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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Two Vessels

In his second epistle to Timothy Paul talks about two vessels. There are honorable (read "valuable") vessels and there are dishonorable vessels (2 Tim 2:20). The question hangs in the air, "Which are you?"

Of course, only momentarily. Paul indicates how to be an "honorable vessel." "If anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work" (2 Tim 2:21). That's good. In a sense, you get to decide. Will you choose to be a valuable vessel or a dishonorable one?

Paul tells Timothy how to do that.
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (2 Tim 2:22)
Run from and run toward. Flee "youthful passions." Run from them. Leave them behind. But don't just run away; go somewhere. Pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace. Chase down what is right, what is just, what is correct. Run toward confidence in Christ. Make unconditional love your trajectory. Run headlong into peace -- peace with God and with others. We would consider these to be "Christian virtues."

But don't stop there. Notice how he ends that thought. Run from youthful passions and pursue what is good "along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart." Now, that's interesting, isn't it? We are not lone runners. It isn't supposed to just be, "You and me, Lord; You and me." It's supposed to be a group run. And it makes sense. Before I joined the military I ran very little. I wasn't sure how well I'd handle that mile-and-a-half run that we had to do. But we did it in formation, an entire flight of guys running together. It was a breeze because I wasn't doing it alone. In a similar vein, Jesus said they would know we were His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). We're supposed to "bear one another's burdens" (Gal 6:2) We're supposed to be in this together.

Pursuing what is right is hard work (Php 2:12-13). We need to do it, but we need not do it alone. In fact, God's Word recommends against doing it alone. We should all long to be "honorable vessels" for Christ. We must do it by working with others with the same goal.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019


Paul wrote two letters to Pastor Timothy of Ephesus. Tim lived in a sinful city with pagans and false prophets abounding and Paul wanted to help him handle pastoring a church in that environment. Paul's second letter is believed to be the last letter Paul wrote. He wrote it from prison and anticipated execution. He told Tim that God has given us a spirit not of fear, but of power, love, and self-control (2 Tim 1:7). He told him how everyone had left him and he was suffering for the gospel (2 Tim 1:11-15).
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. (2 Tim 2:1)
So here we have Timothy being queued up for suffering. Indeed, he tells him two verses later, "Share in suffering" (2 Tim 2:3). But he doesn't set him up for suffering alone. He is equipping him for it. How?

You might have thought of God's power. Sure. He mentioned that in the previous chapter. But that's not what Paul says here. He says that Timothy should be strengthened "by the grace that is found in Christ Jesus." Huh. What about grace brings strength?

We know that grace -- God's favor -- is given, not earned or merited (Rom 11:6). We know that grace is a gift and we know that "the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom 11:29). We know that "neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:38-39). So, grace is a free gift, good, "irrevocable," and reliable. But what is the strength involved?

Here ... maybe this will help. In Hebrews the author contrasts "strengthened by grace" with strengthened by food.
Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. (Heb 13:9)
If we replace the word "grace" with "food" just for illustration purposes, maybe you can see it. "Be strengthened by healthy food." Does that help? We know that food imparts strength. We get that. But instead of "healthy food" he says "grace." So we need to "eat grace" if we are to be strengthened. We need to be nourished by it. We need to be built up by it. We need to be fortified by the grace found in Christ. We need to rely on the grace that only Christ Jesus imparts. That grace includes our relationship with God, our intimacy with God, our adoption by God, our empowerment by the Spirit. All of that is included in the unmerited favor we receive. That's what nourishes us and, therefore, strengthens us.

We live in a sinful society filled with pagans without and false teachers within. We need to serve the Lord in this environment. I urge you, brothers and sisters, to be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Be nourished, day by day, in Christ's amazing grace. Find your strength in His free grace and the living relationship with Him that His grace provides. His grace is generous and irrevocable, completely reliable. It is the ultimate health food for the soul.

Monday, July 29, 2019

This Could Babel on Forever

You know the origin of the word, "to babble," right? It came, of course, from the Tower of Babel. Remember that story? The people after Noah thought they'd build a tower to heaven. God decided to stop them ... by confusing their language. End of tower (Gen 11:1-9). Okay, maybe that's not the root of the word, but the idea is still there. The point, then, is if you can confuse the language, you can stop cooperation.

Welcome to Babel II.

Now, let's be clear. Words are not a thing. They are not real. They have no substance, no atoms, no existence. Words are actually only symbols. These symbols are intended to convey ideas from one mind to another. Obviously, then, the two minds would need to understand the symbols being used in order to communicate and understand each other. Thus, the only importance behind words is to have a shared understanding of the symbol. If you say "green" and I say "green" and I'm thinking a particular color and you're thinking environmental issues, we won't be communicating at all.

This is why we need to cut through the jargon and get down to actual communication. If you use "marriage" with one definition and I use it with an entirely different one, we won't be communicating. Toss out some terms -- "hate," "bigot," "homophobic," "misogynist" ... you get the idea -- and the conversation is over. No need to go on. But is it true? Are the things being labeled this way actually these things?

An example. There is brewing in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) a return of a century-old debate about women preachers. It's odd because the SBC is largely understood to be a "fundamentalist" (one of those words, again), Bible-believing, Evangelical, conservative organization. They have wavered from time to time, but for a couple of decades now they've been coming back to hardcore biblical Christianity. So along comes this question of "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). "Haters!" And the discussion is over. "Misogynists!" And we can't consider the merits of the arguments. Because "hater" and "misogynist" have meaning and it's not good. But are they accurate? That all depends, doesn't it? If we get beyond the labels and look at the concept in question, if you claim to follow the Bible and come to interpret that passage as "I do indeed permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man," then we have a real problem. The Bible has no meaning at all. On the other hand, if the text means what it says, then it would be a violation of God's intended roles for males and females in this particular application to allow women to teach or to exercise authority over a man. You see, in that case it would be neither hate nor misogyny to warn against it. It would be kindness.

But, of course, that won't be allowed. We'll continue to toss out words with more weight than meaning with the express intent of terminating communication and cooperation. We'll continue to redefine terms and then wonder why we're not communicating. It is "Did God really say ...?" all over again. Now, let me see ... who was it again that started that question?

Sunday, July 28, 2019

One of my Scariest Verses

There are a lot of verses in the Bible. Some are delightful. Some are convicting. Some are hard to figure out. Some are, frankly, a bit scary.

One of the scariest ones I know of is the one that is quite popular in most circles.
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me." (Rev 3:20)
"Scary? What's scary about that?" We know this one. It's offered at presentations of the Gospel. It's included in invitations to come to Christ. It's friendly. It's warm. It's not scary.

Unless, of course, you understand the context.

Jesus is writing His own epistles here -- seven letters to seven churches. The last one is to the church in Laodicea. It isn't a happy letter. They think they're fine, but they're not. "You say, 'I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing,' not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked" (Rev 3:17). He counsels them to get resources from Him (Rev 3:18) and tells them He disciplines those whom He loves, warning them to repent (Rev 3:19). And then He gives them that verse.

"I'm still not getting it," you might be saying. It sounds so inviting, right?

Except what we forget is that Jesus is talking to a church. This isn't a call to the unsaved. This isn't a welcome invitation to unbelievers. He is talking to a church, to supposed believers. He is standing outside, not inside. (Apparently not even two or three are gathered, right?) He is begging apparent Christians to let Him in, to have a relationship with Him because ... they aren't.

Some commentators believe that these seven letters are to churches that represent church history. They say that the church in Laodicea represents our church age. That is scary. "You think you're fine; you're not. You're really not. The Son of God is not part of your church." He calls them lukewarm and tells them it makes Him want to vomit (Rev 3:16). They think they're healthy and wealthy and they're not. And this is real stuff.

Maybe it's our church age and maybe it's not. What we do know is that it represents something real, something about which Christ is genuinely concerned. So we need to ask ourselves if this is us. Is this today's church age? Is it today's American church? Is it the local church we are in? The reality is that there will be churches that feel like they're rich and prosperous and healthy and they are, in fact, wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Since the church in Laodicea didn't know it, apparently it's entirely possible that we might not know it. I personally find the notion that the One we think we are worshiping on Sunday is actually outside rather than inside to be a terrifying notion, something to be sure to avoid at all costs.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

News Weakly - 7/27/19

Church vs Clergy
Recently the Anglican Church of Canada voted to reject an amendment to bless same-sex mirage in the Anglican Church. That's good. Except Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the Primate of Canada, decided they had to leave room "for individual dioceses and jurisdictions of our church to proceed with same-sex marriage." Some 15 years ago the denomination passed a measure to "affirm the integrity and sanctity of committed adult same-sex relationships." So, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a 15-round bout with the Anglican Church versus Anglican clergy where, apparently, there are no winners.

Unclear on the Concept
It seems like younger generations don't really know where things come from anymore. Take, for instance, the caller who declared, "To all you hunters who kill animals for food, shame on you; you ought to go to the store and buy the meat that was made there, where no animals were harmed." Unclear on the concept. Another is area of mystery is economics. Where does money come from? Apparently from rich people ... and we want it. The House passed that $15/hr minimum wage bill last week, but Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib isn't happy. She thought it should be $20 per hour. Why? Because the cost of "a lot of things has gone up." Unclear on the concept. A study from Gettysburg College (2015) concluded that increasing the minimum wage can help decrease income inequity up to a point. Beyond a particular level, increasing the minimum wage would make income inequity worse. The report said that raising the minimum wage to $11.77 would provide the lowest level of income inequality. Going higher from there would start to reduce the effect. Beyond that, increasing the minimum wage will decrease job opportunities and increase consumer costs to pay for the minimum wage (and the ripple effect of that wage hike). Oh, wait ... could that be a factor as to why the cost of "a lot of things" has gone up? Naw! I only want to know why Congress and Tlaib are being so stingy. Wouldn't it be better if the minimum wage went to $50/hr? I mean, we'd all have a lot more money then, right?

Sanity Slide in BC
A guy who claims to be a girl has been making the rounds in British Columbia. He identifies as female but still has male "equipment." So he went to multiple female aestheticians and asked them to wax his genitals. (How do they even say "her male genitalia" with a straight face?) He is suing the 15 that refused. The government tribunal is reviewing some of the cases and forcing others out of business. Some who have dared to comment have been banned from Twitter and face possible charges from the British Columbia Human Rights tribunal. Ricky Gervais, atheist, progressive liberal, and strong supporter of gay rights, defended a woman's right to refuse to touch male genitalia and was accused of being transphobic. Meanwhile, this guy who claims to be a girl is organizing a topless swimming session for girls as young as 12, no parents allowed. At some point you'd think sanity would kick in. So far, it's not looking too good, at least not for British Columbia.

Women's (Non-)Reproductive Rights
Authorities in northern India are investigating why not one girl was born in the last three months out of 216 newborns in 132 villages. While abortion for gender is illegal in India, they're still doing it (obviously). Girls are too expensive (think dowries) and boys are the breadwinners. It's a no-brainer. And I'm sure that women the world over would stand up and defend these women's right to murder their girl children, right?

No-Justice Warriors
Warren Kanders, CEO of a company called The Safariland Group which provides gear (including tear gas) for law enforcement, has stepped down from his role as co-chair of the board of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Why? There has been a call for artists and visitors to boycott the museum because he is the co-chair and "I do not wish to play a role, however inadvvertent, in its demise." It's not clear whether the board asked him to resign. What is clear is the insanity that brought about the boycott. A lesser known news outlet released a story about U.S. border agents using tear gas made by Safariland at the Mexican border. "The man has got to go. The museum will pay if he doesn't. No, this isn't pure, hateful extortion. We really hate art." Now, Obama's administration used tear gas on migrants on multiple occasions and no boycotts were called for, but, hey, we're a fair group of people and we will only be outraged if it's "them" and not "us." This is justice far removed. Presidents (not just Trump) have ordered the use of tear gas on occasion on the border. They have to get it from somewhere. Safariland sells it. The border patrol bought it. They used it when crowds at the border became unruly. The CEO of the company didn't use it or order the use of it or have any say in its use. The museum is even farther removed. So the boycott of a museum to get to a CEO to get to a company to get to the border patrol to get to a president is not justice, especially when the same activity (use of tear gas) caused no disturbance when it was "their guy."

Not News News
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there is a rise in cyberbullying nationwide, and girls are 3x more likely to be harassed than boys.

It is sad, indeed, but it's not news. As our culture moves away from face-to-face interaction with its inherent immediate accountability toward electronic, buffered, uncontrolled interaction and away from an ethic of "others over me" to a "I should be able to do whatever I want" kind of approach, you cannot expect anything else. And even though there are plenty of voices that tell us that men are the problem, it doesn't take a man to point out that girls can be cutthroats with other girls. So it would seem like this story, while unfortunate, is not really news.

I think it's ironic that the people deeply outraged over the potential pain and suffering inflicted when trying to eradicate an invasive species of lizard are likely completely unconcerned about the tested and verified pain and suffering inflicted on a human child when killed by abortion and actually outraged that someone might be concerned about those poor babies.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Train Up a Husband

There is a famous saying that women marry hoping their husband will change and men marry hoping their wife won't. In neither case does it happen. There is some truth to it. Often, women hope to change their husbands into something good, or, at least, something better than they are currently. And I wouldn't even suggest that it's all bad. "You make me want to be a better man" is a compliment, not a complaint. But when one woman tells another woman, "You sure have your husband trained," I'm not sure it's a kindness to the husband.

The truth is women can and do try to train their husbands. It has long been said that women civilize men. You know, "tame the wild beast," that sort of thing. It's not all bad. I do think, however, that it is possible for wives to "train up a husband" in a way he should not go.

Nagging Expectations
Part of the curse in the Garden was aimed at Eve (and, therefore, the women who followed Eve). There was a curse of multiplied pain in childbearing, but along with that there was this condition in which "your desire shall be toward your husband; and he shall rule over you" (Gen 3:16). Now, that one seems a little strange, perhaps. I mean, isn't it a good thing that she her desire would be toward her husband? I think we missed the point. In Genesis 4 we see the same phrase. God told Cain, "Sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is toward you" (Gen 4:7). We understand that one just fine. It wasn't that sin had a sexual desire for Cain. It was that sin wished to rule Cain. Since the previous text had the same "headship" context and the same language, apparently the curse had the same sense. Part of the curse, then, is that the wife would have a desire to rule her husband, but would have to be subject to him.

This conflict often works itself out in the nagging wife. Solomon wrote, "Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and nagging wife" (Prov 21:19). That doesn't sound like a commendation for nagging. On the other hand, Peter wrote that wives should adorn themselves with "the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious" (1 Peter 3:4). That doesn't sound like nagging. If you'd like to train your husband to avoid conversing with you, nag.

Leadership Training
Part of the problem of the curse is the resistance to submission. Peter wrote, "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives" (1 Peter 3:1) and Paul urged wives to "submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord" (Eph 5:22-24). Submission is not natural. So unnatural is it that many wives today refuse to do it. But Scripture isn't unclear.

Wives, if you'd like to train your husbands not to lead, not to be the "head of household," not to be the responsible husband that God designed and commanded him to be, refuse to submit.

Bedroom Etiquette
A common complaint among married couples is the problem of sex. He's not considerate and she's not willing or some other unpleasant (or worse) combination(s). Our world tells us that women need to be more sexy in the bedroom and men need to be more considerate. I'm trying to correlate that to what Paul wrote on the subject.
The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. (1 Cor 7:3-4)
This perspective seems to turn the whole commonplace bedroom perspective on its ear. The scenario where he seeks to be sexually satiated and she seeks to be sexually satisfied doesn't fit here. "Give her her conjugal rights" and "your body is not your own." It's turned around. Thus, women are not training their husbands properly if they become his personal pornstar. Teaching your husband to seek sexual satisfaction is not the idea in Scripture.

Now, I understand. The primary problem is not wives. The primary problem is sin. Man (as mankind) and men (as men) are prone to sin. But we have two sinful tendencies. One is to be overbearing and the other is to be absent. So, wives, if you'd like to train up a husband in the way he should go, try a different approach. Don't nag. Remember, "gentle and quiet spirit." Don't take away his God-given responsibility to be the leader in the household. Hold him to that with respect. And don't teach him in the bedroom that it's all about him. Help him to see that his bedroom responsibilities are not his personal pleasure. Yes, ladies, we are prone to sin. Give us a break and don't encourage us toward it. Encourage us toward godliness.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Hateful Embrace

Our current society is really keyed to detect hate. It's "hate" if you don't embrace and encourage gender dysphoria or homosexuality or same-sex mirage. (Oops! There it is ... hate!) It's hate if you discipline your kids or don't encourage their dreams. "I want to be a You Tube star." "No! You're going to graduate from 8th grade!" Hater. If you side with Scripture regarding the complementary roles of men and women, it's hate. (Besides, after all, haven't we already established that it's hate if you recognize binary gender?) If you don't favor a $15/hour "living wage" or "equal pay for women" or "Medicare for all" or the currently-popular inclusive exclusivity, it's hate. There is a whole lot of hate in this world.

As Christians, we are opposed to hate. As followers of Christ, we aim at love. Christ said that the first commandment is love for God and the second is love for your neighbor (Matt 22:37-40). Paul said that the whole law is fulfilled in love (Gal 5:14). You can have all the best spiritual gifts in the world, but without love they're useless (1 Cor 13:1-3). Christianity should be a veritable love fest (John 13:35).

Here's the problem. I think it is perfectly possible to love hatefully. That is, it's possible to do what looks like love while hating. You know this. Judas Iscariot is famous for his kiss (love, right?) that betrayed the Master (Luke 22:47-48). It appears, then, that "loving behavior" may not actually be loving.

If this isn't clear to you, then Jesus's words might be jarring to you.
"Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent." (Rev 3:19)
Do you think of "reprove and discipline" as "love"? The author of Hebrews wrote, "The Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives" (Heb 12:6). From the other direction, Solomon wrote, "Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him" (Prov 13:24). James wrote, "My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20). Biblically, love can include hard things and to fail to do so when necessary is hate.

We really don't like to do that. Worse, if we do, I suspect there's something wrong. If we enjoy it, we don't get the nature of discipline (Heb 12:11). It is sometimes -- certainly far more often than we'd like to think -- necessary to reprove and discipline for love. Conversely, when we embrace those who need such loving reproof and discipline, it is hate. We just seem to be too short-sighted sometimes to see it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Open Book Test

Remember the "open book test"? We loved that in school. That is, if we had to have a test, it was much better to have an open book one than something that relied on your own total recall. Open book tests were much easier.

As it turns out, in many cases life is an open book test. The answers to so many questions we ask ourselves turn out to be readily available.

"Should I pursue a sexual relationship with that person?" No (1 Cor 6:18).

"Couldn't I make a good career out of being a hit man?" No (Matt 5:21).

"How important are human beings in the grand scheme of things?" Very (Gen 9:6).

"Aren't people basically good?" No (Gen 8:21).

Much of the knowledge we seek is there for the taking.

"Is God Sovereign?" Yes (1 Tim 6:15).

"Aren't there lots of ways to get to heaven?" No (John 14:6).

"What is this thing called 'love'?" Okay, a longer answer (1 Cor 13:4-8), but it's there.

We can be sure of two things. First, our Bible is reliable and authoritative. Second, if it says it, it's true. If we could just get that straight in our heads, we'd have a lot fewer dilemmas to work through.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Missing the Mark

In the New Testament the Greek word usually translated as "sin" means, basically, "missing the mark." You can see the idea, right? God says, "Here is the way; walk ye in it," and we ... miss that mark. Sin. Easy enough to understand.

It is not possible as Christians in our world to avoid being misunderstood. (I know, it sounds like I'm changing topics. Bear with me.) Scripture describes those in the world as blind (2 Cor 4:4) and hostile (Rom 8:7), unable to comprehend (1 Cor 2:14), and offended by Christ (1 Cor 1:18). I get it. It takes a new birth to grasp it. I understand. As long as there are unbelievers, believers will be misunderstood. I know. But part of the problem in perception is us. We have missed the mark.

Ask just about anyone at all and you'll discover that the perception of Christians is that we want the world to be moral. Christianity, like every other religion on the planet, is about morality. Exactly what is moral may vary, but all religious busy themselves with making bad people good. That's the singularly most common perception. The only problem is that it's the wrong perception of Christianity. While proponents and opponents of Christianity alike think that we're about being good, Scripture indicates that we're about being new. While the majority both in and out of the faith seem to think that it's about following rules, our Bible says it's about a relationship with Christ. And, unlike every other religion, Scripture specifies that the relationship we need with Christ is not premised on being "good" or, at least, "good enough." Indeed, the claim of God's Word is that we can't be good enough (Rom 3:23; Eccl 7:20; Psa 14:3; Gal 3:22; etc.). The problem of evil is a heart problem (Matt 15:18-19) and the solution is not "be good."

As I said, it is not possible to avoid being misunderstood in this world. What I'm hoping for is that I can point out to some the simple fact that "be good" is not the aim of being a Christian, let alone "make everyone else good." I am hoping that I can help ease the problem of being misunderstood in this area by helping believers see that they might be mistaken in this area. We're not about "be good" -- we're about "know Christ." I hope to point out that the image we've perpetuated of the old church woman who is hammering on the heathens about their evil ways is wrong. It's not what we're about.

You see, if we think that we are about being good rather than seeing "being good" as a product of knowing Christ rather than a cause, we are missing the mark. Oh, and I pointed out at the beginning that "missing the mark" was the Greek concept for "sin." And we believers want to avoid that, right? (See? I brought it back around.)

Monday, July 22, 2019


The Bible clearly states that
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)
Well, that clears everything up, right? I mean we have there the source -- "God-breathed" -- and the use -- "that the man of God may be complete" -- and the efficacy -- "equipped for every good work." You may (if you're tuned properly) may sense a "but" or maybe some flippancy in that last sentence, right? The truth is, everything I wrote there was accurate. So what's the problem?

The question often comes up, "So ... what constitutes 'Scripture'?" I've been told on many occasions, "You know, Paul's Scripture was the Old Testament. No one in the New Testament was thinking they were writing Scripture." So the idea is along the lines of "Well, maybe the Old Testament is what Paul was describing there, but not the New Testament and, oh, by the way, haven't we already tossed out most of the Old Testament?" Is this the case?

There is an underlying assumption going on in this line of thinking. The fundamental assumption is, basically, "Scripture is what we make it." That is, "It is Scripture if we say it is and it is not if we say it is not." There is, for instance, a common belief among Catholics that the Roman Catholic Church brought us the canon of Scripture. We decide what is and isn't God's Word. In principle, this is fundamentally flawed. If Scripture is "God-breathed," then clearly God is deciding what is and is not Scripture. Our role in all of this is to recognize what God has breathed out. We don't get to make it "Scripture." We receive it.

Given the mistaken underlying assumption that Man decides what God said, we might be done with this. There is, however, another element. The Bible doesn't agree that the Old Testament was Scripture and nothing else was.

Many of the New Testament writers quote Scripture in their writings. Sometimes they even say things like, "Like it says in Scripture ..." Most of that is indeed from the Old Testament, and we're not debating whether or not the Old Testament was Scripture to Christ and Paul. But not all of that was from the Old Testament. In 1 Timothy Paul tells Timothy, "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,' and, 'The laborer deserves his wages'' (1 Tim 5:17-18). You'll note the reference to Scripture and you'll note the quote marks. He quoted two Scriptures. The first is from Deuteronomy (Deut 25:4). Old Testament. Got it. The second ... is not. As it turns out, this is a quote from Luke's Gospel (Luke 10:7) quoting Jesus (and the ESV actually puts this in red letters). Paul, then, refers to Luke's Gospel as Scripture. Not just the Old Testament. Another reference to New Testament as Scripture is found in Peter's second epistle. "And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures" (2 Peter 3:15-16). Very clearly Peter is referring to Paul's letters as Scripture on par with "the other Scriptures." Clearly Peter understood that Scripture did not end at the book of Malachi. The New Testament, then, is also Scripture.

To be completely honest, I think it is clear that those who argue that Paul was referring only to the Old Testament do so out of ignorance at best and, more likely, hostility to God's Word. It's not like our modern times are the only times that God's Word has been under attack. That's mostly because the history of humanity is built on the back of rebellion to God, so it stands to reason that "Did God really say ...?" would be at the core of that rebellion. I just wanted to remind you that God's Word is not vague, is not unclear, is not indefensible, and is not irrelevant ... no matter what the father of lies and those who listen to him have to say about it.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

What About Them?

At the end of John's Gospel he tells the story of how Jesus explained to Peter how he would die (John 21:18-22). I've always thought it was a bit enigmatic, but Peter got it and, pointing to John, asked, "Lord, what about this man?" Jesus told him to follow Him.

We want to know that, don't we? Who is going to make it? Who is not? We are, quite understandably, concerned about our loved ones and even ourselves. Are they going to heaven? Are we? And there is always this threat of loss. "Can I lose my salvation?" Even among the "once saved always saved" folks, the question seems to niggle at the back of their minds. Is there a conclusive answer?

There are biblical texts that suggest that salvation can be lost (e.g., 1 Cor 9:27; 2 Tim 2:5; Php 2:16; Heb 6:4-6; Heb 10:26-28, 35-36; 2 Peter 2:20-22; 2 John 1:8-9) and there are biblical reasons to conclude that it cannot (e.g., John 10:28-29; Rom 11:29). I've actually discussed this multiple times over the years. But there is a key concept here that, I think, gets missed far too often.

John wrote, "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God" (1 John 5:1). Notice the verb tense there. "Has been born of God." Not "is being" or "will be," but "has been." The English tense is "present perfect" indicating that the action happened at some time before now. It's a done deal.

Now, take that "born of God" as a done deal and follow it through. 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). There is a "cannot" here, an inability. It is not possible for a particular set of people to make a practice of sinning. There is a premise here, a "why." "He has been born of God." So the "cannot" is premised on "born of God" and we know that those who believe in Christ have been (already happened) born of God. Therefore those who are born of God cannot keep on sinning -- cannot make a practice of sin. How does that work?

When the discussion of "lose it or not" occurs, the "lose it" always emphasizes "what I do." We need to persevere, to keep at it, to not lose faith, to not surrender to sin. But if that 1 John 3:9 text is true, that's not possible. Or, here, let me try this from the point I'm trying to make.

In Romans 8 we read, "Those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified" (Rom 8:30). First, note: It is an unbroken string. That is, "Those whom He predestined" ends up at "He also glorified." No break. No "ifs." No contingencies. Second, note the acting party: "He." There is nothing in this verse that references "we" or "me." It's all "He" -- God at work. And that is my primary point. Our salvation is provided and maintained by God. This notion occurs over and over in Scripture.
[Christ] will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 1:8)

And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Php 1:6)

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it. (1 Thess 5:23-24)

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 1:24-25)
You should see by now a running theme. The reason that we cannot lose salvation is 1) we didn't provide it and 2) it is God who sustains it. This isn't a claim to personal ability; it's a confidence in God's ability.

This is such an important concept that it even appears in the Old Testament.
I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of Me in their hearts, that they may not turn from Me. (Jer 32:40)
God's work includes a changed heart. God says that they will not turn from Him, but the reason is not that they will work so hard at it and be so faithful. It is due to what God does.

When John talked about the antichrists that were coming "from us," he said this: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19). How could John know that they would not go out from us? Not because of the superiority of human will. Because of the supremacy of God's work. I don't trust that I was saved, am being saved, and will be saved because I'm working so hard at it. I trust in God's faithfulness, sovereignty, power, and promises. That's available to anyone who is born of God.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

News Weakly - 7/20/19

The Latest in Gender Fashion
You've heard, I'm sure, about the problem of gender dysphoria. "I know I was born a girl, but I think I'm a boy!" That sort of thing. You know the rising mania of the loudest voices in society about "You've got to respect their perceived gender" meaning you've got to let that bearded guy into the girls' locker room if he thinks he's a girl. People have been sued or fired for failing to use the "right pronoun." So here's the latest gender fashion. The "right pronoun" is the singular "they." As if "I am the gender I feel like regardless of ... you know ... science" makes sense, now "they" is not only singular, but the correct pronoun for a singular person. Now, I don't know. Perhaps "they" would have been the right pronoun for the Garasene demoniac (Luke 8:30), but I'm pretty sure that those from this whole "gender fluidity" world wouldn't appreciate that reference.

Speaking of Gender
In Orwell's 1984 the government understood if you can control the language you can control the masses. Limit their choices of words and you can control their thinking. Berkeley has decided to try the experiment. They have banned gender-specific words from city code. No more "manhole covers," "firemen," or "manmade devices." They included a list of "non-gender replacements." No more "sisters" (now "siblings") or "sportsmen" (now "hunters" because, apparently, the only sport for a "sportsman" is hunting) or "men or women." (On that last, in an effort to eliminate gender they make it "a specific gender.") Neither will there be "policewomen," "sororities," or "heirs." (Wait ... "heirs" is gender-specific??)

Free speech? No. Better communication? No. Driving an agenda? Well, obviously. (Hey, Berkeley, just a note here. "Man" can mean "male gender" or "mankind" without any reference to gender.) Control the language; control the masses. And, Berkeley, please be aware that being inclusive of an extreme minority by excluding the vast majority is not actually inclusive.

The New Face of Abortion?
El Salvador, they tell us, has really strict abortion laws. So women are upset that a 21-year-old woman is being tried for murder because of an abortion. At least, that's what the headline reads. The story is a little ... different. The young woman was having abdominal pains, so she went to the outhouse (poor rural community) and, as it turns out, delivered a baby into the septic tank. She didn't know she was pregnant (from a rape). She passed out and her mother found her and took her to the hospital. Neither woman knew that a baby was involved. (The baby was 32 weeks old.)

Now, there are several things going on here. She didn't know she was pregnant after 32 weeks. The prosecutor doesn't know if the baby died in utero or after the delivery. (The former would make it a miscarriage.) The event may have been a technical "abortion," but the story indicates it was a spontaneous abortion, not an intentional one. Apparently the government has sentenced her to a 30-year prison sentence for a miscarriage. None of this approaches either "a woman's reproductive rights" or voluntary abortion questions. It's a bad situation (assuming the woman is telling the truth), but this is not an abortion question. However, the "anti-life" folks will make it so.

Just Wondering Out Loud
You may or may not be up on the whole Scarlett Johansson problem of late. Johansson was cast as the main character in a Japanese manga movie, Ghost in the Shell, and was accused of "whitewashing" the part. Then she was slated to play the part of a transgender character in another movie but dropped out from the backlash. She defended herself saying, "I should be allowed to play any person, tree, or animal." And, of course, the fight continues. So, I'm just wondering. If a person of color was cast to play a white part or a transgender was cast in a cisgender part or a homosexual person was cast in a heterosexual part, would anyone care? No, I thought not. This isn't about what's right, is it.

Mixed Messages
This week the House voted that they didn't like Trump's tweet about "go back home" and, in the same week, voted not to impeach the president. That last vote was 332 to 95 not to impeach. It feels like mixed messages to me.

Educating Kids
A new bill in Ohio aims at bringing the "humanity of the unborn child" to the public school cirriculum. This will never do. Teaching our kids the truth is a nasty way to promote an anti-abortion agenda. The ACLU says it is a "slanted message regarding reproductive rights." So true! I never! Teaching kids science. Rotten politicians. (Hint: It is true that children in the womb are human beings. Even pro-abortion people know it. The common terminology is "unborn child, isn't it?) Just proves (again) that the American Civil Liberties Union is only interested in civil liberties for select Americans, not all.

In Passing
I would like to mention, only in passing, that the House this week approved legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour by 2025. The Congressional Budget Office projected that this would lift 1.3 million people out of poverty and cost 1.3 million jobs. Like Bernie Sanders and his $40 trillion plan to eliminate private insurance and bring medicare for all ("This will cause some pain," he said assured us, but he's eager to increase taxes to get it done), I'm not entirely clear why they think this is a good idea. I mention it only in passing because it's abundantly obvious it'll never get passed the Senate.

On a Positive Note
Fifty years ago -- July 20, 1969 -- the Apollo 11 crew landed on the moon. Fifty years ago the first Communion was celebrated on the moon. Didn't know that? I didn't.

It turns out that Buzz Aldrin was a devout Christian, an ordained elder in the Presbyterian church. He wanted to express that "God was revealing Himself there, too." Soon after the landing, Aldrin made his preparations, then radioed a brief message. He read John 15:5 (silently -- NASA asked him not to read it out loud after Madalyln Murray O'Hair sued after the reading of Scripture on Apollo 8) and took the wafer and the wine. Aldrin said later that he "sensed especially strongly my unity with our church back home, and with the church everywhere."

Aldrin, at 89 years old, and his church still celebrate that event every year.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Good and Bad

We are all pretty sure that we are clear on the concept of "good" and "bad." I'm personally pretty sure we aren't. And I do mean "we." Paul, quoting the Psalms, wrote, "All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one" (Rom 3:12). "No one does good"? "Not even one"??! Now, maybe Paul was speaking literally and maybe Paul was using hyperbole, but in either case the concept that "people are basically good" cannot fit into "No one does good, not even one." In any case, good at best is rare, not common. How can that be? We all know people who do good. We all know bad when we see it. We know Christians who do good and Christians who do bad and we know unbelievers that do good and unbelievers that do bad. This isn't confusing ... is it? This is why I conclude that we do not have a clear concept of "good" and "bad."

Part of the problem is that "good" and "bad" are relative terms. A "good man" and a "good dog" do not meet the same criteria. A "good pizza" is even farther out. In some cases "good" and "bad" are completely subjective. Is "good food" good because I like the way it tastes or because it is beneficial to my body? It all depends, doesn't it? Then there's the old problem of us not knowing at all. Take the story about a peasant farmer whose son broke his arm and it was bad, right? Maybe, but when the warlord came to the village the next day to take off all able-bodied boys to war, his son didn't go. Good, right? Same event; different evaluation, where the ultimate good wasn't known at the time and, frankly, might change again in the future.

So what was Jesus talking about when He talked about "So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit" (Matt 7:17)? I ask because we can see by now that we have a hard time with "good" and "bad." Now, I could give my view on what Jesus was talking about, but I'd like to start a little lower down -- more basic. If "good" and "bad" are relative, to what standard is Jesus referring here?

You see, we tend to orient good and bad around our own perceptions. Sometimes that's fine. It's okay if I liked that meal and someone else did not. It was good to me and bad to them and that's fine. But in the bigger issues like morality or even circumstances, whether it is good or bad is not up to us as individuals. It is not "What is good and bad to me?" but "What is good and bad to God?"

What kind of arrogance does it take to conclude that surely God perceives good and bad based on how I feel about it? It just isn't so. The only way to get that right is to ask God's perspective -- God's will -- and discover from that what the "Definition of Good" (God) thinks is good. I think we'd find that, by that criterion, very few do good and very few do what they do for the glory of God (God's idea of ultimate good). Our normal standard of "good" is "good to me" and that, generally speaking, is bad.

Thursday, July 18, 2019


"California drivers are the worst." "Americans are an arrogant bunch of people." "The Left hates the United States and wants to make it a socialist state." "Evangelicals hate gays." We love to speak in generalizations. We lump folks together into a mass of humanity and then label them with all sorts of stereotypes. All men are sexist. All whites are racist. Fundamentalists are haters. And on and on.

It's not true, you know. In fact, I think in most cases it is far less true than most of us imagine. The reality is that every single group you can imagine is made up of individuals. And, as snowflakes and fingerprints tell us, no two individuals are the same.

In the same way, no two Christians are the same. There are Christians who are very similar and Christians who are rarely similar. I have some favorite teachers and preachers that I've listened to and learned from over the years -- that I respect greatly -- but I cannot think of a single teacher or preacher that I agree with 100%. That doesn't mean there is friction. That doesn't mean that there is terminal disagreement. It just means on this one little item or that one side idea I don't agree with this one or that one.

This is true across the board. In fact, we know it. Every one of us has been lumped together at some point or another with a particular group with which we are associated -- geographic, national, racial, religious, social, gender, educational ... on and on and on it goes. And we say, "Hey! That's not me! Maybe it's them, but it's not me!"

So why do we inflict the same indignity on others? Why don't we give each other the same courtesy we would like? "This group believes X although not everyone in it does." But we don't. We condemn all on the Left regardless of whether or not they agree with the point we're complaining about the Left for. We condemn all "right-wingers" (The term is intended as a pejorative, isn't it?) for being ... what ... racist or haters or fundamentalists (another pejorative instead of its actual meaning) even though it isn't a truthful condemnation. And we assume and condemn en masse.

Look, it's easy to speak in group terms. Among the current Left there is indeed an amazing number of self-declared or even closet socialists. That's okay to say it. On the far-right there are indeed the nut jobs who tend to fascist and racist ideals and like to collect together and form a militia. It's the truth. For the ease of communication, some of these generalizations are helpful for shorthand. I'm not suggesting we don't do it because, frankly, that would be a pointless suggestion. All I'm asking is that when we're engaging individuals, can we please engage them as individuals? Take me, for instance. I oppose gay mirage on principle. Does that mean that I have to be rude or unkind when I encounter someone who is involved in such a relationship? No. The principle, to me, is clear, but in an individual encounter, I need to consider the individual. I need to do unto others as I'd have them do unto me. We can disagree on principles, but we need to love people. Is this not possible in our society anymore?

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Sincere Faith

I recently read an article in the Los Angeles Times about how millennials replaced religion with astrology and crystals. Like the rise of the "Nones" -- those people who consider themselves "spiritual but not religious" -- it was another story about Man's constant efforts to replace God with "God to me" -- an idol of their own making. The story was about a generation that has turned from "traditional organized religion" and replaced it with ... something else. "More spiritual beliefs" the article says. Because, apparently, "traditional organized religion" contains less spiritual beliefs. The common theme was that these people were raised with those traditional religious beliefs but rejected them. "As they became adults, they felt that faith didn’t completely represent who they were or what they believed." That last quote was stunning to me. It reflects the common belief is that faith is a matter of subjective belief that I get to define. You see that this is entirely circular, right? If faith is "whatever I believe," then it isn't actually based on anything but me.

So what went wrong? Why did "faith" never exceed "me" in these cases? The story seems to be constant. "Her parents were Christian but not devout when she was growing up." "Christian but not devout." Is that even a real thing? James warned that a faith without works was dead faith. And Paul commended the faith of Timothy's mother and grandmother. "I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well" (2 Tim 1:5). "Sincere faith." In contrast to James's "dead faith." I cannot tell you how many stories I've heard from both skeptics and believers regarding parents, friends, and family who held an insincere faith and the detrimental effects it had on them.

Jesus doesn't need my sincere faith to bring the lost to Him. He doesn't need me to be faithful, to be godly, to be true. He is fully capable of saving to the uttermost without my help, thank you very much. Nor does my failure to be the mirror of Christ that I'm supposed to be excuse the lost. But we are commanded to make disciples (Matt 28:19), to let God be glorified in our behavior (Matt 5:16), to be genuine believers. We are warned about causing the heathen to blaspheme on account of us (Rom 2:24). So we need to ask ourselves? Is our faith sincere? Are we actually walking the walk? Do we have a living relationship with Christ? I think of those who come to Jesus with sincere belief (versus faith) that they did have a relationship with Him and He declares, "I never knew you" (Matt 7:21-23). We don't want to be a stumbling block because we lack sincere faith. And being faithful, godly, and true are much more effective tools for showing Christ to those around us than the lack thereof.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Question of Salvation

We as believers are commanded to "Go and make disciples of all nations" (Matt 28:19). We are obligated to "proclaim the gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15). It's our job. Not only is it our assignment, it is our pleasure. Well, if we're people who love as we ought, it is. People need Christ; we can help them there. People need salvation; we can point the way. That's all as it should be.

Still, we have some difficulties with it. On one hand, we tend to be lackadaisical -- apathetic. On the other hand we might be in dread.

You get the problem of apathy. We know it's important and we know that we're supposed to tell people about Christ and we know that people are going to Hell, but ... well, it's hard to get too worked up over. (I would hope that the idea I just presented would jar you, especially if you recognize it in yourself.) People need Jesus -- the one whose title, Christ, is in our very terminology as Christians. We have what they need and the consequences of them not getting Him are truly catastrophic. And somehow we aren't particularly motivated to tell our neighbors or our fellow workers or the like. That's a problem. But we get it. We know we need to work on that.

The one I'm considering these days is the "dread" one. Apathy is seriously overcome when it gets real. When it's a spouse or a child, a dear friend or a close family member -- someone about whom we care deeply -- apathy is not in play. We care deeply. Sometimes we care so much that we are ... undone. "Lord Jesus, I don't know what more I can do. My brother/sister/child/parent/loved one doesn't know you and I cannot endure the idea that he/she might end up in Hell." How do I pray? What do I say? What more can I do? What is the best thing to do? We are in turmoil because this is serious and we really care.

There are two lines of thought here. One says that God has limited Himself to merely influence, to urge, to "woo" -- to Man's Free Will. So God, like us, is held captive by the will of the unsaved person and we -- God and I -- can only hope that the right combination of things will occur to win the loved one to Him. The other perspective says that God is able to overcome the spiritual resistance of the unsaved when He wishes so that the person will certainly come to Christ if that's what God wants. The only question here, then, is whether or not that's what God wants for the person in question. Whichever side of that aisle you're on, it turns out you have the same dilemma. The outcome, from the human perspective, is not known. Will the loved one in view be saved?

It is at this point that we are missing an absolutely critical principle. What do you believe? Is God good, or is God not reliably good?

I know how this goes. I know because I have this very issue myself. People about whom I care deeply are currently living in rejection of Christ. It really hits home, doesn't it? There is a sense of powerlessness. What can I do? What can I say? How else can I pray? There is a complete assault on any sense of adequacy. I thought I had done better. I thought others had done better. How can this dear one not hear the message? Certainly it feels like a personal failure. I may not share the gospel with everyone I meet or come in contact with, but I've certainly shared it with these loved ones. Repeatedly. In multiple ways. Often. With this sense of failure and the accompanying grief for these loved ones there comes a need to defend myself. Perhaps it is in flight -- become less caring, less sensitive. Perhaps it is fight -- frustration or anger. There is certainly fear. Fear for the outcome. Fear for the loved one. Fear of judgment -- judgment of them by God and judgment of me for my powerlessness, inadequacy, and failure on behalf of these people I love. I get it. This is real pain, real dread.

So you have to ask yourself. What do you believe? Is God good, or is God not reliably good? Whether you believe that God "entices" people to Himself or overpowers their resistance (however you want to put that), do you believe He is good in what He does? If He delays that process in these loved ones, is He good? If He never brings them to Himself, is He good? If God does not save everyone, is He good? If God doesn't save your dear ones, is He good?

We understand that the Gospel is the "good news." We get that. We rejoice in that. It is our great comfort and joy. Now we have to decide if the rejection of the "good news" is good if God allows it and it is our loved ones who are doing it. And, of course, if you're not sure of that answer, it might really bother you that you don't care as much about "the rest of them" who aren't on this short list of loved ones. That can't be commendable.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Sell All Your Possessions

I wrote about this some time ago and it remains my "biggest hit" in terms of both views and comments. I thought it might be helpful to revisit since it appears to be so popular among believers and skeptics alike. Is it necessary for Christians -- followers of Christ -- to sell all your possessions and give it all away?

Jesus said it more than once (e.g., Luke 12:33; Luke 18:22). What did He mean?

He didn't mean that all believers everywhere must sell all their possessions. How can I be sure? Jesus didn't do it. Sure, He didn't own a lot of stuff. Hardly anything at all. Just the apparently expensive clothes on His back (John 19:23-24). But if Jesus did not actually sell all His possessions, then it cannot be a requirement as followers of Christ to sell all our possessions. So Jesus Himself was an exception to the rule and we need to figure out, then, just what it is.

Jesus commended the widow for giving all (Mark 12:41-44) and told the rich young ruler to sell all (Luke 18:22). On the other hand, we have other commands in Scripture that run counter to "sell all." Paul tells people to "do their work quietly and earn their own living" (2 Thess 3:12). Thieves are commanded to stop stealing and to do honest work so that they have something to share (Eph 4:28). The Thessalonicans were told to "work with your hands" and avoid being dependent on anyone (1 Thess 4:11-12). Paul told the Corinthians to give "as he may prosper" (1 Cor 16:1-2). These do not indicate "give all." In fact Scripture commends some who did not give all. Barnabas sold a field (Acts 4:36-37) but not all. Zacchaeus gave 50% (Luke 19:8-9), but not all. Both were commended for it. On the flip side, Ananias and Sapphira sought to deceive the Apostles by claiming to give more than they did. They were struck dead, but not for not giving all (Acts 5:1-11). Peter said, "While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?" (Acts 5:4). There was no indication that they were obligated to give anything.

If it wasn't a mandate for Christ, it cannot be a mandate for us all. If Scripture commends folks who don't sell all their possessions, it cannot be a mandate for all. What then?

On one hand, there is real danger when we love money. Paul calls it a trap (1 Tim 6:9) and warns that the love of money is the root of a host of evils (1 Tim 6:10). So having wealth is not a sin, but loving it is. Paul says, "If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content" (1 Tim 6:8). Rationally, loving and pursuing and clinging to that which is very, very temporary like wealth is foolish given the eternal nature of the believer. That's why James severely warns the rich who obtain it by sinful means and use it for self-indulgence (James 5:1-6).

On the other hand, Paul told Timothy, "As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy" (1 Tim 6:17). There are two key points there regarding how we should view possessions. First, don't count on them. They are not reliable. People who see their wealth as a means of safety, security, and comfort are standing on air. Second, all that we have is from God. He "richly provides us with everything to enjoy." As such, none of it is ours and all of it is for His use. Some of "His use" includes keeping us alive -- clothed, fed, housed, etc. -- and some of "His use" includes properly using what He gives us for His service. He gives us resources for His work. We are, in fact, commanded to be rich, but pay attention. We are to "be rich in good works" and to "be generous and ready to share" so that we store up treasure for ourselves in heaven. That, Paul says, is taking hold of "that which is truly life" (1 Tim 6:18-19), a life lived in the eternal view rather than the temporal. "Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called" (1 Tim 6:12).

We have not received a blanket command to sell everything. Jesus didn't do it. Scripture commends those who did not. We are warned about loving and relying on wealth, but we are told that what we have is from God and, as such, we should use it for His work. Neither the stark asceticism on one hand or the skeptical "See, you're not doing what your Bible says" on the other are in view in Scripture. Rather, live with an open hand, using the good things God gives you for His use and counting on Him to provide what you need. Nothing more; nothing less.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Church Polity

Note: Let me just say at the outset that this is more of a question than a statement. It is NOT "Thus saith the Lord."

Most of the churches (perhaps all?) I've been to most of my life have been "congregational" in terms of church polity. That is, the congregation decides. The membership will gather and vote. Who will the pastor be? Who will serve in the various capacities such as elder (if they have them) or deacon or committees or whatever? What will our rules and policies be? How will we operate? There is a leadership team of some sort, but they typically simply make suggestions and the final authority falls on the members. A nice sort of democracy.

I wonder where it came from? You don't find it in the Bible. Now, it's true that when we read in Acts 6 when the office of deacon was instituted that it "pleased the whole gathering" (Acts 6:5). It appears that the "whole gathering" was involved in the choice of the original seven deacons, but they were "ordained" by the Apostles (Acts 6:6). When they sent Paul and Barnabas out, they did it "with the whole church" (Acts 15:22). On the other hand, in Acts 20:28, Paul indicates that the leadership -- the "elders" or "overseers" -- were made overseers "by the Holy Spirit." Paul sent Titus to Crete to appoint elders (Titus 1:5) without any reference to getting buy in from the church there. What is going on?

Scripture talks about church leadership. First, foremost, and absolutely undisputed, Christ is the head of the church (e.g., Col 1:18). There is a role in the church termed alternately "elder" and "overseer" ("bishop" in KJV). In 1 Peter 5 "the elders among you" are linked to the term "shepherd" (1 Peter 5:1-2) which is translated "pastor" in Ephesians 4:11. (In fact, in most translations the Eph 4:11 reference is the only time "pastor" is used in the Bible.)

What do we know about this group? It would appear that "elders" and/or "overseers" are to be the "shepherds." They are to exercise oversight (1 Peter 5:2) and lead by example (1 Peter 5:3), with Christ as their example (1 Peter 5:4). The rest of the church is to "be subject to" that leadership (1 Peter 5:5). Paul commends the "elders who rule well" (1 Tim 5:17). It looks more like an authority than an advisory group. Further, elders are always referred to in the plural, making a congregation with a single "elder" (or "overseer" or "pastor") an apparent unbiblical anomaly. Elders are not elected; they are appointed (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). They have specific character requirements (1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). They are the spiritual leaders and are especially the preachers and teachers (1 Tim 5:17). (Others may preach and teach as well (e.g., Acts 13:1), but they are to be the primary preachers and teachers of their congregation.)

What else? In Acts 15 we find an example of a "Council." A Council would be called to consider a particular problem. In this case it was the Judaizers. "Should we circumcise or not?" A matter of theological importance. The text then says, "The Apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter" (Acts 15:6). In this Council, then, it wasn't the congregation or "the staff" or "a group of people" that made up the Council. It was Apostles (we no longer have these) and elders. So while the concept of the Council is biblically present, this kind of Council is still predicated on elders.

The Declaration of Independence assumes that governments derive their just power from the consent of the governed. The American Constitution begins with "We the people." Abraham Lincoln believed that the government was "of the people, by the people, for the people." These are all very noble and useful in human government. They are not, however, applicable to a church. Christ is the head of the church (Col 1:18). The church is not a democracy; it is a theocracy. When we read things like, "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account" (Heb 13:17), how do we come to "Let's vote on it"? When Scripture uses terms like "leaders," "be subject to," and "rule," how do we conclude "Let's see if the congregation will approve it"? Is this an effect of American democracy leaking into the church where it shouldn't really be? Is it something worse, like "I think Christianity should be a democracy and God ought to listen to what we have to say"?

Saturday, July 13, 2019

News Weakly - 7/13/19

The Next Logical Step
We already have a society that will burn you at the metaphorical stake for the slightest accusation of particular offenses. Now we've moved to the next logical step. Four-star Admiral William Moran, confirmed by the Senate, was set to be the next top admiral for the Navy and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Instead, he has resigned. For what? What impropriety is he accused of? What was his inappropriate conduct? He had maintained a "professional relationship" (personal email) with a former staff officer who had been disciplined for inappropriate behavior. Mind you, Adm. Moran was not guilty of any such behavior; he merely maintained communication with someone who was. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said, "This decision on his part to maintain that relationship has caused me to call his judgment into question." So, it makes sense. If you commit "inappropriate behavior," you should bear the consequences. If you know someone who commits inappropriate behavior, you must either shun them or bear the consequences. If you read about someone who didn't shun someone who committed such behavior, you should ... well, you can see how this is going to get really nasty. We do indeed live in a world of staunchly anti-judgmental judgmental people. "Hey, Stan, didn't you say you liked Bill Cosby's humor?" Uh oh ...

A Remarkable Company?
Nivea, the skin products company, has made the news in remarkable fashion. During a meeting with their ad agency (of 100 years), FCB, the agency pitched a commercial with two men holding hands. The company response was, "We don't do gay at Nivea." The ad agency "fired" Nivea and the voices are loud in condemning them for what they don't do. Because as everyone knows, "We don't make sex a part of our advertising scheme" is, by definition, homophobia. But, don't worry. It won't last. "We wish to express our concern on the reported allegations, as they do not reflect the values of Beiersdorf, Nivea and our employees worldwide," the company spokesman said. "No form of discrimination, direct and indirect, is or will be tolerated. We are strongly committed to diversity, mutual respect, equal opportunity and tolerance." Homophobic or not (whatever that even means today), it is not company policy and if it was actually said, the one who said it should be looking for work elsewhere. No company today can stand the assault of the LGBT leviathan.

Pesky Science
"Ziklag? We don't need no stinkin' Ziklag." In 1 Samuel 27 David and his little band of men (and their families) hid out from Saul in a Philistine town called Ziklag. We know that is the biblical account, but we also know that the Bible is myth and all those stories are made up and ... wait ... hang on ... oh, no, it appears that "An international team of archaeologists has discovered the remnants of an ancient settlement they believe to be the biblical city of Ziklag." Complete with a settlement dating back to ... you guessed it ... the time of King David. "According to the Bible," the article says, "Ziklag was ransacked and burned by a group of desert nomads called the Amalekites." "This settlement came to an end in an intense fire that destroyed the buildings," the IAA news release reported. Pesky science, raining on the skeptics' parade. Again.

Hate Equality
When the haters found out that the owner of Chick-Fil-A (that is, the owner, not the corporation) was a Christian who opposed gay mirage, they went wild. "Boycott 'em!" Chicago opted to exclude them from their inclusivity. San Antonio and the Buffalo Niagara International Airport opted to ban them because "New York is a welcoming state that celebrates diversity." Except, of course, if it is diversity on this issue. But, don't worry. They are equal-opportunity haters. The owner of Home Depot donated money to the Trump campaign, so haters now want that business boycotted, too. Because everyone knows that anyone that supports Trump should not be included in our society. "Now let me see ... didn't I read somewhere that 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump? I suppose they're next to go, right?"

Racist? Sexist? Who Knows?
No one blinked an eye when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told one of the Democratic presidential candidates to "sashay away." The term is typically used toward men to suggest that they are effeminate -- "gay" -- and not in a good way. That wasn't sexist or rude in the least. But when Kellyanne Conway refers to AOC's dispute with Nancy Pelosi as "a catfight," well, now, that is sexist. (I thought the headline was funny over at this website: "AOC 'Womansplains' Sexism To Kellyanne Conway After 'Catfight' Comment")

I can't keep up. White people, by definition, are racist because they're white; black people cannot be racist at all. Men, by definition, are sexist because they're men; women cannot be sexist. Except when they are. Right? Oh, I don't know.

Illegal Health Care
Speaking of not understanding, here's another story I just don't get. California has become the first state to provide health care coverage for young undocumented adults. For illegal immigrants ages 19-25, California offers Medi-Cal. The state rejected a measure that would have covered illegals 65 and over. (No, seriously ... this is not from the Babylon Bee.) They said that was too expensive. Okay, so, up to this point I understand. Then the story says that existing California law has an "individual mandate that requires California residents to purchase health insurance for themselves and their dependents. Californians who fail to buy insurance would face a state tax penalty." Here's where I'm lost. If you're here legally and don't buy health insurance, you're not only not covered; you're penalized. If you are here illegally (between the mysterious ages of 19-25), you are not only not penalized for being here illegally, you're provided with coverage. This is what California's state government deems reasonable and just.

And Why Not?
In a sad turn of events, after Colin Kaepernick notified Nike that racists in the 18th century breathed, Nike's upper management voluntarily stopped breathing and died.

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Holy Bible?

I've been accused on more than one occasion of worshiping the Bible. I suppose you might be able to see why. I believe "If it's in there, it's true." I believe "If it's in there, it is authoritative." Conversely, I believe, "If it contradicts the Bible, it's not true." See? I worship the Bible ... right?

Well, no, not quite. Here's why. There are some religions in the world that consist of "people of the book." That is, they have Scriptures with a capital "S" that define for them their own beliefs. Some are more so than others. The two most extensive versions are Islam and Christianity. In Islam, the Qu'ran is a holy book. The book itself is holy. It is an offense to tear out a page or harm the book in any way. The book is holy. The same is not true in Christianity. Our Bible claims that Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16-17). We refer to it as "God's Word." That's the idea.

As Christians we have one God who is the one Authority on all matters of truth (that which corresponds to reality), faith, and practice. If we take that claim seriously, we would reject as authoritative any other source that contradicts that single Authority. Since the Bible claims to be "God-breathed" (not merely "inspired") and since we claim to be subservient to God, we would need to be under God's written Word. As God speaks, we are to listen and follow. So God is our Authority, and God has given us His written Word to tell us what is true, what to do, and how to think. It is, then, God whom we worship and not the book of His Word. Those pages aren't sacred. Those words aren't holy. The message they convey, coming from God, is holy as coming from the One who is Holy, Holy, Holy.

Look, I get it. "Did God really say ...?" has been a question practically from the very beginning. And I understand that there is, even between serious and dedicated believers, disagreement about the meanings of this particular passage or that. The point is not that the Bible is to be worshiped. The point is that God is to be worshiped and you can't say that you're doing that if you reject what He has to say. The point, then, is to be serious about determining what He has said rather than rejecting it because of "other authorities" ... like "cultural perception," "public opinion," current popular views, or "in my experience" types of approaches. We don't worship the Bible. We do worship the God who breathed it and, so, we take it seriously. We don't take too seriously those who don't take His Word seriously because, seriously, that's clearly a proclamation that they don't take God seriously.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

A Cheap Revolution

Revolutions take place all the time. There was the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution. There is social revolution, economic revolution, cultural revolution. There are currently stirrings of revolution of a sort in our own country today. We just celebrated America's Independence Day. It is regarded essentially by all as a heroic revolution against an evil regime. Some are even drawing parallels with the growing sense of revolution today where an expanding number of left-wing Democrats are aiming the country toward overt socialism. There is the classic outcry against the 1%, the rising tide of opposition against authority by the "little people," the demand for freedom, for something better. Isn't it the same?

There are key differences.

In the 1776 version, America sought to disassociate their country with their monarch's country; in today's version the rebels hope to take the country from those who are already in it. The aim of the American Revolution was liberty; the aim of today's rebels is entitlement.

Some of the most striking differences are found in the Declaration of Independence.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The aim of that revolution was to secure their God-given rights. They didn't believe they manufactured their rights or even earned or deserved them. They believed they were endowed by their Creator. Today's version is not that version. The Creator has been expelled. Rights are now what we make them, what we claim, what we believe to be "self-evident" without the slightest backing. So there is the "right to a living wage" and the "women's reproductive rights" (by which they mean "the right to kill a baby to avoid reproduction"). There is the right to universal healthcare (which, if you think it through, points to a stunning universal injustice in all mankind for thousands of years because no such provision has ever been made before this new modern version).

The framers of the Declaration of Independence appealed to "the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions" rather than today's version that appeals to our basest desires, where "Me Too" means more of "I want what you have and I'll take it from you by force if I have to."

Finally, they wrote, "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." These were men of faith with a lot to lose -- lives, fortunes, honor. In today's class warfare -- the poor versus the rich, the have-nots versus the haves -- there isn't a lot to lose. Those who don't have a lot hope to take from those who do. Not much on the line for them. If they lose, they lose little. A cheap revolution if they can pull it off.

I think there are parallels between the Revolutionary War of 1776 and the current revolutionary push against America's current government and economy. I just don't think there are nearly as many as the Left would like to think. Their war is not against a monarch, but against Capitalism. Their fight is not for freedom, but for that which they think they are owed. Their rights are not derived from their Maker, but from their own imaginings. They make no appeal to any Supreme Judge, but only to what they want. And unlike the American revolutionaries of old who risked a lot, they risk little. The only question is whether or not Americans have the stomach anymore for what is right and reasonable over the emotional pull of what we desire.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Think It Through

The word, "queer," describes something that is strange or odd. Merriam-Webster lists as the first definition "differing in some way from what is usual or normal." It is, in fact, with that in mind that the homosexual community adopts "queer" as their moniker. There is "straight" and there is "queer" because "straight" is normal and "queer" ... is not. Once a pejorative, now it is recommended. So how do they get to the place of being "not normal" (and loving it)? Well, we all know, don't we? They're "born that way."

But there are some problems.

First, science hasn't actually demonstrated any such thing. They try, but they have "no irrefutable conclusions." Science says there is "scarce scientific evidence" to support the so-called "gay gene" idea.

Second, it doesn't matter. "What??!" Think about it. Those who identify as "homosexual" also identify as "queer." That is, "We're not the norm." Proudly. So let's just say that they are born "not the norm" in some sense. What do we do when a child is born "not the norm"? I once saw a documentary on a child born without arms and legs. The story was about how he learned to cope. He learned to put on prosthetic arms and legs and get around in his world. It was remarkable. Truly. "But," we should have heard, "he was born that way!" You see, we understand that there is "normal" and we understand that "gay" isn't normal. Lest you think I'm being harsh, remember, 1) they cling to "queer" ("not normal") as a good term and 2) "normal" is defined by averages and "2.5%" (the estimated percentage of people who identify as homosexual) is not "average." For some reason the LGBTQI (etc.) folk have decided that "born that way" is, by definition, virtuous simply by being born that way. But we don't see any other abnormal birth condition the same way. Why? So if it was to be true that they are "born that way," it still doesn't answer the question if whether or not it is morally good.

To illustrate and drive the point home more clearly, I am heterosexual. I am, if you will, born that way. I didn't choose it. Okay? We're all on the same page? Good. So, as a heterosexual, I am attracted to the opposite sex. That means that I might be attracted to my wife and I might be attracted to someone else's wife or sister or other females. I don't choose attraction, but I do choose what I do with it. If I choose to be faithful to my wife and choose not to lust after others, I choose good. If I choose the opposite, I choose bad. What I do, then, is my choice for which I am responsible. In the same way, if it was to be true that they are "born that way," it wouldn't really be part of the equation because we all have choices to make regardless of our "programming." I'm hungry, so I choose what I will eat and reap the reward if I choose wisely or bear the consequences if I choose poorly. It still comes down to choice.

You see, then, that "born that way" is not a means of making the abnormal moral. "Born that way" doesn't require that we should stay that way. If it did, that remarkable kid without arms and legs would have been doing wrong to seek to be more ... normal. And none of us think so. It is a smokescreen to dodge the question of morality. And answering that question with the currently popular "love is love" idea is just stinkin' thinkin'.1
1 In case you don't know what I mean, consider "love is love." Is love of pizza the same as love of country the same as love of a parent the same as love of a spouse? Why not, if "love is love"? If "love is love," on what basis do they deny polygamy, polyandry, bestiality, objectophilia, or pedophilia (to start a list of the bizarre)? "Come on," the objection will come, "we're talking about love between people." Does love require sexual relations? Because the objection from Scripture is solely in regards to sexual relations and not "love." If "love is love" is about sex, what kind of "love" are you talking about? I don't think many of us define "love" as sex with pizza, a parent, or the country. "Love is love" sounds nice, but let's do some careful analysis before blindly leaping into that cauldron.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Making Sure

We are not saved by works. It is one of several distinctives between Christianity and every other religion. We are saved by faith apart from works through grace apart from any merit in Christ and Christ alone. There is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). This is a fact. While all other religions rely on good works and personal merit to get to the "great beyond" (whatever that is to their religion), Christianity alone stands on salvation apart from works.

"So," some people conclude, "works have nothing to do with it." These folks are often "antinomians" -- the belief that there are no rules. Pauline Dispensationalists declare a stark distinction against anything "works" related. Jesus said, "You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt 7:20), but Jesus was before Paul. John wrote, "No one born of God makes a practice of sinning" (1 John 3:9), but John was not Paul. "No, no," they declare absolutely, "works have nothing at all to do with being a Christian." Are they right?

I affirm (again, just for clarity) that we are not saved by works. No question. On the other hand, I affirm that faith without works is dead faith (James 2:17). If you strike a match and light a fire, you will get smoke. The smoke is not the cause of the fire, but it is a necessary result. In the same way, a person who has died with Christ (Rom 6:6) and become new (2 Cor 5:17) with God at work in him/her (Php 2:13) is not saved by works, but works are the unavoidable result. To put it another way, works do not bring about salvation, but salvation does bring about works.

So what? Why does it matter? Well, it matters for a few reasons, not the least of which is that God says it is so. It matters because our works are a demonstration that we are changed and God is glorified (Matt 5:16). Beyond this, Peter says it is very important. "Be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election," he says (2 Peter 3:10). Now that is important. We want assurance. We want to be confident of our salvation. How is that done? How do we confirm it? "If you practice these qualities you will never fall" (2 Peter 3:10). What qualities?
Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2 Peter 1:5-7)
That's some list. He adds, "If these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:8). So these qualities in increasing amounts can assure you that you are called and chosen.

That actually sounds daunting at the outset, but the original thinking Peter based it on is an astounding claim.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
Did you see that? He has already granted it to us. "All things that pertain to life and godliness." It's ours. And He cannot fail because of His "precious and very great promises." By His divine power we "become partakers of the divine nature." Wow! No, that doesn't mean we become divine -- "little gods." It isn't pantheism or panentheism. It isn't even polytheism. It simply means that we are "to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom 8:29). It means that we partake of His power and glory by His work in us. It means that we sacrifice all that we are and gain all that He is.

We come to Christ on the basis of grace through the medium of faith. "Not of works" (Eph 2:8-9). In this new relationship we are adopted as His children (John 1:12) and empowered by His Spirit (1 Cor 12:11) and we are changed. In this -- His work in our lives, manifested by changed actions and attitudes -- we can gain confidence that we actually did become new. He has already provided it (Eph 1:3ff). We can be sure -- confident. God says so.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Subjective Morality

A Starbucks in Tempe, AZ, last week opted to remove 6 Tempe police officers because a customer complained that they were making the customer feel unsafe. Now, as the barista involved, numerically you might think, "Well, I can eject one snowflake who hates cops or 6 officers that are buying coffee and making this place safer" or morally you might think, "We cannot let irrational feelings determine right and wrong here" or you might think as a member of the community, "I should do this customer a favor and teach them the value of having law enforcement and the irrationality of fear brought on by overblown media stories," but none of those occurred. Many people don't think that way anymore. The rule is not "business" or "economics" (Do we even know what that is anymore?) or "the greater good." The rule is largely simple today -- you must not for any reason make those of the protected classes feel uncomfortable.

I say "protected classes" because it is absolutely clear that "uncomfortable" is not a sin when done to certain categories. It is absolutely okay to make a white person feel uncomfortable ... for being white. In fact, making a white person feel uncomfortable for being white is a virtue. In religious terms, there are some you can offend and some you can't. Muslims must not be offended, but Christians can. In terms of authority, if you have to offend someone, offend a police officer or a government entity, not a customer or a citizen. Men deserve to be shamed; women deserve to be offense-free. We've just built up, in the last few years it seems, this massive new rule that "offended" is the ultimate evil if you are in the "protected class" and shaming is a delight if you are not.

Actually we've arrived at what I consider to be a terrifying place. With our "separation of Church and State" as the seed and the growing antipathy against all things Christian as the medium, we've cultured a society that has no solid footing for determining "moral." So now we go with "feelings" as the ultimate determination of right and wrong. Of course, some people might deny this and others might embrace it. "No," they'd say, "that's good!" What we do not have, however, is an objective standard for right and wrong, and this puts us in a dangerous place. When society (more accurately, the largest voices that can influence public opinion the most) determines that X is right and Y is wrong, then anything goes. The possibilities are endless ... and often not pleasant. In Hitler's Germany, the society as a whole embraced the hatred of Jews and homosexuals. In Communist countries the government is worshiped and individuals demeaned. In Muslim countries there is little religious freedom or tolerance. When Man determines right and wrong apart from an objective moral standard, things can really turn ugly. With objective morality removed and subjective morality as the rule, expect things to get ugly ... and that ugly to be celebrated.