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Monday, September 30, 2019

Biblical Government

If we consult our "manual" on matters of faith and practice, what can we find about what government God endorses? Maybe it's monarchy or anarchy, communism or socialism, democracy or federal, ecclesiastical or a dictatorship. All sorts of options (and more than I've listed). Which does the Bible prefer?

When God put together the family group of Abraham's grandson, Jacob, called "Israel," out of Egypt, He formed a theocracy. Their government was God. He laid out the laws. He laid out the penalties for violating those laws. He ruled Israel as their government. So, a theocracy is a good idea, right? Well, sure.

After awhile, the people jettisoned their Governor (with a capital "G") and demanded a new form of government. They wanted a king. And God answered their prayer. He gave them Saul. Of course, when the prophet, Samuel, took the request to God, He told him, "They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them" (1 Sam 8:7). So, a monarchy was okayed but not thoroughly endorsed by God. It might work ... or it might not (1 Sam 8:9-18). Another good idea? Maybe.

Some have argued that the Bible supports communism or, at least, socialism. Communism is a government where all property and production is publicly owned and people are paid according to their need. Socialism is primarily the economic principles of communism. But are they biblical? Acts 2 describes the community of the first believers as holding all things in common (Acts 2:44-45). See? Communism. But the text goes on to clearly deny that this was mandatory (Acts 5:4) and presents it as a completely voluntary thing. Paul said that we shouldn't be giving under compulsion (2 Cor 9:7). Further, he warned, "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat" (2 Thess 3:10) in direct opposition to "according to their need" of communism or socialism. A place where everyone shares with everyone is certainly a good idea; it just isn't a good idea as a mandatory thing.

As any good modern person knows, the best government is a democracy. Okay, maybe not practical, but at least a republic -- a federal government where the leadership is selected somehow by the people. Clearly the best. Except there isn't any mention of that sort of thing in the Bible. Scripture, it appears, doesn't seem to endorse any particular type. Israel started as a theocracy and the government of heaven will be a theocracy, so that would appear to be the optimum. It's just not expected here.

Scripture does support human government (e.g., Rom 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-15; 1 Tim 2:1-2). A good government here opposes evil and promotes good. Oddly, it doesn't seem to provide goods and services. Peter says that government is "sent by Him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right" (1 Peter 2:14). Taxation is clearly allowed by Scripture (Matt 22:20-22; Rom 13:6-7). And an oppressive government is considered ... oppressive (Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29). For believers, God is the ultimate government. You know, the "King of kings and Lord of lords."

So the Bible favors a government. It limits its reach and argues against mandatory socialism. It does not endorse capitalism (an economic system) or a democracy or republic. It does not oppose monarchies or dictators on the face of them, but opposes oppressive governments. Looks like we can't look to the Bible to determine which government we should have. Guess we'll just have to rely on God.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Good News

We know that "Gospel" means "good news." And we know what the "good news" is ... right? Actually, sometimes I wonder. I wonder because there is so much clutter, so much noise, so many other things going on. And, hey, I'm not pointing fingers. I'm part of it. For instance, on me, I will point out that I think it is key -- fundamental -- to point out the bad news. I mean, if you don't know how bad things are, how can you know how good the news is? But sometimes things like this get in the way of the plain, simple presentation of the good news. Just what is it?

Some people will point to "pie in the sky by and by" kinds of things. "Someday we'll get to heaven." "Someday we'll lbe finally and completely happy." Well, sure, but that's not it. That's some, but absolutely not all ... or even most of it. So what is the "good news"?

Mark set out to write about "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1). In person, the good news is Jesus Christ. Paul explains more.
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. (1 Cor 15:1-8)
So the overarching "good news" is "Jesus Christ, the Son of God," and the framework is Christ crucified for our sins, buried, and raised again ... with witnesses. That is the basic good news. But it is surely lacking in detail. I mean, it would be easy to say, "Um, yeah, okay ... but what's so good about that?" Or, "So what?" And that's the right question.

The good news is that because Christ came to seek and to save, we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col 1:14). Not someday. Now. We know that Romans 3:23 states the problem -- "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" -- but that's in the middle of a thought that continues on. We are "justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Rom 3:24). Christ is described as "a propitiation" -- removing the animosity of a righteous God (Rom 3:22) toward sinners (Rom 3:23). That's big. And it's not "by and by." We have been blessed by the Father with "every spiritual blessing" in Christ (Eph 1:3) (and a list follows that reference). We have a personal relationship with Christ, filled by the Spirit and enabled and empowered by God. He has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." "So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'" (Heb 13:5-6). We have specific spiritual gifts, special roles and abilities given by the Spirit for use now (1 Cor 12:4-7). We are "more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Rom 8:37). God supplies needs (Php 4:19). We sing of "amazing grace" and "unending love." They're ours. We speak of mercy -- God's righteous anger withheld. It's ours. Victory, power, joy now. Paul wrote, "He Himself is our peace" (Eph 2:14). The One who will never leave us is our peace. No one else has peace like that. And while we are assured that there will also be suffering, even our suffering is designed to benefit and bring joy (James 1:2-4).

We have indeed gone astray. We've defied God, shook our fists in His face. There is, indeed, "bad news." But that only makes the Gospel -- the good news -- that much bigger. All our sins are washed away. Now (1 John 1:9). We are part of a new, eternal family (John 1:12; Eph 1:5-6). The God of the Universe has (already ... now) reconciled us to Himself (Rom 5:10; 2 Cor 5:18) in order to present us holy and blameless (Col 1:22). We enjoy what Paul refers to as the "incalculable riches of Christ" (Eph 3:8). Ours today and forevermore. Sin is erased and righteousness applied (2 Cor 5:21). Is the good news "someday"? Well, sure, but it is now, too. For all who believe. For everyday existence -- love, joy peace, etc. -- and more. For now and forever.

Don't miss out on the good news.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

News Weakly - 9/28/19

The End of the World as We Know It
Greta Thunberg really gave it to them this time. "How dare you!" She told the UN to get right on that end-of-the-world climate change problem. (I could almost hear, "Don't make me come back here.")

My problem is not with Thunberg or climate change or the UN. I do question the wisdom of taking direction from children. But my real problem is with the continuing question, "What do you want?" They say things like "100% clean energy by 2050," but what is that? It isn't what what they seem to think it is. The same science that warns of the impending doom of climate change also says that if all human activity ceased tomorrow, the temperatures would continue to rise for 2 more decades. Science tells us that the current conditions are due not merely to fossil fuels, but to the entire Industrial Age. If we are to fix this problem (and some scientists say it's too late), the solution appears to be a return to an agrarian society without modern technology because everything we do with modern technology produces climate impact. (If you think I'm exaggerating, consider Bernie Sanders who suggested it would be wise to kill babies in 3rd world nations to improve climate conditions.) What do you want us to do? Seems like it's either the end of the world as we know it (eliminate all modern technology world wide and most humans) or the end of the world as we know it (everyone dies anyway).

And Now for Something Completely Different
It shouldn't really be a surprise. In a world where reality is decided by how I feel about it, it stands to reason that eventually a man can become a mother. The courts in the UK have ruled that "An individual who is born female but later becomes male and gives birth to a child should be legally regarded as a mother." Now, that seems thoroughly reasonable to you and me, because he is actually a she. But she's not. They ruled that the man is classified as a mother. Fred (the name the biological woman assumed) wanted to be called the father. No one can convince him that "father" is a person who provides the sperm and "mother" the egg for this transaction. But, hey, in a world where "literally" can be used to communicate "not literally" and you can feel like a different gender and that's real but you can't feel like a different race and have it be real, why would we expect otherwise? (If the court was to rule with what we like to call "science," they would have ruled that the woman who gave birth was the mother, regardless of how that woman felt about her gender.)

Mattel is coming out with a new line of dolls in contrast to Barbie, the epitome of femininity. These will be "gender-neutral dolls." Because children "don't want their toys dictated by gender norms." Of course, no one is paying attention to the fact that when John decides to be Judy he takes on as many "Barbie" features as he can. Because gender is not what we think it is ... unless it is. That is, this isn't a move to not be dictated to; it is a move to eradicate differences we cannot avoid being aware of.

Divide and Conquer
So apparently, unbeknownst to me, someone somewhere in some hate group has used the "OK" hand symbol -- yeah, that one with thumb and index finger forming an "O" and the other three fingers up to kind of make it look like a "K". Bam! Now it's a hate symbol. You signal to someone that it's "OK" and you're a hater. And heaven help you if you do it while wearing a "bowl style" haircut. Hate!! So says the Anti-Defamation League. The standard for declaring a symbol as hate appears to be that it is used a lot by people that hate. Given the vast array of people who hate and the large numbers of symbols they use, shouldn't be long before anything at all qualifies. ("Hey, did I just see that white supremacist smile? I've seen a bunch of them do that. We'll call a smile a hate symbol.")

The Solution of "Awareness"
Greta Thunberg,, want us, as one of the solutions to the horror of climate change, to be more aware of the climate change problem. AOC, as one of the solutions to poverty, wants us to be more aware of the poverty problem. Parents of 13-year-old "Diego" of Moreno Valley wanted the school district to be more aware of the problem of bullying in their schools. They knew; Diego died anyway. Maybe "awareness" isn't the solution it's cracked up to be. "We're beyond 'thoughts and prayers' -- 'awareness' is a better answer." Not so much.

Van Ban
Alek Minassian, a 26-year-old Toronto man, is what they call an "incel" -- an "involuntary celibate." These folks are over the top. The military has warned of possible violence at screenings of the new movie, Joker, from this group. Minassian is reported to have run down 10 people in Toronto last year with a van in frustration over never having had a girlfriend.

Lawmakers are working hard to ban vans and to make sure incels have girls in order to save lives. No?

Not the Babylon Bee
Climate change is insidious. NASA is saying that Venu was habitable "for up to 2 billion years." What happened? A sudden climate change made it "a hellish world." They know this because they ran their climate change modeling software on Venus and proved it. (No one appears to be asking, "Um, is it possible that your climate modeling software is not right?") If it wasn't a NASA site, I would have chalked the story up to satire.

Loving Their Kid
In Portland, OR, parents of a 6-year-old boy are beginning their son's transition to being a teenage mutant ninja turtle after he expressed his wishes to be one. "It's important for parents to listen to their kids' every desire and immediately affirm that desire," his dad said. "Imagine how much harm you would do to your kids if you impressed your beliefs on them instead of listening to their subjective opinion of reality."

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, September 27, 2019

A More Excellent Way

We all hate mass shootings. (That sounds strange to me at the outset. Like, we hate mass shootings, but one at a time is okay?) We know it's wrong. We know it's bad. We know we want to do something about it. We just can't agree on what. One group figures if you can eliminate guns entirely you can eliminate mass shootings entirely. Well, sure, but it won't eliminate mass killings. People do it with vehicles, knives, explosives (which, by the way, aren't legal) ... all sorts of things. And, let's face it, many of the mass shootings have been accomplished with illegal weapons. Stolen, illegally obtained, etc. Another group calls at least for curbing the availability. Limit access. Of course, it is patently obvious that someone with a 15-round magazine can shoot 15 people even if they don't have a 30-round magazine. In fact, a six-shooter alone is enough for a mass shooting. And it is illegal to shoot people. Better laws? Doesn't seem to me that this is the best way, that it addresses the real problem.

Genuine believers are upset by false teachers. We're upset by self-proclaimed Christians who teach lies. We're upset by self-proclaimed Christians who loudly and openly jettison the faith. "I've grown up. I've figured it out. I tried Christ. I know better now." We're upset by "Christians behaving badly." (I use "Christians" there generously.) You know, the pastor caught molesting young girls or the television Christian celebrity arrested for sex with a prostitute or the well-known Christian entertainer who admits to adultery after being outed for committing adultery. Hey, we're upset by the Crusades where "Christians" went to war to defend Jerusalem or church folk in the Middle Ages who went to war with each other. We're upset by other Christians who declare the love of Christ while refusing to love their neighbor. It reflects poorly on Christ. It gives Christians a bad name. So we want to find a solution. Some try to explain why the Crusades were a good thing or how that particular person doing that particularly bad thing was not a believer really or the like. Explain it away. Others try to push the church into being a kinder, gentler group. And still it's a problem.

We have questions about church. How do we make it better? How do we attract people? How do we grow? How do we worship? So we develop programs and organizations. We get better books and better structures and better buildings and, by all means, a better band. We come up with tricks and methods and campaigns and schemes (think "marketing") to get this thing rolling. Of course, everyone knows you can't be sure these "new and improved" things will work (truth be told, most don't), but we try them.

Perhaps you see a trend here. We see problems. We think of ways to fix them. (So far, so good.) But the trend here is that we're going about it wrong. Like Paul said, "I will show you a still more excellent way" (1 Cor 12:31).

First, note, he said "a still more excellent way" which means that these other things are not bad. They don't need to be abandoned. We should continue with ideas on controlling killing people. We should urge Christians to be Christian. We should pursue these types of remedies. By "a still more excellent way," I simply mean that these are good but not sufficient. Pursue them and more.

What more? What was Paul's "more excellent way"? Well, if you're following the text, that verse I quoted there is the last verse in the 12th chapter of Corinthians. I'm sure you know what comes next -- the 13th chapter. We all know what that chapter contains. Paul describes the significance and nature of love. Real love. Not the romantic thing. Certainly not the sexual thing. Not the "more than like" concept. This love is the love we receive from God. The love we receive from God to share with others. The love that should shape everything we do, think, and feel. All the good we do without love is useless (1 Cor 13:1-3). And the love we're talking about is huge (1 Cor 13:4-8). Not merely some warm feeling; really, really big. Love of God and love of others (Matt 22:37-39).

Now put that at the center of the shelf of issues and problems we face and see how it works. Mass shootings go away if love reigns. Christians act like Christ where love is the underlying purpose. Your ministry to fellow believers and to unbelievers changes its face when love is the motivating force. How can we get more people into our church? I'll tell you without fear of contradiction that a church functioning on love attracts far more than a church functioning on rules or programs or whatever. Believers acting out of love have a far better reputation and impact than believers acting out of duty.

It is undeniable that this kind of love is the answer. It is also undeniable that we can make that happen. We generally forget to pursue it ourselves. We certainly can't make our fellow believers do it. And what possibility is there that unbelievers will do it? (Hint: None. See 1 John 4:8.) So we must pursue it ourselves and we must do it by God's power and influence. We must pray for it -- for ourselves and for other believers. We must undergird everything with it and demonstrate it at every turn. Not that weak "I love you so I will encourage you to do the most foolish things you choose to do" love. Genuine love. Compassion that will even call on others to turn. But out of love, not rules or doctrines or self-righteousness. Rules and doctrines and righteousness (not self-righteousness) are all fine tools, but without love they are a loudly clanging cymbal. Look, if we are marked as Christ-followers by our love for one another (John 13:35), shouldn't we be known for our love for one another? If love is from God (1 John 4:7), shouldn't we be living examples of love? If God is love (1 John 4:8) -- God defines love -- shouldn't we be living reflections of that love?

That is Paul's "still more excellent way." I think it is far more effective than more laws or better rule enforcement or a much more upbeat church program or the like. But it is a supernatural thing. We should be seeking that treasure, and praying for that wonder, shouldn't we?

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Dangers of a Bad Diet

When you think of a "diet," you tend to think of "trying to lose weight." The fact is that "diet" generally means whatever you eat. That's the number one definition. In that sense, I've been working on my diet for years. At first it was, "You need to eat better ... more healthy." So, what is more healthy? "You know, less red meat, more fruits and vegetables, that sort of thing." So I've been tuning that diet for a long time. Adjust for calories, fat, fiber, protein. Make sure I'm eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables. You know, all that healthy stuff. Ah, but it turns out it's not that easy. I switched to more fruits and vegetables and that was good ... for a short time. Then it was, "Oh, no, not that fruit; not that vegetable." Really? Not corn; that's not a healthy vegetable. Not bananas; too much sugar. So it turns out that the "healthy stuff" may not be. And the work goes on.

Maybe I'm overstating it, but I think I can show you in the Bible. Turn with me to Genesis 3. (Just kidding. You don't need to turn with me.) In that chapter of Genesis we have the first sin, the Fall. So great is this fall that it is capitalized. From this sin all mankind was plunged into sin and the consequences were dire indeed. (Think death and hell.) What was the sin? Eve ate the fruit. She could have eaten any other fruit, but she didn't. She ate that fruit. And the results were nothing less than catastrophic. See? That's how dangerous a bad diet can be.

Of course I'm not being serious. It is strange, however, that so many people think it is. Even Christians think that the reason all of mankind is born in sin is because Eve ate a piece of fruit. It's not true, you know. "Okay, then it was because she violated God's command." Well, yes, but even that's not the real answer. In Paul's epistle to the church at Rome he writes the famous, "All have sinned" (Rom 3:23). I bet you can fill in the phrase after that. It's important because, you see, it defines the problem. It's not eating the wrong fruit. It's not really even violating a command. Paul says we "fall short of the glory of God." That is the fundamental problem. That is the fatal error.

Look at the passage. Where did Eve go wrong? "When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate" (Gen 3:6). Do you see it? Adam and Eve were in a paradise on Earth. God walked in the garden with them. It doesn't get any better than that. But Eve. Eve looked at the fruit. She liked the way it looked. She liked that it would make her wise. And the sin occurred.

I believe that's it. I believe that's the core of it. I believe that "righteous" means "looking at God" and "unrighteous" means ... not. I think that's what Paul meant in that Romans 3:23 verse. It's not that there are rules we shouldn't violate. It's that there is God's glory we shouldn't violate. It's that God is the Creator and the Lord and the Master and we are "from Him and through Him and to Him" (Rom 11:36) and we say, "No." The heavens declare the glory of God (Psa 19:1; Rom 1:20) and we say, "So?" We say, "I am the important one. I am the one that is to be considered first." It is, fundamentally, idolatry (Rom 1:18-23), where we replace God.

No, it's not a problem with diet. It's a problem with self. It's not a problem of being bad. It's a problem of being selfish. It's not a problem of failing to follow the rules. It's a problem of failing to glorify God. We were made for that. And we say, "No." And the troubles just keep coming. With our eyes on ourselves we shortchange God and slight other people and declare, "I will be like the Most High." The truth is we don't even know what it should look like. What does life focused on God rather than self look like? What does life focused on God rather than self look like in terms of interpersonal relationships? Marriage? Family? Interactions with others? Use of time? Entertainment choices? How we dress? How we spend our money? Oh, see? It's not even our money! We don't know what that looks like.

That's why the problem is "fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23) and the solution is "die" (Rom 6:8). That's why we must be born again (John 3:3), raised with Him to new life (Rom 6:4-5). He died so that might no longer live for ourselves, but for Him (2 Cor 5:15). If only we could see this and get on with the process of looking at Jesus (Heb 12:2) rather than self. It's not natural. It's not even clear. It's such a hard thing to remember. But it's absolutely necessary.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Prayer Language

They tell me that some people have the ability to pray in angelic languages. At least, in languages they don't actually know. Not one to simply throw away ideas because they don't strike me in a certain way, I thought it might be a good idea to see if there is merit for such a thing.

The first place they send me is Romans 8, of course.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Rom 8:26)
This, they tell me, is "prayer language." Clearly. When we don't know how to pray the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. That is what it says, right? Well, almost. You'll note that I added a word (because they do). The text does not say when we don't know how to pray. It says, "We do not know what to pray." The implication is "never." If that is correct, then all prayer is the Spirit interceding (which, by the way, I believe) in groaning too deep for words (which I do not take as a literal prayer language). I believe that all effectual prayer is a translation of what I prayed (imperfectly) to what God intended via the Holy Spirit (perfectly). If this text proves a prayer language, it also requires all prayers to be in that prayer language, and that prayer language is "groaning too deep for words." Further, the text says that the Spirit groans, not the person praying. It is not we who are praying here; the Spirit "intercedes for us." This is problematic as a proof-text for a prayer language.

Paul does speak about praying in tongues.
For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. (1 Cor 14:2)

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. (1 Cor 14:14-15)
So, that would be "praying in tongues." What do we learn here? We learn that "no one understands" this. It is only to God. Indeed, Paul argues that praying in tongues does not engage the mind. ("My mind is unfruitful.") So the one praying in tongues doesn't even know what he or she is praying. What else do we know? Paul would prefer not to do it. "I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also." Paul believed that praying "with my spirit" was good, but it was best to engage his mind. (Note, by the way, that Paul didn't think of this as a "prayer language" because he included in the same thought "singing praise with my spirit." Unless we call it a "singing language" as well.) Further, in context, Paul says just before verse 14, "Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret" (1 Cor 14:13). Paul calls on tongues to be interpreted in this context, so when he goes on to say "For if I pray in a tongue ...", he is telling why it should be interpreted -- because praying in a tongue does not engage the mind. Interpret it and you can pray in tongues and engage the mind. (I'd like to see that sometime.) However, if this is a reference to praying in tongues, it 1) also requires interpretation and 2) it is not private (1 Cor 14:12).

There are multiple references to "praying in the Spirit" (Eph 6:18; Jude 1:20). This doesn't say or require a foreign tongue at all. And, as we've already seen, if this is referring to a prayer language which is "groaning too deep for words" and does not engage the mind, you can't actually pray for anything since you don't actually know what you're praying, but Paul says to be "making supplication for all the saints." That's a problem. Praying in the Spirit is commanded, but that simply requires that we look to the Spirit for the grace and power to pray, the will and ability to pray, the topics, times, and matters to pray about, etc. It does not require praying in a foreign language. We must pray under the influence of and with the assistance of the Spirit of God. That doesn't mean we can't know what we're praying ... ever. Conversely, if we can at times pray in a normal language and "Pray at all times in the Spirit" is this prayer that transcends language and bypasses the mind, then "pray at all times in the Spirit" does not require that "groaning too deep for words."

Multiple people I've heard and even known have told me that their prayer language is private. It is for personal edification (1 Cor 14:4). It is distinct from the gift of tongues in Scripture used in public. People can have this prayer language without having the gift of tongues. These people report that praying in this way edifies them even though they don't know what they're saying. It improves their intimacy with the Lord.

To my friends and others, I apologize. I just don't see it. I don't even begin to grasp praying in a language that I can't understand. I cannot point to it and say, "See? God answered my prayers!" because I don't even know what I prayed. Like Paul, I am not nearly as interested in a warm feeling about God because I prayed "in the Spirit" but would rather pray in the Spirit and in the mind. I am not edified by groaning without any other connection. Anecdotally, I've known too many people who spoke in tongues this way and were edified to a more intimate relationship with God that they later jettisoned entirely. Biblically I see no texts that suggest a difference between the Acts 2 tongues (which were known tongues, even if they were not known by the men speaking them, and not tongues of angels or other unknown languages) and a private prayer language. In the 1 Corinthians text Paul speaks of the gift of tongues (e.g., 1 Cor 12:10) and of this so-called prayer language (e.g., 1 Cor 14:2) all in the same breath without distinction. I don't see a biblical distinction between "speaking in tongues" and a private prayer language. Nor can I find a biblical warrant for a prayer language. It just doesn't work for me.

"But," they ask me (they really do), "what about 1 Corinthians 13?"
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Cor 13:1)
Paul speaks here of tongues of angels. Is he not saying that men can and have spoken with tongues of angels? I don't see it at all. Angels may speak and may speak in their own intrinsic language, but this text is not about the possibilities; it's about the futility of the highest gifts without love. I do not assume that anyone can speak with the tongues of angels any more than I assume that anyone can "understand all mysteries and all knowledge" (1 Cor 13:2) or, as an act of generosity, give their bodies to be burned (1 Cor 13:3). I think this is clearly hyperbole, not a description of actual gifts. The point is the importance of love, not a description of actual spiritual gifts.

So I'm stuck here. I love these people who believe in it. I don't wish to discount their experiences. I won't suggest they're demonic or evil somehow. But I just don't see a scriptural call for any believer (let alone all believers) to have a private (or public) prayer language. The texts are not compelling. The reasoning doesn't seem sound. I'm not seeing it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Mainstreamed Poison

There was a time that Playboy existed, but in private. Started in 1953, this famous magazine amassed a large following ... mostly secretly. The joke prevailed. "Oh, sure, I read Playboy, but only for the articles." Because pornography was bad ... in the collective mind of the culture. Your dad might indulge, but he would hide the magazines both from your mom and the kids. Young teens would exult at finding "Dad's hidden stash," but it was secret.

Something has changed. Back then it was secret; today it's mainstream. Back then people -- guys, primarily -- would sneak into "adult theaters" to watch naughty stuff; today they do it in the comfort and privacy of their home computer ... or worse. Back then it was mostly guys; today it includes a sizable segment of women. Back then it was "wrong," a guilty pleasure; today it is boasted about, shared freely, to be expected. "Sure I look at porn; you don't??" Something is different.

Part of it is obviously the Internet. Before the Internet, pornography was "out there" and you had to go get it to have it "in here." That meant possible detection and shame. When the Internet first started up it remained "out there" in a sense, limited to 1) those who had access to such things (which was limited) and 2) put down in "dark recesses" of the Internet where it wasn't easy to find. No longer. Now it's up front, in your face, prevalent. A coworker once did a search for a bipolar junction transistor (a specific electronic device) and it took him to a porn link. He wasn't even looking for it; it found him. With the sheer availability of the stuff, it stands to reason that it would be more ... available. And, so, more prevalent. And, so, more acceptable. I get that.

But that's not all. I think there has been a circular effect. More porn availability has led to more porn consumption which has led to more porn acceptance which has made more sexual immorality acceptable which has led to more porn availability which ... you see how that goes. Studies suggest that heterosexual porn users are more accepting of homosexual behavior than non-porn users. That seems reasonable. The more you see, the more you accept as "normal." Like movie violence desensitizes people to real violence, video sexual immorality desensitizes to sexual immorality.

Thus, where pornography was once outside the cultural moral norm, today it is normal, accepted, and expected. It is a product of a cheapening of God's intention for human sexuality and has accelerated that cheapening.

Pornography lies. It lies about what is "normal." It lies about what is "good." It lies about what sex is for. It boldly calls God a liar and ridicules those who disagree. All of this is to be expected of the world, ruled as it is by the prince of the power of the air and all. The really disheartening part is that believers are involved and even defend it. Believers have been so immunized that they don't even see the problem and God's design for sex. Engulfed by the lies of the world. Brethren, these things ought not be.

Monday, September 23, 2019

They Can Pry My Bible From My Cold Dead Fingers

I wondered recently (5th item) how it could be that an "inclusive" country like Finland could allow such an offensive book as the Bible to remain legally available there. It was, of course, sarcasm, but too often what is sarcastic can be way too close to what is true. With the offensiveness of the Bible coupled with the "offended" mentality of the nation, how long before this becomes real?

"Offended" mentality? Yes, that's the current perspective that a basic human right (as long as you're among the "correct" group) is to not be offended. If something is offensive, it is wrong ... possibly criminal. There will be blood.

"Wait ... 'offensiveness of the Bible'?" Yes, and you know it, right?

The Bible says that women are not permitted to teach or have authority over men (1 Tim 2:12). Certainly sounds sexist. Add in "Wives, submit to your husbands" (Eph 5:22) and now it's certain. Discrimination on the basis of gender. The Bible includes an event where God orders King Saul to kill every man, woman, child, infant, ox, sheep, camel and donkey among the Amalekites (1 Sam 15:3). Really? Genocide? The Bible doesn't stutter when it says that those who practice homosexual behavior will not be allowed into the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10). Now, that's just anti-LGBT, isn't it? The Bible recognizes only a binary gender world (Gen 1:27; Gen 5:2). Not very inclusive at all. And, of course, let's not forget, "Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect" (1 Peter 2:18). So, the Bible endorses slavery. Yikes!1

We in America used to believe in the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion and the freedom of the press. Well, in theory, at least. That hasn't stopped the government from impinging on all of them. Pastors cannot speak about politics from the pulpit (not freedom of speech) and people with religious views that prevent them from participating in morally offensive behavior must do so if they own a business (not freedom of religion). And without getting touchy about it ("That evil government hates us!"), the government has often censured and censored books and such for centuries. With all that, given the offensiveness of the Bible to the modern culture (although, if properly understood, this all makes much more sense than they give it credit for, especially when they start from an "anti-God" perspective) and the current view that seeks to criminalize that which offends, it seems as if the days of having a Bible legally are numbered.
1 For the sake of clarity, 1) No, I am not counting the hours until they come for my Bibles and 2) the Bible is not sexist, or hateful toward those LGBT folks. The Bible does not support genocide or slavery (or even polygamy). The only way to argue that it does is to ignore the plain texts in context and clear intent of Scripture. But the world at large is not concerned with either plain texts or clear intentions, especially of the Bible.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Testing, Testing

We live in an abundance of Christian music. We have all types, all styles, all forms, it seems. You can find hymns revisited, retuned, rewritten. You can find new stuff to excite and entertain. You can find easy listening to heavy metal, choral to rap. Jackie Hill-Perry is listed as part of the "Passion 4 Christ Movement" offering such amazing pieces as "My Life as a Stud" and "A Poem About Weed" which ... wait ... really? Yes, really. It's out there. We have impressive worship songs from heretical sources and lightweight "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs from Christian musicians who, you'd think, should know better. Lots and lots of stuff, from high worship to base entertainment.

I don't think that God has detailed what "worship music" should sound like. Some do; I don't. I mean, the psalmist wrote about praising God "with tambourine and dance" and "with loud cymbals," clarifying "with loud clashing cymbals" (Psa 150:1-6). I know good, honest believers that would not tolerate that in their churches. "'Tambourine and dance'?? 'Loud clashing cymbals'??!! Not in my church!" But there it is in God's Word.

On the other hand, I think we are often blind on the subject. Like "If it says 'God' in it, it's worship ... right?" So we will sing songs for worship with lyrics we wouldn't dare speak to God because they're wrong. You'll find them in all genres and all eras. And we don't notice because, "Hey, it's worship, right?"

You can find hymns that declare, "How can it be that Thou, my God, didst die for me?" Easy answer. He didn't. He can't. Jesus, the human, died. God cannot. An easy shift -- "... that Thou, my King, didst die for me" -- works fine. But God doesn't/didn't/couldn't die. Yet, we sing it worshipfully as if God is glorified in it. You can find warm and thrilling modern songs that extol the "reckless love of God." Wait ... "reckless"? Like a driver who barrels down the highway without regard for the consequences of his driving? Trust me, God is never without concern for the consequences of His actions. God's love is absolutely overwhelming and never-ending, but it is always intentional, not careless. The idea of God loving blindly without regard to outcome is not praiseworthy. The notion that God loves sinners with eyes wide open is stunning in its magnificence. Pick a better word.

There is a lot of music available for Christians. Some is really good; some, not so much. Some is genuine truth; some is, as it turns out, heretical. I'm not one of those who argues, "Reject worship music if it comes from a bad source." I prefer to analyze the content and see if God can be truthfully and genuinely glorified in it. I am not one who would prefer to gloss over the words because it makes me feel warmly toward God. I cannot imagine that God is glorified when I feel good about Him while declaring untruths about Him.

The Bereans were "more noble" than others; they examined the Scriptures daily to see if Paul was telling the truth (Acts 17:11). Surely we should be as diligent with our music. Paul told the Thessalonians to "test everything; hold fast what is good" (1 Thess 5:21). That's what I'm recommending. If we are to love God with our minds (Matt 22:37), wouldn't that include using our minds in regard to the music we listen to and even give back to Him? That's all I'm asking.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

News Weakly - 9/21/19

No Fake News Here
The courts have been listening to the pre-trial stuff regarding the folks that brought you those revealing videos of Planned Parenthood people offering to sell body parts. Instead of a legal flurry of criminal investigations and charges against Planned Parenthood, the government is trying to charge the messengers with the crime. And the charges aren't going well. That's a story on its own, but the story behind the story is that it is nearly impossible to get the story. Why are media outlets not covering this? You'd think the liberal ones at least would be like sharks sensing blood in the water, but they're silent. No fake news here; no news at all. Why is that?

Democrats Want Your Guns!
Don't be ridiculous. The Democrats don't want to take your guns from you. Fake news. There are one or two that don't.

Just Another Crazy Day in California
Honestly, it feels like I could just have a "California" category for this weekly news piece. They are constantly doing something ... noteworthy. This time they're banning taxpayer-funded travel to Iowa. Why? Because "gender identity" is classified as a Civil Right in California and Iowa is not willing to have Medicaid pay for gender transition surgeries, the dirty rats. Standing on science. What's wrong with them?

Note that the story says that the California travel law was crafted as a response to religious freedom laws. So I suppose it's not science they're opposed to; it's the Bill of Rights. Right? Or is it just Christianity?

It's no surprise that all the other states are begging California to put them on the list.

The Violent Against Violence
Planned Parenthood is reporting that violence against abortion providers, both the people and the facilities, are experiencing an "uptick in violence" this year. They attribute it to the newly enacted state laws restricting abortion "and polarizing rhetoric surrounding the procedure." Violence is not good. Indeed, it makes no sense if the idea is "pro-life." Last year they recorded 1,369 violent acts. This year is "seeing a dramatic increase." In August three men were arrested for threatening mass shootings against Planned Parenthood facilities. How does "We want to protect life" coincide with "mass shootings"? I don't get it.

On the other side of the coin, "inflammatory language" like calling abortion "infanticide" and complaining that they're "killing babies" is a problem if it's not true. If it is true (as biology claims), then is the correct response, "Stop telling the truth!"? The "polarizing rhetoric" compares the millions of babies killed in abortion with the millions of people killed in the Holocaust. If the numbers fit (and, by the way, Jews are good and wise to point to the Holocaust in an effort to prevent it from happening again), why is this wrong? Violence is not the answer to the abortion problem. Neither is lying about it.

Making Your Biases Known
"What we would like to do, if at all possible, is to insult to the highest degree He who is called 'God.'" At least, that appears to be the aim of the "Pastafarian pastor" who "opened a government-sponsored prayer session while wearing a colander on his head on Tuesday in Homer, Alaska." I kid you not. The "Church of The Flying Spaghetti Monster" (FSM) is a satirical organization aimed at insulting Christianity in general and God in particular. They are atheists at heart and hostile to theism. So, read it again. An atheist prayed at a "government-sponsored prayer session." In the name of "religious freedom." For all the "Government must be religious neutral" kind of talk, that is not religious neutrality.

Not the Babylon Bee
Truth is stranger than fiction. Apparently students at Union Theological Seminary decided it was necessary for them to confess their climate sins to plants.
Today in chapel, we confessed to plants. Together, we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor.

What do you confess to the plants in your life?
What do I confess? Nothing. Nothing at all. Fascinating that plants are classified as "beings" but humans in womb are not.

No word on whether or not the plants accepted their confession.

News vs News
Ben Carson is concerned that a nefarious man might use a "transgender" ploy to declare himself a woman and enter shelters designed to protect women against nefarious men. The transgender world (and their advocates) is outraged. "Multiple academic studies have confirmed that trans inclusive policies do not endanger cis people," they assure us.

Of course, the news doesn't actually agree on that. In one incident a a sexual predator in Toronto was jailed after claiming to be transgender in order to assault women in two women's shelters. Last month a women's shelter in Alaska was sued for turning away a man in a nightgown.

A New Favorite
Adding this site to my list of favorites. is "The most reliable site for fake news on the planet" with stories like this one where 1st graders explain to Democratic hopefuls that you can't take other peoples' stuff. Another fun satire site.

Friday, September 20, 2019


I'm trying to figure this out. As it has been from the beginning, God's Word has been under attack. From the first, "Did God really say ...?" in Genesis 3 all the way up through modern biblical criticism ("Sure, that's clear, but we're pretty sure it doesn't mean what it clearly says because we know better.") the war continues. From the haughty "biblical scholar" whose biblical scholarship includes all the necessary tools to explain how biblical scholarship is pointless to the casual Christian who couldn't tell you what's in the Book because, "Hey, how important can it be?", God's Word sits in Satan's sights.

There are, however, a relatively few who believe that the Bible is important, practical, reliable, even readable. It can be generally understood without an extensive education while providing a rich depth of truth that can be drawn from repeated imbibing of its texts. Most people hold their own views up as the standard by which they measure all other truths. "If it appears right to me, it is. If not, it isn't." These relative few think in reverse. "God's Word is right and I will correct what I believe is right by it."

So there you have the two basic types. One knows what they know and measure truth by what they know. The other believes they are possibly (likely?) (surely?) mistaken and measure truth by God's Word. Here's my quandary. Which one is more open-minded? The ones that are sure that they are right or the ones that are sure they aren't and God's Word is right? I'm truly having trouble deciding.

Thursday, September 19, 2019


I was talking to someone I know who knows someone I'm acquainted with. Turns out that this shared acquaintance is a Christian and has recently discovered that his son identifies as homosexual. The son is angry with his parents. They don't let him bring his boyfriend over for visits. They should.

My first thought -- toward the angry son -- was "Is it your view that your parents must change their beliefs in order to accommodate you?" But that's not where I'm going here today. I was struck with another thought.

The hue and cry today is "Inclusivity!" Companies and universities have instituted Inclusivity Departments. Schools teach it. Organizations have "inclusivity training." Some groups, because they are not deemed "inclusive," are rejected. Oh, wait ... so in the name of "inclusivity" they are excluded? Yes. Over and over again. Without end, it seems. Blindly. They don't even hear themselves say it. "They are not welcome here; we are inclusive."

These inclusive folks would necessarily exclude those Christian parents from their circle because those parents were not inclusive enough. And I noticed that this isn't what I was thinking. I thought they were mistaken in their approach. I thought that they were wrong, inconsistent, perhaps even unloving. But I did not think, "I need to disassociate with them until they change their ways." Maybe I would talk to them if I thought they'd listen. Certainly I'd pray for them because, unlike most of our current society, I still believe God acts in the lives of people. I believe prayer really is effective. I might take a variety of approaches, but I would not, in the name of inclusivity, exclude them. I believe in their freedom to believe what they believe and would include them even if they're not inclusive.

Does that make me more inclusive than the high-and-mighty "Inclusivity" folks these days?

Wednesday, September 18, 2019


Recently a pastor and mental health advocate committed suicide at the age of 30. Tragic. Especially when you consider that most Christians consider suicide an unforgivable sin. Now, we know that Jesus spoke of an unforgivable sin.
"I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven." (Matt 12:31)
There it is ... a sin that will not be forgiven. So such a sin exists. On the other hand, John wrote, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Apparently, the "we" to whom he refers cannot commit such an unforgivable sin.

Scripture talks about only one sin that is unpardonable -- blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In fact, it's not really clear what that is. Some argue it's going to your death without receiving Christ. Maybe, but it's not evident from the text. Others argue that according to the text it would be ascribing to Satan the work of the Holy Spirit. Okay, fine, but we know that believers can't do it, so ...?

What we do know is that it's not the only unforgivable sin, right? We know, for instance, that divorce is unforgivable. Oh, no? Well, given the response of many believers to many believers who have been there, it would seem so. Those who have committed murderer, child molesting, adultery, you know, really bad sins cannot be forgiven. At least that often appears to be the way we think. Or, maybe, is it just that we hold the sins of others against them longer than God does?

There is, biblically, one unpardonable sin. Suicide is not it. Neither is divorce or homosexual behavior or a whole list of things that we seem to carry around. If we confess our sin, He forgives it all. The good news is that those who are in Christ are forgiven -- past, present, and future. Those who are in Christ are not damned for suicide or any other evil. It ought to bring peace to families who have lost loved ones to suicide that if their loved one was in Christ, suicide and all, they are with Him in heaven. It ought also to bring peace between brothers and sisters in Christ if we find that one of us sinned ... really bad. Because we all have.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

When Heroes Fall

There has been a spate of stories in recent times of well-known and respected Christian publicly ejecting their Christian faith and leaving for "greener pastures," so to speak. It's tough. It's tough when you hear that one who was considered to be a believer rejects the Savior you love. It's tough when you are connected in some way to that person -- a follower, a fan, an admirer, something like that -- and then see them drop out. It's tough to see the assault on your faith and the faith and, ultimately, on your Lord.

It has ever been thus, you know. Think of Adam, living in the absolute perfection of a garden and a relationship with God like you and I can only dream about. I mean, God walked in the garden with them. And Adam threw it all out. Think of Noah who spent 100 years building an ark on God's word alone, saving the existence of humans, only to succumb to drunkenness later in life. Consider Abraham whose faith was reckoned to him as righteousness and then lied about his wife being his wife because he was scared. Remember David, described by God as a man after His own heart, going out and committing adultery and murder. Recall Peter who declared he would die for Christ only to run practically in the next breath and deny he ever knew Him. Rejecting God is common among humans.

So, what are we to think? Some considerations.

There is a logical fallacy known as the Genetic Fallacy. This fallacy attempts to deny the truth of a statement based on the originator of the statement. It's a fallacy. In the case of a respected leader who falls, it is essential that we don't discard any value that we gained because they have now fallen. Their rejection of Christ is no reflection on 1) the magnificence of Christ or 2) the reality of the faith. We need to evaluate what they've said, but no more when they've left and no less when they haven't.

We cannot know the future. True believers may stray for awhile. (Consider all the examples I listed earlier.) It is possible that a true believer may fall into sin -- even serious and prolonged sin -- and still return. So we should be careful about assuming that this departure is the end of the story.

We do know that there will be tares among the wheat (Matt 13:24-30), unbelievers among the believers. They will "go out from us" to show that they were "not of us" (1 John 2:19). Wolves in sheep's clothing (Matt 7:13). Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). In the same way, false teachers and misguided unbelievers may actually seem good and useful for a time. Rejecting their good and useful information because they've rejected the faith doesn't make sense. Paul wrote about his ministry in prison where others were also spreading the Gospel, some out of rivalry and some out of love. He concluded, "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice" (Php 1:12-18). Just as Joseph told his brothers, it is entirely possible for false teachers to intend evil and God to intend good (Gen 50:20).

Scripture is clear about our responsibility. We should restore whom we can (Gal 6:1-2) and discipline whom we must (1 Cor 5:1-5) and reject whom we have to (1 Cor 5:9-12; Titus 3:10). (Of course, the primary purpose of the latter -- rejecting those who won't repent -- is the former -- restoration.)

I would note that in no case is "panic" or "lose faith" or the like a biblical response. We should pray, of course. That would go without saying (but obviously needs to be said). But at no time should we despair because even if believers fall, God is still on the throne and He always accomplishes what He intends to accomplish. We should, I suppose, check our own hearts. Is this person whose rejection of the faith an idol? In that case the repentance should be ours.

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Renewed Mind

In response to Romans 1-11, Paul writes,
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:1-2)
We know that sin rots the brain (Rom 1:28). We know that the heart is deceitful (Jer 17:9). We know that sin wars against our better thoughts (Rom 7:23). We know that "the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers" (2 Cor 4:4). So we can see that we should "be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Makes sense. But ... how do we do that?

The two terms -- "conformed" vs "transformed" -- speak of two different shapes. In "conformed" the Greek word is the source of our word, "schematic." The idea is "the outer shape." If you take a sheet of plastic and lay it on a piece of metal and heat it, the plastic will "conform" to the shape of the metal. It doesn't become metal; it just takes the shape. Like we have a tendency to do when we interact with our world. You know, "Go along to get along." Paul says, "Don't take that shape." Instead he says we should be "transformed." That one is the root of our word, "metamorphosis." That one is a change in nature. It is to transition from one form to another. It is an actual change rather than merely external appearance. That is what we're aiming for; a transformation brought about by renewed thinking. He's not asking for non-conformity with the world; He's asking for a renewal process that changes who we are. He's saying, "Don't go there (taking on the shape of the world), but go here (transformation)." Okay ... but how?

You can see right away that it is rooted in "what the will of God is." So how do we get there? Well, it isn't a case of "creative guessing." We have "the will of God" written out for us. We would need to be immersed in His Word. Paul wrote that we are cleansed and sanctified "by the washing of water with the word" (Eph 5:26). That's not "baptism;" that's immersion in the Word. And "sanctified" is the process of becoming more Christ-like. Part of that, achieved by the washing of the water with the word, is renewing your mind. The work of the Holy Spirit is critical to renewing your mind (Titus 3:5). We are commanded to think a certain way (Php 4:8) -- an ongoing process. We are supposed to turn our eyes on the Lord (2 Cor 3:18; Heb 12:2). The Word, the Spirit, the requirements, the process ... we have what we need to renew our minds.

Given the sorry state of the mind of Man in its natural condition, this is a critical and lifelong task. We will encounter slips and falls, returns to erroneous ways of thinking. We will enjoy growth and change as the Holy Spirit works with God's Word to change our thinking from the old to the new. It is an essential task for all believers and difficult to perform since it goes against the rest of the world, but there is great reward.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Grateful Dead

Most of you know this, but for those who don't, the Grateful Dead was a cult-favorite rock band formed in 1965 with a devoted fan base known as "Deadheads" and headed by Jerry Garcia whose death in 1995 led to the ultimate disbanding of the band. This isn't about them.

As the pastor was preaching about Christ's death and resurrection, its effects, and its ramifications, I got to thinking. (I know ... typically a dangerous thing.) The Christian life is described in multiple places as death. Jesus said, "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me" (Matt 16:24). Paul said, "I die daily" (1 Cor 15:31). Peter said, "Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit" (1 Peter 3:18). We are to "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you" (Col 3:5). Paul wrote, "If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Rom 8:13). In a beautiful explanation of the imagery of baptism, Paul wrote,
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. (Rom 6:3-5)
Christianity, at its core, links the believer's life with Christ's death and life (in that order). "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal 2:20).

In a very real sense, then, aren't we supposed to be the grateful dead? We were dead in sin (Eph 2:1-3). And aren't we supposed to be dead to sin (Rom 6:6-7, 11)? Paul told the Corinthians
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:14-17)
Death in Christ and death to self results in new life. Death for us is victory. Aren't we, really, the grateful dead in that sense? (See? I told you it was typically dangerous when I get to thinking.)

Saturday, September 14, 2019

News Weakly - 9/14/19

But ... Science!
I know, I know, we all know that people who identify as "homosexual" are just plain born that way. Nothing they can do. It's a matter of birth. Except, of course, if you ask Science. Apparently there is no "gay gene." The latest studies conclude there are a "complex blend of factors that influence human sexuality, including society and the environment." Now, can we get off the "gay is like race" thing? Oh, no, probably not. Science is only valid when it agrees with you.

My point? When will we stop identifying ourselves on the basis of what gender (or whatever) we want to have sex with? I'm pretty sure 1) it isn't a valid identity and 2) we choose if we'll have sex. Can't we just stop dodging the question?

A study by the United Nations reports, "Every 40 seconds someone in the world takes their own life, a global tally of more than 800,000 suicides a year." That is incredibly sad. "The research found that suicide killed more people each year than conflicts and natural catastrophes, accounting for more than half of the world's 1.5 million violent deaths annually." That, of course, ignores the numbers of babies murdered every year. In the U.S. alone the number in 2017 was more than 878,000 babies killed by violence. Very, very sad.

Confession is Good for?
The CEO of StemExpress admitted in court that her biotech company supplies beating fetal hearts and intact fetal heads to medical researchers. She was in court for the preliminary hearing of David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the Center for Medical Progress in Planned Parenthood's civil lawsuit for the release of YouTube videos exposing the horrors of abortion. According to the CMP lawyer, if you have a fetus with intact head and intact body, it indicates the baby was born alive and is a victim of an illegal partial-birth abortion.

It is said confession is good for the soul. I'm not so sure that's true in this case since it is likely not to phase either the biotech company, the pro-abortionists, or the public at large. (Try, for instance, to find a reference to this story in the general media.)

Green Thinking from Bernie
Bernie Sanders said he would support U.S. taxpayer-funded programs to provide abortions in developing countries as part of his plan to combat climate change. The thinking there is if you can decrease the human population, you can save the planet. An audience member in a CNN town hall telecast asked, "Would you be courageous enough to discuss this issue and make it a key feature of a plan to address climate catastrophe?" Bernie said he certainly would. I find it odd, of course. He highly values all the money he'd like to take from the American people ($35 trillion for universal medical coverage, $16 trillion for climate change, $47 billion a year for free college tuition for all, and counting), but would like to eliminate as many people as he can to save the planet. Seems contradictory. Oh, wait, I get it. He wants rich people's money. Eliminating the poor won't hurt.

The Bible Under Criminal Investigation
A Member of Parliament (MP) in Finland is under criminal investigation after posting Romans 1:24-27 on her Facebook page. The verses describe homosexual behavior as "dishonorable," unnatural, "shameless," and sinful. She is being investigated for "incitement against sexual and gender minorities." I cannot imagine, given these kinds of laws, why the Bible is still allowed to exist in countries with these kinds of laws. You know, the "inclusive" ones.

Speaking of Inclusive
New Zealand House Speaker Trevor Mallard is defending his decision to remove "Jesus" from Parliament prayer. He was responding to a petition to "remove religion from the Parliament prayer, oaths, and national anthem." Like you can have prayer and not religion??? The saddest thing I think he had to say was, "It might be our English heritage but I think it's not the religious view of most New Zealanders now." Say goodbye to Christianity, New Zealand. I don't think you'll like the alternative ... once you stop living off the Christian morality currently sustaining you. Oddly enough, he knowingly excluded the largest group that wanted to keep prayer as it was, but said he was "happy to take a step towards being inclusive," once again by being exclusive. (I'm just wondering, here. Is it even remotely possible to speak of being theoretically "inclusive" without being "exclusive" in practice? "Inclusive" seems always to arise as a reason for excluding.)

And Again
Purdue University made the news this week when the University Senate Leadership along with faculty has moved to ban Chick-fil-A from the campus to "promote inclusivity." (Note: the restaurant is already on campus; they want it removed.)

To be fair, the Kansas University faculty also wants Chick-fil-A banned from their campus as well ... in the name of "inclusion." At Purdue, more than 3,000 students petitioned to get the chain on campus full time. "Many people," Audrey Ruple, chair of the Purdue University Senate's Equity and Diversity Committee explained, "when they're not personally affected by the exclusionary principles of businesses, it's genuinely a blind spot." Since Chick-fil-A doesn't actually have "exclusionary principles of business," I'm not at all clear on what they're saying.

As we all know Chick-fil-A restaurants ban certain people from being served ... no, wait ... they hate certain groups ... hang on ... well, as we all know excluding those we don't like is the absolute best method of being inclusive.

Guns Don't Kill People ...
... People kill people. So the saying goes. And such would have been the case of Alyssa Hatcher, a 17-year-old who stole $1500 from her parents' bank account to attempt to hire two people to kill her parents. Now if only we had laws that would make murder illegal, that would put an end to that, right?

Friday, September 13, 2019

Big Prayers

No one can deny that prayer is a fundamental component of the Christian life. Or, rather, that it should be. We are commanded to pray "without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17). Jesus explained how to pray (Matt 6:9-13). He urged that we "ought always to pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1ff). We are told, "You do not have, because you do not ask" (James 4:2). Praying is important.

And yet, I suspect, we don't. At least many of us don't. Oh, we pray some, I suppose, but not like that -- "without ceasing." We might ask God to "guide the doctor's hand" or to give comfort to a loved one or to bless the food. Sure, we pray, but nothing near "without ceasing."

Which is odd, given what Paul writes in Ephesians.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph 3:20-21)
Yes, the text is about giving glory to God. But look at why. Paul is tripping over himself with words here regarding God's ability. "Far more abundantly than all." A string of extremes. In what is God "able to do far more abundantly than all"? He is able to radically exceed our ability to ask or think. Can you ask it? He can do it. Can you imagine it? He can do it. And more. Far more. "According to the power at work within us." It's already there! And, yet, we don't have because we don't ask.

I think we pray way too small. God is certainly not the limitation. "Oh, I don't think He can do that." I think our prayers are a reflection of our worldview. They tend to be selfish and meager; selfish (James 4:3) because we are selfish and meager because we don't have a high view of God. One would think that a believer who has died to self and lives for the glory of God would have a magnificent prayer life.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Fight or Flight

If you are not a believer, you do not have the problem of fighting sin. It's not in your nature. If you are a believer, however, you know, in varying amounts, the problem. You know the struggle Paul describes in Romans.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me ... For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Rom 7:15-17, 22-24)
We (believers) struggle with sin. We struggle because on one hand we do it (1 John 1:8, 10) and on the other hand we have the seed of God in us that causes us to hate it (1 John 3:9). So what are we to do? Well, we have two basic possibilities: fight or flight.

Scripture, as it turns out, argues for the latter. We are told to "Flee from sexual immorality" (1 Cor 6:18). Paul told Timothy to "Flee these things" (1 Tim 6:11) (where "these things" were things like conceit, slander, depravity of mind and deprivation of truth, the love of money (1 Tim 6:3-10)). Again he warned young Timothy, "Flee youthful passions" (2 Tim 2:22). Run away. Flee. The first line of defense against sinning is to run.

As it turns out, that's incomplete. Running from sin is a good start, but it doesn't stop there. We are supposed to run from sin but also run to something else. In that 1 Timothy 6 passage Paul goes on to tell him to "Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness" (1 Tim 6:11). In the 2 Timothy passage he continues, "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; run to. That is the strategy. Run from sin; run to righteousness. Don't merely run away from something evil; run to something good. Most impressive, then, is the "to" of the 1 Corinthians reference. We are to "flee from sexual immorality," sure. Flee to what? "You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (1 Cor 6:20).

I would suggest that those believers who make it their practice to flee sin and run toward glorifying God in every aspect of life will find a decrease of sin and an increase of joy in glorifying God. I think it would be a much better strategy in our personal struggle with sin than simply trying to "muscle through it" ourselves.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Bottom Line

I once wrote a piece entitled, "Why I Am A Calvinist." Not too long after that I wrote a piece entitled, "Why I Am NOT A Calvinist." I don't like "Calvinist" as a term because I have nothing at all predicated on John Calvin in my theology. I like "Calvinism" as a concept because it fits with what I find repeatedly in Scripture. I don't like "Calvinism" because so many people use the name and abuse the doctrines. I like "Calvinism" because I dearly love what it brings me.

That, I think, is something I've never written on. I can spend a great deal of time (and I have) explaining what I mean by Calvinism and the Scriptures that bring me to those beliefs. I find it, biblically, unavoidable. But then I pull out the listing or "those beliefs" and ... sigh ... I really don't like them. You've heard them, I'm sure. They are the classic "TULIP."
T Total Depravity
U Unconditional Election
L Limited Atonement
I Irresistible Calling
P Perseverance of the Saints
So I have to explain what every one of them means because they are not likely what you think they mean or, at least, not what they mean on the face of them. They speak of the sin nature that prevents Man from saving himself -- the sinfulness of Man. The biblical concept of Election is explained as not being conditioned on me. The concept of the Atonement is that Christ's death actually pays for every sin the Elect have or will commit. Given the condition of Man in sin and the election of individuals on the basis of God's choice rather than something in the person, it is important to understand that God's call can override human inability to respond. And, after receiving such a marvelous salvation, you have to wonder whether and how such a salvation can be maintained, and the principle of God's perseverance for the saints answers that dilemma.

These are all fine and dandy. I can show you where I get them; not from some clever writings of John Calvin or subsequent folk, but from the pages of my Bible. I can demonstrate how they fit together in the texts, the contexts, and in the whole assembly of God's Word. It just fits.

But, that's primarily "doctrine," a bad word for some and somewhat remote for others. That is, "So what?" Accepting that this is all true from the pages of God's Word, what does that give me? I have to say that the outcome is wonderful.

Listing them in the TULIP order, here is what I get out of it.
  1. A clear and practical picture of the true nature of Man.
  2. An overwhelming realization of the immensity of God's grace in choosing me.
  3. The complete certainty that Christ's death satisfied God's just demands for the payment of my sins.
  4. A genuine gratitude that God would not let my fallen condition prevent Him from saving me.
  5. The amazing peace from the confidence in God's pledge that guarantees that my salvation doesn't rest on my good works to be kept intact.
There is one other point here. One of the fundamental concepts of the whole "Reformed Theology"/"Calvinism" thing is the principle of God's Sovereignty. And that, dear reader, is the best. In that principle, overarching (or underlying) all, I get the peace that passes understanding granted by the realization that God really is in control, that He does what He pleases, that no one can stay His hand and that all He does is good.

We may disagree on this point or that. We may dislike "Calvinism" as a term or as a connection to some guy hundreds of years ago. We may differ over points or precision. We may agree that all we see and hear from "Calvinists" is not necessarily good stuff. Sure. But given the solid foundation of the principles in the Word and the overwhelming peace and joy they bring, would you really want to ask me to toss them out? That would just seem unkind.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019


I just read this recently:
If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psa 11:3)
And I thought, "Yeah, what about that?"

If the "household of God" is "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone" (Eph 2:19-20) and we reject the foundation of the apostles and prophets, what can the righteous do?

If "No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 3:11) and we reject that foundation, what can the righteous do?

If we are to "do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share," thus storing up treasure for ourselves as "a good foundation for the future" (1 Tim 6:18-19) and we reject that premise, what can the righteous do?

If God in His Word doesn't serve as the foundation upon which we build a solid basis for faith and practice, what can the righteous do?

If we reject a firm foundation -- biblical doctrine (Rom 16:17; Eph 4:11-14; 1 Tim 1:8-11; Titus 2:1) and orthodox tradition (1 Cor 11:2; 2 Thess 2:15; 2 Thess 3:6) (Note: Scripture distinguishes between "the tradition of men" and tradition received from the Apostles.), what can the righteous do?

If our foundation is "what is right in our own eyes" (Prov 30:12; Isa 5:21), what can the righteous do?

If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? Good question.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Modern Worship Leaders

In a Patheos article Jonathan Aigner offers a headline sure to irritate most American Christians: 6 Reasons We Don't Need Song Leaders in Worship.

It's strange, of course. I mean, I'm pretty sure Peter and Paul didn't have slick praise bands with cutting edge light shows and that "so cool" lead singer who made the crowd want to flick their Bics. All I really mean to say is that church today is not like church back then. The first church
devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. (Acts 2:42-47)
I'm not suggesting that was the norm, the ideal, the way it is supposed to be. I'm suggesting that it was not what we do today. Nor like Paul described.
What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (1 Cor 14:26)
My point is not "They're right and we're wrong." My point is that what they did in Scripture is not what we do now. Which means that our modern "worship leader" with band and singers is not some sort of sacrosanct mode of operation for leading worship singing. The question is "Is it good?"

I visited a church that handed out ear plugs. Unasked. "Here, you might need these." Afterwards someone with us actually asked, "Have you had that music checked for dangerous audio levels?" The pastor he asked actually said, "Yes, we have!" (He said it was never more than 95 decibels.) When someone suggested, "It's too bad that your people will never know what it's like to sing with other saints because they can't hear them," he responded with anger. "That's the point! We want our people to be able to sing without being self-conscious!" Fine, but from what I could see no one was singing.

I'm not going to say it's wrong. I'm not going to quibble over musical styles or "sinful music." There is no "sinful chord." Not the point. I am going to ask some questions with which we might be able to analyze whether or not it's a good thing.
  1. Are we participants or consumers?
  2. Who is the audience? The congregation or God?
  3. Who are the performers? The singers up front or the congregation?
  4. Who are we looking at? The One we came to worship or the talent leading it?
I don't know. It strikes me as problematic, shaping our worship of God in the manner of the world's entertainment. It seems confusing to appeal to the emotions of Christians when what they need is a spiritual response. It seems to me that we are looking in the wrong direction -- at the performers rather than the worship. But that's just me. Maybe I'm just old and crotchety. Maybe. But I think it's worth asking the question(s).

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Seeker Sensitive

I'm sure you've heard about the seeker-sensitive church concept. You know, encourage those who might be curious or even seeking for God to come to your church. Cater to their needs and desires. What entertains them? Do those. What turns them off from church? Don't do those. Get them in and then bring them to Christ. That, at least, is the strategy. It assumes, of course, that there are people seeking for God. And it might be simple to assume there is. Haven't we heard about them? There is a problem, though. Scripture.
"None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:10-12)
It's a quote from the Old Testament that Paul calls up in Romans to declare some pretty harsh things about natural man, including, "No one seeks for God." Now, if, by that, he meant "Lots of people seek for God," we have a problem. If he was using hyperbole, we might conclude "A very, very few seek for God," but that is still not "a majority" or "a lot." It would be closer to "nearly zero." At best.

Seeker-sensitive is a grand marketing scheme from the world around us; it's just not biblical. It assumes that the purpose of church is to make converts, and it's not (Eph 4:11-14).

So, we can toss out the seeker-sensitive stuff, right? I'd hang on a moment. Scripture does talk about a seeker.
"The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." (Luke 19:10)
So Jesus is the actual seeker in this text. Jesus is seeking out those who, according to Paul, are not seeking Him. Jesus is the seeker of the lost and not vice versa. Thus, anyone who finds Christ was first sought out by Christ.

Seeker-sensitive church? Not really biblical. Unless you clarify that the Seeker to whom they are being sensitive is the One who seeks and saves the lost. But, then you'd want to tailor your church to what pleases the Seeker, right? Now that is a Seeker-sensitive concept I can get behind.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

News Weakly - 9/7/19

What Did You Expect?
With the recent NBC article arguing that heterosexuality is sexism in disguise and not normal at all, we shouldn't really be surprised that 1) some heterosexuals felt like they needed a "Straight Pride" march or 2) that it ended with counter-protests and injured police officers. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slammed the parade because apparently only males are straight and next year, if they've matured enough, they'll "join LGBTQ fam." Rep. Ayanna Pressley labeled it a "hate march" and applauded those who confronted the police and marchers. (The police took abuse simply for being police.) The parade was protested because it was declared homophobic (Note: "Milo Yiannopoulos, an openly gay right-wing political commentator and writer, was the grand marshal.") as the "Gay Pride" parade is labeled "heterophobic" and "hate." Well, no, it's not, but it should be if we're going to be consistent. At least, it looks as if we're going that direction.

When My Fears Trump Your Freedom of Speech
We are so terrified of guns today (guns, not the people who use them) that for a second time in as many weeks someone is paying for a "gun gesture." In the latest, an American tennis player was fined for unsportsmanlike conduct after a lob against him was called in but, in review, declared out. He pointed to the chair judge and line judge and pointed his racket "like a gun" at them. The fine was $10,000, the highest fine given to a man so far this year. What used to be considered "playful gestures" are now criminal and unsportsmanlike. We are not a kinder and gentler nation. We tend to assume the worst.

More than Pronoun Problems
A 6-year-old girl wrote a letter to a toy company asking them to make female army men. Because women in combat is something to celebrate. The story concludes, "A decisive victory in the battle for equality." Because true equality is gender confused "female army men."

Can't We All Just Get Along?
In Australia a vegan is suing her neighbor for having barbecues in their own back yard. "I can't enjoy my back yard, I can't go out there," she said. "She also took issue with cigarette smoke in their garden, because the fumes waft over into her yard. She is also frustrated by the sound of the neighbors' children playing basketball and making noise in the yard." She has already filed this suit twice and it was dismissed. She's taking it to their Supreme Court. Even though her neighbor removed the barbecue and banned his children from playing basketball. Can't we all just get along? No. Apparently not at all. Not in the slightest.

Rampant Racism
Back in 1967 Alabama a college student reportedly took part in a skit where someone wore blackface. The college student went on to become Alabama's governor. Late last week Gov. Kay Ivey apologized for a college skit she didn't actually remember 52 years ago. The NAACP said it wasn't enough; that the only right response is for her to resign. Others echoed it. She says she won't resign. She said she didn't wear blackface ... ever. "I didn’t remember being at the Baptist Student Union for any kind of skit like that for sure. But I’ve apologized for it. I should not have done that." Doesn't matter. She's still a racist because she's white and because all whites are racist. They want her to resign because "it could bring attention to improving race relations." Because there is no coming back from the sins of the past. At least not for the people we don't like. And burning people to the ground for past mistakes is the best way to improve race relations.

Save the Animals!
California has become the first state to ban fur trapping. That sounds questionable to some, but, look, there are only 72 fur trappers in the state. Not a major impact. It was interesting to note that the ban included both public and private lands. Private game reserves -- that sort of thing -- are out. What was heartbreaking, though, was the intensity of the effort to "protect animals and wildlife" (They're considering banning all fur products and animals in a circuses.) because "it seems especially cruel" but there wasn't an ounce of concern for the hundreds of thousands of babies killed in the state every year.

(For the scoffers, please note that I'm not recommending killing more animals. I'm pointing out the pecking order of who they want to save first.)

That's the way to do it
Meet 6-year-old Jermaine Bell of Allendale, South Carolina. His birthday was coming up and he'd been saving for a trip to Disney World for it, but instead he used all his savings to buy hot dogs and set up a stand along the road where Hurrican Dorian evacuees were passing so he could hand out "free franks, water, chips and prayers." "'The people that are traveling to other places, I wanted them to have some food to eat so they can enjoy the ride to the place that they're gonna stay at,' he told CNN affiliate WJBF."

Good for you, kid. And he got it. In our current "We're done with thoughts and prayers -- we gotta do something" mentality, this kid had the right idea. Pray and do something. So he served food and prayed with them. Good job.

Don't Look Now
US District Judge Anthony Trenga has ruled that the FBI's terror watchlist is a violation of constitutional rights. According to the judge, such a watchlist requires that no innocent people be on it. The list is of "known or suspected terrorists" and the judge complained that not all the people on this list met the criteria for "known terrorist". A watchlist like that, then, can only include guilty people ... which you don't need to watch because they're ... guilty. Keep your eyes open, folks. This could be a bumpy ride when they won't let the authorities watch out for potential terrorists.

In practically the next breath, San Francisco has officially labeled the NRA as a "domestic terrorist organization." Because the NRA has been so busy blowing up buildings, killing people, and creating general terror? The city will examine local vendors' and contractors' ties to the NRA and calls on local government not to do business with anyone associated with the NRA. The goal, of course, is to get that up to state level.

Now, if "terrorist" is defined as one who uses unlawful violence and intimidation to terrorize people for political aims, it would seem obvious that the NRA doesn't qualify because they haven't done any such thing. And if a terrorist watchlist is illegal because it includes potentially innocent people, then it would seem that the courts would obviously rule this declaration from San Francisco as equally unconstitutional. Don't hold your breath. Double standards are the current standard for this crowd.

Thoughts and Prayers
This is an odd story, but it almost sounds like Benny Hinn is giving up on the prosperity gospel. "I'm done with it. I will never again ask you to give a thousand or whatever amount, because I think the Holy Ghost is just fed up with it ... I think that hurts the gospel." Benny Hinn's nephew (a pastor in Gilbert, AZ who refutes his uncle's theology) said, "I was encouraged by his blunt refutation of the prosperity gospel. I sincerely hope and pray that this is the beginning of repentance for him and a turnout in these later years in his life and ministry." Amen. Thoughts and prayers.

As We Suspected
Christine Ford is a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University. She hit the big news in 2018 when she alleged that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers in 1982.

There was a lot of speculation as to why she waited so very long to report this. "It's common for survivors to delay action." "She was afraid." "The media pressured her into it." All very reasonable, but it turns out there was also a much more insidious reason. Her lawyer admitted that the real reason was because he was conservative and she was pro-abortion and she wanted to ensure that there was an "asterisk" next to his name so when he came out against Roe v Wade we'd all know where it was coming from. "I believe that Christine's testimony brought about more good than the harm misogynist Republicans caused by allowing Kavanaugh on the court," the lawyer said. "When he takes a scalpel to Roe v. Wade, we will know who he is, we know his character, and we know what motivates him, and that is important; it is important that we know, and that is part of what motivated Christine."