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Saturday, August 15, 2020

News Weakly - 8/15/20

Slippery Slope Fallacy, Meet Reality
"Don't let those college players get paid for this," they cried. "The next thing you know they'll want a players' union and minimum wage and ..." "Slippery slope fallacy," was the reply. So the report is out that college players are calling for ... you guessed it ... a players' union. It's not a fallacy if it actually happens.

Government Sucks
This is amazing. After that nightmarish explosion in Beirut, the entire government resigned. Gone. It's what's called a "vacuum," and, as we all know, vacuums suck. (That's a pun, in case you weren't sure.) Some might wonder if the same sort of thing would be good or bad for America.

Changed Hearts, Changed Minds
They released the full body cam video of the police encounter with George Floyd. It shows a man resisting arrest. It does not exonerate the officer that killed him by kneeling on his neck. It does call into question 1) the level of murder this rises to and 2) the allegation that it was racism -- a hate crime. Does it change anyone's mind? I'd bet that's a largely "no" answer, because regardless of your view on this, it was predetermined by your heart before it ever was examined by your mind.

The Real Story
First, there was a riot in Chicago because police, responding to a call about someone with a gun, were shot at and returned fire. In the riot, officers were injured and more than 100 rioters were arrested. Then there was a rally for the police arrested because the argument is that looting is right and reasonable. "Our futures have been looted from us," one sign read. "Loot back." "'I don’t care if someone decides to loot a Gucci or a Macy's or a Nike store, because that makes sure that person eats,' Ariel Atkins, a BLM organizer, said. 'That makes sure that person has clothes.'" "'That is reparations,' Atkins said." The real story is many in the movement want to fight offense with crime; the ends justify the means.

Only the Name is News
I think we all knew Biden would select a black woman for his running mate. In that sense, his selection of Kamala Harris is not news. If Biden's camp had drawn up a list of potential running mates using an intersectionality chart, I don't think he could have found a candidate with much more intersection. She's black and Asian, female and Californian. Lots of intersectional oppression there. And while Biden is largely center in his political stance, she's not. She favors single-payer healthcare and killing babies in the womb, favors federal legalization of marijuana and prostitution, and favors reparations for black people. Harris was part of the group of lawmakers that introduced a $10 trillion plan to address climate change and, more recently, favored an aid package that would have increased the $4 trillion coronavirus aid package, giving $2,000 a month to all adults and dependents. She favors a law that makes it a crime for parents to have children who are truant and, on the other hand, free college for all. Oh, and, of course, she has stated that entering the country illegally is not a crime. If Biden is center, Harris is left.

Peace that Passes Understanding
If Islam is the "religion of peace," it sure looks odd this week. Someone posted something in India on Facebook perceived as offensive to Muslims and the rioting began, including rocks, burned cars, and a torched police station. Christians aren't always what they ought to be, but I can't think of anything that would cause a violent riot among Christians because of an insult to the faith. We are promised a "peace that passes understanding," which is not this kind of unfathomable version of "peace."

Dear Mr. Trump,
Stop, please, just stop. I've been voting by mail for 15 years. If there was any surprises in that time, it was your election. Opposing mail-in voting appears to me to be sheer conspiracy-theory thinking on a grand scale. And then to request a mail-in ballot so you can vote? That's a deeply double standard, isn't it? I'd prefer to have a president that doesn't fall for those kinds of shenanigans. Terminating the mail service so you can have your way with mail-in voting is just as offensive to me as all those protesters that block roads and upset the general public for their personal causes. It's counterproductive and childish. Stop it, please. Be a man, just this once.

Do and Die
The coronavirus crisis is bad for our health. The CDC says so. No, not in the obvious way. It is the prevention that is hurting us. CDC researchers found that serious depression, mental health problems, thoughts of suicide, anxiety disorders, and drug and alcohol use are up significantly. Oh, and it's worst among the younger generation and Black Americans and Hispanics as well as those most likely to have adverse economic impact. Among health workers 21% are experiencing these effects. Coronavirus is killing us, and it's not all the disease; some is the panic required by leadership. When is the cure worse than the disease?

Scary Humor
I didn't want to, but I had to laugh at the headline: "Biden: 'A Black Woman Will Become President Over My Dead Body'." Funny and terrifying all at once.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Learned His Lesson Well

I've been in 1 Peter recently as well as John and I thought it was interesting. In the upper room with Jesus (John 13-17) He tells His disciples a lot of stuff. One thing He makes clear: "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you." (John 15:19) Well, now, that's kind of ominous. Peter was there; he heard that.

But wait! The Sermon on the Mount was taught primarily to Jesus's disciples. "When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them ..." (Matt 5:1-2) Right there, at the beginning of the sermon, Jesus walks through the famous Beatitudes. The last one goes something like this.
"Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:11-12)
So, if "The world hates you" was ominous, the promise that we are blessed if we are insulted for the sake of Christ seems the opposite. And, again, Peter was listening.

How do I know?

Peter echoes these very same concepts in his first epistle. "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you, " (1 Peter 4:12) he begins. He goes on to say, "If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you." (1 Peter 4:14) See? Right out of the Sermon on the Mount. Right out of the upper room dialog.

Peter really nails it down here. "Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right." (1 Peter 4:19) Did you catch that? We like to think that if we're in Christ, everything will be peachy. And we're sometimes a bit miffed when it isn't. I heard someone say to a fellow believer once, "I know God didn't mean any of those bad things to happen to you." Really? Peter didn't. Peter actually believed that we "suffer according to the will of God."

So, it turns out, we should expect suffering if we're believers. It is God's will at times. But not to worry. We are blessed when that happens. Good news. If, when our current culture is berating our beliefs, it looks like you're complaining, check yourself. It is a guarantee from Christ. It is for your blessing. And you should rejoice (1 Peter 4:13). I know; it ruins the "victim card" we might like to play, but, trust me, this is much better.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Problem of Justice

The current state of affairs in our country these days is largely outrage over injustice. Even the NBA has become a platform for "social justice reform." And no one in their right mind would (or should) say, "I'm opposed to justice!!!" So ... clearly we should all be on board with this, right?

Maybe.

You see, like in so many other cases these days, we're all calling for the same thing -- "marriage equality," or "love," or "equal rights," or, in this case, "justice" -- while the terms turn to mush under our feet. We all favor justice, perhaps, but what do we mean by the term? Scripture says that God is just. What does it mean by the term? You see? If we're all in favor of justice and Christians believe that God is just, then we must be saying that God is in favor of the Black Lives Matter movement, right? Right? And suddenly definitions, again, become important.

Justice, in its most basic form, is the quality of being right. In the Bible, they use "just" and "righteous" -- justice and righteousness -- as synonyms. In English, justice can be defined as "moral rightness." Other aspects include "administering deserved punishment or reward," "equitableness," or "fairness."

So, what's the problem? Well, if "justice" is "that which is right," who gets to determine what is right? In our nation we've rejected God as the one who determines right and we've substituted the loudest, most outraged voices. It is mandatory in our society today that you agree that "whatever we say is right is right" if you are going to be classified as loving "justice." In other views justice is about personal freedom or about fairness, but in our current crisis it's entirely about power. Who has it? "We don't, and we should!" Based on what? Who gets to decide? On what basis? It is entirely subjective -- no foundation, no objective reality, no conformity to a solid core. I'm not saying we disagree, necessarily; we just don't know how we got here when we do.

For instance, "justice" for the Black Lives Matter movement (I differentiate between the principle that black lives do indeed matter and the BLM movement -- the two are not the same thing.) is the dissolution of the police, the disruption of the nuclear family, and a Marxist form of government. "No justice, no peace!" Wait ... is that the "justice" we're crying for? "We embody and practice justice, liberation, and peace," they say on their website, which sounds strange in the ears of those watching the riots on TV and wonder how burning cars and buildings qualifies as any of those three things.

Here's the basic problem of justice, then. Justice is "rightness." We have discarded any objective "rightness" and are now substituting whatever we currently feel is "right" and then demanding that everyone concurs. Having properly and completely dismantled "justice," we can now use it as a baseball bat to club people over the head with because they don't agree with our version of "justice" even though it's only our version. This is a real problem, a solution for which doesn't exist in our world untethered from any solid reality. Of course, I believe there is solid reality and I believe there is objective truth and objective morality -- objective "rightness." But the rest of our culture is stuck in an untenable position and is angry about those who disagree.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Planning to Fail?

This is odd. If you look at multiple people that God used in Scripture, you'll find that the plan was ... to fail. Take, for instance, Isaiah. After his encounter with God (Isa 6:1-7), God calls him to "go for Us" (Isa 6:8). And he volunteers. God tells him to tell the people to "Keep on listening, but do not perceive ..." (Isa 6:9) Isaiah (rightly, I think) asks, "Lord, how long?" (Isa 6:11). And God says, "Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant." Wait ... hang on a minute. Let's see if we got this right. The plan is to have Isaiah take God's word to the people until they refuse to listen and end up in annihilation. That is the plan? Yes, it was.

Take Jeremiah. God told Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations." (Jer 1:5) No question about his calling, is there? And what was Jeremiah's job? His job (like so many of the Prophets) was to proclaim repentance and judgment knowing full well that Jerusalem and Judah faced certain annihilation (Jer 1:15-16). Again, what was that? The plan is for Jeremiah to fail to turn Israel? Yes ... yes it was.

Just two examples. I think if you look at most of the Prophets, you'll find the same story. Their job was not to change people; their job was to tell people. In almost every case, they would do their job -- warn people of God's judgment -- and the hearers would not only refuse to repent, but would torment the messengers. The predictions of doom and gloom came true over and over.

This is not "success" in our book. This is not "the plan." The plan is clearly that, say, pastors would have a successful church with lots of people coming to the Lord and lots of people serving God as a result. Not this. The plan is that believers would go and make disciples and be so inundated with them that they hardly have time for anything else. Not this. You get the idea. And I would suggest that maybe -- just maybe -- we're a little turned around, because it looks like God's version of "success" and ours are not the same. Sometimes His version looks like failure to us. It is obviously not. So maybe we might want to be more careful when we try to assign our "success" plans to God's plans. His version might be different than ours. But it's always the best one.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Distracted

You know how magic tricks work, right? The magician distracts you. He gets you to look away from what he's doing while he manipulates your perceptions. It works.

Satan, of course, is a genius at this. Well, he would be, wouldn't he? You know, "the father of lies." So he has a conversation with Eve in which he starts talking about "Did God actually say ...?" (Gen 3:1) and then moves on to, "You won't surely die" (Gen 3:4) followed by "You will be like God!" (Gen 3:5) And Eve is left looking at ... what? Where is Eve's attention after this conversation with the father of lies? Is she looking at what God said? Is she looking at the truth? Not at all! "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." (Gen 3:6) Distraction.

We live in a full-court press of distraction these days. We have "marriage" issues and "LGBTQ" issues and "church and state" issues. We have COVID hysteria and a BLM movement rolling along that undercuts police and government and family. We're under extreme political pressures and extreme economic pressures and extreme ideological pressures. If there is any such thing as distraction, we're living in a world of it right now. Not just everyday kind of distractions, either. I mean, really, really big distractions.

There was a famous biblical character that encountered colossal distraction that almost killed him. You know the story. Jesus had just fed the 5,000+ (Matt 14:14-21). He went to pray while His disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee (Matt 14:22-23). A storm came up, so Jesus took a stroll out to the struggling fishermen (Matt 14:24-25). When they saw Him, they were scared, but He told them not to be afraid (Matt 14:26-27). Peter was remarkable. "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." (Matt 14:28) And Jesus did. So Peter walked on the water (Matt 14:29). Astounding! Amazing! I mean, what could be a more vivid illustration of following Christ? Why is it, then, that Peter is more remembered as rash than remarkable? "When he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!'" (Matt 14:30) Distraction. Really big distraction. Super-storm-level distraction.

Jesus saved him, of course (Matt 14:31-32), but this is a good example of what you and I are enduring these days. We're urged to "take heart" and we're commanded to follow Jesus and we really want to, but there's this whole "perfect storm" thing going on. A society increasingly opposed to biblical faith, a pandemic, a nationwide protest on racial issues, an ugly political year, and a massive economical downturn and on and on and on. Our own super-storm. And we look away. We look at the storm. We don't look to Jesus. "O you of little faith," Jesus asked Peter, "why did you doubt?" He asks us the same.

Our world is buying the distraction. They're largely fine with the regulation and the destruction and the politics and the whole thing. They make their decisions on the storm rather than on anything reliable. So violent is this storm that the truth is hard to find at all. But that doesn't have to be our plight, does it? We have a Savior who walks on water and calms storms with a word. Shouldn't we be looking to Him instead?

Monday, August 10, 2020

Laws

I think we've thoroughly bought the lie. Perhaps it's the whole "People are basically good" thing that's messing us up. It can't be because we're clear thinking people ... because we're not.

What lie am I talking about? "Better laws make a better world." So we pass gun legislation and police legislation and voting laws and more and more rules so that people will be better people and our society can be a better society. Now, I could go through the effects of "better laws" we've seen that have not resulted in a better world, but, as you all know, my starting place is Scripture, so let's try that one on for size.

Here's what our Bibles tell us. "By works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." (Rom 3:20) Isn't that interesting? According to this text (and others), the purpose of the law is not to make a better world, but to ... describe sin, so to speak. Paul wrote, "What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead." (Rom 7:7-8) In essence, then, God laid down "the perfect law" (Psa 19:7; James 1:25). Not a "better law," but the best. But God's goal was not to make the best world; God's goal was to tell His creation what sin was. Without that law, we wouldn't know the standard so we wouldn't know if or when we transgressed the standard.

A couple of observations at this point. First, since God made laws, we must agree that, in principle, laws are good and right (as long as, you know, the law in question is good and right). I'm not suggesting that we should be lawless. We need and should have laws. Second, making laws that are not enforced is stupid ... but we do it all the time ... which suggests we, as a society, can be stupid. No, we need laws. They ought to be good laws and they ought to be enforced.

So what's my point? We need laws, but it's unwise to expect laws to make a better world. You can't expect better gun laws to make people better gun people. You can't expect better police laws to make police better. Better rules don't make better people; better people make better people. If God's "perfect law" made no one perfect, it would stand to reason that our best laws, imperfect as we admit them to be, will not make people better either. So we need laws, but we need more urgently to have better people. That only occurs in changed hearts. Christians, our failure to share Christ with people -- our lack of obedience to Christ's command to make disciples -- has made America a mission field like never before. Christians, we need to get to work on obeying the Laws (Matt 22:38-40; Matt 28:18-20). Because better laws don't make a better nation; better people do. And we know Who can accomplish that.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Closed Communion

Last week I used an event with our new pastor to illustrate what I consider to be a problem -- making rules. You remember. He instituted a shift from "open communion" to "closed communion." So I got to thinking about the principles and thought I should examine it. I mean, in context of making rules, if "closed communion" really is what Scripture means to say, then it's not "making rules" -- it's God's command. So I need to take a look and see about it.

Now, for those not fully familiar with the terms, let me give a brief explanation. The question here is "Who can take Communion? Who can participate in the Lord's Supper?" Both closed and open versions have their own version subsets. For closed communion, it might be 1) only members in good standing of this local body, 2) only members in good standing of this denomination or class (like "baptized evangelicals"), or 3) only members in good standing of some congregation. (That last one is sometimes referred to as "close communion.") For open communion, it is generally only believers with the further stipulation, "It's your responsibility that you are not taking the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner." A second and less common version would be anyone can participate without distinction or qualification. There are certainly some agreements from all sides on the question. First, Communion is for believers and not unbelievers. (So that last group of "anyone without distinction or qualification" does have distinction or qualification; they just leave it up to the individual to determine if he meets them.) The other is that Communion must not be taken lightly. That much is clear.

So, what's it all about? What is the text in question?
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. (1 Cor 11:23-31)
I highlighted the key part, but the whole text is necessary to understand the point and the context. As the story goes (1 Cor 11:17-22), the Corinthian Christians were meeting for "the Lord's Supper" but were actually eating and drinking and getting drunk. (It was more of a "love feast" rather than today's version.) "In this," Paul says, "I will not praise you." (1 Cor 11:22) So he explained the Lord's Supper as he received it and passed it on with the clear explanation, "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." (1 Cor 11:26) The Corinthians weren't doing that. They were taking it "in an unworthy manner" (1 Cor 11:27) to the point that some of them were "weak and sick, and a number sleep" (1 Cor 11:30), meaning some had died. This, then, was a serious problem. Paul's essential solution is highlighted: "A man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup." (1 Cor 11:28)

So let's reapply that to the question of "open" or "closed communion." Which does this text call for? The "Closed Communion" folk would say closed communion, obviously. "This is serious. We don't want people, believers or not, taking the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner. We need to be responsible shepherds and insure that no one does that. We need to hold our people accountable." That's what they say and I'm sure it's true ... to a point. But the text says that each person must examine himself. It does not say the church leadership does that. Now, it is true that the local body is responsible to hold the local body accountable as believers and followers of Christ (e.g., Rom 16:17-18; 1 Cor 5:6-8; 2 Thess 3:16; 2 Thess 3:14-15) and I will even stipulate that we don't do that very well in most cases. I'm not suggesting that the local faith family is not responsible for that. But it appears according to the text in question that this particular point -- participating in the Lord's Supper with the local body of believers -- is a matter of individual concern and responsibility. Yes, the leadership must keep track of its people and be responsible for them, but in this case Paul appears to call the individual and not the church leadership to "examine himself."

Let's be clear. The Lord's Supper is important. It is a communion of saints with the body and blood of Christ. It declares His death until He comes. Vital! The Lord's Supper is so important that the Scriptures say taking it in an unworthy manner can be harmful, even fatal. Surely we can all see the gravity of this. That is not in question and those who argue that it's "just a symbol" and take it lightly are absolutely missing the point. I'm agreeing with all of that. Where I fall short here is with those who argue that the responsibility for insuring that fellow believers don't take it in an unworthy manner is on the leadership of the local fellowship. I just don't find it in the text. Perhaps we're making the Lord's Supper too solemn by harping on "Take some time to confess your sins" to the exclusion of "This is a celebration of Christ's sacrifice on our behalf." Perhaps we're not stressing enough that it is more important than, frankly, most of us realize. I'm not suggesting we're doing everything right here. I'm just questioning the idea that the local church leadership should decide who takes Communion. (And, in my experience, those that do believe that are pretty lax about enforcing it, leaving it, in the end, to the individual to decide if they meet the closed communion guidelines. But, hey, that's just me.)

Saturday, August 08, 2020

News Weakly - 8/8/20

Has It Come to This?
Miami Heat center Meyers Patrick made news Saturday because he stood for the national anthem. Radical. Bigger news, to me, is that "the NBAPA negotiated that the games will be used as platforms to promote social justice activism with phrases on jerseys, 'Black Lives Matter' t-shirts, and the same slogan written on the court." The agreement was a prerequisite to agreeing to play. Because, as we all know, if you were to pick the best platform to showcase the mistreatment and abuse of African Americans, it would be the NBA, and if the NBA is about anything, it's about "social justice activism."

Anti-Spin
The headline reads, "Trump appointee Merritt Corrigan fired from USAID amid anti-LGBTQ tweets." According to the story, Corrigan was fired because she tweeted "anti-LGBT" statements like "Gay marriage isn’t marriage" and "Men aren't women." Corrigan believes she was fired "for my Christian beliefs." This "anti-LGBT" tag is misleading, intentionally so. The media spin uses it all the time when someone disagrees with this behavior or that position -- well, anything regarding LGBT politics or principles. But to oppose politics or principles is not necessarily to oppose people. First, not all LGBT agree with those politics or principles. Second, if it is opposition to LGBT people, then the media's constant reporting of "anti-LGBT" statements like these is "anti-Christian," and they won't admit to that, will they? So it's a spin, not a fact. Just like the anti-Trump shading in the headline.

Beyond Reproach
There is a famous verse in the King James Bible that says, "Abstain from all appearance of evil." (1 Thess 5:22) I have long contended it's not possible. It is not possible because someone somewhere will think that anything you do is evil somehow. Our current society seems to be proving my point. When Audi released an ad for their Audi RS 4, they used a picture of a little girl eating a banana in front of their care with the line, "Lets your heart beat faster - in every aspect." No appearance of evil. Except the Twittersphere erupted with outrage that the girl is likely to get run over, that she's being sexualized holding a phallic symbol, that Audi doesn't care about children ... no end of nonsense. If you live in today's world and Twitter hears about it, you will have the appearance of evil to someone. Enough that Audi pulled the ad and apologized. No such thing as "beyond reproach."

Racists Encounter Justice
Two obvious racists ran headlong into justice this week when the husband of Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey was charged with pointing a gun at pre-dawn BLM protesters banging on their door. He counters that he feared for her life because she had received death threats because she had failed to prosecute some police brutality cases. DA Lacey will face her own justice as the arrest of her husband will surely affect her race for District Attorney. Clearly racist. Oh, did I fail to mention? Mr. and Mrs. Lacey are black.

Just the Facts, Ma'am
According to the story on BBC, in an interview reposted to Twitter, Trump said, "If you look at children, children are almost - and I would almost say definitely - almost immune from this disease." This is "harmful Covid misinformation" for which both Facebook and Twitter restricted his account. The BBC (rightly) points out that children are not immune, but then goes on to say that studies show that they make up "only 0.8%" of the cases ... or that they're not immune, but they're almost immune. (The story also points out that an earlier "tweet by entrepreneur Elon Musk suggesting children are 'essentially immune'" did not break the rules ... showing the complete consistency and fairness of Twitter and Facebook.) Since the story makes the claim that Trump did, the BBC has now censured themselves and will delete themselves from their news coverage.

Pardon Me; Your Bias is Showing
Here's the news item. Vice President Mike Pence commented on an interview with CBN that "Chief Justice John Roberts has been a disappointment to conservatives." He referenced several cases in which the "conservative" justice had ruled with the liberals. Okay, fine. But what I thought was interesting was the array of depictions from various outlets. Business Insider said, "Pence slams Supreme Court Chief Justice ..." Politico said, "Pence blasts Chief Justice ..." CBS news said, "Pence knocks Chief Justice ..." At Intelligencer he "goes after" Roberts and the Bipartisn Report said he "snaps" at him. Then there was Townhall who simply said he "says something about" him and lastly, USA Today who reported, "Vice President Mike Pence calls Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts 'a disappointment to conservatives'." That's an interesting array of spin, isn't it?

"No cops. No prisons. Total abolition"
That isn't opinion. That's the stated aim of the protesters in Portland. They want "total liberation." (Read "anarchy") Of course, all anarchy movements have leaders and, in the end, it's a different sort of tyranny. In this case, it will be the Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front that runs your life in Portland. Because, as we all know, youth leadership is the wisest and most benevolent leadership ... after, of course, they burn things to the ground.

COVID Marketing?
This is a little creepy. Yale University apparently has been doing a study for the NIH to determine the best approach to convince people to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. Approaches vary, including personal freedom, self-interest, guilt, embarrassment, and "Trust in science." Apparently they believe they'll have to manipulate people to do it instead of just require it like masks and social distancing. Who would have thought America was that free anymore?

Headline News
The Babylon Bee is at it again ... or still. For Christians, you might like, "Outraged Governor Newsom Orders Furnace To Be Heated Seven Times If John MacArthur Will Not Bow Down And Worship Him" or "Bible Briefly Consulted To See If It Supports Already-Formed Opinion." On politics we have, "Veteran Mailman Phil R.E. Quinton Volunteers To Collect All The Mail-In Votes." Oh, and a subtler-but-funny zinger, "Biden Campaign Says He Is So Close To A VP Pick He Can Smell Her."

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Making Rules

We have a new pastor. Just started (full time) in January. Followed immediately by COVID. Like a big, "Welcome to the church, pastor. Now, go home." Must be tough. Recently he instituted a digital Lord's Supper. "For you folks here, the elements are under your seats. For you folks watching from home, you should have prepared your elements in advance. Let's begin together ..." Now that is something new. But in the midst of it he laid down some rules. "If you are a baptized member in good standing, you may participate." Mind you, this is a baptist church. So, on one hand, I don't suspect the "baptized" caveat would be a surprise. On the other hand, baptist churches don't generally hold to a "closed communion." Generally they do a "self-check" kind of thing. "You need to be right with God to do this. Take a few moments to confess your sin and clear the air with God. If you can't, please don't participate." In the "closed communion" it is normal to hand that mechanism over to the leadership of the church and let them decide if you're right with God -- a "member in good standing."

Now, I wanted to ask, "Pastor, don't you have to be baptized to be a member here? Pastor, do we have members not in good standing? Are either of these an actual issue?" But I didn't. Well, I was remote, so I couldn't. But I was more concerned with this concept of making rules.

In this case, the "rule" comes from Paul's teaching on the Lord's Supper. Specifically, "Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly." (1 Cor 11:27-29) It's important, that's for sure. But where is the "baptized member in good standing" in that text? Where do we go in Scripture to substitute "a man must examine himself" with "his church will examine him"? I see the reasoning for this rule -- it's important not to be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord -- but I don't see the basis. It seems to be a made-up rule.

We do this a lot. Historically a segment of Christendom assured us that drinking alcohol and dancing were works of the devil even though Jesus turned water to wine and David danced before the Lord as a function of worship. Made-up rules. Most are pretty sure that smoking is a violation of Scripture although 1) finding that Scripture is unlikely and 2) if you do, I don't think you can use it to support your contention. If you understand it to mean what you're claiming it means, then it has all sorts of implications you're not willing to embrace. We do this a lot. Like Eve. "God has said, 'You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'" (Gen 3:3) No He didn't, Eve. He said nothing about touching it. You made that up. And we love to follow her in that ... like Adam did in eating the fruit (Gen 3:6). That didn't end well.

How careful are we with our "rules"? Are they biblical or man-made. Man-made isn't always bad, but it certainly doesn't rise to the level of "Thus says the Lord." How many of our demands are manufactured and how many come from God? More importantly, do we know the difference? Should we really be in the business of making stuff up when we seem to have enough instructions from God that we're happily ignoring? I'm just wondering out loud here.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

I Believe; You Must, Too

I'm exploring an idea here. Among Christians (let's keep it at legitimate, genuine believers) there are different views on different issues. There are, of course, some central things on which we all agree. They are what we call "essentials." They define "Christian" in such a way that dismissing these essentials dismisses Christianity. So, for instance, if we dismiss "Saved by grace through faith apart from works" (Eph 2:8-9), we end up with a works-based salvation that ultimately nullifies Christ's work on the cross. That's a belief, of course, but it's not Christianity. If we say, "All people are basically good" and deny that all have sinned (Rom 3:23), we are denying Christianity. If we deny that Jesus is God Incarnate, we deny Jesus's very words and we cannot be said to be "Christian" while denying who Christ is. Those are just a few examples of "essentials" and we can debate what is and is not essential, but I think we can all agree that there are some essentials on which we all agree.

My musing here is not about those essentials. My thoughts are on the rest. Awhile back I heard a pastor I generally regard as biblically sound teaching on the Rapture. He gave the ever-popular "Pre-Trib Rapture" position as his own and then declared, "It's absolutely clear and those who disagree are simply willfully ignorant, ignoring God's Word and intentionally teaching falsehoods." I was, frankly, taken aback. I happened to know that this particular preacher worked alongside with some of those who disagreed with him and he respected them for their strong adherence to Scripture. Here he was calling them out as false teachers -- intentional false teachers. Now, I'll be honest. Most matters of eschatology are not as straightforward and "set in concrete" as much of the rest of Scripture. There is a lot of metaphor and imagery and such that makes it less certain. To be completely up front, this "Pre-Trib Rapture" thing is, in actuality, fairly new on the theological market, offered in the mid-19th century. That in itself makes me ... uncomfortable. But this preacher didn't only believe in it; he believed that those who did not were in sin.

I see that a lot among us believers. I remember a website that touted itself as a "biblical discernment" site (I don't think it's around anymore). It arranged itself around various preachers and teachers. Look up the name and you'll find all their false teaching and why you should avoid them. Some was genuine false teaching, but some was stuff like "They believe in psychology" or the like. I don't think, once they were done, there was a Christian preacher or teacher left on the planet that you could trust. Why? Because everyone believed something that this site disagreed with and, therefore, were in sin, possibly even going to hell, certainly to be avoided. It's own "cancel culture."

This is not the same as "I believe ..." This is not the same as "I read this text to say X and here's why I say that." It's not even the same as, "You teach Y and I don't find that consistent with Scripture." Disagreeing on points and readings and interpretations are one thing. Damning the ones who disagree for their disagreement is another.

So, when is it appropriate and when is it not? I would say that those who deny the essentials deny the faith and need to be pointed out. Not damned, for sure. That's not our call. But pointed out clearly and even prayed for. The next question, right after we determine what the essentials are, is on the non-essentials. Is it right to "cancel" those who disagree on our particular understanding of this non-essential passage? By "cancel" I don't mean "I'm not listening to you anymore." I mean "You're in sin, possibly not even saved, likely going to hell and you have no place in Christian circles anymore" kind of canceling. Is it right or wrong for us to say, "I believe X and you must, too, if you are going to go to heaven" when X is not one of those essentials? Of course, all this begs that earlier question, doesn't it? Can we agree on essentials?

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

A God You Can Live With

We humans are a curious lot. We are creatures, created by God. Yet, almost without exception, we believe that it is our right, our responsibility, perhaps even our duty to evaluate God and decide whether or not He meets our standards. Imagine that! We judge God. It is, of course, not rational or sane. The creatures don't have the ability let alone the right to properly evaluate the Creator. But most of us do it. "If God is like that," I've heard, "I am going to have a problem with Him." Really? Yes, that's how we think. That's typically the source of atheists, where God has let them down or made them mad, so they reject Him entirely. More of us may even be believers, perhaps even devout, but we're still thinking, "If God is like that, He's not a God I can live with." So we carefully make sure our theology excludes "that" and go on our happy way.

I'm a little bit different on this. On one hand, I try to draw my version of God from the pages of my Bible and I try to let it speak to me rather than have my preconceptions shape my view of who He is. Still, I have found a version of God about whom I would say, "That's a God I can't live with." I think, however, I mean it in a different way. Let me explain.

In a recent conversation with a friend, we were rambling through big subjects -- God's Sovereignty, God's Omniscience, God's Omnipotence ... those kinds of things. My friend was certain. God has sovereignly configured our world so that Man's free will can actually contravene God's plans. God is certainly omniscient, but He can make choices that He regrets and repents of. God is omnipotent and can do anything at all, but He will not violate Man's free will. (I capitalized "Man" simply to indicate "humans" as opposed to "males" and not to deify Man.) Those are the facts that my friend held to. No amount of Scripture would sway him. And, quite clearly, I disagree with him.

Now, logically, there are only a very few possibilities here. Perhaps neither of us is right. Maybe I'm right and he's wrong. It might be that he's right and I'm wrong. The last option -- we're both right -- is not a possibility because our views aren't divergent; they're contradictory. I know it doesn't look like it here in my blog, but I tend to be the kind of person that says, "If there's something or someone wrong, it's likely me." And I'll look to see where I made my mistake. You have the benefit of years of this approach; I've corrected an embarrassingly lot of mistaken thinking in my life, so I appear more confident, but I still prefer to approach a disagreement assuming I'm wrong before I simply discard a differing opinion from my own.

So, let's say I'm wrong here. God is not the Sovereign God I believe Him to be. If God sovereignly surrendered some of His sovereignty to human free will, He's not Sovereign. Maybe lowercase sovereign, but not absolute. The same would be true for omniscience and omnipotence. If God can know all things, past, present, and future, and regret or repent of something He's done, then His omniscience is clearly limited. He didn't see that it would be a bad choice. Omnipotence is the same. Omnipotence says that God has the power to do anything He wants. But if human free will is capable of preventing Him from doing what He wants, whether or not it's self-imposed, it is not omnipotence. It's only mostly omnipotence ... at best.

Where does that leave me? This particular God is not a God I can live with. He is sovereign, not Sovereign. Like Westley in The Princess Bride who was only "mostly dead," God is only mostly sovereign. In the end, it is Man who is finally sovereign. God plans to do this for me and, oh, look at that, that person chose not to do what God required to do this for me and, sorry, it just can't happen now. God's omniscience is faulty. He knew everything in advance and opted to do things He knew He would regret and repent from? Either He's not very bright or He just didn't actually know. And if God cannot do things that Man's free will doesn't allow Him to do, then God cannot have Omnipotence. Someone once told me in a difficult set of circumstances, "You know, the Father never intended any of that to happen." In this view of God, he would probably be right.

The implications here are staggering. I can no longer trust that "No one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" because the truth would be that I can. (My friend agreed with that.) And if I can, I have. And if I have, I cannot regain salvation (Heb 6:4-6). I can no longer have confidence that God works all things together for good (Rom 8:28) since God is limited by Man's free will and if the good He intended is denied by Man's choices, God is stuck. I cannot count on "Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me" (John 14:1) because this God I'm supposed to trust to relieve my fears turns out to be too limited to trust to relieve my fears. I can only conclude that the God I was trusting to sustain me through all of life's twists and turns isn't as trustworthy as I had thought. In this case, I don't mean I reject this God. I mean that life with this God is not possible. If this is God, I am a man without hope, without joy, without peace. In a world gone crazy like ours, I need a solid Rock to stand on, and this God is not it. This is not a God I can live with, quite literally.

I admit it. Part of the reason I defend God's Sovereignty and Omniscience and Omnipotence -- all absolutes -- is because that's the only God that gives me any hope. The truth is, however, that I have not always believed in this God. I did think I could have a self-limiting God and still be okay. Then I was faced with too much Scripture to refute and too much logic to untangle to make any sense of that God. So it's a good thing that the God I need to survive is also the God I find in the pages of my Bible. I've been convinced, at times against my will, forced by clear Scripture and obvious logic and forced to conclude that God is that Sovereign, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Holy, Good God that I've come to know. Now that is a God that I can live with.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Not Ashamed

Paul boldly said, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith.'" (Rom 1:16-17) We like that "I am not ashamed" thing. Bold. Brash. Good stuff. Why is Paul not ashamed of the gospel? Well, because it's the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Good reason not to be ashamed. But how is it the power of God for salvation? Did we read that far? "In it the righteousness of God is revealed." So, Paul isn't ashamed of the gospel because it reveals God's righteousness which includes God's power to give salvation to those who believe. I think that gets the idea across.

Does it bother anyone, then, that Paul goes on to the next verse beginning with "for"? Does it disturb anyone that Paul's first sense in which the gospel reveals God's righteousness is explained in verse 18?
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Rom 1:18)
"Okay, hang on a minute, Paul. You're saying that the righteousness of God is revealed, first, in the wrath of God?" Yes, that's what Paul is saying. In fact, from 1:18 through 3:20 he says that. Paul uses all that space talking about "the gospel" (the good news) in terms of the absolutely worst possible news. "There is none good; no, not one." (Rom 3:12) And "By works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight." (Rom 3:20) All are under sin. No one is even remotely good. There is no hope for us to fix it. There! God's righteousness is revealed! Yeah!

How? Well, in this first section of Romans Paul first reveals God's righteousness by contrasting it with our unrighteousness. "You think you're righteous (Rom 2:1)? You're not. Every one of us is completely unrighteous (Rom 3:10)." God is perfect (Rom 1:19-20) and we are ... not. Absolutely not. The gap between our "righteousness" and His is so big as to be immeasurable and, basically, outside our comprehension. (You know this is true by the way that so many try to rework Romans 3:10-18 so we don't look so bad.)

It doesn't end there (thankfully). Given this vast gap between our "righteousness" (read "none") and His (which, if you recall, is what the gospel reveals), Paul points to that gap and says, "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law ..." (Rom 3:21ff) Big. Really big. We are without any righteousness. (Rom 3:10-12) The law won't help us (Rom 3:20). "But." God's righteousness is revealed here in our justification by faith, "through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe." (Rom 3:22) The righteousness of God is revealed "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith." (Rom 3:24-25) "It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Rom 3:26)

The good news -- the gospel -- is good news because it reveals God's righteousness. God's righteousness is best revealed first in contrast to our unrighteousness and then in the work that He has done to bridge that gap, to be both just and justifier, to make righteous the unrighteous and to save the unsavable and to apply it to all who believe -- not just Jews -- "For there is no distinction." (Rom 3:22) The good news -- the gospel -- reveals a magnitude of righteousness from God that we couldn't even imagine on our own. That's why Paul was not ashamed of it. Nor should we.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Foolish Christians

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith — just as Abraham "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"? (Gal 3:1-6)
I know ... a lengthy quote, but we needed the entire context.

Paul, here, is a bit testy, isn't he? I mean, "O foolish Galatians" Paul? That's not very nice. So let's assume that Paul considered the concept more important than "being nice." What was the concept that pushed Paul to be more pushy? "Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" Here's the question at hand. Are we perfected as believers by a process of doing good or are we perfected as believers by the Spirit? Paul answers that by hearkening back to "How did you begin this process?" Answer: Not by works. So, he concludes, why would you think that we are sanctified by works?

Now, we're all pretty confident (and should be) that we're not saved by works. It is, after all, explicit (Eph 2:8-9). And, although works are a part of Christian living (e.g., Eph 2:10), we know that our salvation is not sustained by works ... or that would mean that we are saved by works. So far, so good.

I think, however, that we fall short on the concept in our actual day-to-day practice. While we verbalize "saved apart from works," we believe that it's up to us to work, work, work. Well, perhaps that's not fair. It is true (Php 2:12). But not for salvation. Not even for sanctification. You see, works, for a Christian, are a giant "thank you," or, as Jesus described it, an "I love you" (John 14:15). For Christians works are a product (Eph 2:10), not a procedure. How, then, are we sanctified? How are we perfected? How are we maintained in a saved state?

Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. (John 10:27-29) In His High Priestly prayer, Jesus said, "While I was with them, I kept them in Your name." (John 17:12) He went on to ask, "I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one." Then, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." (John 17:17)

We are, then, saved by grace through faith apart from works. While we do need to work as a response to His grace and love, we do not work to maintain His favor or our salvation or to sanctify ourselves. That was begun by the Spirit and will continue by the Spirit. We aren't protected by our hard work; we are guarded by Christ and sanctified by the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13). It's not up to us. It's not a product of our hard work, our obedience, our wisdom or learning, our church-going or relative "goodness." It is all Him and Him alone. I think that's just hard for us to accept. After all, aren't we doing okay? (Hint: No. Which is why Paul calls it foolishness.)

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Point of Reference

From Hillsong United comes a popular worship tune, So Will I. The basic idea is "If nature follows Your will, God, so will I." Creative enough. But that first verse really gets me upset.
God of creation
There at the start
Before the beginning of time
With no point of reference
You spoke to the dark
And fleshed out the wonder of light
Yes, God was at the start before the beginning of time (which, by the way, seems contradictory, since "before" suggests "time", but, hey, it's all confusing, so I won't push it). Yes, He spoke to the nothing and light came into existence. It's this one phrase that frosts me: "With no point of reference."

The phrase simply suggests human perception as the critical one, because I would contend that God did have a point of reference -- Himself. He was it. He was the center. He was the point of reference from which all creation sprang. But we like to think that "point of reference" is something in the created universe, so God couldn't have one. Right?

When we make something, we (if we have any intelligence) will lay it out first. We'll plan. "This will go here and that will go there" and "here" and "there" are relative to a starting point -- a point of reference. We have to know where we're measuring from before we can determine how far away something is. We figure God had no such possibility in creation. I say He did -- Himself.

I suppose it just goes back to a critical issue in my mind. Where is the center? What is the point of reference for creation? We always tend to think it's us and in reality it is always God. Everything God does is with Himself as the point of reference.

Now, that may sound self-centered. No, in fact, it is. But the difference between our self-centered thinking and His is that ours is inaccurate and His is truth. God is the center of all things, so if He was not self-centered, He'd be lying, while if we are self-centered, it's false. Further, as God is good, all that He does is good. So even in His self-centered truth, what He does, with Himself as the point of reference, benefits us. Well, let's say that a different way. "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Rom 8:28)

We fool ourselves -- on a daily basis, I suspect -- when we think of ourselves and our perceptions as God's point of reference. We seek to be like the Most High. And we ascribe to Him our own majesty, meager as that is. God is His own point of reference. It is a perfect point of reference and orients all things, as they should be, to Him. The trick for us is getting ourselves oriented that way, too.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

News Weakly - 8/1/20

SCOTUS v 1st Amendment?
It looks like the Supreme Court of the U.S. has opted to vote down the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. In Nevada, a casino or a restaurant is allowed to operate at 50% capacity, but churches can only allow 50 people. It looks a lot like inconsistent ruling against the church. Oh, and in case you were wondering, "Wonder Conservative Judge" John Roberts voted with the liberal judges to impose limits on religious groups over entertainment venues. In case you were thinking, "We need more conservative judges!!"

Welcome to D.C. Now go home.
Washington D.C. has imposed an additional restriction on travelers from "high-risk" areas. If you are from one of those and you intend to visit Washington, you will need to plan an additional 2 weeks for quarantine. Of course, if you're a lawmaker you're exempt because, after all, what self-respecting virus would want to be in that container? It is nonsense like that exception that makes you realize that "Science" is not the god they like to think it is. "Whatever we say is true" is.

Learning Disability
Time and again we've seen this concept repeated. Give people money, and they will not work. Over and over. If people are going to receive "free money" -- money they don't actually earn -- then getting them to go to work is nearly impossible. We're seeing it now with this "economic stimulus" package we've been under. People who suddenly got pay raises by getting laid off in this crisis are saying, "Me? Go back to work?? No way." Now the White House wants to cut the payment to "70% of prior wages" and Pelosi is outraged. In the Democrat mind, the way you stimulate the economy is you stop as many workers from desiring to work at all. That way they'll be completely on the government dole for life and you get all the power in government. That's not a good thing; that's a learning disability -- failing to learn from history.

Relief from COVID Worries
We're all worried that COVID-19 will be the end of America as we know it. Putin is saying not to worry. "Ending America as we know it is our job." They're arming first-strike naval vessels with unstoppable hypersonic nuclear weapons. For peaceful purposes, of course! Don't worry about viruses. Don't worry about election tampering. Putin clearly looks like he's planning for war.

Not News
It took a government study to figure out that if we wear masks, it ruins facial recognition algorithms. I wonder how much time and money was spent on a study that a moment's consideration could have figured out.

What's Fair is Fair
New York Police are on the defensive because of an "indefensible" and "abusive" act of arresting a woman wanted for damaging police cameras (5 times) and putting her in an unmarked vehicle and getting pelted with rocks and bottles for doing their job. Now, the arrest was made by uniformed officers and the van was surrounded by "NYPD bicycle cops in bright yellow and blue uniform shirts," but police should never be allowed to be unmarked. We need to insure that all police and police vehicles have bright lights and colorful markings -- preferably with clown noses -- because how else will criminals know they're coming? Sheesh! Simple logic.

Not News; Just Sharing
This is not a news item. I just wanted to share an article here that I wanted to say and he did it first: How to Respond to Social Media Enemies. Well done.

Maybe Just a Full-Head Plastic Bag?
Dr. Fauci now recommends wearing goggles or eye shields along with the masks to protect yourself from the virus. There is, oddly enough, not one single picture anywhere I could find of Dr. Fauci wearing goggles or eye shields. There are precious few of him even wearing a mask. I don't suppose this is because Dr. Fauci doesn't practice what he preaches, is it? When people don't act on what they say they believe, I question what they actually believe.

Bad Ol' President
Trump was at it again. He wanted to screen green card applicants to eliminate those who might become dependent on public benefits during the current emergency. The courts blocked him. You can't have a "wealth test" for entry. Of course, if you ever travel into Canada from the U.S. you will find they routinely ask at the border if you have enough money to get through your trip because they don't want you to come in if you might become dependent on public benefits in Canada, but that's okay for them, not us. Mind you, I don't think it's okay for us. I'm only pointing out the double standard. We complain about Trump; Canada is okay.

Jesus and MacArthur
You may have heard about John MacArthur and his declaration that he and his church plan to defy the California ban on meeting and singing in church. Turns out, he's not alone. Apparently, Jesus is still planning to assemble a great multitude from every tribe, tongue, and nation despite the ban on large gatherings.

Must be true; I read it on the Internet. (Oh, and in this case, the Bible.)

Friday, July 31, 2020

An Open Letter to Evangelicals

Dear Self-proclaimed "Evangelicals,"

Stop it!

The term, "Evangelical," has a meaning. Evangelicalism was started in response to fundamentalism which was started in response to liberalism. Fundamentalism was okay at the start but veered off into some far out directions. So the Evangelical concept kicked in. Evangelicals stressed conversion -- that people need to be transformed by being born again -- and biblicism -- a high regard for and obedience to the Bible -- and activism, especially in missionary endeavors, but also social reform, and, finally, "crucicentrism" -- the centrality of the cross of Christ. "Evangelical" has become a meaningless word. Like liberalism and fundamentalism and even catholicism before it, evangelicalism has drifted off into pointlessness. "We are definitely confident that you must be born again, but we won't stand on that and we won't be judgmental about it and, look, you can probably get to heaven in a number of ways." "We affirm the Bible! Except, of course, where we disagree with it. Then we're right and it's wrong." "Oh, activism? Yes, definitely! Well, maybe not over missionary work and maybe only in the current liberal agenda of social reform." "As for keeping the cross central, we do, but surely that's too narrow-minded and exclusive." And "evangelicalism" vanishes in a puff of smoke.

Now we have so-called "Evangelicals" campaigning for Trump. First, what does "Evangelical" and "campaigning for" any candidate have to do with each other? Standing for Christ and lobbying for politicians don't go together. An Evangelical could, perhaps, lobby for a politician, but not on the basis of being an Evangelical. Nothing in that original definition includes politics. Worse, you claim, "I'm getting out the vote for Trump in the name of Jesus." Have you heard the man? Do you not recall his own claims to sexual immorality, or his nonsensical (at best) tweets? Have you not seen him willingly dismantle attempts to make the planet better (something God commissioned humans to do) in favor of big business? In what world is Donald Trump a "good, moral guy" that should receive the commendation and support of anyone worth bearing the name "Evangelical"?

So, please, Evangelicals, stop. Do you want to campaign for Donald? By all means, do so. Just don't bring Christ into this. Just leave the "Evangelical" name at home when you do. Stop. Stop ditching the basics of evangelicalism and calling it "Evangelical." Ditch the basics if you want, but stop calling it that. Our world has decided to hijack so much of what we believe and value to mean something we don't. So "love" and "marriage" and "moral" and (most recently) "sex," for instance, have been stolen, twisted to mean something new, then reapplied to our foreheads as if we believed them in their new sense. Stop doing that, Evangelicals. You're not helping. The name of God is blasphemed among the unbelievers because of you. Please, just stop.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Motivated

Scripture is not silent on the subject of corporal punishment. Despite all that modern "science" tells us, the Bible is in favor of corporal punishment (Prov 10:13; Prov 13:24; Prov 22:15; Prov 23:13-14; Prov 26:3; Isa 30:31; Lam 3:1; etc.). In fact, Scripture says that God practices it (Heb 12:3-11). So where is the discrepancy? Why does "science" (I put this one in quotes because the "science" we're considering is psychology, and most scientists will tell you that's not science.) disagree with God? I believe the problem is what's behind the punishment. Most parents punish their kids at any given moment out of anger or embarrassment or irritation rather than out of love. They want the child to stop doing what they are doing. Bill Cosby used to joke (back when we were allowed to think he was funny) that parents don't want justice; they want peace.

So how would corporal punishment look if it was administered with the motivation of love rather than retribution or our typical, self-serving motives? It would look a lot more measured, a lot more restrained, a lot more principled, a lot more forgiving, a lot more caring. But the simple fact that so few today can even envision the concept of pain and love commingled tells us that love -- the biblical kind, at least -- is not in vogue. It is, in fact, a largely foreign concept to us.

That's what makes Peter's statement so hard to follow.
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)
On the surface it seems easy, but dig in, and you'll see it's not.

"Above all." There is no higher command, no higher calling, no higher motivation. Love. We are told to do lots of things, but love is the highest. It ought to be the motivation for everything we do rather than an unknown entity or a fuzzy affection.

"Keep loving one another earnestly." Continuous present tense, an ongoing action. Keep doing it all the time. Doing what? Not just loving one another; loving in earnest. Literally, loving with intent, earnestly, eagerly, with resolve, with purpose, with determination.

Why? "Love covers a multitude of sins." Now that one should give us pause. "Love overlooks sins"? No. "Love covers sins up"? No. Love "does not take into account a wrong suffered." (1 Cor 13:5) Love, in short, forgives. Now, that's not, "Don't worry about it." That's "That was wrong, but I'll pay the price myself." Like Christ did. Love, then, sees the things done against me, acknowledges them, and sets them aside so as not to get in the way of me loving them. It doesn't demand settlement. It pushes past injury. It seeks the best for the loved one.

Like that. Love like that. Choose to love like that -- continuously and with intent, setting aside wrongs done to love more. Whether it's in raising children or loving a spouse or loving fellow believers or pursuing unbelievers with the Gospel or ... wherever you are placed to love others. Always for their best. Never about you. Make love your primary and preferably your sole motivation -- love for God and love for those around you. At least, that's the plan. Now, if only we can figure out that "love" isn't just that warm-but-fleeting affection we're so enamored with.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

It's Just Not That Bad

Sure, sure, we know. People do bad things. You know, "To err is human." Our own saying. But as almost every religion on the planet will tell you, it's just not that bad. As long as your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds in the end, you'll be okay. We find this concept denied on one hand and supported on the other when it comes to Christianity. Sure, we know that "All have sinned" and "The wages of sin is death," but, look, how bad can it be if God can just forgive it all? What's the big deal?

We have a problem with definitions here. First, we think of "sin" as a faux pas, a boo-boo, an embarrassing blunder, perhaps. Scripture considers it a transgression of the Most High and to violate the glory of the Most High deserves the ultimate penalty -- eternal death. Then we think that "forgive" means "to make little of." That's what we do, right? "Please, forgive me." "Oh, don't even think about it. It was nothing. No harm, no foul." Except that's not what we find in Scripture.

In Isaiah 6 we see God's prophet of the day, Isaiah, encountering God. Get that? God's designated mouthpiece meets God. This should be good, right? Isaiah describes the scene with the robe and the smoke and the seraphim crying, "Holy, holy, holy." (Isa 6:1-4) And Isaiah is terrified. Scholars tell us the language of his response is the unraveling of a person. "Woe is me! For I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" (Isa 6:5) Isaiah was coming apart in terror from being in the presence of the Holy One and not being holy himself. And God came down and patted his head and said, "Don't worry, little man. It was nothing. No harm, no foul." No, wait, rewind that. He did no such thing. No, God came down to the groveling prophet and thundered, "Grovel, you worm! Be afraid; be very afraid!" Okay, no, not that either. He neither minimized nor expanded the sin. Instead, "One of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: 'Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.'" (Isa 6:6-7)

God did not minimize Isaiah's sin. God did not squash him on the spot. God recognized that it was sin and atoned for it. He dealt with it.

Sin is no small deal. It exceeds our capacity to correct. It puts us under God's just wrath. It's a big deal, just as Isaiah rightly recognized. Forgiveness is not a dismissal of sin. It's taking it on yourself, assuming the payment, relieving the transgressor of guilt. It is exactly what Christ did for us on the cross. That is certainly not minimalism. We should have a more robust understanding of sin, its cost, and its remedy. Because he who is forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47).

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Think Bigger

I have worked with real engineers, smart folk who design complex things to do complex things all by themselves. So it always amuses me when they focus so much attention on building "this" without the slightest consideration of how it will work with "that" ... which it needs to work at all. It's called "linear thinking." They don't "look around." They don't consider all of the environment, all of the system. They do their task. And they do it well. But, of course, it doesn't work because they didn't consider it all.

We think too small. Most of the time our "think radius" is not much wider than our outspread arms ... almost literally. You see it in drivers who cut you off on the freeway because they weren't even taking you into account. You see it in people that block grocery aisles to find that one thing they desire while everyone else backs up behind them. You see it with people with smartphones ... well, almost all the time. So engrossed in that small rectangle that nothing else matters.

We need to think bigger. We need to look around us. We need to consider the ramifications of our choices. We need to think about how this option will affect that person and that option will affect all those others and not just me (Php 2:3-4). We need to take into account customers and friends and family and fellow church members and ... people everywhere, it seems. Not just ourselves.

We need to think even bigger. This world is not our home. Jesus said, "You are not of the world." (John 15:19) So why are we thinking about nothing but this world? Why are we worrying about what others will think when we obey Christ or stand for the Truth (with a capital "T")? Why are we working hard for that next latte when there are eternal things to tend to? Why are we evaluating ourselves and others by the world's standards when we have so much more?

Oh, we need to think bigger. Not just the left turn we need to make without cutting off other drivers. We need to have an eternal view in a crowd of earth-bound people who can't see past their own noses. Think bigger.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Unclear on the Concept

It seems like every day we have a new record for COVID-19. A new daily high. A new demographic. New deaths. The numbers just keep going up. I had to use the Walmart bathroom the other day. You have to wait in line to get into the store because of COVID precautions. They have markers everywhere -- "Stay 6' apart." You have to wear a mask. In the bathroom they logically removed the paper towels to avoid contact transfer ... and left the air dryers so you could blow that stuff all over the room. Unclear on the concept.

We're all running around careful and cautious and completely confused. Take gloves. What are they for? Gloves provide a barrier between your hands and the outside world. They do not prevent the outside of your gloves from picking up any viruses laying about. Nor do they keep you from touching your face with said viruses. Nor do they keep fast food workers from spreading said viruses to the food packaging they just prepared for you ... meticulously with gloves to keep you safe. Only they don't. And we have a false sense of security because "She wore gloves when she served us."

Take the COVID prevention measure, "Don't touch your face." Do you have any idea how many times a day you touch your face? Of course you don't. Because we do it unconsciously. By reflex. Scratch an itch. Brush away a hair or a bug. Adjust our glasses. One study said the average person touches their face 3,000 times a day. A recent report in March said that medical professionals touched their faces an average of 19 times in a 2 hour period. I mean, sure, it's a no-brainer. Don't touch your face. But just try to comply.

Take masks. Seriously. I mean, take masks seriously. The primary purpose of wearing masks is not to keep you from inhaling someone else's viruses. They're not that good. And you have too many gaps to prevent them from coming around. They might filter some, but that's not the primary point. The primary point is that your nose and mouth are covered so that any particles leaving your nose and mouth will be stopped at your mask. Yes, close to your face. That's okay; it's coming from you anyway. Your microdroplets of spittle infested (theoretically) with coronavirus will be caught in the face covering before it departs and others will be safe. It doesn't work in reverse very well because, as it turns out, the virus itself is smaller than almost all mask holes on the market. Only the N95 or better is small enough. But for those to be effective in protecting you, they would have to be fitted to eliminate gaps, and they're begging us not to buy those, but to leave them for medical people. Fair enough. So if you want to keep yourself from being infected, all you have to do is wear one of those hazmat-type body suits where you're completely enclosed with your own oxygen supply and all that. Oh, you have one of those? Good! Except when you go to get out of it, be careful. The outside is possibly infested. Oh, you don't have one of those? Too bad. That cloth face mask isn't going to protect you. It was never intended to.

Understand what I'm saying. They're not pointless. They're fairly effective for others around you. They are helpful especially because so many COVID carriers are asymptomatic and never even become symptomatic. Because, as it turns out, this virus is much more benign to the everyday everyman who is generally healthy than we've been led to believe. But that's because we are unclear on the concept. Unclear on the reporting methods. Unclear on the reports' purposes. Unclear on the danger or lack thereof. Unclear on the impact of being unclear. Do nothing? No! Wear your mask for the sake of others. Wash your hands often for your own sake. Do what you can to avoid touching your face. But you have to know that quarantining yourself with other people and doing all these masks and gloves and such -- all good things to do -- still don't put you out of harm's way. That's not in your purview. You'll have to find Help elsewhere.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

God Wins Every Time

We had a dear friend from church. She was an elderly lady and many of these elderly ladies have a lifetime of tales to tell about their walk with the Lord. You know the kind. There is something more precious, more real, more gripping about their love for Jesus because they've lived it so long, cemented it with more experience, sealed it with more practice. And it is reflected in their love for others.

Well, one day quite recently she -- let's call her Ellie -- tried to log into the Zoom Life Group gathering. Ellie was about to ask for prayer when she made some strange remarks and dropped out. Not long thereafter we found out that she had had a potential stroke. Days later she came home from the hospital without a stroke. Instead, the doctor found a brain tumor. Not only that, a terminal brain tumor. Only months to live.

Well, Ellie was really something to see. She perked right up. Aches and pains and worries about her weight or her sore joints were gone. She saw clearly that she had nothing to lose but the chance to glorify God by sharing Christ with anyone who would listen. "Let me tell you about my Jesus." She was slowed physically by the rascally tumor (which she named), but she wasn't deterred emotionally or spiritually. She was on a mission to share her love for Christ with anyone and everyone, believers and unbelievers alike.

It has been a few months now and a day after we had dinner with her we received word that Ellie was in distress. The tumor was affecting her motor skills and her memory and was confusing her. It was painful to watch. It was kind of like watching one of those TV series named for your favorite doctor or cop character or whatever. He finds himself in dire straits. Even at risk of death. Oh, no, the bad stuff is happening! And you feel tense about it. Oh, it's foolish, of course. If the character were to die, the show would be over. That won't happen. So you take the scary ride even though you know how it comes out.

We knew how this would come out. Ellie would go home to be with her precious Savior. She did just that Saturday morning. It would have been fun if she were to have had that tumor healed. But it didn't matter. God wins. Every time. No matter what. So we took the scary ride and we held our breath. We wept with her as she wept and we prayed for her in her difficult moments. And we waited to see what God would do. We walked with her through the valley of death fearing no evil. Because God wins every time. He won, again, yesterday morning, when He called Ellie to her eternal reward. We will miss you, dear sister.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

News Weakly - 7/25/20

How to Win Friends and Influence Voters
According to Business Insider, "Joe Biden has said four Black women are among those being vetted to be his vice president." I would think that would be a no-brainer after his mind-numbing, "You ain't black if you don't vote for me" comment. On the other hand, the Democratic party has been the anti-black party since the 19th century and that hasn't stopped black people from being on board, so ...

Mean Ol' Israelis
Israel reportedly launched a missile strike at Syria and killed 5 "Iran-backed fighters." Mean ol' Israel. Killing people for no good reason. Just because Syria and Iran favor the total annihilation of Israel is no reason to be shooting at ... what was the term ... oh, yeah, "Iran-backed fighters." Why is mean ol' Israel shooting at peace-loving Syria and their "Iran-backed" pals? (And it's interesting that while the reports say Damascus was targeted, there were no reports of civilian injuries.)

Because We Say So
Whole Foods has been sued by workers who wanted to wear BLM face masks at work and were told they couldn't. Silly store managers pointed to some useless "company dress code" that doesn't allow "any visible slogans, messages, logos or advertising that are not company-related, on any article of clothing." The company is clearly led by narrow-minded racists. Even if some of them are black. Now, if they had tried a pro-Trump face mask and been disciplined, no one would take the case because that would be the right thing to do. In fact, some of the same folk might have sued Whole Foods for allowing a MAGA mask. But we only follow the rules we approve and the only rules we approve are the ones that let us do what we want and not the ones that benefit our opponents. "Because we say so."

Fight Fire with ...?
I don't know the facts. All I know is what is reported by the media. So I won't make a judgment call here. According to the news, the St. Louis couple who waved their guns at trespassers will be charged with felony unlawful use of a weapon. As I said, I don't know all the circumstances. What I find odd in this story is St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner's words. "It is illegal to wave weapons in a threatening manner -- that is unlawful in the city of St. Louis." Really? So if, say, Bob over there is having his home invaded and pulls out a shotgun and waves it in a threatening manner, he has a felony weapons charge coming? I kind of thought that waving a weapon for, say, home defense was hopefully the point -- to stop people from harming you. Apparently not. You can own a weapon, but you better not threaten to use it.

Trump is a Jerk -- Neener-Neener
I am not a Trump fan, but even I can see the level of hate-Trump syndrome the media has. For awhile now they've been telling how stupid he is for not wearing masks. Of course, when the CDC told us masks weren't of much use, the White House put out a recommendation to wear them and the CDC reluctantly went along. Now Trump tweets that wearing a mask is patriotic and they're upset with him again. Do you suppose if he tweeted "I love CNN" they'd go out of business ... voluntarily?

Truth in Advertising
We have rules in this country. Like "truth in advertising." It's the law. If a company presents false information in an advertisement, they can be in trouble for "false advertising." On the other hand, the law specifically does not apply to political ads. So I don't know what all the furor is about over a Trump ad on Facebook. Apparently there is an ad showing Trump in a peaceful America contrasted with a photo of riots ... which actually came from a pro-democracy protest in the Ukraine in 2014. Worse, it references "Evangelicals" who are ready to help re-elect this guy. To be clear, I don't like Trump ads. Can't stand them. To be fair, I don't like any political ads. Primarily for the simple reason that they have no need to be truthful. And, they're not. Given the status quo of false advertising among politicians and the biblical reference to one called "the father of lies," what do you suppose I should conclude about most politicians?

Irony?
The report says that the mayor of Portland was tear-gassed by federal law enforcement during a protest Wednesday. Remember, this mayor has sued the government to get federal law enforcement out of his city. Mind you, the story says it was "a chaotic display of violence and mayhem" that included protesters throwing flaming bags of garbage at the federal courthouse -- precisely the kind of event where you might need some law enforcement not using lethal force. But the protesters believe that they need no enforcement. Get rid of the police. To which I ask, "Who you gonna call?" when rioters show up at your house?

A Silver Lining
We've been watching the "cancel culture" at work for months now, tearing down history, heroes, and anything else they can get their hands on. It's crazy. But now we get a silver lining. Planned Parenthood of Greater New York is removing the founder's name because of Margaret Sanger's "racist legacy" -- her well-known connection to eugenics and her aim of eliminating the black race. At least they've admitted it. So ... do you think anyone is listening? Naw. Facts haven't bothered that crowd in the past.

Is It Wrong That I Laughed?
I am in the habit of putting up something here at the end for comic relief from the Babylon Bee. Was it wrong that I laughed at this headline?
Froot Loops Finally Changes Offensive Name To LGBTQ Loops

Friday, July 24, 2020

"Gender" Confusion

We are still debating gender in our society these days. One side says, "You are the gender you feel you are regardless of what you're born with" and the other says, "That's nonsense; you are the gender you're born with and to feel differently is confusion." Please note: "confusion" is not an insult. They used to call it "gender confusion" themselves, but it sounded insulting so they switched to "dysphoria" -- "a state of unease or generalized dissatisfaction." I think, however, that we all have "gender" confusion. I don't mean the kind we're arguing about. I mean with terminology. We are imprecise with our words (How can we be precise when they are constantly shifting?), so we are imprecise without understanding -- confusion. So let's see if we can ease this end of the discussion a bit.

We have two words we often use interchangeably: "sex" and "gender." They are not technically interchangeable; we just do it. "Sex" refers to essentially chromosomes -- XX or XY. "Sex" refers to anatomy, specifically of the reproductive system. In the science world XX is female and XY is male and never the twain shall meet. (We will set aside "intersex" for the moment because that has nothing to do with this part of the conversation. "Intersex" and "transgender" are apples and oranges.) "Gender," on the other hand, is a reference to what we refer to as "masculine" and "feminine." It is the expression of male and female sex as we understand it. This is obvious in our current "no binary gender" world when "he" feels like he's a "she" and then assumes feminine characteristics and appearance (or vice versa). We all know what "masculine" and "feminine" characteristics and appearance look like ... and that's "gender." In those terms, "gender confusion" per se has always been around. We've always had girls (sex) who were "tom boys" (gender) and guys (sex) who were "effeminate" (gender). But even then we all understood "sex" and "gender" and what was what. Like the old song said, even a child "knows one sex from the other; all he has to do is look" ("Doin' What Comes Natur'lly," 1946).

So while we debate this stuff with each other, it turns out we've been in perfect agreement and still shouting past each other. We will use a phrase like "biological sex" to describe what they were born with and then "gender identity" to describe how they feel about their gender ... and both are accurate. Then we'll be offended when they say, "This one identifies as a female" (gender) and argue, "But, he was born a male" (sex). Again, both are accurate. The problem arises when "how I feel about my gender" becomes the definition of "my sex." In one of my favorite Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck/Elmer Fudd cartoons, Bugs tricks Daffy into making Elmer shoot Daffy. When he gets his beak back in place, he discovers the reason: "pronoun trouble."

Daffy had no idea how much trouble pronouns would become. Now they're reasons for lawsuits, lost jobs, and criminal accusations.

I have not solved the question for a single person at this point. Not my aim at this point. I just hope that we can take one step back to start to take steps forward. One's sex refers to the body and that is a birth condition, not something assigned by a doctor or a parent. Gender is the expression of maleness or femaleness and everyone has options in that area. Always has. Regardless of whether or not it matches your sex, we all still know what masculinity and femininity look like. No reason to keep arguing over that. All that's left is the definition of reality. Is it how I feel or what is actually real? That's the discussion we should be having. Oh, no, we won't. Because we, as a society, have generally rejected Truth (John 14:6) and operate blindly (2 Cor 4:4) as children of the father of lies (Jer 17:9). But I can dream, can't I?

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Forgive Us our Debts

Forgiveness. It is in very short supply in our society today. Ours is the "cancel culture." Violate one of our cardinal rules and you are not only in violation -- you are out ... as permanently as we can make it. (That is, as long as your not one of the insiders.)

Forgiveness, however, is critical. When the disciples asked their Teacher to teach them to pray, one of the fundamental components of prayer offered by Christ was "forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matt 6:12). What can we learn from this?

Since this is a fundamental component of prayer, it must be true that forgiveness is critical. And that leads us to conclude that we all need it. None of us are without sin. Still. All of us need to confess (1 John 1:9). Our sin is paid for, once and for all, but in order to remain in close relationship we need to confess sin. To "confess" is literally to "say with." Confession, then, is agreeing with God about what He calls "sin" in our lives. To deny sin is a lie (1 John 1:8, 10). While we often like to see ourselves on the "moral high ground," if we don't see ourselves as sinners, we're lying to ourselves.

Another thing we can learn is that sin incurs debt. Some use the word "trespasses. The Greek there is ὀφείλημα -- opheilēma. It is a pecuniary term meaning "to owe." So, while we certainly owe God obedience -- "no trespassing" so to speak -- the idea in the Greek is a debt. So in Paul's letter to the saints at Colossae, he said that Christ had "canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us." (Col 2:14) Sin, then, incurs debt between us and God. It isn't minor. We owe perfect obedience (Matt 5:48) and anything less requires "payback." Except once perfect obedience is lost, how do you pay that back? How do you proceed with better than perfect obedience to pay back that missing part? Can't be done. So it is a debt we incur and a debt we cannot pay. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

One more important lesson here. In giving us that necessary component of prayer -- requesting forgiveness -- He followed up with some critical explanations. (Interestingly He didn't follow up on any other explanations of other components; just this one.)
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (Matt 6:14-15)
Yikes! Jesus declared our own forgiveness as contingent on the forgiveness we give others! Paul told the church at Ephesus, "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." (Eph 4:32) So we are to forgive (it is a command) as God has forgiven us in Christ. God didn't forgive on the basis of our restitution, but on the basis of Christ having paid the price. Mercy and grace. So, too, are we to forgive. And if we don't forgive, we shouldn't expect mercy and grace from God.

Port these into today's environment. We are a "cancel culture" that is unwilling to show grace, unwilling to show mercy, unwilling to forgive. The mere idea of restoring the fallen is offensive to us as a society. I beg of you, dear Christian, that this doesn't describe you. I urge you not to fall for that line of thinking, that attitude. Because it will not go well for us if we refuse to forgive. "If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." Don't be that person.