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Sunday, December 04, 2022

A Prayer

At the end of his first epistle to the church at Thessalonica, Paul includes a prayer.
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess 5:23)
The prayer includes a couple of interesting components. First, he includes this phrase describing the whole being: "spirit and soul and body." It is Paul's description of human beings or, at least, those who are in Christ. Now, I've heard lots of discussions on what we are. Some argue that we are spirit and body. To this group, "spirit" and "soul" are synonyms. And, biblically, this often appears to be the case. Jesus warned about not fearing the body, but the one who is able to destroy both soul and body (Matt 10:28). Two parts. In the Old Testament Scripture talks about the two almost interchangeably. In Genesis 41:8 "his spirit was troubled" and in Psalm 42:6 "my soul is cast down." Emotions are experienced in both. In John 12 Jesus was troubled in His soul (John 12:27) and, in John 13, He was troubled in the spirit (John 13:21). So in some uses and some applications there appears to be no distinction. Still, in this text as well as Hebrews 4:12 there is a distinction. In this text Paul clearly sees them as distinct, even if he doesn't say how they are, and in the Hebrews text we read that the Word of God can divide between the soul and the spirit. It appears, then, that they are closely connected (difficult to divide) but not simply two words for one thing. We are, then, a sort of mini-trinity. Kind of like being in the image of God (Gen 1:26).

The other part, though, that I find interesting here is easily missed. It's one little word that carries a load of meaning. The word is "kept." Notice who is at work here. The prayer (obviously) is to God and it is for God to do something. God sanctifies and ... God keeps. The prayer is for God's complete sanctification and for God to keep us perfectly. Now, think about that for a moment, because we generally think in terms of "work out your salvation." Here Paul says that we are kept by God. And that, brothers and sisters, is a great relief. The ultimate way that we are sanctified and we are blameless is because God is doing it.

Saturday, December 03, 2022

News Weakly - 12/3/22

Cautionary Tale
Last week some 2,500 people posed nude on a beach in Australia to raise awareness of skin cancer. A large crowd saying, "Do as I say, not as I do." Because nothing raises awareness of skin cancer like doing the very thing that causes it.

You Keep Using That Word
The Senate has passed the legislation to protect "same-sex and interracial marriages." No one, clearly, is paying attention. First, "interracial marriage" and "same-sex marriage" are not similar things. They've tried to make that connection for a long time, but it's false. Marriage has a definition -- the union of a man and a woman. The race of that man and woman is not a part of that definition. The sex of the two individuals is. And codifying "same-sex marriage" erases that definition ... with no suitable replacement. Protecting marriage between races is good, but eliminating the definition of marriage is not protecting marriage. Linking the two hides that fact. And, seriously, do Republican senators think an amendment will protect religious liberty? If we can vote to ensure "marriage equality" by eliminating the definition of marriage, it's a small step to affirm religious liberty while removing it.

The Same Story?
It's kind of weird. Just like the push to protect marriage by eradicating its definition, Biden is urging Congress to force rail labor unions to agree to his "deal" "as a proud pro-labor president." Hang on, Mr. President. You favor labor unions by overriding labor unions? Another radical disconnect. (And it's not just me that thinks so.) And the Democratic-run House sealed the deal, overriding capitalism, free enterprise, and labor unions by force of law. "You will accept our offer and you will like it. Because this is America and we decide what's best."

Obfuscation ... Look It Up
Stewart Rhodes, founder of Oath Keepers, was found guilty of "seditious conspiracy" for the Jan 6 "attack" on the U.S. Capitol. Mind you, the FBI already declared that the event was not insurrection. Mind you, "sedition" is defined as "conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch." Mind you that lots of people and groups from all corners urge people to rebel against the authority of the state. But, of course, no one will think of this in those terms.

What a Strange World
Disney released a new animated family-friendly movie -- Strange World. It included a main character who was LGBT, and no one can figure out why it failed to clear $20 million on a 5-day weekend. Can't imagine, given that all parents love the idea of taking their kids to pro-LGBT cartoons. What a strange world!

Ain't MisBeeHavin'
The Bee highlighted the shenanigans in China this week with their coverage of those nutty anti-science right-wingers who were protesting President Xi's common sense COVID restrictions. Go figure. Then there was the report on Blake Ruff, a biological male who identifies as a big furry Alaskan Malamute, who won Best in Show at the Kennel Club's annual dog show competition. And why not?

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, December 02, 2022

Peace

Chapter 5 of Paul's epistle to the church in Rome begins like this:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 5:1)
It starts with a "therefore," so there is context to consider. This one is ... the first 4 chapters. Paul explains that God's righteousness is revealed in the gospel (Rom 1:17) and then steps right out to explain that God's righteousness is also in God's righteous wrath (Rom 1:18-3:20) ... which we've earned. But, he says, there is an answer. "We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (Rom 3:28). From 3:21 through the end of chapter 4, Paul explains and illustrates the basic premise of the gospel -- saved by faith. Therefore ...

I don't know if you noticed it, but "peace with God" is linguistically ambiguous. Does it mean that between us and God there is peace, or does it mean that, with God, we have peace? The answer is equally ambiguous. Yes. The context makes it clear that the "peace with God" that we enjoy comes from being justified by faith, diverting His wrath (Rom 3:25 -- "propitiation"). Where His righteous anger against our sin once stood, we now enjoy peace.

That's the meaning of the text, but, in truth, the outcome is also that, with God, we now have peace. Because we are justified by faith, we can now "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Php 4:6-7). Our new relationship with God through Christ means that we can give all our concerns to Him and experience supernatural, incomprehensible peace. In fact, that's what was promised at His Advent, wasn't it? "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!" (Luke 2:14). That "those with whom He is pleased" refers to those who come to Him in faith, and to them He brings peace. Supernatural, incomprehensible peace, a wonderful gift in a world of unrest.

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Self Righteousness

Oh, look ... I'm missing a hyphen there, aren't I? No. I'm not writing about self-righteousness. I'm writing about a righteousness we determine on our own. This week a sufficient number of Republican senators voted to devalue and undefine marriage in order to include "same-sex" in that category. Not merely to include it, but to give it legal protections. Mind you, it was less than 15 years ago that California was fighting tooth and nail against it. On two occasions, Californians sought to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and twice the courts shot it down. But here, 14 years later, it isn't merely a question anymore; it is (or very soon will be) law. The Democrats and those Republicans have removed what the court recognized back in 2008 as "the longstanding, traditional definition of marriage" and replaced it with ... well, nothing at all. That is, "We decide what is right and no one else." That is the self righteousness I'm talking about. But I'm not writing to unbelieving, pharisaical types. I'm writing to genuine Christians. So let's consider this for a moment.

We are "people of the Book," so to speak. Our beliefs and our doctrines and our rules are laid out in God's Word. We're not supposed to be making them up. We have a written manual. Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth" (John 17:17), a glorious, single-sentence sermon. We are sanctified -- set apart and made more like Christ -- in the truth which is found in God's Word. Simple stuff. Straightforward. Not complicated. So why is it so hard?

When the serpent in the garden asked Eve what God commanded, she answered correctly -- "You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden" (Gen 3:3) -- and then added to it -- "neither shall you touch it." We've been adding and subtracting ever since. A generation prior to mine, for instance, was quite certain that smoking, drinking, dancing, playing cards, and going to movies were all sinful behaviors and all good Christians avoided them. I can't find them in my Bible. On the other hand, commands like, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord" (Eph 5:22) and the "male counterpart" -- husbands are to love their wives like Christ loved the church, giving up self (Eph 5:25) -- are not obscure, unclear, unknown, or hard to grasp, but they are rarely obeyed. Lots of Christian wives believe they should submit to their husbands ... just not in everyday practice when he is wrong and she is right. Lots of good Christian husbands embrace the command to love their wives ... except, of course, for that "gave Himself up for her" part. But those same people will likely take you to task for, oh, I don't know, using the Lord's name in vain, for instance, without a twitch of shame that they are ... self righteous. They are practicing a righteousness that they themselves make up and adhere to ... when it's convenient.

Just a couple of examples here. I'm sure if you thought about it you could come up with your own list. I'm also sure that if you did, it would not be a list of things that you are being self righteous about, because the essence of this kind of self righteousness is that it is primarily defined by what we think is right and that is essentially how we choose to live. Brothers and sisters, these things ought not be. Paul told the Philippian jailer, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" and we'd prefer to leave off that "Lord" part. We live the classical oxymoronic cry from Peter -- "No, Lord." And then we bemoan those naughty homosexuals or liberals or whatever other group of sinners (the broader group to which we all belong). We need repentance. We need to submit. Jesus said we were to make disciples and teach them to "observe all that I have commanded you" (Matt 28:19-20). We need to learn that, too, rather than pick and choose our own version of "righteousness" and be satisfied.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

What Would Jesus Do?

In Paul's letter to the church at Philippi, he urges them to "make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose" (Php 2:2). "Okay, Paul," you can imagine them saying, "how do we do that? What is this unity of which you speak? What is the mind, the love, the spirit, the purpose?" He doesn't leave them hanging. He's not asking for a vague "unity." He is specific.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Php 2:3-4)
This is so clear, but so foreign that we seem to be unable to fully grasp it. Instead of "humility of mind" and regarding others as more important than myself, we are built, it seems, on "looking out for #1." If altruism exists in the natural mind, it is "enlightened altruism" -- the idea that "doing good for others does good for me." Looking out for the interests of others over my own? Not even reasonable. You see, it's all very clear, but it's also all very contrary to our normal thinking.

To make matters clearer, then, Paul makes a simple command: be a follower of Christ. "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus" (Php 2:5). That's all. What attitude? He emptied Himself, became a servant, and humbled Himself to death on a cross (Php 2:6-8). Simple. Or not.

We call ourselves "Christians" -- followers of Christ. That's all that is asked of us: give self up. As our purpose. In love. A way of thinking. It is the unity Paul begged for, the love, the spirit, the purpose. It is, therefore, possible. And expected. So what will you do, Christian? Will you follow Christ?

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Comfort of Intent

I think of Genesis 50:20 as the "Romans 8:28" of the Old Testament. Sort of. You know the text. It's the end of Genesis. Jacob and his family have all moved to the safety of Egypt where his son, Joseph, is the #2 guy in the land. Then Jacob died. And Joseph's older brothers were scared. "When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, 'What if Joseph bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!'" (Gen 50:15). Not an unreasonable concern, given that they 1) planned to kill him and then 2) threw him in a well and, finally, 3) sold him into slavery. Given that in slavery he was falsely accused of rape and imprisoned, forgotten, locked away. It doesn't seem unreasonable that someone might harbor resentment, right? And you don't want the #2 man in the nation resenting you. So they went to apologize. But Joseph told them, "Don't be afraid; am I in God's place?" (Gen 50:19). Then the great line,
"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." (Gen 50:20)
Do you see the beauty in it? On one hand, Joseph did not excuse their actions. He didn't have to call what they did "good" when it clearly was not. He didn't have to fudge the facts, so to speak. On the other hand, he didn't have to stew over it. He didn't have to sweat it. Why? Because, while their intent was evil, God's intent was good.

I find such comfort in that on a daily basis it seems. People I know and people I don't know often intend evil against me. I don't have to sugarcoat it. I don't have to deny it. I can acknowledge it. But I can acknowledge it without malice or resentment because I know the ultimate intent -- God's intent. God intends it for good. God works all things together for good. He defines good and never fails to accomplish it. It's okay! God intends it for good, and He can even use the actual evil intentions of others to accomplish it. And that is a great relief!

Monday, November 28, 2022

The Simplicity of God

There is a doctrine that is not as well known as others regarding the nature of God. The doctrine is called "the simplicity of God." Simply put (little joke there), the idea is that God is not made up of various parts. He is one, and that includes all that He is. He is not "love" and "omniscient" and "omnipotent" (to name a few) independently. All His attributes -- all the ways that describe Him -- are all tied together. One. He is not a collection of attributes; He is one. His attributes are not independent; they are part of the whole. One.

Let's look for a moment at one of His attributes and see how it is "one." I've been thinking about His omniscience. "Omniscience" means that He knows all things. All things. His disciples said, "We know that You know all things" (John 16:30). David wrote, "In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them" (Psa 139:16). Before anything was, He knew it. He knew it all perfectly ... before. "Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all" (Psa 139:4). John wrote, "God is greater than our heart and knows all things (1 John 3:20). Jesus told His disciples that God numbered the hairs of their heads (Matt 10:30). Hebrews says, "There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Heb 4:13). In Acts we read, "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men" (Acts 1:24). He knows everything without exception before anything has happened.

How does that work out in the concept of the simplicity of God? Well, think about it. As Sovereign, He would have to know all things. Conversely, knowing all things in advance, all things in advance will certainly happen. To be a righteous Judge, He would have to have perfect knowledge; He does. To be good He would need to have perfect knowledge; He does. To be "the only wise God" (Rom 16:27), He would need to have perfect knowledge; He does. And perhaps now you begin to see how His "distinct" attributes begin to end up not so distinct and, instead, become a whole. Not parts. Because as complex as God is to us, He is, ultimately, simple. One.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Baptism Now Saves You

In his first epistle Peter comes out in a clear declaration that Paul was wrong and we are not saved by faith apart from works.
Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you — not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience — through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him. (1 Peter 3:21-22)
First, "corresponding" to what? Well, Noah and family were saved by an ark that took them "safely through the water" (1 Peter 3:20). So, quite clearly, baptism is what saves us, not "faith apart from works" (Rom 3:28).

This position is, of course, problematic. First, it removes any reliability of Scripture if we pit one text against another to remove one or the other. So much for "God breathed," eh? (It doesn't help that Peter himself called Paul's writings "Scripture" (2 Peter 3:14-16).) But further, having undercut "justified by faith apart from works," by what are we justified? Baptism, I suppose, but is that it? What else? No, if we are saved by baptism apart from faith, this is a big problem. So ... are we?

It's interesting to note that Scripture uses "baptism" — literally "to dip or immerse" — in a literal and a figurative sense. No one, for instance, in Jesus's day believed baptism washed away sin. That wasn't the point. It was symbolic of that function, even in Jewish culture, but not actual. That is, if literal immersion in water has always been the means of salvation and God never once brought it up to His people, there is a serious problem. So Paul uses it figuratively in Romans when he writes, "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:4). Now, no one actually dies when they get immersed in water, so clearly the water immersion concept is a visible metaphor of a different kind of immersion. Paul uses a similar image in Colossians "In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead" (Col 2:11-12). Again, dipping in water does not circumcise anyone. Indeed, Paul makes it clear this circumcision was "made without hands," and it is done by "baptism." "There, see?" some might say. "Baptism accomplishes this circumcision." Well, perhaps, as long as you ignore the text which says that our baptism was "through faith in the working of God." That is, it is not the physical nature of being dunked that accomplishes this, but through faith.

Let's circle this around, then, to Peter's comments. How was Noah saved? The ark? Sort of. But Hebrews says, "By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith" (Heb 11:7). Yes, the ark was significant, but Noah was saved by a faith that produced the ark. In the same way ("Corresponding to that"), the faith that immerses us into Christ is displayed in the outward show of being immersed into water — baptism. But it's not the dunking that saves — "not the removal of dirt from the flesh" — but the faith that causes us to call on Him. We are saved by that baptism, that circumcision not made by hands, that faith that is shown outwardly to all in the immersion into water as a sign of an inner reality. It turns out, then, that Peter and Paul agree.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

News Weakly - 11/26/22

So Many Things Wrong
The story was the shooting in a Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub. So many things wrong. It was horrible that someone walked in and gunned down 5 people, injuring 17 others. It was horrible, given the Colorado "red flag" laws, that the man even had a gun (given his history). It was horrible that such hate could motivate such carnage. It is also wrong that some people assume that everyone who disagrees with LGBTxxx values is a hater who secretly affirms such horrible things ... and hates them for it.

Right to Privacy? Yeah, Right.
"Don't worry," they tell us, "you can trust us." As it turns out, major tax filing services have been sending your private tax information to Facebook to feed their advertising algorithms. Talk to me again about our "right to privacy." I, for one, embrace our Internet overlords.

Not All Solutions Are Necessarily Solutions
Some of us aren't really surprised, but the Washington Post is reporting that "Vaccinated people now make up a majority of COVID deaths." "It's no longer a pandemic of the unvaccinated." Just what some of us were concerned about.

Depends On Who Says It
Monty Python's Eric Idle pulled no punches in an interview. He admitted his feelings about conservatives: "I hate them intensely." Now, of course, since it's a liberal saying it, we must not construe that as hate speech ... except that it is.

Banning Is Not Just a Town in California
In 2021 the number of murders in the U.S. by far was by handguns. More people were killed by "personal weapons" (like hands, fists, etc.) than by rifles or shotguns. So it could be baffling that President Biden is hoping to pass a ban on "assault weapons" ... before January. (Note: Biden thinks of "semi-automatic weapons" as "assault weapons," which says a lot about his lack of understanding on "assault weapons" ... and the primary purpose of the 2nd Amendment.) But, given the change in the make-up of Congress that happens then, you can imagine why he wants it now.

Because We Care
Amazon warehouse workers across 40 countries walked off the job on one of the busiest shopping days of the year to "Make Amazon Pay." "For workers and consumers, the price of everything is going up," they complain, so they stop consumers from being able to pay their wages and hope to raise prices further as a show of concern for the public in general. (I'm always baffled when people protest in a way that will inconvenience and threaten the people they need to support them rather than the people they are protesting.) Look, let's just pay everyone $100/hr and be done with it, right? What could go wrong?

Bee Thankful
Disney made the news this week for an expected "restructuring" by the new CEO. The Bee reports that Disney is promising to make their child grooming efforts slightly less obvious. And Musk restored Trump's Twitter account this week. In response, the Talliban quit Twitter in protest and reports of up to 13 billion have died from the violence and chaos Trump's reinstatement caused.

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Post-Thanks

In his closing of his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul urges them to "Rejoice in the Lord always" (with a repetition for emphasis) (Php 4:4), to let their gentleness be known to all (Php 4:5), and to take their worries to God in prayer "with thanksgiving" (Php 4:6-7). Then he writes,
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things" (Php 4:8)
We've just had our "annual thanks-giving" (which is good on the face but pitiful in terms of "in everything give thanks"). As it turns out, giving thanks is a fundamental problem if we don't do it, resulting in pointless thinking and foolish hearts (Rom 1:21). It would stand to reason, then, that giving thanks to God would produce the opposite -- fruitful thinking and wise hearts. These, in turn, would have a ripple effect in every aspect of life.

Let's tie these two together, then. If you made a practice of praying at all times including thanksgiving, and if you let your mind dwell on that list from Philippians 4:8, how would you be different? How would your life change? If you approached every day, every minute, from that perspective, how would life change? If in every circumstance, pleasant or unpleasant, you were praying, giving thanks, and dwelling on the true, the honorable, the right, and so on, how would you change? If your worries were given to God and your days were filled with thanks to God, can you imagine the alterations there would be in every corner of your life? What if we started that now?

Thursday, November 24, 2022

A Reason to Give Thanks

One of our favorites:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28)
We know it. Collectively. We know that God causes this effect. It is not mere coincidence or happenstance. We know that the effect that God causes here is to work all things together for good. Now, sometimes I like to stop there. And when I do, it is almost without exception that someone will pipe up with something like, "Wait a minute! It is qualified with 'to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.' You can't just say He works all things together for good!" And I would disagree.

Consider. First, we know that God is Sovereign. He does whatever He pleases (Psa 115:3; Psa 135:6). "No one can ward off His hand or say to Him, 'What have You done?'" (Dan 4:35). He works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph 2:11). These (and others) are all without exception. Second, we know that God is good. James said, "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow" (James 1:17). Jesus said, "No one is good except God alone" (Luke 18:19). David urged us to "taste and see that the LORD is good" (Psa 34:8). God defines good and is always and only good.

Given those two facts, we can only come to one conclusion. God causes all things to work together for good ... period. Always. Without exception. Of course, to those who are hostile to God (Rom 8:7), it won't appear good. That's why Paul added that it is good "to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." It's not that what God does is conditionally good. It's that only those who love Him and belong to Him will perceive it as good. But, rest assured, God is always and only good. And to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose, that's really good news.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

In and For

In his first epistle to the church at Thessalonica, Paul writes,
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess 5:16-18)
Lots of good stuff in there. Rejoice at all times. Pray at all times. Good stuff. And, of course, appropriate to the week, in everything give thanks. What is God's will for you? All of that.

It's interesting here that he doesn't say, "for everything." And some people would like to tell you that there is no need to give thanks for everything, but just in everything. And I suppose that would work ... except Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus to be "always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father" (Eph 5:20). Oops! So I guess it is "in" ... and "for." Well, the "in everything" would indicate when. In the midst of whatever you are experiencing, whatever is occurring in your life, whatever God throws your way ... in the middle of all that be giving thanks. And what are you giving thanks for while you are in everything? "All things." Every last one.

The world tells you that's stupid. But God's Word tells you that "we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God." There's that "all things" again. What good? So we would be conformed to the image of His Son. The ultimate good. While the god of this world and those whom he leads will certainly intend evil against you, God intends good. Thus, you can, in and for everything, always be giving thanks. Because it's quite literally all for the good. In fact, if we do know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and we don't thank Him, that's kind of evil, isn't it? "Sure, it's for my good and Your glory, but I'm not grateful at all. You've made a mistake, God. I don't really care what Your will is for me."

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Give Thanks to the LORD

In Romans 1, Paul lays out the righteousness of God as it is displayed in His wrath toward sin (Rom 1:17-18). There are two categories here that bring God's wrath: ungodliness and unrighteousness. Ungodliness would, in essence, be a violation of the Great Commandment – "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut 6:5; Matt 22:36-38) – and unrighteousness would be a violation of the Second Great Commandment – "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev 19:18; Matt 22:39). "On these two commandments," Jesus said, "depend the whole Law and the Prophets" (Matt 22:40). The problem, Paul said, is that people unrighteously suppress the truth about God (Rom 1:18). The outcome of this sin was immediately, "they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened" (Rom 1:21). Notice the contrast. Either honor God and give thanks or become futile and foolish. And here you see the importance of giving thanks.

This is Thanksgiving week. On the face of it, that's a good thing, seeing how failing to give thanks has serious consequences. But one day a year seems hardly sufficient and, unfortunately, so few actually give thanks, even on Thanksgiving. We've morphed it into "Turkey day" when we gather for a meal and football. Perhaps we need to think this through better.

I'm leaving you today with a single psalm. Just one. But the theme is "Give thanks to the Lord," so it should be good ground for meditation on giving thanks. (Too long? Perhaps we're not accustomed to placing a priority on thanking God.)
Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
To Him who alone does great wonders,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
To Him who made the heavens with skill,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
To Him who spread out the earth above the waters,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
To Him who made the great lights,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting:
The sun to rule by day,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
The moon and stars to rule by night,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
To Him who smote the Egyptians in their firstborn,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And brought Israel out from their midst,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
With a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
To Him who divided the Red Sea asunder,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And made Israel pass through the midst of it,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
But He overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
To Him who led His people through the wilderness,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
To Him who smote great kings,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And slew mighty kings,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting:
Sihon, king of the Amorites,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And Og, king of Bashan,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And gave their land as a heritage,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
Even a heritage to Israel His servant,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Who remembered us in our low estate,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And has rescued us from our adversaries,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
Who gives food to all flesh,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Give thanks to the God of heaven,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. (Psa 136)

Monday, November 21, 2022

The Bible on Slavery (Sort Of)

Sometimes our Bibles have unfortunate chapter breaks that seem more intent on disrupting rather than clarifying an idea. The transition from Romans 5 to Romans 6 is one of these. Chapter 5 ends with "The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom 5:20-21). Chapter 6 begins with "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" (Rom 6:1-2). Now, set apart, there is a mental disconnect between the two, but put together we have a stream of thought.

The end of chapter 5 gives the premise: Law increased transgression and where sin increases grace abounds more. The question at the beginning of chapter 6 is a natural notion. "Well, then, if sin increases grace, then let's sin away! It will just increase grace!!" Paul exclaims "May it never be!" (I'm thinking that is not an affirmation of the idea.) Paul's refutation of the notion, however, is telling and, perhaps, surprising. The question isn't "Is it a good idea to sin to increase grace?" The question is "How can it happen??" You see, there is a fundamental change that occurs when we repent of sin (change direction) and come in faith to Christ. That fundamental change ... is death. That is, sin is no longer comfortable for us. Oh, sure, he goes on to explain (Romans 7) that we still struggle with sin, but sin has lost its power over us and, as John puts it, "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God" (1 John 3:9). We still sin (1 John 1:8, 10), but we are, in the end, not comfortable with it and are in the process of being conformed to the image of His Son (Rom 8:28-29) -- what we call in Christianese "sanctification."

Paul is quite certain that those who are "buried with Him through baptism into death" (Rom 6:4) have "our old self ... crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin" (Rom 6:6). Do we still sin? Yes. Why? Because we choose to. Because we "let sin reign ... so that you obey its lusts" (Rom 6:12). Because we "go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness" (Rom 6:13). Do you get that? We choose to submit to sin. We don't have to. We have died to it.

We who have repented, who have placed our only hope for salvation in the person of Jesus Christ, have been identified with His death and, therefore, have His new life. We have died to sin. And, yet, we still crawl back to it. Daily. We don't have to. The process is simple. We let sin reign. We present ourselves to sin. Those who are not in Christ don't have this situation. They sin because they have to; it's their nature. We don't. "The outcome of those things is death," Paul says. "But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life" (Rom 6:21-22) Being enslaved to God is freedom from sin. It is part of our born-again DNA. We ought to make it our practice.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

The Silver Lining

The Levites of the Old Testament were assigned a special job -- the priestly duties to the nation. Aaron's line in particular were the ones that did the sacrifices. It was a high honor, so it's kind of interesting when we read the promise God made Aaron and his family.
Then YHWH said to Aaron, "You shall have no inheritance in their land nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel." (Num 18:20)
The sons of Levi, Scripture tells us, got their income from the tithe (Num 18:21). They were scattered throughout Israel to serve as mediators between God and His people. And their reward was ... God. "I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel." You read that and you're supposed to understand that the Levites were highly blessed to have no inheritance or portion in the land. They were highly blessed to have God as their portion.

When Jeremiah lamented the destruction of his homeland, he lost hope (Lam 3:1-19). The one thing that restored his hope was this fact. "'YHWH is my portion,' says my soul, 'Therefore I have hope in Him.'" (Lam 3:24). Jeremiah didn't find some silver lining in the destruction of Jerusalem. He didn't expect God to "make it all better." Nor did he find pleasure in it. He found his hope at an entirely different place -- "YHWH is my portion." Like the Levites before him, he understood that to not only be enough, but to be abundantly enough. Is He enough for you?

Saturday, November 19, 2022

News Weakly - 11/19/22

"Believe Us! We Know!"
Last September President Biden declared the COVID pandemic was over. The WHO said that COVID deaths were down 90% since February. HHS has extended the emergency to mid-January. Because we know we can trust our government, our scientists, our media, our overlords.

Another One Bites the Dust
It is, unfortunately, the history of the church and its associates. Take, for instance, universities such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Oxford. All started as religious institutions; all lacking any connection to their roots anymore. Now Calvin University in Michigan has voted to allow faculty that dissents with biblical (and denominational) rules on sexual immorality to remain in good standing. The CRC codified its opposition to homosexual sex, so the university has opted to eliminate that requirement "while remaining committed to upholding the confessional standards of the CRC," an obvious impossibility. (1 John 2:18-19).

Locked and Loaded
The big political news, of course, is that the Republicans won a majority in the House. That means that Pelosi won't be the Speaker, and America could use less of her speaking. It doesn't mean government will be better. Since both the House and the Senate are almost numerically identical, it means likely deadlock in Congress for a while. But is a deadlocked Congress really a bad thing, given the alternative of a really bad Congress?

Wave Goodbye
So, the question remains. Why was there no "Red Wave"? History and current events (inflation, gas prices, etc.) suggested a sure shift, but what we got was a small shift. The experts suggest it's because of Trump's shadow ("threat to democracy") and, especially, abortion. Apparently Americans are so keen on being allowed to have post-sex contraception and sin without consequences that they will vote stupidly to get it. Oddly enough, with the resulting deadlock, they didn't.

Values Clarification
The House already passed the so-called "Respect for Marriage Act" back in July and now that a change of Senate influence is at hand, they advanced the bill to begin debate in a 62-37 vote. There is considerable pushback from some because the bill would "write marriage equality into federal law and protect it from Supreme Court action." And, by "marriage equality" they mean some very broad things. Ostensibly, the point is to make it illegal for you to believe that marriage is solely between a man and a woman. It does not mean that nonprofit religious organizations will have to provide for them. It does not mean that the government will recognize polygamy ... because that still falls outside of the current "definition" of "marriage" that we're supposed to "respect." What it will do is repeal the "Defense of Marriage Act" ... which is how we show respect for marriage. And the fact that so many Republicans (including Mitt Romney) voted for it is disturbing. What else will we be required to "respect" ... by radical redefinition?

Fake News
Trump popularized the term, "fake news." The Bee took it on as a tagline, so they are "Fake news you can trust." Here's the problem. "Fake news" is not a fake concept, and our modern news media has become so corrupt (on both sides) that it's really, really hard to tell what is or isn't "fake news." The Bee's satirical headline (October 7, 2016) read, "Captain America Rebooted as Feminist, Atheist, Transgender Hydra Agent" and in March, 2021, Marvel rebooted Captain America as a female LGBT activist. In May of 2017 the headline read, "'2 + 2 = 4,' Insists Closed-Minded Bigot" and in December of 2021 USA Today published an article about math being racist. A headline in May, 2019, read, "Man's Baptism Overturned After Instant Replay Reveals He Was Not Fully Submerged" and last February the news reported that a pastor baptized people for decades using one wrong word. Now those are all considered invalid. So what is fake news and what is not? Really?

Friday, November 18, 2022

What We Believe

It's a simple axiom. We always do what we believe. Think about it. It's simply our nature. You will always act according to what you truly believe is true. It's unavoidable. And if that's true, it can be telling, can't it?

"We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Rom 8:28). We believe that. It's straight out of Scripture. It's absolutely true. But if that's so, why are we so upset when something goes "wrong"? Why do we even have the phrase, "something went wrong"? If "God causes all things to work together for good," what can go wrong? So we nod and agree that it's plainly true from God's Word ... and then act as if it's not. Because we don't believe it.

"We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law" (Rom 3:28). Amen, brother. We believe that. It's absolutely true. And, yet, we feel like we need to work for our salvation. We feel like we need to maintain our salvation. We are deeply concerned that God might forget us or discard us because we've sinned so much. "Justified by faith." Really? "Apart from works of the Law." Do we actually live that way? Or is that sometimes too hard to believe?

Perhaps you can begin to see how this simple axiom, we always act on what we truly believe, can be helpful in showing us what we truly believe. "Yes, it's sin to steal." Do you take from the IRS? "We're supposed to love each other as Christ loved us." Do you do that? What do we truly believe? Something worth examining.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Stop and Think

In New Hampshire a Democrat denied the election results, demanded a recount, and ... won by a margin of one vote. "Now, that is democracy," some would say. I'd ask, "Is it?" If democracy is defined as "a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state" and neither "the whole population" nor "all the eligible members" vote, what are we to conclude? Democracy is, at best, the will of those most willing to speak up. In 2020, for instance, 60% of eligible voters voted, which marked a 30-year high. Meaning that for 30 years less than 60% of those who could vote determined the outcome for the whole population. Is that really a majority?

It is amazing that a person got elected by one vote in New Hampshire. (I wouldn't make a big deal about the Democrat "denying the election results," in truth. Anyone can demand a recount. That doesn't make you an election denier. It does make for provocative language, though, doesn't it?) It's just that, in so many areas, we're not looking at the facts. The fact is we will not achieve "democracy" -- a system of government driven by the will of the majority -- because there will always be a large number of people who won't express their will. That's this case. What about others? Take COVID. Anyone that mentioned facts contrary to the "approved" information were labeled "crazy" and their information was "misinformation." So much so that the general public wasn't allowed to consider the facts. At a doctor's office last week the sign said, "Masks required," but when the masked girl behind the desk had to cough, she removed her mask to do so. Not looking at the facts. Last year I posted a picture of a french horn player playing in a mask with a hole cut in it. Not looking at the facts. We are still surrounded by individuals wearing masks in all situations without recognizing that the CDC said that masks were to protect others, not the wearer. Not looking at the facts.

Just two examples. Just two. We are inundated with them. All the time. Especially in spiritual matters (1 Cor 2:14). And that's because we aren't aware of the real problem. "The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?" (Jer 17:9). Sin rots the brain (Rom 1:28). The god of this world blinds people (2 Cor 4:4). Humans, as a whole, have a mental problem -- mental blindness. Which we ignore ... because we're blind. Which is why Solomon wrote, "Trust in YHWH with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding" (Prov 3:5). But Jesus said He came to give sight to the blind (Luke 4:17-21). Jeremiah, in his lament, said, "The LORD is my portion ... Therefore I have hope in Him" (Lam 3:24). In Him we can stop and think.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Mountains and Mole Hills

I have this fundamental flaw; I trust Scripture. I believe that Scripture can be read as it is intended. The theologians have a fancy term for it. They call it "the perspecuity of Scripture" which is unfortunate because "perspecuity" is an unclear word to most of us that means "clearness." Sigh. But the principle is that, if we can read, we can understand Scripture. It isn't secret, vague, limited only to the clergy, whatever. So my fundamental flaw is that I read Scripture and take it as it comes. I believe it to be God's Word -- authoritative and reliable. As such, it cannot contradict itself. (God breathed it, and He is just not that stupid.) So if I find a paradox -- an apparent contradiction -- I'll figure out how it works together rather than throwing out one for the other.

Let's consider an example. Scripture repeatedly connects "faith" to salvation. We are saved by faith (1 Cor 1:21; Heb 10:39; Eph 2:8-9; Mark 16:16; Rom 10:9; 1 John 5:4; Rom 11:23; John 3:15; John 3:36; John 6:40; etc.). Jesus clearly stated, "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:18). Scripture is pretty clear. Faith is required to be saved, and there are many (Matt 7:13-14) who won't be. And then we come across the passage from last Sunday's sermon at our church.
So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. (Rom 5:18)
Well, now, there you have it. All those texts were wrong. Jesus Himself was wrong, wrong, wrong. Jesus's death on the cross results in "justification of life to all men." "Everyone gets saved! Good news! Oh, sorry about the error of God's Word. Sorry about the error of God's Son. But everyone is good to go!" And that would be discarding one biblical principle for a contradictory principle. This is making a mole hill -- "everyone is saved" -- out of a mountain -- "We are justified by faith." These are the kinds of thing that require 1) you know Scripture (to be able to say, "Hey, that appears to contradict the rest of Scripture") and 2) the willingness to see how they work together rather than contradict.

That was an example of making something out of a text that wasn't intended. Let's use the same example to figure out what was intended so we will be reading Scripture as it was intended. Did Paul here mean to say that everyone gets saved? The only way you can conclude that is if you conclude that Scripture is not reliable. But that would make God unreliable. So let's try another approach. The text in view is in the middle of a comparison of Adam's sin and Christ's sinless death (Rom 5:12-20). Paul repeatedly says the gift is not like the transgression (Rom 5:15, 16) and gives examples of how. One brought death and the other brought grace (Rom 5:15). One brought condemnation and the other brought justification (Rom 5:16). One made sinners of us all, but the other made many righteous (Rom 5:19). Paul explains, "For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ" (Rom 5:17). Paul specifies a specific group here -- "those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness." Not everyone. Just those who receive this particular gift of grace and righteousness. So in verse 18 he says how many of that group will be justified -- all of them. Which is why, when he reiterates who is righteous, it is "the many" and not "all" (Rom 5:19). That is, all who trust Christ will be justified without exception. All the way through, the text is talking about two groups of people -- those in Adam and those in Christ. The "all" that are justified are those in Christ ... every last one.

Now, maybe you disagree. Maybe you think that Jesus didn't mean "many" would follow the road that leads to destruction. Maybe you think that "believe" is not the big deal that Scripture seems to make it. Maybe it's not true that those who don't believe are condemned already or that there are those "who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation" (Jude 1:4). Universal salvation is a warm and friendly idea. But eliminating Scripture in general and Christ in particular as reliable and authoritative is not a good way to explain what or how we should believe. So make an effort to read it as it is intended, which isn't that difficult if you interpret text with context and Scripture with Scripture. It may be more work than you're willing to put in, but it is so worth it. And it is truth, the very means by which we are sanctified (John 17:17).

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The Answer to the Problem

Scripture indicates that we -- all humans -- have a problem ... a big problem. We are, by nature, sinners, enemies of God. That is not a small problem. And it is a problem for which we have no remedy. So we read of how God addressed that problem.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)
It's interesting, isn't it? He didn't wait for us to turn. He didn't wait for us to notice Him. He demonstrated the love He had for us while we were yet sinners by sending His Son to die for us while we were yet sinners. "For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom 5:6). I suspect we have softened that term, "ungodly," but I'm sure you can see its basic meaning. "Anti-God." Not merely "bad people" or something. We were specifically opposed to God. And in that, we were completely helpless. And then we read this:
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." (Rom 5:10)
Now, notice, first, the timing. "While we were enemies." Not "lost" or "misguided" -- enemies. We weren't simply mistaken; we were at war. Hostile to God. Christ didn't die because we were confused; He died for His enemies. Notice, second, the solution to the problem of "sinners," "helpless," "enemies." By the death of Christ we were reconciled to God. We were under His wrath (Rom 1:18) and then, through faith in Christ, we were ... reconciled. God was propitiated, appeased (Rom 3:25). We have peace with God (Rom 5:1). But that was only the half of it. We were reconciled to God by Christ's death, but, further, "we shall be saved by His life." Jesus said, "Because I live, you shall live also" (John 14:19).

Paul gave the gospel this way.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Cor 15:3-5)
The Gospel ... the good news ... is not only that Christ died for our sins. His resurrection is a critical component. Because He lives, we shall live also. Because of His life after death, we shall be saved. In His grace and mercy the Father sent His Son with a complete remedy for a thoroughly bad problem that we carried around. "Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Rom 5:12). But Jesus was the solution. "The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification" (Rom 5:16). God is good ... all the time.

Monday, November 14, 2022

I

You've all heard, I assume, the little illustration, "There is no 'I' in 'team'." We get it. "Team" means "us," so "I" is not the point. Interestingly, however, there is no "U" in "team" either, so ... the whole thing breaks down.

Let's try another one. While there is no "I" in "team," there certainly is in "sin." As a matter of fact, "I" is at the center of "sin." And I think that's a fine indicator of a significant fact. I am always at the center of my sin, starting with "I will be like the Most High." Sin occurs when we take our eyes off the True Center -- Christ -- and get them on self. Sin is always the result of us making ourselves the center.

I like this group from Canada -- Downhere. They have a song about how they were searching for the reasons for the problems with this world. They conclude, "The problem with this world ... is me." It is true. We might blame "the serpent" (Gen 3:13) or we might blame God (Gen 3:12), but in the end we are the problem and the sin of mankind is the problem with this world. Suddenly "the finished work of Christ" becomes a really big thing.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

New Normal is Not

Back in January, 2022, Outreach Magazine offered "12 Trends That Will Shape the Church in 2022." It began with "The hybrid-church model is the new normal in the midst of the pandemic, but what else will this year bring?" The "hybrid-church model is the new normal," eh? They predicted "the demise of the old model of church." Is that the case? Maybe. As we head toward the end of 2022, it sure looks that way. Maybe.

The article talked about the fall of attendance and membership and the natural conclusion is that the church is in crisis and needs a renovation. I would suggest that's not quite accurate. You see, "the church" isn't that corner building you attend (or wherever it may be). "The church" is the people of God ... everywhere. And the people of God have specific characteristics. First and foremost, according to Jesus, they are marked by a special love for one another (John 13:34-35). That special love is more than "as you love yourself." It is "as I have loved you" -- deep and sacrificial love. So church -- genuine church -- is marked by God's people loving God's people. Not possible in a digital church. (Remember, the new "hybrid-church model" arose for the purpose of isolation in a pandemic.) The author of Hebrews said, "Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near" (Heb 10:24-25). "Assembling together" by being in your own house is not assembling together. Genuine Christians loving other Christians will assemble together to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. Not possible in a digital church. Real Christians in real fellowship with other Christians are necessarily "hands on" and not "remote." It doesn't fit the biblical model.

For a long time American Christians have been conditioned to "attend church." They show up, sing some songs, hear a sermon, and go home. For a long time it has been said that 20% of the people do 80% of the work in church. But if genuine Christians are identified by their love for fellow believers, that would suggest that 20% of those attending church are the genuine believers and the rest ...? I'm not making the claim; I'm offering the speculation. But as people leave the "assembling for fellowship" in this new "hybrid church," it sounds a lot like, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19). And if that is the case, the church isn't shrinking. It is being purified. And if that is so, 1) it's a good thing and 2) it remains to be seen just what that purification is for. Knowing God, we can be sure it will be a good thing. What we can be sure of is that the church is not in crisis because, as we all know, Jesus said, "I will build My church." He doesn't care about our gimmicks or techniques. And if the church fails, it only means Jesus lied. He can't lie. It won't happen.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

News Weakly - 11/12/22

COVID-Related Deaths
The CDC is reporting that a "massive increase" of alcohol-related deaths occurred during the COVID pandemic. In other words, the efforts to curb COVID-related deaths caused a "massive increase" of deaths. A different kind of "COVID-related death."

Twitter Lies
Joe Biden is complaining that Twitter "spews lies." Now, on one hand, I thought that was a given, since it is a public forum for people to say what they want. On the other hand, I wonder if the president is willing to include his Twitter feed in the lies spewed by Twitter.

Not Thinking It Through
Protesters in London tied up multiple roadways for hours urging people to "Just stop oil." That is, for hours thousands of people in cars burned excess fuel trying to wade through the protesters blocks. Nice. Couldn't have been more effective in increasing oil sales if the oil companies had planned it.

Not News
Model Gigi Hadid shut down her Twitter account because Twitter has become a "cesspool of hate" and "bigotry" under Musk. I don't doubt that it is, but "under Musk" is irrelevant. It was that long before Musk took over; just primarily from the other side.

That Says It All
One of Pennsylvania's state representatives running for re-election died last month. On Tuesday, his constituents voted him back in. There's something telling about suggesting that our best representation is dead representation, or that the best politician we can find isn't speaking at all. You come up with one of your own.

Unclear on the Concept
Biden said the "Red Wave" didn't happen and that makes it "a good day for democracy." That's because democracy, in his mind, is only when Democrats take the lead ... which is, in fact, the opposite of democracy. It's a "good day for democracy" any time democracy works ... even if it's not the way some wanted it to go.

What Could Go Wrong?
This seemed strange. Four states voted to change their constitutions to prohibit slavery or involuntary servitude as a punishment for crime. On the surface we say, "Well, yeah. We thought slavery was already outlawed." But it is specifically for crime. And how much of a step is it from "involuntary servitude for crime is prohibited" to "involuntary incarceration for crime is prohibited"? Given the wording of this thing, how will it be possible to imprison anyone? (Think about the death penalty and the common "cruel and unusual punishment" arguments.) I just wonder what could go wrong?

The Bee Again
I've often had fun with the Babylon Bee striking satire at the heart of the Left, but it was kind of fun to see it thrown the other way this time. With no clear "Red Wave" in the election results, they had a story of disappointed Christian Republicans who were briefly considering placing their trust in God again. "After months of putting their trust in human leaders for protection, some Christians are suggesting we all start trusting the creator of the universe for the future." Yeah, right. Earlier Biden warned that this midterm vote was a danger to democracy, to the Bee told of how record numbers of voters showed up to end democracy. Truth is, not much to talk about this election, so let's just laugh and move on.

Friday, November 11, 2022

What Made Jesus Mad?

A lot of people think that anger is sin. And, of course, they get pretty angry at people that do it. Okay, just kidding, but anger often feels like it's a no-no. We know that's not the case, though, right? How do we know? Well Paul wrote, "Be angry and do not sin" (Eph 4:26). So what do we know there? On one hand, anger is not, by definition, sin like, say sexual immorality or such. On the other hand, it is dangerous or Paul wouldn't have included the warning. The other way we know, of course, is that Jesus got angry, and Jesus never sinned (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15). So Jesus serves as a perfect illustration of anger without sin.

What made Jesus angry? On what basis did Jesus, known as the "Lamb of God," get mad? The first, most obvious one was the scenes in the Temple. Twice (John 2:13-17; Matt 21:12-17) Jesus encountered moneychangers in the Temple and flipped out ... literally. He flipped their tables. He made a whip. He chased them out. What made Him so mad? In the first instance He said, "Do not make my Father's house a house of trade" (John 2:16). What did His disciples get out of that? "His disciples remembered that it was written, 'Zeal for Your house will consume Me'." (John 2:17) In the second instance He said, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer,' but you make it a den of robbers" (Matt 21:13). What made Him mad? It wasn't personal affront; it was disdain for God. It was profaning the holy. What else made Jesus angry? Well, the Pharisees, of course. He reserved the harshest terms for them (Matt 23:13-29). He pronounced, in the vernacular, curses on them when He declared (repeatedly) "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees!" And what was His specific complaint? "Hypocrites!" But there were other hypocrites in Jesus's day and He didn't take them on, so what was it about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees? They were "blind guides" (Matt 23:16, 24). They made proselytes only to make them "twice as much a son of hell as yourselves" (Matt 23:15). In their hypocrisy they misdirected and "shut off the kingdom of heaven from people" (Matt 23:13). There it is again. It wasn't merely that they were self-righteous or even hypocrites. It's that, in their hypocrisy, they misled and blinded those who followed them. Their followers thought they were leading them to God, but they were "fools and blind men" (Matt 23:17) themselves. Yes, their hypocrisy made Jesus angry, but not merely hypocrisy. It was keeping people from God ... just like the moneychangers in the Temple. When He was angry at them for seeking to accuse Him when He was healing the man with the withered hand, it was because they preferred their rules to doing what God commanded (Mark 3:1-6). He was indignant when His disciples kept children away from His healing (Mark 10:13-16). And it starts to all look the same.

Anger is not, by definition, sin. It is dangerous. It easily tends toward sin. Why? Because we get angry for the wrong reasons. Jesus was angry ... always it seems ... when God was slighted. And that makes sense, doesn't it? Anger is almost exclusively due to the perception of rights being violated. Now, if everything belongs to God and God is everything and God is Sovereign, then the only rights of any consequence are His. It is His glory that demands our attention. It was transgressing the Father that irritated the Son. So, yes, there is room for anger in our everyday lives, but since "the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God" (James 1:20), we ought to be "slow to anger" (James 1:19) and only about the important things ... you know, like God and His glory.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

True Wisdom

James is big on wisdom. "If any of you lacks wisdom," he says, "let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him" (James 1:5). Interesting thing, though. James speaks of two kinds of faith -- genuine and "dead" (James 2:17) -- and two kinds of wisdom. There is wisdom and there is "wisdom that does not come down from above" (James 3:15). So how can you tell the difference? James asks, "Who is wise and understanding among you?" (James 3:13) because he knows there is real wisdom and fake. There is the possession of wisdom and the pretending of wisdom. So how do you know?

James tells the positive side simply. "By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom" (James 3:13). Good conduct in "meekness." The NAS calls it "gentleness." Others refer to humility. Just what is this stuff? Meekness, gentleness, humility ... these refer to a particular concept. It is power under control. But the reason this is under control is because wisdom from above allows the recipient to trust in God. It's not because of confidence in strength; it's because God will provide what he needs, so there is no need to contend, no need to assert oneself, no need to defend. He doesn't have to be noisy, arrogant, boastful. This is the meekness, gentleness, humility of Jesus who, placing all His confidence in the Father, had no need to contend over personal affronts ... like Pilate and the Jews. The wisdom from above produces that kind of gentleness which produces "good conduct."

What is the other kind? It includes bitter jealousy and selfish ambition (James 3:14). It is earthly, natural, demonic (James 3:15). It opens the door to "disorder and every evil thing" (James 3:16). It is an arrogance that lies against the truth (James 3:14).

Who among you is wise and understanding? He is "first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy" (James 3:17). Do those mark you? Are they the things you think of when you consider someone wise? James ends with "And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:18). Those with wisdom from above are marked as peacemakers. That should be the mark of anyone who lacks wisdom and asks God for it. On the other hand, those who claim to be wise or even appear to be wise but are not as described here areoperating in the realm, as James harshly puts it, of demons. Be aware.