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Thursday, April 25, 2024

By Faith

I'm currently in Hebrews and I came across this text (that I've seen so many times before):
By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. (Heb 11:3)
"Yeah, sure, I get it." But ... do we? The author of Hebrews explained in the previous chapter that faith is absolutely essential. We are to "draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith" (Heb 10:22). What faith is that? That our hearts are "sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water" (Heb 10:22). He warns, "Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward" (Heb 10:35) because "My righteous one shall live by faith" (Heb 10:38; Hab 2:3-4). To "shrink back" is "destruction," but faith preserves the soul (Heb 10:39) Faith is essential. So the author asks and answers, "What is faith?" We have the famous, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb 11:1). That is, faith is not a whim, a mere belief. It is "assurance" -- literally, the substance -- of hope and the "conviction" -- literally, the proof or evidence -- of things not seen. Like ... Creation (Heb 11:3).

The text tells us that the belief that the worlds were prepared by the word of God and not "made out of things which are visible" is a matter of faith. It is one of those "things not seen." We might question it. "I mean, how can you suggest it was not made out of things that are visible if science says otherwise?" By faith. By believing God's Word. That's what we read at the beginning of our bibles, so that's what we believe. That's faith.

So why am I telling you this? I mean, isn't that obvious? Yes, it is faith. We didn't see it happen. We have arguments from the world that it did not happen that way. But we choose, based on what the Bible tells us, to believe it ... by faith. "So, Stan, what's your point?" Well, just 3 verses later we read, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Heb 11:6). Well, now, hang on a minute! Did the author of Hebrews just link "by faith we believe in Creation" to "if you don't believe that, you can't please God"? I'm not going that far ... out loud. I just think that it is pretty brave to say, "I have faith" and "I can please God" while openly denying that God made all that is seen from that which is not seen -- a fundamental matter of faith. I would not be comfortable standing there when the two -- Hebrews 11:3 and Hebrews 11:6 -- are so close together. I would personally be cautious about affirming the latter while denying the former. But that's just me.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

All Who Call ... Are Called

In Acts 2 we read Peter's very first public sermon after Christ's Ascension. The Peter that, merely 50 days or so before, had denied even knowing Christ is the Peter that gave this amazing call to fellow Jews to trust Christ with things like the assertion that Christ was "delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23) and a previously unrealized connection to the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32. What changed? What changed Peter in such a short time? Well, obviously, Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13). Clearly, the coming of the promised Holy Spirit on the disciples of Christ made a radical difference.

That Joel reference causes problems for some. In it God declares, "I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams" (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17). "Hang on a minute," some say, "that says 'all'. Is that not universalism? Should we not expect all to be filled with the Spirit and prophesy and all that?" Seems like a reasonable question. Without trying to reinterpret the text to fit a presupposition, what can we find in the text to help? (Because that's how Scripture is best interpreted -- by Scripture.) First, in the quote itself, We read, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21). There's that "everyone" concept, but notice that it does not mean "all people" because it defines that "everyone" -- "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord." So that text limits "will be saved" to those who call on Christ for salvation. But look a little farther down the line. At the end of the sermon it says the people were "pierced to the heart" and asked "What shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). Peter said the famous, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). Classic: repent. Peter goes on to give them the breadth of the statement. "For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself" (Acts 2:39). "It's for you, and it's for you offspring, and it's for those who are far away." Who, then, is under this promise? "As many as the Lord our God will call to Himself."

We know, biblically, that universalism is false. Scripture is absolutely clear that "few" find the gate and "many" do not. We know, even from the lips of Christ, that there will be many who end up in eternal torment. So that "all" in Joel cannot mean "all people that have or do or will exist." God's Word defines that "all" from Joel's text -- "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord" -- and by the phrase, "as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." If you were thinking, "Hey, good news! This is a promise for salvation for everyone!", you were mistaken. If you see that it is an absolute certainty that everyone whom the Lord calls -- that all who, then, call on the name of the Lord to be saved -- will be saved, then you got it right and it is a glorious promise, a great place to rest if you have called on the name of the Lord to be saved. And that call that is necessarily accompanied by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit will radically change you, as well.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Just a Closer Walk with Thee

I believe that all humans (with the sole exception of Jesus Christ) have sinned (Rom 3:23). Beyond that, I believe that those same humans continue to sin. John wrote, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). In fact, one reason John wrote that first epistle was "so that you may not sin," but he immediately followed that with "But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1-2). Yes, even forgiven believers sin. Still, too many of us seem to come across as morally superior. We present ourselves -- to each other and to the world -- as having arrived. We do no wrong. No genuine believer actually believes that, but it's just the way we seem to come across. We are forgiven -- cleansed from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9) -- but we aren't perfect. Not even close.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. On this blog I write what comes to me. I write what I see in Scripture and what I see around me. If you follow this for very long, you'll see I tend to write about some things more often than others. Some might think it's because I've "arrived" on these points and wish you to get there, too. I have not. Do you remember Jimmy Swaggart? Swaggart had a variety of issues, but one was quite notable. He preached often about sexual immorality ... and was caught with prostitute and defrocked by the Assemblies of God, followed by a second such incident. What's my point? My point is that I tend to repeat some things not because I've got it all down, but because I don't. So I hammer home that husbands are commanded to love their wives by giving self up for her not because I'm that husband, but because I need to remember that and work on it. I keep pointing out that God is Sovereign not because I always see Him as Sovereign, but because I need my everyday thoughts to see Him that way when I don't every day. I continue to urge you to rejoice in tribulation because I need to be reminded often that I need to rejoice in tribulation. Much of what I write is a rejoinder to me, and I think, "Well, if I have a problem remembering this stuff, maybe some of my fellow believers do, too."

In Hebrews we are commanded to "consider how to stir up one another to love and good works" (Heb 10:24). We might do that by example. We might do that by encouraging one another. We might do that by teaching one another. We might do that by exhorting -- walking alongside -- one another. Because our task of serving and enjoying God is a group task, a community effort. We have been gifted by the Holy Spirit to this end (1 Cor 12:7). We are a family, a temple, adopted children of God, and we should be working with each other toward glorifying Him in everything. Because we don't and we should. So don't think, "Stan thinks he has arrived." I haven't. I only hope to encourage you to walk closer to Him as I try to encourage myself to do the same.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Divorce-Proof Marriage

According to Forbes Advisor, divorce rates in America have decreased from 4 per 1,000 people in 2000 to 2.5 per 1,000 people in 2021. Now, marriage rates have decreased in the same period from 8.2 per 1,000 to 6 per 1,000 in 2021, so it would appear reasonable that divorce rates would also drop, but you should see that 4 divorces out of 8.2 marriages is roughly 48% while 2 divorces out of 6 marriages is roughly 33%, so divorce rates are down. There was a time that the anti-Christian mainstream world was reporting that divorce rates among Christians were just as high as non-Christians, but, in fact, that wasn't quite accurate. Turns out that people who live what they believe had a significantly lower divorce rate than the rest of the world. Still ... is there such a thing as a "divorce-proof marriage"? In practical terms, I don't know, but in biblical terms it is a certainty.

What makes a divorce-proof marriage? Practicing what Scripture commands. Jesus said, "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate" (Matt 19:6). Done. But there's more. Peter said, "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct" (1 Peter 3:1-6). Paul wrote, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord" (Eph 5:22). Now, if a wife follows those instructions, how is divorce possible? How can a person in submission to another as to the Lord leave? It is a contradiction. Peter said, "Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered" (1 Peter 3:7). How could a husband whose mission is to understand and honor his wife exit the relationship? Why would a wife whose husband is intent on understanding and honoring her leave? Beyond that, Paul said, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her" (Eph 5:25-30) A husband who gives himself up for his wife as Christ gave Himself up for the church cannot even consider walking away. Cannot happen. Believers who are willing to follow these very simple instructions are fundamentally incapable of divorce. It's not even an option.

Paul summed it up this way. "However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband" (Eph 5:33). Simple. Mutual submission. This marriage doesn't stand on the faithfulness of each partner, but on the faithfulness of God. She is submitting as to the Lord because the Lord is faithful. He is loving his wife to the emptying of self because Christ is faithful. Marriage includes mutual submission "out of reverence for Christ" (Eph 5:21). So it's true. Those believers who actually practice what God's Word requires would necessarily have the lowest divorce rates in the world. The question, then, isn't "divorce-proof marriage," but are we believers going to obey God? That really should not be a question, should it?

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Counting My Blessings

A singer I'm not too familiar with named Seph Schlueter has a song called, "Counting My Blessings" on his album titled, "I, II, III, Infinity." The song (obviously) is about counting blessings, but at one point he sings, "I will keep counting my blessings knowing I can't count that high" and "One, two, three, up to infinity." Now, if you're just going along with the emotion, you'll be warmed, but if you're rational, you might ask, "Really? Infinity?"

All believers should make a practice of "counting my blessings," of being aware and grateful for all that God does for us. And we should be aware that it's a lot. But we have this one, particular shortfall. We classify "blessings" those things that are pleasant -- things we consider gain -- as opposed to the rest of our experiences of loss or the unpleasant. So we count that new job as a blessing and the loss of a job as not. We feel blessed that God kept a child safe from a trauma and not blessed if the child went through that trauma. We see positives as blessings and negatives as bad. Dare I say, "curses"? Well, no, probably not, although "curses" are the opposite of "blessings." So, if we're counting our blessings, we'd have to say they are definitely not infinite even if we might hold that there are a lot.

All this, of course, doesn't work out biblically, does it? Scripture says that all the "negatives" of life are "positives" to the believer. We don't guess ... we know that God works all things together for good to those who love God (Rom 8:28). We read that we should "Count it all joy when you encounter various trials" (James 1:2-4) specifically because they are perfecting us -- a blessing. Because trials improve us, we can "rejoice in our sufferings" (Rom 5:3-5), not merely endure them. Malachi speaks of God as "a refiner's fire" (Mal 3:2-3) whereby God burns off the dross and purifies the gold and silver. I would think that if gold or silver were sentient, they might appreciate the fire that makes them pure. When Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego went into the fire for their faith, all that burned was the ropes that bound them (Dan 3:1-30). We, too, should be counting as blessings the unpleasant, the "losses," the pains and trials that we have been given -- gifted -- and thanking God for His refining work in bringing us to a better reflection of His Son. If we did, we'd have to list a lot more blessings to count, wouldn't we?
________
Postscript: I know it may have looked like I was correcting the songwriter for his words. I was not. Perhaps "infinity" is hyperbole or maybe there is a sense in which our blessings are infinite (although, being finite ourselves, I'm not sure how), but I was not arguing that Seph was wrong. I really like that "I will keep counting my blessings knowing I can't count that high" line. I really like his urging us to count our blessings and recognize them more. I wasn't suggesting he was wrong. I was suggesting that we often get shortsighted about what blessings we do have, and that I am absolutely certain that we are not counting all the blessings we really do have. I'm pretty sure we can't count all our blessings because of our finite understanding and finite knowledge, but I hope we give it our best effort because there are far more than we realize at first look.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

News Weakly - 4/20/24

The Religion of Peace
Iran launched an attack against Israel over the weekend using missiles and drones -- the largest drone attack in history. (Yes, even bigger than the one launched by Egypt against Megiddo in 1457 B.C.) It was for an attack Israel denies they were responsible for and it severely injured a 7-year-old girl and caused 31 other minor injuries or panic attacks. The world waits for another shoe to drop. The Bee reports that Biden has retaliated against Iran for the attack by attaching a note on the pallet of cash we're sending to Iran saying, "Please do not use terrorism."

Banning the Constitution
In an oddly outlandish way, Colorado is working to ban guns. Most states already ban automatic weapons, but they're trying to ban semi-automatic weapons, too. However, the Supreme Court left Illinois's semi-automatic ban in place, so maybe we don't really need that pesky ol' 2nd Amendment anymore. Or the 1st. I bet there's a lot of our Constitution we can eliminate at this rate.

The State of Honesty
The state of California is suing the city of Huntington Beach (yes, California) because voters there want to require voters to identify themselves and California absolutely denies the need to have people identify as valid voters. Wait ... what? The state says it is "blatantly and flatly illegal" to require people to have ID. I mean, what could go wrong if you just ask people to tell you their name and address at a polling place? Californians are all invariably honest, right?

Fingers Pointing Back
Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Jackson (You remember her ... she couldn't define "woman") is warning that her conservative colleagues failed to show "reason and restraint" when they allowed Idaho's ban on youth transgender care to be enforced. Mind you, most of Europe has stepped back from encouraging such "care" and the most recent studies find little scientific support for it ("reason"), so I would consider Jackson's position as unreasonable and unrestrained.

Shooting the Messenger
Senior NPR editor Uri Berliner resigned after he released an essay to The Free Press about how NPR has aligned with liberal bias exclusively and lost the public's trust. NPR responded, "No we haven't." The Bee went on to say they assured us that they always strive for a range of opinions from the slightly communist to the very communist. Without satire or sarcasm, it all seems sad to me. Uri said he wanted NPR to do better, and NPR would have none of it.

Gun Control
The report is out that the military has tested an automated aircraft in combat with a human-flown opponent. The test, they said, was successful and offered the "potential for autonomous air-to-air combat." Now, I don't know about you, but to me giving weapons to AI and expecting them to follow orders and to exercise moral judgment is just an impossible notion, knowing that the programmers cannot be expected to do either themselves. AI can be beneficial in certain applications, but arming them is not a good idea.

America's Great Universities
You may have seen that the president of Columbia University answered questions from Congress about antisemitism on the campus (amid 100's of arrests of pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia University). What you may not have read was reported by the Bee when the president accidentally gave the Nazi salute while being sworn in for her testimony.

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Winging It

No, I'm not writing about my blog. I'm writing about the numbers of people -- they generally count themselves as Christians -- who have a form of faith that is not based on Scripture. They have "something better," apparently. "Why would we look to an ancient book written by men for our morality or beliefs?" So they shuffle Creation off to "myth" status since we all know that Science can prove that Evolution made it all. (Note: It can't.) They toss out such nonsense as Noah's Flood or most miraculous events in Scripture because Science can tell you that stuff just can't happen. (Note: Science can only tell us that by ignoring the texts and evidence and logic that a supernatural being can surely do things outside of natural restrictions.) A lot of the historical narrative is dismissed as ancient folklore. "I mean, seriously, would God require His people to make all those sacrifices for sin when sin is just not that bad?" "And, surely, God wouldn't command His people to kill the Amalekites like that, would He? Oh, no, we know better." The Old Testament is easy pickings for these, but they don't stop there. When Jesus says things they agree with, they'll use it, but when He doesn't, they ignore it. And after that it's even easier. "Paul? Why would we listen to an admitted killer? And those other guys? What do we really know about them?" And piece by piece they dismantle essentially the entirety of Scripture, if not overtly, by extension, because if Jesus quoted the Old Testament as fact and they disregard it, then Jesus is wrong ... along with the Old Testament they disregarded.

The thing that baffles me, then, is when they try to use Scripture to make their point. "Jesus said the gospel was for the poor and marginalized. Look, right there in Luke 4." Well, He didn't actually say anything about the "marginalized," and I'm not sure you heard Him right, but let's not go there right now. If you don't believe Scripture is reliable, why are you using Scripture to prove your point? How does it make sense to say, "Well, when Scripture says this which goes with what I believe, I'm all for it, but when it says that which blatantly contradicts my view, I reject it." You can't hang your hat on "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20) while ignoring "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 5:3). You can't applaud Jesus when He said He was the "friend of sinners" (Matt 11:19) and boo Him when He says, "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). You can't set aside Scripture as unreliable and erroneous and then try to use it to prove your point. It's just not rational.

A Christian is someone who puts his trust in the Son of God who came to give His life as a ransom for many and not some Social Justice warrior who didn't much care about sin or its solution. A Christian is one that trusts in God as He revealed Himself in His Word and not the one you make up on your own out of your "better instincts" and "brighter mind." Standing on your own intuition for truth is quite a feat, but it's not Christianity. And if you can make stuff up on your own, you ought to have the grace to allow that those of us who use God's Word as our guide -- not because the book is holy, but because God is holy -- might have just as sure a standing at the table of truth as your "gut feelings." "Because I said so" isn't really a good way to structure a religion ... if you're not actually God.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Blessed Assurance

There are those who claim, vehemently sometimes, that we can lose our salvation. And it's understandable why. There are, indeed, Scriptures that warn about those who "fall away" (e.g., Matt 24:9-13) or "depart from the faith" (e.g., 1 Tim 4:1-3) or the famous "Dog returns to its own vomit" thing (2 Peter 2:20-22). The question is, how do we do it? Well ... sin, obviously. Some measure of sin. But ... I thought sin was forgiven. I thought it was "finished." Apparently, then, we have some work to do ... or else. And, in the end, we end up saving ourselves. With God's help, of course. It's interesting. If you look at all the warnings of Scripture that suggest (and, note, not all the warnings that people refer to do suggest) that salvation can be lost, you'll see they are written from the perspective of the saved -- us, our work, our efforts. On the other hand, all of the Scriptures that say that salvation is sure are written from the perspective of God's work. Can we draw conclusions from that? I think so. If we're counting on working to keep our salvation through our careful efforts, we're counting on us, but if we're counting on keeping our salvation through God's work, we're counting on Him. The question, then, becomes who do you trust more?

Scripture says that the beginning of our salvation is Christ and the completion of our salvation is Christ. "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Php 1:6). The author of Hebrews refers to Jesus as "the author and perfecter of faith" (Heb 12:2), and Jude was certain that He "is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy" (Jude 1:24). According to Paul, our salvation begins before time (Eph 1:4) and is executed in an unending chain -- "these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified" (Rom 8:30) -- without aid or interference from us. Our salvation is the work of God, not ours.

Jesus said the Father gives to Jesus those who are saved, and "no one will snatch them out of My hand" (John 10:28-29). Unless Jesus meant, "Well, no one but you," we have to assume that no one, including us, can. John wrote, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life" (John 3:36). If that eternal life can be lost, it's not eternal, is it? So the question we have to ask ourselves is this: Will we trust ourselves to keep our salvation, or will we trust Christ who "is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb 7:25)? Will we save ourselves by our faithful obedience, or will we trust in the promises of God to do it for us? Which one of those provides blessed assurance?

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Changing of the Guard

I've been reading in Hebrews of late. It's actually a bit of work because ... well ... I'm not Jewish. (Frankly, I'm pretty sure there are very few modern Jews who are that Jewish.) I didn't grow up with their traditions. I've read the Old Testament and have an idea of them, but they're not ingrained in me. So I have to work at it, because Hebrews is all about how Jesus is the replacement -- the new covenant -- for the prophets and priests and sacrificial system. And learning about that system isn't brief. All that to say that I'm pretty sure we are not nearly aware enough and, therefore, grateful enough for our salvation.

The Scriptures lay out an extensive set of instructions for God's way of getting people right with Him in the case of their sin. There were prophets, specially appointed, who served as His mouthpiece, taking His words to the people. There were priests, specially selected, who served as the mediator between the people and God. These priests had specific duties including offering sacrifices to cleanse themselves from their own sin and then offering sacrifices on behalf of the people to cleanse them from theirs. This was, apparently, a full time job. (Religious texts suggest there were something like 1.2 million animals a year sacrificed for the people.) Once a year, one man -- the high priest -- would prepare himself with careful cleansing and then enter the holiest place -- the Holy of Holies -- and present an offering for the entire nation. Every year. Continually. With serious consequences for missteps. Hebrews says that Jesus is our Apostle -- the mouthpiece for God -- and High Priest (Heb 3:1). He speaks to us from God (Heb 1:2) and intercedes for us with God (Heb 7:25). While the priests of the old covenant worked continually to sacrifice for sins -- their own and others -- Christ made one sacrifice -- His own perfect blood (Heb 10:10) -- on our behalf (and not His own). Which is why, Hebrews says, the old covenant is obsolete (Heb 8:13) and we have a new and improved covenant with God.

For us on this side of Christ, it's often easy to lose sight of what it cost prior to Christ both in terms of proper procedures and sacrifices and in the contrast now. "Once for all," the phrase goes. We don't have to visit the tabernacle (or Temple) frequently and constantly obtain new forgiveness. We don't have to go through a priest or wait outside while they do the job. We don't have to worry about missed sins or forgotten trespasses. "Did we make sacrifices for those?" We come to Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2), and He cleanses and He perfects and He intercedes. We must not be ungrateful or lax because ours is a much better salvation than the old covenant offered. And we need not worry as the rest of humanity does that we won't be "good enough" ... because we won't. That's His job. Don't ever forget the magnitude of His grace and mercy in saving you and me.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

What Would Jesus Ask?

Matt Maher is a current Christian musician. He has a song out called "It's Yours" which is based on the Lord's Prayer (the alternate title). Matt opens his song with
Father, let Your Kingdom come
Father, let Your will be done
On Earth as in Heaven
Right here in my heart.
Matt skips right over the "introductions" -- of course we know we're talking to our heavenly, holy Father -- and jumps into the requests. There's only one problem. He skipped a request.

Jesus's famous "Lord's Prayer" begins, "Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name" (Matt 6:9). Indeed, the "our Father" and where He is are introductory remarks about the One to whom we are praying, but that next phrase is not. You see, we think Jesus said that the Father's name was holy. He didn't. Notice that He didn't say, "Hallowed is Your name," let alone "Holy is Your name." The words He selected were "Hallowed" and "be." The first Greek word is hagiazō. If He had intended to say "Holy," it would have been hagios, but this word means "to make holy; to consecrate." And it is "be" and not "is" because God's name is not always regarded as holy. Now, it is abundantly clear from Scripture that God is holy (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8), so that's not in question. What Jesus wanted His disciples to make part of their regular prayer is that the Father would be regarded as holy by His people. That, as it turns out, was Jesus's first request in His example prayer for His disciples.

Scripture on two occasions boldly declares that God is not merely "holy" or even "holy, holy," but that He is "holy, holy, holy" -- holiness raised to the highest level. This isn't mere purity or removal from sin like we tend to think of it. It is that, and more. It is "otherness." He is not like us. But we -- even believers -- tend to think of Him as a "bigger us." We assume He's just like us only more. And He's not. He's "other." To the utmost. His holiness encompasses all His attributes. It defines His transcendence and communicates His sovereignty. He is not holy like we should be. "There is no one holy like the Lord" (1 Sam 2:2). It is, in fact, only when we begin to get a grip on this concept of "holy" as "other" that we can start to know God as He is -- as He has revealed Himself.

So Jesus prayed -- as a first request -- "Hallowed be Your name." It should be our first request. "May we regard You as holy and lead others to do the same." It should be our lifelong aim to see Him as "holy, holy, holy" and nothing like "commonplace." That is, we, too, need that prayer.

Monday, April 15, 2024

The New Accounting

James was a brother of Jesus. After Jesus's resurrection, James became a believer and a leader in the church in Jerusalem. He wrote a letter to Jewish believers scattered abroad to tell them about how they can be healthy, wealthy, and comfortable. Well, he wrote the letter, but not with that message. Instead, he assured them that trials were a sure thing. So he wanted to tell them about the new method of accounting in tribulation.
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)
Notice that he did not say "if you meet trials." Oh, no. We are assured there will be trials. Notice, also, that this wasn't presented as a suggestion. It is a command. So, here they are, holding "trials of various kinds" in hand. What are they to do with them? How do they classify them? "Let's see ... here's a healing. Count it as a blessing. Here's food to eat and a place to sleep. Count it as the grace of God. Oh, and here's a trial. Count it ... all joy." All joy?

The command seems irrational. Trials, by definition, are painful. The opposite of pleasant. Not something to be happy about. So he doesn't command them to be happy about it. But he does command that they put it in the category of joy. Happiness is a feeling of pleasure brought about by our perceptions of pleasant circumstances. Joy is a gift from God (Gal 5:22-23) and comes from a delight in God. And James is saying, "There is good reason to assign trials to the category of 'joy' because there is good reason for trials." Tribulations, he says, test your faith. That testing of your faith produces endurance. That endurance completes you. That's a good thing.

Our world tells us that true happiness is found in comfort and pleasure. That, in fact, assures us that we won't find true happiness because comfort and pleasure are fleeting. Believers have a different measure. We have true joy, a deep-seated pleasure in God that makes the process of being perfected a joyful one. It's a different method of accounting. Where the world counts trials as something to be avoided, we count trials as fuel for joy as a loving Father uses them to perfect us for His use.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Where Your Mouth Is

Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt 6:21). We get that, right? We have a saying -- "Put your money where your mouth is" -- intended to say, "Well, if that's what you really believe, then we should be able to see it in your life." You know, like Jesus said.

Christians are often falsely accused of being hypocrites. "Well, you're against sexual sin, but didn't you do the same things when you were younger?" That's not, actually, hypocrisy. The biblical position is that all have sinned (Rom 3:23), and the Christian stance is that we are sinners looking to Christ for His solution. Hypocrisy would require we say we're not. On the other hand, Christians are often truthfully accused of hypocrisy. How does that work? When we say with our mouths that we believe this or that, but our lives don't reflect it. It is odd, in fact, how much this permeates the Christian community. I think every one of us walks around with secret sins believing we're the only one suffering from them and no one else is, so we keep them secret and put on a show of being godly in areas we aren't. That is hypocrisy. And it's unnecessary if biblical Christianity is true.

Here's the real problem, though. Have you ever reflected on where your heart is? Let me try this from a different direction. What does your life say about what you really treasure? Is time with God and His people your highest pleasure, or is it a chore you endure ... sometimes? Do you express compassion for the needy without attending to them? Do you speak with outrage of the sins of the society around you while you secretly follow them with pleasure? Do you aim to deny yourself and take up your cross all while pursuing your highest comfort? Do you treasure the gospel, but don't plan to share it with anyone else? If we're honest, we all suffer from this problem of misplaced treasure -- fun, friends, family, fame, fortune, pleasure, etc. -- that is proven out in our actual living. We think we're getting away with it because we either don't see it or, at least, we're pretty sure no one else does. If our hearts (as opposed to our words) are not in the right place, it's very likely a misplaced treasure we're seeking.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

News Weakly - 4/13/24

Debt Relief
Biden keeps promising debt relief but he's only talking about student loans while the country wallows in massive national debt ... which he hopes to increase by offering ... debt relief.

Politics as Usual
Trump made the news again when he urged the GOP to back off their "Save the lives of the unborn" stance in favor of "Let states decide" in order to win this November. The Bee, of course, couldn't let that go without comment. In one story they said his position on aborion is "whichever one will get him elected" and in another they suggested the unborn are now considering "third party candidates." I can see that.

Whose Side Are They On?
The Vatican released a document that describes current gender theory, along with other concepts like abortion, euthanasia, and surrogate parenthood, as a threat to human dignity. The Bee reported that the Vatican "reluctantly sides with God on gender theory." The White House, at the direction of a "Catholic" president, disagreed with the pope, demonstrating clearly that Biden et al. certainly believe themselves to be above the pope (God's mouthpiece for Catholics) in their Catholicism. But we knew that already, didn't we?

Did God Say ...?
A Georgia woman apparently went on a shooting rampage in Florida, wounding two drivers. She claims God told her to do it ... because of the solar eclipse. Now, if we have God's Word to tell us what God says, we'd definitely rule that out, but if we're just going to say, "The Holy Spirit talks to whomever He wants and changes His tune whenever He wishes," then I suppose we'll have to let her off ... right?

How Did We Get Here?
The Arizona Supreme Court reinstated an 1864 law that banned all abortions except if a mother's life is threatened. Wait ... can they do that? Is it legal to defend life to that extreme? Doesn't "I want to have sex with whom I please without consequences" override life? I don't get it. And in a typical moment of clarity, Trump said the Arizona Supreme Court "went too far" in protecting life ... and then assured us "it's all about states' rights." Well ... is it or isn't it? (Oh, and don't worry, I don't think any state can retain this position for long in our current sexular society where sex, not right, rules. They'll repeal this quickly ... and, yes, I'm talking about the GOP as well as the Dems.) Of course, Kamala Harris sees it as a campaign feature. She's traveling to Arizona to urge voters to throw out a government that defends life because everyone knows that's just stupid.

Ceasefire?
Negotiations are in trouble in the Israeli/Hamas conflict. Israel wants 40 hostages returned but Hamas says they don't have enough Israeli hostages to comply. (Does that mean they've already killed most of them?) They counter that they'd be willing to stop shooting if Israel will withdraw from Palestine. That last, of course, is the Bee's take, but it's not far off the truth.

Interesting "Campaign"
There is a report out that the Democratic National Committee paid more than $1.5 million in legal bills for Biden's defense in his retention of classified information investigation ... from donations for Biden's presidential campaign. Now, I can see that clearing the man (from the same charges that Trump faced) might be seen as "presidential campaign," but I find it hard to believe it's actually legal to do it and I find it equally hard to believe that donors for a campaign would want their campaign donations to be spent on legal defense of their candidate. And you know if Trump's folks did that there would be more legal wrangling to take Trump down. But, of course, "fair and balanced" is no longer in our vocabulary while "double standard," also not in our vocabulary, seems to be "business as usual" these days.
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(Postscript: In case you didn't notice, I opted to sprinkle the Babylon Bee stuff in with the stories to which they related. No need to look down here for them.)

Friday, April 12, 2024

Double Standard

DEI is all the rage -- diversity, equality, and inclusion. Companies and campuses have entire departments dedicated to promoting and even requiring it. Largely driven from "Black Lives Matter" theology that all whites are racist, the Feminism worldview that all men are sexist, and, of course, the current sexular society that lays the heaviest weight on the demands of less than 10% of society -- the so-called LGBT+ folks -- we don't find pleas for diversity, equality, and inclusion; it's all demands. It's required. It's not a conversation; it's a revolution.

Make no mistake; the battle is engaged. Institutions of higher education have stepped up big time, but corporations aren't far behind. It's no longer about economics for them; it's about "corporate social responsibility." But, oddly enough, it is, in its daily application, fundamentally opposed to diversity, equality, and inclusion. Yes, read that again. All this DEI stuff runs on the principle of not diversifying, equalizing, or including, but the opposite. The way to diversify is to eliminate those who aren't diverse. The way to equalize is not to bring what is lower up, but to bring down that which is higher. The way to include is to exclude those who don't agree. News organizations have stepped up to the DEI program by eliminating diverse thought in their ranks and homing in on a singular vantage point from which to attack those who are not diverse, equal, or inclusive enough on the right issues in their view. The once accepted notion of blind justice and diverse media are headed out the door. Repeatedly over the past 10 years (or more) stories have surfaced (e.g., Russiagate, Hunter's emails, COVID origins) that were intentionally drowned despite the evidence because they didn't fit the required message. The DOJ, the FBI, the mainstream media, etc., have been politically weaponized, grabbing the ear of the public in order to train them what to think. So we get things like rampant antisemitism and "Death to America" rallies in the heart of our American melting pot.

Diversity, equality, and inclusion ... these aren't bad things. I suppose that's part of the problem, the reason why we're confused. They are good things. They are not the problem. The problem is this double standard that says that the way to achieve those good goals is to eliminate opposition. Fine them. Fire them. Bury them. Ruin them. We can't even talk about it. It used to be the rallying cry of the media: "The people have the right to know!" Now it's more like, "The people have the right to know ... what to think!" And, almost biblically, "we, like sheep, have gone astray."

Thursday, April 11, 2024

When Suicide is the Best Option

There are those who believe that suicide is an unforgivable sin. I mean, how can it not? You can't repent afterward, and that's how we get forgiveness, isn't it? Well, no. That's not. We get forgiveness by faith in the shed blood of the Lamb, and once that work is begun, it can't be terminated (Php 1:6). Still, suicide is not a good option. It's not recommended. Don't do it. Unless ...

As it turns out, there is one, single, particular sense in which suicide is not only a good option, it's the best. Humans, you see, start life spiritually dead. That's why Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). When we are born again, our lives are changed -- new (2 Cor 5:17). We are baptized into Christ's death and raised to new life in Him (Rom 6:4-8). Jesus said, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me" (Luke 9:23). Paul wrote, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me" (Gal 2:20). So Christians are uniquely called to ... commit suicide, to die to self. "Those who belong to Christ Jesus," Paul wrote, "have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to His cross and crucified them there" (Gal 5:24-25). Christ paid for our sins so that we would die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). Our fundamental mode of worship is to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God (Rom 12:1). Because you belong to Christ, "you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Col 3:3). "Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead ..." (Col 3:5).

No, we're not talking about physical suicide, about terminating life. We are talking about being dead to sin and alive to Christ. We are talking about a new life where self is set aside in favor of loving God and loving those around us. In a very real sense, the Christian life begins with death -- death of self, death to sin, death to the old man. We are to die daily and "do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves" (Php 2:3). Ironically, it is only in this death -- death to self and sin -- that we can finally, truly live.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

The Hope of the Cross

We've recently celebrated "Holy Week," the last week of Jesus's public ministry on earth, beginning with the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem and ending with His crucifixion and resurrection. It is, at once, a horrifying and glorious event. Horrifying because they killed the Son of God; glorious because the result is life eternal for those who believe. The cross, then, gives hope. Now, we who are followers of Christ are well aware of the hope -- eternal life. Because of Christ's crucifixion, our debt is paid. He nailed it to the cross (Col 2:14). He achieved what He set out to do; He ransomed us (Matt 20:28). Because of His death, our sins are forgiven and because of His resurrection, we have new life (Rom 6:4). That's our hope -- the hope of the cross.

The truth is, however, much of that hope is future. What I mean is when we come to Christ and our sin is forgiven, we go on living. We still commit sins. We still encounter pain. We continue this life. That eternal life of joy in the presence of our Savior is yet to come. And that certainly is a wondrous thing, but what about now? What is the hope the cross gives for now? I've been impressed with a very real message of hope that Scripture gives us from the cross. In Peter's first sermon (Acts 2:14-36) he made something crystal clear.
Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know -- this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. (Acts 2:22-23)
Later, the believers under threat repeated this notion.
"For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur." (Acts 4:27-28)
According to Scripture, Christ's trial, torture, and murder were all part of God's plan. He predestined it and it was acomplished. And that is a great source of hope for us.

To the believers in Acts 4, the fact that God planned for Jesus to die gave them confidence to speak, even under threat. Paul pointed to the cross and said, "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" (Rom 8:32). The cross gives us a future hope, to be sure, but it gives us a real-time, everyday, ongoing confidence that if God can plan and accomplish the ultimate good through the ultimate evil of the murder of His Son, how much more can we be confident "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)? In "tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword ... we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us" (Rom 8:35-39). Every day. Real time. Without fail. How do we know that? Because of the cross. Because God planned, executed, and used His own Son's death to accomplish the very best good. Rejoicing in tribulation now and eternal life to come ... that's the hope of the cross for those of us who believe.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Turnabout Isn't Always Fair Play

A former speechwriter for Obama called Biden weak for failing to turn on Israel after the unintentional killing of 7 humanitarian aid workers in Gaza. The media is reporting less and less support for Israel in and out of America. More and more want to see Israel annihilated. Well, now, no, that's not what they're saying. That's just the only possible conclusion. Because Israel is trying to defend itself from Hamas and Palestinians are dying. "War crimes," they call it. "Genocide" is bandied about, too.

I wonder if anyone has looked at the UN definition of "war crimes." According to their document, first on the list of what constitutes "war crimes" is "Wilful killing." (That was their spelling; don't complain to me about it.) Okay, hold on ... is it possible to even engage in war without willfully killing? The only legal war includes no deaths? Last on the list of "grave breaches" is "taking hostages." Oh, yeah, that wasn't Israel, was it? No, it was the "innocent Palestinian" forces. "No, no," people tell me, "it's not that they're defending themselves. It's that they're killing too many innocent citizens." Now, we in the civilized 21st century believe that war should never harm "innocent citizens," and that seems reasonable. Any "colateral damage" is unacceptable, so we make smart weapons and avoid shooting at any possible innocent target. Except the definition of "innocent citizens" gets really hazy in Gaza. In 2008 Hamas openly declared that they would use civilians as shields for their forces, locating rockets in schools or hospitals. In the 2014 Gaza war, Hamas called for civilians to show up for that purpose and they did. A recent poll showed that over 90% of "innocent civilians" currently support Hamas, with its killing and kidnapping of "innocent civilians" in Israel, in its drive to attack and eliminate Israel.

I'm not arguing that all of Israel's actions today are right or good, but Israel is currently being held hostage by Hamas, Hezbollah, and other Arab nations bent on their destruction because the world doesn't want them to defend themselves, and their enemies intend to kill as many of their own as it takes to make Israel stop. The world in its 21st century, civilized haze, cannot seem to fathom that this is not like former wars where soldiers wore uniforms and were clearly distinct from civilians. So we buy the outrage and cry against "genocide" when it is not Israel who wants Palestinians destroyed, but it is Palestinians who demand the annihilation of Israel. Given the decline of reason and the bias of media that refuses to tell the whole story and the hate of the Muslim world for the Jews, it is unlikely that we'll see a change of opinion anytime soon. That, unfortunately, is another indication of the loss of truth in the world today.

Monday, April 08, 2024

Throwing Shade

It's kind of interesting. Our Moon is about 400 times smaller than our Sun. You'd think a little, tiny thing (in comparison) like that would be but a speck on the face of the Sun. As it turns out, however, the Sun is about 400 times farther away from the Earth than the Moon. So, small as it is, if the moon gets in the precise spot between the Sun and the Earth, you get ... a solar eclipse. Imagine that! Something so tiny throwing shade on something so big!

Of course, when you think about it, it's not so strange. We do it all the time. The combined intelligence, for instance, of the human race isn't a drop in the bucket to God's infinite wisdom, yet unbelievers and believers alike are perfectly willing to set aside God's Word in favor of Man's opinion. All we need is a "That doesn't feel quite right" and God loses and we take over. We read stuff in the Bible that goes dead against popular ideas. "Really? Turn the other cheek?" "Really? Forgive?" "Really? Submit?" "Are you serious? Die to self??" And our world screams at us, "No, that doesn't make sense" and we have to decide whether God is smarter than we are. We have to decide ... throwing shade on God.

I'm sure you can come up with your own examples. I'm sure you can come up with examples from your own experiences. Because we all, as created beings, tend to throw shade on the Infinite God. The only way that can be done, of course, is if we're too far from Him and too close to the world. Well, I think you get the idea.

Sunday, April 07, 2024

A Terrifying Thing

The author of Hebrews writes, "How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, 'Vengeance is mine; I will repay.' And again, 'The Lord will judge His people.' It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb 10:29-31). This, of course, doesn't compute in the minds of people with a dim view of God. They argue that God's Word isn't trustworthy, that He got it wrong or just couldn't get it straight. They argue that God is no danger; He's a loving God. He won't harm us. They argue that Jesus did not die for our sins. So it doesn't seem to them a terrifying thing.

Of course, the author of Hebrews has a specific idea of those who have "trampled under foot the Son of God." After urging believers to "draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water" (Heb 10:22) and to "consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet 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), he warns of those who "go on sinning deliberately" because "after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins" (Heb 10:26). This is the group of people the author of Hebrews is warning. They've received the knowledge of truth and ignored it. They know what God says and discard it. They go on sinning deliberately. The word there is interesting. It means "voluntarily." It's the idea that "I know it's sin and I volunteer to do it!"

Those who love Christ work hard to avoid sin. Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). Cause and effect. John wrote, "No one who is born of God makes a practice of sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God" (1 John 3:9). No, we don't arrive at sinlessness this side of heaven (1 John 1:8-10; 1 John 2:1-2), but the notion of deliberately sinning is an unpleasant thought. Yes, there is the fear of falling into the hands of an angry God, but it is also the fear of violating the God we love. And, it's ironic, isn't it? It's a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God, but it's also a terrifying thing to fall out. For those intent on sin, there is no more terrifying place to be than in the hands of an angry God. For those who love God, there is no safer place to be than in the hands of a loving God.

Saturday, April 06, 2024

News Weakly - 4/6/24

Wrong Person, Wrong Place
Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is concerned that the 1st Amendment is "hamstringing the government." It makes me concerned about her Constitutional comprehension. The primary aim of the Bill of Rights was to "hamstring the government," so to speak, whereby "Congress shall pass no law ..." preventing the people from having their rights. But, I suppose, if she can't define "woman," why would I expect her to understand that our government was intended to be limited by our rights?

Failed Experiment
Oregon tried this experiment of decriminalizing possession of drugs back in 2020. Oregon's governor just signed a bill into law that reverses that experiment. For various reasons, it didn't work. Like we're surprised?

With Friends Like That ...
Biden actually held out longer than I thought he would ... but no more. He supported Israel's right to self-defense for longer than others, but now is demanding an immediate unilateral ceasefire with a threat. "Stop shooting or you'll get no more support from the U.S." In His covenant with Abram, God said, "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen 12:3). To which Biden (and the world) says, "Meh."

You've Got to See to Beelieve.
Of course, the Bee had to comment on Biden's demand for Israel to back off. Their headline reads, "Biden Demands Israel Fight Rest Of War Using Nerf Guns." I suppose the world would applaud. Elsewhere, Democrats are now warning parents to transition their kids early before they grow out of it. A real problem. And in the wake of the earthquake in Taiwan, China has kindly offered to send 100,000 soldiers to help clean up. And why wouldn't they?

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, April 05, 2024

If the World Hates You

The Telegraph carried an article about famed anti-theist, Richard Dawkins. Dawkins has been a voice in strong opposition to Christianity in public life. Amusingly, the writer likens Dawkins to Paul on the Damascus road, because recently Dawkins "came out" as a "cultural Christian." No, he's not a convert. But he realized that he likes living in a "Christian society" and bemoans that the decline of Christian values has unleashed terrible new gods. Apparently the utopia an atheist worldview would bring hasn't materialized, and a more malevolent and less reasonable one has emerged. In Scotland these days, for instance, citing biological facts regarding sex can get you in trouble with the police because Scotland has seen one of the fastest falls from Christianity. Not an improvement.

It's interesting, isn't it, that you can find article after article telling you why Christians are dangerous and evil and Christianity is wrong, wrong, wrong? You can find people arguing about how Scripture is wrong and the church is wrong and Christians are wrong. You can find self-identified Christians telling us the Bible is wrong or, at best, flawed, and that biblical morality is not a good source for a moral code for a society. You can find arguments and reasons to censure, silence, and even arrest on the basis of "hate" those who approve of a biblical worldview. And on and on. What I don't ever see is people online picking apart the Quran, examining what's wrong with Islam, or explaining the fundamental issues with Muslims. Now, of course, the most common reason given for that is ... Salman Rushdie. Cross Islam and someone might be out to get you. I might buy that, but beyond Islam, there isn't much in the way of analysis of Buddhism, Hinduism, or any other theological structures held in our world. No one asks if Taoism makes sense or if there is evidence for Shintoism. We don't see articles dedicated to examining Voodoo or Sikhism as a valid belief. None of those other 19 major world religions (per Wikipedia's list) have websites calling on people to avoid or even attack them. Just Christianity. Why is that?

Maybe it's because Christianity is "dominant." We know, of course, that Jesus said "few there are that find it" (Matt 7:14), but at least in name, Christianity has the biggest following in the world, so maybe that's one reason. Maybe because its adherents are often so vocal (because we are, after all, commanded to talk to people about Christ). Maybe it is partly, at least, because we're a "safe target." I mean, if Christ taught "turn the other cheek" (Matt 5:39) and Christians are followers of Christ, skeptics would feel pretty safe "slapping Christians," so to speak, right? Or maybe, just maybe, it has to do with the promise our Lord left (Matt 10:22). Maybe it's because we are warned that friendship with the world makes us enemies of God (James 4:4). Maybe it's because men love the darkness (John 3:19). Maybe it's because the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor 1:18). Maybe because the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God (Rom 8:7) and genuine followers of Christ represent Him. Maybe there's good reason that other religions get a pass from a hostile world, but not Christ-followers -- the rejection of truth (2 Tim 4:3-4).

Thursday, April 04, 2024

Saved ... From What?

The book of Hebrews was, interestingly, written to Hebrews. (Yes, that's very fine exegesis, right?) It was written with the Hebrew mindset in view. In the book, the author first sets out to explain that Jesus was higher than angels. Then he lays out how Jesus was higher than Moses (the #1 Prophet in Hebrew thinking). Then he lays out how Jesus is our High Priest. Better than the angels, better than the Prophet, and better than the high priests. From a Hebrew mind, that's remarkable. The author of Hebrews uses a phrase from Psalm 110 to refer to Jesus, calling Him "a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek" (Psa 110:4; Heb 5:6, 10; Heb 6:20), and spends chapter 7 explaining just what that means.

To 21st century Americans, "high priest" doesn't have a lot of significance, but to the Hebrew mind this role was of critical importance. He was the intercessor for man before God. He was the guy that took their sacrifices and appeased God's wrath. He was the guy that kept God from doing dreadful things to them because of their sin. A prophet was the one who brought God's words to the people; a high priest was the one who brought the people to God. Of course, priests were human and needed the same intercession. And, they died. Unlike human priests, Christ is our High Priest forever. "Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb 7:25). Now, that is a magnificent statement. "He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him." No human high priest could; they had to keep making sacrifices for themselves and the people. Christ can. And we debate about "save forever" -- "Can you lose your salvation?" -- but this text says He can save forever, so if our salvation depends on Him, we can't lose it. But that last phrase is something to examine. "... since He always lives to make intercession for them." There are two things we can draw from that. First, that "save forever" is an ongoing process since it says He always lives to make intercession. If it was an instantaneous, "one and done" process, He wouldn't have to keep making intercession. He does. And the other thing we can pull out of that is the answer to the question, "From what are we saved?" Are we saved from bad things or disaster? Are we saved from others or even from ourselves? Maybe we're saved from Satan's grasp? This text indicates that the "save forever" that He brings is a salvation ... from God. It is to God that He intercedes for us because it is God who has righteous wrath (Rom 1:16-18) for our sin. That's why He became "a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (Heb 2:17).

The Jews understood the concept of an angry God. Scriptures warn us about our angry God (e.g., Rom 1:18; Rom 9:22; Heb Heb 3:11; Heb 10:31). God's Word also tells us of "propitiation" -- the appeasement of that wrath in the person of Christ (Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10). those who trust in Christ are saved from God's wrath. And the author of Hebrews rightly asks, "How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (Heb 2:3).

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Improving on God

Like the old ad said, "You've come a long way, baby." The Bible begins, "In the beginning, God ..." and that was all well and good, but over time -- and especially in our time -- we've made lots of improvements on God.

Let's look at a few examples. Originally, God made humans "male and female" (Gen 1:27). Lots of stuff was predicated on that. Things like "husband and wife" and "father and mother" and "man and woman." Rules like women not wearing men's clothes (or vice versa) (Deut 22:5). But God had no notion of gender. So we figured it out and fixed that. Now a man can be a woman and a woman a man. In fact, that's "binary" and we know better now. God, I'm sure, thanks us. And the whole nonsense of "wives submit to your husbands" (Eph 5:22; 1 Peter 3:1). No longer necessary since we eliminated that whole idea. God had no notion of same-sex love, and we figured that out and fixed that, too. God made that silly "a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife" thing for marriage (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:5) and we fixed that. God made up some silly rules about "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous" (Heb 13:4; etc.) and we finally put an end to that nonsense. Sex is for whomever whenever (as long as we approve). God thought that sending His Son to die on our behalf for our sin was an excellent idea (Matt 20:28; Rom 5:8; Rom 3:24-26; etc.) but we've moved on from such brutality and have figured out He could just "forgive" and that's that. Jesus mistakenly believed that "The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matt 7:14) and we've moved much closer (if not completely into) universalism where everyone makes it in. Oh, yeah, much better.

God gave us His Word (2 Tim 3:16-17). We've accepted it, reinterpreted it, and ended up with a much better explanation and plan. God thought Creation was a fine explanation for all existence (Gen 1:1-31) but we prefer the Evolution story. God thought death for sin was a just response (Gen 2:16-17) but we know better. God's plan was "man and woman" for marriage (Gen 2:24) but we've become more inclusive than God. God thought that a "chosen people" was the right approach (Deut 7:6; 1 Peter 2:9) but we're much more generous. God thought a lamb to take away sin was great (John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:17-19) but we've determined that's too barbaric. We've really improved on God's original ideas. No nutty "gender roles" in church (1 Tim 2:12-14) or marriage (1 Cor 11:3; Eph 5:22-31). No silly rules against homosexuals (1 Cor 6:9-10). No crazy ideas that sex and gender are related. No limiting of fun with sex at all, in fact. No "punishment for sin" or the like. No redemption. In fact, no real reason for Christ to die. Wow! I bet God wished we had figured that out for Him before He sent His Son to Calvary. All that unnecessary pain now that we have it all figured out for Him. You should expect a "thank you" note from God in your mail soon.

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

The Problem of "Harm"

Dan complains that saying that homosexual relations are wrong or that transgender is wrong is harmful and, therefore, hate. He complains that I don't acknowledge that or correct any of my commenters who don't acknowledge that. The problem is -- and I'm not talking about the problem with Dan, but the problem with this view -- that the fundamental premise is confused. Here it is: "We are right." Okay, that's not sufficient. "We are right and where the Bible says otherwise the Bible is wrong."

There is this notion that the sole basis for any morality is "do no harm." The problem with that, of course, is defining "harm." On a surface level, for example, sticking a needle in a child's arm causes "harm" as evidenced by her screams of pain, but the doctors and the adults know that this harm is short-term, but the long-term effect is beneficial. You are preventing that child from contracting a potentially deadly disease. So "harm" as a measurement of morality is problematic because humans, as a race, have a hard time obtaining or allowing sufficient data to determine "harm." "Gay" or "transgender" are examples. "You harm them when you tell them they're wrong" may be true in the sense that it hurts their feelings (and the ramifications of hurt feelings), but if the Bible means what it actually says -- "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9-10) -- then clearly the real harm would be in not attempting to spare people from missing the kingdom of God.

Look, let's do a thought experiment. Let's say that it is actually true that God's Word is true and what it says in the Bible is real. That's really where we diverge, isn't it? Christians take God at His Word (like Christ (John 17:17)) and seek salvation for those they encounter. Telling anyone they're a sinner is "harmful" in the sense of causing some pain -- no one wants to hear they're sinning -- but it is real love to seek to save the lost and it is actually hate to simply make them feel better about being lost. Jesus came for that purpose (Luke 19:10). We should continue it. Enabling sin is not loving or harmless. If God's Word is true (because God is true), surely it's obvious that urging people to repent and come to Christ is not "hate" or "harm." If one accepts God's Word.

Monday, April 01, 2024

Dihydrogen Monoxide

Okay, enough. The world is sorry enough and the news is depressing enough and, let's be honest, the more we know about Christ and His Word, the more discouraged we can get with our own shortcomings. So this is not a pointed post today. This is, in the words of Monty Python, "something completely different." That, of course, is because it's April 1st.

In corporate America if the work you do uses chemicals it is an OSHA requirement that you have a book for MSDS, Material Safety Data Sheets. In this book you're supposed to put all the information about the dangerous chemicals in use. Here is the MSDS for a substance known as Dihydrogen Monoxide.
Dihydrogen Monoxide

Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)

IV. FIRE & EXPLOSION DATA

Unusual Fire and Explosion Hazard: Rapid temperature rise of liquid can result in explosive vaporization, particularly if in a sealed container.

V. HEALTH HAZARD INFORMATION

Inhalation
Acute over exposure: Inhalation can result in asphyxiation and is often fatal.

Skin Contact
Acute overexposure: Prolonged but constant contact with liquid may cause a mild dermatitis.
Chronic overexposure: Mild to severe dermatitis.

Ingestion
Acute overexposure: Excessive ingestion of liquid form can cause gastric distress and mild diarrhea.

VI. REACTIVITY DATA

Hazardous decomposition products: Hydrogen - Explosive gas Oxygen - Supports rapid combustion
As you can see, this is some pretty nasty stuff. If inhaled, it can cause asphyxiation and is often fatal. Overexposure isn't bad -- "mild dermatitis" -- but over-ingestion is potentially fatal. Not included in this MSDS is the dangers of this stuff in its gaseous and solid forms. Exposure to the solid form can be serious and even fatal. If you encounter its gaseous form it can cause serious burns. Even in its liquid form it is one of the leading causes of death in young children.

The thing that this datasheet doesn't tell you is that this stuff is everywhere. Factories use it regularly and dump it into sewers, streams and other waterways unfiltered. You'll find it in lakes and oceans in abundance. It is the primary component of acid rain. It is the leading cause of soil erosion. This chemical is found in pre-cancerous tumors. If your car brakes are exposed to it, it can seriously decrease their efficiency, causing auto accidents. Recent science suggests that it is a major factor in El NiƱo and the rampant destruction of sea life from warming water. It is used as a chemical solvent. It is used in nuclear facilities. Fire departments use it as a chemical fire suppressant. Scientists use it in their preparation genetically-modified plants. The CIA has reportedly used it as a method of torture. It is used in pesticide production, sanitation, and animal research facilities. The Navy uses it extensively in weapons testing. The list goes on.

For reasons unknown the authorities appear to be blind to this dangerous chemical. They barely regulate it, require little safety precautions, and allow its general use in all sorts of applications. The stuff that they use to remove human waste is the same stuff that's in your favorite soda. Banning this stuff outright seems like the best idea, but nobody is working on this at all.

What should you do? Nothing. Nothing at all. Dihydrogen monoxide is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen: H2O. But it's interesting, isn't it, how the right spin can make even water look bad.