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Monday, April 22, 2019

Deserve's Got Nothing to Do With It

(The names and people in this story are fictitious to protect the ... guilty.)

A group of friends were sharing prayer requests. One said, "Pray for my granddaughter. She feels like she doesn't deserve God's love and is very depressed." So they did. And I thought, "But ... she doesn't deserve God's love." And I became concerned that no one in the group seemed to notice. I became concerned for the group.

I get it. "Depressed" is indeed a real problem. That's one of those "demons" that doesn't come out without much prayer. I get it. I'll pray about that. On the other hand, I thought "don't deserve" was at the heart of the Gospel. I thought -- correct me if I'm wrong ... I'm just winging it here -- that "by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph 2:8-9). I thought "if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace" (Rom 11:6). I thought "don't deserve" was at the core of grace.

To me, understanding the depths of my sin has enlarged the grace of God. He didn't have to stoop a little to save me. He didn't have to make a couple of minor corrections, a couple of adjustments, forgive a few faux pas. He needed to send His Son (Eph 2:4-5) to live a perfect life and take on Himself my sin and exchange it for His righteousness (2 Cor 5:21). For a righteous and holy God to save someone who is "deserving" or even "mostly okay" is not such a large thing. To save a wretch like me? That's huge.

I didn't pray with them that day. I prayed that God would open her eyes to the fact that she was undeserving and help her to see the vast grace that God gives to the completely undeserving of such a great love and such forgiveness and such mercy. I prayed that He would magnify Himself in her heart to give her maximum gratitude and Him maximum glory. And I prayed that the group would see it, too. Amen.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Celebrating Resurrection

I read this recently. Paul was writing to the church at Thessalonica. He wanted to reassure them about those who had died. He wanted them to know that because Jesus died and rose again, "even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep" (1 Thess 4:14). What Paul is saying here is significant. We know that Christ died for our sins. His death demonstrated God's justice (Rom 3:23-25). That's good. We can be declared forgiven on the basis of His death on our behalf. But what about the Resurrection? Why is that important?

Paul gives an answer here. We know we're forgiven because Christ died on our behalf. What then? We know on the basis of His Resurrection that we will be with Him. We will be with Him.

It's Resurrection Sunday and we're celebrating far more than Easter bunnies and candy eggs. Sometimes, I think, we're not entirely clear on what that "far more" is. His death was important -- absolutely vital. His Resurrection is no less. To me, it is critical. Salvation is wonderful. Forgiveness is grand. His righteousness applied to my life is amazing. But to know that one day I will be with Him is my supreme delight. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.

We celebrate our Lord's Resurrection every Sunday with special attention once a year. It's not enough. The huge significance of this event gets lost on us sometimes. I, for one, cannot wait for the day that I will be with Him -- to be like Him because we see Him as He is (1 John 3:2) -- on the basis of His Resurrection.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

News Weakly - 4/20/19

The Burnt Cathedral
The big news of the week seems to be the disaster in Paris. The venerable Notre Dame cathedral burned. It was devastated in an apparently accidental fire. There was a universal sense of horror from the thousands of onlookers. There are photos of a seemingly miraculous preservation of the interior in places. The loss of this landmark is really difficult.

Given the decline of Christianity in Europe and America, one might be tempted to draw a parallel. "The church is burning, but the holy is saved." Very few French people were concerned about the loss of a "sacred place," but they felt the loss of a "national treasure," a beloved landmark. In terms of parallels, it would seem that the church burned down after the cows had already left. Oh, that's mixed metaphors, but you get it. They're planning to rebuild the building. There are no plans to restore Christ to the nation or the world.

UnAmerican
The Laguna Beach, California, police department really messed up. They included American flags on their police car paint job. The louses. Laguna Beach is an artist community and some of the community just complained because they didn't get to have an input. But others are complaining that it's too "aggressive" and think that American flags on American police cars are offending immigrants and visitors. Only proving that you can do nothing these days without offending someone.

Rights Shmites
New York City appears to be having a serious measles outbreak. As a result, Mayor Bill de Blasio has decided to force vaccinations for 212,000 people living, working, or attending school in four zip codes or face a fine. You can get vaccinated, produce proof of vaccination within 3 days, or pay a $1000 fine. A group of orthodox Jews in the area have sued to prevent the violation of their religious freedom. They believe (for reasons I don't understand) that a measles vaccination is a violation of their religious beliefs. The government doesn't care. "First Amendment? We've already determined that you don't get that. Move along." The judge says so.

I get "quarantine" or "isolate" or even "You don't get to ignore the vaccination requirement because you're scared it might cause autism," but this country has religious freedom as a basic right. Now it's being kicked again and again to the curb. (And, hey, how does a $1000 fine prevent measles?)

Tough Love? No, Thanks!
Australian rugby player Israel Folau has been cut from Rugby Australia for posting on Instagram that "hell awaits homosexuals." Chief executive Raelene Castle said, "It was made clear to him that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action." Further, Billy Vunipola was formally warned by the Rugby Football Union for liking Folau's post.

In a similar story, several road workers were fired for putting up "Bridge Out" signs on the road to a bridge that was removed and being replaced. "Posting signs that are in any way disrespectful to people because of the road they're on will result in disciplinary action," their supervisor stated. Oh, wait ... maybe not. Please note, world: Warning someone of impending disaster is not the same as disrespecting them. I would consider that it is disrespectful to encourage people to continue to their doom. And, hey, while I have your attention, world, let me ask: do you know Jesus?

Banning Hate?
This week Facebook banned some far right groups and individuals from their service on the basis that "Individuals and organisations who spread hate, or attack or call for the exclusion of others on the basis of who they are, have no place on Facebook." It sounds wise and reasonable, but you can surely see that "spread hate" or "call for the exclusion of others" is a hair's breadth away from excluding any biblical Christian since "You're a sinner and need Christ" or "We're a church; we don't hire those who disagree with our beliefs to lead us" are classified today as hateful. And what Facebook excludes many others will also.

Drawing Conclusions
Well, the poll is out. According to Gallup, church membership in the U.S. is down sharply in the past two decades. In 1999 something like 70% said they were church members; today's count is around 50%. Further, it seems that the slippage -- that 20% -- have not gone elsewhere. They've gone to "no religion." Among those who do classify themselves as religious, those who are church members have fallen by 9%.

(Important note: This was a Gallup poll. "Church membership" is not merely Christian churches. It is all of them, including JW, LDS, Islam, etc. That will, on its own, throw off the numbers we Christians are looking at.)

What can we conclude? Well, clearly America is no longer a Christian nation. (Hint: America was never a Christian nation. Nations can't have a saving relationship with Christ.) We could likely surmise that America, like the major trends in most developed nations, is losing its religion, so to speak. That's not news to us, either. I might conclude that the numbers are headed in a more honest direction. Polls in earlier decades said upwards of 75% of Americans were "Christian" but 5% said it made any difference in their lives. I suspect when we get closer to 5% of Americans as members of Christian churches, we'll be closer to reality. I also think it is abundantly clear that America is no longer the "missionary nation" -- the sender. We are quickly and seriously becoming the genuine mission field. And I think it should be obvious that as America loses its religion, it will lose the religious values that informed her. As such, expect a decline in morality, civility, family values, the value of the human being in the image of God, and, oh, yeah, reason (Rom 1:28). Hang on (real) Christians; it's gonna be a bumpy ride.

Brain Damage
Bobby Azarian is pleased to report that if you believe that the Bible is God's inspired Word and we ought to live our lives by that inspired Word, it is likely that you are suffering from brain impairment. Good news! Apparently it's not your fault!!

Beginning with the stunningly ignorant "Religious beliefs can be thought of as socially transmitted mental representations that consist of supernatural events and entities assumed to be real," the story descends into sheer stupidity. The fundamental starting point of this argument is that there can be no Supreme Being concluding, therefore, anyone who operates as if there is can only be brain damaged. "Religious fundamentalism refers to an ideology that emphasizes traditional religious texts and rituals and discourages progressive thinking about religion and social issues." Because, after all, if there is a God and He did give us His Word, He would certainly be more "progressive" ... than His Word, right? Assumptions about faith opposed to reason or evidence or faith that disallows challenges or questions are faulty assumptions. "Since religious fundamentalism involves a strict adherence to a rigid set of beliefs, cognitive flexibility and open-mindedness present a challenge for fundamentalists." False. Standing on fundamentals because they are fundamental does not preempt flexibility or open-mindedness. On the other hand, a mind so open that it can ignore fundamentals is headed toward disaster. (Think, "I can step off this cliff because I'm open-minded enough to think that the Law of Gravity is merely a suggestion.") Oh, and the best news! Their findings "could allow us to someday inoculate against rigid or radical belief systems." Great! We can eliminate God! Who has the brain damage now?

Friday, April 19, 2019

Who Killed Jesus?

For a long, long time the question of who killed Jesus was a serious issue. It was one of the leading causes of the rift between the original people of God -- the Jews -- and the adopted people of God -- Christians. Who killed Jesus? The Jews. And in many claiming the name of Christ (who was a Jew) this fact produced hatred for the Jews, pure and simple anti-Semitism of the worst kind. But ... did they? Well, in fact, they didn't actually have the authority to do so. They were begging Pilate to do it because they couldn't. While it is true that the Jews asked for it and even pushed him into it -- they actually claimed responsibility (Matt 27:22) -- any thinking person familiar with the story would have to say that the truth is that the Jews did not kill Jesus. The Romans did (Acts 2:23).

Okay, so the Romans did it. This is true. It was their tree, their hammer, their nails, their soldiers who did it all. No Jew pounded those spikes into our Savior's hands and feet. That was the Romans. The Jews pressed for it, but it was ultimately the Romans that did the deed.

If you consider, however, the reason for the murder of the Son of God, you'd have to admit that it wasn't the Jews or the Romans underlying this. The Bible tells us "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3), that He "died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit" (1 Peter 3:18). There are voices out there that assure us that Jesus did not die for our sins. It was a morality display or something like that. But Scripture says otherwise. Scripture says that we killed Jesus. He "humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8) in order that "we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him." (Rom 5:9) Who killed Jesus? We did, with every sin, with every shake of our fist in the face of God, with every refusal to submit. Without us, that death would have been unnecessary.

But don't stop there. Think it through to the end. We all agree that God loved the world in this particular way: "He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16) Scripture claims that the Jews and the Romans executed Jesus according to God's predetermined plan (Acts 4:27-28). This execution was God's idea (Acts 2:23). Just in stark physical realities, if "All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being" (John 1:3), then Jesus made the man that drove in the nails and the tree on which He was crucified. Who killed Jesus? Ultimately God -- Father and Son -- did it.

The Jews did it by pushing it through and the Romans carried it out. The whole thing occurred solely because of our sin. At the bottom, though, is God who made us not because we're so necessary or wonderful but because He wanted to and planned before time to carry out this Creation/Fall/Redemption course of action so that He would be most glorified. We have a lot that we are guilty of when it comes to sin. We have much, much more to be grateful for when it comes to salvation. That is a gift from God (Eph 2:8). It is what we celebrate at His Resurrection.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Good Friday

Tomorrow is Good Friday. It's the day we recognize every year for the day Christ died. Good Friday.

Think about what was included in that. On "Good Friday" the perfect, sinless Son of God was tortured and executed by His creation. On that day Jesus hung on a tree of His own making (John 1:3) after being betrayed by a kiss from one of His own disciples (Luke 22:47-48). He was placed there by His own created beings (Col 1:16-17) under the authority that He established (Rom 13:1). A "good" day? Really? He underwent more physical torment than we can imagine, but the only time He is recorded as "crying out" was when His own Father forsook Him (Matt 27:46). (Note: The word "excruciating" has its roots in the Latin for "cross." That is, the cross defines "excruciating.") "Good" Friday? Really??

Well, it isn't called "Good Friday" because of what He went through. It isn't because of the injustice, the hatred, the torture, the pain, the loss. We all know that it is Good Friday because of the result. He died -- willingly -- so that we might be saved. "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph 1:7). He reconciled to Himself all things, making peace by the blood of His cross (Col 1:20). We know this, so we call it "good."

We know, also, that none of it happened by accident. It wasn't just good; it was the plan. Without exonerating Judas's sin, Jesus said, "The Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" (Luke 22:22). Thus, Judas's betrayal was part of what had been determined, but Judas was still on the hook for His betrayal. Jesus was executed by "Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel" who did "whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place" (Acts 4:27-28). It was the plan. So it was good.

Every Good Friday we pause to remember what Christ suffered, yes, but also what He accomplished on that cross. It is good to do so. That's why we call it Good Friday. But I want to ask you to consider something more. If the worst event in the history of Earth -- the torture and murder by humans of the sinless Son of God -- can be called "good" for any reason at all -- if God could have actually planned all that and used it for ultimate good -- is it remotely possible that the things you suffer and the problems you face could be part of a plan that God intends for your good? Just consider it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Because of You

Paul, in several of his letters, tells his readers something like, "We give thanks to God always for all of you" (1 Thess 1:2). How nice. Because of them, Paul gave thanks to God. They're lives and attitudes and actions and faith caused Paul to be grateful. On the other hand we read, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you" (Rom 2:24). Oh, now that's not so nice.

I cannot tell you how many times I've been told what unchristian things Christians have done and are doing. Some of it is "excusable," not in the sense of "it's okay," but in the sense that we all make mistakes and they did (or I did). Some, on the other hand, is horrible. I think of the famous Crusades where people went off to war in the name of Christ to rescue "holy lands." Lots of genuine evil has been done in the name of Christ. There are plenty of people who blaspheme God because of these. There are many, even so-called Christians, who use them as a tool to denigrate Christ, His Church, and His people.

I understand the dilemma. People are claiming to do bad things in the name of Christ. If they are, then Christ is bad. I get it. But for reasons I do not understand, no one appears to ask, "Is what they did something of which Christ would approve?" Or, if they do, it is based on a Christ of their own manufacture. They assign their own values to Christ. They build God in their own image and then assume that He will do/allow/approve what they outline for Him. So "Jesus would never condone calling sinners out for their sin" is a fabrication based on a "Jesus of my own making" and not the Jesus revealed in the pages of Scripture (e.g., the "woes" of Christ such as Matt 11:21; Matt 23:13-29; Luke 6:24-26).

So, what to do? Perhaps this is radical, but perhaps we ought to start by taking God at His Word. What does He say about Himself? What does Scripture say about Christ? Is there anything in the Word that suggests that we should go to war with Islam to save some "holy lands"? Then let's not assign that to "Christian." And let's not lay that event at the feet of Christ. Does Scripture offer guidance in confronting sin? Yes, it does. So let's do that in a biblical way even if those who experience it find it offensive. We must let God be God by not assigning our own values to Him and then acting wrongly or by refusing to do what He says because someone might be offended.

A lot of Christians think that we need to make Christianity more attractive. I don't think so. What we need to do is display Christianity -- "Christ following" -- as it is supposed to be with the love and commitment we're supposed to have and the good works that glorify the Father. We do not need to be one of those who cause unbelievers to blaspheme God. We don't want to be the ones who cause others to be against God because we've failed to know Him and show Him as He reveals Himself. We can fail by acting against His Word and calling it "of God," or we can do that by failing to hold to His self-revelation and calling that "of God." Don't be that guy. Be the one that causes others to give thanks to God for you.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Inside Out

We try hard. We want to be good, to be obedient, to do what God wants. We want to be followers of Christ. So we work it ... you know, like Paul said: "Work out your salvation" (Php 2:12). We exercise it and we push it and we try ... really ... hard. We look for good preachers and teachers. We find Christian counselors, professional or not, who can give us "Christian therapy," so to speak. We get accountability partners and prayer partners and we adopt programs and procedures to be godly. We'll whip this thing into shape.

How's that working for you?

As it turns out, it doesn't work well if we're honest. Just "being good" isn't something we do easily. The problem, of course, is that it isn't natural. We are denying ourselves of our pleasures and desires, pushing back our fleshly nature, warring against the flesh (1 Peter 2:11). As it turns out, we are doing it wrong. We looking in all the wrong places. We aim for the here and now when we're supposed to have an eternal view. We care most for ourselves when we're supposed to consider others as more important than ourselves. We celebrate humanity when we're supposed to celebrate God above all. We are in real trouble here.

God wants faithful followers, but the notion that we can work that up is not part of His plan. We need something else. You won't like this. We don't need to fix things; we need to die. We need to be crucified (Rom 6:5-6) spiritually. We can't fix this flesh; we have to kill it. We don't work with it; we end it. This is only possible if we are under a new paradigm, the one where we are raised with Christ (Rom 6:4) and God is at work in us (Php 2:13). We need the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). We need forgiveness, sure, but we also need righteousness that is not our own (2 Cor 5:21). We don't need to work harder; we need to be transformed (Rom 12:2). We need "the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5).

Paul complained, "I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing" (Rom 7:19). Have you experienced that? He cried out, "Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Rom 7:24). Have you done that? It's because we aren't naturally good; we are naturally flesh -- sinful. Our hope doesn't lie in better methods and programs and partners. It lies in a supernatural change from within wrought by God. It changes your "want to" to align with God's will. It changes your motivating force from self -- flesh -- to God's will. It isn't something you can produce on your own. It has to occur from the inside out. It is a supernatural work of God so that no one may boast.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Communion of the Saints

How was church yesterday? Maybe you went to a big service or a smaller service or maybe a home church. How was that? Or ... did you go?

A large and apparently growing number of self-identified Christians are leaving church. Part of it, I suspect, is due to American (which has infiltrated deep into other cultures as well) independence. "I don't need anyone; I can do this on my own." Our heroes are those standalone guys and gals, the ones standing against the enemy on their own. We may poo-poo the "Lone Ranger Christian" concept, but I think more and more of us are liking it. Others might be failing to forgive a bad experience or simply are rebellious. "You're not the boss of me!" For whatever reason, too many Christians are not participating in the communion of the saints, that community that links all believers.

The Bible paints a different picture. We are described as a body, requiring each individual that comprises the varied parts (1 Cor 12:12-27). Believers that step out on their own are like livers and hearts that exit the body to do their own thing. That's neither good for the parts nor the body. Christianity is full of "one anothers," requiring community rather than individuality. We are to love one another (John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; Rom 12:10), wash one another's feet (John 13:14), live in harmony with one another (Rom 12:16), instruct one another (Rom 15:14), serve one another (Gal 5;13), bear one another's burdens (Gal 6:2), be kind to one another (Eph 4:32), forgive one another (Eph 4:32), bear with one another (Eph 4:2; Col 3:13), teach and admonish one another (Col 3:16) ... do I need to go on? It is all throughout the New Testament. This isn't a small thing; it's a central issue. The church stands to defend believers with its elders, deacons, and members together. Believers stand to grow in sanctification by serving one another and exercising gifts. The church is God's mission to the world, both in edifying and maturing believers and in sending them out with the gospel. The Scriptures speak of koinonia. The first church "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42), where "fellowship" is the translation of koinonia. Fellowship -- a key component of Christianity.

So Hebrews says, "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Heb 10:24-25). Paul wrote, "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose" (Php 2:1-2). Tell me, if you can, how one can fail to gather with other believers and accomplish any of these commands?

So, how was church yesterday? You know, it is possible to go to church and still not do any of these (and the rest that God commands for believers to act toward each other). Did you go? Did you fulfill any of the precious instructions God gives us in His Word? If you didn't go, what excuse do you use? Do you think God buys it? No, no, I get it. There are believers who cannot make it to church in any form. Bed-ridden, hospital-bound, isolated. I get it. But I dare say that it's rare. Are you fulfilling God's instructions to love and benefit His children? If not, why not? (Rhetorical question; I'm not expecting an answer here. Just for your consideration.)

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Vain Worship

What do we know about worship? Well, our word for it is vague. The dictionaries define it as an expression of reverence and adoration. Fine. But what does that mean? I want to ask what the Bible says about it.

We know that it is possible to worship in vain. That is, people can go through the motions of worship without actually worshiping. It looks like worship, but it's not. Jesus said, "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me" (Matt 15:8-9). Worship, then, requires a heart condition, not merely lipservice.

What, then, would be real worship versus vain worship? Jesus told the woman at the well, "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24). In this He outlined two necessary components -- spirit and truth. Vain worship would be without spirit and/or without truth. You can express all the reverence and adoration you want, but without truth it is not worship. We also know "You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve" (Matt 4:10). So genuine worship is toward God alone. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt 6:21), so true worship requires a heart that values God above all. Our English word, worship, originated as "worth-ship" -- a recognition of worth. When we treasure God above all else, that is "worth-ship" -- worship. In Romans Paul wrote, "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 spiritual worship" (Rom 12:1). Sacrificing self on behalf of God is biblical worship.

The Bible isn't silent about worship, but in many cases we're just not listening. We think it's singing some good songs and gathering a warm feeling about God. It is not. If that's all it was, it would simply fall, biblically, in the category of "vain worship." Valid worship requires that we value God above everything else, placing Him at the center of our heart and spirit, sacrificing all we have and are to Him. In this version of worship, Sunday is a good day for it, but certainly not a sufficient day. We need a lifetime of it. We can start that today.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

News Weakly - 4/13/19

You're Gonna Pay
Senator Cory Booker announced that he is going to introduce a bill aimed at paying reparations to descendants of 19th-century slaves. It's only fair, I guess. I mean, after all, the money would come from tax payers ... which includes every working black person in the country as well as all those who didn't have a family history in the U.S. in the 19th century. Unless, of course, they plan to figure out a way to exempt blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics, whites whose families weren't here in the 19th century or who didn't own slaves ... uh, oh, the list of tax payers for this "reparations" is getting smaller and smaller. So, of course, "fair" has nothing to do with it and, as we all know, neither does "justice".

Murder Expands
After 66 years of protecting the lives of the most vulnerable humans, South Korea's Constitutional Court has decreed that killing babies in the womb will now be legal like other developed nations, a major win for pro-murder advocates. One woman who had an illegal abortion 12 years ago said "she is still haunted by the knowledge that she committed a crime. 'I felt guilty for getting rid of a life to begin with, but the fact that it was a crime made it emotionally much more difficult,' Kim said." She illustrates the problem. Making it legal doesn't make it right. Conversely, making it legal could ease the conscience of those who are "getting rid of a life." Legalizing murder simply makes murderers feel better about it.

On the Other Hand
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine is signing a "heartbeat bill" that the media is calling an "abortion ban." The logic is "If it has a heartbeat and it's human, it's a life." That, of course, is not an abortion ban as much as a murder ban, but you won't see that in the media. The ACLU promises to fight to keep babies from gaining civil liberties like the protection of life in Ohio and every other state that has passed or is trying to pass such a murder ban.

A Nation on the Move
New Zealand proved a couple of interesting things this week. First, they proved that they could act far more quickly than any other nation I've ever seen in making laws. In less than a month after the Christchurch attacks, New Zealand managed to ban a large number of weapons. They expect to buy back tens of thousands of guns in the wake of their new firearm laws. Very fast. They've also proved that they are largely ignorant of what causes murder. Removing the tools doesn't remove the problem. It doesn't change the motivating hate. It doesn't add a sense of value to human life that might prevent someone from killing another human being. It doesn't address the actual problem at all. But, I guess, to be fair very few these days seem to understand that fact. Not really unique to New Zealand.

You're Write!
Okay, not a big deal, perhaps, but I like it. Texas schools are bringing back cursive writing to the classroom. Given the ubiquity of keyboards everywhere, a lot of schools have dropped penmanship from their curriculum. Especially cursive writing. Who needs it? We have electronic writing. Common Core curriculum omitted it because they didn't figure kids would need it. Turns out that cursive writing enhances hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills and promotes reading, writing, and cognition skills. Who knew? And now they'll be able to actually sign documents again! Win-win!

New Rights ... Again
Trump's transgender troop ban took effect this week. As of Friday, those who cannot serve in their biological gender cannot serve unless they were already in the military. "It is 'don't ask, don't tell' all over again," said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a research institute focusing on sexual minorities in the military. (Really? There is an institute focusing on sexual minorities in the military??) The Human Rights Campaign describes the policy as a national security threat. (Really?? A national security threat???!) The Pentagon estimates that 9,000 of their total 1.3 million active-duty personnel identify as transgender. Transgender Army Staff Sergeant Patricia King says, "As many as 15,000 transgender service members stand to lose their jobs," completely ignoring what the numbers are ("9,000") or what the rules are ("Those who are already in won't be affected"). Facts normally don't bother a lot of people these days. And apparently serving in the military is a right and Hillary is outraged that these people aren't being allowed to serve their country. I am not getting it.

Successful Boycott
Protesters wildly succeeded in preventing Chick-fil-A from selling a single sandwich last Sunday. They said there was "not one customer all day." They're calling it deadly blow to hate peddlers and the beginning of the end for Chick-fil-A.

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

(Note: In case you're not aware of it, Chick-fil-A is always closed on Sundays. Thus, the joke ...)

In other news, the report is out that Joe Biden has been appointed the head of TSA. No one seems concerned about the double entendre with the word "frisky."

Friday, April 12, 2019

Submitted for Your Consideration

Most of us (those who read this blog) are firmly set against the "health and wealth," "your best life now," "prosperity gospel" (which is not another gospel (Gal 1:6-7)). The only thing, they tell us, that is keeping us from being healthy and wealthy is our lack of faith. If we had faith, they tell us, all good things would come to us. But we know better. We know that Christ promised tribulation in this world (John 16:33). We know that there will be suffering (1 Peter 4:12). And we know that it isn't all bad (2 Cor 12:7-10; James 1:2-4). We're smarter than that. Okay, wiser. Right?

I suspect that this false doctrine we rightly usher out the front door often ends up getting smuggled back in the back door. Consider.

When Jesus was in His hometown, He complained, "A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household" (Mark 6:4). The text goes on to say, "And He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief" (Mark 6:4-5). Now, you tell me what we've learned. What I am nearly universally told is that Jesus was unable to perform miracles when those for whom He would perform them had no faith. Right? I mean, that's what it says, right? So how is that different than "You aren't getting what you want from God because you don't have enough faith"? Is it actually true that our lack of faith can prevent God from accomplishing His plans? Is God's power limited by our faith? (I'm sure you can see the clear implication: God is not Omnipotent if His power is limited.) Is this the required conclusion from this text? And if so, how is that different than the "Your lack of faith prevents God from giving you all the good things He wants to give you" position?

I don't think it is required. First, note, it does not say "He could do no mighty works there because of their unbelief." That is not what it says. It says He marveled because of their unbelief, and it says He could do no mighty works there. The two are not connected in the text. In the parallel text it says He did not do mighty works there because of their unbelief (Matt 13:58), so it true that "no mighty works" is connected to "unbelief," but Mark doesn't connect "could not" with unbelief. Why does that matter? If Christ is actually incapable of performing mighty works in the absence of faith, we have a problem. On one hand, the repeated claim of Scripture that God can and does do whatever He pleases is without merit. That is, Scripture is wrong. On the other hand, we have lots of biblical examples of mighty works done without faith or even permission. People were raised from the dead, healed, made to walk or see again, many times without any evidence of faith primarily because they didn't know it was coming. So if the lack of faith can prevent an Omnipotent God from being Omnipotent, we have a faulty Bible and a faulty God.

So what could it mean when Mark says "He could do no mighty work there" if not "He lacked the power to perform them because of their lack of faith"? Well, we routinely use the word "could" (or "could not") to mean something other than having or lacking the power to do something. Let me give you an example. I remember overhearing my son on the phone talking to a friend who was encouraging him to lie to his father about going somewhere. "Oh," my son answered, "I couldn't do that." Really? "Couldn't"? Did he mean he lacked the power to lie? Of course not. He meant that something else was preventing him from exercising that power. For us to do something, it requires two things -- ability and will. So "cannot" could mean "I lack the ability" or "I lack the will." Lacking the will, clearly, makes is impossible to do something. If I will not, I cannot.

It is entirely reasonable, then, that Jesus lacked the will to do mighty works there because they lacked faith. One commentator suggests that if they lacked faith, they wouldn't ask and He wouldn't answer. Jesus was all about glorifying God; if they lacked faith would it have brought God any glory to do mighty works among skeptics? Jesus was all about loving others; would it have been in their best interest to do mighty works for those who wouldn't believe?

We have abilities and we have will. Sometimes our abilities don't measure up to our will, and we can't do what we will. Sometimes our will doesn't fit our abilities, and we won't do what we can. In either case it can rightly be said, "I cannot do it." I would suggest that Christ "could do no mighty works there" not because human free will limits God's ability to act, but because God (the Father, the Son, the Spirit) may lack the will to do mighty works if we refuse to believe. This perspective would maintain an Omnipotent God and agree with Scripture. What say you?

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Why Ask?

I'm not a big fan of Pascal's wager. You know. The argument goes something like, "You ought to believe in God because if you're wrong about it you lose little but if you're wrong in disbelieving in God you could go to hell" or something like it. Some people love it; others hate it. I'm not a big fan of it because it seems as if it goes against Paul's statement. "If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Cor 15:19). Seems like Paul disagreed with Pascal.

To be fair, scholars aren't at all sure about Pascal's wager. Much of what he wrote was fragmented. This particular one was written on four sides of a sheet of paper -- some in the middle, some in the margins, some upside down. What went where? What did he actually intend? It's difficult to be certain. He seems to argue that "Reason cannot prove the existence of God, so you should just believe." But Pascal himself offered lots of reasons for the existence of God and wrote, "The way of God ... is to instill religion into our minds with reasoned arguments, and into our hearts with grace" (Pensées, 172, 185). So it's difficult to be sure what he intended with this particular argument.

Thus, while I'm not a fan, I think that there is a place for it. It isn't a good reason to believe there is a God, but it is a good reason to ask the question. And that is the good reason for the wager. It can't be offered as an argument to believe, but it is certainly a strong argument to ask the question. Given the immensity of the question at hand -- "Is there a God?" and all its ramifications -- over against the import of "If there is no God," I would think it would be abundantly clear that this would be a good reason to examine the question. If we're talking about "Who is better -- Batman or Superman?", the ramifications are pointless, so the question is of little value. If we're talking about "Do my car's brakes work or not?" that question has some serious ramifications and is certainly worth examining. The existence of God is a bigger question with larger ramifications -- both ways. I would think it would be worth serious consideration rather than a cursory rejection offered by so many today. It is, in fact, one of the biggest puzzles I continue to consider: How can so many who actually have some information on this still remain outside the faith, outside even considering the facts, giving no thought to the potentially eternal ramifications of their position? I don't get it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Body Positive

Thebodypositive is a website dedicated to teaching people to "move past shame, self-judgment, and isolation, and into the knowledge that every body is the 'perfect body.'" Body positivity is a social movement encouraging everyone to embrace whatever they look like because it's fine, it's just fine. The idea is to avoid getting hooked into unrealistic beauty standards and just ... love yourself. There is even a National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) urging self-acceptance at all sizes. Stop the shaming! Just embrace yourself!

Given a world driven by bizarre standards of appearance and the apparent inability to look for character rather than appearance, I get it. Too many people are insulting too many people over stupid, stupid things. Really? She's not skinny enough? Really, she doesn't conform to a nonsensical notion of what "beauty" ought to be? You hear stories out of Hollywood where an attractive actor is told to lose weight because she's not thin enough yet and you just scratch your head. What's wrong with these people??! I see the problem. It's just that I'm not sure "Embrace yourself" is the best answer. They tell us that America is suffering from an obesity epidemic. While a person's value is not determined by their appearance, is it wise to say, "Embrace that physical condition likely to kill you young!"?

But, look, I'm not really thinking here about "body positive." That's one issue. I'm more concerned about the "embrace yourself" message being broadcast all over the world where the self you are encouraged to embrace is a sinful being living on sensual lusts, sexual immorality, greed, selfishness, hate -- you know, the stuff Scripture says leads to death. And not merely physical death like obesity might do. Eternal death. We are told over and over "Don't judge" by which they mean, "Let us embrace our sin with joy!!" And that cannot end well.

It may be that I'm not as ugly as I think I am. It may well be that I'm not thinking straight about my appearance or worth. I suspect that's a real problem. "Feel better" is not the right answer. It is certainly true that I am not the follower of Christ I want to be. "Embrace your sin" is the absolutely wrong answer there. So go ahead. Speak the truth in love. I need to know if I'm overweight and maybe some tips on how to lose it. I need to know if there are sins in my life I don't see and maybe some help in overcoming them. But don't tell me, "Embrace yourself" when the self I'm embracing will get me killed, physically or otherwise. Don't try to convert me to "body positive" or "spirit positive" when it's not the truth. I'd much rather deal with the problem than simply feel better about myself.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Not To Be

In Hamlet's famous soliloquy -- perhaps the most famous soliloquy ever -- he claims, "To be, or not to be: that is the question." He is, of course, considering suicide. And, of course, "not to be" is a misnomer. When we die, we cease to be in this physical world, but we don't cease to be. On the other hand, I can see in the contemplation an echo of Paul's words, "For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Php 1:21), except that Paul gives value to "live" and "die" -- Christ. One serves Him; the other gains Him.

But it got me to thinking, that "not to be" concept. While we will continue to "be" whether it is here or after death, there is a sense of "not to be" in our lives. There are a lot of things in our lives that are "not to be." I did not die at 3 years old when I had spinal meningitis with a strain that kills in 24 hours and I had had it for that long already. Dying then, for me, was not to be. There were careers I didn't pursue which, as it turned out, was a blessing because they would have been really bad, but they were not to be. I cannot tell you how many traffic accidents, diseases, injuries, and the like I did not experience that were not to be. We can't actually know the extent of what did not happen in our lives, but, looking at what has happened in the lives of others, I would imagine the list is extensive.

The belief today and even in biblical times has been that if you suffer, it is because of sin. It comes from a basic belief that you get what you earn in life and if you earn evil, you'll get it. It even comes from a biblical perspective when God promises good things for those who obey and bad things for those who don't. And, while Scripture itself debunks the notion that all suffering is the direct response to sin, it is true that, in general, suffering is the result of sin (Rom 8:20-23). That's why all this "not to be" I'm talking about is staggering. I cannot even begin to guess how much mercy God has exercised towards me by preventing the pain and suffering I've rightly and thoroughly earned from actually occurring. We all think we suffer too much, but I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt we have not suffered what we deserve in this life. Jesus said, "Your Father in heaven ... makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matt 5:45). That's grace -- getting favor we don't deserve. All this "not to be" that I know and don't know is mercy -- not getting what I so richly deserve. Unfortunately, since much of it is unknown, I don't think I'm sufficiently thankful for it. But I do recognize it. And I thank God for it.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Modesty

Paul is a problem sometimes. Like, for instance, he says, "If possible so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all" (Rom 12:18) and then he goes and writes something like this:
Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. (1 Tim 2:9-10)
Paul, Paul, what were you thinking, man? You can't get away with something like that? Don't you know this will cause no end of conflict between men and women, no end of "no peace"? Really, Paul. You can't tell women how to dress.

It wasn't that long ago that the standard of modesty for women was "no ankle showing." I admit, that was before my time, but it wasn't a lot before my time. As the years went by, the skirt length requirement rose. From "show some ankle" to "perhaps the calves" to my day when it was "at the knees" (and they'd make girls kneel to make sure the hem touched the ground). After that there was no stopping it. "Six inches above the knee" to today's version that says, "No genitals showing" (seriously).

Now, tell me again, what is "modesty"? We're not entirely sure anymore, but we're pretty sure Paul has no place calling for it.

The dictionary defines modesty as "regard for decency of behavior, speech, dress, etc." (among other things, of course). The first thought (at least among conservative Christians) is "not showing too much skin; not creating sexual arousal." I guess that would fall under "regard for decency," but that's certainly not all. Paul uses the same word in 1 Tim 3:2 where elders are required, among other things, to be "respectable," so it's not a "woman thing." If biblical "modesty" is also "respectable" (the word is kosmios meaning "orderly, of good behavior, seemly"), then what is Paul talking about in that text?

First, we acknowledge that it is an issue for both males and females. So, if we are to all be "modest" and not merely "not showing too much skin," what is that? It is to be respectable, to be orderly, to be seemly. It speaks of conforming to propriety. We need to consider "What is appropriate?" If we answer that question from Scripture, we end up somewhere we may not have considered. Paul said we should, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others as more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Php 2:3-4). That, Paul suggests, is seemly -- appropriate. Like Christ (Php 2:5).

Where does that take us? If we are to be kosmios, we should be humble, considering others first. As such, our question in dress and behavior would not be "What would make me look best?" but "What would be best for others?" Women and men should dress with that in mind, act with that in mind, speak with that in mind. That is modesty. That is the aim. Biblical modesty speaks of propriety -- what is appropriate -- and and what is biblically appropriate is "Love God" and "Love your neighbor." If you let that drive how you dress and act and speak and live, you will do well. Hmm, perhaps Paul was not completely crazy.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

"I'm Okay"

"Hey, how are you doing?" We all get that question in one form or another often in our normal day. You will likely get it more than once at church today. And the answer will stereotypically be, "I'm okay." (My mother taught me, "Never say, 'I'm good.' There is none good but God.") We, of course, are not asking or answering the question for real. It's a greeting. We could just as easily do a "hello" and be on our way. "How are you doing?" sounds more ... engaged. So be it.

But ... are we "okay"? That depends on what we're talking about. "Most of my joints and muscles and bodily functions are working as expected. I'm okay." That's fine. "I have no outstanding interpersonal conflicts in my life." That's okay. "I'm saved by the grace of God, forgiven by the blood of Christ, and deemed righteous by the applied righteousness of Christ." That, I hope, would be a truthful answer. But are we okay?

Paul didn't think he was. "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Rom 7:15). Oh, that's not "okay." "I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing" (Rom 7:19). That's not "fine."
I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Rom 7:22-24)
"Hey, Paul, how are you doing?" "Not okay ... not okay at all!"

Paul understood. Jesus said, "In this world there will be trouble" (John 16:33). Paul sought to "be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Php 3:9), but acknowledged that he had not already obtained it or become perfect (Php 3:12). We're not okay.

But we are. Paul answered his own question in Romans 7:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1)
When Jesus promised that there would be trouble in this world, He also promised, "Take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). When Paul admitted that He sought to be found in Christ but had not arrived, he said, "One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Php 3:13-14)

If we are honest, we would have to admit that we are not "okay." That's not the end of the response, however. We are not "okay," but we are saved, not condemned. The Savior has conquered; we can have peace (John 16:33). We can press on toward the upward call (Php 3:13-14) in the power of God (Php 2:13). It may not look like it right now, but in Christ we are more than conquerors (Rom 8:37). Right now we are down but not out. We live in a dichotomy of "already" and "not yet," where we are okay by God's power and declaration but not yet in experience. And we know the final outcome. We're not okay, but we will be.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

News Weakly - 4/6/19

Solving the Environmental Problem
Our world is getting more and more frenzied in its attempts to solve our environmental problems. More and more are coming to the same conclusion. Humans are the problem and the best way to save the earth is to eliminate the humans. This is the logical outcome of murdering babies in the womb -- human beings have no intrinsic value. Note that this position -- no value -- is a direct assault on God who says otherwise (Gen 9:6). I don't think that's a coincidence.

Feeling Better About Ourselves
New Zealand's deputy Prime Minister says that "within four weeks of the Christchurch terrorist attack, New Zealand will have passed legislation banning all military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles." They've accomplished this amazing feat by banning "every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack" used in the Christchurch mosque attack. The aim appears to be to limit the number of bullets that can be sent downrange at a semi-rapid rate, including handguns and shotguns. The point is to make New Zealand feel better about their sin problem by shifting available tools for people to kill in New Zealand. If they're anything like America, it won't be a big shift.

Belated Apology
Last week, Mexico's president asked for an apology from Spain for invading several centuries ago. I guess some people thought that was a good idea, because this week the mayor of New Orleans announced plans to apologize for the lynching of 11 Italian immigrants in 1891. The 11 (8 U.S. citizens and 3 Italian citizens) had been tried for the killing police Commissioner David Hennessy. Six had been acquitted; three others were awaiting a retrial because of a hung jury. The crowd that included prominent citizens took "justice" into their own hands, the jailers opened the cell doors, and the 11 were lynched ... much like they'd like to do these days when, say, a police officer is acquitted of a killing. We're much more civilized today. Note that they paid $25,000 in reparations in 1892 to the families of the victims. I'm not at all sure what the apology of a mayor in 2019 for something that was done in 1891 and settled in 1892 will accomplish. "It was bad and they shouldn't have done that" would have sufficed.

Value Clarification
Earlier this year Virginia signed up for an abortion law that would make it legal to kill unborn children who are viable and even full term as long as it is a "reasonable and good-faith judgment." At the same time the legislator who introduced the bill, Kathy Tran, also introduced legislation to protect cankerworms. Okay, so where are we? Clearly "baby" is of less value than "cankerworm." Now Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill that outlaws "cruelly or unnecessarily beating, maiming, mutilating, or killing a dog or cat." There you have it, folks. Kill the babies, but protect the worms and make sure you don't hurt cats and dogs. That is a clarification of their hierarchy of values. A North Carolina man is being charged with animal cruelty for improper care of a pet fish. Yes, a fish. We, as a nation, no longer have a reasonable or clear sense of values.

Not Your Normal News
This isn't exactly a news item. It's something to consider. Cameron Cole, the director of youth ministries at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama, has written this disturbing encouragement for parents to be vigilant with their kids' use of social media and technology. If you have kids at home or grandkids, you might want to take a look.

Twitter Not
While Dumbo failed at the box office, Unplanned seemed to come out strong, garnering over $6 million while only playing at 1,059 theaters. If you haven't heard, Unplanned is the story of Abby Johnson who worked at Planned Parenthood before becoming a pro-life activist. Without giving a reason, Twitter suspended the Unplanned account over the weekend. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley has called for an independent audit. Twitter says it was a mistake, but when they lifted the ban, 99% of their followers had vanished. The Babylon Bee suggests a different reason for the problem -- a "truthful content warning."

Friday, April 05, 2019

Omnibenevolence

It is a common argument against the existence of God -- perhaps the most common. The argument goes something like this:
1. If an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent god exists, then evil does not.
2. There is evil in the world.
3. Therefore, an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God does not exist.
There you have it. Except, is it true? You see, the way a logical syllogism (that thing right there) is constructed is you give one or more premises and from which you draw the conclusion. If you haven't made a logical fallacy, the argument is "valid". For the argument to be true, the premise(s) must be true. This syllogism is valid. And, in fact, I believe it is true. You see, I don't believe that Scripture teaches that ours is an "omnibenevolent" God ... in the sense that most of us understand it.

"Omnibenevolent" means "possessing absolute kindness." "What? You don't believe that God is omnibenevolent??!" I understand that most believers think of Him that way. I do not believe that the Bible teaches that. Let me give some examples.
The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had spoken to Moses. (Exo 9:12) (See also Exo 10:1; 10:20, 27; 11:10; 14:8; Deut 2:30)

"Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has declared disaster for you." (1 Kings 22:23)

"I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things." (Isa 45:7)

"Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." (Rom 9:13)

"He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them." (John 12:40)

Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thess 2:11-12)
Just some examples.

Here's our confusion. We know that God is good (Psa 34:8; 52:1; 119:68; 145:9). We know that "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights" (James 1:17). Further, we know that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). He loves the world (John 3:16). We all know this and we all agree with this. The problem arises when we try to understand this. You see, we understand "good" and "love" to mean "nice to me." In our more lucid moments, we know that's not true. If "love" means "nice to me," what loving parent takes their child to a doctor to get poked with needles? That's just mean! Of course, we know better. We allow them to suffer some momentary pain for a better good ... throughout their lives. We know "No pain, no gain." We get it. And yet we have this childish thought that if God is good and loves us, He only does nice and pleasant things to and for us. That's our mistake.

If by "omnibenevolence" we mean "always good," God is omnibenevolent. However, God's "good" doesn't always align with our notions of good, as indicated time and again in the passages (and more) that I offered. God hardened Pharaoh's heart (that doesn't sound good) "that I might show My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth" (Rom 9:17) (Well, that is good). God loved Jacob and hated Esau (that doesn't sound good) "in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls" (Rom 9:11) (That is good). In every instance, God does what is best. He doesn't need for us to see that it is best for it to be best. In that sense God is omnibenevolent. A god who only and always does things that his creation thinks are nice does not exist. Don't be fooled by that god. The Scriptures that speak of God's love and goodness are true. The implication we draw from them that God is "all pleasant" is not. Scripture is explicit that God doesn't always do things that we find to be comfortable (e.g., Lev 10:1-3; 2 Sam 6:6-7; etc.). That doesn't make Him not good; it means we need the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2).

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving has always been with us, of course. In the earliest of days it was scenery and passersby. Then there were advertisements and fast food. We have had radios in cars for a long time and passengers and arguing children and pets and ... well, you get the idea. As long as we've been driving we've had distracted driving.

It's worse now, of course, thanks to our modern technology. Now we've brought our Internet and phone and mapping system and email and texting system and audio/video entertainment and even our own personal movie-making capability into our driving. And we're paying for it. According to the Department of Transportation, 3,450 people were killed by distracted driving in 2016 and 391,000 were injured by the same in 2015. It's a problem.

Of course, distracted driving is only part of the problem. Distracted living is the real problem. We are called to be followers of Christ, to make disciples and teach them all that He has taught (Matt 28:19-20). We are to lay aside the things that trip us up and run the race set before us, "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb 12:1-2). We are to ... hang on, I have a text ... oh, look, email! Hey, did you see who got arrested this week? Man, that was a funny cat video. Oh, wait ... where was I?

No, it's not just smartphones. It is smartphones and so much more. We are inundated with information and education and entertainment and amusement. There are vital political issues at stake here and the need for keeping a critical eye on Star Wars sequels. We need to monitor what our kids are watching on television (because apparently they come with channel changers, but not "off" buttons). If we don't keep an eye on Trump or Pelosi or Bernie or whoever we're keeping an eye on, who knows what will happen? And, besides, there are kids' soccer games and ballet classes and so much to keep up on if we're going to be good parents. There is work and recreation that doesn't appear to actually recreate anything. Oh, and there is sin. Lots of sin out there. (Heavy emphasis on "out there".) We need to watch for that. Because the sin of the world is -- all kidding aside -- shaping our thinking. Not the Word of God. Not our Christian walk. Not our churches. The world.

Distracted driving is only part of the problem. Christians are too easily distracted from what is important -- following Jesus -- to get caught up in stuff that seems important but is more distraction than valuable. What is actually valuable? "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ" (Php 3:8). How many of us can say that? How many of us are closer to making a shipwreck of our faith (1 Tim 1:18-20) because of driving our lives while distracted?

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Going In

It really wasn't that long ago that "coming out of the closet" was all the rage. At this point in time, it seems silly when we read of someone "coming out" as if it is a brave and unusual thing because at this point no one really cares anymore. That's not meant to be mean. It's just that "homosexual" has come to be so prevalent (One study I read said that 85% of television shows had homosexual elements.) that it's no longer "brave" or "unusual." "Oh, you're gay? Okay, fine."

You have to wonder what's going on with all those empty closets. Must be a lot. Estimates are that 3.8% of the population are in that category -- gay, lesbian, or transgender. They believe that there are nearly 10 million LGBT folks in the U.S. And, they're out! That means there are a lot of empty closets.

Recently Azusa Pacific University caved to the LGBT forces eliminating their biblical standards for sexual purity (apparently only for the LGBT community -- it appears that heterosexual sexual purity is still required, a double standard) because the LGBT community complained. When biblical morality collides with the world's morality, the only permissible outcome is the elimination of biblical morality. When biblical values collide with the world's values, the only possible outcome is the elimination of biblical values.

So, consider 1) the collision of biblical Christianity and the world and 2) a lot of empty closets these days. Guess who the next occupants of those closets will be? A study a decade ago said that 75% of Americans identified as Christians. Of those, only 15% actually went to church and only 5% said that their beliefs impacted their lives. If you run the numbers, it looks like something around 3.8% of Americans have the earmarks of being genuine Christians. (Seriously. Look at the math. 5% of 75% is 3.75%.) So I think there are enough closets to go around for genuine believers. Of course, you'll have to decide, believer. Is it peace and safety in the closet as a closet believer, or is it danger and testing as an obedient believer like the early Christians? I don't say it will be easy, but I think it is inevitable and, likely difficult, but I don't think a genuine follower of Christ can go into the closet.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Paul's Puzzle

Romans 9 is, as far as I can see, abundantly clear in what it is saying. In order to avoid what it is clearly saying, many have opted to "do a dance." That is, "It cannot be saying what we see it is saying, so it must mean something else." Why can't it? Because what it is clearly saying is not acceptable in many circles, not because it cannot mean what it says. So they make it about groups, not individuals, or they make it about historic events, not current events. Something to dodge the fact that the text is talking about predestination and individual election.

There you have it. I said it. Just those two terms will set people off. Without examining a single argument more, for many it is "lights out." This conversation is over. Move on. They might even "take up arms," so to speak, ready to do battle against such nonsense. That's fine, but it doesn't address the elephant in the chapter. Individual election and predestination are in there. All of Paul's arguments in this chapter revolve around individuals, not groups. God chose Isaac over Ishmael (Rom 9:7-8) and Jacob over Esau (Rom 9:13) and did not choose Pharaoh (Rom 9:17). The Jacob and Esau story is specifically on the basis of God's choice rather than anything either of them had done or would do (Rom 9:12-13). Further, Paul, understanding that this concept would be controversial, goes on to address the controversy. Objection #1: "Wouldn't that make God unfair?" (Rom 9:14). No. Salvation does not depend on human will or effort, but on God (Rom 9:16. "He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills" (Rom 9:18). (Try to put that in terms of "groups" and not individuals.) Objection #2: "If that's true, how can God hold anyone responsible? Who can resist His will?" (Rom 9:19). Paul's answer here is "You don't get to question God. The potter has the right over the clay" (Rom 9:20-21).

I think it is abundantly clear that this text is absolutely about God choosing whom to save and whom He will not save. I think that it takes a prior commitment to opposing that view to understand this text any other way. I think if this text is made to be talking about "back then but not now" or "Groups, not individuals are in view here," it eliminates most of the meaning of the text. For instance, if God is choosing to save some, but who they are depends on those who choose to receive Him, who can object? Why would there be these two objections Paul answers? And if it is based on who chooses, how is that not on the basis of what we will do rather than "God's purpose of election ... because of Him who calls" (Rom 9:11)? It seems as if Paul has gone a long way to make this clear and it seems like we are willing to go an equal distance to make it vague and void of any real meaning.

So what was Paul's puzzle? He didn't seem to have any doubt that God chooses whom He will save (Rom 9:16, 18). He didn't think that it was wrong for God to harden whomever He wills (Rom 9:18). He thought it was the divine right of God to "make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use" (Rom 9:21). We stumble over all those kinds of things. Paul didn't. Paul was surprised by something else.

Paul understood that we are all "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" and that God was entirely willing to "show His wrath and make known His power" on those vessels (Rom 9:22). Makes sense to Paul. The surprise, then, was not that God would not save some. The surprise to Paul was that God would save any. Justice would require that we all pay for our sin, but God made known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy which He prepared beforehand for glory (Rom 9:23). Paul's puzzle wasn't the justice of God. It was divine mercy. Given Paul's view of the state of natural man (Rom 3:10-18), judgment made sense. Which only made God's mercy so much bigger!

We tend to take grace and mercy for granted. We expect it from Him. We are baffled and even, sometimes, miffed when He does not appear to show it to some. To many genuine believers, "The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matt 7:14) and the like are very strange texts. I suspect this is because we don't grasp the sinfulness of Man in contrast to the holiness of God. We don't take Man and God at God's Word. Paul did, and salvation was a wonderful surprise from a vessel of wrath prepared for destruction to a vessel of mercy prepared for glory.

Monday, April 01, 2019

April Fools

It's April 1st -- April Fool's Day. As if April 1st had a corner on the fools market. There are varying explanations as to the origin of the day. One version says that at some point when the New Year's celebration was declared to be January 1, those who continued to recognize April 1 as the New Year were ridiculed as "April fools." In the Netherlands the story is that the Dutch defeated the Spanish on April 1st (as if that explains the "April fools" connection). Some have even argued that it goes all the way back to Noah who foolishly sent the dove out of the ark before the water had abated. "That," this version claims, "occurred on April 1st." Noah, apparently, sent the dove on a fool's errand on the first of April. Umm, okay.

In our language, a fool is someone who acts foolishly. Sorry, I just had to say that. It is someone who acts unwisely, someone who is deficient in judgment or sense. We carry that over to a jester -- a "court fool" -- or a joker because their humor is obtained by at least acting like they have no sense. In biblical language, it's something ... else.

Job says that the fool is vexed (Job 5:2). David wrote, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God'" (Psa 14:1). The Book of Proverbs has lists of comparisons, contrasting the fool with the wise. The fool does what is right in his own eyes, but the wise listens to advice (Pro 12:15). The wise heed reproof, but the fool despises instruction (Pro 15:5). One who is wise is cautious; the fool is reckless (Pro 14:16). And so on.

Solomon takes our version of "fool" a bit farther than just someone lacking sense. He says, "A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion" (Pro 18:2). Well, that's a little close to home, isn't it? In fact, a lot of the proverbs in Proverbs speak in reference to the fool and his mouth (e.g., Pro 10:14; 14:3; 17:7; 18:6-7; 20:3.) The key problem for a fool in Scripture is that he decides what's right based on his own opinion (Pro 12:15; 17:24). "Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered" (Pro 28:26). The biblical fool is a bad thing.

We are called to something better. We're called to place our trust in Christ rather than our own opinion. We're warned that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer 17:9), so clearly trusting our own hearts and minds is a foolish mode of operation. Paul wrote,
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. (Titus 3:3)
Here "foolish" is described as disobedient, led astray, slaves to passions and pleasures, being filled with malice and envy, hating and being hated. That kind of fool isn't funny. Let's not be the biblical kind of fool any day.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Stand

The older group knows the classic "Onward Christian Soldiers" kind of mindset. There is the "Salvation Army" and the Battle Hymn of the Republic. We even have the phrase, "the Church Militant" portraying the Church as doing battle against the powers of evil. We get that. And some of us do it. There are those in what is termed "discernment ministry" sniffing out and calling out false teachers and others in Apologetics which is not apologizing for the faith, but defending it, often with great vigor. (It's ironic that the place we get the word "apologetics" from Scripture is 1 Peter 3:9 that tells us to "do it with gentleness and respect," not ire and sarcasm.) We even have Scripture on it.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Eph 6:12-13)
There it is. We're "wrestling," we're battling cosmic powers and spiritual forces. "Take up the whole armor of God!"

Except, I notice that the language doesn't quite support the notion of "onward" for Christian soldiers. Paul here talks about spiritual wrestling and taking up the whole armor of God, but he does not talk about marching out to war. He talks about withstanding and standing. In fact, Paul talks a lot about standing. We "stand fast through faith" (Rom 11:20), "stand firm in the faith" (1 Cor 16:13; 2 Cor 1:24), "stand firm" in the freedom of Christ (Gal 5:1), "stand against the schemes of the devil" (Eph 6:11), "stand firm in the Lord" (Php 4:1), and "stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught" (2 Thess 2:15). A lot of standing; not a lot of marching.

It feels like we live in a more militant world. We are more easily offended and, therefore, more likely to go on the offense. The slightest perception of being slighted, whether or not such a slight exists or was intended, will produce loud and angry conflict. We are more militant against Christianity, more militant against God's Word. Think Hillary Clinton who, in 2015, assured the nation that we need to change deep seated religious beliefs, referring to Christian belief in the sanctity of life. Reference the congresswoman branded a racist islamophobe because she believes in Jesus and stated it in a public prayer. More voices within and without the Church are calling for changes to God's Word, to the doctrines of the Church, to the practices of the Church. And for all our "Onward Christian Soldiers" kind of talk, the tendency is not to march to war, but to march to peace. To pacify by appeasement. To go along to get along. Much of Christendom these days is comprised of compromise. "Yes, we know what the Church has always taught and we know what the Bible seems to say, but here in the 21st century modern science and morality are leading us to brand new conclusions." We don't march to war. We don't even stand. We fold and run.

Perhaps we need a renewed call, Christians. Forget for a moment about marching to war. Let's just see if we can stand. Forget about dueling with the culture. Our fight is against cosmic powers and spiritual forces. For that we need the whole armor of God (Eph 6:11-18). And that armor isn't to go to war. It is to stand. So, Christian, take up that armor and stand. Stand firm in the faith. Stand fast in Christ. Stand against the schemes of the devil. Stand firm in the traditions we've been taught. Stand firm in the Lord. Christians, stop giving in to the powers we face. Stand!

Saturday, March 30, 2019

News Weakly - 3/30/19

"Legacy of Anti-LGBTQ Behavior"
The San Antonio City Council has banned Chick-fil-A from its airport due a "legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior." They admitted the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army, but argue that a company that requires no homosexual acts among its employees is not fit to serve food at their airport. (By the way, one of the groups Chick-fil-A donated to that is causing this "legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior" comment is the Fellowship of Christian Athletes which requires a "sexual purity" policy of their employees. "The Bible is clear," they say, "in teaching on sexual sin including sex outside of marriage and homosexual acts. Neither heterosexual sex outside of marriage nor any homosexual act constitute an alternative lifestyle acceptable to God." That's okay; supporting them is not.) And now the city is making it illegal to be in business with the city for holding a biblical view.

Note that the Texas AG is investigating this because he believes that Chick-fil-A's rights have been violated.

Defining Justice
A Pittsburgh jury acquitted a white police officer in the shooting of 17-year-old Antwon Rose II, touching off protests and violence. A shot was fired through the window of the lawyer that represented the officer. "One man held a sign with the names of black men killed by police around the U.S." (Oddly enough, no one held up a sign with the lists of white men killed by the police around the U.S. In 2015, 1,388 people were killed by police. 40% were white and 23% were black.)

In this case, as in so many others, "justice" is defined as "finding guilty whomever we determine is guilty."

Like when the Mueller report indicates no apparent fault from Trump and the Democrats protest.

Hostile Environment
We are told that we must not create a "hostile work environment" by our words or actions. Talk about a hostile environment. When the Georgia Senate passed its fetal heartbeat law, they did it "amid protests and a heavy police presence." The argument goes "If it's got a heartbeat, it's alive." The counter argument goes something like, "If we want to kill it, we should be allowed to kill it," as indicated by folks like Alyssa Milano who urged Hollywood to boycott Georgia because they wanted to save lives. She pitted "bodily autonomy" against a baby's life. "This is America," you can almost hear. "We will not save lives here!" Sorry, kids, for a lot of you it really is a hostile environment. Life for our world is not very valuable. Yes, I know that the governor of Utah signed a bill banning abortions after 18 weeks. Yes, that's better than nothing. No, it's not quite "pro-life" and no, we are fairly confident the Supreme Court will shoot this one down as well. Still a hostile environment for life here in the 21st century.

Unclear on the Concept
The president of Mexico has asked Spain and the pope to apologize for the conquest of Mexico 500 years ago. He wants them to "ask forgiveness of indigenous peoples for violations of what are now known as human rights." Was what Spain and the Catholic church did back then wrong? Well, of course. Can modern Spain and the pope ask for forgiveness? Not in any meaningful way. You cannot repent of that which you did not do. You cannot be forgiven for what you did not do. And "I'm sorry for what someone did 5 centuries ago" has no real point. But they'll keep trying, won't they? Hey, I know! Let's ask El Presidente to apologize for Stalin killing millions of people. Surely he'd be willing apologize for other communists, right?

What Could Go Wrong?
It's an Internet meme. "What could possibly go wrong?" accompanied by a picture of a guy peering into the barrel of a gun or signs showing a whisky tasting event next to an axe throwing event. So Colorado legalizes recreational marijuana. What could possibly go wrong? Well, now they're reporting a spike in ER visits primarily due to consumption of edible marijuana. Go figure.

Bible Courses in Public School
There is a story out that Missouri House has passed a bill that will allow public schools to teach courses on the Bible. Now, mind you, I'm not a "separation of church and state" kind of person. It's not in the Constitution. The government cannot establish a religion, but that doesn't require a complete disconnect. Still, I'm not sure at all I like the idea of a secular entity being in the business of teaching God's Word. I don't want God out of public schools, but I don't think I want public schools dispensing God, either. So I'm ambivalent on this story.

No New Green Deal for You
In an absolutely stunning vote, the Senate voted not to proceed with the Green New Deal bill. The vote was 57 to nothing. That's right. Some Democrats voted against the bill but no one at all voted for it. Not even the senator that introduced it. A ploy by the Republicans? Yes, of course. And a no-win for the Dems. You can't vote for it, or America will see you're a socialist, and you can't vote against it because your party will look bad. "Present," was the vote of 43 Democrats. Sadly, I'm still pretty sure this kind of ploy will not wake up Americans to the insanity that the philosophy of the Democratic party has become.

Theological Drift
Azusa Pacific University is a California-based Christian university. The story reads, "Azusa Pacific University again has lifted a ban on LGBTQ relationships on campus." APU made the news some time ago with its student handbook that declared that homosexual relationships weren't allowed. It made the news because that was a change -- they were allowed before. But APU applied historical, biblical, Christian rules to their college and required sexual purity (both heterosexual and homosexual). No more. Because APU doesn't require you to be a Christian to attend, they will not require Christian standards of their students. Why? Because student complaints and supporters outweigh God's Word every time. "They are stigmatizing queer people," they complained. Given this position, there can be no rules on campus because any rule stigmatizes someone. "No way! You can't make rules against plagiarism! That would stigmatize plagiarists!" Yeah, you go with that. Erin Green, who spearheaded this change, said, "This stigmatization causes harm to our community, especially those serious about their Christian faith." Erin Green sees no conflict between "Christian faith" and activities that violate the Christian faith. APU claims to be "actively engaged in stewarding our biblical and orthodox evangelical Christian identity." They can't do it by dropping biblical and orthodox evangelical Christian values. And since Green is a graduate of APU, apparently they weren't stewarding it back then, either.

Welcome to "theological drift," where "theological drift" turns into "departure from Christianity." (See Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford, etc.)

Trump Supporters Relieved
In the wake of the release of Mueller's report, the Babylon Bee put out a headline that was a bit too close to Evangelicals. The headline reads, "Evangelicals Relieved Their President Now Only Guilty Of Paying Off Porn Stars, Models." That would be funny, I guess, if it wasn't so ... pointed. "Good news! Our adulterous, lecherous, greedy, deceitful, short-tempered president isn't guilty of collusion with the Russians!" (ROm 2:24) Ouch!

Friday, March 29, 2019

Knowing God

J.I. Packer wrote a book titled Knowing God. I read it. I liked it. In that book Packer said that there is a difference between knowing God and knowing about God. This is true. I can have a lot of information about George Washington, but I will never know George Washington, at least not in this life. Knowing about God means I have a lot of data (hopefully accurate data) about God. Knowing God means having a living, breathing, functioning relationship with Him. What we really need is to know Him (John 17:3).

Having said that, I think there is a false dichotomy going on here. Some people argue, "We don't need to know about God; we need to know God." In logic, a false dichotomy is where you set up two possible options as the only two options when there actually is more than two. My favorite example: The lawyer asks the husband, "Sir, yes or no, have you stopped beating your wife?" No win. "Yes, I stopped beating my wife" or "No, I haven't stopped beating my wife." Of course, that's a false dichotomy because an alternative answer is "I never did beat my wife." This "knowing God" versus "knowing about God" can be an equally false dichotomy because it doesn't have to be an either-or proposition.

Consider. I have a a living, breathing, functioning relationship with my wife. A really good one. Does that mean that I don't know about my wife? On the contrary. A fundamental aspect of my excellent relationship with my wife is knowing about my wife. The more I know about her, the better I can know her.

The same is true with God. It is absolutely true that what we desperately need is to know Him. Paul says, "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Php 3:8). Not "about" Him, but knowing Him. Absolutely essential. But we do that by knowing about Him -- having factual data about who He is, what He wants, His likes and dislikes, etc. that feeds our living, breathing, functioning relationship with Him.

It is my prayer, too, that I may know Him. Not just about Him. But it is also my prayer that what I know about Him will augment and enhance my relationship with Him, just as knowing about my wife improves my relationship with her. I pray "that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead" (Php 3:10-11).