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Monday, April 19, 2021

The Bible is Not Reliable

It is a common notion today, offered by skeptics and Christians alike. From the far left to the near right, lots of people tell us, "You can't take the Bible at face value." There are, of course, degrees of that claim. Some discard it altogether. Some think it's sort of a "nice book," as it were, with some good ideas in it, but certainly not truth. Moving up this ladder, there are those who believe that the Bible contains God's word but is not itself God's word. Some point to actual quotes of God in the Bible and argue that those are the only actual "God's word" contents. Others stretch it further and say that, sure, it's in there; you just have to figure out what is and is not God's word. Accumulating these notions, you find that the largest number of people, whether they utterly disregard it or have some respect for it, still hold that the Bible is not completely reliable and you're a fool if you think otherwise.

We believe otherwise. We believe that, as the Bible claims, the Bible is "God-breathed" -- the actual word used in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. "Inspired" is okay, but the idea conveyed in the word is that God actually "exhaled" it in a sense. Authors of the Bible claim divine direction. Peter assured his readers that Scripture is not a matter of one's own interpretation, nor was it produced by the will of man, "but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:20-21) So we believe that God breathed His word to the authors and God has superintended it since, so that, if God is to be trusted at all, we can be absolutely confident that what we have today in our Bibles is genuinely God's reliable word.

But, you knew that. I mean, you knew that this is what we believe. If you count yourselves among "we," that's what you believe. We're not "bibliolaters," worshiping a book. We don't regard the Bible as "holy" like Islam does. But as worshipers of God, we have absolute respect for His word commensurate with our respect for God. If you do not count yourselves among "we," you at least know that's what we believe.

So, what if you place yourself in the "Christian" category but not in the "we believe the Bible is God's word" category? So what? On the face of it you might be tempted to think it's a mere disagreement over which we can disagree without division. Like Paul's "whether or not to eat meat sacrificed to idols." I would argue that this is not that. If the Bible is accurate in its claim to be God-breathed -- if Jesus was right when He said, "Your word is truth" (John 17:17) -- and you deny that, you've managed to "pull an Aaron." What's that? Well, after God gave Israel His word (Exo 20), Moses went up to talk with God and the people demanded an idol. Aaron, like the fabled rabbit-out-of-the-hat trick, pulled one out of their gold (Exo 32:1-5; Exo 32:24). He created an image for them to worship instead of God Himself. If you disregard God's word as genuine truth, you've set yourself up as the image to be worshiped. You've set yourself as the ultimate arbiter of truth. You've made an idol of yourself. "No, it's not actual truth. I'll tell you what is and is not." I would argue that this is not trivial and it's not a safe place to stand.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Love One Another

I've had the same doctor for probably 15 years. This year I tried out a new doctor. He did his exam, analyzed the tests and blood work and history, and immediately prescribed new drugs and gave me referrals to a hematologist, a dietician, a cardiologist, and a dermatologist.

I, of course, as you can understand, was offended. "Can't you be my doctor without being so judgmental? Can't you just be nice and smile and tell me you like me? Why do you have to be so negative? Why do you feel the need to impose your version of reality on me? I think you should be more 'embracing,' more affirming. What is wrong with you doctors, anyway? Can't you just be accepting of people rather than so narrow-minded and 'judgy'? Why all the hate?"

I, of course, as I'm sure you guessed, did no such thing. The fact that someone pointed out potential problems and offered genuine solutions in terms of health does not translate to hate, judgment, or unkindness. Just the opposite. If you had a doctor who saw things that concerned him and he failed to bring them up to you, you'd fire him. Reporting negative things is not, by definition, hate. If those negatives are true, failing to report them would be. "Sure, I knew you had conditions that could kill you, but, hey, I didn't want to upset you or hurt your feelings, so I didn't say anything." Thanks, but no thanks.

I'm sure you can see where this is going. We are told, by those "within" and without, that we should be more accepting, more loving, more embracing. We shouldn't be pointing to sin. We shouldn't be recognizing what's wrong. We should be ... how does the song put it ... "friends of sinners." Not enemies, pointing out what's wrong. We should tell ourselves, "Pay no attention to that fatal belief they have and just be loving." Like that makes some sense somehow.

It is true that we should be more loving. It is true that we can be too judgmental. It is true that we can often thrive on "righteous indignation," and it is true that that's wrong. The answer, however, is not to stay silent. That would be evil. That would be hateful. "Sure, I have it on the best authority that you have no place in the kingdom, but, don't worry. I won't warn you at all. I'll just pat you on the back and watch you walk into the fire." That is not what friends do. Our approach admittedly often falls short, but that means we need to correct our approach (and our attitude), not ignore the reality. That isn't loving and if we get to heaven and hear God tell one of those we "loved" that way, "Your sin has condemned you to hell," they won't turn to us, give us a wink, and say, "Thanks for being so loving and not telling me about this."

Saturday, April 17, 2021

News Weakly - 4/17/21

Paging Dr. Dolittle
Actor Hank Azaria voiced the animated character, Apu, on The Simpsons for years. Now he has apologized to "every single Indian person" for doing so. It was a racist caricature of the "Kwik-E-Mart" kind of owners we've seen in so many 7-11's and such. "Azaria said that he now supports people of color voicing characters of color." Because what we want out of our animated shows is realism and diversity, not humor. The industry will now move to have cats voicing cats, dogs voicing dogs, and so on. Let's not take jobs away from those who don't have enough jobs. (I'm not opposed to this in principle, but do you suppose if they had a white character voiced by a Latinx anyone would complain? So do you suppose it's actually about having the proper people voicing the characters?)

We've Got Your Back
In February the Supreme Court lifted California's ban on indoor church services for something silly -- the First Amendment. Then this last Friday they again told the state you can't ban home Bible studies or prayer meetings ... again, for that crazy First Amendment. So, California, out of their deep and abiding respect for their citizens' rights and the need for religious gatherings, lifted worship-related restrictions. "Because, don't worry, Californians, we've got your back. (Pay no attention to the Supreme Court standing over our shoulders telling us we have to. Or the multiple knives we've stuck there so far.)"

New "Family Values"
Since they opened, Disney has been known as a special place. It has been known as a "family" place, an ultra-conservative place with fairy princesses and friendly animal characters and all. If you wanted to work at Disney, you had to conform to their strict, conservative policies, which may, at times, appear narrow and austere, but resulted in a family place where kids could feel safe and parents didn't have to worry. In their ever changing approach, Disney has decided to jettison that image. Now they're going "gender inclusive" ... so that employees can "feel a sense of belonging at work." That means LGBTQ Mickey ears and tattooed vendors. (I'm not joking; that's actually in the story.) I'm picturing a Cinderella character with beard, a cigar, and tattoos asking in a gruff voice -- "Hey, little girl, wanna sit in a princess's lap?" What could go wrong?

Legal Hate?
I will be honest. I'm a little confused. The Senate is debating a new hate crime bill to protect Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Now, I'm not in favor of hate crimes and I'm not in favor of hate crimes against the people in this bill, but I'm completely lost here. The Congress has passed hate crime legislation before. So far it is a hate crime to cause or attempt to cause harm or injury to people on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. Now, I'm pretty sure "Asian American" is encompassed in that list. So what are they trying to outlaw that is not specifically outlawed? (Interestingly, it is also a hate crime "for two or more persons to conspire to injure, threaten, or intimidate a person in any state, territory, or district in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him or her by the Constitution or the laws of the U.S." Like when Congress conspires to block First or Second Amendment rights?)

Legal Murder
While we're all upset about the (accidental) shooting of the young black man in Minnesota on one hand -- "We demand justice!!" -- we are not all upset about the intentional shooting of an unarmed white woman in Washington D.C. The Capitol police officer who shot Ashli Babbitt January 6 when she was trying to go through a door will not be charged. The white woman who accidently shot Daunte Wright will be charged. I see how this goes.

Cancel Culture and the Free Press
An officer who was shot in the Breonna Taylor debacle (and who did not shoot Taylor) is writing a book to tell the story. Publisher Post Hill Press believes the officer "deserves to have his account of the tragic events heard publicly." The public disagrees. They petitioned to ban the book and Simon and Schuster has agreed. Let's not have an open dialog. Let's not hear all sides. Let's not examine the case. Let's simply block the press (which, by the way, falls under the existing "hate crimes" law).

Off the Internet
You remember last week that the New York Times reported that white evangelicals will prolong the COVID crisis because they're opposed to the vaccine for religious reasons. I think the Babylon Bee has discovered the real reason. Conservatives are deciding not to get vaccinated after they learned that liberals will stay away from them. A more likely reason, I think.

In other news, Ben and Jerry's is planning to fight white supremacy by discontinuing vanilla ice cream. Seems reasonable given today's version of "reasoning."

Finally, the military is announcing that they will accept anyone who identifies as a good soldier even if they're a "no-skill fat slob." I'm not sure, given today's idea that "reality is what I think it is," how to refute the logic.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Sort of Sovereign

In 1 Timothy 6:15 Paul refers to God as "He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords." The "only Sovereign." The Bible claims that God is Sovereign. And, in fact, most Christians agree on that. They just disagree (sometimes wildly) on what it means. There are all sorts of "sovereign."

On one end of the spectrum there is the "None" version. "No, He's not Sovereign. Not at all." Generally that would be the atheist's view, but I've heard it from a few self-professed Christians. At the far other end of the spectrum there is the "full Sovereign" version, where humans have no choices and no input. God causes and controls all things and any sort of "free will" or choices or the like are pure illusion. It's called fatalism. Fatalism is the view that human beings are powerless to do anything other than what they actually do. I've certainly heard that from some Christians as well. Then there are the middle ground views. One says that God sovereignly surrendered His Sovereignty to humans, at least to some degree. This, perhaps, is the most popular. So God wants to accomplish some things, but is dependent on human free will to accomplish it. Without it, He just can't. The other side of the middle ground is that God is Sovereign in the sense that He allows humans limited free will and allows those things that contradict His commands (a type of will) as long as He can use it. Of course, there are lots of nuanced versions in the middle. So ... which is it? What sort of Sovereign is "He who is the blessed and only Sovereign"?

One way to answer that is from philosophy. So we debate about "free will," what it means, what it doesn't mean. We debate about what God is and is not allowed to do. We dicker over details. Perhaps there are some valid points in there, but wouldn't it be better if we went to God's word? We have what Scripture says about God and nature (e.g., Psa 147:8-9, 14-18; Psa 148:1-12; Job 9:5-10; Job 26:7-14; Job 37:2-24; Job 38:8-41). We have what Scripture says about God and our choices (e.g., Psa 33:10-11; Prov 20:24; 19:21; 21:1) God even claims to make people deaf or dumb or blind (Exo 4:11). The Bible says that God planned and predestined the murder of His own Son (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28; Isa 53:10). In short, according to God's word, He works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11; Psa 115:3; Job 42:2). On the other hand, we clearly have choices (e.g., Josh 24:15; Job 34:4; Prov 1:29; etc.). And we know that God does not cause sin (James 1:13).

So, what sort of sovereignty do you find in Scripture? Or is your view of God's sovereignty based on philosophy and reason rather than Scripture? How well does your view of God as sovereign line up with the Bible's view? Questions we should ask ourselves.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Boasting Chisel

Imagine you had the opportunity to go back in time and visit Michelangelo. You go into his workshop to observe his work and you say, "Can I please see the chisel? I think that's really marvelous!" Wait, what?? No, of course not. You want to talk to the sculptor. You want to know the guy using the chisel. The chisel isn't very special; it's the master you want to know.

Paul wrote,
I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me. (Rom 15:18)
To you and me, that might sound like fake humility. But Paul is being a boasting chisel. It's not the tool Christ uses that is of interest; it is Christ. Paul is the tool -- look at what Christ can do with such a tool.

You remember Paul. He called himself "the least of the apostles" (1 Cor 15:9). He sought to murder Christians (Acts 9:1-2). He wasn't a "magnificent tool." So Paul doesn't get (or give himself) any credit for what Christ was doing. It wasn't false modesty or fake humility. It was fact.

We who are believers know that we can't lead a single sinner to salvation; that's the Holy Spirit's work. We know that our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isa 64:6). So when we start to think, "Hey, I'm doing a pretty good job for God, if I say so myself," we become arrogant tools. And if we are to do all to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31), perhaps we ought to start by admitting that He is the master sculptor, not us, His tools.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Motivation Matters

Paul wrote the epistle to those called by God at Rome to people he didn't know. His goal was to make sure they got the clear gospel (Rom 1:16-17). So he laid down 11 chapters of doctrine before he ever got to the "practice" part. In the 15th chapter he told them, "On some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder ..." (Rom 15:15) "Boldly"? Indeed. He warned of God's wrath (Rom 1:18) and the extent of sin (Rom 3:9) and the seriousness of the sin problem (Rom 3:10-12). He warned the Jews about their self-righteousness (Rom 2:17-24). He urged his readers to stop sinning (Rom 6:11-14). He asked them to give their bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1). He was, indeed, bold.

We are told, loudly and often, that we shouldn't be "judgmental." By that they mean we shouldn't be pointing out anyone else's "sin," perceived or genuine. We should keep silent about it. To do otherwise is to be hateful. You cannot call out sin and be kind. These twp things are in opposition. But Paul disagreed. Here's what he actually wrote in that verse in Romans 15.
But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God. (Rom 15:15)
Yes, he wrote "very boldly," calling natural man "fools" and idolaters (Rom 1:21-23). He called homosexual sex "shameless acts" and "contrary to nature" (Rom 1:26-27). He told Jews who violate the Law, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." (Rom 2:24) But note what he says about all that and more. He did it "because of the grace given me by God." Paul spoke boldly on the basis of grace.

Sometimes we humans can do the right thing for the wrong reason. Did I say "sometimes"? More like "often." But the fact that sometimes we point out error in others with bad motives is no reason to assume that all such effort is with bad motives. Paul considered it grace. We even know it can be "tough love." Perhaps, before you accuse someone of being hateful, you should find out their motive.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Of First Importance

We know that "the Gospel" refers to "the Good News." Now, to be sure, there is a lot of "good news" in the Bible. Beginning with "God created" (Gen 1:1), we learn lots of "good news." He walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. He met and redeemed people throughout history. He is a God known for love and grace and mercy. He causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Matt 5:45). He sustains all existence (Col 1:17). He sent His Son (John 3:16). Lots of good news, no doubt. But when Paul refers to "the gospel of God" (Rom 1:1) or "my gospel" (Rom 2:16), he is not referring to generally good news, but a very specific good news. It was, in fact, his specific commission from God to take that particular good news to Gentiles (Rom 1:14-15; Eph 3:1-7). It was his primary reason for writing to the Romans (Rom 1:16-17). What was that particular good news?
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you -- unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me. (1 Cor 15:1-8)
This was a specific gospel -- good news -- "the gospel I preached to you." This was "of first importance" he said. What was?
  1. Christ died for our sins.
  2. He was raised on the third day.
  3. He appeared to witnesses.
Of first importance, then, was that Christ died for our sins. He didn't die to be an example. He didn't die just as a matter of injustice. He died because we sinned and payment was required. Of first importance, He was raised. He didn't stay in the grave. He wasn't a good man mistreated and dead. He rose again. Without that, we have no hope (1 Cor 15:14-19). Of first importance, He appeared to witnesses. When Paul wrote it, "most" were still alive. "Go ask them. Check it out for yourself." Critical for faith -- the gospel -- then was the evidence that a man was crucified, died, was buried, and rose again as witnesses can attest. Three items. Not really that hard. So why do you suppose that each one of them is cause for contention even among those who call themselves Christians?

We shouldn't be surprised. We are guaranteed that this particular good news is "folly to those who are perishing" (1 Cor 1:18). Expect it. When they tell you He did not die for your sin, they undercut the gospel. Scripture says, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us." (Gal 3:13) Scripture says, "In Him we have redemption through His blood." (Eph 1:7) Paul wrote that we "are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith." (Rom 3:24-25) Oh, and that "propitiation" thing? That refers to appeasing God's wrath. Yes, a God angry at sin. When they eliminate Christ dying for our sins, they eliminate the gospel. When they eliminate the Resurrection, they eliminate the gospel. When they deny the witnesses, they deny the gospel. These are not peripheral; they are "of first importance."

It is foolishness and a stumblingblock (1 Cor 1:22-23) to those who don't believe. It is salvation to those who do (1 Cor 1:18). Your call. If it is foolishness or a stumblingblock to you, you might need a Savior even if you don't think so.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Unity

Paul says that the purpose of the church is "the unity of the Spirit" (Eph 4:3). The purpose of the church is to "equip the saints for the work of ministry" (Eph 4:12), to "attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God" (Eph 4:13), "so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes." (Eph 4:14) Unity. What does that mean?

Well, first, it does not mean that we're all the same -- that we all think the same and speak the same and do the same. That's obvious in the text of Ephesians 4. "He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers" to accomplish His work withn the church (Eph 4:11). Not all the same. And when biblical writers encounter variants, they warn believer to believer to avoid harming the faith of the weaker brother (Rom 14:1-3; 1 Cor 8:13). There are acceptable differences. Unity does not require lockstep thinking.

Paul said we were to "be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit" (Eph 4:3). He urged "the unity of the faith." (Eph 4:13) So the Spirit is the source of this unity and the faith is its conduit. Notice how that works. We are to "live in harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus." (Rom 15:5) That is, we don't negotiate to the least common denominator. We aim for Christ Jesus (Heb 12:1-2). We share a common love (John 13:35). We contend for a common faith (Jude 1:3).

For the Christian, then, unity would not look like uniformity (e.g., 1 Cor 12:4-7). It would look like a common direction with a common source (the Spirit) and a common end (Christ) and a common aim -- love. When we aim to correct fellow believers, we aim not to beat them into submission or win the case, but to urge them together with us from the Spirit in the faith toward Christ in love. I believe that kind of unity would be less devisive and less virulent and much, much more helpful than the popular and prevalent finger-wagging and pointing in righteous indignation (Gal 6:1; 1 John 5:16).

Sunday, April 11, 2021

God Loves the World

John 3:16 is perhaps one of the best known verses in the Bible ... even among non-Christians. It has been shown in football stadiums, plastered on billboards, and tattooed in conspicuous places. It is a warm message.
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
God loves the world and that is undeniable. "God ... loved the world," it says. But does He love the world unilaterally and equally? It seems like it in that phrase, but there's that pesky "so." What is that there for? That "so" is not a reference to quantity -- "so much" -- but quality. In what way did God love the world? Just so. How? "He gave His only Son" Okay, that seems universal, equilateral. But there was a purpose -- "that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." Okay, now there's a shift. Now there's a qualification. Now there's a limitation. God loved the world -- everyone in it -- enough to send His Son for them, but it was ultimately aimed at "whoever believes." So it would appear from this beloved verse that, yes, God does love the world, but not everyone equally.

You can see this in Ephesians. After telling us that we were dead in sins, Paul writes,
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ ... (Eph 2:4-5)
That is good news indeed, but notice what it says about His love. He did this marvelous thing "because of the great love with which He loved us." Now, Paul didn't write this to the world; he wrote it to "the saints" (Eph 1:1). So it is not aimed at everyone because not everyone has been made alive together with Christ. God made "us" alive together with Him -- that same "us" who are the recipients of His "great love."

It is absolutely true that God loves the world. Or rather, those in the world. He gives them rain and sun. He gives them forbearance, withholding immediate judgment so that they might repent. He sent His Son. And more. All good things. But, believers and saints, remember that He loves His own with a "great love." He loves all, but He especially loves some. Become one of that "some." Believe in His Son.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

News Weakly - 4/10/21

Pandemic Danger
On the front page of the New York Times this week was a friendly little story about the real threat to the world in this pandemic. It was about how white evanglicals could prolong the pandemic because they're refusing to take the vaccine. Nice. Some object because of perceived "aborted cell tissue." Some object because "It's not trusting God." Some are warning that it's "the Mark of the Beast." So a tiny sliver of a tiny population in America could kill us all. I'm pretty sure the fact that it is "white" and not all evangelicals and that it is "evangelicals" and not all Christians is irrelevant. Wait ... no, I'm not.

What's in a Word?
In a bold move last week, Arkansas's governor vetoed a bill from the legislature that would restrict health care procedures for transgender youth. In a surprising turn, then, the lawmakers overrode his veto, making it illegal for people under 18 to get "gender-affirming treatments." Wait, now, hold on. "Gender-affirming treatments"? Yeah, you know, like cutting off body parts and using hormone therapy to disrupt their development. Gender-affirming. If, by "gender-affirming treatments," they meant "treatments that help a young person to accept and embrace the gender they were born to," I'd be all for it. I just can't read, "Maim them while they're young because they feel like it" as anything "affirming."

Cancel Culture On Parade
The story is actually that it ended, but for awhile San Francisco was working hard at changing the names of schools with offensive names -- names like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Paul Revere. Oh, and Dianne Feinstein. Nice. Because, you see, someone somewhere had come to believe that all of these (and more) had at some point done something that someone found offensive. Like Dianne Feinstein who, when she was mayor in 1984, made the decision to replace a vandalized Confederate flag that was part of a longstanding display outside city hall. Cancel her. So they stopped the effort ... for now. Got to get kids back to school before they correct all the errors of history. Having never learned, I suppose, the principle of "He who is without sin cast the first stone."

Fair is Not Necessarily Fair
In their attempt to be ever gracious and fair, Senate Democrats have figured out how to work around the filibuster so they can get their agenda passed with a simple 51 votes ... which is what they have available. "This way we can help Americans rather than throw them to the wolves like the Republicans want," a Schumer aide said. To be safe, they're voting next (requiring a just 51 votes) to pass a rule that if Democrats in the Senate become a minority, then the minority vote is the one that passes. Just to be safe.

I Heard No Immunity
Wikipedia defines "qualified immunity" as "a legal doctrine in United States federal law that shields government officials from being sued for discretionary actions performed within their official capacity, unless their actions violated 'clearly established' federal law or constitutional rights." New Mexico decided that was a bad idea to protect officials doing their job from legal action, so they removed qualified immunity. I understand that this is designed to protect people from officials who do the wrong thing, but if I was a police officer in New Mexico, I'd get out immediately since "qualified immunity" means you can't be prosecuted for doing your job and New Mexico will not protect you for that.

We Have Re-Gretas
She's at it again. Greta Thunberg, now 18, has found a cause more important than saving the planet from climate change. It's COVID vaccine inequality. She won't attend the climate summit in Glasgow in November until countries stop vaccinating young people before the at-risk groups in the world are vaccinated. Umm, Greta, isn't that inequality -- demanding that one group get vaccinated (worldwide) before another? Okay, she's demanding equal vacine distribution. Not even sure how that works. (Seriously. I'm not at all sure how that works.)

Back to Normal
As states begin to ease back to normal conditions, Texas says they will return to shooting people wearing masks on the assumption that they're stagecoach robbers as before.

Bruce Caitlyn Jenner is planning to run for governor in California. He She plans to save the state money by making only 77% of the usual pay.

Meanwhile, President Biden has outlawed guns for everyone except criminals and people guarding him. Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Suppressing the Truth

Romans is an interesting epistle. It was written by Paul to people he had never met. It was written to a church he had never visited. Paul's intent was simply to lay a groundwork of solid doctrine for them in advance of him going to visit. So he has to be as clear as he can possibly be for this group whose doctrinal training and standing is unknown. As such, he explains at the outset,
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. (Rom 1:13-15)
"Under obligation," he says, "to preach the gospel." This epistle, then, is written about the gospel. Paul strongly affirms that he is not ashamed of the gospel "for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom 1:16), and "in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith." (Rom 1:17) Great, so we're all clear at this point. His aim is the gospel because the gospel is the power of God for salvation because it reveals God's righteousness (or justice).

And then he launches into the bad news.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. (Rom 1:18-19)
There's the problem. There's the starting point. You see, what makes the "good news" really good is the bad news. In that contrast this "gospel" -- this "good news" -- is huge. What is it that has raised God's wrath? The suppression of truth. What truth specifically? The truth about God. And it is that suppression of truth that causes all the other problems we see listed in the rest of the chapter.

This isn't, really, a surprise, is it? We are not really caught off guard by the claim that humans suppress the truth, are we? All you have to do is look at the media, look at the culture, look at society. Look at higher education, orginally intended to provide the free exchange of ideas, now blocking and banning such things. Look at everyday conversations and relationships. Lots and lots of deception. Lots and lots of hiding the truth, consciously or unconsciously. We are really, really good at suppressing the truth. We spin stories to arrive at a particular conclusion. We edge facts out with emotions that support our aims. We label things as "fake" and "hate" that just aren't necessarily so. We suppress the truth to others and we suppress the truth to ourselves.

But, remember, while the suppression of truth is pretty normal in everyday human beings, it isn't mere suppression of truth that has stirred up the wrath of God. It is truth suppression that produces "ungodliness" -- the failure to relate properly to God -- and "unrighteousness" -- the failure to do what's right -- all of which is based on the suppression of the truth about God. As a species, we are very, very good at suppressing the truth about God. We replace Him as supreme with just about anything else ... starting with ourselves. We deny His expressed characteristics. We deny His existence. We disregard His instructions. We do all this in word, to be sure, but more importantly in deed.

The gospel is that God has provided a way to avoid His righteous wrath and have peace with Him. Our lives are lived every day demonstrating that we deserve His righteous wrath in the everyday ways we suppress the truth about Him. The more clearly we see that in ourselves, the more we will appreciate "the Gospel" -- the magnitude of that good news. But, of course, if suppressing the truth is our problem, then it is not at all unlikely that we won't see the magnitude of the problem in ourselves or the wonder of His Gospel ... because we don't see Him as He is.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

We Need Climate Change

After a fire in Rome in 64 AD, Emperor Nero, covering up accusations against himself, designated Christians as the cause. Then, to assuage the fears and outrage of the people, he tortured and executed them where he could find them.

In the 1930's Hitler and the Nazis fingered the Jews as a major threat to the safety and security of the region. The outcome was the Holocaust where millions of Jews were rounded up and executed to calm the fears of the people and secure the society.

The New York Times reports that white evangelicals could prolong the pandemic because they are refusing to take the COVID vaccine. Now, the notion that "white" has anything to do with the question is nonsense, and it's not that everyone who identifies as "evangelical" actually fits in that category, and it's not like "white evangelical" is anything close to a major portion of the nation. The Pew Research Center says that there are 41 million white evangelical adults in the U.S. and are "least likely to get the vaccine." That would be roughly 10% of the nation -- nothing like a majority.

It's interesting to note in the story that there is no data about vaccine hesitancy among evangelicals of other racial groups. Apparently no one is looking at other races as a threat. And religious hesitancy spreads beyond white churches. Apparently that fact is irrelevant to the question. So why is this story out there? Why is the New York Times pinning the problem on "white evangelicals"? I would be classified as a "white evangelical" (even though I'm moving farther and farther away from "evangelical" as "evangelical" moves farther and farther away from ... "evangelical"), and I don't object to the vaccine on religious grounds. Do you suppose their complaints about "white evangelicals" will bypass me? I'm not morally opposed to it. Will they give me a pass? I don't think it's "the Mark of the Beast" or "contains aborted fetuses." Will they cancel me anyway?

Don't misunderstand. I'm not saying that a Nero-style persecution is coming. I'm not suggesting that a "Christian Holocaust" is just around the corner. I'm not expecting anything like that. All I'm saying is that the easiest way to be allowed to use excessive force against those we don't like is to classify them as an "enemy combatant" of some sort and then it becomes "okay." And all I'm saying is that to do so in such an ill-informed manner is as offensive as locking up all Japanese in America because some Japanese bombed Hawaii. Unfortunately I don't believe that our society is wiser on this kind of thing than Nero, or the Nazis, or the Americans in 1942. I am not at all optimistic given the current climate of hate. But Jesus said, "I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) Expect it. Don't worry about it. Know where your peace comes from. (Hint: It's not in a friendly social climate.)

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Tightly Wound

In a rope, you have a bunch of strands that are twisted together around a common core. The strength of the rope is in the cohesion of those strands. As long as all the strands continue to be tightly wrapped together, the rope remains strong. As soon as one lets loose, you have the beginnings of a disaster. Soon others in the vicinity of that one will also let loose. They will become frayed. The rope weakens. And eventually with sufficient outside pressure and sufficient strands that have let loose, you have a break.

This is also a description of Christian orthodoxy. To the extent that each individual is wrapped together with each other individual to a common core, Christian orthodoxy is strong. All believers, clinging together as one (what the Bible terms "unity"), are strong. When one lets loose of that core, you will begin to see an overall weakening. What core? "The foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone." (Eph 2:20) What do we have today of the Apostles and Prophets and Christ. We have God's Word. As long as the strands remain tighly wrapped around that core, there is common unity and common orthodoxy -- strength.

The strands unravel. They unravel by letting loose of the core. Oh, usually it's not all at once. "Yes, the Bible is God's Word. I'm just not convinced that I need to hold to every aspect." For instance, some argue that Paul's writings preempt all other texts. The strands loosen. "Yes," it might start, "the Bible is 'God's Word,' but not the entire Bible. It contains God's Word." Parts of our Bible are and parts are not God's Word and we have to identify which is which. The strands loosen. Or "Sure, the Bible is God's Word, but it's not the entirety of God's Word. God is constantly revealing new things to us today." As they contradict the Bible, the strands loosen. And so it goes.

It seems to be an unavoidable sequence. Over and over we've seen self-professed believers who appear to cling tightly to God's Word until they come across something -- often just one thing -- that they feel they need to deviate on. "It's okay. It's just one thing." But it's not long before it's two, then more. It's not long before it's peripheral, then important, then essential. It's not because there is disagreement. It's because of the heart that has let loose of the core and is ready to travel its own path. The strands loosen, then they take other strands with them, then there is a break.

We are a building being fitted together into a holy temple of the Lord (Eph 2:21). As such we ought to be wrapped around a common core -- the Apostles, the Prophets, and Christ at the center. That core cannot be variable or subjective. "What's true for you may not be true for me." It cannot be or it is not a foundation. We are assured that many will go out from us (1 John 2:18-20); no need to be surprised that it happens. What is critical is that we continue to cling to the core, the common faith, the Word of God. It is dangerous to let go, dangerous for us and dangerous for those around us.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Christian Extremists

Wikipedia has an article on Christian terrorism. This last February Politico magazine had an article about "violent Christian extremism." In 2016 Barna reported that "nearly half of non-religious adults perceive Christianity to be extremist." In the January riot in the D.C., signs were carried proclaiming messages about Christ amidst the violence, suggesting the insurrection was God's idea. After the shooting of massage parlor workers in Atlanta, a prominent theologian posted a picture of the shooter's church, stating the shooter "was radicalized here." While I understand that awful and violent things can be done in the name of religion and I understand that awful and violent things have been done with reference to religious source material (for instance, the Qur'an has many passages requiring violence against infidels.), I'm deeply concerned about this trend regarding Christianity and "terrorist," "violence," and "extremist."

As in so very many cases, our world accepts as reality the statements made publicly and loudly as fact. They don't actually need evidence; the statement alone is sufficient. When loud voices like the media (which now extends to the radical world of Facebook and Twitter and the like) get to say what they want without being actually challenged and they want to say that Christianity is extreme and evil, the anticipation is that the public will accept this at face value and run with it. And, as we all know, if the public outcry is loud enough, "innocent until proven guilty" has no part of our society. In cases like this, you should not expect a plain examination of the facts or the evidence.

You see, here's the problem. Terrorism, violence, murder, insurrection, all that stuff has nothing at all in connection to Christian. Better, all of that has nothing at all to do with Christ. The bottom-line Christian ethic is "Love God" and "Love your neighbor." "Burn 'em to the ground" doesn't fit. "Let's overthrow the government in the name of Jesus" is a non sequitur. It just doesn't make sense.

In a new job back in the '90's I met a coworker who, when he found out I was a Christian (because that was his first question), told me how much he hated Christians. Why? "Because they cause so much violence." I told him that made no sense and I offered him an allegory. "Are you married?" "Yes." "Are you happily married?" "Yes." "Good. So let's say I show up to work next week with a pistol. I walk up to you, point it at you, and inform you, 'I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to kill you.' You say, 'Hey, wait! Why?' I tell you, 'Your wife told me to.' And you reasonably reply, 'That can't be. My wife would never do that.' So why is it that you can deny the motive I offered for shooting you on the basis of what you know about your wife, but you gladly embrace the motive some people offer as 'Christian' even though you know it's in direct contradiction to anything 'Christian'? If you know Jesus never would do what they are saying He told them to do, why don't you refute them on the same grounds?"

Lots of people have come to the defense of Moslems when it appears that Islam can be violent even though Muhammad was violent and their book calls for it. Lots of people come to the defense of other extreme reactions to current conditions (think LGBT, sexism, racism, etc.) even though extreme reactions like that are consistent with their philosophies. But when a belief system includes basic commands like "love" and "turn the other cheek" and "pray for your enemies," that religion is branded publicly as "extremist." It doesn't seem reasonable. It appears as if, professing to be wise, they've become fools.

Is Christianity extreme? Yes. No doubt. But absolutely not in the way the word is used today. Extremely self-sacrificing, loving, humble, patient, tolerant (in the actual definition of the word), and so much more. And I would suggest that those who call themselves Christians while carrying out actions and attitudes in direct contradiction to biblical commands need to check themselves, because it's not Christ telling them to do that, so it cannot be "Christian." As one singer put it, "Perhaps it was the devil who whispered in your ear." When you find the Christian who is loving, caring, humble, generous, gracious, kind, selfless, and more, you've found a genuine reflection of "Christian" against which to compare claims of "Christianity." And there is no doubt that that is extreme in this world.

Monday, April 05, 2021

It's Not In There

How many times have I heard it? "It's not in there. The Bible doesn't say that." Most of the time I can point to the places that it actually does say that, but sometimes it is not in there. Is that a problem? It depends on who you're talking to.

"The Bible never, ever once uses the word 'Trinity' in describing God. That was made up." That's true. You won't find that word. Does that mean it's not in there? Absolutely not. The Scriptures are full of texts that demand the conclusion that God is a Trinity -- a single God of three personas. Over and over again, Old and New Testament, the Three-In-One is present.

"The Bible never claims to be infallible." No, indeed, you will never find the phrase, "The Bible is infallible." You will find the claim that God breathed it (2 Tim 2:16-17). I suppose, depending on the reliability of your God, that might allow for errors. You will read Jesus's words to God, "Your word is truth." (John 17:17) Depending on that fallible God and, therefore, His fallible Son, that might allow for errors. You will find God's word declared over and over as reliable, trustworthy, inviolable, wise ... but, I suppose, "and fallible" might fit if you disregard ... you know ... the word of God. Does the Bible claim to be infallible? Not in so many words. But God is infallible and the Bible claims to be God's word. I think the logic is unavoidable ... not a matter of opinion.

There are certainly many more things that we get from the Bible that are not, word for word, in there. They are rational. They are consistent with the text and context. They make sense. There are, however, things that are not in there that many commonly accept and can't figure out why you don't. The "marginalized" does not appear in the pages of Scripture. There is no conversation about child abuse. Oh, and, as it turns out, Easter isn't in there, either. "Wait ... what??!" Maybe the translators of the King James Bible had some antisemitic tendencies because the word translated "Easter" (only once) is actually "Passover."

What am I saying? I'm not saying that the Bible has nothing to say about the "marginalized" or that child abuse is okay or that there is no Easter. I'm saying that the clear truths of Scripture are found in what it says and not in a purely literal fashion. The Bible clearly speaks of a Trinity without using the word. Scripture clearly declares itself as God's actual word without demanding the precise phrase. God's word clearly tells us to care for the poor and for children without the need to use our current phrasing. Rather than denying clear biblical truth because the specific words we're looking for aren't in there, perhaps we should see what is in there and learn from it.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Easter Sunday

Easter, as we all know, is originally premised on Eostre, the name of the German goddess of fertility and spring. Or do we? As it turns out, the exact origins are unknown. Some trace the origin to the Latin words, Hebdomada Alba, meaning "white week." (Seriously, I dont get the connection.) As we all know, the word, Easter, is in the Bible. Well, sort of. As it turns out a few early English translations had it but no modern ones do. That's because the only reference -- Acts 12:4 (Herod had arrested Peter and was "intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.") -- doesn't actually translate a word for "Easter." Instead, it translates a word translated everywhere else as "Passover." Again, the reasons are unclear.

So, what about Easter? I personally couldn't care less. The church didn't borrow the word from the pagans because the text from which it is translated didn't have it. The intent was never to copy the pagans because no one at the time the word was used was practicing the pagan practice. I'm all in favor, in fact, of dropping the word.

Why? Well, the event that Easter celebrates is radically important, but the name seems like more of a distraction than an aid. I mean, nothing says, "He's alive!" like a Sunday morning Easter egg hunt at church. Nothing says, "Jesus rose from the dead!" like an egg-laying bunny and lots of candy. So, in my opinion, I would think that the Sunday that recognizes the Resurrection should have more significance than lilies and colored eggs.

Paul wrote, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins." (1 Cor 15:17) That is, no Resurrection, no hope. What could be more significant? You see, "God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:8) Christ's death is proof of God's love. But Christ's Resurrection is proof of His efficacy. Paul prayed that the Ephesians would know "the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe." (Eph 1:19) What power was that? Specifically, the power "He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places." (Eph 1:20) And why is that so significant? Because "you were dead in the trespasses and sins" (Eph 2:1), "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ." (Eph 2:4-5) The power we need to know is the power to raise from the dead because we desperately need that power to work in us. Christ's Resurrection tells us that God can save spiritually dead people.

Describing the imagery of baptism, Paul says, "We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His." (Rom 6:4-5) Our celebration today isn't about Spring or fertility, bunnies or eggs. It's not even about family. Our celebration today is about our only hope -- resurrection. Humans, dead in sin, are without hope, but God demonstrated His love by sending His Son to the cross on our behalf and by raising Him from the dead, proving absolutely that our sins are paid and He has the power to raise us from the dead. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Saturday, April 03, 2021

News Weakly - 4/3/21

Jesus Wept
RZIM, Ravi Zacharias's organization, will no longer do apologetics. Mind you, when Ravi was alive, his apologetics ministry was dazzling. Both from his clear logic and from his kind demeanor, Christ's name was advanced. After his death, his sins found him out and RZIM will be no more. They are not just dropping the name; they are dropping the ministry. They are, ironically, committing a standard logical fallacy, the Ad Hominem fallacy, where the person making the argument is wrong because of their personal character. RZIM is saying they can't continue defending the faith because Ravi sinned.

Hate Crime
The horrific, racially-based attack on an Asian American woman was caught on video this week. It was bad enough that the guy assaulted a 65-year-old woman out of the blue, stomping on her head several times after knocking her down. It was made worse that he was hurling anti-Asian epithets while he did it. To top it all off, although several onlookers were there, no one stopped to help, and the security guard in the building outside of which it occurred simply closed the door. What no one appears to be upset about is that the perpetrator was a black man. News outlets are quick to seize on "white" when they do something wrong, but avoid entirely people of color Why is it that "racially-motivated" does not translate to "racist" when it's a person of color doing it?.

The Pink Panther Strikes Again
Taken From The Pink Panther Strikes Again, but with different characters.
Staffer: [gesturing to the president's dog] Does your dog bite?
Agent Dog Walker: No.
[Staffer bends down to pet the dog; it attacks and viciously bites him.]
Staffer: I thought you said your dog did not bite!
Agent Dog Walker: That is not my dog.
Fiendishly Clever
We have a big problem in America. It's in one word -- infrastructure. Dating back to 1956 when so much of today's roads, bridges, and pipes began all the way to today's broadband, things are doing what things do -- decaying -- and now we need to do repairs ... a lot of repairs. Mr. President has a plan. A $2 trillion plan. All he has to do is charge the nation's corporations $2 trillion in additional taxes and -- poof -- problem solved. It is a clever plan. Working on "infrastructure" which is required for workers to go to work looks good, but doing it by taxing to death the corporations for which people go to work will eliminate the problem. No work, no need for infrastructure. Either way the problem gets solved. Ingenious.

Fair is Fair
In 2020 Democrats used filibusters 327 times while the GOP used it once. But now another Democrat has come out in support of ending the filibuster. "If we can use it to stop the GOP, it is a fair and righteous tool. If they can use it to stop us, it is evil and must be eliminated. Fair is fair. What double standard are you referring to?" But if, as the Dems are claiming, the filibuster is racist, what does that say about the 327 times they used it versus the one time the GOP did?

When Defending Women is Hate
Recently Arkansas, Tennessee, and South Dakota signed bills that ban transgender athletes from playing in female sports teams. CNN assured us that "It's not possible to know a person's gender identity at birth, and for some people, the sex listed on their original birth certificate is a misleading way of describing the body they have." I would like to point out to CNN that "gender" and "sex" are technically not the same thing. Gender refers to masculinity and femininity -- traits and mannerisms and such that correspond to male and/or female. "Sex" refers to biology, which is pretty much fixed. Take a so-called "transgender woman" and do an XY chromosome test and that person's sex will be XY -- male -- because biology says so. It's not ambiguous. You can determine sex at birth. Remember? "Believe the science." Oh, right. "Not so much when we don't approve." I forgot.

Working for a Promotion
President Biden got promoted to from ex-VP to president in January. Since then he's managed to lock up 18,000 children from south of the border among other things. Now he's hoping for a promotion. Biden is trying to figure out how to get legal authority to cancel student debt. Student debt is largely owned by third-party loan companies like Wells Fargo or Discover as well as quasi-government groups like Sallie Mae, so if the president can require the private sector to take the $1.6 trillion student debt loss, I think he'll be officially "Emperor Biden."

Sex Bias
Turns out that animal lovers are sexist to the extreme. A comprehensive study from natural history collections of birds and mammals shows that more males are collected than females. (Hmm, that can't possibly be because in much of the animal kingdom male specimens are more colorful than female specimens, could it? Nah!)

They're At It Again
Those closed-minded Southerners are at it again. First it was limitations to dismembering children in the womb. Now it's being haters of someone trapped in the wrong body. Arkansas has passed a law banning chopping off a little girl's legs if she thinks she's a mermaid. Of all the narrow-minded, bigoted ideas.

In other news, CNN is reporting that apples and oranges are a social construct and there is no difference between them except in the minds of the culture of the day. Any suggestion that "You're comparing apples and oranges" is the product of binary thinking, limited to mere biology. CNN says, "You know you can't trust the science, right?"

Friday, April 02, 2021

Good Friday

It's Good Friday, the day we celebrate the murder of the Son of God. Oh, wait ... that's Good Friday? Well, perhaps. Let's examine it for a moment. If that's "Good" Friday, what's so good about it?

On the evening of the Passover meal, Jesus and His disciples shared what we've come to know as "the Last Supper." Then they went to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed for His Father's will to occur, asking, perhaps, if that will could be for this "cup to pass." It was not. He was arrested in that garden on false charges, underwent an illegal trial by the Sanhedrin, handed over to the local government for sentencing with the demand, much like so many do today, that justice be done in the way they demanded. "No justice, no peace!" Pilate sentenced Him to ... "I'm sorry, Sanhedrin, did you say 'crucifixion'? Yeah, that's what I thought. Just asking. Will do." And they nailed the only perfect human who ever existed to a cross. Why? He went willingly. Why?

Jesus's death was necessary (John 3:14). It could not be avoided (as evidenced by God's refusal to let the cup pass). Jesus died as the perfect sacrifice for sin (Heb 10:7-10), the process foreshadowed in the Old Testament fulfilled in the perfect Lamb of God. This death was required to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29; Heb 9:28). Peter said that we were not redeemed (bought back) with corruptible things, "but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." (1 Peter 1:18, 19) Christ "redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us." (Gal 3:13) Paul wrote about the problem -- universal sin (Rom 1:18-3:20) and then God's solution:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom 3:21-26)
In order to manifest the righteousness (or justice -- same word) of God, God put forward His Son as the appeasement of His righteous wrath ("propitiation") so that Jesus's blood, received by faith, can justify sinners who believe.

"Good" Friday? Indeed! For us! It was the moment in history when God demonstrated His love and His grace and His mercy and His righteousness/justice all at once to pay Himself for our sins. Without this, we would be without hope. With His death, we can have a saving relationship with God. It just doesn't get any better than that.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

April Humor

When I was young, I was seriously scarred by reading a book by Bennett Cerf titled, "Bennett Cerf's Treasure of Atrocious Puns." Those who know me today understand the deep impact it had on my psyche. (A couple of people who know me and read this are groaning already.)

The book was full of "great puns" which, on its own, is an oxymoron. (The "best" pun is a real groaner.) I've remembered and recounted some of them to this day. Like the story of the scientist in Florida who figured out how to keep dolphins alive forever. The secret was to feed them baby sea gulls. One day he went out to gather some gulls to feed his porpoises. When he returned he found his door blocked by a lion laying across his doorstep. Concerned at first, he quickly realized it was an old, toothless, sleeping circus lion, so he simply stepped over the animal and went inside ... at which point he was immediately arrested. The charge: Transporting little gulls across a staid lion for immortal porpoises.

He did puns in multiple languages. "Disbar" was a word that distinguished it from another bar. "Hypotenuse" was intended to tell visitors that the upstairs bathroom was occupied. "Muchas gracias" was Spanish for "The lawn needs mowing." "Escargot" was French for "We're going on a road trip." "Hangover" was the wrath of grapes.

And so much more. You get the idea. It scarred me for life. Now the pun comes natural to me and no one pays the price but everyone who happens to be within earshot. That doesn't make me an April fool. Just a bit off in my April humor.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Problem of the Deceitful Heart

God told Jeremiah,
The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer 17:9)
Starting from the basis that God's Word is true, we will have to, then, concede that the heart of natural man is deceitful. Knowing that might help. "Hey, I have a deceitful heart. I need to watch out for that." On the other hand, it should pretty easily be recognized that now we have a problem. If we admit that we have deceitful hearts, how can we know the truth? And if we figure out the truth, how do we know we're not being deceived ... by our deceitful hearts?

Scripture speaks a lot about truth. Jesus called Himself the Truth (John 14:6). The psalmist declared, "The sum of Your word is truth." (Psa 119:160) Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." (John 17:17) Falsehood is found in adulterating the word of truth (2 Cor 4:2), so we are to accurately handle the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). God's word is truth (2 Tim 3:16-17), so we have an external standard, outside of our own hearts, with which to determine what is true.

Well, that's certainly handy, but ... we still have a problem. While admitting up front that God's word is truth (and when they do not, you can immediately dismiss them, having only their own deceitful hearts as their standard), we are still left to our own wits, so to speak, to interpret God's word. The question, then, is not whether or not His word is reliable; the question is whether our understanding is reliable. Back to that pesky "deceitful heart" problem. Because, as we all know, it is quite common for people to cite the Bible for their truth claims in opposition to others who do the same. Who is deceived?

The problem seems sticky at the front, but I think with a little effort we can ease most of it. If the Bible is true, then it's pretty easy, in fact. First, is your understanding of the text consistent with the text? Considering the language, the content, the writing style (historical, doctrinal, hyperbole, poetry, etc.) -- considering it all, is your understanding consistent with the text? Next, is it consistent with the context? I've heard it said, "Never read just one verse." Does your understanding of a text take into account the context of that text and is your understanding consistent with that context? Third and obviously, is your understanding of the text and the context consistent with the rest of Scripture? If we assume up front that God breathed this book we call the Bible, it would have been done in truth, so nothing in it should contradict anything in it. Is your understanding consistent with that principle? In short, are you letting Scripture interpret Scripture? One more step. Jesus said, "When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth." (John 16:13) Now, we'll assume that the Holy Spirit came as Jesus promised and Scripture claims and we will assume that He has done His job. So, how does your understanding of the text, the context, and the Scriptures line up with the history of Christendom? Is your understanding novel? Does it contradict all prior understanding? Have you come up with a new and creative way to understand God's Word? Then you can be pretty sure your deceitful heart is doing its devilish work.

It is a valid concern. Unbelievers, Scripture says, are futile in their thinking (Rom 1:21; Eph 4:17). Believers are renewing their minds (Rom 12:2). As we grow, we are constantly washing out the old and replacing it with ... truth. If your understanding of Scripture is 1) in opposition to the text, the context, or the rest of Scripture and/or 2) in opposition to previous understanding, it's likely you've slipped a cog -- your deceitful heart has tricked you. John wrote that deceitful spirits have come out (1 John 4:1). "They are from the world," he wrote, "therefore they speak as from the world and the world listens to them." (1 John 4:5) If the world is consistently happy with your understanding of Scripture, chances are it's not the proper understanding of Scripture. Despite the concerns of the deceitful heart, we can eliminate most of those concerns if we allow Scripture to speak for itself, contradicting our world's views while consistently holding to God's truth. The tricky and innovative ways some are using to interpret Scripture in the face of Scripture and history don't bode well for them.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Evidence that Demands a Verdict

Faith, according to Scripture, produces obedience. Now, we know it's not the other way around. We're not saved by obedience. We're saved by faith. But this faith has an unavoidable result. If it does not, it is what James terms "dead faith" (James 2:17). So Paul talks about "the obedience of faith" -- the obedience that faith produces -- as fundamental to the gospel (Rom 1:5), John says that the one who is born of God does not make a practice of sin because he cannot (1 John 3:9), and Jesus says, "You will know them by their fruits." (Matt 7:16)

This is why John wrote his first epistle. He repeatedly points to "what you do" as evidence for who you are (1 John 1:6-7; 1:8-10; 2:9-11; 2:15; 2:23; 2:29; 3:4; 3:7-10; 3:14; 3:18-19; 3:24; 4:6; 4:7-8; 4:20-21; 5:1-3). Jesus said that the problem of sin was the heart (Matt 15:18-19), but regeneration brings a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek 36:26). Changed hearts make changed lives necessarily.

All this to say that "because I said so" is not a biblical reason to believe that anyone is a believer. We generally believe that we should never question the salvation of someone who claims to be a Christian -- and there is a wide range of people who make the claim. This simply isn't biblical. And, worse, it could be eternally fatal. Jesus warned about those who were completely convinced they had a relationship with God only to discover He never knew them (Matt 7:21-23). If we are to love (which, by the way, is the primary evidence of being a believer (John 13:35; 1 John 5:1-3)) we need to pursue the best for others, and ignoring the biblical evidence that someone who says they're saved with no such evidence can leave them on a path to hell -- surely not the best for them. If God's heart is that everyone should be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4), shouldn't we share the same desire? If so, applying biblical standards of evidence in the hope of bringing people to Christ is an act of love, not judgment.

Monday, March 29, 2021

More Pressing than our Common Salvation

Jude called himself "a servant of Christ" (Jude 1:1) even though he was actually one of Jesus's physical brothers. They shared the same mother. That's impressive. Jude wrote his letter "to those who are called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ." (Jude 1:1) And what did Jesus's brother write to say?
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 1:3)
Jude "was very eager" to write about his older brother who was his Savior as well as the Savior of all those who are called, beloved in God, and kept for Christ. It was exciting. It was a great topic. Let's dig in!! But, no. There is something else. There is something more pressing. There is a more immediate issue that needs to be addressed first. What? "Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 1:3)

Jude's day was apparently facing a truth crisis. Jude's fellow believers were facing truth decay. When he writes that "certain people have crept in," he's referring to "crept into our churches." Some people were creeping in among God's children and perverting God's grace into sensuality and denying "our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." (Jude 1:4) "Alert!" Jude cries. "I was eager to write about our common salvation, but this is a real problem!!"

These people, "relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones." (Jude 1:8) (Compare with 2 Peter 2:10.) They overthrow the authority of the Word and the authority of the church and the authority of God and speak evil of the respected saints and angels in favor of sensuality. "We know better," they boldly declare. "If it feels good, do it. We are ignoring the Bible and changing the church and throwing out old beliefs. We know better. We are on the right side of history."

Jude's time wasn't much different than ours, was it? In our very midst are those who call themselves believers while they turn God's grace into sensuality, reject the authority of God and His Word, and lean instead on their own dreams and ideas. Jude reminded his readers that the apostles had predicted, "In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions." (Jude 1:18) And it is so. We are to contend for the faith given once for all (as opposed to "being unveiled throughout time"). We are to build ourselves in the faith and pray and remain in the love of God (Jude 1:20-21). We have a job to do and can rest in the confidence that He "is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy." (Jude 1:24) So we stand ... in a world populated by unbelievers in and out of our churches hoping to persuade us of something else.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Fitted Together

In Ephesians Paul talks about how Christ has changed the existence of Gentiles. Originally they were "having no hope and without God" (Eph 2:12). "But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." (Eph 2:13) It is Paul's "gospel," His mission, His good news. According to Paul,
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Eph 2:19-22)
What is this "building"? It is "a holy temple." It is the Church. The foundation is "the apostles and the prophets." For us today that translates into the Word of God provided by God through those apostles and prophets. The cornerstone -- that which guides the entire building project -- is Christ Himself, against which all structures in the building are compared. And the building material? It's you and it's me. It is "living stones" (1 Peter 2:5). Not bricks, but oddly shaped and variably rough or smooth rocks "being fitted together." The language speaks of being closely jointed together. Very literally, it takes all kinds. This one fits just perfectly here while that one cannot go anywhere else but there. It fills that spot perfectly. No, the rock is not perfect, but as it is, it is perfectly suited to its purpose in this building.

We tend to think of church as that building on the corner because that's what the rest of the world thinks, but we're smarter than that. We know it's much more than that. It's all believers. I think, still, that we don't consider it far enough. The building that is being constructed to "house God," so to speak -- this God-designed temple -- is absolutely organic. It has nuances and variations. It has rough spots and smooth spots. It is closely jointed together, built of living stones, each with their purpose and role.

It's really breathtaking when you view it in that light. And, in that light, it's really sad when some of those living stones opt out. "Nope, I don't want to be a part of that." "I can't find a good church," they tell me, failing to grasp that the church is much more organic than that and their part in it is much more important than "Am I comfortable here?" A living stone in this building is of no use -- to the building or to the other stones -- if it is not closely fitted with other stones in this building. Opting out seems like a bad idea. (Yes, "bad idea" is a euphemism.)

Saturday, March 27, 2021

News Weakly - 3/27/21

Media Oddity
This is strange. On the same day that CNN (and others) reported that there are "more than 5,000 unaccompanied minors in U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBD) custody, CBS and others report that there are 15,000 in custody. Now, admittedly, 15,000 is more than 5,000, so technically "more than 5,000" would be accurate, but surely that is a misleading story. Worse, "Biden officials are blaming the former Trump administration for the border crisis." I don't even ... how does this make sense? Thank you, President Biden. This situation is so much better than when the evil Orange Man was in charge. (Oh, sorry, I forgot the word "not" in that last sentence.)

Seems Fair
As expected, Evanston, Illinois, is the first U.S. city to offer reparations to black residents. So who is paying for the reparations? They're doing it from tax money gathered on a 3% tax on the sale of recreational marijuana. In other words, the users of recreational marijuana are paying reparations to black people in Evanston. If some of those users are black, they're paying for their own reparations. If others don't use marijuana but are guilty of the actions and attitudes for which the reparations are being paid, they're not helping pay for it. Seems fair to me. Or not.

You Keep Using That Word
The Atlanta shooter purchased his weapon of choice on the day he did the shooting, a 9mm handgun. The Boulder shooter bought a Ruger AR-556 rifle a week before the murders. This one is an "AR-15 type" rifle. Neither are automatic. So to fix this serious problem (and I'm not suggesting it is not a serious problem), President Biden is calling on Congress to ban assault weapons. If these shootings exemplify "assault weapons," I think you can begin to see that a ban on "assault weapons" would essentially include all guns. And, like "women's reproductive rights" means "killing babies in the womb," "banning assault weapons" takes on a whole different meaning, but sounds much better than it is.

Racist Anti-Racism
Oakland is planning to launch a "guaranteed pay plan" for low-income families of color. That's because if there are low-income white families, they just don't much care. It isn't a matter of "low income;" it's a matter of color. Of course, all of that is beside the point. Their "guaranteed pay plan" is for $500/month, which might give low-income families some assistance but won't make them less low-income, pay the rent, or anything truly useful. Mind you, I'm not opposed to giving aid like this to people who need it (although I wish we didn't have to be racist about it -- denying it to some people who do need it simply because they're white) and I'm really not opposed to it because it is privately funded. That makes it all right. Private people can fund what they want and I'm fine with that. I'm just pointing out that in our efforts to be helpful and anti-racist we're not being helpful and we're being racist.

Fault-Finding
There is an increasing number of voices -- within and without of the church -- who have discovered the real cause of the shooting in Atlanta. Yes, there is racism. Yes, there is mysogyny. Sure, sure, but the real problem is Christian ideology. They are citing radical beliefs like the call for sexual purity outside of marriage, the belief in the "saved" and the "unsaved," the concept of "good" and "evil," the promised return of Christ, and other "radical" Christian teachings that "radicalized" that good church kid into being a racist, woman-hating killer. Yes, the problem is the white race and the problem is males and the problem is capitalism and the problem is American Imperialism, but deep down at its core, the real problem -- at the core of all of these problems -- is anything approaching biblical Christianity. In short, the problem is those Christians who take Christ at His word -- His "incendiary rhetoric." (That was actually in the story.) They're already working on taking your 2nd Amendment rights. If it is biblical Christianity that is at fault, how long before they come for your 1st Amendment rights?

First They Came for the Basketball Team
Oral Roberts University just beat out #2 and #7 seated teams to get to the Sweet Sixteen round, and not everyone is happy about that. It's a Cinderella story that demands to be burned to the ground. "It is the school's discriminatory and hateful anti-LGBTQ+ policy that fans should protest." Like prohibiting sexual behaviors that are expressly prohibited in Scripture. Like holding to a biblical view of marriage. What they term "toxic notions of fundamentalism that fetishize chastity, abstinence and absurd hemlines." Oh, no, if they or anyone else opts for a biblical view on the current tide of "if it feels good do it," then beware. Hemal Jhaveri wants them out of the NCAA. Who knows what she wants for the rest of you who believe this "dangerous and hateful ideology," and we all know what today's cancel culture will do. (Note: It will likely be dangerous and hateful.)

Bee Good
You may have seen that Virginia abolished the death penalty. Now, it seems, the only crime for which you can be legally executed in Virginia is being an unwanted baby in the womb And the Bee points out that with so many 'Black Lives Matter', 'Asian Lives Matter', And 'Hispanic Lives Matter' Yard Signs in your neighbors' yards, it seems like they're getting dangerously close to "all lives matter" ... which, as we all know, is racist.

And I had to laugh at the all-too-true headline from the Genesius Times that read, "Dems shocked to find their lives still suck after Trump is no longer president."

Friday, March 26, 2021

Trust Science

When Biden took office, he promised to trust science. Now, of course, he doesn't actually mean that. What he means is that he will trust science when he concurs and ignore it when he doesn't. He'll trust the science that says we're in a global climate crisis and ignore the science that says fetuses are people, too. He'll trust the science that says that you can have a different gender than your biological one (what science?) and ignore the science that says you can't. To be fair, this isn't about Biden. We all do this. We give a nod to -- even pick up to throw in your face -- the science with which we agree and pooh-pooh the stuff we don't.

This isn't as outlandish as one might think. Consider, first, the definition of science. Science is an accepted way to explain nature. It is by definition a process of experimentation. People tout science as superior to faith because science claims to be fallible, always correcting itself. Take up this theory; reject that one. So a discipline that claims to operate solely on facts and admits to being quite possibly wrong seems like a good thing. Except that being quite possibly wrong by its own admission suggests that there is room to accept some and discard others.

Science has limitations. Science is limited to the physical world. If there is a spiritual world (and there is evidence that there is), science has nothing to say about it. Science can tell you the lifecycle of, say, an orca without commenting on the morality of its lifestyle -- hunting and killing for pleasure. Science has a really tough time proving a negative since the only way to do so is to eliminate all other possibilities. And in the case of a spiritual world, that leaves some big possibilities, doesn't it? Science can only describe what it sees; it can't tell the ramifications. Like, "This vaccine should prevent you from getting that disease" without actually knowing what else that vaccine will do.

Science has one other quite serious limitation. It is operated by human beings. So in our efforts to discover, to examine, to analyze, to come to conclusions, there can be and generally are competing agendas. It is quite common, for instance, for researchers to be somewhat less than entirely honest when they publish. They word their papers to bias the results, hide some data that might bring them into question, and even falsify other data to prove their point. Science tries to minimize this, but it's still run by humans and, therefore, subject to human failings.

So, let's take an example. Everyone knows that "the science says" that we are experiencing global climate change. All need to bow to the master. The first guy that loudly sounded the alarm was Al Gore who traveled the country (in private jets) and visited places (in SUVs) to warn everyone to repent or burn (almost literally) because of global warming. Given the truth about his own travel methods and living arrangements during his campaign to save the world suggest that he didn't "believe the science" he was touting.

Science has value, to be sure, but science is a poor deity. We're supposed to trust the science that proclaims and demonstrates that it changes continually and submit to the studies that vary and even self-consiously lie and do it all without question. "Trust science" is the demand ... from many who aren't doing so themselves. I work in a scientific field and find worth in science, but I think it's idiocy to trust science alone. In fact, that version of "trust science" appears to be more of a faith -- a credulity, a blind trust -- than a rational "trusting science" with eyes open for errors, limitations, and deviations.