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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Unpardonable



Recently a pastor and mental health advocate committed suicide at the age of 30. Tragic. Especially when you consider that most Christians consider suicide an unforgivable sin. Now, we know that Jesus spoke of an unforgivable sin.
"I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven." (Matt 12:31)
There it is ... a sin that will not be forgiven. So such a sin exists. On the other hand, John wrote, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Apparently, the "we" to whom he refers cannot commit such an unforgivable sin.

Scripture talks about only one sin that is unpardonable -- blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In fact, it's not really clear what that is. Some argue it's going to your death without receiving Christ. Maybe, but it's not evident from the text. Others argue that according to the text it would be ascribing to Satan the work of the Holy Spirit. Okay, fine, but we know that believers can't do it, so ...?

What we do know is that it's not the only unforgivable sin, right? We know, for instance, that divorce is unforgivable. Oh, no? Well, given the response of many believers to many believers who have been there, it would seem so. Those who have committed murderer, child molesting, adultery, you know, really bad sins cannot be forgiven. At least that often appears to be the way we think. Or, maybe, is it just that we hold the sins of others against them longer than God does?

There is, biblically, one unpardonable sin. Suicide is not it. Neither is divorce or homosexual behavior or a whole list of things that we seem to carry around. If we confess our sin, He forgives it all. The good news is that those who are in Christ are forgiven -- past, present, and future. Those who are in Christ are not damned for suicide or any other evil. It ought to bring peace to families who have lost loved ones to suicide that if their loved one was in Christ, suicide and all, they are with Him in heaven. It ought also to bring peace between brothers and sisters in Christ if we find that one of us sinned ... really bad. Because we all have.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

When Heroes Fall

There has been a spate of stories in recent times of well-known and respected Christian publicly ejecting their Christian faith and leaving for "greener pastures," so to speak. It's tough. It's tough when you hear that one who was considered to be a believer rejects the Savior you love. It's tough when you are connected in some way to that person -- a follower, a fan, an admirer, something like that -- and then see them drop out. It's tough to see the assault on your faith and the faith and, ultimately, on your Lord.

It has ever been thus, you know. Think of Adam, living in the absolute perfection of a garden and a relationship with God like you and I can only dream about. I mean, God walked in the garden with them. And Adam threw it all out. Think of Noah who spent 100 years building an ark on God's word alone, saving the existence of humans, only to succumb to drunkenness later in life. Consider Abraham whose faith was reckoned to him as righteousness and then lied about his wife being his wife because he was scared. Remember David, described by God as a man after His own heart, going out and committing adultery and murder. Recall Peter who declared he would die for Christ only to run practically in the next breath and deny he ever knew Him. Rejecting God is common among humans.

So, what are we to think? Some considerations.

There is a logical fallacy known as the Genetic Fallacy. This fallacy attempts to deny the truth of a statement based on the originator of the statement. It's a fallacy. In the case of a respected leader who falls, it is essential that we don't discard any value that we gained because they have now fallen. Their rejection of Christ is no reflection on 1) the magnificence of Christ or 2) the reality of the faith. We need to evaluate what they've said, but no more when they've left and no less when they haven't.

We cannot know the future. True believers may stray for awhile. (Consider all the examples I listed earlier.) It is possible that a true believer may fall into sin -- even serious and prolonged sin -- and still return. So we should be careful about assuming that this departure is the end of the story.

We do know that there will be tares among the wheat (Matt 13:24-30), unbelievers among the believers. They will "go out from us" to show that they were "not of us" (1 John 2:19). Wolves in sheep's clothing (Matt 7:13). Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). In the same way, false teachers and misguided unbelievers may actually seem good and useful for a time. Rejecting their good and useful information because they've rejected the faith doesn't make sense. Paul wrote about his ministry in prison where others were also spreading the Gospel, some out of rivalry and some out of love. He concluded, "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice" (Php 1:12-18). Just as Joseph told his brothers, it is entirely possible for false teachers to intend evil and God to intend good (Gen 50:20).

Scripture is clear about our responsibility. We should restore whom we can (Gal 6:1-2) and discipline whom we must (1 Cor 5:1-5) and reject whom we have to (1 Cor 5:9-12; Titus 3:10). (Of course, the primary purpose of the latter -- rejecting those who won't repent -- is the former -- restoration.)

I would note that in no case is "panic" or "lose faith" or the like a biblical response. We should pray, of course. That would go without saying (but obviously needs to be said). But at no time should we despair because even if believers fall, God is still on the throne and He always accomplishes what He intends to accomplish. We should, I suppose, check our own hearts. Is this person whose rejection of the faith an idol? In that case the repentance should be ours.

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Renewed Mind

In response to Romans 1-11, Paul writes,
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:1-2)
We know that sin rots the brain (Rom 1:28). We know that the heart is deceitful (Jer 17:9). We know that sin wars against our better thoughts (Rom 7:23). We know that "the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers" (2 Cor 4:4). So we can see that we should "be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Makes sense. But ... how do we do that?

The two terms -- "conformed" vs "transformed" -- speak of two different shapes. In "conformed" the Greek word is the source of our word, "schematic." The idea is "the outer shape." If you take a sheet of plastic and lay it on a piece of metal and heat it, the plastic will "conform" to the shape of the metal. It doesn't become metal; it just takes the shape. Like we have a tendency to do when we interact with our world. You know, "Go along to get along." Paul says, "Don't take that shape." Instead he says we should be "transformed." That one is the root of our word, "metamorphosis." That one is a change in nature. It is to transition from one form to another. It is an actual change rather than merely external appearance. That is what we're aiming for; a transformation brought about by renewed thinking. He's not asking for non-conformity with the world; He's asking for a renewal process that changes who we are. He's saying, "Don't go there (taking on the shape of the world), but go here (transformation)." Okay ... but how?

You can see right away that it is rooted in "what the will of God is." So how do we get there? Well, it isn't a case of "creative guessing." We have "the will of God" written out for us. We would need to be immersed in His Word. Paul wrote that we are cleansed and sanctified "by the washing of water with the word" (Eph 5:26). That's not "baptism;" that's immersion in the Word. And "sanctified" is the process of becoming more Christ-like. Part of that, achieved by the washing of the water with the word, is renewing your mind. The work of the Holy Spirit is critical to renewing your mind (Titus 3:5). We are commanded to think a certain way (Php 4:8) -- an ongoing process. We are supposed to turn our eyes on the Lord (2 Cor 3:18; Heb 12:2). The Word, the Spirit, the requirements, the process ... we have what we need to renew our minds.

Given the sorry state of the mind of Man in its natural condition, this is a critical and lifelong task. We will encounter slips and falls, returns to erroneous ways of thinking. We will enjoy growth and change as the Holy Spirit works with God's Word to change our thinking from the old to the new. It is an essential task for all believers and difficult to perform since it goes against the rest of the world, but there is great reward.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Grateful Dead

Most of you know this, but for those who don't, the Grateful Dead was a cult-favorite rock band formed in 1965 with a devoted fan base known as "Deadheads" and headed by Jerry Garcia whose death in 1995 led to the ultimate disbanding of the band. This isn't about them.

As the pastor was preaching about Christ's death and resurrection, its effects, and its ramifications, I got to thinking. (I know ... typically a dangerous thing.) The Christian life is described in multiple places as death. Jesus said, "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me" (Matt 16:24). Paul said, "I die daily" (1 Cor 15:31). Peter said, "Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit" (1 Peter 3:18). We are to "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you" (Col 3:5). Paul wrote, "If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Rom 8:13). In a beautiful explanation of the imagery of baptism, Paul wrote,
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 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 6:3-5)
Christianity, at its core, links the believer's life with Christ's death and life (in that order). "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal 2:20).

In a very real sense, then, aren't we supposed to be the grateful dead? We were dead in sin (Eph 2:1-3). And aren't we supposed to be dead to sin (Rom 6:6-7, 11)? Paul told the Corinthians
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:14-17)
Death in Christ and death to self results in new life. Death for us is victory. Aren't we, really, the grateful dead in that sense? (See? I told you it was typically dangerous when I get to thinking.)

Saturday, September 14, 2019

News Weakly - 9/14/19

But ... Science!
I know, I know, we all know that people who identify as "homosexual" are just plain born that way. Nothing they can do. It's a matter of birth. Except, of course, if you ask Science. Apparently there is no "gay gene." The latest studies conclude there are a "complex blend of factors that influence human sexuality, including society and the environment." Now, can we get off the "gay is like race" thing? Oh, no, probably not. Science is only valid when it agrees with you.

My point? When will we stop identifying ourselves on the basis of what gender (or whatever) we want to have sex with? I'm pretty sure 1) it isn't a valid identity and 2) we choose if we'll have sex. Can't we just stop dodging the question?

Sad
A study by the United Nations reports, "Every 40 seconds someone in the world takes their own life, a global tally of more than 800,000 suicides a year." That is incredibly sad. "The research found that suicide killed more people each year than conflicts and natural catastrophes, accounting for more than half of the world's 1.5 million violent deaths annually." That, of course, ignores the numbers of babies murdered every year. In the U.S. alone the number in 2017 was more than 878,000 babies killed by violence. Very, very sad.

Confession is Good for?
The CEO of StemExpress admitted in court that her biotech company supplies beating fetal hearts and intact fetal heads to medical researchers. She was in court for the preliminary hearing of David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the Center for Medical Progress in Planned Parenthood's civil lawsuit for the release of YouTube videos exposing the horrors of abortion. According to the CMP lawyer, if you have a fetus with intact head and intact body, it indicates the baby was born alive and is a victim of an illegal partial-birth abortion.

It is said confession is good for the soul. I'm not so sure that's true in this case since it is likely not to phase either the biotech company, the pro-abortionists, or the public at large. (Try, for instance, to find a reference to this story in the general media.)

Green Thinking from Bernie
Bernie Sanders said he would support U.S. taxpayer-funded programs to provide abortions in developing countries as part of his plan to combat climate change. The thinking there is if you can decrease the human population, you can save the planet. An audience member in a CNN town hall telecast asked, "Would you be courageous enough to discuss this issue and make it a key feature of a plan to address climate catastrophe?" Bernie said he certainly would. I find it odd, of course. He highly values all the money he'd like to take from the American people ($35 trillion for universal medical coverage, $16 trillion for climate change, $47 billion a year for free college tuition for all, and counting), but would like to eliminate as many people as he can to save the planet. Seems contradictory. Oh, wait, I get it. He wants rich people's money. Eliminating the poor won't hurt.

The Bible Under Criminal Investigation
A Member of Parliament (MP) in Finland is under criminal investigation after posting Romans 1:24-27 on her Facebook page. The verses describe homosexual behavior as "dishonorable," unnatural, "shameless," and sinful. She is being investigated for "incitement against sexual and gender minorities." I cannot imagine, given these kinds of laws, why the Bible is still allowed to exist in countries with these kinds of laws. You know, the "inclusive" ones.

Speaking of Inclusive
New Zealand House Speaker Trevor Mallard is defending his decision to remove "Jesus" from Parliament prayer. He was responding to a petition to "remove religion from the Parliament prayer, oaths, and national anthem." Like you can have prayer and not religion??? The saddest thing I think he had to say was, "It might be our English heritage but I think it's not the religious view of most New Zealanders now." Say goodbye to Christianity, New Zealand. I don't think you'll like the alternative ... once you stop living off the Christian morality currently sustaining you. Oddly enough, he knowingly excluded the largest group that wanted to keep prayer as it was, but said he was "happy to take a step towards being inclusive," once again by being exclusive. (I'm just wondering, here. Is it even remotely possible to speak of being theoretically "inclusive" without being "exclusive" in practice? "Inclusive" seems always to arise as a reason for excluding.)

And Again
Purdue University made the news this week when the University Senate Leadership along with faculty has moved to ban Chick-fil-A from the campus to "promote inclusivity." (Note: the restaurant is already on campus; they want it removed.)

To be fair, the Kansas University faculty also wants Chick-fil-A banned from their campus as well ... in the name of "inclusion." At Purdue, more than 3,000 students petitioned to get the chain on campus full time. "Many people," Audrey Ruple, chair of the Purdue University Senate's Equity and Diversity Committee explained, "when they're not personally affected by the exclusionary principles of businesses, it's genuinely a blind spot." Since Chick-fil-A doesn't actually have "exclusionary principles of business," I'm not at all clear on what they're saying.

As we all know Chick-fil-A restaurants ban certain people from being served ... no, wait ... they hate certain groups ... hang on ... well, as we all know excluding those we don't like is the absolute best method of being inclusive.

Guns Don't Kill People ...
... People kill people. So the saying goes. And such would have been the case of Alyssa Hatcher, a 17-year-old who stole $1500 from her parents' bank account to attempt to hire two people to kill her parents. Now if only we had laws that would make murder illegal, that would put an end to that, right?

Friday, September 13, 2019

Big Prayers

No one can deny that prayer is a fundamental component of the Christian life. Or, rather, that it should be. We are commanded to pray "without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17). Jesus explained how to pray (Matt 6:9-13). He urged that we "ought always to pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1ff). We are told, "You do not have, because you do not ask" (James 4:2). Praying is important.

And yet, I suspect, we don't. At least many of us don't. Oh, we pray some, I suppose, but not like that -- "without ceasing." We might ask God to "guide the doctor's hand" or to give comfort to a loved one or to bless the food. Sure, we pray, but nothing near "without ceasing."

Which is odd, given what Paul writes in Ephesians.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph 3:20-21)
Yes, the text is about giving glory to God. But look at why. Paul is tripping over himself with words here regarding God's ability. "Far more abundantly than all." A string of extremes. In what is God "able to do far more abundantly than all"? He is able to radically exceed our ability to ask or think. Can you ask it? He can do it. Can you imagine it? He can do it. And more. Far more. "According to the power at work within us." It's already there! And, yet, we don't have because we don't ask.

I think we pray way too small. God is certainly not the limitation. "Oh, I don't think He can do that." I think our prayers are a reflection of our worldview. They tend to be selfish and meager; selfish (James 4:3) because we are selfish and meager because we don't have a high view of God. One would think that a believer who has died to self and lives for the glory of God would have a magnificent prayer life.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Fight or Flight

If you are not a believer, you do not have the problem of fighting sin. It's not in your nature. If you are a believer, however, you know, in varying amounts, the problem. You know the struggle Paul describes in Romans.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me ... For 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 7:15-17, 22-24)
We (believers) struggle with sin. We struggle because on one hand we do it (1 John 1:8, 10) and on the other hand we have the seed of God in us that causes us to hate it (1 John 3:9). So what are we to do? Well, we have two basic possibilities: fight or flight.

Scripture, as it turns out, argues for the latter. We are told to "Flee from sexual immorality" (1 Cor 6:18). Paul told Timothy to "Flee these things" (1 Tim 6:11) (where "these things" were things like conceit, slander, depravity of mind and deprivation of truth, the love of money (1 Tim 6:3-10)). Again he warned young Timothy, "Flee youthful passions" (2 Tim 2:22). Run away. Flee. The first line of defense against sinning is to run.

As it turns out, that's incomplete. Running from sin is a good start, but it doesn't stop there. We are supposed to run from sin but also run to something else. In that 1 Timothy 6 passage Paul goes on to tell him to "Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness" (1 Tim 6:11). In the 2 Timothy passage he continues, "and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart" (2 Tim 2:22).

Run from; run to. That is the strategy. Run from sin; run to righteousness. Don't merely run away from something evil; run to something good. Most impressive, then, is the "to" of the 1 Corinthians reference. We are to "flee from sexual immorality," sure. Flee to what? "You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (1 Cor 6:20).

I would suggest that those believers who make it their practice to flee sin and run toward glorifying God in every aspect of life will find a decrease of sin and an increase of joy in glorifying God. I think it would be a much better strategy in our personal struggle with sin than simply trying to "muscle through it" ourselves.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Bottom Line

I once wrote a piece entitled, "Why I Am A Calvinist." Not too long after that I wrote a piece entitled, "Why I Am NOT A Calvinist." I don't like "Calvinist" as a term because I have nothing at all predicated on John Calvin in my theology. I like "Calvinism" as a concept because it fits with what I find repeatedly in Scripture. I don't like "Calvinism" because so many people use the name and abuse the doctrines. I like "Calvinism" because I dearly love what it brings me.

That, I think, is something I've never written on. I can spend a great deal of time (and I have) explaining what I mean by Calvinism and the Scriptures that bring me to those beliefs. I find it, biblically, unavoidable. But then I pull out the listing or "those beliefs" and ... sigh ... I really don't like them. You've heard them, I'm sure. They are the classic "TULIP."
T Total Depravity
U Unconditional Election
L Limited Atonement
I Irresistible Calling
P Perseverance of the Saints
So I have to explain what every one of them means because they are not likely what you think they mean or, at least, not what they mean on the face of them. They speak of the sin nature that prevents Man from saving himself -- the sinfulness of Man. The biblical concept of Election is explained as not being conditioned on me. The concept of the Atonement is that Christ's death actually pays for every sin the Elect have or will commit. Given the condition of Man in sin and the election of individuals on the basis of God's choice rather than something in the person, it is important to understand that God's call can override human inability to respond. And, after receiving such a marvelous salvation, you have to wonder whether and how such a salvation can be maintained, and the principle of God's perseverance for the saints answers that dilemma.

These are all fine and dandy. I can show you where I get them; not from some clever writings of John Calvin or subsequent folk, but from the pages of my Bible. I can demonstrate how they fit together in the texts, the contexts, and in the whole assembly of God's Word. It just fits.

But, that's primarily "doctrine," a bad word for some and somewhat remote for others. That is, "So what?" Accepting that this is all true from the pages of God's Word, what does that give me? I have to say that the outcome is wonderful.

Listing them in the TULIP order, here is what I get out of it.
  1. A clear and practical picture of the true nature of Man.
  2. An overwhelming realization of the immensity of God's grace in choosing me.
  3. The complete certainty that Christ's death satisfied God's just demands for the payment of my sins.
  4. A genuine gratitude that God would not let my fallen condition prevent Him from saving me.
  5. The amazing peace from the confidence in God's pledge that guarantees that my salvation doesn't rest on my good works to be kept intact.
There is one other point here. One of the fundamental concepts of the whole "Reformed Theology"/"Calvinism" thing is the principle of God's Sovereignty. And that, dear reader, is the best. In that principle, overarching (or underlying) all, I get the peace that passes understanding granted by the realization that God really is in control, that He does what He pleases, that no one can stay His hand and that all He does is good.

We may disagree on this point or that. We may dislike "Calvinism" as a term or as a connection to some guy hundreds of years ago. We may differ over points or precision. We may agree that all we see and hear from "Calvinists" is not necessarily good stuff. Sure. But given the solid foundation of the principles in the Word and the overwhelming peace and joy they bring, would you really want to ask me to toss them out? That would just seem unkind.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Foundations

I just read this recently:
If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psa 11:3)
And I thought, "Yeah, what about that?"

If the "household of God" is "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone" (Eph 2:19-20) and we reject the foundation of the apostles and prophets, what can the righteous do?

If "No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 3:11) and we reject that foundation, what can the righteous do?

If we are to "do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share," thus storing up treasure for ourselves as "a good foundation for the future" (1 Tim 6:18-19) and we reject that premise, what can the righteous do?

If God in His Word doesn't serve as the foundation upon which we build a solid basis for faith and practice, what can the righteous do?

If we reject a firm foundation -- biblical doctrine (Rom 16:17; Eph 4:11-14; 1 Tim 1:8-11; Titus 2:1) and orthodox tradition (1 Cor 11:2; 2 Thess 2:15; 2 Thess 3:6) (Note: Scripture distinguishes between "the tradition of men" and tradition received from the Apostles.), what can the righteous do?

If our foundation is "what is right in our own eyes" (Prov 30:12; Isa 5:21), what can the righteous do?

If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? Good question.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Modern Worship Leaders

In a Patheos article Jonathan Aigner offers a headline sure to irritate most American Christians: 6 Reasons We Don't Need Song Leaders in Worship.

It's strange, of course. I mean, I'm pretty sure Peter and Paul didn't have slick praise bands with cutting edge light shows and that "so cool" lead singer who made the crowd want to flick their Bics. All I really mean to say is that church today is not like church back then. The first church
devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. (Acts 2:42-47)
I'm not suggesting that was the norm, the ideal, the way it is supposed to be. I'm suggesting that it was not what we do today. Nor like Paul described.
What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (1 Cor 14:26)
My point is not "They're right and we're wrong." My point is that what they did in Scripture is not what we do now. Which means that our modern "worship leader" with band and singers is not some sort of sacrosanct mode of operation for leading worship singing. The question is "Is it good?"

I visited a church that handed out ear plugs. Unasked. "Here, you might need these." Afterwards someone with us actually asked, "Have you had that music checked for dangerous audio levels?" The pastor he asked actually said, "Yes, we have!" (He said it was never more than 95 decibels.) When someone suggested, "It's too bad that your people will never know what it's like to sing with other saints because they can't hear them," he responded with anger. "That's the point! We want our people to be able to sing without being self-conscious!" Fine, but from what I could see no one was singing.

I'm not going to say it's wrong. I'm not going to quibble over musical styles or "sinful music." There is no "sinful chord." Not the point. I am going to ask some questions with which we might be able to analyze whether or not it's a good thing.
  1. Are we participants or consumers?
  2. Who is the audience? The congregation or God?
  3. Who are the performers? The singers up front or the congregation?
  4. Who are we looking at? The One we came to worship or the talent leading it?
I don't know. It strikes me as problematic, shaping our worship of God in the manner of the world's entertainment. It seems confusing to appeal to the emotions of Christians when what they need is a spiritual response. It seems to me that we are looking in the wrong direction -- at the performers rather than the worship. But that's just me. Maybe I'm just old and crotchety. Maybe. But I think it's worth asking the question(s).

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Seeker Sensitive

I'm sure you've heard about the seeker-sensitive church concept. You know, encourage those who might be curious or even seeking for God to come to your church. Cater to their needs and desires. What entertains them? Do those. What turns them off from church? Don't do those. Get them in and then bring them to Christ. That, at least, is the strategy. It assumes, of course, that there are people seeking for God. And it might be simple to assume there is. Haven't we heard about them? There is a problem, though. Scripture.
"None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:10-12)
It's a quote from the Old Testament that Paul calls up in Romans to declare some pretty harsh things about natural man, including, "No one seeks for God." Now, if, by that, he meant "Lots of people seek for God," we have a problem. If he was using hyperbole, we might conclude "A very, very few seek for God," but that is still not "a majority" or "a lot." It would be closer to "nearly zero." At best.

Seeker-sensitive is a grand marketing scheme from the world around us; it's just not biblical. It assumes that the purpose of church is to make converts, and it's not (Eph 4:11-14).

So, we can toss out the seeker-sensitive stuff, right? I'd hang on a moment. Scripture does talk about a seeker.
"The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." (Luke 19:10)
So Jesus is the actual seeker in this text. Jesus is seeking out those who, according to Paul, are not seeking Him. Jesus is the seeker of the lost and not vice versa. Thus, anyone who finds Christ was first sought out by Christ.

Seeker-sensitive church? Not really biblical. Unless you clarify that the Seeker to whom they are being sensitive is the One who seeks and saves the lost. But, then you'd want to tailor your church to what pleases the Seeker, right? Now that is a Seeker-sensitive concept I can get behind.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

News Weakly - 9/7/19

What Did You Expect?
With the recent NBC article arguing that heterosexuality is sexism in disguise and not normal at all, we shouldn't really be surprised that 1) some heterosexuals felt like they needed a "Straight Pride" march or 2) that it ended with counter-protests and injured police officers. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slammed the parade because apparently only males are straight and next year, if they've matured enough, they'll "join LGBTQ fam." Rep. Ayanna Pressley labeled it a "hate march" and applauded those who confronted the police and marchers. (The police took abuse simply for being police.) The parade was protested because it was declared homophobic (Note: "Milo Yiannopoulos, an openly gay right-wing political commentator and writer, was the grand marshal.") as the "Gay Pride" parade is labeled "heterophobic" and "hate." Well, no, it's not, but it should be if we're going to be consistent. At least, it looks as if we're going that direction.

When My Fears Trump Your Freedom of Speech
We are so terrified of guns today (guns, not the people who use them) that for a second time in as many weeks someone is paying for a "gun gesture." In the latest, an American tennis player was fined for unsportsmanlike conduct after a lob against him was called in but, in review, declared out. He pointed to the chair judge and line judge and pointed his racket "like a gun" at them. The fine was $10,000, the highest fine given to a man so far this year. What used to be considered "playful gestures" are now criminal and unsportsmanlike. We are not a kinder and gentler nation. We tend to assume the worst.

More than Pronoun Problems
A 6-year-old girl wrote a letter to a toy company asking them to make female army men. Because women in combat is something to celebrate. The story concludes, "A decisive victory in the battle for equality." Because true equality is gender confused "female army men."

Can't We All Just Get Along?
In Australia a vegan is suing her neighbor for having barbecues in their own back yard. "I can't enjoy my back yard, I can't go out there," she said. "She also took issue with cigarette smoke in their garden, because the fumes waft over into her yard. She is also frustrated by the sound of the neighbors' children playing basketball and making noise in the yard." She has already filed this suit twice and it was dismissed. She's taking it to their Supreme Court. Even though her neighbor removed the barbecue and banned his children from playing basketball. Can't we all just get along? No. Apparently not at all. Not in the slightest.

Rampant Racism
Back in 1967 Alabama a college student reportedly took part in a skit where someone wore blackface. The college student went on to become Alabama's governor. Late last week Gov. Kay Ivey apologized for a college skit she didn't actually remember 52 years ago. The NAACP said it wasn't enough; that the only right response is for her to resign. Others echoed it. She says she won't resign. She said she didn't wear blackface ... ever. "I didn’t remember being at the Baptist Student Union for any kind of skit like that for sure. But I’ve apologized for it. I should not have done that." Doesn't matter. She's still a racist because she's white and because all whites are racist. They want her to resign because "it could bring attention to improving race relations." Because there is no coming back from the sins of the past. At least not for the people we don't like. And burning people to the ground for past mistakes is the best way to improve race relations.

Save the Animals!
California has become the first state to ban fur trapping. That sounds questionable to some, but, look, there are only 72 fur trappers in the state. Not a major impact. It was interesting to note that the ban included both public and private lands. Private game reserves -- that sort of thing -- are out. What was heartbreaking, though, was the intensity of the effort to "protect animals and wildlife" (They're considering banning all fur products and animals in a circuses.) because "it seems especially cruel" but there wasn't an ounce of concern for the hundreds of thousands of babies killed in the state every year.

(For the scoffers, please note that I'm not recommending killing more animals. I'm pointing out the pecking order of who they want to save first.)

That's the way to do it
Meet 6-year-old Jermaine Bell of Allendale, South Carolina. His birthday was coming up and he'd been saving for a trip to Disney World for it, but instead he used all his savings to buy hot dogs and set up a stand along the road where Hurrican Dorian evacuees were passing so he could hand out "free franks, water, chips and prayers." "'The people that are traveling to other places, I wanted them to have some food to eat so they can enjoy the ride to the place that they're gonna stay at,' he told CNN affiliate WJBF."

Good for you, kid. And he got it. In our current "We're done with thoughts and prayers -- we gotta do something" mentality, this kid had the right idea. Pray and do something. So he served food and prayed with them. Good job.

Don't Look Now
US District Judge Anthony Trenga has ruled that the FBI's terror watchlist is a violation of constitutional rights. According to the judge, such a watchlist requires that no innocent people be on it. The list is of "known or suspected terrorists" and the judge complained that not all the people on this list met the criteria for "known terrorist". A watchlist like that, then, can only include guilty people ... which you don't need to watch because they're ... guilty. Keep your eyes open, folks. This could be a bumpy ride when they won't let the authorities watch out for potential terrorists.

In practically the next breath, San Francisco has officially labeled the NRA as a "domestic terrorist organization." Because the NRA has been so busy blowing up buildings, killing people, and creating general terror? The city will examine local vendors' and contractors' ties to the NRA and calls on local government not to do business with anyone associated with the NRA. The goal, of course, is to get that up to state level.

Now, if "terrorist" is defined as one who uses unlawful violence and intimidation to terrorize people for political aims, it would seem obvious that the NRA doesn't qualify because they haven't done any such thing. And if a terrorist watchlist is illegal because it includes potentially innocent people, then it would seem that the courts would obviously rule this declaration from San Francisco as equally unconstitutional. Don't hold your breath. Double standards are the current standard for this crowd.

Thoughts and Prayers
This is an odd story, but it almost sounds like Benny Hinn is giving up on the prosperity gospel. "I'm done with it. I will never again ask you to give a thousand or whatever amount, because I think the Holy Ghost is just fed up with it ... I think that hurts the gospel." Benny Hinn's nephew (a pastor in Gilbert, AZ who refutes his uncle's theology) said, "I was encouraged by his blunt refutation of the prosperity gospel. I sincerely hope and pray that this is the beginning of repentance for him and a turnout in these later years in his life and ministry." Amen. Thoughts and prayers.

As We Suspected
Christine Ford is a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University. She hit the big news in 2018 when she alleged that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers in 1982.

There was a lot of speculation as to why she waited so very long to report this. "It's common for survivors to delay action." "She was afraid." "The media pressured her into it." All very reasonable, but it turns out there was also a much more insidious reason. Her lawyer admitted that the real reason was because he was conservative and she was pro-abortion and she wanted to ensure that there was an "asterisk" next to his name so when he came out against Roe v Wade we'd all know where it was coming from. "I believe that Christine's testimony brought about more good than the harm misogynist Republicans caused by allowing Kavanaugh on the court," the lawyer said. "When he takes a scalpel to Roe v. Wade, we will know who he is, we know his character, and we know what motivates him, and that is important; it is important that we know, and that is part of what motivated Christine."

Friday, September 06, 2019

The Tide Pool

I remember visiting tide pools when I was young. These little nearly self-contained ecosystems were fascinating. They were on the edge of the ocean, but not in it. There weren't really any currents or major interactions between the tide pool and the sea. When tides rose, they'd get washed, but much of the time they were out of the water, their own little pool. There was all sorts of stuff in there. Small fish, sea anemones, sea slugs, crabs, various shellfish, clams, barnacles, starfish, sea urchins, mussels ... all sorts of stuff. I once saw a small octopus in one. Right there in their own little world.

I think we tend to think that we're in our own tide pool. We have our own "ecosystem," our own little worlds. We aren't pushed or pulled in any direction. We are free from the tides and the waves and we can just choose whatever we want to choose without being coerced or influenced. We're pretty much on our own here.

It's not true, you know. We aren't in a tide pool without currents or influences. We are actually in a river with nothing but currents. We live in a world that is hostile to God (Rom 8:7), blinded by the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4), walking "according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air" (Eph 2:2). All of our influences outside of Christ and His own are in that mode. "All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world" (1 John 2:16). Unfortunately, much of our internal influences are also in that direction. "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," Paul wrote (Rom 7:23). "The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?" (Jer 17:9). We are facing massive forces within and without.

We get lulled into thinking we're in a tide pool kind of environment. We're free to go wherever we want. Maybe we'll choose good; maybe not. It's all up to us. Instead we are facing a world and our own sin nature all opposed to God. And we're told to stand against the flow. That's hardly possible if we're not aware of the rush against us. If we're not conscious of these forces within and without we'd never understand that we must "not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom 12:2). Thanks be to God it is completely possible when we cooperate with Him. In this hostile environment within and without we can still be conquerors (Rom 8:37). The trick, of course, is to realize the battle we're in and to call upon the name of the Lord (Psa 18:3; Psa 50:15; Psa 145:18).

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Politics and the Church

I had a conversation with a friend about this recently, so it's on my mind.

In America churches are almost exclusively tied into the whole "501(c)(3)" thing. You know ... "If we agree not to talk about politics from the pulpit, you agree not to tax us on our income." Right? Okay, it goes a step farther than that. With that 501(c)(3) connection they can also entice people to give more to them because the givers will receive a tax break, too. There is that. But should it be?

The whole 501(c)(3) thing was actually started by Lyndon Johnson. (Yes, that LBJ.) We've pretty much forgotten it by now, but from the beginning churches were tax exempt. Why? Well, the government (you know, that one "of the people") actually believed that the government must not interfere with the free exercise of religion. With that principle in mind, it occurred to them that the ability of the government to tax a church would provide a means of controlling a church. Thus, historically, churches were not taxed. Enter Senator Lyndon B. Johnson. Back in 1954 Johnson encountered a conservative nonprofit group hoping to limit the treaty-making ability of a president and called on Americans to elect Johnson's opponent. In order to silence them, Johnson introduce Section 501(c)(3) to the tax code that gave them tax exempt status as long as they kept silent on politics. It's hard to call this anything but "hush money." To this day, then, churches that engage in political talk can lose their tax exempt status under the 501(c)(3) rules.

To be fair, a church that decides not to submit to the 501(c)(3) restrictions is not exempt from the restrictions. All churches must abide by the federal Tax Code regardless of whether they have applied for IRS recognition of tax-exempt status. This is a matter of government control, not merely church greed.

So, if we're supposed to "be subject to the governing authorities" because "there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (Rom 13:1), what are we to do? We should keep in mind that "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). We, therefore, would need to determine if what we're pondering here in our churches is a violation of God's commands or just a violation of our politics. But if we determine that this is an issue of a violation of God's commands, what then?

The restrictions of church involvement in political activity is pretty straightforward. And yet ...? The restrictions do not prohibit a leader of an organization from expressing their opinion for themselves as individuals. The code does not restrict leaders from speaking about important issues of public policy. The prohibition is that leaders cannot make partisan comments in official organization publications or at official functions of the organization. Note the phrasing. "Partisan comments." "Official organization publications." "Official functions."

So, where do we stand? If there is a ballot option to vote for legalizing prostitution, can we comment based on Scripture regarding sexual immorality? If a proposition is up for a vote that will make guns illegal, can we comment from the position of "We ought to obey God rather than men"? If a politician is a communist, can we oppose him from the pulpit even though the government says we shouldn't? If he is in favor of expanding abortion rights, can we tell the congregation not to vote for him?

I think there is room for some commentary and there are restrictions on other commentaries. If we are to violate the restrictions, we would 1) need to be sure it's on the basis of God's commands over against government authority and 2) be prepared to willingly face the consequences of such an action. But I'm not the guy that gets to determine this. Should churches be restricted in what they say or not? Should pastors be allowed to talk about whether to and how to vote or not? Is the government overstepping their authority by restricting churches or not? I wonder.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Contentious

It's fairly common for me to quote Jude where he says we should "contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3) I point out that this faith was "once for all delivered," not some ongoing thing. I mention that we should "contend" for it, that "agree to disagree" doesn't really work in this context. I've talked about this before.

What I've skipped is the reason Jude gives for telling us this. He certainly didn't set out to do so. He set out to "write to you about our common salvation" (Jude 1:3). Apparently something else cropped up. What? In verse 4 he gives his reason for diverting from a Gospel message to a "contend for the faith" message.
For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:4)
That word "for" at the beginning says, "This is why I just said that," where "that" is "contend for the faith." The reason, then, is there are people creeping in -- among us -- "who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ."

Wow! That sure sounds like much of Christendom today! I am hearing louder and louder voices calling for an end to all this "sexual immorality talk" and "God doesn't care who you love" (where "love" includes "sex" by definition). We are being told right and left that God's love means we should be able to achieve maximum pleasure, including health, wealth, and personal comfort. More and more are overtly determining what is good and right by "how I feel" or "what seems good to me" and calling it "Christian." Christian messages are offered that tell us if we believe in Jesus life should be just hunky-dory. Because God's grace is all about me. It is certainly not about submitting to a Master.

Jude calls this perversion. He calls it denial. Jude calls us to contend for the faith. I would submit that the first place we should do that is in ourselves (Matt 7:3-5). Are you seeing God's grace as license? Do you balk at the concept of submission? Is your Christianity defined by your feelings, opinions, preferences? Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints ... starting with your own thinking.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Listen

In our current culture we have been given a host of methods to "shout from the rooftops," so to speak. The Internet, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and so on all give a microphone to what used to be nobodies ... like me. Whether it's the extreme white supremacist or the outrageous socialist democrat or the 35-year-old guy living in his mother's basement streaming his own manifesto and everything in between, we've given everyone a voice, and it's a loud one. This stuff is available to nearly everyone on the planet. It seems like the least known (and often anonymous) folks can get their 15 microseconds of fame just by trolling or posting inflammatory content for all the world to "enjoy." And, of course, the obvious result is a "flame war," an Internet duel where everyone else either feels the need to agree or disagree in the loudest possible way through their Internet microphones.

It is strange then, in this microphoned world, to read
My beloved brothers, let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. (James 1:19)
In our society that just seems odd. Because "slow to speak" and "slow to anger" are not virtues in today's world. "Someone is wrong on the Internet" is a known truism and we need to deal with it! We need to fight it or broadcast it or something ... anything. Not just be "quick to hear."

But James doubles down. "If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless" (James 1:26) Huh. "Slow to speak" and "bridle his tongue." Not really part of our current value system.

Listen, that's what I want to get across. I mean, I want to get across that we should be listening. I want to ask myself and my readers to try being "quick to hear" and "slow to speak." What is being said? What is being meant? (Because I can assure you that there is a lot of what is being assumed that is not intended.)

Would you describe yourself as "quick to hear" and "slow to speak"?

Monday, September 02, 2019

Labor Day, 2019

Labor is as old as the Earth. God describes His creation of all that is as work. Six days worth. His first documented interaction with His ultimate creation, Man, was to assign him work (Gen 2:15; 19-20). The curse from sin was not work; it was hard labor (Gen 3:17-19). Biblically, work is good. God did it. He assigned it to His creation. Scripture commends it (e.g., Eph 4:28; 1 Thess 4:11). It's a good thing.

It seems sometimes as if we don't think so. "What would you do if you won the lottery?" is often answered with "Stop working." Our aim is leisure, not work. Even Christian works. You talk about working as a Christian and Christians will get upset with you. "We're not saved by works!" No, we are surely not. But that doesn't change the fact that works are part of the essence of being a follower of Christ.

Take, for instance, Jesus's well known, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). I don't think we read that as written. He didn't say, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." That's an imperative. He said "If you do, you will." That's an indicative. Obeying Him is what you do when you are in Christ. It's a product of the new nature and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Paul wrote to Titus about how we are saved "not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit" so that "we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:4-7). Not because of works we have done. Got it. And in the very next verse he says, "I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works" (Titus 3:8). Paul says, "These things are good and profitable for people." We are saved apart from works (Eph 2:8-9), but we were saved for good works (Eph 2:10). Because good works are "good and profitable for people." Because "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works."

It's Labor Day. We're celebrating workers. Most of us have jobs, either as gainful employment or in other ways, and we're celebrating that. (Oddly enough, we're doing it by not working.) I would hope you would take this opportunity to celebrate Christian work as well. The working out of salvation (Php 2:12) that is brought about by God at work in you (Php 2:13). The joyful obedience of one who loves Christ. The work of one who, being forgiven much, loves much. The kind of work that causes people to glorify God (Matt 5:16). That kind of work is good to celebrate.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Defining Moment

Practically everyone, believers and unbelievers alike, have heard the story of Jesus walking on the water. "Cool story, bro." Most don't realize, however, that the account says that two people walked on the water that day. We know about Jesus, but Matthew records how Peter challenged Christ to call him out on the water. When He did, Peter went. "And Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came toward Jesus" (Matt 14:28). So why don't we remember Peter? Well, Matthew went on to say, "Seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink" (Matt 14:30). Not an entirely successful attempt. But what would it be like to be "the Apostle who walked on water"? Sure, he sank, but he walked on the water! This was not the defining moment in Peter's life, big as it was. What was it? "We did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty." (2 Peter 2:16).

We know that in John's Gospel there is one disciple referred to as "the disciple that Jesus loved" (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7; 21:20). We know who that is, of course. That was John. Imagine that ... going through the rest of your life with the moniker, "The disciple that Jesus loved." Nice! That was not John's defining moment. What was?
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)
Isaiah was a prophet. That might seem small today, but in his day that was big. The Scriptures often talk about two big entities -- the Law and the Prophets. Isaiah was in that latter category. He was selected by God to be God's mouthpiece to Israel. And he did it. This was not his defining moment. What was? "In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne" (Isa 6:1). That account goes on to tell of the six-winged seraphim attending to God and calling to each other in voices that shook the throne room, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory" (Isa 6:3). Now, you'd think he would be pleased. You know, God's mouthpiece and all. He wasn't.
Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." (Isa 6:5)
Huh. That's odd. He saw the One who commissioned him to speak and his reaction is "I am a man of unclean lips."

It appears to be consistently true in Scripture. Anyone who personally encountered God was changed -- redefined. They could not continue in their old ways. Moses led his people into the desert for 40 years when he was 80 because he talked to the burning bush. Judah, the usurper, turned over a new leaf when he wrestled with God at Peniel. Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6). Peter encountered the Master and went from a brash disciple to the leader of the Church.

We see a variety of things that we think define us these days. Maybe it's our talents. Maybe it's our appearance. There are some that define themselves by their sexual attraction. Or the gender they feel they are. Money, power, accomplishments, "stuff" ... lots of things. It all pales in comparison to a personal encounter with the living God. Like Moses I pray, "Show me Your glory!" (Exo 33:18) I pray that for you, too.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

News Weakly - 8/31/19

Disorder in the Court
It used to be "sex reassignment surgery" but that was clearly wrong, wrong, wrong. Not "reassignment;" "confirmation." That's what they're calling it now. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the state of Idaho must provide "gender confirmation surgery" for an inmate who is not only a pedophile (convicted of it at the age of 22) but confused about his gender. In order to accommodate his confusion, the court has ruled the finding as "logical and well-supported" -- without regard to logic or science. The Democrats want to renovate the Supreme Court because their findings are too conservative. I know a lot of people that would like to renovate the 9th Circuit court for the equal but opposite reason. So now the people of Idaho will pay for a sex change because the court requires it "when it is contrary to the medical opinions of the treating physician and multiple mental health professionals."

Redefined
According to a Think article from NBC, "heterosexuality is just not working." The purpose of heterosexuality, according to the article, is to allow men to maintain their societal dominance over women. It is patriarchy, "packaged in terms of biology, religion or basic social needs like security comfort, acceptance and success." Women have been "conditioned to believe that heterosexuality is natural or innate." Well, no more! We will not go peacefully into the night. Women will not reproduce! Patriarchy will not be allowed. Heterosexuality will not be tolerated. We will have freedom of sex! And gender! Except, of course, not heterosexual sex. That's right out.

The piece is listed as a "thought experiment" and I would suggest that it was not well thought out and a failure as an experiment. To be fair, it is my sincere suspicion that the author of this piece is using a word that she doesn't mean. At least, I hope so. You can't say "Homosexuality is natural and innate, but heterosexuality isn't." You can't argue that "No one is heterosexual by nature" without arguing that "No one is any form of sexual orientation by nature." Perhaps it's "monogamy" she's looking for or "sexual morality" she's aiming at or even "marriage," but surely she cannot actually be arguing that the only innate sexual orientation is "omnisexual" (anything and everything). Can she?

Gerrymandering
Barack Obama has launched a new initiative to take on gerrymandering. "The movement for fair maps will determine the course of progress on every issue we care about for the next decade." Gerrymandering is the manipulation of an electoral constituency's boundaries intended to favor one political party over another ... as long as we're talking about the other party. It's not gerrymandering if our party does it.

There You Have It
In another redefinition effort, we appear to have changed the meaning of "racism." According to Joe Biden, racism is "overwhelmingly a white man's problem visited on people of color." We've been hearing this for some time now, but in my dictionary "racism" is defined as "a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others." That would include the Japanese that hate Westerners (non-Japanese) and the people of color who hate whites and any other race that believes theirs is the superior race and others are of little value. In America today that is only decried in whites, but is certainly present ... everywhere.

Banning Hand Guns
A Court in Pennsylvania has ruled that using a "gunlike hand gesture" is a crime. The "imitate shooting a gun by holding your hand to look like a gun" move apparently makes people feel "extremely threatened" and that's illegal. Apparently the sooner we can ban hand guns the better. Maybe cut them off at the wrist? (Maybe we can come up with a list of other gestures that make people uncomfortable that we can ban.) At least we'll have to come up with laws governing the carrying of concealed hand guns.

Help for Porn Problem
Covenant Eyes, if you don't know, is an organization that offers help for people who want to quit looking at porn on the Internet. So it's a good thing, I guess, that they've now come out with a convenient "pluck your eye out" feature, right?

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Eco-Friendly

A majority of the Democrats running for president in 2020 are aiming to save the planet. High ideas. How? Well, they want to have America running on renewable energy in the near future. Maybe as late as 2050, but near enough. What is "renewable energy"?

Renewable energy is the energy derived from resources that can be naturally replenished. Interestingly, they are not defined as "clean." For instance, one renewable source is "biofuel," which could include ... wait for it ... products from wood, animal farming, human waste, etc. Not clean, but renewable. Burning wood is "renewable energy" but not "clean energy."

Renewable energy could include biofuel or it could be the better known solar, wind, geothermal, or hydroelectric kind of stuff. How do these stack up?

There is the question of cost. Turns out that the most expensive ($/kW-hr) method of producing energy is solar thermal. (That's where they use solar power to produce steam to drive a generator, essentially.) Nice idea, but it's much more expensive than coal with CCS (carbon capture and storage). Down at the bottom, onshore wind, geothermal, solar panels, hydroelectric, and natural gas all are within a $0.006 (6 tenths of a cent) of each other.

But, look, if we're planning to save a planet, cost wouldn't be our first concern. Setting aside financial impact (Replacing the current sources of energy production with renewable energy sources would cost something on the order of $100 trillion.), what about the other costs?

Solar power is all the rage. Just stick some photovoltaic cells on your roof and collect power from the sun. What could be cleaner? As it turns out, a lot of things. The photovoltaic structures are made with all kinds of toxic chemicals -- arsenic, cadmium telluride, hexafluoroethane, lead, and polyvinyl fluoride, and more. Making them is a toxic nightmare. Disposing of them is another. And they have a limited lifespan which means that you have to do this over and over again. And it takes a lot of surface area to produce a lot of energy (read "land consumption").

Wind energy seems really clean and easy. Let the wind blow and these things will spin around and create electricity. Wonderful? Of course, you'll need to ignore their noise. One of them can be heard hundreds of yards away. They regulate where wind farms can be located because of the noise. They also constitute a threat to birds. Studies suggest that more than 45,000 birds have been killed over the last 20 years, including endangered species like eagles. And, of course, there is the problem of the concept: "Let the wind blow." When it doesn't, you get no electricity. In order to continue to supply energy, then, you would need significant storage capability -- another problem. And, again, it takes a lot of these things to produce energy (read "land consumption").

Hydroelectric seems to be clean by definition. It is water, right? Let water flow through generators and the sheer gravity of it will make electricity. That's great! Except that the only way to actually accomplish this is to build dams to block water and build up pressure. And blocking water blocks the natural pathways that nature needs to use. For instance, even with the innovation of fish ladders in dams on the Columbia River, salmon have never recovered from having their natural course blocked off. Hydroelectric power causes disruption to all sorts of ecosystems that depend on the water as well as the areas in which they are constructed. Perhaps these aren't as "friendly" as we originally thought. (Imagine, for instance, the result of either a drought -- no electricity -- or a dam break -- flooding.)

Okay, how about geothermal energy? Typically they dig into an underground hot water source or some other underground heat source and use it to make electricity. All natural, right? It isn't happening much because of the difficulties included in the venture. Finding such geothermal reservoirs isn't easy. Tapping them can be expensive. They have a risk of ... get this ... releasing harmful greenhouse gases harnessed beneath the Earth's surface. Oops! Then, as it turns out, geothermal heat pumps require electricity ... which we were hoping to replace. And, like fracking, the procedure can cause surface instability. In the end this, too, has serious potential for negative outcome.

At the end of it all, there remains one more question. Setting aside the massive cost of replacing existing energy production with alternative methods and accepting the fact that none of them are what you would call "clean" -- all of them have hidden environmental impacts -- there remains the question of the purpose. They are planning to save the planet. Can we do that? Turns out we can't. The U.S. is a contributor to greenhouse gases, but we're not the only ones. If all greenhouse gas emissions stopped today, science tells us that the temperature would continue to rise for more than a decade. Stopping all emissions in the U.S. would decrease the situation (obviously), but not eliminate it. According to the EPA, China produces 30% of the CO2 emissions in the world and "Other" produces another 30%. The United States is only at 15%. So if we could somehow eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. (read "go back to pre-Industrial-Age conditions"), 85% of current emissions would still be there.

None of this is intended to say, "Don't do it!" None of this is "climate change denial." I'm just pointing out that there is more to it than, "Let's just go to renewable energy." Saving the world is not just a few years away and the cost in terms of money and land and other environmental problems and more is much, much bigger than we imagine. It's always wise to count the cost, and ignoring some is not the same as counting them. For instance, if your plan is to save the world, you might need to 1) first conquer it to 2) force everyone back to pre-Industrial-Age conditions. What are you willing to pay from all angles? Count the cost.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Bad Reasons to Kill

Actress Alyssa Milano opened up about her two abortions in her podcast. She explains how important and valuable it was for her to kill her children. I will list her reasons that it was good to kill her children, and we'll figure out if these might actually be good reasons to terminate the lives of human beings.
  1. "I control my own body."
  2. "My faith empowered only men to make every single decision of what was allowed and what was not allowed."
  3. "I was not equipped to be a mother."
  4. "[Aborting my babies] was something that I needed."
  5. "I would never had been free to be myself — and that’s what this fight is all about: freedom."
  6. "I refuse to let anyone else's [expletive deleted] morality force me into a life of premarital celibacy."
I hope you can see how dangerous this might be if you actually held these arguments as valid reasons to kill. "I control my body, so anyone who inhibits that control can be executed." "I am a victim of [men], so I should be allowed to kill if I feel like it." "I don't feel like I can handle [being a mother], so it is perfectly moral to terminate whoever might call on me to [be a mother]." "What I believe I need determines my right to kill those I believe to be in the way." "If someone encroaches on my sense of freedom, someone may certainly die." "I determine morality ... predicated on my personal pleasure and preferences."

Given this kind of logic, murder would be a lot more common. Oh, wait, it sure feels like it's getting to be that way, doesn't it? Hmmm.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Comments on Comments

My blog is fairly mid-range when it comes to comments. Some block all but the most elite. Some don't even moderate. I have one rule: Be friendly. Since I have one rule, I do moderate. Since I only have one rule, blocking comments is extremely rare for me. In fact, in the 13 years of blogging I've had only two people I've had to block.

Over the years I've enjoyed a wide range of commenters. Obviously I enjoy the conversations with some who agree with me. Then there are those who mostly agree with me but disagree with me here or there. Good stuff. There are some that have come in only to disagree with me, but in a conversational manner. No fighting, biting, scratching ... you get the idea. On the "opposition" side I've had conversations with people like Brian McClaren, author of A Generous Orthodoxy (which, in my view, has neither) and a lead figure in the Emergent Church movement. He was friendly while disagreeing with me completely. I had a self-declared atheist visiting and commenting for awhile because he could do so without being unkind. You've all, I suppose, heard of the infamous Dan Trabue, one of those liberal, "someone is wrong on the Internet" types who cruises conservative Christian blogs to correct them. In the early months when he first came to my blog there were lots of friendly disagreements. He certainly didn't agree with what I wrote, but he did it without vitriol. Even the recent Feodor started out in a reasonable give and take before turning bombastic. It can happen.

I've had conversations here that have expanded my comprehension. I've had dialogues that corrected my thinking. I upset a Mormon because, as it turned out, I wasn't particularly interested in converting, and a Jehovah's Witness because I told him why his views on Christ weren't biblical. I've defended the faith against Open Theists and Pauline Dispensationalists and others that I couldn't even name. I don't have a problem with dialogue. I'm not worried about disagreement. As long as it's kept at a friendly level, I figure everyone can benefit somehow.

I've had to block individual comments from some and, as I said, all comments from two. That's it. They were often riddled with vulgarities and, hey, my mother reads this blog and I won't have her (and others) reading that kind of language. For awhile I thought about just going unmoderated, but, as it turns out, there are all sorts of crazies out there that I just don't need commenting here. No, not disagreeing with me. Selling stuff. Robots that comment on my exegesis of a passage with, "You, too, can lose weight now." Don't need that. No one benefits from that.

So, no, I'm not blocking comments here because I'm afraid of disagreement. I'm always fine with it. I'm not preventing someone from commenting because they're smarter than me or better educated than me or they "just might be right!" I know people do that (in blogs and in conversations). Not me. As long as we keep it friendly, I can talk to just about anybody. So if your comment doesn't make it in here, I can simplify things for you. Either 1) I accidentally hit the "delete comment" button instead of the "delete email" button (Yeah, I have done that from time to time) or 2) you commented in a completely inappropriate way ("You, too, can lose weight!") or 3) I really didn't believe you intended me to post your comment (like "Don't post this, but ...") or 4) your tone was mean -- unfriendly -- and there is no real benefit in that kind of a conversation. I would venture that more than 90% of the comments I get are not blocked, so if yours doesn't make it, that makes you special. You can decide what that means, but it's not because I'm scared. Trust me.

On a final note, for those of you who are thinking at this moment, "Yeah, right, you liar," you're certainly free to think that. It's not true, but who am I to stop you? I just wonder why, convinced as you particular individuals are that I'm actually lying, you would read the blog of someone you think is a liar. What's the point? Just sayin'.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Reverse Pharisee

Usually, when it comes to error, it is possible to err in two directions. You might go too far or not far enough, be too loose or too tight, be too open or too closed. You get the idea. In the same way, while we know of the errors of the Pharisees in Jesus's day, we don't often think of the other side, what I'll call the reverse pharisee.

Pharisees are legalists, arguing that you get to heaven like every other religion states -- by being good. "If you want to be saved, you have to follow the rules, do what you're told (or, perhaps more correctly, do what we tell you), knuckle under. It's a heavy load, but you'll have to do it. Us? Oh, no, we won't. We're already righteous, already worthy. But you'd better get on that if you want to make it. If you want to get to heaven, you'll have to be righteous ... like me." They are self-righteous hypocrites that demand more of you than God does, and, oh, by the way, they have no intention of living up to the standards they are requiring of you.

Too much. Too far. Error.

What about a reverse pharisee? "Well, those pharisees are really too uptight about the rules. They're too harsh, too judgmental, too intolerant. They take their Scriptures way too seriously as if they possess the secret wisdom for interpreting the voice of God. They lay burdens on people; we don't. They call people to account; we don't. They are more concerned about their doctrines than they are about people; we aren't. Of course, we don't intend to be less harsh, less judgmental, less intolerant (at least, not where they are concerned), but they sure need to be. Why can't they be more laid back and less judgmental ... like me?"

Too little. Not far enough. Error.

That's interesting, though, isn't it? Both errors end up at the same place: "like me." I would guess that both errors result from the same root cause -- "me" at the center.

Monday, August 26, 2019

In Case You Were Wondering

"You idiot! Don't you know that the people who were writing the Bible didn't think they were writing the Bible? Don't you know that Paul's reference to 'all Scripture' being inspired by God was not a reference to what he was writing? He only had the Old Testament for Scripture. Don't you know that no one had the New Testament prior to the Council of Laodicea in the 4th century? If your Bible is so important, how did they get by without it for 400 years?"

The assault on God's Word continues. It started in the Garden (Gen 3:1) and continues to this day. I don't expect it to let up until Christ returns.

We accept the Old Testament as Scripture because the 39 books that we call "the Old Testament" were the Scriptures that Jesus referenced (e.g., Matt 21:42; Matt 22:29; Matt 26:54; John 5:39; etc.). Easy. After that, you'll get a debate. What Scriptures was Paul referring to when he wrote of the Scriptures that were God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16-17)? I've heard skeptics and preachers alike tell me that it was the Old Testament, and, while I'm sure he was referring to the Old Testament, I suspect he was also referring to others. As an example, Paul quotes Luke in a reference to "the Scripture" (1 Tim 5:18; Luke 10:7). Clearly Paul believed that there was more that qualified as "Scripture" than just the Old Testament. Peter calls Paul's writings "Scripture" (2 Peter 3:15-16). So the concept that "the Scriptures" were not limited to the 39 books of the Old Testament wasn't unknown during the writing of the New Testament. (Note: The reason we have 39 books while others have more is that Protestants (and others) admit only the books that were "Scripture" in Jesus's time while the Roman Catholics (and others) include apocryphal books -- books of doubtful authenticity, although widely circulated as being true.)

So when did our 27 books become the "New Testament"? When did they become "Scripture"? Well, answering blithely, they became Scripture as soon as they were written. But perhaps I should be more clear.

If these 27 books are indeed "God-breathed" -- the Word of God -- as historical orthodoxy has maintained, then they were indeed Scripture from their writing. But that's not really what is being asked, is it? "When were they recognized as Scripture?" Okay, that's different. While some would like you to believe that it wasn't until the Council of Laodicea (AD 363) declared it so, that misses the point. One of the criterion used at that council was "What books do we commonly recognize as Scripture?" That is, they didn't pull up a list of books, point fingers, and decide what was in or not. These books had been in use a long time. The 27 books we recognize were written before the end of the first century, but "Scripture" was already in view. Clement of Rome wrote about at least 8 books (AD 95). Ignatius (AD 115) acknowledged at least 7. Polycarp (a disciple of the Apostle John) acknowledged 15 (AD 108). Irenaeus wrote about 21 (AD 185). The first "canon," the Muratorian Canon, was compiled by AD 170. That one included all but 3 -- Hebrews, James, and 3 John. These books were already in circulation and recognized by the 2nd century -- within a generation of their origination.

"Yeah, sure, but not everyone could read back then." Literacy rates back then were not what they are now, but our "New Testament" was already established as "Scripture" within 75 years of the final entry. They were widely circulated to be read by those who could and read to those who could not (e.g., Eph 3:4; Col 4:16; 1 Thess 5:27).

What we currently recognize as "Scripture" -- God's Word -- has been in circulation from the 1st century. They have been recognized as "Scripture" since they were first received. The Council of Laodicea (AD 363), the Council of Hippo (AD 393), and the Council of Carthage (AD 397) all affirmed the same 27 books. They all concluded that these 27 books were written by or in close connection to an Apostle (capital "A"). They agreed that the body of Christ at large agreed that they were Scripture. They agreed that these 27 had a consistency of doctrine and orthodox teaching. They agreed that they bore evidence of high moral and spiritual values consistent with the work of the Holy Spirit. Bottom line, they agreed that God had determined these to be Scripture. Not them; Him. They were just agreeing with Him.

The naysayers are standing on popular but faulty ground. The Bible indicates that the authors of the New Testament understood that there was more than just the Old Testament for "Scripture." They may not have considered what they were writing to be "Scripture," but others did. If "all Scripture is God-breathed" and Paul (for instance) wrote Scripture (as claimed by Peter), then Paul's writings are God-breathed as well. And Christians knew it. Christians in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD understood these to be the authoritative word of God. Did they read them in their homes daily? Probably not. Not all could read. But being read to was a very Jewish thing and gathering with believers was a very Christian thing and these books were in circulation for the day-to-day use of believers from the outset long before the Church was forced to make a formal declaration in that regard. And why did they have to do that? Because of the problem I'm addressing -- skeptics who follow their leader from the Garden and deny God's Word.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

A Hymn

It's Sunday. Surely today you can enjoy a hymn!
Beneath The Cross Of Jesus
Elizabeth Clephane

Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty Rock within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness, a rest along the way
From the burning of the noonday heat and the burden of the day.

Upon that cross of Jesus, mine eye can sometimes see
The very dying form of One who suffered there for me;
And from my smitten heart with tears two wonders I confess -
The wonders of His glorious love and my own worthlessness.

I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place -
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by, to know no gain nor loss,
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.
Elizabeth Clephane was born in 1830. She was the frail daughter of a county sheriff in Abbotsford, Scotland. The hymn, published anonymously in 1872, was written one year before her death in 1868. It reflects her deep affection for God as well as her love for the Word of God. In the first verse alone there are seven references from Scripture.

The hymn focuses on the cross. Many today see the cross as an offensive thing. They would rather concentrate on the Resurrection or the life of Christ. It just seems like the cross is such an unpleasant and past event. But Elizabeth saw it as a place to abide. That is where she would gladly take her stand. ("Fain" is a Scottish word meaning "gladly.") Look at her view of the cross. She saw it as "the shadow of a mighty Rock within a weary land, a home within the wilderness, a rest along the way."

"The mighty Rock" is a reference to the Messiah taken from Isa 32:2. We see this same Rock in Exo. 33-34 when Moses wanted to see God and in Isaac Watts' hymn "Rock of Ages." Scripture refers to Jesus as the Rock of my salvation, the chief cornerstone, a rock of offense. (Psa. 89:26; 95:1; Isa. 28:16; Rom. 9:33) David calls God the "Rock of my strength." (Psa 31:2, 3; 62:7; 71:3) There are, in fact over 25 references in Scripture to God as "Rock." In the shadow of the cross we can see that unyielding Rock who walked all the way to Calvary to die for me and to become the basis -- the foundation -- of my salvation.

"A home within the wilderness" is a phrase from Jer 9:2. It depicts the personal nature of my relationship with God, portraying His sufficiency and protection. The phrase also illustrates the separation from the world we live in - "the wilderness." We are called to "come out from among them and be separate." (2 Cor 6:17) "What fellowship has light with darkness?" Paul asks the Corinthians. (2 Cor 6:14) ("This world is not my home; I'm just passing through.") Our citizenship is not earthly. (Phil. 3:20) Yet we try with all our might to incorporate as much of our world as we can into our spiritual viewpoints. We have so blended the two that they have become nearly indistinguishable. The morality, the divorce rates, the lifestyles, the attitudes of most evangelical Christians are almost no different than those of the world around them. But God calls to us, "Come home. My grace is sufficient for you." James warns us that friendship with the world is hostility toward God. "Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (James 4:4)

"A rest along the way," from Isa 28:12, is a reference to the peace of God that passes understanding. God ordained rest in the Sabbath. He refers to our ultimate rest as the sabbath rest. (Heb. 4:9-11; see 4:1-16) Unrest was never God's intention for our lives. So Paul exhorts us to "let the peace of God rule in your hearts." (Col. 3:15)

The hymnist takes a very personal look at the cross in the second verse. She visualizes Christ Himself hanging on that tree. And she sees clearly the truth of the crucifixion. Two truths stand when she looks at Jesus' death: His glorious love and her worthlessness.

Today's therapeutic society would have Elizabeth in counseling in a heartbeat. Her Christian friends might have urged her to go. Our modern hymnals have so protested her comment that they have changed it. Our hymnals now read "my unworthiness." No one should consider themselves worthless. But, then, Paul would have had the earlier appointment with the therapist after his unpopular claim that he was chief among sinners and that no one was good. Now what kind of a self-image is that for a believer?

It is a biblical one. The essence of God's saving grace is that I don't deserve it. By that, I mean we have no intrinsic reason to receive salvation. We have no inborn value, no innate goodness, no inherent lovableness. Paul told the Romans that God chose (not by force) to save us for His glory. (Romans 9:22, 23) God is not obligated by our weighty value to provide for us a means of escaping judgment or a way to know Him. But today's churches largely operate as a cult of self-esteem. We need to feel better about ourselves. We are people of value.

Elizabeth Clephane disagrees. The cross shows me my sin condition. In the third verse she states the only form of value she possesses. Her only value is Christ. Paul concurs - repeatedly. "For me to live is Christ." "I count all things as loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ." Jeremiah quotes God as saying, "Let him who boasts boast in this, that he knows Me." (Jeremiah 9:24) By nature, we are worthless. The only real value to be found in us is Christ in us. The only way that can happen is His redeeming work on the cross.

The hymnist isn't done with her survey of the cross yet. In the final verse, her goal is to make that her dwelling place. "I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place - I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face." This is where we need to live. It is here, in the presence of the crucified Lord, that we see most clearly His unfathomable love and our utter depravity. It is here that we see the seriousness of God's demand for obedience and the consequence of our failure. It is here that we can see our worthlessness and His surpassing value. From the cross comes the strongest call to Christ-like character rather than self-serving ambition. At the cross we learn to endure suffering, a given for each Christian's life. At the cross, husbands learn to love their wives. At the cross, children learn to obey their parents. At the cross, Christians learn to love each other and bear one another's burdens. It is in the shadow of the cross that we all need to abide.