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Monday, October 16, 2017

Good Company

What do they say about us today, those of us who read our Bibles as they did in former days as if it is the sufficient, reliable, authoritative Word of God? How do they refer to us who are serious about following Christ? They have lots of terms. They say we're crazy. They say we're obstinate. They say we're judgmental. They say we're divisive. They say we're haters. They say we're on the wrong side of history. So they say.

When Jesus was on the earth they said of Him, "He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?" (John 10:20) When Paul stood before Festus and Agrippa declaring the Gospel that Christ died and rose from the dead, Festus loudly declared, "Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind." (Acts 26:24) If we are crazy like Jesus and Paul were, we are in good company.

Elijah was a unique prophet. The others always had God telling them, "Go and tell My people that I say ...". Elijah walked in to the king and declared "There shall be neither dew nor rain these years except by my word." (1 Kings 17:1) There is no indication in the texts that God told him to say it. James indicates that Elijah did so on the basis of prayer, not divine calling (James 5:17-18). And it didn't rain for three years. Ahab called him the "troubler of Israel" (1 Kings 18:17) Three years without rain because Elijah prayed that it wouldn't rain and refused to pray that it would rain again -- that's obstinate. If we are obstinate like Elijah was, we are in good company.

When Jesus preached His Sermon on the Mount, He had a lot to say about the Law. No, He didn't set it aside. Indeed, He said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished." (Matt 5:17-18) Then He went on to not only affirm the rules, but to expand them. "You've heard it said ..." He would begin, referencing a particular law, followed by "but I say to you ..." and He would broaden the command (Matt 5:21-47). You've heard that murder was wrong, but He considered anger to be murder. You've heard that adultery was wrong, but He included lust with adultery. You've heard that divorce was okay, but He said it caused adultery. You've heard that you should love your neighbor, but He insisted you should also love your enemy. His standard was nothing less than the perfection of the Father (Matt 5:48). Very judgmental. If we are judgmental like Jesus was judgmental, we're in good company.

Believers throughout Scripture had an ongoing history of causing division. Noah took only 7 others (2 Peter 2:5) with him into the ark "by the which he condemned the world." (Heb 11:7) Joshua exhorted Israel, "If it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve." (Josh 24:15) Elijah commanded Israel to "Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape." (1 Kings 18:40) Jonah told Nineveh to repent or die in 40 days (Jonah 3:4). Jesus denounced "the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent." (Matt 11:20) Of the first century believers it was said they "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6). If we are divisive like these people were, we are in good company.

One of the very popular terms for Christians who follow the Word these days is "haters". It might come as a surprise to them how many times we read that God hates. "You hate all evildoers," David says (Psa 5:5). David hated them, too (Psa 26:5), and the psalms exhort us to do the same (Psa 97:10; Psa 119:113, 128, 168). Solomon writes of seven things the Lord hates (Prov 6:16-19). When Scripture refers to things as an "abomination" to God, they are references to things He hates (e.g., Lev 18:22-23; Deut 7:25; Deut 22:5; Prov 15:9; etc.). If we hate like God hates, we are in very good company.

I'm amused by the latest epithet -- "You're on the wrong side of history." Would that not be what was said against every single one of the people of faith in Scripture? When Israel demanded and received a king instead of God as their master (1 Sam 8:7), who was on the wrong side of history -- those who wished to remain under the Lord, or those who sought to be "like all the nations" (1 Sam 8:5)? When Israel split into two kingdoms, resulting in their downfall and ultimate destruction, who was on the wrong side of history? When the Jews sought to kill Jesus to save their country (John 18:14), who was on the wrong side of history? When the Jewish leaders ordered the disciples of Christ to stop preaching the Gospel and they replied, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29), who was on the wrong side of history? The Bible is a historical record of those who have followed God against the "tide of history", always coming out "more than conquerors" (Rom 8:37). If we follow Christ like they did, ending up on "the wrong side of history", we are in really good company.

These days arguments aren't normally rational; they're emotional. The idea is that if you can throw out some moving epithets to make people dislike your opponent, you can win the argument without actually having to make sense doing it. Sadly, it works that way far too often. Happily, winning the argument are not our marching orders. Our marching orders are to follow Christ to the glory of God wherever that may lead. We do it with the ire of our world, but as we do it in the way those who have come before us did, we do it in good company.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Jesus is for Losers

One of my favorite musicians, Steve Taylor, had a song titled Jesus is for Losers. It echoes one of the most common assertions about Christianity -- "Christianity is just a crutch." Of course, Taylor holds that he is a loser and, therefore, is delighted that Jesus is for losers, but the complaint for most people is that Christians are just weak and need something to prop them up.

If we wanted to examine the veracity of the statement, "Christianity is a crutch", we'd have to figure out what is actually going on. What is a crutch? Well, a crutch is a support device for use by those who are having a hard time walking. We've expanded it, of course, to anything that "props you up", that empowers you when you lack strength. But the basic concept is that there is a problem -- a weakness or disability -- and something is required to hold you up, to allow you to function. Is Christianity something like that?

The question comes down to the question of a problem. Is there a problem? Or are humans capable, in and of themselves, to do whatever is required to do whatever they want? On the face of it, the answer has to be, "No, humans are not capable." We know this for a fact. When "whatever they want" is something outside of human capability, there has to be a "crutch". To cross the Atlantic, you would need the minimum "crutch" of a boat. To reach the moon, you'd need the "crutch" of a spaceship. To fly, you'd need the minimum "crutch" of some sort of flying machine. All humans lack the capability to some degree to do everything they might want unassisted.

This, of course, is not the issue, is it? No, the real question from Christianity is do humans have the capability of being right with God on their own? The skeptic would cry, "Foul! No such thing as God." The Pelagian would answer, "Yes! Humans have the ability in themselves to be right with God." Christianity claims it is not so; there is a God, we are sinners condemned, and we don't have what it takes to be right with God on our own. The bold and final proclamation of Scripture is "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) End of story. We lose. We lack in possibility of being right with God on our own. We don't need help; we need resurrection (Rom 6:4).

I would disagree, then, that Christianity is a crutch. Perhaps a wheelchair, because we don't have anything of the motive capability that a crutch implies. You know, "At least I have one good leg to lean on." Not in this case. Some have compared Christianity with a hospital. Closer, perhaps. Sick people getting better. But it still misses the recognition of the radical problem of being dead (Eph 2:1).

Is Christianity a crutch? I don't think so. In fact, I don't think we have the parallel for what Christianity is given our "dead in sin" condition. We're not "partially disabled" so we need a crutch. We're not "fully disabled" so we need a wheelchair. We're not "really sick" so we need a hospital. We're dead. Nothing in our human experience fixes that.

When we realize the magnitude of the problem, we would start to laugh at the "Christianity as a crutch" claim. "Crutch? Oh, no. We're much worse off than that." The work of Christ on the cross and especially His resurrection would loom much larger when we grasp that He is making dead people alive again. Jesus is for losers, but so much more. Jesus is for corpses. At that point we can only go to, "Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

News Weakly - 10/7/2017

Whence Comes Rights?
Last week the Department of Health and Human Services announced the rollback of the Obama era birth control mandate that all employers must provide contraceptive coverage for their employees. "'No American should be forced to violate his or her own conscience in order to abide by the laws and regulations governing our healthcare system,' Caitlin Oakley, HHS press secretary, said in a statement." The Justice Department issued legal guidelines for the federal government in respecting and protecting fundamental freedoms. And the crowd goes wild. It is an assault on women's rights, an attack on freedom!

Consider. On one hand you have the Bill of Rights that guarantees, among other things, the right to the free exercise of religion. On the other hand you have the right of women to kill their babies in the womb (Note: the issue of whether or not to provide abortifacients is an issue of killing babies in the womb). Which of these two are a recognized right in our Constitution? Which position, then, has its basis in the Constitution? Clearly the ACLU thinks the latter, not the former. It is an American Civil Liberty, apparently, to force companies to violate their religious convictions in favor of providing drugs to kill babies.

We are so quick to seize rights not recognized by either Scripture or the Constitution that I have to wonder about the source of rights conferred. Clearly not God nor the government.

To the Pure
Scripture says, "To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled." (Titus 1:15) Perhaps that explains how authors are boycotting an event at a museum in Massachusetts dedicated to Dr. Seuss because it is a mural on the wall that (apparently suddenly) contains a "jarring racial stereotype." From his book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, taken from the very pages of the book, there is a picture of a Chinese boy eating with chopsticks. Jarring. Racism. Indeed. Or ...?

That's Just ... Odd
Reports are out that Russia hacked the NSA for, among other things, information about how the US defends itself against hackers. Irony. "Psst! Russia! If you can get that information, the answer is 'Not very well'."

Crazy California
California has apparently lost its governmental mind. "Under a new California law, those who work in health care who use the wrong gender pronoun when referring to a transgender patient could face prison time." Not crazy enough for you? The San Francisco democratic senator, Scott Wiener, argued that it was a scare tactic to claim that anyone would be prosecuted for using the wrong pronoun from his law which includes a $1,000 fine and up to one year in prison. Um ... Scott ... if you were writing a law that wouldn't result in prosecution, why are there criminal penalties included? And I want to know when the government of California decided that free speech and the free exercise of religion was erased from the Bill of Rights. (The law specifically does not exempt religious organizations.) "You will agree with -- not merely tolerate, but agree with -- this unscientific, irrational, unbiblical notion of gender fluidity or you will be prosecuted." At this time the law only covers senior care facilities and is aimed primarily at medical professionals who work in them, but that can't hold out for long.

Unclear on the Concept
It had to happen, of course. The Boy Scouts held their ground for a short time on who they would allow to lead ... but caved. Then they surrendered more ground with the transgender question. It seems to be their "thing". They now have plans to admit girls into Boy Scouts, beginning with the Cub Scout program. Now, that's all fine and good, but please, please stop calling it "Boy Scouts". And why are the Girl Scouts not admitting boys? Because the Girl Scouts still excludes boys. (Can you say "double standard"?)

So the public is upset with the Boy Scouts for no longer being boy scouts and the Girl Scouts are upset with the Boy Scouts for allowing girls when that was their domain. How's that working out for you, Boy Scouts?

Wrong on so many levels
I'm not particularly concerned about a Catholic school's "First Communion" rules, but the story was interesting. Nine-year-old Cady Mansell picked out a snazzy white suit to wear for her First Communion at her Catholic school. The school, however, warned that she couldn't participate if she didn't wear a skirt or a dress. Their reasoning? "We should all be equal and wear what we would like." Here ... let's put it another way. "Equality means wearing whatever we like. Your rules don't count. My presence at your school -- which is not mandatory, but voluntary -- means that you must submit your rules to my version of 'equality' and give in to my whims." The school's reasoning? "What? We've always had the same dress code and we've always enforced it. Dress codes exist in lots of places and you don't get to change them on your command." By the way, they said she could take her First Communion in the suit privately; she just couldn't attend the ceremony in that outfit. "We couldn't go to the real Communion Mass." Then the priest did the unpardonable. He told her mother that the parents' job was to teach their child what is good rather than letting her decide what is good. What a loser! The family "dug in their heels" and ended up pulling their daughter out of the school and the church.

Missing it entirely. 1) Communion is not the ceremony, but the practice. 2) "Equality" is not defined as "wear whatever you want." 3) Private entities -- businesses, churches, schools, etc. -- are not obligated to submit to the desires of those who voluntarily go there. 4) It is the job of parents to teach their kids rather than to simply cater to their whims and desires. And when kids, taught to live by their own untaught wishes, run up against others who have been taught the same, it can get really, really ugly.

New Biblical Scholarship
Finally, biblical scholars have cleared up this issue that we've been confused about for so long. Jesus's famous "love your enemies" "was never intended to include those who disagree with you politically." And now we learn that we can say, "I am not ashamed of the gospel—as long as it doesn’t cause me to defy any cultural trends or fads ..." What a relief! Must be true; I saw it on the Internet.

Friday, October 13, 2017

God is Good

The topic of God as Sovereign has often disturbed Christians. It stirs up indignation. "Are you saying I have no free will???!!" No. "Are you saying that God is the cause of sin??!!" No. "You seem to be saying that God is arbitrary, even capricious!!!" No. And, still, it works people up. The concept of the absolute Sovereignty of God is unacceptable even to many well-rounded, biblically-minded believers. All genuine believers will agree with the doctrine that God is Sovereign, but immediately thereafter the doctrine will collapse into a morass of mitigation. "Yes! God is Sovereign," all will agree, and then, "but that doesn't mean that He's absolutely Sovereign." No, no one will ever say that. No genuine believer. Still, as in so many other things, we will often claim a position and almost immediately backtrack from it.

It's not like the question is a question biblically. "Whatever the LORD pleases, He does." (Psa 135:6) "Our God is in the heavens; He does as He pleases." (Psa 115:3) Paul tells Timothy that He is the "only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords" (1 Tim 6:15). The only Sovereign. In Acts 4 the believers pray to God because of the persecution of the Jews. They call Him "Sovereign Lord" (Acts 4:24) and go on to declare that God appointed "Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place." (Acts 4:27-28) God "has mercy on whomever He wills and hardens whomever He wills." (Rom 9:18) We are described as pottery that God makes as He will (Isa 64:8; Jer 18:1-6; Rom 9:19-23). The wicked are described as being made for a purpose (Prov 16:4). He commands kings (Prov 21:1). Everything that is is under His authority (Eph 1:16-23; Col 1:16-17; Col 2:10). Oh, the list is extensive (Prov 16:9; Prov 16:33; Isa 14:24; Isa 46:10; Isa 43:13; Isa 45:5-7; Jer 32:17; Lam 3:37; Dan 4:35; Luke 1:37; Job 23:13; Job 9:12; Job 42:2 for starters.) It is the clear declaration of Scripture that God "works all things according to the counsel of His will" (Eph 1:11). Sovereign. Absolutely.

None of this requires that humans would have no ability to make choices without coercion. We call that "free will". None of it requires that God causes sin (James 1:13). None of it makes God arbitrary or capricious. Instead everything is tied to His purposes (Rom 9:11). Conversely, nothing that happens is random or out of control. Nothing is purposeless. God is not surprised by anything. He is Omniscient but not contingently so -- He doesn't depend on contingencies to know what is true. He does not change (Num 23:19; Mal 3:6).

"Okay," some overwhelmed readers might plead, "fine. I mean, we're not giving in, but so what? What does it all matter? Why make such a big deal about it?"

Good question. Here's why. It is this point upon which we hang everything we believe. We have promises from God, promises of salvation, of forgiveness, of justification and sanctification, of heaven some day. We have promises that He will keep His own. We have promises that the sacrifice of Christ is sufficient to save us. We have promises that the evil one will not harm us. We have the promise that His Word is sufficient for us. We have lots of dear and precious promises from God so depend completely on His Sovereignty. If anything -- Satan, nature, human beings -- can override God at any point, then we have no ground on which to stand that we can rely on His promises. He might want to do them all, but you know how it is. Satan or Man's Free Will or "that terrible storm the other night" conspired against Him and His hands were tied. Too bad. Better luck next time.

Why is it imperative that we know the true nature of God -- His Omnipotence, His Omniscience, His Omnipresence, His Justice, His Love, His Sovereignty? It is His nature that makes Him good and His nature upon which we can stand. Anything less is a slippery slope. (Not a slippery slope argument; like standing on a slope that is slippery.) Who He is determines how good He is. None of these are negotiable. Our God is good indeed!


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Just As You Are

Francesca Battistelli is a contemporary Christian singer-songwriter. The first I heard of her was when I tuned into the Christian music station the other day. The name of the song was Free to be me. "Wait," I thought, "that can't be right." It was. "Perfection is my enemy," she sings. "On my own I'm so clumsy But on Your shoulders I can see I'm free to be me."

They call it an "accept-yourself-as-you-are anthem." She says she is a perfectionist, and that's not a good thing, so "Perfection is my enemy." What she has to do is "celebrate the person you are." In fact, Battistelli believes that if she ever had a song that God helped her to write, this would be the one.

This is what passes for good thinking in much of American Christianity. (According to the article, "The song shattered records in becoming the most added song by a female artist in Christian radio history and holding the #1 slot for ten consecutive weeks.") In our contemporary feel-good, "it's all about me" mentality in this world, many Christians are embracing this line of thinking. They think that salvation is more at "saved from thinking bad about myself." Like the Michael W. Smith song, Christ "thought of me above all." Because we believe we are saved apart from works, we think we merit grace. Some argue that "saved" simply means "enabled to be me, the good person that I am on the inside." "Born again" is simply "gaining access to the God within myself." It's the "God loves as we are" thinking that concludes, "so we should, too." And, from that, "If I'm a homosexual, God loves me just as I am and I should, too." You can see, out on this trail, how "If you think otherwise you think so against God" is the conclusion.

But ... is it true? Does God love us for what we are? Or does He love us despite the way we are? There is a critical difference in the two. One concludes, "So I'm free to be me" and the other would end up with "So I need to become what He wants." Which does the Bible support?

There is no text in Scripture that would suggest, "People are basically good." Instead we read humans are deceived (Jer 17:9), sinful (Rom 3:23), hostile to God (Rom 8:7), "evil from his youth" (Gen 8:21), unable to comprehend (1 Cor 2:14), dead in sin (Eph 2:1-3), blinded (2 Cor 4:4) ... for starters. The biblical description of God's view of this human is "wrath" (Rom 1:18). The "me" that the CCM singer suggests Jesus makes us free to be is condemned, not celebrated.

Where, then, do we get the idea that "Jesus loves me just as I am"? It's an easy mistake to make. We know that "while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly." (Rom 5:6) Beyond that, "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:9) (See also Rom 5:10.) And who can forget the definitive "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16)? Well, there it is, isn't it? No. What we learn here is that God loves us, but it does not say He loves us "just the way I am." The ever-popular John 3:16 declares that His love is demonstrated in giving eternal life to "whoever believes in Him", not indiscriminately.

Beyond that, it is abundantly clear that God has other ideas than "just the way you are". We are "created in Christ Jesus for good works" (Eph 2:10). We don't go on living "free to be me"; we die (Rom 6:3-11; Gal 2:20; Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:5; Luke 9:23; Rom 12:1; Gal 6:14). Scripture doesn't celebrate self; it claims a "new creature" in which "the old has passed away" (2 Cor 5:17). God doesn't love us for who we are; He loves us for what He can make us. He loves us by making us new, beginning with our believing in His Son.

It is true that we humans get caught up in the little things. "I made a mistake, an error, a goof," and we'll berate ourselves over it. We shouldn't. That much is true. That was part of Battistelli's thinking, and I wouldn't necessarily disagree on that point. But we should never buy the lie that "I'm fine as I am" or celebrate "me". Our celebration is in Christ, His work, His salvation, and what He can make of us. The "celebrate the person you are" mentality makes God out to be a liar and elevates self to the top of the heap. Christ must always be at the top. That much is certain. The point is not how bad we are; the point is how marvelous He is. We won't get that until we see the drastic difference between what we are and what we should be.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Revival

I've always been amused by these kinds of signs and ads, like they have some sort of direct line with the Holy Spirit:

"So, we can pencil you in for ... let's see ... the week of January 1st and you'll be there for this revival, right?"

"Sure! I've got an opening then. Lucky you asked me for that week. I have three more in January already."

"Great! We'll start putting out the word of revival right away!"

Like it works that way. Like we get to tell God when to show up. Another version of "God is my butler."

So how does it work? Is "revival" a thing? If so, how does it come about?

"Revival" is a bit of an odd duck in Christian terms. Often we think of "revival" as an outreach thing, a bringing of people (preferably hordes of people) to Christ. This is problematic just in the language. The word is built on two parts. One is "re", meaning "again". We're familiar with that. So what is the thing we want to do "again"? The second part is from the Latin "vivere" -- "to live". To revive is to cause to live again. So the idea that "revival" is to cause a bunch of spiritually dead people to live again is problematic since "live again" requires an original "alive once".

This is why the other common understanding of the term is among believers, not as an outreach. In this version, "revival" would be waking up believers to what was once true. And this has some biblical support behind it. The church at Ephesus was told to "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first." (Rev 2:5) That's the idea. They were alive, but they had lapsed. Repent and return to "the works you did at first." There are lots of references in the Bible to "restoring", which only works if there was an original something to which to restore it. So David says, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." (Psa 51:10) See, that "right spirit" to which he wished to be renewed had to have been there once.

If, then, revival is a bringing to life something that was once alive, how does that happen? Well, if we were once spiritually dead and then we were made alive, it would stand to reason that this bringing back to life something that was once alive would occur in the very same way. How is that? A tent meeting? A special scheduling of the Holy Spirit for a week of prayers? No, apparently not. Paul argues that we begin this new life by repentance and faith, so we continue it -- including this revival concept -- in the same way (Gal 3:1-3).

Revival, then, is accomplished in the same way as ... well, "vival" -- the initial coming to life. It is initiated by the power of God, presented by the power of His Word, and carried out by the work of His Spirit. Our part is to agree -- to confess, to repent, and to "do the works you did at first." It is to step out afresh in the work of God in us (Phil 2:13), to go back to the plan God had for us from the start (Eph 2:10). It isn't some 12-step program, a kind of magic, some special meeting, some sort of "revival party." It is God's work. It can start in the individual any time the individual believer chooses to ... obey. It might be assisted by more than one believer going this direction; I'm not saying meeting with other believers for this purpose is a bad idea. But it is neither a method or magic. It's common. Oh, and it's commanded. So ... when do you want to schedule this thing?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Slave or Free?

Years ago in a study I was teaching we read the opening verse from Paul's epistle to Rome in which he refers to himself as "a bond-servant of Christ Jesus" (Rom 1:1). I explained that the term, "bond-servant", was the Greek δοῦλος -- doulos -- and meant literally "slave". The response was immediate. A couple of people in the group said with indignation, "I'm not a slave." As expected.

We're not slaves, right? We're free. We're not obligated to keep the law, right? We're free. We are not under obligation; we're free. Right?

The argument can be made in either direction. Jesus told His disciples, "No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you." (John 15:15) See? No longer slaves. Jesus also told His disciples, "You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am." (John 13:13) See? He is Lord; that makes us His slaves. In Paul's grand epistle in opposition to legalism, Paul wrote, "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law." (Gal 5:18) See? "Not under the law." Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15) See? Still under the law. Starting to feel like a ping-pong ball?

So, which is it? Are we slaves or are we free? Are we free from the law or are we obligated to obey? What say you? I say, "Yes."

The problem is a fundamental misunderstanding of the whole structure of things. We, looking at the world from our own two eyes, see it from our own self-centric orientation. In a very real sense, the world revolves around us, at least from our own perspective. But in reality, we know that's not the case because we know around Whom it does revolve. It is abundantly clear that "all things have been created through Him and for Him." (Col 1:16) It is irrefutable that God's stated purpose is "the summing up of all things in Christ." (Eph 1:10) "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen." (Rom 11:36) The center, the whole point, the prime focus is Christ. And while we nod and think, "Yeah, that's what we believe," we muddle about in an anthropocentric mindset, a man-centered worldview. If it is uncomfortable for Man, it is bad, because Man is the issue. If it is pleasant for Man it is good, because Man is the issue. We don't like being slaves, so that's bad, because we are the issue. We do like being friends, so that's good because we are the issue. We claim Christ-centered thinking, but it doesn't come naturally, so we don't do it naturally.

The truth is that God has always been the Ruler. We have never not been slaves in that sense. We will never not be slaves in that sense. The truth is that God, as Maker and as Love, gave His creation commands for our good. We are always obligated to obey because of His position, but since it is for our good, we are also wise and blessed to obey. Like telling a child, "I command you to eat that cookie." But we have for so long bought the lie that God is not good -- from the days of Eden on -- that we've become dubious about how good that cookie is. And we're just not going to enjoy it ... so there!

We are told that Christ is "the head over all rule and authority." (Col 2:10) We cannot not be under Him. But our Lord and Savior doesn't provide salvation on the basis of our obedience to Him; that comes on the basis of His unmerited favor -- grace -- through faith in Him (Eph 2:8). Freed, then, from the weight of having to obey in order to gain His favor, we are now free to obey out of pleasure -- because we love Him (John 14:15). So our slavery is a positional one based on His Lordship and a voluntary one based on our submission to Him. The result is a hitherto unknown freedom to obey, powered by God (Phil 2:13). We are new creations now (2 Cor 5:17) that enjoy the Lordship of Christ and long to please Him with obedience for His glory because it is our greatest joy to do so. Slave or free? Yes ... yes indeed!

Monday, October 09, 2017

The Original Sin

You know of "Original Sin" as a reference to the sin nature all of us are born with. The term is also used to refer to the first sin, the sin of Adam and Eve. But ... just what was that?

Ask most people and they'll tell you it was when Adam and Eve ate the apple. Not quite. No apple listed. "Okay, it was when they ate the fruit." So, eating fruit is a sin. No, of course not. What was the sin? On the face of it, Adam and Eve sinned by violating a direct command from God. Still, there is something more to it -- something deeper. What was that original sin?

We find a more robust understanding by looking at the event. The serpent, "more crafty than any other beast" (Gen 3:1), asked Eve the leading question, "Did God actually say ...?" (Gen 3:1) At stake, then, was the integrity of God. The serpent, Satan, confirmed this questioning of God's integrity when he responded, "You will not surely die." (Gen 3:4) This is no longer a question; it is an outright claim that God cannot be trusted. Satan didn't leave it there. "God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God." (Gen 3:5) At issue, then, was the goodness of God. "You can't trust God. You can't trust what He says because He's holding out on you." The original sin, then, was to fail to obey God because they failed to trust His goodness. Rather than trust God and His goodness, they wanted to "be like God."

Imagine that. God told them, "I've made all this -- all of creation -- for you to enjoy." (Gen 2:16) "Have at it. It's all for your pleasure. Oh, just one thing ... just one. I've made one tree -- only one -- that I don't want you to eat from. Here's why: It will kill you." (Gen 2:17) "Enjoy the rest." Satan comes along and questions God's words and God's goodness. "He's lying; He's holding out on you." And they ... eat and die.

Think of that teenager. "Dad, can I borrow the car?" "Sure." "Dad, can I borrow the car?" "Sure." "Dad, can I borrow the car?" "Sure." "Dad, can I borrow the car?" "Not tonight; your mother needs it." "Oh, you never let me do anything!"

This thinking is at the heart of every sin. We want to be "like God" because God cannot be trusted to give us what is good. God's Word is under constant attack from unbelievers and self-styled Christians alike because God cannot be trusted to give us what is good. A large portion of people, Christian and not, believe that we have to work hard to get to heaven because God cannot be trusted to give us what is good. An entire alternative group of people believe we are "free from the law" because ... God cannot be trusted to give us what is good. That is, having saved us, He rescinded the requirements of the law because those were bad. In every case, we tend naturally toward, "God cannot be trusted in what He says because God cannot be trusted in what He does." Eve exchanged the truth of God for the lie and so do we.

Even believers do. We think "Obedience is too onerous." We think "God loves us; rules aren't necessary." We beg off the question with "How much do I really have to do in order to please God?" We do all this because we think "Rules are not our friend and God is not kind to give them to us," failing to notice that the reason He gave His creation instructions on living was for our benefit. So we daily shake our fists in His face and say by our deeds, "I will be like the Most High; I will find a better way to happiness than the one You provided." And, of course, we're wrong every time.

To us sophisticated moderns, Eve seems naive. How did she fall for that? And, yet, we do it daily ... instead of embracing all that God gives -- "every tree" as well as every warning -- as for our good from a loving God. What was the Original Sin? Just watch your attitudes and actions for a day and you'll see it for yourself in yourself. "God cannot be trusted to give me what is good. What He has given me is not good enough. I'll do it myself."

Sunday, October 08, 2017

They'll Know We Are Christians

In Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. (Acts 11:26)
We call ourselves "Christians", but why? As it turns out, the term "Christian" (or "Christians") appears a total of three times in the pages of Scripture. All indications are that the references in Acts (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28) were actually intended as insults. Even when Peter uses the term (1 Peter 4:16), it isn't entirely positive. What else, then? Paul's overwhelming preference was "in Christ". He used it some 86 times in his epistles (plus potentially another in Hebrews). Peter used it 3 times in his first epistle. Rather than "Christian", it appears that describing us as "in Christ" might be better.

What is the difference, if any?

"Christian" is generally defined as "a follower of Christ" (although today's version is much less rigid ... something like, "I like the nice things that I've heard about Jesus" or "It's something I heard we were when I was a kid" or the like). "Follower of Christ" is fine. However, "in Christ" has a somewhat difference emphasis. "Christian" as "a follower of Christ" brings up images of what I'm doing. "In Christ" brings up a sense of where I am apart from my efforts or behavior. That is, "Christian" points to me and what I am doing for Him and "in Christ" points to Christ and what He has done for me.

"Follower of Christ" promotes the thinking of what I'm doing for God. Now, to be sure, we are supposed to do (Eph 2:10). But is that the aim, the intent, the focus? "In Christ", on the other hand, is a contrast with our only other option -- "in Adam" (1 Cor 15:21-22). "Christian" speaks of what we are doing; "in Christ" speaks of a fundamental change in what we are. What we do will change based on what we are, but the point in the latter is Christ's work, not us. And, after all, Christ is the Gospel, not us.

I think "in Christ" is so much better. It eases the "do you believe what I believe?" problem. It relieves the "what are the essentials of the faith?" question (which, today in many circles, has become "None"). In fact, it takes the entire focus off me and puts it on where it ought to be -- Christ. Of course, perhaps "in Christ" isn't as useful in the place that "Christian" is used in conversation. You know, "Are you an 'in Christ'?" Just doesn't seem to work as well. So I'll keep using "Christian" despite the difficulties and baggage it carries. But as a reminder for those of us who are in Christ -- who are amazed and grateful for what Christ has done for us and in us far more than what we are doing for Him -- perhaps "in Christ" is at least a helpful reminder of where we ought to be looking.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

News Weakly - 10/7/2017

The Elephant in the Room
I usually present news and commentary on things you may not have considered, but completely ignoring the massive loss of life in Las Vegas this past week would be wrong. What we had was a previously unknown guy who armed himself and went to the 32nd floor of Las Vegas's Mandalay Bay Hotel where he opened up with rapid-fire weapons on concert goers across the street. At last count nearly 60 people died and more than 500 were injured. The gunman killed himself. "The worst mass shooting in American history," they're calling it. Friends and family have been impacted as well as the nation. Aid in the form of blood donations, cash, and anything else you can think of has been poured into the aftermath. Described as "horrific", "evil", "tragedy" -- all valid -- we must remember that only the Christian worldview can provide understanding or comfort here. We want answers. Authorities still don't know why he did it, and "why" is important because it gives us a tool about ideas on how to fix it in the future. They don't know why. We do. Why (Jer 17:9; Eph 2:1-3)? What remedy is there (John 3:5-6; Acts 16:31)? Our world's moral relativism isn't helping. Our "Don't judge" doesn't provide any comfort. And our answers -- better gun control, better laws, "bad things happen", etc. -- don't provide genuine answers. This was evil, and we know the answer to evil -- the person of Jesus Christ.

You Can't Say That
There are words we are not allowed to use and ideas that shouldn't be expressed in polite company. Our plunge from sanity over the last decade or so into "same-sex marriage" and "gender fluidity" and such has created an entirely new taboo. We are not allowed to talk about the transgendered who regret their change and want to go back or the homosexual who no longer wants to be homosexual. To say, "That's wrong" is politically incorrect, even for those who have realized their own error.

Too Little Too Late
In the wake of the Las Vegas tragedy, Australia has offered to help America fix its mass shooting problem. They know about gun control. Following a mass shooting in Port Arthur in 1996, they passed stricter gun laws to fix the problem. Their law included a national firearm registry, a 28-day waiting period, tighter licensing rules, a thorough background check, and a "justifiable reason" for owning a gun. Of course, in America that "justifiable reason" is "because the Bill of Rights says so", but otherwise we can do that. Odd thing. It won't stop murder, even in groups (the definition of "mass murder"). I'm not saying I'm opposed to regulating guns. I'm saying that the problem is sin ... not something Australia can help us solve.

Not Representative
The U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district, Tim Murphy, is known as staunchly pro-life ... until the woman with whom he had an affair thought she was pregnant and he recommended abortion. "You have zero issue posting your pro-life stance all over the place," she complained to him and he responded, "I've never written them. Staff does them. I read them and winced. I told staff don't write any more." A member of the House Pro-Life Caucus and endorsed by Family Research Council and LifePAC, clearly this Representative is not a good representative of "pro-life" ... or most other moral values you might wish to affirm.

Postscript: In the wake of this obviously scandalous behavior, Tim Murphy has resigned.

The "S" Word
A San Francisco woman penned a scathing rebuttal of complementarianism for the Huffingon Post, but couldn't bring herself to send it in because it required her to hit a button labeled "Submit." The Huffington Post has apologized for the offensive wording. Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Premillennialism

Go ahead ... say that five times fast. Better yet, close your eyes and try to spell it ... you know ... correctly. Okay, don't bother. It's not important. What is important is the idea. Today, with the recent (and foolish) "end of the world" prophecy in the news, I just wanted to take a brief excursion into the topic of eschatology.

Premillennialism is a view regarding the end of days with reference to the Millennium. What's that? Well, Revelation refers to a period of time -- 1,000 years (a millennium) -- in which Christ reigns on Earth (Rev 20:1-7). Premillennialism stands in contrast to a couple of alternate views on the subject -- amillennialism and postmillennialism. Note: All of these views include the return of Christ in the future. The difference is that each views the Millennium in different ways.

Premillennialism sees the Millennium as a literal 1,000-year period that follows the Church Age (we're in that now) and the Great Tribulation (we're not there yet). Amillennialism (the "A" in that word means "not") thinks the Millennium is not a literal 1,000 years, but a spiritual 1,000 years. At the end of this spiritual 1,000 years (signifying a long time) Christ will return and bring Final Judgment. (Classical amillennialism sees everything from Pentecost to the return of Christ as "the Great Tribulation", an equally spiritual event. Preterist amillennialism sees the time between Christ's resurrection and the destruction of Jerusalem as "the Great Tribulation" and our current time as "the Millennium" -- again, not a literal 1,000 years.) And then there is Postmillennialism. Some in this group see the Millennium as a literal 1,000 years and others think it is figurative, but we are past that point. The primary distinctive of the Postmillennial view is that Christ is reigning now and we are His representatives. They hold that Satan is being defeated and God's kingdom expanded on earth so that things get better and better. (This is, admittedly, a minority view. The wars of the 20th century almost put this one out of business, so to speak.)

But, according to the title, I'm writing about Premillennialism. Now, you would like to think that one of these views is the "literal view". It's the claim you most often see, and, in fact, it almost appears that I've made the claim (by saying that the other two views take the Millennium figuratively, not literally). Don't be fooled. Every view takes some biblical components figuratively, not literally. For those other two, it's the Millennium. For Premillennialism, it is the claims of Scripture of Christ's immediate return. So don't go there.

Let's look, then, at Premillennialism. This one is by far the most popular. Did you know, however, that it is not a monolith? Not all who are premillennial in their views agree on just what that view is. It turns out that there are actually two major premillennial views out there. The one most people are familiar with is the Dispensational Premillennialist view1. In this view there will be "the Rapture" -- a "secret" return of Christ -- an event that occurs at the beginning of the Great Tribulation in which believers are taken to be with Christ followed by 7 literal years of tribulation. At the end of that, Christ returns publicly and reigns for 1,000 literal years. At the end of that, the Judgment occurs. That's basic Dispensational Premillennialism as put forth by Darby, Scofield, Ryrie, Geisler, and a host of writers and teachers like Hal Lindsey (The Late Great Planet Earth) and Tim LaHaye (the Left Behind series). Dallas Theological Seminary hangs its hat on this view. John MacArthur laid down the gauntlet on this view suggesting that the only biblical view is the Dispensational Premillenialist view and any other view is heretical.

As it turns out, the oldest premillennialist view is Historic Premillennialism. It is the one held by Early Church Fathers such as Ireneaus, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and others. Amillennialism came about due largely to Augustine in the 4th century AD. Dispensational Premillennialism didn't come about until Darby in the late 19th century. This view includes the timing that places the sequence as 1) Church Age, 2) Great Tribulation, 3) Literal Millennium, and 4) Final Judgment, but they disagree on a few important points. Dispensational Premillennialism differentiates between the Church and Israel; Historic Premillenialism understand the people of God (Old Testament) to merge with the people of God (the Church -- New Testament). They do not agree that the Rapture will be at the beginning of the Great Tribulation. They largely hold to a "Post-Trib Rapture"2, the return of Christ at the end of the Great Tribulation where He retrieves His own and sets up His earthly millennial reign. In the Dispensational Premillennial view, the Millennium is marked by Old Testament temple worship and sacrifices; the Historic Premillennial view sees this as figurative with Christ's sacrifice on the Cross as sufficient.

Eschatology is a catchy and touchy subject. It is much more involved than many give it credit for. There is the question of Jesus's statements that His return was to be immediate. There is the Rapture (Matt 24:30-35; 1 Cor 15:51-52; 1 Thess 4:16-17). When does that occur (Pre-Trib, Mid-Trib, Pre-wrath, Post-Trib)? There is the Great Tribulation (Dan 9:24-27; Matt 24:15; Rev 6-18; Dan 12:1; Jer 30:7). When does that occur? There is the millennial reign of Christ (Rev 20:1-7). When does that occur? And how many of these things are literal or figurative? Lots of ideas. Lots of questions. What we do know is that it will all come to an end someday and that Christ wins. Perhaps this is not the kind of stuff that should cause division (at least, in most cases).
________
1 Dispensational Premillennialism is generally closely connected to Dispensationalism (versus other views like Covenentalism). Thus the name. It also explains the components of its Premillennialism that Historic Premillennialism rejects.

2 There are a couple of other versions on the Rapture out there. There is the best-known "Pre-Trib", where Christ comes in the air to retrieve His own at the beginning of the Rapture, but there is also the "Mid-Trib" version that places His secret retrieval at the 3 1/2 year mark and even one that is referred to as "Pre-wrath" placing it just prior to the part of the Tribulation that is described as God's wrath being poured out. The last one I know of is the "Post-Trib". This one lacks the "secret" component and is simply Christ's public return at the beginning of His millennial reign.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Truth in a Vacuum

Truth, that which corresponds to reality, is important. It exists. Many voices will debate it, but absolute truth exists and is critical. What truth is not, often, is easy or simple. And this is where we run into problems.

Let me give an example. There is a lake in Tennessee that was the only home of a particular type of trout. This fish existed nowhere else. Fishermen loved to come fish for it. The only problem was the mosquitoes around the edge of the lake. They ate up the fishermen. Well, of course, everyone knew you couldn't just poison the mosquitoes. That would harm the lake. So they came up with an ingenious approach. They laid down a layer of smoke around the lake. The smoke didn't affect the water, but it prevented the mosquitoes from laying eggs and ... voilà! ... the mosquitoes were gone. And so were the fish. The mosquitoes were their primary food. The trout vanished. You see, it was true that the mosquitoes bothered the fishermen and it was true that you shouldn't poison the lake and it was true that eliminating mosquitoes with smoke didn't poison the lake ... but it didn't take into account the last point -- fish eat mosquitoes. Three facts that, in a vacuum, ended up eliminating a trout breed.

Consider a biblical example. The Bible says,
Wives, subject yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord, because a husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is Head of the assembly, and He is the Savior of the body. But even as the Church is subject to Christ, so also the wives to their own husbands in everything. (Eph 5:22-24)
More than once.

So, the truth is that wives need to submit to their husbands as they would to the Lord, as the Church submits to Christ. Peter says even if the husband doesn't obey the Word (1 Peter 3:1). It's in there. It's the truth. Wives, do that.

Here's the difficulty. If you lay that out there in that bare form, you set yourself up for ... error. Too many men, calling themselves "Christians", will use this truth to cudgel their wives. "God's Word says to submit, so you'd better submit ... to my every whim." Whether it is spiritual, emotional, or physical abuse, some will use this truth to heap it on their wives and believe they are justified in doing so. Why? Because they're operating with truth in a vacuum. It's not that simple.

It's not that simple because it's not complete.

"Wives submit" is true, but it is incomplete when it neglects the very next command: "Husbands, love your wives." (Eph 5:25) It ignores the plain requirement that husbands are not to domineer, but to give themselves up for her (Eph 5:25). It fails to notice that husbands are commanded to "live with your wives in an understanding way" and to show her honor (1 Peter 3:7). The truth that wives are to submit to their husbands is true, but it is not the whole truth. Conversely, the wife that says, "I don't have to submit to him because he isn't obeying God by giving himself up for me" is not obeying God either. These two truths go together. They work together. They are aimed at specific individuals, one at the wife and one at the husband, but they work together. They can't be taken in a vacuum.

Much of Truth is like that. Most things in life are connected to many other things. It is true to say, "The Bible says that homosexual behavior is a sin", but if that is as far as your truth goes, you will miss important factors like "The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10) Just another example. It is true to say, "He who withholds his rod hates his son," but it falls short if you do not include the requirements to love your children (Prov 13:24). Just as "wives submit" taken out of context misses "husbands love" and ends up in abuse, other genuine biblical truths taken in a vacuum will result in abuse -- abuse of people, of love, of God's commands, etc. Our task, then, is not to compromise truth. Our task is to embrace it fully. And, I hate to tell you this ... that takes time and effort and work. The alternative, however, falls short of the glory of God, and we all know that's not good.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Bad Sacrifices

Read through the first chapter of the book of Malachi and you'll see how God is complaining about Israel (again). He says how much He has loved Israel (Mal 1:2-5) and then asks why they hate Him (Mal 1:6). "But you say, 'How have we despised your name?'" And He tells them.

God's primary complaint is that His people are offering Him "polluted food." Wait ... what? That's most of the first chapter of the book. "You give me tainted food; would you present that to your governor?" (Mal 1:8) And they complained about doing that (Mal 1:13). God was not pleased.

But why? We know it wasn't about tainted food. It was the Levites who ate the food. So what was it? When you examine the Scriptures the answer becomes obvious. It wasn't that God wanted clean lambs. It was that he wanted changed hearts.
You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; You will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Psa 51:16-17)
The problem is not the "what"; the problem is the "why". It wasn't a problem with bad lambs; it was a problem with unrepentant hearts. Unrepentant hearts offered bad lambs.

This can be our problem as well. We will go through all the "right" motions. We will go to church and read our Bibles and say our prayers. We will beat people over the head with the Gospel evangelize and indulge in the proper "righteous indignation" at sin. The problem isn't the outward appearance -- the "sacrifices" we are offering. The problem is our failure to have changed hearts. In biblical terms, our problem is our failure to die (Rom 6:2-8). We act like we're fine, like we're "giving it all to God", but what we're offering is "tainted meat", not our hearts, not our souls, not our lives (Rom 12:1).

Things didn't go well for Israel in offering those bad sacrifices. We should not likely expect God to be pleased with us when we offer the same. Just because it looks like we're doing the right thing doesn't mean it's what God wants. And all that really matters is what God wants. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise."

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Trending

From the perception of the media and, therefore, the public in general ...

The Christian South with its largely Southern Baptist base went to war ostensibly to defend their right to violate Scripture by kidnaping and enslaving Africans for their workforce and amusement. To this day the argument holds that sincere Christians (as opposed to the liberal, progressive type) are racists.

Sarah Jones of the New Republic assures us that the "religious right" is on its last legs, as demonstrated by the Nashville Statement. What is at stake here? She says it is patriarchy -- male power. The media (and Jones) reported that "Roughly 80 percent of all white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump." (How we got from "roughly 80%" of those who actually voted and who self-identified as white and 'evangelical' or 'born again' voted for Trump to the entire 80% of white evangelicals I don't know, but honesty in reporting isn't really an issue, is it?) Clearly the Nashville Statement is proof that biblical Christianity is on its last legs in America.

Westboro Baptist Church is a tiny little organization (I am loathe to call it a "church") built almost exclusively on a single family that has gained a reputation. They have a website that informs us how much God hates people of the homosexual persuasion (but not nearly as kindly as I just put it) and go around with signs to different events -- funerals and the like -- to assure us that anything bad that is happening is God's judgment on America for allowing homosexual behavior. The group has the words "Baptist" and "church" in their title, so clearly all Christians hate homosexuals.

We say, "You know, God's Word says that homosexual behavior is a sin and they, like all of us, need Jesus." They say, "Hater." All Christians, you see, are haters. Well, at least Christians who believe their Bibles.

The report was that 81% of white evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump despite his claim to being a Christian who has no need to repent of sin, his womanizing, his crude sexual speech, his gambling casinos, his cutthroat business practices, his multiple divorces, his arrogance and childishness. Now, there may well be reasons to doubt that number and it is very likely true that those "white evangelical Christians" who did vote for the Donald did not do so because they support his immorality or his attitudes, but hoped for new Supreme Court justices more in line with their views and opposed the Hillary at all costs. Still, they voted for him, they "put him in office", and now "white evangelical Christians" are just like Donald Trump.

Are you starting to see a trend? Did you note that the trend is a lie?

Monday, October 02, 2017

Pain and Pleasure

It was August in southern California. (Okay, it was August around the world, but you know what I mean.) My wife and I went with another couple to this cool event called the Laguna Sawdust Festival. They had crafts and arts and stuff. Nice time. Well, halfway through the afternoon, everything went dark. I mean everything. No electricity at all. They closed the festival and we headed home. And there was no power anywhere. The entire west coast was dark. No traffic signals. Nothing. We made our way carefully to our friends' house and left them there and then headed home. As we arrived back in our neighborhood, I noticed something odd. Usually it was extremely rare to see a neighbor anywhere, but now they were everywhere. They were out in front yards with coolers and umbrellas and portable radios, chatting, visiting, almost a party atmosphere. The whole neighborhood. It was like the old days where neighbors interacted with neighbors, where they were all outside all the time being friendly and, well, neighborly. And it occurred to me what changed those old days. It was air conditioners. Okay, well, not just AC. It was walls and entertainment and comfort. It was computers and the Internet and social media. It was modern technology where to be comfortable you needn't leave your home; it's all there. In fact, if you left your home, you would be missing out. Missing out on your favorite shows, missing out on your AC and your Internet and ... everything that makes us comfortable ... and isolated.

You can see this in the recent hurricane disasters. Cut off their comforts -- their homes, their electricity, their technology -- and what do you get? You get neighbors from states away crowding around to assist, to aid one another, to pick you back up. They can hardly help jumping in to help out. Strangers who are "neighbors" either in person or in nationality or perhaps just on the same continent. Stripped of modern conveniences, people seem to interact much more.

Now, I'm not saying that modern conveniences are evil. Hey, I live in the desert. Not having AC can be lethal. They are not evil in themselves. I'm saying that we're misusing them. Because it's what we do. God designed food for a particular purpose for our good and we turn it into gluttony. God designed pleasure for a particular purpose for our good and we turn it into hedonism. God designed sex for a particular purpose for good and we stretch it into one of the leading sins. It's just what we sinful human beings do.

But there is another point. We all (including me) complain about tough times. When we encounter pain or loss we often ask God, "Why?" with either anger or bewilderment. Well, wonder no more.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. (2 Cor 1:3-6)
We encounter suffering for our benefit and for the benefit of others. Paul said of his "thorn in the flesh", "Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Cor 12:8-9) For Paul's benefit. James wrote, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4) For your benefit. And the passage in 2 Corinthians says that when we are comforted in affliction, we can share that comfort with others who share the same affliction.

We shouldn't turn our pleasures into our idols. That happens both when we indulge them so much that we forget others and when we lose them and can't function without them. God gives suffering for a reason. It is both for our own best interests and the interests of others. So let's properly enjoy the pleasures God gives and the afflictions He gives for ourselves and for others.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

God's "Rest of the Story"

When I was a young man, I used to give a girl from church a ride to the college we both attended. I thought she was nice and cute and I thought of possibly pursuing a relationship with her. So I tried something stupid; I tried being open and honest. I shared with her things about me that were not necessarily good things. Her response? "Stan, no one wants to hear about you or your problems." I thought about that. What I observed was that it was largely true. So I took that to heart and have, for the majority of my life, generally not burdened people with my problems. Today I'm going to appear to make an exception.

I am, for a good part of my life, somewhat depressed on the inside. I know of one person who compares me to Jeremiah -- "the weeping prophet". Some people are "Pollyannas" -- cheerful, happy, generally positive in their outlook. I am ... whatever the opposite of that is. I tend to be cynical of things and people, not expecting the positive. Mind you, it's not because my life is immersed in negatives. I am truly blessed. Great wife, great kids, great parents, good job, good health, good church, a long list of good things. It's just that the prevailing voice of the world around me (I'm using "world" not in the biblical sense of "the evil world system", but in the sense of the general existence around me) is, well, negative. I think I'm good at X and the world around me assures me I'm not. I think I have "this" down and the world around me points out that I don't. I try to do "that" correctly or well and the world around me tells me I don't. The prevailing voice of the world around me does not offer me positive feedback; it suggests a constant corrective. So I'm not exactly the "bubbly" type.

There are those who would suggest I have a problem. I need to seek help from a professional. Maybe it's serious. Maybe it's clinical depression. Maybe drugs will help. But I don't think so, and this is why I said I was appearing to make an exception. I don't think there is a problem here. And this is why.

The Bible tells me that "the creation was subjected to futility" (Rom 8:20), that nature itself was subjected to the consequences of sin. The Bible tells me that most humans are dead in sin, "following the prince of the power of the air", "by nature children of wrath" (Eph 2:1-3). The Bible tells me "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:10-12) The Bible tells me that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). The Bible tells me "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jer 17:9) That is, the Bible takes a dim view of humans and sin. If I am to affirm the Bible as God's Word, I would need to take a dim view of this, too. And if I am to be honest, I would need to affirm that I suffer from the same problem. In other words, my "negative viewpoint" would be a biblical viewpoint rather than a psychological break with reality.

Still, don't I need some sort of help or something? Two things here. While I do indeed tend toward depression on the inside, I do not regard that emotion as authoritative or reliable. It is an emotional response, to be sure, but it isn't entirely based on the truth and, as such, cannot be relied on to define my outlook. Why? Well, that's the second point. I understand on one hand that Satan is an accuser (Rev 12:10), an adversary (1 Peter 5:8). He is not my friend. So while he will consistently suggest that the world around me is right, there is, on the other hand, a voice of Truth that says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9), "It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13), and "To Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen." (Jude 1:24-25) I am, through no work on my part, adopted (John 1:12-13), more than a conqueror (Rom 8:37), forgiven (1 John 1:9), and actually justified and glorified (Rom 8:30). That's God's "rest of the story". As long as I remind myself of the Truth (Jesus declared He was the Truth.), then even in viewing the world and myself as we really are, I can remain confident in my God and Savior and the depression under the surface doesn't have to define me.

Solomon wrote, "A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back." (Prov 29:11) And, "Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered." (Prov 28:26) It would seem, then, that I agree with Scripture by not trusting my own inner feelings or venting all this to those around me.

I have problems. Sure. We all do. But I'm not defined by them. I'm defined by my Lord. That's the place I rest.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

News Weakly - 9/30/2017

Double Standards
A Christian in a government job says she cannot in good conscience, both because of her faith and because of the state constitution, issue a marriage license for a same-sex marriage. The country is outraged. "She can't do that," they shout. "It's free speech and the freedom of religion," others respond, but they are adamant. "Oh, she can say it, but she will have to pay the consequences. She should be fired! Maybe even imprisoned!"

Right or wrong, President Trump suggested that football players that refuse to honor the nation for which they play ought to be fired. The players' union and the NFL respond, "[We] will never back down when it comes to protecting the constitutional rights of our players." Right or wrong, one thing is abundantly clear. It is a double standard. A Christian is free to exercise his or her constitutional right to free speech and the free exercise of religion, but there may be consequences. Football players should not face consequences for doing the same.

Meanwhile, while the Pittsburgh Steelers team opted to remain in the locker room for the national anthem, a former Army Ranger, Alejandro Villanueva, left his team and paid tribute to the flag. Turns out sales for his jersey have gone through the roof. His team was not exactly pleased. Head coach Mike Tomlin was “looking for 100 percent participation.” Put another way, they were defiant about being allowed to protest and not happy that a patriotic player exercised his own freedom of speech.

(And you gotta love this. "It took a few years, but Tebowing has finally taken over the NFL.")

Let's See if I Got This Straight
Okay, so apparently California has a problem -- too many prison inmates. "Too many prison inmates?" Yes, apparently federal judges have declared "You can only have this number of prisoners. If you exceed that, you are in trouble. California does. Their solution? Release prisoners, of course. On what basis? For the severity of the crime? Or maybe it was a questionable verdict? No. "California lawmakers want to release more of the state's older prisoners and more of the inmates who were young when they committed their crimes." Age. Release younger prisoners and older prisoners. That'll solve the problem. And it will ... if you see the problem as "too many inmates." If you see the problem as "too many criminals", then that will simply put convicted criminals on the street. (This while the FBI reports a second year of increase in violent crimes.) And remember, "No justice, no peace." Yeah, maybe they'll try that solution out for awhile.

Not All Bad News
I find myself complaining at times because all I see on the news is bad news. So, in order to avoid my complaint being about me, here's a story that is not bad. Meet Staff Sgt. Cory Hinkle of the North Carolina National Guard. He and another man were on the scene immediately after a woman was in a head-on crash in Shelby, NC. Together they pulled the woman from her burning car just before it exploded, Hinkle shielding the woman with his body. "I made the decision right then that if something came off the car, it’d have to go through me first," Hinkle told the newspaper. It was instinct, he said. He had served in Iraq clearing roadside bombs. Heroic.

The Sky Is Falling!
Well, now we have the story. It's the one we all feared. The Russians didn't merely hack the DNC and release (true) information about their nasty goings-on. They actually hacked the voting machines of 21 states. Well, that's what we're hearing. That's not what's being said. What's being said is that the DHS notified 21 states that Russia attempted to hack their election systems. Be careful here. The story actually says, "In the majority of the states, the Department of Homeland Security only saw preparations for hacking." (Emphasis mine) Voting machines are not connected to the Internet and cannot be hacked. Read the key paragraph.
The United States intelligence community believes that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and other political targets in an attempt to influence the election. They do not, however, believe voting machines were hacked or votes were directly altered by Russia.
So, no voting machines or votes were hacked or directly altered by the Russians. Their "hacking" was an attempt to influence the election. Voter rolls may have been compromised, but not the votes.

The complaint, then, if understood from this information, is that Hillary lost and Trump won because the voters got more information than Hillary and the DNC wanted them to have. But you know that the general public won't see it this way and will yell long and loud that Trump was elected because Russia "hacked the election". Sensationalism over substance. And, no, the sky is not falling.

Why Science Makes a Bad God
They tell me that believing in God is foolish because you can't test for Him and you can't measure Him, so you can't know (and, therefore, believe) He exists. They tell me that Science is much better. That is something we can know, test, measure, rely on. So, Science tells us that coffee can cause cancer and prevents cancer. It is, in fact, this firm basis that may require coffee in California to have a cancer warning ... because we know that it causes and prevents cancer. That's why Science makes a bad God. Not reliable.

(Great line in the story. "Experts in the field think the suit has no grounds." Get it? No grounds? Coffee? Oh, never mind.)

Not to be outdone
Oregon already has the new and improved method of killing babies in the womb -- using tax dollars. But that's what you might expect from a left-leaning state, right? So it is with great sadness that we learn that Illinois' governor signed into law the very same taxpayer-paid murder plan. Governor Rauner (R) had promised to veto the bill but failed to do so. "I believe that a woman living with limited financial means should not be put in the position where she has to choose something different than a woman of higher income would be able to choose." Where that "something different" is whether or not to murder a baby. If rich people can do it, poor people should be allowed to do it, too ... on your dime.

Note: Governor Rauner is a Republican who has long supported the rights of a mother to kill her baby. I would suggest that voters who expected something different simply bought a lie. Caveat emptor -- Buyer beware.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Is Original Sin Biblical?

The doctrine of Original Sin is a given. No one reading the Bible can dispute it.

"Oh, come on," I can hear some say, "lots of people dispute it."

I suppose that depends on your definition of "Original Sin". You see, there are two concepts that go by that name. The first is "The eating of the forbidden fruit by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden." That would (quite obviously) be the "Original Sin". And that is the clear testimony of Scripture (Gen 3:1-7). That one is not in dispute.

The other, of course, is. The other definition is the doctrine that all humans (with the sole exception of Christ) are born in sin, have a sin nature, are sinners from birth. Now that one isn't as widely accepted.

So where does it come from? Certainly not from the lips of Jesus. He said not one word about it. This, of course, is a dangerous premise to take when determining biblical truth. Jesus never said a word about rape, incest, bestiality, a range of sexual sins. That means they're all fine, right? I hope you don't even begin to think so. Jesus never once used the word, "grace." Apparently He didn't believe in it? Again, don't even start. Determining all true doctrine solely on the basis of Jesus's absence of comment is not a reasonable method. When planning to use Jesus as your sole source for doctrine or practice, remember a few things. 1) It is dodgy logic that makes its proof from the absence of a statement. 2) Jesus said far more than is recorded in the Gospels (John 21:25). Don't assume you have a comprehensive understanding of Jesus's beliefs and values from the few texts in the Gospels. 3) Jesus is called "the Word" (John 1:1). He is the expression of God and anything that God has said (or breathed) comes from Jesus. All of Scripture, then, is "the words of Jesus". If you want a more comprehensive understanding of Jesus's beliefs and values, look at the whole Bible.

So if not from the lips of Jesus, where does it come from? You'll find that the Jews don't believe in it and the liberal Christians don't believe in it and so it must be that Christians that believe in it do so against Scripture, right? It's just those crazy Bible-believing Christians and we can ignore them, right?

I'll tell you where it comes from. It comes from Scripture, where we find some startling statements, even to those who agree with the doctrine. David claimed, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." (Psa 51:5) (Note: if David had been born of adultery or sexual immorality, God forbade him being king (Deut 23:2). He is not saying, "My mother was sinning when she conceived me.") More surprising, David wrote, "The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies." (Psa 58:3) We think of babies as "innocent"; David disagreed. And, as it so happens, so did God. He said, "The intention of man's heart is evil from his youth." (Gen 8:21)1 (The Hebrew term is, literally, "from childhood".) Solomon assured us, "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child" (Prov 22:15) (remembering that biblical foolishness is sin, not mere silliness). You can see, then, that the origin of this doctrine is the Old Testament. That Jews don't agree is not a good basis for approving or denying a doctrine found in their Scriptures. (If you're going to determine true doctrine from what the Jews believed, you'll need to remove big things -- essentials -- like the Trinity and salvation by grace through faith. "Jews don't believe in it" would necessarily exclude Jesus as Messiah, too. Don't go there.)

It is also a New Testament claim. We know, for instance, that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) "But," some will object, "that doesn't say that all are born sinful." Maybe, although a universal effect ("all have sinned") requires a universal cause. Paul offers it. "Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned — for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given." (Rom 5:12-13) Another argument for the doctrine is found in the sad case of infant death. Scripture tells us that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23). No one dies who has no sin. Infants die. Indeed, sin itself is not the acts we do, according to Jesus. Those acts that we call sin are the result of a heart problem (that we call "sin nature"). Jesus said, "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person." (Matt 15:19-20)

There are those friendly and kind voices that would like to tell you that all people are basically good. They do so in the face of the Scriptures, Old and New Testaments. They will tell you that children are innocent. They do so without regard for the staggering numbers of children who die, pointing a finger of horrifying accusation at the justice of God. They will tell you that all we have to do is find our inner good selves and we'll be fine. They like to tell you that, but keep in mind that it disagrees with the constant accusation of Scripture regarding the universal need for salvation because of the universal problem of sin. They do so because of a prior commitment to Man, not God nor His Word. So you should probably consider to which of those two you will give your allegiance.
________
1 It is important to note that God's assessment (and this was God's assessment -- God speaking) is not about actions (sins), but intentions. From childhood the intention of the heart is evil. David said "from the womb." Jesus said that the intention to commit adultery qualified as the sin of adultery (Matt 5:28). The argument that "Sure, they have a tendency to sin but they haven't sinned" doesn't work in Jesus's understanding.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Mirror

Many have wondered about the origin of sin. Where did it come from? I mean, originally. We know that the serpent in the garden tempted Adam and Eve to it, but where did the serpent get it? That, of course, was Satan, so ... where did Satan get it? Scripture says he was once a prime angel. How did he fall so far? God made him perfect (Ezek 28:15). What happened?

Scripture describes Satan today as an "angel of light" (2 Cor 11:14). At one time he was "an anointed guardian cherub." (Ezek 28:14) He hung around with God. The Bible tells us he was both beautiful and wise (Ezek 28:17). What happened? Well, we're unclear on the details because, well, God doesn't give them. What we do know is that his beauty corrupted his wisdom because of pride (Ezek 28:17). As a result,
"You said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.'" (Isa 14:13-14)
Pride was what brought Satan down. He suffered from the same malady we do -- unholy desire (James 1:14-15). And the result was a fallen angel.

What did it take to bring Satan down? Now, I'm not saying it did, but all it took in his case was a mirror. Imagine that. All Satan had to do was look in a mirror and recognize his own beauty and wisdom. How is this a problem? Well, by looking at his own glory, he fell short of God's glory. A focus on himself was a focus away from God. In dwelling on his own splendor, he sought to overcome God's splendor.

It is, actually, a very small step. A shift of the eyes, a turn of the attention, a single misdirection. Just recognizing that God had made him beautiful wouldn't have been a problem; it was dwelling on it. It required time, time for what Ezekiel described as corrupted wisdom for the sake of his splendor (Ezek 28:17). But it was simply time spent away from God's glory basking in his own.

You have to admit it's the same tendency we have. When God is good to us, we think, "I deserve it." When things go bad we think, "I deserve better." When troubles arise we seek to solve it by our own strength. When there is glory to be had, we tend to try to grab it for ourselves. The nature of the human being is standing with fist clenched toward God, declaring, "I will be like the Most High in my own life." God wants hands raised in submission and worship.

The problem, then, is not Satan. He is simply a cautionary tale, so to speak. "See what he did? Don't do that." And we do. So we have to confess ... again ... and turn ... again. We have to remind ourselves that we are not God -- not the Master, not the Creator, not the Lawgiver, not the point -- and He is. We need to distract ourselves from the mirror -- giving ourselves the attention -- and turn our eyes on Jesus.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Stay Together

It would be difficult for anyone with any reasoning capacity and reasonable knowledge of the Bible to argue that "no-fault divorce" is a good thing biblically. I think it is abundantly clear that divorce, both biblically and in society, is a bad thing. The Scriptures describe the marriage bond as two becoming one. This is more than a mere metaphor. There are bonds formed that make a married couple one body, one soul, one spirit. Paul warned against sex with a prostitute for this very reason (1 Cor 6:15-17). Divorce, then, is a very literal rending of a union. It's akin to tearing off a body part. When Jesus was asked under what conditions a man could divorce his wife, He said, "What God has put together let no man separate." (Matt 19:3-6)

In that conversation, they went on to ask Him about Moses and divorce.
They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so." (Matt 19:7-8)
Okay, so, where are we? We know that the Bible does not favor divorce. We also know that "because of your hardness of heart" there are cases in which divorce is allowed. In this passage Jesus seems to speak of sexual immorality as a reason (although I would urge great care in how you read that). Later, Paul speaks of abandonment as another (1 Cor 7:12-15). Modern views throw in abuse, although, again, I would urge great caution in defining "abuse" for this purpose.

Given that the Bible is, at the core, opposed to divorce, any Bible-based church would urge couples to "stay together". And for the most part this is good and right. It is, I would suggest, also too short-sighted. I mean, if it stops there, it falls short.

Too often we tell wives to "stay with your husband" and then walk away, patting ourselves on the back for having upheld God's standards. We tell husbands, "Live with your wife in an understanding way" and congratulate ourselves for holding the line, not giving in to modern "no-fault divorce". We do so to our own shame.

It is true that couples wishing to live lives in accordance with Scripture should "stay together", but don't think that means "remain in close proximity". It means to stay together. Marriage is a union. Divorce rends that union. And mere nearness does not make it a union. If we fail to involve ourselves with the situation, counseling him and her to change, to conform to God's instructions, to be the husband and wife they ought to be, to give to their wives and husbands what God prescribes -- to be of one mind, one body, one soul, one spirit -- then we are doing them no favors by simply urging, "Stay together." It is the problem of James. "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?" (James 2:15-16) If we tell a struggling couple "Stay together" and don't give them the support they need to remain united, what good is that?

We are commanded to be involved with one another. We are to love one another (John 13:35), bear one another's burdens (Gal 6:2), instruct one another (Rom 15:14), serve one another (Gal 5:13). We are to teach and admonish (Col 3:16), be kind (Eph 4:32), encourage and build up (1 Thess 5:11), and exhort (Heb 3:13). We are supposed to "consider how to stir up one another to love and good works" (Heb 10:24). "Stay together" falls way short for a couple having marital difficulties.

Yes, married couples should stay together. But they needn't do it alone. And the bare instruction -- "Stay together" -- shouldn't be all they get from you and me. It should be the beginning of a united process in which we come along side both of them and stir them to love and good deeds in biblical methods of staying together. It's what each of us would need in similar circumstances. It is God's command.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Modern Family

Something has shifted. I don't know when or even why.

There was a time when the job of every parent was to raise their children to be responsible adults. Their job now appears to be to follow them around, find out what they want, and give it to them. Oh, it's not normally expressed that way. Usually it's much more noble sounding. "My job is to support you in whatever you want to do." Something like that. But no one ever asks, "What if what they want to do is foolish ... or wrong?"

We've been brainwashed. Instead of the traditional idea that people with wisdom derived from experience (requiring age) should lead those with less wisdom and experience, we've been told that the really wise people of this world are the young -- the younger the better. This is what our TV shows, movies, stories, media, and other entertainment all try to tell us. Stupid old dad and mom have to muddle through until the wisdom of their 4-to-14-year-old gets through to them and they see the light. Oh, I'm sure it's more than that, but it's a key feature of this shift in our society today. Mind you, it's not that the traditional notion was all light and glory. No, back then we had bad parents who abused their kids in the name of "good parenting". Today's abuse looks different. It is either neglect (of the child or of their duties as parents) or, worse, encouraging the wrong. Today, truly "heroic" parents will say, "Well, you were born a boy, but, hey, if you think you're a girl, then I'm going to do everything in my power to turn you into one." Not leading; following.

Solomon wrote, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Prov 22:6 KJV) Now, that seems problematic. There are endless anecdotes of kids gone bad. "I raised him to be better than that." Good kids from good homes that end up criminals, on drugs, all sorts of bad things. Isn't this a promise we can count on?

Well, there are a few things here. First, this isn't a promise; it's a proverb. By nature, proverbs are short sayings stating a general truth. They are proverbial, not absolute. "Too many cooks spoil the broth" may be true and may even be true often, but not always. It's a proverb. So taking Solomon's proverbs as promises would be a mistake.

Second, no parent is perfect. Not one. If this was a promise, not one parent could rightly claim it since not one parent has fully trained their children in the way they should go. Therefore, it would be a promise without a recipient.

The other issue, however, is interesting and, if true, disturbing. Scholars suggest that the King James Version may not be accurate in its translation here. As it turns out, the words for "the way he should go" are literally "the road of his mouth." There! That should clear things up, right? No, of course not. But that's why the Literal Translation (LITV) translates it, "the opening of his way." You an see that from "mouth". But it isn't getting much clearer. While other modern versions like ESV and NASB prefer "the way he should go", the Douay-Rheims Bible (DRB) and many others translate it "according to his way." That is, the idea here is not the direction he should go, but the direction he would choose naturally. This, then, would be a warning, not a promise. "Parents, be sure you don't give your children the reins. You won't be able to fix it later."

If this is the notion in this proverb, then you can see the implications based on today's most popular parenting techniques. If you let the child choose his own direction, shape his own character, select his own morality, determine his own beliefs, form his own values, then you can be pretty sure that ripping these things loose later in life will be nearly impossible to accomplish. And, in Jesus's words, "It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble." (Luke 17:2)

If this is not the notion in this proverb, it remains true that 1) it is a proverb, not a promise, but 2) it is certainly the duty of every parent to train up their children in the way they should go, not in the way the child wants to go. It's our job as parents to distinguish the right and the wrong and teach it to our kids, sometimes uncomfortably. God does it to His own (Heb 12:5-6). And "if you are without discipline ... then you are illegitimate children and not sons." (Heb 12:8) Discipline is for the good of the child (Heb 12:10) and is a product of love (Heb 12:6). Failing to train our kids is not love and not good for them.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Reading the Bible

There was an interesting article at Discipleship Research about reading the Bible. It's titled "Wrestling with the Biblical Text: When we don’t like what it says". The question at hand: How do you read the Bible? Do you take it face value? Do you not? Do you take it at face value when it agrees with your preconception and not when it doesn't?

The writer, Ruth Perrin, talks about our problem as Bible-believing Christians. We claim to "adopt a plain sense reading of Scripture (it means what it says) and assume it to be accurate", but when we run into something that causes a difficulty, we don't. We have to employ some strategy to explain why it does not mean what it says. Often we will overlay a theological value to explain why it doesn't mean what it says and "simply get the Bible to say back to us what we already believe." (Interestingly, our canon of Scripture came about largely because of a guy named Marcion who put together his own "canon". He scrapped the Old Testament and much of the New because he didn't like the "angry God" he saw there. Sound familiar?) Ruth says, "We might think we read the Bible in a straightforward way – but we really don't."

So, what to do? Millenials, according to Ruth, had a variety of approaches. They might accept the difficult text without question or find some historical or cultural way it made sense then ("We must be missing some information."). They might give up and say, "We don't know why, but we'll assume it says what it means." They might disagree with the text -- "That's not the God I know" -- and figure the wording was wrong or the translation was wrong or maybe the writers were wrong -- too backward or something. You know, like when God struck Uzzah dead (2 Sam 6:1-7) it wasn't really God who did it; it was Uzzah's fears that probably caused a heart attack or something. Or they might just reject it out of hand. That might range from "I don't believe that" to "Well, God permitted it but He didn't cause it even though it says He did."

The question, then, is what do you do? What should we do? Scripture is certainly littered with stuff that is ... sticky. There's all that "smiting" and stuff. There are tough passages that seem to say God does things that we're not really comfortable with Him doing. There are, if we are honest, worldview-shaking things in our Bibles. What do we do? Do we interpret the Bible by what it says? Or do we interpret it by what makes us comfortable or agrees with our preconceptions? Do we allow it to reshape our ideas and, therefore, our lives? Or do we force it to conform?

If the Bible is breathed out by God (2 Tim 3:16), if it was written by men who were "carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), then we can be fairly sure of some things. First, it is reliable. Second, it is important enough to shape our lives and thinking. Third, coming from God who is above all, it will not always agree with our own finite, sin-tainted thinking. So what will you do? Will you let Scripture speak for itself as God's Word and do so consistently? Or will you rearrange it to suit you?