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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A Representative Government

Arizona elected a bisexual, atheist (she classifies herself as "religiously unaffiliated") member of the Communist Party that favors open borders. How does that happen in Arizona, a big "close our borders" state? Kyrsten Sinema opted to swear in on a copy of the Constitution rather than the Bible. Not to be outdone, Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman to serve in Congress, planned to use Thomas Jefferson's copy of the Quran, stating ""Islam has been part of American history for a long time.." She ignored the fact that Jefferson had the Quran because he wanted to understand the Islamic pirates he intended to fight on the Barbary Coast. She's the one that cursed about the president and also plans to boycott and sanction Israel. New York put a Democratic Socialist into office. Just this year.

So?

In countries like China, their government does not reflect their people. Their government is imposed on them and it is what it is apart from who the people are. In America we have a representative government. We vote them in. In general, the person elected represents a majority of the people who vote. As such, our government reflects who we are. And the trend continues. More and more radical people make it into our government by popular vote from your Donald Trumps to your "We're just here to disrupt your American values" types. We put them there. They aren't foisted on us. Arizona elected an open-borders type. What does that say about Arizona? New York elected a socialist. What does that say about New York? What do California's elected representatives say about California? You get the idea. And it's not looking good.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

We Rejoice in our Sufferings

1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom 5:1-6)
This is an amazing passage. First, Paul alludes to the fact that we are not justified by works, but by faith. That flies in the face of every other religion wherein you get to heaven (or whatever) by being good and in Christianity alone we are justified by faith.

Second, this justification results in peace with God. I don't suppose that this would be particularly exciting if you didn't know that the original condition was wrath (Rom 1:18). Given our universal rejection of God and His glory (Rom 3:23), there can be no peace between us and God. Once that is realized, the suggestion that we can have peace with God is astounding. On that basis -- on the basis of the grace in which we stand -- we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, the very glory we've fallen short of.

And then it gets really bizarre. Paul argues the ridiculous position that "we rejoice in our sufferings." How can he say such a thing? On what possible basis could we rejoice in our sufferings? Here's why. We know that "suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope." Now, this is truly stunning. First, what is the process that you have to do in this list that causes it to occur? If you notice, there is nothing. "Suffering," Paul says, "produces endurance." Not "If you do X, then suffering will produce endurance." "Endurance produces character." Not something you do; something that happens. "Character produces hope." And again, the natural product of A (character) is B (hope). You simply experience the suffering; that's your job. You can rejoice in it because of what it is producing. Second, "suffering produces." In the production process, you gain endurance, patience, steadfastness, fortitude, the ability to keep on going. In the production process you gain character. The word, in fact, indicates "proven character." You have been tested and proven and you are, in that, of greater value. And in the production process you gain hope. If you weren't paying attention, that's exactly where you started. "We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God" (Rom 5:2). Full circle, then, but to an elevated condition with added endurance, character, and hope. A hope that does not disappoint "because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom 5:5). From bizarre to magnificent.

Are you a sinner without hope of "arriving," of earning heaven? Good news! We are justified by faith, not works. Are you aware of the wrath that you've earned from God? Good news! We can have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ and we can have hope. Are you suffering? Good news! That suffering produces qualities you need -- endurance and character -- that improve your value to God and enhance your hope. Are you convinced that you can just sit there, a believer going nowhere, doing nothing? Oh, trust me, that can't happen. Suffering will come and you will be changed and it's all the work of God. So rejoice! Not rejoicing in your sufferings? Well, that's just silly. You must not be aware of the vast benefits. Step up to the Good News!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Why I Don't Want a Wall

I'm treading on dangerous ground here with a lot of conservatives, so let me start by saying 1) it's not a biblical question, and 2) it is as always my opinion, so 3) I don't intend to argue it with anyone. Despite the amazingly large numbers of people I know who are in favor of Trump's border wall, I'm not one of them. Here's why.

Environmental
I'm concerned about environmental issues that would occur because of a 2,000 mile wall across the North American continent. I'm not talking about decaying walls or stuff like that. I'm talking about animal migration and such. We've often put in large obstructions out in nature -- superhighways, dams, etc. -- without taking into account the affect they have on animals that live there or pass through there and it has often been bad.

False Security
We are all aware that there is an open border. We are all aware that there are illegal crossings of that open border. And we're scared. So we hire people to watch that border. If, on the other hand, we could simply put up a wall, well, then, we'd by happy, safe, and secure. Except you know that wouldn't be the case. We are constantly seeing stories of tunnels dug under walls, of new breaches, of other ways that such safety measures are circumvented. So the problem in my mind is that we'd be satisfied with "Whew! We've got a wall" and we'd neglect to be as vigilant because of it.

Cost/Benefit Ratio
A wall of that magnitude is a huge cost. Obviously that's true since the huge cost is the sticking point in the current government shutdown. So what will offset that huge cost? Included in "count the cost" is the question of what it will take to make it work. If you're willing to admit the danger of a false sense of security, it will require that we maintain the current cost of border security, making the wall an extra cost rather than a replacement cost. So this will get really expensive. How do we prevent tunneling or other breaches? More cost. How do we maintain such a structure? More cost. How much will it cost to remove the Statue of Liberty? Oh, didn't think about that one? That's next on my list.

What It Stands For
A wall says something. An open yard between you and your next door neighbor says, "Welcome!" A picket fence says, "We'll be friends, but you stay on your side." A wall says, "I don't want anything to do with you. Stay away!" A wall declares fear on one hand and rejection on the other. It begs for isolationism from one side and enclosure from the other side. While we work toward better trade relations with our southern neighbors, we say, "Stay away!" The Statue of Liberty says
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
A wall says, "Not in my backyard." And it looks like that's exactly what more and more Americans are saying. This dynamic of border defenses and debates about illegal immigration seems to make us lose track of the issues and head toward nuclear options ... like a wall. Is that really what we want to say?

I am not an "open borders" person. I think there needs to be controls to immigration. I think that making immigration legal but impassable is just as "anti-immigration" as the extremists actually opposed to all immigration are today. I think that America became great on the backs of floods of immigrants, so making America great again by excluding what made her great in the first place makes no sense. I think that there are other methods of border protection -- drones, surveillance, sensors, etc. -- that would assist in the task without all the negatives. I get that I'm not the "normal conservative" on this. But, then, I don't seem to fall into the "normal conservative" category on other things as well. And I'm pretty sure that the Left and the Right doesn't much care what I think, so I'll just sit over here with my opinion and watch things unfold.
________
(As a postscript, there is something that I've been considering. Look at the northern border. It is as open as any border can be. I read about a visitor that accidentally crossed the border illegally because it was so open. Why is that border not an issue? Why is the southern border such a huge issue? Is it possible that the problem is not an open border, but what drives people to cross it illegally? Is it possible that we -- the world community -- should be looking more into that than pushing for American Isolationism? Just musing here.)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

God Can

Paul begins a prayer in his letter to the church at Ephesus with "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us ..." (Eph 3:20). That is some phrase. He is able. He is able to do far more. He is able to do far more abundantly. He is able to do far more abundantly beyond. He is able to do far more abundantly beyond what we ask or think. That's big; really big.

We know God can save. As a popular song says today He is "mighty to save" (Isa 63:1). And I'm pretty sure we often downplay the fact. We have a pretty mellow idea of what sin is. If we had a clear picture of sin, we'd be stunned that He can save. But He can even do far more.

God can make broken bones rejoice (Psa 51:8).

God will provide what you need (Matt 6:25-30).

God turns hopelessness into hope (Lam 3:18-23).

God can actually prevent sin (Gen 20:6).

God gives you the will and power to serve Him (Php 2:13).

And, you know something? I can ask and think all that. How much, then, do you think He's able to do -- "far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think." God can.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

News Weakly - 1/12/19

The Antichrist is Coming!
That's the story, at least. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has stated that "the data-gathering capacity of devices such as smartphones risks bringing humanity closer to the arrival of the Antichrist." Of course, the media isn't being entirely fair. What he actually said was that all the information that can be gathered about us through smartphones would make it easier for a centralized world government to exist. That world government would be run by the Antichrist.

Let's be clear. We don't make these things happen. "You know, if only we hadn't made smartphones, the Antichrist never would have happened." Doesn't work that way. That being said, anyone who is not concerned about the amount of personal data that we're handing out while we demand greater privacy is not aware of the situation.

The Death of Civility
I and others have long been concerned about the apparent death of civility in this country. Disagreements have always abounded, but it was not impossible to differ without going to war. A Republican, for instance, could disagree strongly with the positions of a Democrat while still showing respect to the Democrat. We used to be able to respect the office even if we didn't respect the person that was in it. Gone are the days. It wasn't Hillary who started it, but she was the one who voiced it last year, cheering the end of civility. Now a newly-elected Muslim congresswoman has made the news by a use of a term she applied to President Trump that I can't even print here (being interpreted literally "he has sex with his mother") and she assured the world that her goal in getting into Congress was to impeach the president. Not everyone was happy about it (that's putting it mildly) and she has apologized, not for the language, but for the "distraction." Democrats are downplaying it, defending it, or applauding it. What would we expect? They complain (and I would say rightly) about Trump and his crudity but then follow suit. I would suggest that when we take the gloves of civility off, the fight is going to get ugly. The Left is applauding, but you can bet they'll complain when they take one in the jaw.

Lese Majeste Law
The term refers to insulting the monarch, but is used to refer to insulting the government as well. Thailand and Cambodia have laws like that. A Cambodian man got 3 years in jail for it along with a $1250 fine. They take their "respect authority" to the next level. Not commending the law, but clearly we Americans take ours to the lowest levels.

The Least of These ... Don't Count
The Kentucky Senate is considering a bill that will ban abortion. That, of course, is a lie. The Kentucky Senate is considering a bill that will protect lives. You just won't see that written in many media outlets. The bill would prevent the intentional murder of children with a heartbeat in the womb. The ACLU says, "It's blatantly unconstitutional." I'm waiting to see which component of the Constitution assures the right to murder babies. I'm also wondering when the ACLU is going to change its name to rightly reflect the fact that the "American civil liberties" they are protecting do not include the most vulnerable Americans.

Dangerous Migrants
In the latest news a new migrant caravan is headed to the border with the intention of walking around the U.S. seven times and then blowing trumpets. They're fairly sure any wall there would come tumbling down.

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Where's the Love?

You can read about it in any number of news items, psychology/psychiatry papers, or medical sites. You'll even see it in "diversity and inclusiveness" literature. They will consistently use the phrase "diagnosed with gender dysphoria." I saw it the other day and wondered about it.

The first term, "diagnosis," refers to "the process of determining by examination the nature and circumstances of a diseased condition." That is, something is broken and a diagnosis determines what it is. So, in the cases we're talking about, someone determined that there was a problem, a malady, a dysfunction. Something is broken. They diagnose the problem and discover the second term: gender dysphoria. According to WebMD, "People who have gender dysphoria feel strongly that their gender does not match their biology." Dysphoria is the opposite of euphoria and refers to unease or dissatisfaction with life. In this case, the person diagnosed with this condition feels unease or dissatisfaction with their feelings of gender versus their physical biology. Got it. Clear and straightforward.

Here's where I ran into difficulty. "Gender dysphoria," WebMD says, "used to be called 'gender identity disorder.' But the mismatch between body and internal sense of gender is not a mental illness." Well, if it's not a mental illness, what kind of disorder is it? Worse, the website says of the treatment, "The goal is not to change how the person feels about his or her gender. Instead, the goal is to deal with the distress that may come with those feelings" and they go on to explain ways they try to change the physical nature of their bodies to match their misguided feelings. Now, hang on a minute. The treatment for this malfunction is to encourage it?

I know. Anyone these days who opposes "transgender" in any way is a hater. That's the popular position. And, to be completely honest, some might hate over it. But to me, I don't get it at all. We agree that there is a "disorder" and we agree that it requires a "diagnosis" and we agree that there needs to be treatment. Yet, the notion in today's popular culture is that the proper treatment when someone says "My gender doesn't match my biology" is to ignore the insanity of such a statement and encourage it. That's like saying, "We've diagnosed you with cancer, so we're going to start treatments to induce the growth of those cancer cells." I don't call it "insanity" to be mean; I call it what it is -- an outright denial of reality. We don't encourage the guy who thinks he's Napoleon to continue thinking he's Napoleon. We don't encourage the person with memory loss to "forget about it." We do encourage people who incorrectly understand their own sex to continue in it and even lie to them about changing their bodies to match. (Note: It's a lie because no male body can become a female body or vice versa.) What kind of crazy are we?

Where's the love, people? Why don't we care about their suffering? Why don't we help them? It has to be hard to be so confused that simple biology escapes them. It only makes it harder when you encourage them on down that path. Why don't we care about the "T" of LGBT? They're in trouble and we should be helping them. Instead, we're pushing them on down the road. "Be warm and fed" without giving them what it takes. How is that love?

At some point we decided that "love" meant "Encourage them to do and be whatever they feel like" even though we know that very likely won't end well. They feel like being lazy, so encourage it? They feel like being selfish, so encourage it? They feel like they're losers, so encourage it? No! We need to encourage people to be better than that. But when someone does it in this case, that person is the hater? I don't see it. Seems to me that genuine love would want to help rather than encourage the denial of reality. Where's the love?

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Church Polity

I wonder sometimes. If, say, Paul or Peter were to show up in the 21st century (with the capacity to speak English), would they recognize our churches? I'm not talking about the buildings; I'm talking about church polity, about the way we run our churches, their government and their services and way of operating. I ask because what I see in Scripture doesn't seem to correlate very well with what I see in our churches.

There is the obvious discrepancy between the first church and today. Luke describes them in Acts. They "were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42). "All those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people" (Acts 2:44-47). That is not a description of today's churches, at least not in my experience. But, hang on. Luke's descriptions are just that -- descriptions. There is nothing prescriptive about it. Nothing there says, "This is how it should be." That's just how it was.

After that, however, it doesn't get better. Take, for instance, church government. The biblical description is "elders" or "overseers" or "bishops" (pick your favorite translation). Always plural. (I've been in a lot of churches run by a single pastor.) "Elders" (1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9) and "deacons" (1 Tim 3:8-13). Many, even most churches seem to have deacons, but there are quite a few that don't have "elders". At best, they classify their staff as elders (even if not all the staff qualifies biblically). The problem is this seems to be a prescription, not a description in Scripture.

Many (most?) churches these days have a professional pastor. A pastor as a central figure in a church is almost inescapable today. In Scripture, on the other hand, pastors are almost never mentioned. There are pastor/teachers (Eph 4:11) and shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-4) (synonymous with "elders"), but not the singular office that we currently associate with "pastor". No professional clergy. In a lot of churches these days Peter and Paul would not qualify as church leadership, lacking the proper seminary or bible college training. Scripture does allow for paying church leadership (1 Tim 5:17-18), but nothing at all about a clergy sort of arrangement.

Most puzzling, however, is Paul's description in his letter to the church at Corinth.
What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. (1 Cor 14:26-33)
We can discuss all of the previous stuff and that's all fine, but this passage looks nothing at all like the churches I've seen and been a part of. This description (actually, prescription) is 180° out of sync with our normal mode of going to church. We show up to be fed. This passage says we show up with something -- a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, whatever. This text seems to say that every member comes with something to share. "Let all things be done for edification," Paul says. Let's face it; we don't show up for edification. We show up to be edified. We show up to be fed. We don't go to give. We can disagree or negotiate over the whole "tongues" issue. Not the point. The bottom line notion in that text is that Paul commands the Corinthians to assemble with something ready to give to each other. We don't do that. I'm pretty sure we wouldn't even tolerate that. We're supposed to sing when we're told to and not speak when we're not supposed to and primarily get fed. Scripture, on the other hand, looks completely different.

I don't know. I can't even imagine what that would look like. Included in that thought is "God is not a God of confusion but of peace," and imagining a service where everyone contributes doesn't seem very ... peaceful. Nonetheless, there is a radical disconnect between what we have and what Scripture describes and I'm not at all sure what to do with that.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Assigned Gender

A few years back Slate warned that new parents shouldn't "let your doctor do this to your newborn." What horror was doctors perpetrating on these newborns? "The doctor holds your child up to the harsh light of the delivery room, looks between its legs, and declares his opinion: It's a boy or a girl, based on nothing more than a cursory assessment of your offspring's genitals." Damnable binary gender.

We know better now. New York is coming out with a gender-neutral option for a baby's birth certificate. "Let the child decide. Don't assign gender." That's the term you will frequently find -- "assigned gender."

I used to despise that term. Look, no doctor looks at a baby and arbitrarily says, "This is a goose!" Nor do they simply decide, randomly, to give you the gender. They do it scientifically. They can look at the chromosomes -- the DNA -- or the genitals or the bone structure or ... lots of things. They don't pull out a blank baby, make a couple of adjustments based on what they decide, and tell you what it is. They tell you what it is based on what is before them. "Assigned"?

I've since decided I like it much better than I thought.
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Gen 1:27)
If you want to talk about gender assignment, that is it. "Male and female He created them." Not a spectrum. Not a social construct. Binary gender. Assigned by God.

I want to point out that there is a particularly important point embedded here that our world has jettisoned and a lot of Christians seem to miss. Included in this concept of God assigning gender (binary) is the concept of being created in the image of God. It is this singular concept that gives us value that no other created thing has. It is this singular notion on which we oppose killing babies and adults and anyone else. It is this one idea on which we base our idea of human rights. Throw that out? Throw out all that other stuff, too. Throw out "male and female"? You can forget about "in the image of God," too.

Is gender "assigned"? Yes, it is. By God. We can play with it, deny it, waffle about, but it is assigned by the Maker. Anything else is a denial ... of reality.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

The Day God Died

One objection to the deity of Christ is that He died. We even sing about it in our hymns. The first lines from At the Cross say, "Alas, and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die?" A favorite, And Can it Be?, asks, "How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?" It's right there. A basic theme of Christianity is that Christ died for our sins. I mean, come on! How can He be the eternal God if He died. That puts an end to "eternal" and, therefore, to Christ as God. End of story.

This is problematic. For the Trinitarian, we're standing there declaring that Jesus is God Incarnate. He is God. So we have to say that God died ... right? But that's a serious issue. If Christ, as God, died, nothing would exist. "In Him," Paul wrote, "all things hold together" (Col 1:17). If God died, nothing would hold together. If "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28) is true, then without Him there would be no being. Everything would cease to exist. Poof! End of all that is!

"No, no," they assure me, "It wasn't God who died. It was just the Son -- the second person in the Trinity." That seems to solve the problem. Except that it creates a new one. If God is immutable and God -- at least part of God -- died, then we have a change, a mutation. And God is no longer immutable. And He is no longer God.

For the non-Trinitarian, it's a different problem. "Yes, Jesus died, but he wasn't God, so it had no effect on the universe." Sure, but it also had no effect on sin. Without a divine offering for sin, the sacrifice could cover only one person. Taking $5 as final payment on a quadrillion dollar tax bill is generous, but it's not just. If God is just, only a payment sufficient to cover the debt would be suitable. So in denying the deity of Christ, they either deny salvation for anyone or the deity ... of God.

So what do we do? We can deny the deity of Christ and end up dismantling everything, or we can affirm the deity of Christ and end up dismantling everything. Those seem to be our options. But there is one other -- the truth. We can properly understand the nature of Jesus Christ. Jesus was a human with a divine nature. He was what the creeds describe as "fully God and fully Man." It's important, however, to remember that the two didn't mix. The deity of Christ did not become human and the humanity of Christ did not become divine. When Christ died on the cross (as He most certainly did), He did not cease to exist. He did not cease to be God. What ended was the Man, Jesus. What ceased to operate was the physical nature of Christ.

This shouldn't be hard to grasp. We expect it, in fact. We do not believe that when we die we cease to exist. When we die our spirits are with God (2 Cor 5:8). We are, as it were, trinitarian beings ourselves, consisting of body, soul, and spirit (1 Thess 5:23). So death isn't a "cease to be" even for us; it's a separation of body and the rest of us. And if Christ was God Incarnate -- God in a body -- then dying would be the separation of body and the rest of Him. In a way, then, God died when Jesus died on the cross. He just didn't cease to be in the same way that humans do. But God didn't end when Christ died on the cross. Christ didn't cease to be. That would be a misunderstanding of Christ, of the cross, of God Himself. So we retain the deity of Christ and salvation for all. God wins.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Reliable Sources

My dad once told me, "What's really important is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you've got it made." Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 21st century.

We've arrived at a place in our world where we trust certain sources, so we believe them without reason, question, or examination. Maybe it's you're favorite news source. Maybe it's the Internet. Maybe it's another source or a conglomerate of sources.

What has happened over the years is that the media -- news or television or Internet -- has acted pretty sincere. They want you to trust them. They have earned your trust. Right? So when they say that a child was kidnapped from the park by your house, you believe them. And you make sure your kid never goes to that park. Or any park. Even if it wasn't a park near you. The news carries a story of an airplane crash and air travel drops. Why? Because it's unsafe? No. Because we heard it from a reliable source. And it must be a problem. We hear a truly horrifying story of some kids getting shot at school and we're tempted to keep our kids home. Why? Schools are unsafe! Really? Did you know that, statistically, a child at a public school has a 0.0017% of being shot in school? But we heard it on the news and it is bad and we will trust them without question or examination.

It has become an Internet joke now. "I know it's true; I heard it on the Internet." One commercial played that whole game of a girl who met a guy online who was a wonderful French guy ... except he was neither French nor wonderful, but because it was in the Internet, it had to be true. It's there; we trust it. Whatever it says must be true. So we buy this whole "gender is a social construct" thing because "I heard it on the Internet" or "9/11 was a government conspiracy" because "I heard it on the Internet." Don't ask. Don't examine. Don't question. Just believe. Question authority, sure. But not our favorite media or Internet sources.

Then we have, in our hot little hands, the God-breathed Word. Now that is an unimpeachable source. No faking of sincerity there. No blind trust. It's God's Word. God's Word invites scrutiny, expects examination, and holds out the promise of truth from God Himself. A reliable source. Would that we were as diligent in our study, use, and embracing of His Word as we are at the news media and Internet.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

A Thousand Tongues

Peter Böhler (1712-1775) was a German-English Moravian bishop and missionary. Talking to Charles Wesley, he said, "If I had a thousand tongues, I would praise Christ with them all." Wesley liked the line, and put it in his hymn written to commemorate the first year of his new birth that begins,
O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer's praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of his grace!
I get it, but, to me, a thousand tongues isn't enough.

One of my little pet peeves about modern worship music is what is jokingly referred to as 7-11 songs -- repeat the same 7 words 11 times. That's silly, of course. They repeat stuff much more than that. There seems to be some value in repeating simple phrases over and over again in worship. Feels good? I don't know.

A favorite hymn is Frederick M. Lehman's The Love of God. The third verse, he says, was found penciled on the wall of a patient’s room in an insane asylum after he had been carried to his grave.
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
John wrote, "There are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written" (John 21:25). If what Jesus said and did in His ministry would exceed out ability to express, how much more "the glories of my God and King"?

So we worship. We worship in church on Sunday. We worship with others. We worship in song, in giving, in the preaching of the Word. We worship by presenting our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice (Rom 12:1). We declare the glories of God in word and deed (Matt 5:16). Let's not stop at 7 or 11 words; let's make it a lifelong, daily effort.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

News Weakly - 1/5/19

Welcome to 2019.

Mixed Messages
In recent times we've seen a bunch of "Women's Marches." They're angry about stuff. Like Trump getting elected. Or their right to killing their babies being threatened. They were going to march in California but canceled it because it would have been "overwhelmingly white." You see, there are women's issues, but they have to be carefully defined. Like if you're conservative and pro-life women, you can't be part of a Women's March. And if it's too white, it's not allowed. Because Women's Lives Matter ... sometimes.

All Sorts of Bad
British counter-terrorism police are investigating a multiple stabbing at Manchester Victoria station New Year's Eve. According to a witness, Sam Clack, a BBC radio producer, a suspect reportedly shouted "Allah" and declared, "As long as you keep bombing other countries, this sort of s**t is going to keep happening." The government is instituting more stringent knife control legislation and the BBC producer was fired for religious profiling. Oh, wait ...

Global Warming Update
Arizona made the news this week with seriously cold temperatures. While New York City enjoyed relatively balmy highs in the upper 50's, temperatures in the Sonoran desert fell below 30°F. If this global warming keeps up, we're all going to freeze to death.

Important Legislation
Congress has a pretty important job. They are the legislative branch. They make the laws. Now, they can't seem to make a budget and they can't seem to improve immigration laws. They can't pass gun legislation or reasonable economic policies. But, hey, at least they're hard at work at making sure that President Trump discloses 10 years of tax returns. Now that is important legislation. Oh, the Constitution doesn't require it and no president has ever been called on to do it, but we demand it. Why? Well, because we hate Trump, of course. Sheesh! Try to keep up.

All We Are Saying ...
... the song says, "is give peace a chance." So China's president this week said that Taiwan's unification with China must be the ultimate goal of any talks over its future. Taiwan's president urged China to peacefully settle disputes over the island and to allow them to retain self-rule. China's President Xi indicated that Taiwan's break with China was not legitimate, that unification was unstoppable, and that they'd be willing to use force if necessary. China has already demanded that the Taiwanese government not be recognized and has blocked access to all who do. "China would respect the Taiwanese people's religious and legal freedoms in a unified 'one country, two systems' framework, Mr. Xi said." This from a country that is already shutting down Christian churches. "We make no promise to abandon the use of force, and retain the option of taking all necessary measures," the president said. I mean, who could resist such a friendly request? "Give peace a chance! Surrender or die." Look for good times for Taiwan in 2019.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Biblical Internet

Now, if you will, turn with me in your Bible to 3 Peter 2 where we will look at what the Bible has to say about our Internet interactions.

Okay, not there. The Bible doesn't talk about the Internet. But that's not entirely correct. It does say some things that might be pertinent.

I'm thinking right now about "social media", about Twitter and Facebook, about blogs and vlogs and people commenting on stories. We who care about the truth (and most people claim to care about the truth) will see an offensive statement, position, argument, belief, idea -- whatever -- and it's time. You've been reviled. You've been slandered. You've been -- dare I say it? -- persecuted. So what do we do? We go on the assault. We tell those rotten so-and-so's how wrong they are and how insane their position is and how they're assaulting not you but God Himself. We fight back. It's safe to do so, right? I mean, we're pretty insulated on the Internet. Or maybe we go the other way. Maybe we cave and compromise. We give in and back off and neglect to stand our ground at all. Isn't that what the Bible says to do? No, no it is not.
When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. (1 Cor 4:12-13)
I'm trying to envision what it would look like if we used that perspective in our online exchanges. When the atheist insults and falsely accuses us and we bless them. When the government prosecutes us for standing our ground on the Word of God and we endure. When so-called Christians bad-mouth us, even on our own blogs and websites, and we gently ask them to look at the truth and to be kind.

There is a perception that we're supposed to stand our ground and fight. Spiritually, yes. Verbally? There is a perception that we're supposed to be meek, even cowardly. We're supposed to cower in the corner and let them run roughshod all over us. Neither fits Scripture.
In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:15)
How would our online interactions look if we mingled "always prepared to make a defense" with "gentleness and respect"? They wouldn't be wishy-washy, but they wouldn't be nearly as offensive, either. Perhaps we'd put to shame those who revile us. Just a thought.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

First Response

I have asked for years for a Jehovah's-Witness-non-Trinitarian type who denies the fundamental deity of Christ to explain to me John 1:3. For your reference:
All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:3)
The Jehovah's Witnesses like to quibble about John 1:1. "It doesn't mean 'the Word was God'; it means 'the Word was a god'." It's called weak Greek. They don't get it. Okay, fine, but if the Son, this "Word," was a created being, then in what possible sense could John 1:3 work? How could a created being make all things that were made? That would make this Word a self-created being. Nonsense.

Well, someone actually tried to give me an answer. The logos, you see, is not Jesus. It is God's purpose, God's plan. It isn't Jesus. So when the logos became flesh, it was God's purpose, God's plan. Now, that is a creative approach; it just doesn't make any sense. A purpose, a plan, does not actually accomplish anything. It is a target, a goal, a direction. If you liken it to a target, that target is not going to shoot itself; someone has to do it. A purpose is not a thing. It doesn't accomplish anything. It has no power of its own. Creation was God's purpose, to be sure, but it wasn't the purpose that accomplished the Creation; it was God. And, according to John 1:3, it was the Word that became flesh (John 1:14) that accomplished it. It was the Preincarnate Christ who did it.

This "Word" that the commenter was sure was a "purpose or a plan" is said to have been "with God" and "was God" (John 1:1). Now, think about that a moment. in what sense can it be said that a purpose or plan is "with" God? Is there some way that you could have a purpose or plan that was not "with you"? Beyond that, if this "Word" actually was God, what does that possibly signify if it is intended to convey "purpose or plan"? In what sense is God some purpose or plan? None of this makes sense.

The fundamental denial here begins with the word "Him" in that verse in John. "Oh, no," you might hear, "that shouldn't be 'Him'; that should be 'it'. It is not 'All things were made through Him'; it is 'All things were made through it', meaning His purpose or plan." Having denied the possibility that a purpose or plan can actually accomplish something, is it possible that the word should be "it" rather than "Him"? The Greek is autos. We use it ourselves in words like "automatic" (something that runs by itself), "automobile" (a vehicle that moves by itself), or "autocratic" (a method of government in which the people rule themselves). The word means "self." (I bet you picked that up already, right?) Whatever this "self" is, it must be, it must exist, it must have substance. It isn't a theory, an idea, a thought, a purpose or a plan. It must be. So using the Greek to retranslate "Him" to something else doesn't work either. The Greek supports "Him".

And, of course, since Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture, we don't have to look far to determine that Jesus is the one who created all things. God's "beloved Son" (Col 1:13) is the image of God (Col 1:15). Paul clearly states, "All things were created through Him and for Him" (Col 1:16). So it is "Him," Christ Jesus (Col 1:1), "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (Col 1:19), who made all things. And we're back to either a created being who created himself as well or the position that Christ is God Incarnate.

I'll give the person their just due. They tried. They answered when no one else ever has. It's just that it doesn't work in the text, the context, or the whole of Scripture. Worse, if we decide that all of Christendom has been wrong all this time, then we are also deciding that Christianity is fundamentally false. The message of the Gospel is we're all sinners justly earning death, but Christ came to pay our debt. But one perfect life can only pay the debt for one imperfect life, not for all. It takes an infinite payment to pay for the sins of all mankind, so only a divine human could do it. It is the beauty of the wisdom and grace of God that He divined (small joke there) a plan like this to save His creatures by sending His Son to become flesh and dwell among us, to save His people from their sin. Take that away and it's all over.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Haste the Day

If you read through a lot of hymns, you will find a diversity of thoughts, points, doctrinal statements, and the like. But there is, in many, many of them, a common theme. The last verse often has something about "the end." Take the best known hymn, Amazing Grace. I mean, even secular people know that one. And the last verse? It begins with 10,000 years in heaven singing God's praise ... and that would only be the beginning.

It's not just hymns. My Last Amen is done by a group called Downhere. In the second verse, the song says,
I could swear I have two hearts
One to stay, one to depart
This sad, tragic kingdom

And it burns me down to the core
Because I know there's so much more
It's just a pale reflection
And it keeps me wanting
That mysterious thing
Like an outcast waiting to belong
"Amen" means "Let it be so," and the song writer longs for the day when he will no longer say "Let it be so" because it will be so.

Perhaps you can hear, in that verse, another place that speaks the same.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Php 1:21)
To us humans there is a universal notion, it seems. No matter what else happens, death is the "ultimate bad thing". Death is the end, the worst, really, really bad. To many hymn writers and to Scripture, that's simply not the case. The Bible calls it "the blessed hope".
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:11-14)
That "blessed hope" is an eternity with Him. It is the appearing of the glory of God. Paul describes a life lived looking to that end. We are to live lives that deny ungodliness and sin and live sensibly, righteously and godly because we are looking for that blessed hope when we will see His face, when we will be like Him because we see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).
And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
It will change your perspective. It will change your view of death, of life, of this world, of suffering, of purpose, even of heaven. Lord, haste the day.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Resolved

Measurable goals. That what they tell me. When you make resolutions for the New Year, make them as measurable goals, things that can actually be accomplished and measured. Like "lose 20 pounds" or "work out 3 times a week" or "be on time for work" ... like that. I get it. We need to feel like we're making progress, and if you can't see it, you can't feel it, I suppose. And I guess it's true that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Small steps, then. I get it.

When I was learning to drive, my driving instructor told me, "Keep an eye on that car in front of you, but do not look at the parked cars. Instead, keep another eye on the distance ahead where you're going." The rationale is that you will tend to go where you're attention is focused.

In that vein, then, I want to make a New Year's resolution that violates that "measurable goals" command:
Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Php 3:7-11)
That's what I want to do this year. Well, and next year. And the one after that. For as long as I live.
One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Php 3:13-14)
Maybe not conventional wisdom for a New Year's resolution, but I want that to be my goal. My life goal. I want to keep one eye on the traffic around me, but the other focused ahead, on my Savior, where I want to go, where I want to be. Keep my eye on the goal, on the prize. Because, frankly, it is really easy to get entangled in this world, its problems, its temptations, its sin. I want something better. I want Jesus.