's people. So how do we know if we love God's people? "When we love God and observe His commandments." Nice packaging, isn't it? Loving God and obeying Him is evidence that we are saved. Loving God and obeying Him is how we love the children of God. It's all tied up neatly. That is, if you are loving God, obeying Him, and loving His people. If not, there might be a need for reconsidering your spiritual condition.

Now, remember, this isn't a "pass-fail" kind of thing. The command, for instance, is to love God with all our hearts, mind, souls, and strength. Not one of us does that. So the point is not absolute obedience or else. The point is direction. You see, if it is true that the mind set on the flesh cannot please God (Rom 8:7-8), then anyone whose aim is to please God by loving Him and obeying Him is demonstrating a changed heart. If these things are yours and increasing, you can have confidence before God. Not perfection; direction. None of this is unattainable (Phil 2:13). Either you're headed one direction -- loving God, His commands, and His people -- or you're not. Away from self or toward self. Pursuing God's Word and God's will over against (rather than in accordance with) the world's views and values. Ask yourself. You're the one who has to answer.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

How Can I Know? A Surprise Answer

Assurance of salvation is a good thing. At least, it's a good thing if it's true. We know there are people with assurance of salvation that shouldn't be so sure (Matt 7:21-23). But we also know that Scripture assures us we can know (1 John 5:13). So we look through the pages of God's Word and we find different hints, different clues, different tests that can help us to know -- rightly know -- that we belong to God. The one I mentioned yesterday was the testimony of the Holy Spirit, but that had to be rightly understood. It wasn't "I feel or sense that the Holy Spirit agrees with me that I'm saved." It was actually living by the Spirit -- "putting to death the deeds of the flesh." Paul says that the deeds of the flesh are evident (Gal 5:16-21) and the fruit of the Spirit are evident (Gal 5:22-25) and we can see which is us and which is not. (And remember, like Peter said, "If these qualities are yours and are increasing ..." meaning that it isn't that you've arrived at perfection, but the presence at all and the direction you're heading.)

Today I want to offer a perhaps surprising biblical test.
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Heb 12:5-8)
I suspect you didn't see that coming, did you?

The author of Hebrews is abundantly clear here. First, God disciplines His own. Not maybe -- definitely. Second, it is not pleasant discipline. We know that it includes but is not limited to teaching because the text actually says that He "chastises" every son. The word references the use of a whip -- "scourges." The context speaks of unpleasant discipline (Heb 12:4, 11). The idea is that our loving Father applies directed and painful teaching techniques and corrections for our benefit. No one escapes it because we all need correction and we all need painful correction at times.

I've pointed this out to people in conversations on occasion and I've been told, "No, God doesn't do that" and, worse, "He never has done that to me." If that is your response, then you have a problem. "If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons." Not my opinion. Not my judgment. That's what it says. That is the test offered by God in His Word.

Have you ever been corrected by God? Have you ever been turned from sin, pushed away from where you wanted to go by trial and difficulty? God disciplines His own. His discipline is intentional, corrective, purposeful, and useful. It isn't punishment as much as it is redirection. The purpose of this kind of discipline and chastisement is restoration, not retribution. Paul describes Scripture as "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Tim 3:16). God uses discipline for reproof -- "Here is an error" -- and correction -- "Here's how you get back to the path." It isn't a matter of justice -- payback, making things balanced -- but of restoration and training in righteousness. And, in fact, that correlation of the use of Scripture and God's discipline is important. How do I know if what I am currently suffering is God's correction? Scripture. Read God's Word.

One other point I found interesting in the text. He wrote, "It is for discipline that you have to endure." Interesting, because Jesus said, "The one who endures to the end will be saved" (Matt 10:22; Matt 24:13). Endurance and discipline are interlinked, and endurance and assurance of salvation are interlinked. Interesting, isn't it? Because, you see, as it turns out your salvation and your enduring in it are a product of God's work, not your own. Thus, we endure because He disciplines, and if we endure (because He disciplines), we will be saved. A sure thing.

If you have been corrected by God, especially painfully, this text suggests you are a son who has been disciplined by a loving Father. As such, that pain is profitable, the product of love. If you have not, this passage warns you that you might need to reevaluate your relationship with the Father. Something to think about.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

How Can I Know? One Way

On yesterday's question regarding assurance of salvation, one of the most popular verses you might find is found in Paul's epistle to the church at Rome.
The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. (Rom 8:16)
That's it. Pretty straightforward. We can all see it and understand it. If I feel like the Spirit of God agrees with my spirit that I'm a child of God, then I am. It's as simple as that.

But it is? Is our certainty of salvation based primarily, perhaps entirely, on a "good feeling," some "supernatural sense"? Is that really what Paul wrote? Let's look again.
(10) If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. (11) But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (12) So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — (13) for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (14) For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (15) For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" (16) The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, (17) and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (Rom 8:10-17)
Perhaps context will help clarify. Paul starts out talking about the glorious truth that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom 8:1). But then he needs to explain what "in Christ" actually means. He differentiates between the Spirit and the flesh and points out how the flesh can't do anything good (Rom 8:2-8). In verse 9 he says that those who have the Spirit of God in them are not in the flesh. Which leads us to our passage.

The claim is that "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God." Is this just a feeling, a spiritual sense? The text doesn't allow for that. Paul says that those with the Spirit have life through His Spirit (v 11). He says that we are under obligation to live according to the Spirit (v 13-14). He says that those who live by the Spirit "are putting to death the deeds of the body" (v 13). The claim that the Spirit's testimony that we are children of God is a feeling or a spiritual sense is, basically, nonsense. Try it in court someday. "Your honor, I wish to give testimony. I feel like that guy is not guilty." That's not a witness. Paul is saying that the witness of the Spirit is real. It is demonstrated in a changed life. It is demonstrated in a sense of obligation to be obedient to God and a sense of family with God as Father and His people (Rom 8:28-29). It is demonstrated in being new.

Jesus gave us the allegory of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31-46). In the final judgment, the "sheep" and the "goats" will be separated. One group Christ will commend for what they did and the other Christ will condemn for what they didn't do. What, then, is the difference between the sheep and the goats? Don't make the mistake of thinking that it is in what they did and didn't do. The difference between them is that one category is sheep and the other is goats. That they are different is demonstrated by what they do, but that's not what makes them different; it only shows that they are.

Time and again Scripture talks about what we do. We know we are saved by grace apart from works (Eph 2:8-9). We know that if we were saved by what we do, it would be earned (Rom 4:4-5). We don't earn salvation. There is no doubt. The next misstep, however, is to assume, then, that works are irrelevant, and the Bible is clear that they are not. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" (Eph 2:10) It is the repeated message that those who belong to Christ naturally tend towards obedience in an ever-increasing manner, not in order to save, but as a result of being saved, of having a new life, of having God's Spirit in us. Works are a valid test according to Scripture. They don't save, but their absence suggests an absence of life. And the testimony of the Spirit with our spirit says, "Yes, I want to align myself with God" and goes on to demonstrate it ("being led by the Spirit of God"). Don't be fooled by the ever-popular lie, "I must be saved because I feel like it," some arbitrary "spiritual sense." If you are not "putting to death the deeds of the body," you might want to "test yourselves to see if you're in the faith; examine yourselves!" (2 Cor 13:5) Even if you have a "good feeling."

Monday, August 13, 2018

How Can I Know?

The Reformation of the 16th century was essentially targeted at the Roman Catholic Church's doctrines. The Reformers held to Sola Scriptura, the sole authority of Scripture on the faith and practice of believers, while the Roman Catholic Church stood on the authority of the Church and Tradition of equal or higher value than Scripture. The Reformers argued for election (as the Bible does in so many places) but the Roman Catholic Church denied it. The Reformers demonstrated that the Bible says you can know that you have eternal life; the Roman Catholic Church cursed the idea. The Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon XVI declares that if anyone believes that they can be certain that they will persevere in salvation to the end, "let him be anathema." Cursed. The official position of the Roman Catholic Church to this day is what we might term "Conditional Security" -- your only assurance of salvation is to remain faithful until the end. And you can't know that until, you know, the end.

It's not just the Catholics. Those Christians termed "Arminian" (even though they may not claim it, admit it, or even know it) assure us that true believers can and do lose their salvation. Big names like C.S. Lewis and Roger Olson have denied eternal security. They are certain you cannot know. I myself have been told on more than one occasion that I can have no assurance of my salvation. (I find it odd because the person telling me that seems to be quite certain of his own.) Salvation is available, but never sure. Confidence is okay, I suppose, but you can never have assurance of salvation.

Over against this idea you find Scripture. John wrote, "I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13). The author of Hebrews wrote, "Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith" (Heb 10:22). Paul declared, "I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day" (2 Tim 1:12). These are about assurance as opposed to security. It is possible to have security without assurance. Security in salvation is what God does (e.g., Phil 1:6; John 10:28-29; Eph 4:30; Rom 8:38-39). Assurance is my recognition of it. It is entirely possible to be completely secured by God in salvation and to lack assurance of that security. It is equally possible to be quite assured of the possession of security that you don't actually have. But Scripture teaches that salvation is secured (by God) and, therefore, we can know (assurance) that we have eternal life. (Note: If you "have eternal life" and lose it, in what possible sense is it "eternal"? In what sense did you "have" it?)

Which all leads to my question. How do you know? How do you know that you are not one of those to whom Jesus referred in Matthew 7:21-23 who are quite sure they are "in" but are not? How do you know you're not fooling yourself? If you're quite sure -- you have assurance -- where does it come from? How can you know?

The question is a bit difficult at the outset given the biblical certainty that some will have assurance that they shouldn't have (Matt 7:21-23). On the other hand, there are actual, biblical tests we can apply. Peter wrote that we must make our "calling and election sure" and told how (2 Peter 1:5-10). As mentioned earlier, John wrote his first epistle for the purpose of helping us rightly ascertain that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13). Jesus said that the world can tell we are His if we love the brethren (John 13:35). Jesus said that if we love Him we will keep His commandments (John 14:15). Now, we know we can and will sin, so this isn't talking about sinless perfection (1 John 1:8-10; 2:1), but there is still a tool there. Paul wrote, "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except in the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3), meaning that a Christian who does not acknowledge the Lordship of Christ is not a Christian (see also Rom 10:9). There are tests. Jesus told His disciples, "You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt 7:16). You should certainly check your own fruits. John wrote, "No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God" (1 John 3:9). How are you with sin? Happy? Or not? There are tests. There are processes. There are facts to which we must agree and heart conditions that we must possess and attitudes we must have. It's not like they're not available. It's just that there are still those who are confident in their salvation when they shouldn't be, and I don't want to be that.

I have assurance of my salvation. I'm not asking for myself. But others may not. What do you have that gives you confidence that your relationship with God is real and alive? How do you know you're saved? What tests or verification do you use? I'm just wondering.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Heart for God

The Bible uses the word "heart" a lot. The ESV uses the terms "heart" or "hearts" over 900 times. And yet, I'm sure you know that it never refers to the internal organ we know as the heart. What, then?

According to Strong's, lêb is the Hebrew word most often translated "heart" and refers to "the feelings, the will, and even the intellect." It might refer to the center of anything, as in "the heart of the seas" (Jonah 2:3). It is the innermost part. In the New Testament, you'll never guess what the word is. The Greek word is kardia, obviously the origin of our English term, "cardio." Again, this refers to "the thoughts or feelings." So the term refers to the innermost part of us that is how we think and feel. (For the sake of numbers, these Hebrew and Greek terms occur over a thousand times in the Bible. If number of entries equates to importance, this must be important.)

We have a little difficulty with this. We typically think of "think," "feel," and "will" as different because, in fact, they are. Sometimes how we feel is in conflict with how we think and so on. So let's see if we can sort this out.

Scripture distinguishes between our outside and our hearts (1 Sam 16:7). The heart guides the mouth (Prov 16:23). Sin is a product of the heart (Mark 7:21). The heart is deceitful (Jer 17:9) and sinful (Prov 22:15). The heart thinks (Matt 9:4; Mark 2:8) and feels. The heart experiences joy (1 Sam 2:1) and sorrow (1 Sam 1:8), rage (2 Kings 6:11) and peace (Col 3:15), selfish ambition (James 3:14) and love (Rom 5:5), and more. Lust in the heart can be adultery (Matt 5:28). You can "lose heart" (Heb 12:3) and "take heart" (John 16:33). The heart desires (Prov 6:25), envies (Prov 23:17), and seeks God (Psa 119:2). The heart contains the conscience (1 Sam 24:5; Acts 2:37) and thus must be guarded (Prov 4:23). Above all else, we are to love God with all our hearts (Matt 22:37). The biblical condition of the heart that is most dangerous is the "hard heart" (Rom 2:5).

As the seat, then, of emotions and thoughts and the will, how does this work? We know these are distinct, but how distinct are they? We tend to think of them as quite different, but I'm convinced (especially from a biblical perspective) that they are quite tightly intertwined, and I think that if we understand this rightly, we can see that. Some people operate on their emotions, letting how they feel determine how they think and what they choose to do. You know ... "Follow your heart." Others are more intellectually motivated, preferring to think rationally rather than operate emotionally. (Note, however, that "think rationally rather than operate emotionally" includes the choices we make.) It is true that we have "inclinations," natural tendency to act a particular way. That's what drives our wills. But aren't those inclinations mostly how we think and how we feel? So perhaps we can see how all three work together -- the mind, the will, and the emotions -- so that each affects the other inextricably.

So when the Scriptures speak of a "hard heart" (Heb 3:7-9) or a "new heart" (Ezek 36:26), it appears that the idea is a change in thinking, feeling, and choosing. To extricate one from all the rest and focus there won't work. We know that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2), but that would be insufficient without a change in how we feel and how we act. Our inclinations -- what drives us to choose -- are primarily based on what we love. Thus, Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). That is, what you love determines what you do. Love Jesus, and you do what He wants. Our loves (emotion) determine our thoughts (mind) and decisions (will). Or, to put it another way, changed hearts make changed lives. It cannot be otherwise.

Scripture describes David as a man after God's own heart (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22). That's the heart we need -- the heart to pursue God's own heart. So what does that mean? If I am to have a heart for God, I will need to be concerned about God's concerns. What is His highest priority? His glory. So my highest priority would need to be His glory. If I am to have a heart for God, my choices (will) and my thinking (mind) and my feelings (emotions) will need to align with His. I will need to love what He loves (e.g., Psa 37:28; John 16:26-27; Heb 12:6; Rom 9:13) and hate what He hates (e.g., Deut 12:31; Psa 5:5; Psa 11:5; Rom 9:13). I must rejoice in what He rejoices (e.g., Zeph 3:17; Luke 15:10) and weep over what He weeps over (e.g., Luke 19:41-44; Gen 6:5-6). I will need to enjoy what He enjoys (e.g., Psa 149:4; Col 3:20) and find abominable what He finds abominable (e.g., Lev 18:22; Deut 7:25; Prov 6:16-19).

But, you see, here there is an interesting shift that occurs. Suddenly the Christian life is not about duty and drudgery. If my heart is after God's heart, that means that what I love is what He loves. That is, I'm not "doing what I have to;" I'm doing what I love. The heart that has deep affections for what God has deep affections for is safeguarded against sin and enveloped in joy. John says, "His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). Why? Because when you're doing what you love it is no burden at all; it is a pleasure. A heart after God, then, is in your best interest. It is for your sanctification and your abundant life. It is a lifelong work with a new heart.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

News Weakly - 8/11/18

New Rights
In August, 2012, then President Obama instituted by executive order a program we know as DACA, the "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" program that was intended to provide some relief for children illegally in this country to become legal -- work permit, green card, citizenship ... something. It was not a law; it was an executive order. It was not permanent; it was temporary. And in June, 2017, President Trump ordered it to be rescinded in order to have Congress make it law. As it turns out, President Obama apparently had acquired incredible powers in his presidency, because apparently this temporary program that lasted 5+ years is not a mere executive order; it is a right. At least, that's what Federal Judge John D. Bates appears to believe. I guess 5 years was not sufficient time for the DACA recipients to become legal. Apparently the president does not have the right to rescind an executive order. At the same time, it appears it is not the job of the Congress to make such laws defending such rights. (If it was, wouldn't the judge just order them to?)

I'm sorry; I just don't understand the United States government at all. I guess it's time for someone else to use our Constitution and Declaration of Independence (where rights are conferred by the Creator rather than the Judicial Branch). We don't appear to be using them.

Hate Speech
This week Facebook, YouTube, and iTunes all pulled Alex Jones's InfoWars channel from their pages, citing "hate speech" as the issue. Spotify removed him last week.

I would not even begin to defend Alex Jones against the accusation. I think he is indefensibly hateful. I just need to point out that we've become so vague in our definition of "hate speech" ( defines it as "any form of expression regarded as offensive to racial, ethnic and religious groups and other discrete minorities or to women.") and what we find offensive while conversely ignoring clear hate speech, for instance, against Christianity that I'm not sure how to proceed on all this "hate speech" stuff. I mean, wouldn't "hate speech" imply ... you know ... hate? But if someone, say, quotes Scripture out of genuine concern and love for others, they can be fined or jailed in Canada for "hate speech" ... without any actual hate involved. I don't think we have any sort of handle on the term even though we're all pretty sure we know what it is.

Hierarchy of Sympathy
Kristi Hanna is a former paramedic who is struggling with lingering effects of sexual abuse. She went to a Toronto shelter for female recovering addicts and was forced to share a small double room with a "pre-operative male-to-female transgender person." She filed a formal complaint. Ontario's Human Rights Legal Support Centre told her that, "by describing her new roommate as a 'man,' Hanna was the one engaged in illegal discrimination." The victim of sexual abuse now becomes the criminal for recognizing that a person with male genitalia is a male. He had facial hair and spoke at their communal dinner about an ex-wife and a pregnant fiancé and about how some woman was "hot," but she's the one practicing illegal discrimination.

Here we see the hierarchy of sympathy. Women are currently high on the list. If the dispute is between a male and a female, the female typically wins in the public view. But transgender is higher. "You were sexually traumatized? Too bad. This guy feels like he's a girl, so get over it."

Signs of the Times
The New York Times reports that the entire top leadership of Willow Creek Church has resigned over the accusations of sexual harassment against Bill Hybels, the church's founding pastor. The leadership includes the lead pastor, Rev. Heather Larson, and the board of elders, including Missy Rasmussen and Pam Orr. They apologized for not listening to the accusers. They did not indicate why it was that the church was putting women in positions Scripture said it shouldn't, but I'm sure aligning with God's Word isn't really the big issue of the day. And the fact that the church applauded when the entire leadership (Their lead teaching pastor resigned on Sunday.) stepped down is disturbing. Signs of the Times.

Truth in Media
In a startling and refreshing moment of honesty, the New York Times is changing its name to The Double Standard amidst the heavy criticism of recent hire Sarah Jeong. They have attacked racism regularly, but now admit that being a racist against those whom they wish to target is perfectly suitable. The name change reflects the principle.

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Don't Be a Peter

In Matthew's Gospel we read the famous story of Jesus walking on water (Matt 14:22-32). The 5,000 had been fed and Jesus sent His disciples across the Sea of Galilee while He went to pray. A storm hit, so He decided to walk out to them. In the Mark account we learn "He intended to pass by them" (Mark 6:48), but they saw Him and thought He was a ghost. He told them, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid" (Matt 14:27). Peter spoke up ... good ol' crazy Peter. He wanted proof. His version of proof? "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water" (Matt 14:28). Because obviously if it was some sort of malevolent ghost it would never want to hurt Peter, right? So Jesus told him to come out and Peter ... got out of the boat "and walked on the water" (Matt 14:29). That's right; two people in history have actually walked on water.

So, why is Peter forgotten? Why don't we think about that? Well, Peter, as it turned out, failed miserably. He was walking on the water. He was walking to see Jesus. And then, "seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink" (Matt 14:30). What happened, Peter? Peter got his eyes of the solution and looked at the problem. Peter let the storm around him become his focus rather than Christ.

We all face storms. There are political storms and economic storms. There are crimes and deaths and losses of loved ones. There are pains and sicknesses and some of the worst things we can imagine and worse. They are not fake; they are real. And while we each may face storms of different intensities, none of us escape the storms. It is part of our existence, part of our fallen world, part of this current reality.

What do we do? Typically, we "pull a Peter." We look at the storm. We question God. "Why did You let this happen?" We get distraught and afraid and angry because of the storm. We rarely, it seems, look at the solution. It is not often that we look to Jesus and walk on water.

So frequent and prevalent are these storms that we seem to spend a lot of time looking at them. They have a variety of names with a variety of effects. There are school shootings and abortions, cancers and SIDS, crime and punishment, lost jobs, broken families, divorces, sins ... all sorts of storms. And we muddle about down here trying to figure out how to calm the storms.

In his colossal failure, Peter did the one right thing he had left to do. "He cried out, 'Lord, save me!'" (Matt 14:30) The only right thing he had left to do was, as it turns out, the one right thing he should have been doing all along -- looking to Jesus. When are we going to do that? When are we going to move our concentration from the problem and look to Jesus? Jesus said to Peter, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matt 14:31) When are we going to quit doubting and count on the Solution rather than ache over the problem? As individuals and as part of our various groups, there are truly lots of storms. When are we going to stop obsessing over the storms and trust Christ?