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Sunday, August 01, 2021

Be Like That

"Like Jesus" is a concept, in a variety of forms, that is often repeated in Scripture. We are being conformed to His image (Rom 8:29). We are to love one another "as I have loved you" (John 13:34). We are to welcome one another "as Christ has welcomed you" (Rom 15:7). Husbands are to love their wives "as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her" (Eph 5:25). And that's just a smattering. In fact, the term "Christian" should convey "one who seeks to be like Christ."

What is this standard, then, set by Christ? How would we be like Him? How would we love one another and welcome one another like Christ? Well, the first thing we might notice is the selflessness with which He did these things. "We love because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19). In fact, "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:8). "While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son." (Rom 5:10). In His engagements with the chosen (chosen before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4)) He didn't wait for them to come to Him. Not like us. We wait. We see who will notice us. We aren't, typically, the initiators. Nor did He only go to the "good" people. Not like us. We try to find people who might like us. He didn't hold back, but died for enemies. Not like us.

We are to be Christ-like. We want to be Christ-like. So God's Word says, "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice" (Rom 12:1) just like Christ did and "Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up" (Rom 15:2) because "Christ did not please Himself" (Rom 15:3). (See also Php 2:3-4.) God's Word says that we are to have the same humility that Jesus had (Php 2:5-8). Jesus took the initiative. Jesus gave without receiving in view. Jesus loved enemies. Jesus loved sacrificially. Love like that. Christians -- you and me -- be like that.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

News Weakly - 7/31/21

The Handwriting on the Wall
This last March reports were out that said that nearly half of all health care workers were not vaccinated. They are concerned about the safety of the vaccine and its side effects. As of June, "huge numbers of hospital workers" were still unvaccinated. Some of the largest hospitals are between 30 to 40% vaccinated. Still, Sean Penn says he won't go back to work until the entire cast and crew have received COVID vaccinations. If that was a one-off, it wouldn't be very significant. It's not. The president said the only pandemic now is among the unvaccinated. NYC Mayor De Blasio urged employers to mandate it and companies like Google and Facebook are already on board. The NFL will require teams to forfeit games if unvaccinated players get sick. (Will they require the team to forfeit if vaccinated players get sick?) The president mandated the vaccine for all federal workers and contractors, the DOD is complying, and the VA has mandated it for their people. New York has mandated it for all state employees. Alabama's governor says, "It's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks" and vaccine shaming is on the rise. A woman in Seattle pepper-sprayed a mother and 7-year-old son in "self-defense" for not wearing a mask. The handwriting is on the wall.

Sin Melts Your Brain
Just look at the evidence. New research "confirms a school-to-prison pipeline." Wait ... what? Yep! Children who attend schools that respond to bad behavior with suspensions are more likely to be jailed as adults. What we know for sure is that the discipline makes people criminals and not anything else. It can't be bad discipline or bad home or social environments or bad schools or ... ? Because sin has melted our brains. So, right along with "defund the police," we should probably stop disciplining anyone. You know, in fact, if we simply eliminate prisons, a whole lot fewer people would go to prison. I think I'm on to something here.

It's the End of the World As We Know It
Researchers are warning that a climate tipping point is imminent and if we don't act fast, life on earth will end. They call for eliminating fossil fuels, restoring ecosystems, slashing pollutants, stabilizing the human population, and vegetarianism. Stabilizing the population is achieved by contraception, raising the legal age of marriage, and higher availability of abortion. The goal is zero or lower population growth. If we can just eliminate a large portion of humans, we might be able to save the planet. It's all a matter of priorities, you see? (What's this about a purely plant-based diet? Don't we need more plants to absorb more of the carbon dioxide?)

Values Clarification
Planned Parenthood killed 354,871 babies in 2018 (the latest stat I could find) and the law doesn't merely remain silent; it defends them. A security guard in Brighton in the UK kills 16 cats and gets five years in prison. It's what we call "values clarification."

At It Again
The EU (no fooling) put out a paper that argued that humor is the tool of far-right extremists. (I had to read the paper to see if my name was in it. It wasn't. Obviously I'm not as funny as I liked to think.) I thought it was odd at first, but then realized that far-left extremists don't seem to have a sense of humor, so ... maybe. The Babylon Bee appears to make the point with a story about CNN putting on an hour-long PSA on the signs of dementia. (Spoiler alert: It was a Biden briefing.) Less humorous was the story about the new study Bible for women with 30,000 notes that all say "Go ask your husband to explain it." Too close to biblical (1 Cor 14:35) if you ask me. Then, following on a few stories that appear to link the FBI with things like the Jan. 6th riot and the plot to kidnap Michigan's governor, there is the story about the FBI discovring a building full of extremists organizing acts of terror. The sign over the building says, "J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building." Humor. Yeah. The tool of the extremists.

Friday, July 30, 2021

What Was He Doing Here?

We can all have opinions about why Jesus came. Maybe He came to help the poor and marginalized people. Maybe He came to preach. Maybe He came to be an example. We can all think of reasons. But what reasons did He offer? It seems like the best way to know why He came would be to hear why He said He came.

Jesus came with specific work in mind (John 17:4). First and foremost, it was to glorify the Father (John 12:27) But there was obviously more. It turns out that one of the reasons Jesus said He came was to preach (Mark 1:38). Part of that was explicitly to testify to the truth (John 18:37). Jesus came to do certain things, too. Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matt 5:17). Jesus said, "For even 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). Jesus said, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:32). We all agree that Jesus came to "make nice." He didn't come to be judgmental, but to be accepting. Jesus said, "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10) But He also said, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." (Matt 10:34-35). He said, "For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind." (John 9:39).

According to Jesus, then, He came to glorify God by testifying to the truth and fulfilling the law. He came to serve by giving His life as a ransom, to call sinners to repentance, and to save the lost. He came to bring a sword between people. He came for judgment.

Scripture has a lot to say about why Jesus entered our world in human form. Some of it is unexpected. We really like the "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" line (John 10:10). Less comfortable is the "give His life a ransom for many." That's too close to saying that we needed to be saved from sin. John wrote, "The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil." (1 John 3:8). And now we're back at that "evil" thing. We like the thought that Jesus came "to proclaim good news to the poor," "to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19). Good stuff. But that judgment stuff isn't as popular with a lot of people. Jesus came to die on our behalf. In truth, it's very good news. It's just not necessarily what some of us thought He came for.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Design

I've been reading about owls. Very interesting stuff.

Owls are birds of prey. They catch and eat prey ranging from fish and insects to rodents and birds up to fawns of roe deer (Eurasian Eagle Owl). For this task they are unusually outfitted.

Owls function by night or day, depending on the type. They have large eyes with rod density 5 times that of a human. They can't roll their eyes, but they can turn their heads 270° and even upside down. All of this serves to assist them in locating prey in dim light.

They have specialized hearing. The Great Gray Owl can hear a mouse squeak over a half mile away. Most have round faces that operate like a satellite dish to focus the sound in their two ears (within the disc). Some have asymetric ear placement where one side is lower than the other. With this, they can turn their heads until the sound is loudest and then look up and down to locate their prey within 1.5° both vertically and horizontally.

Owls are almost perfectly silent when they fly, allowing them to sneak up on prey. Large wings enable slower and therefore quieter flight. Structures on the leading edges and special feathers on the trailing edges of the wings break up air turbulence, the primary noise of beating wings. Hair-like structures on owl feathers give the wings a velvety feel and allow the feathers to slide across each other without a sound. Science is mimicking these designs to make quieter turbines, aircraft, and computer fans. Most interesting about this thing about quiet flight is the fact that owl species that hunt only fish or insects -- which can't hear the owl in flight -- don't have these traits.

Owls share other remarkable design features with all birds, but these are particular to owls. They are too complex and specialized to allow for "natural selection." They are too intricate to be reduced to "evolution." They demand -- even by evolutionists -- the designation "designed" and cry out for a Creator. Like the heavens, they declare the glory of God.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Misinformation

In November, 2020, Pfizer and Moderna were ready for FDA emergency use approval for their vaccines. And, yet, it was the Democrats that opposed it. California Governor Newsom said FDA approval wasn't enough. New York Governor Cuomo said it should be delayed until Biden becomes president. Biden and Harris vowed they wouldn't trust a vaccine offered by Trump.

Although mass vaccinations began in December, 2020, due to Trump's Operation Warp Speed, Biden took credit for the vaccine even though more than 15 million had been vaccinated when he took office. And having secured the credit, now it's the Democrats' turn to complain. Everybody knows who the anti-vaxxers are -- it's those Trump people. Never mind that Trump himself has encouraged people to get the vaccine. It's those Republicans, those white men, those white evangelicals. No self-respecting, intelligent human being would put others at risk like this. Well, of course, unless you're talking about the "anti-vaxxer" Democrats in 2020. But their opposition, you see, was intelligent and well-founded; they hated Trump.

So we get these totally bizarre messages. We get vaccinated people coming down with COVID and the message is, "See? You all needed to get vaccinated right away!" The report is that "herd immunity" occurs around 70% and 68% have had their vaccinations added to the survivors of the virus, so we're almost there, but it's not good enough. We are told that the vaccine does not prevent you from getting or spreading COVID -- it is supposed to decrease the chances and decrease the effects -- but the message is, "The only pandemic we have is in the unvaccinated." We are shouted at, "Believe the science!" while they deny the scientific studies that have said that between 40 and 60% of us have natural immunity (according to a study from July, 2020) and that those who have recovered from COVID might have 17 years of immunity. (That last study is in the NIH director's blog.) The problem we now have is the dangerous and stupid "vaccine holdouts." I sat in a room with vaccinated people, all masked and some double masked, complaining that we all need to get the vaccine because the vaccinated are not safe until the unvaccinated get vaccinated. They were discussing it because of recent reports of vaccinated people getting COVID. Frustrated by the inability to nationally force everyone to take the vaccine, government and so on are urging employers to mandate it. The NFL will fine players who aren't vaccinated and teams will forfeit games for it. The loudest voices are declaring anyone who hasn't gotten the vaccine a dangerous and stupid and selfish individual.

A report from Kaiser Family Foundation says that 36% of black frontline health care workers and 53% of black adults are not confident about the vaccines. (How does that correlate with "white Republicans are the problem" line of attack?) The report says that 57% of white health care workers are vaccinated but only 39% of black health care workers have received at least one dose. What do they say is holding people back? It isn't politics. It is 1) concern about possible side effects, 2) concern that the vaccine is too new, and 3) finally, a lack of trust in the government.

But, it doesn't matter, does it? We no longer live in a world that can ask those kinds of questions. You will take the medicine and you will stop asking questions because you're presenting "dangerous misinformation" and you will submit or ... well ... there will be consequences. A world where we can ask these questions doesn't exist anymore. Free thinkers are not free. Toe the line or there will be trouble. "Set yourself free! Just think like we do!" It's 2021, but it sure feels like 1984.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Civil Rights

We're all about civil rights these days. We want our rights. We need our rights. We demand our rights. We even manufacture our rights. Like the guy who thought it was his right that women should give him sex because he wanted it. Really? A right? But, no worries. We're good at it. A large number of women these days believe it is their right to have sex at will without consequences and if there is a baby from it that will inconvenience them, they're free to have it killed. And those are just two quick examples. We go on and on. Oh, yeah, we're good at manufacturing rights.

I'm not talking about those kind of rights here. I'm talking about what is right. Nor am I talking to random individuals; I'm talking to Christians. I am suggesting that it is right for you to be civil. (See what I did there?)

Paul wrote to believers that we should "Outdo one another in showing honor" (Rom 12:10), "Live in harmony with one another" (Rom 12:16), "welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God." (Rom 15:7). That seems like it should be obvious (John 13:35). But he also wrote, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." (Rom 12:18). I read that to mean that we should work hard at getting along with people -- all people. I note that this comes from the same guy who wrote, "I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder" (Rom 15:15), took an Apostle to task for his theology (Gal 2:11-14), and even handed a Christian over to Satan "for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord." (1 Cor 5:1-5). Paul was not shy. He wasn't reserved. He didn't back away from serious questions of theology or sin. This man urged us, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all."

Scripture does not call us to be wishy-washy. Jesus didn't call us to be "non-judgmental" (e.g., Matt 7:5-6; Matt 23:2-36; John 8:44; John 10:26). Our marching orders are not to be "soft on sin." We are commanded to love God's called. We are told to welcome fellow believers of all kinds. We are commanded to love -- love our neighbors in general and fellow believers in particular. We are commanded to seek to keep the peace. That is, for us, civility even among the uncivil is right. Of all the angry voices on the Internet or within earshot, ours should not be heard like that. Rather, remember, A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." (Prov 15:1). Being civil is right for us.

Monday, July 26, 2021

A Valid Question

Recently I wrote about the biblical concept of welcoming one another. Based on Paul's command to "welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God," (Rom 15:7) which is predicated on the notion that we should welcome those who are weak in faith (Rom 14:1), I said we should be the most welcoming people on the planet. If we are to "welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you," we're looking at arms spread wide to embrace.

The premise is to welcome those who are "weak in faith" (Rom 14:1; 15:1). I think it is a valid question to ask just what that means. Does that mean, as some take it, to include only those in your small inner circle who agree with you on everything? Or does it mean, as the other side would have us believe, that it is inclusive of all people, regardless of their views, personal sanctification, etc.? As you know, I'm not one to stand on opinion. We need to ask how Scripture describes this "weak in faith" concept.

First, in reading the text, I think I should make it clear that Paul's "weak in faith" is intended as a relative term. In the Romans 14 passage Paul referred to the "weak person" as one who "eats only vegetables" and the strong in faith "may eat anything." (Rom 14:2). You see, then, it's from the perspective of the one doing the eating. The one who eats only vegetables "because I'm trusting God to supply my needs" isn't weak in faith, but he might conclude, "The brother who feels the need to add meat to his diet is." In this case, written from their perspective, it would be the carnivore who is weak in faith. Paul's "weak in faith" here, then, means, "Those whose faith is different than my own."

Here's what it does not mean It does not mean the one who has faith to commit adultery when everyone else is so weak in faith that they won't. It does not mean those who believe they can be saved by works when everyone else is weak in faith and has to rely only on Christ's completed work. Nor does it mean "whatever -- just welcome them all." Those kinds of things are not in view. How do we know this? Well, we know that Jesus had no problem rejecting people ... like the Pharisees (Matt 23:2-36). Jesus had no problem telling those people in Matthew 7 who thought they were His own, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness." That is, Jesus didn't "welcome everybody." It would be unreasonable for us to assume that we should "welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you" while ignoring how Christ welcomed us.

What, then, are the characteristics we're looking for in this "weak in faith" category? First, they are believers. We know it because "in the faith" requires faith. Second, these issues are specifically not issues of sin or essentials. Paul had no problem handing a brother in sin to Satan (1 Cor 5:1-5) and warning believers not associate with a so-called brother immersed in sin (1 Cor 5:9-11). And when Peter exhibited legalism rather than faith alone, Paul didn't embrace him as weak; he took him to task (Gal 2:11-14). Not matters of sin. Not matters of essentials. So these issues termed "weak in faith" issues would be observing a day or not observing a day or whether or not to eat meat served to idols (Rom 14:5-6) or other items not specifically addressed in Scripture. Indeed, Paul specifies that whatever these "weak in faith" items are, they are intended to be done with gratitude to honor the Lord (Rom 14:6). "I'm honoring God by sinning" doesn't work. "I'm bringing glory to God by ignoring His truth" isn't reasonable. "I love Jesus, but not as the Son of God" isn't a part of this "weak in faith" concept. It is talking about genuine believers who are seeking to be obedient to God and consistent with His Word even if they differ with your version. It is talking about disputable matters, not sin, and not essentials of the faith.

"Welcome those who are weak" isn't so broad that we embrace sin or heresy. Jesus didn't; neither should we. On the other hand, it is certainly much broader than our common practice, as evidenced by the numbers of Protestant denominations that exist out there. There should absolutely not be racial or social or economic or ethnic or other artificial divisions which Christians have allowed to their shame. The important question is not "Are they doing it right?" The most important question is "Am I?" It is, biblically, possible to be too embracing, but I'd argue that most of us are guilty of not being inclusive enough for matters that are not issues of sin or essentials. Before we start pointing fingers at the "too-inclusive liberals" or the "too-narrow right wing conservatives," perhaps we ought to check our own hearts on the matter.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Run to the Father

Adam and Eve had it made. Their existence was idyllic. They had perfect bodies and the perfect environment. They had no pain, no decay, no lack of food, nothing bad at all. They had meaningful work and meaningful relationships. Of the latter, the most meaningful was their relationship with the Creator who would actually walk in the garden with them. It could not really get any better than that.

It could get worse.

"The serpent," we are told, "was more crafty than any other beast." (Gen 3:1). So crafty was this serpent that he approached with a benign question of very little impact, a simple interrogative. "Did God actually say ...?" (Gen 3:1). Eve answered boldly because she had a good relationship with God and she knew Him well and she knew what He had said. Except ... not quite. He never said, "... neither shall you touch it." (Gen 3:2-3). This crafty serpent caught the discrepancy and ran with it. "What God told you isn't true." (Gen 3:4).

That was all it took. You know the rest of the story. The serpent promised "you will be like God" and the woman examined his suggestion and thought that it looked pretty good and ... she and her husband plunged the human race into death (Gen 3:5-7).

Life has gotten a lot more complicated since then. First and foremost, not one of us starts out in that idyllic existence. We start with a sin nature. We are born in cradles swinging over a grave. We come into a sin-sick world with sin-sick people and a creation scarred by sin. All our troubles can be ultimately traced back to that moment in the garden. But, like the fellow said, those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and we do. God stands ready to receive us all, but we hear whispered in our ears, "Did God actually say ...?" We hear constantly that God is a failure, a liar, not to be trusted. "He's holding out on you. You deserve better. You can be your own god."

It's not as clear as it was in Eve's day, but it's just the same. We don't need a crafty serpent; we can trip ourselves up all on our own. We don't have an inadequate God; we are, instead, driven by lusts (James 1:14). Even we believers, who certainly know better, constantly fall on our faces with the belief that the God whom we love and trust is holding out on us. We sin because the thing we think we desire or need is the thing He is withholding. It doesn't matter what it is. We believe that the God who will "graciously give us all things" (Rom 8:32) is not to be trusted ... while we proclaim our trust. So we run from Him to where we mistakenly believe we can find what we want, what we need, something better ... better than what He provides.

When we think about it this way, the answer is much simpler than we thought, isn't it? If our problem is that we don't trust God, then trusting God is the answer. If our problem is that we're not relying on the only reliable Being in the universe, then relying on Him is the answer. If we are running away from God, the correct thing to do is to run to the Father. Maybe, with enough practice at turning around and going the right direction, we might get better at it. We certainly ought to; it only makes sense.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

News Weakly - 7/24/21

COVID-related Deaths?
This is not written with the sarcasm or satire I often aim for given the gravity of the story. The CDC is reporting that drug overdose deaths rose by nearly 30% in 2020 to the highest number ever recorded. They are, additionally, connecting this rise to COVID-19, or, rather for stress over COVID. This looks a lot like "COVID-related deaths" although it is the prevention rather than the disease that caused much of this.

Backwards
Those backwards Arkansans. Those nutjobs thought that human life was more valuable than a woman's right to sleep with whomever she wants without consequences1. So they tried to ban abortions except when the mother's life was endangered. What were they thinking? Luckily a federal judge put an end to that nonsense. This is America. We will not protect the rights of the most vulnerable among us! Human life is only as valuable as we say it is, and that life and its value is determined by the mother and not any ol' God or anything. Although, in my view, devaluing human life in favor of an individual's personal comfort is a major step backward. And it cannot end well.

Business as Usual
As expected:
Democrats: "We're going to burn Trump at the stake after the fact. We want a January 6 probe."

Republicans: "Yeah, sure, we're on board. We're putting forward a few Trump supporters."

Democrats: "Apparently you weren't listening. We're going to burn Trump at the stake. The probe is just for looks. If you can't appoint people who will agree with us, you can't appoint people."

Republicans: "If we can't appoint who we want, we won't play."

It doesn't look like either side is interested in an actual probe ... or is any older than 6.

The Wisest Among Us
The story is that a federal judge declared it "irreparable harm" if we as a society decided that children were not the best judges of what's best for them. The subject was an Arkansas law that banned turning children into the opposite sex. The argument is that the best thing we can do for minors is to cause permanent damage before they're even old enough to know what they're doing by offering "hormone treatment, puberty blockers or sex reassignment surgery." At the same time, New York passed a law that said that people under the age of 18 did not have sufficient maturity to choose to marry. We live in a confused world.

It Only Makes Sense
The term is "incel." It refers to guys who consider themselves "involuntarily celebate." It refers to guys who believe that women are unjustly denying them sexual or romantic attention. The story is about a guy in Ohio who planned to kill sorority members in retaliation for his inability to get a relationship. He has been charged with attempted hate crime and possession of a machine gun. But, if you think about it, it only makes sense. If the poor people have the right to your money, if babies have to surrender their right to life to women's choice, if workers have the right to determine what their employers will pay them, etc., why would it not be the women's fault for failing to provide for his "just sexual needs"? (Which, if you're not paying attention, is intended to point out the fallacy of all that other stuff.)

Trust the Government
The press asked the president if the administration was spying on Americans by flagging misleading, dangerous information. Joe didn't deny it. He said that they were "killing people." "They're killing people. I mean it really," he said. "Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they're killing people." Yes, the government is looking at your posts and comments. Yes, they believe you are a threat if you have questions about vaccinations. If you would just stop questioning them, you will be fine. Trust us. Oh, and Planned Parenthood was relieved to learn "They're killing people" was a reference to Facebook and not them.

Misinformation
We've been told that it is wrong to ask questions about COVID. It is labeled "misinformation." They've already determined that COVID was not a leak from a Chinese lab and stop saying that it might have been. So it's odd that China had to reject a request from the WHO because they wanted to study further the possibility that the virus might have come from a lab. Why is WHO asking if it's settled? WHO is presenting misinformation?

The Wrong Tree
Liberty University has been sued by 12 women who claim, among other things, that the university "promoted attacks on and discrimination against women through a series of policies that discouraged sex before marriage." Now, I'm no defender of Liberty U and I'd agree that they've not handled stuff well, but when the claim that discouraging sex outside of marriage promotes attacks and discrimination, it's not Liberty on the line. Take that up with God. Oh, and stop going to a university that claims to follow such a Being.

Briefly ...
Just a funny headline from the Bee this week when outer space returned an unwanted Amazon delivery.

Postscript: I just was wondering. Years ago we had to flush that term we used for black people. Back then they referred to them as "colored" and that had to go. Why is "people of color" better? I don't know. I just wonder about things from time to time.
________
1 They tell us that 49% of pregnancies are unplanned. Statistically, the #1 reason given for abortion is "not financially prepared" (40%). Thirty-six percent say it's "not the right time for a baby." Other top reasons include partner-related reasons (31%), the need to focus on other children (29%) and not emotionally prepared (19%). "Health related" doesn't occur until around 12% and some of that is due to drug or alcohol use (5%). Health is not a primary reason for abortion. Rape or incest are not primary reasons either.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Words Mean Something

If you've read much of my blog, you know this is a concept near and dear to my heart. If you've looked around our society today, you'll also know that I'm not winning this discussion.

I've talked about Critical Race Theory multiple times. Without delving into it or its sister, Intersectionality, the basic idea is to discover and identify the "oppressor" and the "oppressed." This, then, becomes your identity (and in today's world "I identify as" is sacrosanct), whichever you fall into. For instance, "white" is classified as "oppressor," so if you are caucasian, you must identify as "oppressor" regardless of whether or not you oppress anyone actively or passively. If you are not white -- say, a "person of color" (POC) -- then you are, by definition, oppressed. That is now your identity.

If it stopped there, it would be bad enough. Assuring those who aren't actually oppressing anyone that they are and those who are not actually oppressed that they are doesn't really help. Put another way, it's not actually true, what ancient theologians used to refer to as "a lie." But it doesn't stop there. Now it serves to make new definitions. As it turns out, only "oppressors" can hate and only "oppressors" can be racist or sexist. In this new "reality" we find that those who are among the oppressed cannot commit a hate crime because only oppressors can do that. Racism is only found in oppressors. A person of color that hates people of other races is neither hating nor racist because they fall in the "oppressed" category and it is neither hate nor racist. We've redefined them.

In a previous existence (maybe 10 years ago at most) if a theoretical black man set out to kill as many white people as he could because he'd like to extinguish the white race, he will have committed a crime, but not a hate crime. It would have been predicated entirely on race, but he wouldn't be racist. In this new system, if a white guy killed a couple of owners of businesses that are predominantly owned by women of a particular ethnicity, it doesn't matter why he did it; it is, by definition, a racist and sexixt hate crime.

Now, I understand why we've done this. There has been a great deal of injustice in terms of race and in terms of hate, etc. One cannot rationally deny that. But the solution to this real injustice has become ... injustice. "If injustice has been done to these people, then the right response is injustice to the others." So we hear people saying that rioting and theft is justice because of the injustice done to those who are rioting and looting. Perpetuating the problem is considered the solution to the problem.

These days it is possible to hate someone because they belong to a group they hate and to commit a crime based on that hate, but it's not a hate crime because that someone is not classified as "oppressed." Today it is possible to despise a group of people because they are of a particular race but it is not racism because it is white people who are despised. "You can't be racist if you're not in power," they tell us. (Is that true? If we were in a place where black people were in power and white people were a powerless minority, would they be justified in the same way?) We've stripped "racism" and "hate crime" and "sexism" and even "hate" of their original meaning, reapplied our own, and now made sure that whatever they mean we are not culpable for the evils we protest and perpetrate. If you are of the properly hated "oppressor" variety and try to raise these kinds of questions, it is simply proof that you are an oppressor and guilty of hate. If you stand up for someone in the oppressor category, you're only guilty of being an oppressor. If you point out the double standard and sheer irrationality, you prove your guilt. Facts are irrelevant. Truth is beside the point. Words don't mean what they mean. That's how it's done.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Hyperbole Fails

Hyperbole is a rhetorical device that uses exaggeration to make a point. It's quite common. A parent might ask his teen, "So, who was at the party?" and the teen might respond, "Oh, everybody!" The parent knows that's a lie because they weren't there. But we understand the device. You overstate something to make a point. This rhetorical device is so common that you even find it in Scripture. In Matthew 8:34 it says "the whole city came out to meet Jesus." In a woodenly literal manner, you'd have to conclude that every man, woman, and child was there. Hyperbole doesn't require that. Hyperbole also doesn't allow, "That means that one or two showed up." It doesn't require a literal "whole city" but it does require that "a large number of people from town" showed up.

We have a hard time, it seems, with this rhetorical device when it comes to Scripture. Let's look at some examples. In Romans we read, "No one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:12). Now, first, let's be clear. No one believes that to be the absolute truth. No matter how you take your Bible, we all understand that One did good -- Jesus. So this qualifies as hyperbole. So how much hyperbole? I would take it to mean "Everyone but Jesus." But others assure me, "Oh, no, lots of people do good. So this 'no one does good' means, effectively, that almost everyone does good." And hyperbole fails.

Here's another. We read, "The Natural Man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor 2:14). I understand that to mean that humans in their natural, unregenerate state don't understand the things of God. Indeed, they cannot. But a better reader than I -- most all of you, I would guess -- would say, "Oh, no, anyone can accept and understand the things of God." And hyperbole fails.

Here's another. Jesus said,
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise Him up on the last day. (JohN 6:37-40)
"That," many Christians will tell me, "is definitely hyperbole." How do we know? "Well, obviously, not all that the Father gives Jesus will come. Just as clearly, there are those who will be lost. So it is not actually true; it's hyperbole." So, I might ask, how often does that failure occur? How many don't come? How many are lost? "It's fairly common," they assure me. "God is a gentleman and He won't force anyone to come that doesn't want to." And hyperbole fails.

To read the Scriptures "literally" means to read them in the sense that they are intended with the message that was intended to be transmitted. That might include a variety of rhetorical devices. Poetic language, proverbial language, historical narrative, dogmatic language, hyperbole -- lots of ways of communicating. What you can not do is read the Scriptures "literally" by discarding the sense and message that was intended. And, yet, we do it ... on a regular basis ... to our own shame.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Hospitable

Paul writes about how Christ came to the Jews to keep His promises and show God faithful and to show mercy to the Gentiles, all to the glory of God (Rom 15:1-6). On that basis, he says, "Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God." (Rom 15:7 (NAS)). It seems almost innocuous. "Accept one another." Well, almost. It is certainly a message for our day, isn't it? But I think "accept" isn't adequate. The ESV says, "Welcome." Better, perhaps. Other translations say, "Receive." Better, perhaps.

The Greek word behind it is proslambanō. It means most literally, "to take to oneself." It is used in terms of food and friendship and, here, "one another." In the previous chapter Paul had said, "Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions." (Rom 14:1), and I'm sure he had that in mind here -- the continuation of the thought. The idea, then, is in regard to those who are different than you are, but not in a sinful way. Accept, welcome, receive them. Take them to yourself.

In Romans 12:13, Paul urges that we should be "practicing hospitality." In 1 Timothy 5:10 he commends "hospitality to strangers." In Hebrews 13:2 we are commanded, "Do not neglect to show hospitality." I'm seeing a trend. The command is "We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak." (Rom 15:1). That means, "Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up." (Rom 15:2). Paul uses that to define "be of the same mind with one another." (Rom 15:5,7).

I'm trying to imagine what that would look like if we actually practiced that. If Christians in general were known for embracing all Christians without regard to skin color, sex, denomination, financial status, idiosyncracies, all the nonsense that divides us now. I'm not talking here about sin (e.g., 1 Cor 5:9-11); I'm talking about simple differences. I'm talking about what Paul refers to as "strong" and "weak" faith (Rom 14:1). I'm talking about mere peripherals. If we would simply do what Jesus commanded (John 13:34-35), how different would our churches and our interactions look? If we were in the habit of taking people to ourselves, how welcome do you suppose people would be in your church? In the first church believers willingly sacrificed to meet the needs of believers (Acts 2:44-45), not out of compulsion, but because they loved as Christ loved. What would the world think if "hospitable" and "welcoming" defined Christians? Never mind the world; how would we react if that was our normal experience? More to the point, why isn't it?

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

When Times Get Tough

In his epistle to the Christians in Rome, Paul encourages them to love each other because "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." (Rom 13:10). A good thing to consider. But he goes on.
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. (Rom 13:11)
That sounds a bit odd at first. I thought we who believe are already saved. And it is true that we are, but Scripture lists all three tenses -- "were saved," "are being saved," and "will be saved." So this one would be the ultimate "salvation" -- that final point at which we are no longer subjected to pain or sin. Free at last. Then there's the almost silly nature of it. Anything future tense can be spoken of as being "nearer to us now than when we first believed." Tomorrow is nearer to us now than it was yesterday. Christmas is nearer to us now than it was in January. Jesus's return is "nearer to us now than when we first believed." So is that significant? It is.

To me, it is an incredibly comforting thought. This life is joy and pain, struggle and rest, suffering and comfort. It is a dark tunnel, but for us there is a light at the end and we can see it. Paul wrote:
We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor 4:16-18)
Everyone suffers in some sense. There is all kinds of pain in the world. No one gets through without it. We comfort ourselves with phrases like "No pain, no gain," and there is truth in it. Biblical truth (e.g., Rom 5:3-5; James 1:2-4). But this text adds another level of comfort. It is "momentary." It is "transient." Salvation -- our escape from all that hurts and harms -- is nearer to us now than when we first believed. Relief -- ultimate relief -- is on the way. And that relief is eternal. I find great comfort in that.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Listening

In the middle of the Bible you'll find the Psalms. In the middle of the Psalms you'll find Psalm 81. In the middle of Psalm 81, you'll find God speaking. "Hear, O My people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to Me!" (Psa 81:8). While I don't think this central location was the intent, I do think it is of central importance ... especially to us today.

We listen to a lot of voices today. We have the media, social media, government, our political friends and our political opponents, family, friends, preachers, teachers, bosses, coworkers, fact checkers and fact checker checkers, and that's just a shortlist. It goes on and on. Somewhere, way down in the midst of the noise, practically drowned out, is the "still, small voice" of God.

That voice is way down in the midst of the noise because it is perhaps the least popular. Especially among unbelievers, but even for many believers. Some argue that we need to ignore God's Word and listen for God's words. "Don't trust that crusty old Bible." Others trust that "crusty old Bible" just fine ... as far as it agrees with their perspective. When it doesn't, "Well, then, it probably doesn't mean what it says. It means what I believe. You just have to read it right." Rare is the believer who says, "I'll believe and follow whatever it says."

Brothers and sisters, these things ought not be. Jesus said God's Word was truth (John 17:17). Jesus said the truth would set us free (John 8:32). Scripture claims to be not merely "inspired," but breathed out by God and "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17). We have no room in the believer's life for "That's okay; I've got this."

Especially in these critical times with loud voices without and within telling us that God isn't merely dead -- He's dead wrong -- we need to listen to God. We need to renew our minds (Rom 12:2). What Paul calls being cleansed "by the washing of water with the word." (Eph 5:26) If you plan to make sense of God's Word and the world by your own understanding -- "what feels right to me" -- it will not go well. God is calling, "O, believers, if you would but listen to Me!"

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Implications of Holy

We all know that God is "Holy." Many of us who hear "God is holy" hear "Holy, holy, holy" in our heads because God's Word does that ... twice (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8). A repetition of a triplicate carries a lot of weight. So what is "holy"? We think of it briefly as "apart from sin," "morally excellent," that kind of thing. Perhaps, more broadly, "consecrated to God," although the notion of God being consecrated to God makes no sense.

In truth the word in the Bible means most literally "other." This works with "set apart for God" and even "set apart from sin." As far as that goes, we've grasped the "holy." It's not far enough.

The "other" in which God is holy has massive reverberations. This is hinted at by those texts I referenced earlier. If it is repeated three times and those three times are repeated twice, it is the modern equivalent of underlining, italicizing, bold print, and all caps. "Pay attention! This is important!" God is really holy. He is really "other." We think He is just like us (Psa 50:21) more or less. After all, aren't we made in His image? As a reflection, perhaps, but not in reality. The points at which we grasp His nature are the points at which we've been made in His image, but even those are weak reflections. He is "other."

Taking that massive "other" to its logical ramifications, it gets big. Really big. We talk about "sovereign" with a king in mind who, in his limited way, rules the land. Not like the Sovereign that only God can be, where He works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11). We talk about being powerful and think of God's "Omnipotence" as an extension of that, but He is Holy and His power exceeds our capacity to imagine (Eph 3:20). We think we have knowledge and know quite a bit and figure He knows a lot more than we do, but He is Omniscient. He knows all things -- past, present future -- perfectly as well as all possibilities perfectly. Perfect knowledge exceeds our comprehension (Rom 11:34).

All this is well and good. Most of us will nod and say, "Okay, yeah, He is far above us in sovereignty, power, knowledge, all that." We're fine with that. And then we question God's Sovereignty, His Power, His Wisdom. We are offended when He doesn't do things the way we knew would be the best. We're outraged when things don't go the way we wanted them to. We're crushed when He refuses to do things we think He ought. We even devise schemes. "You know," some will say, "If God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, how can evil exist?" and conclude, "It can't! There is no God!" Without even grasping "holy" -- "other" -- "not like you."

Job held out for a long time after being tested, but eventually he demanded an audience with God. "God," he essentially said, "I have a few questions about this." God answered, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?" (Job 38:2) That's us. We're pretty sure we're right, so God must be wrong. The truth is that we don't grasp the Holy. God asked Job, "Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it." (Job 40:2). Job saw his position and laid his hand over his mouth (Job 40:4-5). And God asked, "Will you even put Me in the wrong? Will you condemn Me that you may be in the right?" (Job 40:8). If we were honest, we'd have to admit that's exactly what we do. Because we don't grasp the Holy. Not merely "other than sin" -- other! In so many ways.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

News Weakly - 7/17/21

Who Gets to Decide?
Have you ever seen a gypsy moth? Well, you won't. They won't exist anymore. Extinct? No, nothing like that. Apparently the name is offensive to Romani people. Now, when I hear "gypsy," I just think of someone that travels a lot, lives on the road, itinerant, that sort of thing. Silly me. And I'm sure the moth feels a lot better about it. Maybe they can settle down in a nice apartment or something?

That's a Cluster Alright
Speaking of COVID terrorism, health officials in Tennessee are linking a "coronavirus cluster" to the Southern Baptist Convention which met in Nashville last month. "What," you ask, "is a 'cluster'?" Among more than 18,000 attendees, 8-10 infections were detected. Mind you, we're nationally at less than 10% infection rate and this one would be, oh, something like a 0.06% rate, but, hey, if you gotta scare the folks and draw negative attention to a Christian group, this works, right?

That Can't Be Right
This seems odd. The news item says that prices have climbed "higher than expected" in June -- the "biggest monthly gain since August 2008." If you ignore food and energy prices, it's the highest jump since 1991. Apparently massive government spending, large jumps in minimum wage, shortages of workers who won't go back to work as long as the government pays them not to, the accompanying supply-chain problems that follow, and pandemic countermeasures have all conspired to drive prices up. Who would have thought?

Speaking of ...
... "that can't be," although the president assured us that Afghanistan will be just fine after we withdraw, apparently the U.N. doesn't agree. They say Afghanistan is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis due to the Taliban seizing power after the U.S. troops left. Some 3.5 million people have been displaced by the Taliban and civilian casualties have risen by 29%. Apparently, the Taliban didn't get the word that everything was going to be cool.

It Only Makes Sense
The Bing newsfeed showed this story about George W. Bush fearing for the welfare of the Afghan people -- women in particular -- with the title, "Fears for Afghan women" and a picture of George W. Bush. For reasons I don't understand, I'm not seeing the obvious other one -- a picture of President Biden talking about how Afghanistan is in no danger with the title, "Couldn't care less about Afghan women."

Hate Crimes and Misdemeanors
In Utah a 19-year-old woman stomped on a "Back the Blue" sign "in an intimidating manner" as a message to a police officer conducting a traffic stop of some friends. She was arrested and charged with criminal mischief and disorderly conduct with a "'Hate Crime' enhanced allegation." The ACLU is upset. In North Carolina a white male left a Black Lives Matter sign smeared with feces on the front porch of the sign's owner. Police are investigating the case as a possible hate crime. The ACLU is silent. Go figure.

Eye on the Prize
The Hollywood Reporter had the story about GLAAD's study that found that racial diversity among LGBTQ characters are up in Hollywood but transgender characters were not. But the goal here is not "diversity." GLAAD said, "This transformation represents a great opportunity to swiftly accelerate acceptance of LGBTQ stories ..." That's the goal -- get you to accept LGBTQ as perfectly normal, even commendable. Certainly not immoral. Those of you with that old line in your head are haters!

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures
Covid, they say, is surging. Across the nation. It's time, they say, to do something dramatic. We need to drop this "15 days to flatten the curve" concept -- isolation, distancing, masks, etc. -- and extend it to an indefinite period. Require rather than request vaccination. "Restrictions to work and school may be key to motivating the public to reach the necessary threshold to slow or stop the spread," experts are saying. We must do this because the vaccine doesn't prevent getting or spreading Covid so it's our only hope. "Don't worry," the experts and the government are telling you, "we know what's best for you. You definitely don't."

The Bee Again
Just for a little humor at the end, here. I hadn't though of it, but the Bee points out that, although the bad news is that teachers are teaching your children CRT, the good news is that they're not teaching it any better than they teach reading or math. That's a relief. The FBI has released a picture of the suspect in the lightning strike on that George Floyd mural. That's helpful. And CNN is reporting that the massive Cuban protests are likely due to climate change. Makes sense. (Although I'm pretty sure the Dems are blaming Trump.)

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, July 16, 2021

The Main Point

We're Americans. We're proud. We're free. We have rights, I tell you! We're adamant and even angry over our freedom and our rights. "Don't infringe on my rights to freedom!" American Christians often see our freedoms as God's highest priority. Or, at least, they should be His highest priority. Scripture doesn't seem to agree.
For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. (Rom 14:7-9)
Apparently, we are not the main point in God's worldview. He is. Apparently our perceived rights and freedoms are not God's primary concern, either. In fact, it looks like life and death are not about us.

If you've ever seen how many respond to God in times of crisis, you'll see a trend. "Things are going bad. Where is God?" The notion we humans appear to hold is that God's primary task is to ensure our comfort and if He doesn't, He's either not doing His job or He doesn't exist. Cancer is proof of God's incompetence. War is evidence for His nonexistence. A beloved family member dies of a drug overdose and it's the data we need to prove there is no God.

If we're right by placing ourselves at the top of the hierarchy of important beings, then we're right about God. Everything that exists is for our pleasure and we only need to be concerned if someone or something prevents us from our pleasure.

So we cut the only line of comfort. In God we don't simply find "good" -- we find "good" defined. Coming from a wise and an Omniscient God, we find good we didn't expect. Coming from a loving God, we find better good than we could have conjured up ourselves. Coming from a holy God, we find the best possible good. Coming from an Omnipotent God we find uninterrupted and undiluted good. When Scripture says He causes all things to work together for good (Rom 8:28), it leaves nothing out. There is no question of good where God is concerned. Our problem is that our understanding of good is tied up with our self-centered concepts of good.

Scripture says we don't live for ourselves; we live for God. That's a good thing because He is the ultimate good. And, wonderfully, when God is most glorified, we are most satisfied. We experience the greatest good by seeking God's best. It is that principle that causes Satan to fight against it most ardently. So we turn from the best because we're complaining that we didn't get the best. The best is living for God. In fact, "to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living." (Rom 14:9)

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Subject to the Government - Part 3

We are finishing up an examination of Romans 13:1-4. We looked at whether or not it made sense that all authority comes from God. I showed how it is true that throughout Scripture God ordained governments and it is on His authority and His authority alone that they operate. Thus, it is to His authority that we submit when we submit to governments. Then we examined what we're supposed to do about bad governments. I offered biblical examples of people in situations of bad governments who were right for not submitting. I suggested we should be subject to the governing authorities as long as the governing authorities are not requiring a direct contradiction to God's authority. In that, we still pay respect to whom respect is due and honor to whom honor is due.

Finally we need to try to make sense of the claim that "rulers are not a terror to good conduct."

I think we can agree that good governments are not an enemy to good behavior. I think we could even agree that bad governments limit bad behavior. While perpetrating bad behavior themselves, bad governments try to prevent crime as a matter of course. Under the most severe communist regimes crimes like murder, robbery, and rape were almost nonexistent because no society can last long if these types of crime are rampant. To the extent that the government established by God's authority submits to God's authority, it is absolutely true that governments are not the enemy of good behavior. Thus, stated as an ideal, the statement is true.

Since, at the beginning, I suggested that we don't take verse 1 -- "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." -- in a absolute, blind sense, I would suggest the same is true in this last question. Is it absolutely, always true that "rulers are not a terror to good conduct" (Rom 13:3)? No. Is it generally true? Yes. Is it true of rulers who operate within the authority of God? Absolutely. Thus, I would argue that in a practical sense the statement is true and doesn't cause a real problem if the reader approaches it from a practical viewpoint.

The question remains, then, what about those rulers that do constitute a threat to good? Rumbling around as our prime example might be the American Revolution. Did that violate Romans 13:1-4? Many genuine, Bible-believing Christians hold that the Revolution was a violation of this text. Interestingly, however, many genuine, Bible-believing Christians hold that it is not. Some on the former side argue that the colonists simply ignored or misinterpreted Scripture. However, Rev. Jacob Duché, a supporter of the British, argued from the Bible in favor of the American position using Romans 13:1-4. When the British government became a terror to good, he argued, they inverted the entire purpose of government. The early Founding Fathers generally agreed with Romans 13:1-4 but viewed it in the sense that God established government as an entity as opposed to each and every government individually. Thus, it would be wrong to discard government and live in anarchy, but it was right to defend yourself against a government that defied God's authority. They believed they were not in rebellion against government, just against tyranny. Theirs wasn't an offensive war; it was defensive. The Americans didn't fire the first shots. Great Britain had attacked the colonies in 1770, 1774, and 1775. The Lexington Minutemen were commanded, "Don't fire unless fired upon." Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, argued that America was not in rebellion. Rebellion, he said, was "when a great number of people, headed by one or more factious leaders, aim at deposing their lawful prince without any just cause of complaint in order to place another on his throne." That was not what they were doing.

As for me, I don't land there. Throughout biblical history I don't see any people of God who sought to overthrow their government, regardless of how bad it was. On the other hand, I see multiple places where Scripture explicitly states that bad rulers were used by God to produce good results. Jesus was under pagan leadership and didn't seek its overthrow. Paul under Nero never asked believers to end his reign. The disciples under the Sanhedrin never worked to eliminate them. I don't find any examples in Scripture of Revolution. On the other hand, I can see the possibility that others have valid, biblical reasons to defend it. Thus, while I remain over on the "nay" side, I don't find myself in any serious conflict with the "yea" side. I just can't go there myself.

One question I have to those who argue for revolution under specific circumstances. What circumstances? What is lacking currently of those circumstances that would, in your minds, necessitate that revolution? (Okay, that was two questions, but you have to admit they were interlinked, right?)

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Subject to the Government - Part 2

We're discussing the problem of Romans 13:1-4.
1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. (Rom 13:1-4)
Yesterday we addressed the first major truth claim -- all authority is from God. Today we're looking at the problem of bad government.

We have biblical examples of people who did not obey the bad government. Pharaoh commanded that every son of Israel born would be dropped into the Nile. The midwives defied him. God "dealt well with the midwives." (Exo 1:15-22). Rahab lied to the king of Jericho about the spies (Josh 2:1-6) and she was listed in the Hebrews "Hall of Faith" for it (Heb 11:31). Samuel, at God's command, anointed David as king knowing that the existing king, Saul, would have had him executed for it (1 Sam 16:1-4). When the authorities ordered the disciples "not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus," they answered, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19-20). Later, they affirmed, "We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29). There is no shortage of people in Scripture that rightly defied the governments they were under. How does that figure into this discussion?

Given the certain examples of biblical characters that rightly did not submit to the governing authorities, it only makes sense that this "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities" statement must not be taken in an absolute, blind sense. I would argue that the absolute authority to which we must submit is God, not necessarily government. You can see this in the statements from the disciples. You can see it in Samuel's following God's explicit instructions in direct opposition to the king. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego weren't confused about the orders to bow when the king's golden image passed by; they simply weren't allowed to recognize any other god than YHWH (Dan 3:1-18). Daniel refused to submit to the king's injunction that all prayers must be made to him (Dan 6:6-9). Instead, when he knew that it was signed, he went up to pray (Dan 6:10). In every case those who defied the governing authorities did so with a direct command from God. So the absolute requirement would be "Let very person be subject to God." The corollary would be "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities" as long as the governing authorities are not requiring a direct contradiction to God's authority. Thus, Peter writes, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution." (1 Peter 2:13). Always "for the Lord's sake."

We need to be careful here. We tend to get a little fuzzy on this. Is it a command to preach the gospel? Yes. If you're told not to, you have to defy it. Is it a command to have your civil liberties recognized? No. It's not comfortable and it's not pleasant and it's not right, but civil liberties are not commanded by God. Therefore, refusing to submit to the government on that issue isn't biblical. Are we then without recourse? No. There are legal, civil means of standing for these kinds of things. In our country we have the right to petition the government, to contact representatives, to peacefully protest to petition the courts. Those are all within the limits of the law. Even when the order we are given by government is in direct contradiction to God's commands, we must pay respect to whom respect is due and honor to whom honor is due (Rom 13:7). The underlying lifestyle of a believer is sacrifice (Rom 12:1) and the underlying ethic of the believer is love (1 Cor 16:4).

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Subject to the Government - Part 1

One of the easiest to read but seemingly hardest-to-understand passages of Scripture is found in Paul's letter to the Romans.
1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. (Rom 13:1-4)
Rarely can you find a more challenging text to try to explain so that it is not false.

The first problem is that it is so straightforward. No metaphors. No odd language. It appears to be quite simply worded. So, seriously? God establishes governments? What about bad governments? What about (fill in your favorite bad president)? Was Hitler a governing authority instituted by God? Was Stalin? Pol Pot? Mao? (I listed those off the top because together they managed to execute potentially more than 650 million people.) Is it true that governing authorities that exist have been instituted by God? Following on that, then, there is the question of bad governments. We cannot deny that they exist. When Paul wrote this he was under Nero. We celebrate stories of people of faith who defied the Nazis to save Jews. We have biblical examples of people who defied governments and were praised for it. We have our own American Revolution to look at. So how do we deal with these things? The next problem is that we know the text is not true as it is stated. What am I referring to? Paul claims that human governments "are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad." (Rom 13:3). Oh, yeah? What about Hitler who killed people for being Jews, black, gypsies, and other "undesirables"? What about the current government of Canada or the UK where pastors can go to jail for holding to the biblical standard that homosexual behavior is sin? Just two very quick examples. There is a long list of leaders who were "a terror to good conduct." Doesn't that make this text false? And, as such, doesn't it offer a prime example of the errancy of Scripture rather than inerrancy?

To tell the truth, this is a much bigger question than you might first realize. In fact, it's too big to complete in one sitting. In order to do it justice, I'll have to stretch this over more than one day.

In order, then, the first thing we note is that Paul orders believers to submit to governments. That is clear. He also gives the reason ("For") -- "there is no authority except from God." Thus, believers are to submit to God who establishes governments. The word translated "instituted" means literally "to arrange" or "to assign." That is significant, I think. God says, "Let it be so" and not "Let it be so bad." He ordains it; He doesn't make it bad. Further, according to the text, the authority of the government is based on God's authority (as opposed to the Declaration of Independence which states that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed). From our end, then, we're not submitting to government for the sake of government; we're submitting to government ordained by God for the sake of conscience (Rom 13:5).

In principle, then, it is true that God ordains government. He has done so from the beginning. In Israel He was the government (theocracy), filling in for awhile with judges so that they were never without government, until they demanded a king (monarchy). Babylon and Assyria are listed as servants of God when they are used by God for judgment on Israel and Judah. Jesus never ordered His disciples to overthrow Pilate or Herod or Caesar in His day even though they were bad governments. Paul didn't call for Christians to eliminate Nero, clearly an enemy of his subjects in general and Christians in particular. The underlying truth throughout Scripture is that God ordains governments and it is on His authority and His authority alone that they operate. Thus, it is to His authority that we submit when we submit to governments.

Monday, July 12, 2021

When No News is Bad News

Here's a study you don't hear about much. Apparently they don't know what they're doing when it comes to COVID. No, that's not quite fair. But scientists discovered a year ago that some people who had COVID often either obtained no antibodies from it or lost them quickly. So, how does that work? Turns out that they found the immunity not in antibodies, but in T cells. In fact, testing blood taken before the pandemic, some people had COVID immunity already in their blood. Suprisingly, "40-60% of unexposed individuals" had this immunity already. To top it all off, it might be that they've been pursuing the wrong measurements all along. Not antibodies; T cells. So, they estimate, immunity may be "twice as common as was previously thought." Beyond this, multiple sources including Goodrx.com, the British Journal of Medicine, and the NIH are reporting that people who recover from COVID can have immunity for 8 months on up to several years.

This is not mainstream. By that I mean the media, the CDC, the WHO, Dr. Fauci ... these folks aren't letting on about this. Why? Maybe it doesn't fit with whatever agenda they have. It doesn't work well with the control they gain by terrorizing a nation or a world. (It has felt to a lot of people like Dr. Fauci is a little man who feels empowered now because he has a voice.) Letting this kind of information out wouldn't help. We've always heard about the CDC and the WHO, but since when did we have commercials urging us to "tell the whole family about CDC guidelines" and the like? Or, maybe not. Maybe they honestly don't know. Maybe they honestly don't care. On one end of that "don't care" might be, "Well, sure, we know about the information, but we don't care. We want to err on the side of caution." Or maybe they're on the other end. "Yes, we've seen it; we just don't care how much damage our protective measures are doing to your world." (I'd guess that this pandemic has been a real boon for folks like the CDC or the WHO. They haven't spent a year and a half without work, have they?) Either way, it seems ... dishonest to keep the public unaware of these things, given the level of terror I see in people to this day, and given the amount of damage COVID countermeasures have done to people, the economy, the society, and all. This is when no news becomes bad news.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Advantage of Disadvantage

Generally speaking, most people regard most religions as mostly the same. A different nuance here or there, but, for the most part, what's the difference? As it turns out, of course, Christianity is not the same ... in many ways. First and foremost, every religion on the planet plans to get their followers to heaven by good works. Christianity explicitly teaches, "By works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight." (Rom 3:20). There are a lot more differences after that. We have a risen Savior, a God-Man, who bore our sins. He claimed to be God Incarnate. Christianity claims, "No one seeks for God." (Rom 3:11). There are far more fundamental differences than most imagine.

One that is interesting is the claim that "we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Rom 5:3-5). So certain is this rejoicing in sufferings that it is a command (James 1:2-3). Suffering is not only considered normal (John 15:20; 2 Tim 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12-13; 1 John 3:13); it is regarded as a gift (Php 1:29; James 1:12). In normal human experience, none of this makes sense. From the perspective of Scripture, it's all quite clear.

Jesus promised suffering for His followers (e.g., John 15:20). Paul assured us that "all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Tim 3:12). But suffering in Christianity is not the end. It's the beginning. Paul wrote, "Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." (2 Cor 4:17). "Light and momentary troubles"? He says, "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies." (2 Cor 4:8-10). "Light and momentary," then, is only from an eternal perspective. But in Christ it produces so much good. It produces endurance and character and hope (Rom 5:3-5). It produces patience and completion (James 1:3). It identifies us with our Savior (1 Peter 2:20). It makes us dependent on God's power (2 Cor 12:9-10). It is not merely a nuisance; it is part of God's unending love for us in which we are "more than conquerors" (Rom 8:35-37).

In our world these days "disadvantage" is perhaps the ultimate evil. In 2012, France banned homework in schools because homework "creates a disadvantage for students who can't get help from parents at home." Disadvantage is evil. And, in fact, we as a nation generally seek to remove disadvantage, although the ultimate goal can't be met. It is, then, quite stunning to see that in Christ the disadvantage of suffering, even to death, is considered something worth rejoicing over -- a great advantage. If only American Christians would start to believe that.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

News Weakly - 7/10/21

Let's Be Clear
According to the media the GOP wants to limit transgender rights. In truth, they want to prevent biological males (only) from competing in biological female sports. (No one is trying to pass laws to prevent biological females from competing in male sports.) The reason the GOP wants these laws is to protect biological females and the integrity of their sports. The Dems want that abolished. So who is it that is trying to protect females and who is opposed to protecting women? This isn't about gender; it's about sex -- biology. This isn't about the morality of transgender; it's about protecting females. Because "I feel like a girl" doesn't change biology or prevent harm to the females in a physical contest with them.

Alternative Facts
Back in April AP News reported that the top U.S. general for the Middle East, Gen. Frank McKenzie, told Congress that the Afghanistan military "will certainly collapse" without American support. In the wake of Biden's withdrawal of American forces there, the Taliban is on the offensive. Luckily, the president has inside information. We've achieved what we went to achieve. "It's the right and the responsibility of Afghan people, alone, to decide their future and how they want to run their country," he stated. And he was sure the Taliban can't stop them. Except ... they appear to be doing just that. The president is never to be deterred by facts, I guess.

The New Pope
Apparently Pope Francis had intestinal surgery to "remove part of his left colon in what the Vatican has described as a planned procedure." He is resting well. Having undergone much the same myself last year, I believe it's safe to conclude that the pope is now a semi-colon.

Hardly Working Americans
According to the Labor Department, the number of new jobs increased by a record amount in May. They said "there was essentially one open job for every unemployed American" even though the unemployment rate was up to 5.9%. The problem, apparently, is that employers are "forced to pay more to attract workers" and "workers are leaving jobs for better-paying positions." Labor costs, then, are rising and unemployment isn't improving much even though jobs are available ... thanks largely to the fact that the government is paying people for not working. What could go wrong?

Moving to China
With a rise in the call to dispense with capitalism and shift to socialism, you'd think this kind of story would get Americans moving to China. In the advanced Communist Party with all its freedoms and comforts, China has been deleting accounts on LGBT topics on a popular social media service. Just shows how oppressive America truly is.

The Full Force of EU Law
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban refuses to repeal the law that forbids promoting homosexuality and gender reassignment in schools. The EU is outraged. Hungary must repeal or "face the full force of EU law." Clear enough. Promote homosexuality to school children or pay. I've heard it said you can't legislate morality. How about legislating immorality?

Shouldn't He Know?
Kamala Harris announced a $25 million campaign to expand voting. "The Democrats are investing in the tools and technology to register voters, to educate voters, to turn out voters, to protect voters." Jaime Harrison, chair of the DNC, declared the efforts to better control voting discrepancies "the ghost of Jim Crow." The Democrats should know, since they were the authors of Jim Crow laws.

We Come in Peace!
The president is planning a "door to door" campaign to get people vaccinated. He's talking about informing people and making the vaccine available on the spot, but his language doesn't match. "If you're not vaccinated," he suggested, "you're putting your community, your friends, the people you care about at risk." When the language of "risk" is used, the serious possibility of force is suggested. We'll see how that goes.

When is Inclusive an Insult?
Tennessee passed a law that would require businesses to post a notice if they allow people to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. You know, a "heads up" for people so they know what to expect in whatever bathroom they use. "Wrong!" the ACLU shouted. Apparently being inclusive "would disrupt the welcoming environments that they wish to provide." Telling people they can use whatever bathroom they feel matches their gender "hurts transgender and intersex people." The judge blocked it. I don't even ...

On the Lighter Side
It appears that "COVID-related" deaths are on the decline now that the new death certificates include "Climate Change" and "Systemic Racism" as possible causes. That has to be good news.

Federal investigators seized a Lego set of the U.S. Capitol building (no joke) from a home in Pennsylvania, possibly to build a case that the man was part of the riot January 6. Based on another Lego set, they believe he was also planning an attack on Hogwarts Castle.

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, July 09, 2021

Provisions

I grew up with a father that loved to go camping. Eventually it was with an RV, but that was primarily to make my mother more comfortable on these excursions. So they would plan the trip, gather the provisions, and head out.

"Provisions" -- interesting word. Notice the root -- "vision." The origin of the word, in fact, comes from the concept of "foresight." And you can see that, right? (Small pun there.) You gather provisions because you have the foresight to know what you will likely need but not have when you need it, so you gather it in advance. "Foresight" -- "provision."

Paul wrote, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." (Rom 13:14). "Put on Christ," he said. Wear Him like a garment. Be wrapped in Him. When people see you, let them see Him. It's not a new idea. He wrote to the Galatians, "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." (Gal 3:27). To the Ephesians he wrote, "Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." (Eph 4:24).

"Christ-like" is a good description. But he adds this next line in his letter to the Romans: "Make no provision for the flesh." This is intended as an addendum -- "and" -- to his "Put on Christ." In addition to -- right along with -- putting on Christ, make no provision for the flesh. Note what he's saying. Remember, "provision" is "foresight." So he's saying, "Don't look ahead and see what you'll need for the flesh to be satisfied. Don't think about gratifying your desires." He doesn't merely say, "Don't gratify your lusts." He says, "Don't even think about them." Our gratification of our lusts is most often accomplished in foresight. So Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matt 5:27-28) There it is again. The intent is the problem before the deed ever occurs. Foresight. Provision. Planning ahead ... for sin.

The context of the Romans passage is that we must "cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light." (Rom 13:12). We are to "walk properly" which is in direct contrast to satiating our senses and lusts (Rom 13:13). In short, we must "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." Since the aim of the Christian life is to "be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom 8:29), putting on Christ is the best idea. Of course, if letting others see Christ in you is our goal, making provision for the flesh is the counter to that aim. Don't even think about it.

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Sacrifice

Paul wrote the letter to the Romans to give a full account of "the gospel" (Rom 1:16-17). He didn't know them personally and wanted to make sure they had the clearest possible picture. So he started out right away with ... the bad news. Really bad news. Humans were under God's wrath. Why? Because we suppress the truth about God, and it leads to all manner of sin (Rom 1:18-3:20). Having laid out in great detail the depth of the problem, Paul goes on to explain the magnificence of the gospel (Rom 3:21-11:36). It's huge!

At this point, and only at this point, Paul is able to say, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable worship." (Rom 12:1). It's only at this point he can do that because it's only in view of the vastness of the gospel that "present your bodies as a living sacrifice" is reasonable ... or worship.

What does "a living sacrifice" look like? What is that? He starts by insisting that it is through being "transformed by the renewal of the mind," (Rom 12:2) an obvious necessity since sin rots the brain (Rom 1:22-23, 25, 28). But that's just the start. Ultimately Paul describes this sacrifice as love. "Let love be genuine," he says (Rom 12:9). "Love one another with brotherly affection." (Rom 12:10). Further, "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law." (Rom 13:8). He says that twice, in fact (Rom 13:10).

In today's version of love I don't suppose that makes a lot of sense. In today's version love is not so much "less about me." In fact, it starts with "me." On the other hand, the biblical version is a sacrifice. It is not about me. And if you were to read the Scriptures and ask, "What is the single defining word for Christian living?" you'd have to say it is just this -- love. Jesus said it defined His disciples (John 13:35). What love? Love like He did -- "Just as I have loved you." (John 13:34). Sacrifice. Paul wrote, "Let all that you do be done in love." (1 Cor 16:14). That's pretty inclusive.

When I look at Christendom today, I don't see it so well. I don't see love as the defining factor. That is due partly -- probably largely -- to the fact that the world has so distorted love. Picking through those weeds and thorns to find the real stuff isn't very easy. It's also partly due to how much of the world we believers have soaked up. Which, I suspect, is why Paul warned, "Do not be conformed to the world." (Rom 12:2). We can't fix the world or Christendom. We can ask ourselves, "Does Jesus's sacrificial love define my approach to living?" (Spoiler alert! You may not like the answer.)