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Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Poor You Always Have With You

When the woman poured costly perfume on Jesus (Matt. 26:6-13), the disciples were offended. They thought she should have sold the perfume and aided the poor. Jesus said, "Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial" (Matt. 26:10-12).

I find this a little perplexing in light of the claim of "moderate Christians" that our primary concern ought to be the poor. Jesus's disciples made the very same objection that some of today's Christians are making. "Our #1 priority ought to be to the poor!" Jesus thought otherwise. In fact, Jesus said, "You always have the poor with you."

Some well-meaning Christians believe that it is our duty to work at stamping out poverty in the world. I think it's a nice idea ... but impractical. And if the task is impractical and impossible, is it really our job to pursue it?

So, if the Bible did not command us to elminate world poverty, what are we instructed to do? It seems to me that the commands in Scripture regarding the poor are not on a global or, especially, impersonal scale, but in the realm of the personal. Look at some of these commands:
"Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you" (Matt. 5:42).

"For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me" (Matt. 25:35-36).

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27).

If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that (James 2:15-16)?

Whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him (1 John 3:17)?
Two important points: 1) We are commanded to be concerned about and to take care of the poor. There is no doubt about that. And there is no doubt that we aren't doing this. 2) The poor that we are commanded to be concerned about and to take care of are those with whom we have contact. Notice that nothing is said about "food banks", taking care of people we don't know, fighting poverty, or any such thing. All of the commands in Scripture for Christians to take care of the poor are for Christians to take care of the poor with whom they come in contact, not the poor "in general".

I'm not against working against poverty. I'm not against supporting organizations that feed the poor. I'm not suggesting in the least that this isn't a "Christian thing to do". What I'm suggesting is that the commands of Scripture are to individual Christians to tend to individual people in need -- the ones with whom the individual Christian has contact. When some try to force on Christianity a command to stamp out poverty or tend to the poor in general, I think they're pressing on Christians a command that God hasn't given. They may be led to do so, and they must, then, act on that, but to suggest that the Bible requires all Christians to work on eliminating worldwide poverty isn't supported in the pages of Scripture.

Friday, September 29, 2006

"Moderate" Christians

Recently I asked if it was possible to deny the Trinity and be a Christian. I still don't know the answer to that one. Now I have a new question. Is it possible to be a moderate or liberal Christian? Okay, so that's not a sincere question. Of course, it is. Real Christians can be wrong about all sorts of things and still be Christians. (If you didn't chuckle at that, you probably missed the fact that it was intended for humor.)

But I still wonder about the difference and what causes it. According to John C. Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri, the primary difference between the conservative Christian and the moderate or liberal Christian is this: "The only absolute standard of behavior is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves."

This standard leads to some other conclusions. It's okay to allow the death of a person in a persistently vegetative state. It's loving to save people's lives through embryonic stem cell research. It's divisive to bring God into the public square. It's wrong to do anything that would make a homosexual feel humiliated. It's wrong to bring faith into affairs of a diverse State because the government never shares the same concerns as our faith. Senator Danforth says, "For us, religion should be inclusive, and it should seek to bridge the differences that separate people."

So, the primary difference between the conservative Christian and the rest is that the rest are concerned with love, and the conservative Christian is not. Insisting that life is important and should be protected rather than ended is not loving. Believing that human life, regardless of its stage, is precious and shouldn't be routinely destroyed, even for the purpose of saving others is not loving. Those who believe that biblical marriage is important, that "gay marriage" is an oxymoron, and that the best they can do for the acting homosexual is diminish their capacity to act that way are not loving. We who believe that what we believe is for the benefit of all and should, therefore, make it public are not loving. And if you are one who believes that God made laws in the best interest of His creation, and we are acting in the best interest of other people if we encourage the passage of such laws in our society are not loving.

"Experience unites; doctrine divides." This is true. But wasn't it Jesus who said, "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:18-19). Ironically, Jesus says this immediately following His command to love one another (John 15:17). Jesus also said, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household" (Matt 10:34-36). Yes, we are to be people known for our love, especially for one another. Love, however, doesn't mean what many people seem to think. And the truth is that truth in general and Christianity in particular will not be inclusive; it excludes by its very nature those who are outside the truth. We need to be careful about our aims, intentions, and definitions.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

It's Taxing, Isn't It?

Okay, this is just wrong. I don't know how many times I've heard in the last 6 years that the Republicans in general and President Bush in particular prefer to tax the poor and give the rich all the breaks. That isn't news to anyone, is it? I remember during the last campaign when President Clinton got some laughs when he said that President Bush's tax cut plan gave him a nice tax break, but he didn't need it. It is the rally cry so often of the Democrats: "Tax the rich!"

So here I am doing a little research and what do I find? According to the IRS, the numbers are not quite what we thought they were. According to them, the average tax rate of the top 1% of taxpayers was 23.5%. (The top 1% made over $328,000.) Overall, for the top 50% of taxpayers, the average tax rate was 13.5%. (The top 50% made over $30,000.) On the other hand, for the bottom 50%, the average tax rate was 3%. What? That's not what we've heard. That looks a lot like the rich are paying a higher rate than the poor. Of the top 50%, the top half of them (the top 25%) pays an average rate of 15.5%, while the bottom half of them pays an average rate of 7%. (To be in the top 25%, you have to make over $60,000.) So the top 25% of taxpayers are paying 15% of their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), the next 25% are paying 7%, and the last 50% are paying 3%. Somehow that doesn't look like a "tax break to the rich" scheme.

Well, perhaps it's in the term "adjusted". After all their tax breaks the rich get, are they actually paying more? Yes ... yes they are. In terms of share of total income taxes received by the IRS, the top 1% paid 37%, while the bottom 50% paid 3%. In a similar breakdown as the above, the top 25% paid 85% of the total income taxes paid, while the next 25% paid 12% of the total. I don't know. It sounds an awful lot like the rich are the most heavily taxed in our country.

Well, perhaps it's in terms of money? How much was actually paid? The IRS received a total of about $832 trillion in income taxes. The top 1% paid $306 trillion. The top 25% paid $706 trillion. The next 25% paid $99 trillion. The combined total of the bottom 50% was $27 trillion.

Since the president's 2003 tax cuts, the 25% of taxpayers who earn the most accounted for nearly 66% of the nation’s income, but they paid more than $17 out of every $20 collected by the IRS. The top 1% accounted for about 19% of the nation’s income, yet paid almost 37% of all federal income taxes.

I don't know about you, dear readers, but somehow none of this cries, "Too many tax breaks for the rich!" None of this seems to say, "The tax code favors the wealthy!" Maybe I'm just "numbers challenged", but it looks like the tax rates are heavily slanted in favor of the poor, and the rich in this country, as evil as some want to make them out to be, are shouldering the vast majority of the tax burden ... just like the Democrats think they should. So ... why isn't the president getting credit for this?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Natan Sharansky on CBS

I'm not a big fan of CBS News. I watch it only because it happens to be on when I'm ready to watch news. So I was quite surprised with the piece last night from Natan Sharansky.

The segment is called "Free Speech". Someone gets on and gives their opinion about something. Sometimes it's innocuous. Sometimes its offensive. And then there was this one.

Natan Sharansky is a Jew born in the Soviet Union in 1948. He was arrested in 1977 for speaking out against the government and spent almost 9 years in a Soviet prison for treason. Released in 1986 after historic Reagan-Gorbachev negotiations, Sharansky went to Israel and was received as a hero. If anyone knows about torture, it would be Mr. Sharansky. But he also has other information that is best known from personal experience -- information he shared in this segment.

It started out as one might expect.
Some believe that certain controversial interrogation techniques are acceptable. But after nine years in the Soviet Gulag, and 400 days in punishment cells, I know that sleep deprivation, exposure to cold, and enforced hunger are forms of torture.
Yes, we understand, Mr. Sharansky. You consider these to be torture, and you're against them.
Maintaining our principles in the face of terror is sometimes dangerous. Abandoning those principles would be even more dangerous.
So it seemed to be your standard "'America is wrong' once again" speech. But then came this amazing turn.
Still, I am deeply concerned that some of those who insist that America not cede the moral high ground do not recognize that America stands on the moral high ground.
What? This was not the standard "America stinks" speech. This was a "Don't forget how great a country this is" speech. Mr. Sharansky pointed out several reasons that we should think as he does.
America is different because your citizens can protest without going to prison. America is different because your courts can defend rights and your press can expose injustice. America is different because your Congress can hold hearings and because your people can hold your leaders accountable. America is different because America is free.
Very few people will realize how much I appreciated Natan Sharansky's comments. He epitomized what I would like to see far more often. Mr. Sharansky said, in essence, "This particular aspect is wrong" and then went on to say "But don't think that America is evil because there is one wrong aspect." Mr. Sharansky said, "We shouldn't do this thing" and, instead of calling us evil because some disagreed, he simply reminded us of the good that should pull us past it.

One of my pet peeves is people who complain without end, and people who complain without suggesting anything better. Mr. Sharansky exemplified someone with a dissenting opinion from our president without stooping to insult the president or the nation, suggesting instead a higher calling.
In standing up against torture, I hope that all Americans will remember the profound moral divide that separates the free world from the world of fear and work to advance abroad the very principles you so rightly cherish at home.
Thank you, Natan Sharansky.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

How Much Do We Own?

A recent interaction was fruitless like so many others. I'm the bad guy; he's the good guy. If only you Christians would think like the rest of us then you wouldn't be such idiots. That kind of thing. And the other day I got to overhear a room full of people eating lunch and discussing how much they hate Christians. "If I want to go to Hell, just let me go to Hell. Don't push your religion on me."

Now, I think that there are answers, but I had to wonder. How much of this do we own? My recent antagonist accused me of "playing the victim card". How often do we do that? I know I've heard it from Christians far more than is reasonable. "Oh, we Christians in America are being persecuted." Heaven help us if what is happening to Christians in America is "persecution". We'd never survive what is happening to Christians in, say, the Muslim world. We say we're persecuted because NBC wants to remove references to God from Veggie Tales. Oh, yeah, that's persecution. In fact, I've known people who use "persecution" as a measure of accuracy. If people are disagreeing with them (That's "persecution"), then they're obviously right because Jesus said they would be hated by the world. It never occurs to them that maybe people are disagreeing with them because they're wrong. "Narrow is the gate," they'll say and see the fact that 99% of Christians disagree with them as vindication.

Then there's the "in your face" types. "Hey, man, do you know Jesus?" That's perhaps the least offensive approach from these well-meaning Christians. They'll range from that to strings of expletives explaining how wrong you are for what you believe. They'll argue that Jesus is in favor of torture if the torture is against those who attack Christianity. These types can go so far as to make me seriously question the reality of their connection to Christianity. I mean, "God hates fags" does not represent the Christ of the Bible. Do these types actually know Him?

I know. The Bible promises that the world won't like us. I know. Many times it seems as if we're singled out merely because we're Christians. It seems, to be sure, that people don't spend nearly as much time assaulting Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism as they do Christianity. I don't mean to minimize it. But I have to wonder how much of the time the attacks we experience are brought on by our own attitudes and the attitudes of others who claim to represent Christ. Denying the reality of that embarrassing fact does nothing to ease the problem when I go to talk to someone who has questions about Christ. Maybe we are looking at Christianity with rose-colored glasses, when reality is more important.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Understanding Men

Ladies, I have a gift for you. I am about to share with you a secret about how men think. So closely guarded is this secret that I would venture that most men aren't conscious of it. However, their lack of awareness doesn't negate either the truth of the secret nor the effective use of it.

First, I need to make a disclaimer. This is a generalization. For all generalizations there are exceptions. However, the nature of the "exception" is that it is exceptional, uncommon, unusual, not the norm. Therefore, this generalization, by definition, will be generally true and, thus, of use to most women who have relationships with men. Indeed, for you wives, if you take this secret to heart and use it properly, it is almost a surefire way to adultery proof your marriage.

Have I got your attention? Good. So, here it is. Most people think that the one thing most men want more than anything else is sex. This is not true. There is one thing that almost every man wants above all else including sex: significance. Men want, above all else, to be "somebody", to be recognized, respected, valued.

Hard to believe? Well, let's look at the evidence. Look at the large numbers of men who spend a large amount of money at strip clubs. For the most part, there is no actual sex going on at strip clubs. The vast majority of men at strip clubs are there for one reason. Some cute little honey is putting on an act for him. What is the act? That she finds him attractive, desireable ... somebody. It isn't the sexual attraction; it's the sense of being desired that brings men back. The same is generally true of the men hooked on porn. It is the rush of feeling desired that these actresses give them that brings them back time and again. Or look at the crime of rape. The experts will tell you time and again that it's not about sex; it's about ... power. Rape is perpetrated by demented men in search of being significant. Or look at the standard young man with loose morals. How does he view his sexual exploits? Okay, not fair ... I just gave you the answer. He doesn't see his sexual relations with multiple women as sexual satisfaction. He sees them as exploits. He sees them as conquests, deeds of notable feat. And why do so many middle-aged men undergo their "mid-life crisis"? According to those who have studied this phenomenon, the reason men between 40 and 60 often undergo this event is that they find themselves on the downhill side of their lives and realize they haven't achieved what they intended to achieve. He is in a crisis of insignicance.

Now, many people think that this is a problem of "low self-esteem". This is a mistake. It isn't a problem of men with low self-esteem. It is the basic nature of males. Men are designed to want significance. They have a variety of ways that they deal with this desire, but it is intrinsic to being male. It isn't "low self-esteem"; it is being a male human being.

So ... what's a woman to do? I'm speaking here to wives, primarily. It's really a simple thing. How it is worked out is up to you, but the premise is easy even if the application is individual. What men need, whether or not they are aware of it, is the feeling of being significant. Wives achieve this by two basic premises: Submission and respect. Wives that are respectful of their husbands and give him the proper role in the marriage will find that their husbands are happier men than those who don't. Oh, wait, this isn't my idea, is it? No, it's God's idea!
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord ... let the wife see to it that she respect her husband (Eph. 5:22, 33).

Interesting! So it would seem that God knows how he built the male of the species and how best to make it operate. Pretty smart, isn't He? Now, ladies, if you could follow that simple advice, you might be surprised at the impact on the men in your life.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Christians and Politics

There is a debate going on over at God's Politics regarding whether or not Christians should be involved in politics as they are. Well, the real question that is being asked is "Why do you both want to impose your moral views on the USA?"

The question comes up repeatedly. Should Christians attempt to pass laws based on their morality? Or should Christian morality be left out of the laws of the land? The arguments on both sides are many and sometimes heated.

Is it true that Christians should not be attempting to pass laws based on their morality? One side will argue that Jesus didn't attempt to pass laws based on His perfect morality. The other side will argue, "But Jesus didn't live in a democracy." True, Jesus was more concerned with hearts, with making disciples. Does that mean that we shouldn't be interested in the laws of our land?

One side will say, "Separation of Church and State means that you can't base our laws on religious morals." The other side will argue "Separation of Church and State is a myth" (which, by the way, entirely misses the point in this case). The fact is, all of law is based fundamentally on morality. It may be religious morality, or it may be non-religious morality, but the fundamental basis of law is morality. Societies all make laws based on what they think is right and wrong. So when one side argues for the removal of religious morals from law-making, they are simply requiring the substitute of other morals which may or may not be fundamentally sound. Law and morals cannot be separated. So this argument is problematic.

But lots of Christians will argue that Jesus's primary concern was not morality, but changed hearts, and, therefore, we Christians should be concerned only with changed hearts, not moral lives. This argument bears some weight. Some have argued (erroneously) that Jesus's intent was to remove all laws. That one doesn't work except, perhaps, in the mind of the hyper-extreme Pauline Dispensationalist. But the truth is that a moral sinner who dies without Christ is still going to Hell in Christian theology. Should we, then, be concerned with morality?

I suspect that the reason for the question is a failure to comprehend the basic concept of morality. Why did God give rules? If Jesus's (and, therefore, God's) only concern was the hearts of men, what was the purpose of rules?

Very few will admit it, not because they're liars, but because they're unaware of it, but in the back of many minds there is the belief that God's laws are arbitrary, simply put into place "because I said so". There is no real reason for the rules; God just decided to say, "This is good" and "This is bad" and we are just expected to do what He says because He's God. Of course, this isn't an accurate reflection of the truth.

The truth is that God, as the Manufacturer of the human being product, so to speak, knows how it works and, therefore, how best to operate it. In other words, the reason God puts rules in place is to tell us how best to live for our best interest.

If this is true, then when we step back to the original question, we likely find a different answer. Should Christians be concerned about the morality of our society? If we believe that God's morality is based on what's best for human beings, then we would need to answer with a resounding "Yes!" When we seek to make a more moral society, we enhance the lives of those in it. True, a more moral society doesn't make a more Christian society, but given the choice between a more moral society that doesn't know Christ and a less moral society that doesn't know Christ, society as a whole and individuals in it are better off with the former than the latter. Thus, we would be remiss in stepping back from engaging our society with our moral views. That would be the unloving thing.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

When Words Become Meaningless

I learned something new about myself! Apparently I'm a "Right winger turned Walmart hater". This was news to me. Somehow, it seems, I am among those who were "the right wing idiots whom, for whatever reason, carried the Walmart flag front and center during previous culture war skirmishes now boycotting it." The reason offered for this caricature is my post on the subject on Sep. 1.

Now, my post simply said, "Me? I’m not getting it." I didn't understand the point of a chamber of commerce based on sexual orientation. I didn't understand why Wal-Mart felt the need to side with the NGLCC. I don't get it.

I guess it's no big deal. There were three of us on the list. The first one on the list said he had not been in favor of Walmart for some time (Hey, what about the "carried the Walmart flag front and center during previous culture war skirmishes" accusation?) and thought that Christians shouldn't get too uptight over the issue. Another "Right winger turned Walmart hater" said almost exactly the same things I did, and nothing I could see there was hateful or "right wing". Clearly the only reason we are "right wing" or "haters" is because we are Christians.

Of course, it was also ironic personally. I recently found a "politics test" and ran through the questions to find out where I fall. I was actually surprised to find I was nearly dead center. I was so surprised that I went to two other sites and took their tests for the same thing. Who would have figure it? I'm a centrist. So being a centrist is "right wing", and having an opinion (no matter how mild) about something makes me a "hater".

This is where words become meaningless. We commonly hear words like "left wing" and "right wing". They are almost always meant as an insult from the opposing side. That means that the minute you hear, for instance, "right wing", your job is to ignore whatever that "right winger" has to say. And if you have an opinion on a subject, regardless of how nebulous, if it doesn't coincide with someone else's view, they can refer to you as a "hater". In other words, terms like "right wing" and "hater" in this context become totally meaningless. Their sole purpose is to ignore the question being discussed.

There is a logical term for this approach. It is called officially an "ad hominem" argument, and it is a standard logical fallacy. We recently got to see one of these logical fallacies exercised at the U.N. when the best Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, could offer in rebuttal to President Bush's remarks the day before was to call him "the devil". Nice job. It doesn't address the ideas. It doesn't discuss anything of value. It simply attacks the speaker without any discussion of the ideas.

So, what can we get of any value from this? I would like to point out that "left wing Christian haters" are not the only ones guilty of ad hominem arguments. We all like to agree with people we like and all like to like the people with whom we agree. This is what makes the argument so effective. But it is a fallacy. It fails to address the discussion at hand. So when we who are supposed to be known as humble, gentle, patient, forebearing, and loving (Eph. 4:2) employ this unkind and unwise method, we violate not only logic and simple communication protocol, but damage Christianity itself. Ask yourself this, the next time you want to use such an approach. "If the person about whom I'm speaking heard me speak about them this way, would they allow me to share the gospel with them soon thereafter?" It's not foolproof, but it's a start. And remember: Attacking your opponent is not addressing their ideas, and when you simply attack their person you have only made their views seem stronger, not weaker.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Therefore ...

Yesterday I commented on Eph. 3:14-21 and its lofty remarks. It would be sad to leave it at that ... because Paul didn't.

In Eph. 4 we read:
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3).

Paul's "urging", Paul's command here is based on something -- "Therefore". It is based on what Paul has already given the Church in this epistle. It is based first and foremost on "to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (Eph. 3:21). Beyond that, it is based on the entirety of what he has stated thus far. Paul here says, "Because of what I've told you thus far, you ought to ..."

What is it that Paul thinks follows perfectly logically from what he has said so far? "Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called" (4:1). The term used here for "worthy" means "of equal value". The walk Paul is enjoining us to walk is "of equal value" to something. What? It is of equal value to "the calling to which you have been called." Okay ... so what is that calling?

One part is displayed in all its glory here in Eph. 1:3-14. We are blessed already with a massive amount of spiritual blessings as part of our calling. This is nice information, perhaps, but Paul says, "Therefore." Paul says, "This glorious information should cause you to act." Another part of this glorious calling is contained in Eph. 2. Since we bloggers tend to limit the length of our blogs, I won't paste in the entire chapter, but the entire chapter is part of the answer. First, there is the condition in which He found us: "Dead in the trespasses and sins" (2:1-3). Then there is the most unbelievable "but" in all of Scripture: "But God, being rich in mercy ..." (2:4). There is salvation by grace through faith, a gift from God (2:8) and the good works to which we are called (2:10). There is the removal of separation between the Jews and the Gentiles (2:11-16) and the inclusion of all believers in household of God (2:17-22). This is a grand calling, and Paul says that it demands a response, a response that dictates how we walk.

How is this "equal measure" walk characterized? "All humility and gentleness", "patience", "bearing with one another in love", and an eagerness to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (4:2-3). Oh, good, I thought it would be difficult. This sounds simple enough ... doesn't it? It sounds simple enough, but it isn't. One only has to talk to Christians, peruse the Christian websites, or look at the world's perception today of Christians, and it becomes obvious that we are not characterized by humility, gentleness, patience, forebearance, love, unity, or peace. May I suggest that this is because we don't grasp the magnitude or magnificence of our calling?

One point I'd like to leave you with. There is a dearth today of doctrine in much of the Church. There is a move to say, "Experience unites; doctrine divides." One popular saying you'll hear is "No creed but Christ." And the prevalent belief is that doctrine is dry, sterile information that provides nothing for the user. Paul disagrees. Time after time in Paul's epistles, he starts with a heavy dose of doctrine followed by a "therefore". Romans 1-11 is a heavy dose of doctrine, followed by 4 chapters of "therefore". Galatians is mostly doctrine peppered with "thus you should". Colossians carries some serious doctrinal statements in its first two chapters, followed by the "if then" of chapter 3 and following. It appears that Paul would be dismayed at the modern Church's idea that doctrine is of little value, and practice is all that matters. Instead, Paul suggests that doctrine informs practice. Or, using the passage I've just used here, it appears that calling precedes practice and calling shapes practice. Perhaps ... just maybe ... if we had a better grasp on the first 3 chapters (I'm using that as a metaphor) our lives would better express Paul's "therefore" here.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

To Know the Unknowable

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:14-19).

There are very few pieces of Scripture that are as grandiose as this one. It pushes us to heights that are rarely attained elsewhere. Come with me for a moment as we take in some of the spectacular “views” from this little piece of the Bible.

Paul lays out his prayer for the Church in this little passage. He asks the Father to grant something. But first, we see that He asks that it be granted “according to the riches of His glory” (3:16). The origin and, therefore, purpose of God granting this prayer is that He would be glorified. It is important to remember this (2 Cor. 12:7).

So what does Paul ask of the Father for the Church? First, he asks that they be strengthened (3:16). But with what strength? His prayer is for the strength of the inner man through the Holy Spirit. That is key (and we’ll come back to that). What is the purpose of this strengthening? “So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (3:17). Note, then that for Christ to dwell in us, we require 1) faith and 2) the inner strength provided by the Holy Spirit.

Paul makes a second request as well. He prays that we would be able to know the love of Christ. Now if you are good Bereans, you’ll see that this isn’t exactly what he says. This is actually a huge request. To know the love of Christ entails first that we be “rooted and grounded in love” (3:17). Then, the request is not for mere familiarity but with a vast (“what is the breadth and length and height and depth” (3:18)), experiential knowledge. (This is the word used in 3:19 – not merely knowledge, but experiential knowledge.) It is only through this experiential knowledge of the love of Christ in all its dimensions that enables us to be “filled up to all the fullness of God” (3:19). However, there is one kicker here, one paradox. Paul asks that we have this knowledge, but says that the love of Christ “surpasses knowledge” (3:19). Paul’s prayer is that we can know something that exceeds our ability to know.

Picture this. You are in a row boat on, say, Lake Superior. So large is this lake that you cannot see any shore. You take a cup and dip into the lake and take a drink. Do you now know what the lake tastes like? Yes … and no. You’ve experienced (experiential knowledge) a very, very small portion of a very, very big lake. You’ve got a taste. But you could spend your life sipping away throughout the lake and you would never taste it all.

This is to be our lives. Paul’s prayer is that we would be immersed in the love of Christ, knowing things beyond our capacity to know, experiencing a love that exceeds our capacity to comprehend. That’s love! That’s abundant life!

Now, this is clearly bigger than anything we can conceive or accomplish. Paul explains how this “impossibility” is going to be accomplished in the soaring doxology that follows.
20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen (Eph. 3:20-21).

Don’t miss it! It’s huge. How is it that we will be able to know that which exceeds knowing? We will be able to do that because God is able to accomplish more than we even have the capacity to dream. Indeed, God’s capacity so exceeds Paul’s ability to explain that he lapses into some funny language. When Paul says “far more abundantly beyond”, he uses an odd Greek construction. He says, “huper huperekperissou”. Now, perissou is “abundantly”. The prefix, ek, means “from” or “out of”. Thus, ekperissou is “out of abundance”. Note, however, that at this point we have a prior prefix: huper. And having stripped out this prefix, I’m sure you can see that it’s repeated in the phrase. So what is this? The word is the source of our word “hyper”. In essence, Paul has said that God’s ability hyper-abundantly exceeds our ability to dream. But wait! He says it twice! So God’s ability hyper-hyper-abundantly exceeds our abilities to ask or even think. That’s huge!

But wait! It gets bigger! God’s abilities go super-super-abundantly beyond what we can imagine, but this power “works within us” (3:20)! This isn’t a strange power, a foreign power. It’s a power that is already at work within us! That is how the Father will accomplish Paul’s prayer for us to know experientially Christ’s love which exceeds our knowledge. And that is why He received the glory forever and ever. Amen!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Bride of Christ

I know ... I may not be "typical" (most people assure me I'm quite strange), but this concept of "the Bride of Christ" is at once both marvelous and, well, quite odd.

In Eph. 5, when Paul is telling husbands how to act toward their wives, he puts it this way:
25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church (Eph. 5:25-32).
As you can see, he has a running parallel between husbands and Christ -- how husbands treat their wives and how Christ treats the Church. In verse 32, he speaks of it as a great mystery. Truer words were never spoken.

In Rev. 21, there are references to the "bride of the Lamb", but, oddly enough, this refers not to the Church, but to the New Jerusalem. However, in Rev. 19:7-8 we read:
"Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready." And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

And Paul says, "I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin" (2 Cor 11:2).

So ... the Church, composed of the true believers, is the Bride of Christ. What, exactly, does that mean?

In biblical times there was a set process by which a bridegroom obtained his bride. First, he would pay the price for her. At that point, she was betrothed to him, but note that since the price was paid, "betrothed" meant much, much more than our use of the term today. She would need to keep herself pure. She was "owned", at least in a sense, and not merely her own. Most importantly, she was to wait with eager anticipation. You see, the next thing the bridegroom did was to leave. He would go to his father's house and prepare a place for her. When the time was right (and only he knew when that was), he would return for her with the sound of the trumpet and a shout and take her away to be with him.

Is any of this sounding familiar? Who paid the price for us? Who went away to prepare a place for us? Who is coming back at an unknown time to take us home to be with Him?

All of this is marvelous to think about. There are many facets to ponder. He paid the price. Amazing! He is preparing us (Eph. 5:25-27). Fantastic! He is preparing a place for us. Great! He is returning for us! Wonderful! How about this? He redeemed us "for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10), and then uses those works which He prepared beforehand as the fine linen of our wedding gown (Rev. 19:8). Simply stunning! It's truly a marvelous thing to think about.

So ... here's where I'm odd, I suppose. While I am able to describe quite nicely many of the spectacular ideas behind "the Bride of Christ", if truth be told, I just don't get it. Oh, I get what I've explained here. But there is a final step, a last connection, that is never made with me because I have never been nor will I ever be a "bride". (Lest some protest, "But you're a member of the Church, so you will be a bride", the Church as a whole is the Bride of Christ, not each and every individual member -- that would make Him a polygamist.) So while I can delight in all the great stuff I've described, there is an aspect that only brides can finally get -- the experiential aspect. Isn't that a little odd?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Utter Irony

I don't normally do two in one day, but I just had to comment on this.

Does anyone else find this ironic?

On Sept. 12, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI, in a speech at Regensburg University, Germany, said that “Islamic holy war was against God's nature and invited Muslims to join in a peaceful cultural dialogue.” Now, to be honest, it is not this statement that has drawn the most attention. It was a quote from a 14th-century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologos, about Islam that has gotten the most press. Quoting Paleologos, the pope said, “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

The response has been dramatic and predictable. Despite the fact that the pope has apologized for the comment, Islam (and not necessarily the extremist portion, but a larger cross section this time) has reacted … violently. Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a resolution condemning the remarks. Official protests have come from Palestinian authorities, Syria, Lebanon, and Iran among others. But the official responses are but the tip of the iceberg. A nun was murdered in Africa. Marchers are carrying signs about destroying Rome. Churches in various places have been attacked, Christians killed, and violence is growing.

Isn’t it ironic that a call to peaceful dialogue that includes the suggestion that Islam might have had some aspect of violence is met with violence? I mean, the pope’s point was against violence, but seems to have produced the violence that is being protested. Utter irony.

The Question of Immigration

To tell the truth, I’m somewhat torn on the question of illegal immigration.

First (first not in order of priority, but the most obvious), I believe that a nation has the right to defend/control its borders. It seems to me that only socialism would argue this point. Unless we are required somehow to share all that we have with the world, it seems obvious that we Americans have the right to determine who comes into this country and who does not. As far as I know, every other country controls who comes in and who doesn’t. Isn’t the United States afforded the same right?

And in that vein, why are we required to pay for all the benefits of living in America for those who are here illegally? As an example, we are currently facing a serious health crisis in our hospitals because the federal government has mandated that emergency rooms must treat anyone who comes to them regardless of their immigration status or ability to pay. As a result, many immigrants have used the emergency rooms of America as primary care facilities, foisting off all payment to someone else. The government has tried to work on this problem by passing Medicare legislation that allows reimbursement to hospitals for the treatment of these cases, but it isn’t working. From 1995 to 2000, for instance, 23 hospitals closed in California alone, citing primarily financial difficulties brought on by non-payment for care in emergency rooms. From 2001 to 2004, another 25 California hospitals closed, again due to financial difficulties. In Arizona, there is only one trauma center available for the entire southern portion of the state, located in Tucson. Why? It’s because of the proximity of the border and the nearly constant flow of illegal aliens through the emergency rooms. Maintaining a trauma center is just becoming too costly for many hospitals.

But emergency rooms are only part of the problem. It is reported that illegal immigration currently costs Arizonans $1.3 billion for emergency medical care, education and incarceration. Californians pay $10.5 billion, and Texans pay another $4.6 billion. Nationally, it is estimated that illegal immigrants are paid $75 billion in welfare per year. Other costs amount to anywhere between $30 billion to $50 billion a year. Beyond the financial impact, 29% of inmates in federal prisons are in this country illegally, and studies suggest that cities with a higher influx of illegal immigrants suffer from twice the violent crime rate of those with lower influx.

Counting this cost, I feel the ire rising over this assault on our nation’s borders. I want to march, to campaign, to join the Minutemen or shake Washington out of its lethargy. This is wrong. It’s not fair; it’s not right.

But there is another side to it. I’m a Christian. Christians are supposed to care for the poor. We are supposed to give to the needy. We are supposed to be the compassionate ones. Who is it that is invading our country? It’s the poorest of the poor, the low-skilled, the native poor, desperately seeking something beyond starving to death. I’ve known some of these illegal aliens. They aren’t here to break the law; they’re here to make ends meet. They are sending money back home so mom and pop don’t starve. They are working two and three jobs, living in crowded conditions, trying their best to just get by because in their countries they weren’t. How can a compassionate Christian complain about the cost? How do I manage my American outrage and my Christian concern? How can I, a follower of Christ, suggest turning away a poor family seeking medical attention for their little baby? Is it just to turn people away because they're not Americans?

So, I’m torn. How do I correlate my beliefs as an American with my beliefs as a Christian? Many will toss one for the other. I don’t think I have to do that. Where is the center line? Where is the balance? I haven’t quite found that spot yet, so you won’t likely find me on the border with the Minutemen or marching with the illegal aliens anytime soon.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Troglodytes in Arizona

The cactus wren is the Arizona state bird. Well, of course it is ... cactus wren. Cactus wrens are the largest North American wren, getting up to 9 inches long, and range from southern California, to northern Mexico, from western Texas to southern Nevada and into Utah. While sometimes they will use an empty hole in a saguaro for a nest, generally they build unusual nests of grass, straw, and whatever other materials they can find and line them with feathers. These nests are unusual because they are completely enclosed with only a side entrance to protect the babies from predators. They like to build these nests in prickly environments like a cactus for protection and support. Generally they will build multiple nests. They will use one for roosting, another for their young, and others simply as decoys. Then they will have up to three broods of up to six babies a season. They generally mate for life.

The cactus wren is well suited for the desert environment. It eats bugs like beetles, wasps, grasshoppers, and ants, some plant foods like fruits and seeds, and sometimes small lizards or frogs. Most of their water needs are met in the food they eat.

Cactus wrens are camouflaged for their environment, but still highly visible. It’s very difficult to tell a male from a female, as their colorations are nearly identical. One of their distinctions from other birds is the white and black stripes over their eyes. They are very curious birds – in fact, quite brave. Other birds take flight at the first sign of danger, but they will stay around if there is food to be had. They will explore anything new in their territory. Leave a window open on your car, and their likely to hop inside to take a look.

These birds are quite territorial and will defend their nests with violence. They have been known to attack predators, using the defenses of their nesting environments (cactus) to impale the invaders. They may also attack nests of other birds in the area and seem to enjoy harassing dogs or cats in their territory.

They’re very noisy birds with a large “vocabulary”. They have a distinctive call – their best known sound is heard in soundtracks for movies set in desert locations – but also seem to have a variety of noises they use to communicate with one another.

(Oh, about the title. Cactus wrens are of the Troglodytidae family. In the field of birds, “troglodyte” refers to any number of small wrens.)

Cactus wrens are interesting and unusual. They are complex and designed for their environment. And they cry, with their existence, for a Designer, seeming to thumb their noses at the bizarre notion that this “just happened by chance”.

(Note: I took all the pictures in this post.)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Entitled to Happiness?

Some of you may have heard of Dennis Prager. He is a radio talk show host and an ethicist. He has written a book entitled Happiness Is A Serious Problem. One of the things he points out in this book is that one of the primary impediments to our happiness is our own foolish thinking. We have an "entitlement" mentality that expects a lot rather than expecting a little.

Now, think about how this works. You expect a raise at work. You go into the boss's office and he says, "I'm sorry, but we don't have the money to give you a raise." What is your reaction? You're angry. You expected a raise and you didn't get it. Now, rewind. You walk into your boss's office and he says, "Good news! I got you a 3% raise!" You're not exactly thrilled because, hey, it's what you expected. So in neither condition are you happy. Now, back up to the beginning again and change the expectations. You do not expect a raise. Now you go into the boss's office and he says, "I'm sorry, but we don't have the money to give you a raise." What is your reaction this time? Hey, no big deal; it's what you expected. You liked your job yesterday and nothing has changed today. But rewind and try it again. He says, "Good news! I got you a 3% raise!" This time you're thrilled. You were expecting nothing and got a raise! Woo hoo!! Life is good. A raise!

I don't know if you have noticed, but most people have a deficiency of contentment. Things are just not right somehow. Their spouse should be more. Their job should be more. That raise should have been more. They deserve better. And so on. The reason for this discontentment is primarily this entitlement thinking. It creates unrealistic expectations and then robs you of happiness no matter what happens. If we could just get to the place where our expectations were lower, we would find joy at every turn.

Paul writes this astounding claim to the Philippians:
I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:11-13).

Contentment in whatever circumstances. Now that's something. The circumstances do not provide the contentment. The expectations do not decide what is acceptable. Instead, Paul had learned (key term) to be content in whatever circumstances he found himself.

When I was in my teens, they took me to a seminar called The Institute of Basic Youth Conflicts. There were a variety of topics, but one was "anger". Bill Gothard taught that the reason we get angry is that we have ... a sense of entitlement. We have "rights", and when our "rights" are violated, we get angry. If we could relinquish those "rights", we wouldn't be angry. Gothard also taught that lowered expectations were a good thing. He told of a woman, a single mother, who came to him with a problem. "My adult son lives with me, and I've been supporting him until he gets a job. I injured myself at work last week and the doctor tells me I can't go back to work. My son won't go get a job. What am I going to do?" Gothard asked her, "What's the worst that can happen?" "Well, we would run out of money for food." "And then?" "We would starve." "And then?" "We would die!" "And then?" "We would ... go to heaven." "And how is that bad?" The lady went home and told her son, "I can't work anymore; prepare to die." She reported back to Gothard that her son went out the next day, got a job, and is now supporting them both. Lowered expectations lead to gratitude.

Maybe we need to lower our expectations. Maybe we need to learn to trust in Christ rather than demanding what we think is our due. We're promised things in Scripture, things like suffering and being hated along with "peace that passes understanding". Maybe we ought to begin the process of learning to trust Him rather than demanding our rights and entitlements. Wouldn't it be nice to learn contentment rather than anger and ingratitude?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Trinitarian Orthodoxy

Centuries ago the debate was ended. Several Trinitarian formulas were laid down, the anti-Trinitarian heretics were answered, and the question was over. God is one, and God is three. There are fine points, specific wording, and lots of Scripture. In today's world, however, tradition is valueless, history is meaningless, and orthodoxy is irrelevant. The objections to the doctrine are back in force.

Here's the question I have ... and I mean it's a question. I've argued with myself back and forth and can't come up with a clear answer. This is my question: Is it possible to deny the Trinity and be a Christian?

I worded that carefully. I don't mean that it's required to believe in the Trinity to be saved. When the Philippian jailer asked, "What must I do to be saved?", Paul didn't offer a Trinitarian formula. But Christ said, "My sheep know My voice", and He told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would lead them into all truth. So I don't ask if it's possible not to believe in the Trinity and be saved; I ask if it's possible to deny the Trinity and be saved. Is it possible that a believer, joined to Christ, indwelt by the Spirit, could be presented with the biblical doctrine of the Trinity and deny it. Okay, let's back it up even a little more. Is it possible to continue to deny it and be saved? (I understand change comes slowly sometimes.)

I'm torn on the question. It's not offered as a tenet of faith without which you cannot be saved. No such thing. And it's not like Christians aren't wrong on other things. We're all wrong at times. We're all slow to come to "all truth". Indeed, I don't think any of us ever actually arrive. So I lean toward "Yes, it's possible to deny the Trinity and be saved."

On the other hand, we're not talking about fine points here. We're talking about the nature of God. If one is wrong on the fundamental nature of God, can they be worshiping the same God? A Jehovah's Witness that denies the deity of Christ is not worshiping the same Christ that a Trinitarian is, and Paul said, "No one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3). This use of the term "Lord" references "Yah" or YHWH, so Paul said that when you have the Holy Spirit, you will call Jesus "Lord God". A Mormon believes that Jesus was the brother of Satan. This is not the same Jesus of Hebrews which claims that Jesus was not in the same class as angelic beings (Heb. 1). Or, easier yet, a follower of Islam believes in Jesus, but this Jesus is a prophet, not the Son of God Himself. This is not the same Jesus of the Bible. So I lean toward "No, it's not possible to deny the Trinity and be saved."

I'm torn on the question. I can see arguments in either direction. It concerns me in these days when fundamental Trinitarian Orthodoxy is being assaulted again. Is it under assault by well-meaning Christians? Or is it under assault by folks who are deceived into believing they are Christians but are not? Now, mind you, it doesn't matter to me. I know the truth regarding the Trinity. And whether or not those assaulting it are Christians doesn't change it. What matters is if it is not possible to deny the Trinity and be saved, there are people who believe themselves to be saved who are not, and it is for them that I am concerned. Now, if only I could settle the question in my mind.

Friday, September 15, 2006

To the Praise of His Glory

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:3-14).

I’ve been reading over this passage for days now. Oh, I read on, but I keep coming back to it. It’s just an astounding passage.

Do what you want with it. I’ve heard so many arguments on it. Here is just a sample. “Oh, you see the ‘us’ in the first part is different than the ‘you’ that starts at verse 13. The ‘us’ refers to the Jews as those chosen before the foundation of the world, but the ‘you’ refers to today’s Christians who are not.” “You see, ‘chosen before the foundation of the world’ refers only to those who are ‘in Christ’. No one is chosen before they are ‘in Christ’.” “Yeah, sure, that ‘works all things after the counsel of His will’ is a nice idea, but the Bible often uses ‘all things’ without actually referring to ‘all things’. This doesn’t mean that God actually works all things after the counsel of His will.” “You may believe that ‘sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise’ means that your salvation is secure, but you can break the seal any time you want.” And those are just a few examples.

Fine. Those who wish to argue over it may do so. As for me, I am going to marvel in the vast expanse of it. What do I see? I see “has blessed” (v. 3) as a “past tense” statement, meaning that these aren’t pending blessings, but bestowed blessings. I see that God’s ultimate and repeated goal is “the praise of His glory” (v. 6, 12, 14). (When something is repeated in Scripture, it likely means it is being emphasized.) I see that the focus, the intent, the primary operator of all of these blessings is Christ (See how many times “in Christ” or the equivalent is used – v. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10 (2x), 12, 13.) I see the absolute sovereignty of God (v. 4, 5, 11). And what blessings! Chosen, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, insight, inheritance, sealed!

Others can argue over the fine points, the applicability, the intent. I think I’m just going to bask in the wonder of it “to the praise of His glory”.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Truth on the Pool Deck

You can learn things in odd places. Yesterday I got a glimpse of a truth on my pool deck.

We have a pool (living in the desert, it's almost a must) and we have birds around. So, of course, this necessitates a regular cleaning of the decking. Of course, my lazy self realized "This deck isn't really all that dirty. I mean, sure, there are spots here and there, but there is far more area that's clean that what's dirty."

My wife? She would have none of it. If there are droppings, they must be cleaned. They must be cleaned until there isn't one single bit left. Perfection -- that's what's required.

And it dawned on me that these are the two views that are held in regards to our lives. Us? We're the lazy ones. We look at things comparatively. We see our lives and say, "There's more clean than dirty" and we're mostly satisfied. But God looks and won't settle for anything less than perfection. Every last dropping has to go.

I suspect the difference is that we don't understand the holy. The holy doesn't compromise on sin. And God is not merely holy -- He's holy, holy, holy. With us there is "good enough", to our own shame. But God's standard is perfection.

Fortunately we can rely on the perfection of His Son.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

And then ...?

I see these kinds of stickers a lot.

They speak volumes, far more than the owner expects, I think. Here's what they say to me.

1. I'm really unclear on the concept. "The war" references American troops in Iraq (or, perhaps, Iraq and Afghanistan). To "stop" it, you simply bring our troops home. I'm not aware that the real war, Islamic Fascism against the civilized world, won't be phased at all by such a move. I'm not thinking beyond the immediate battle going on in one geographical location of the world.

2. I'm really unconcerned about anyone other than the select few. Sure, if we withdrew our troops there would be a bloody civil war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that's not my concern. Sure, the move would likely embolden anti-American sentiment by demonstrating that we can't be trusted and won't carry through, but that's not my concern. All I care about is getting those troops of ours home, and the rest of the world and its opinion of my country and my people be hanged.

3. I'm not able to think much beyond the immediate. People are dying, so I'm unhappy. The need to defend others, what the world perception would be if we interrupted our course, how the anti-American terrorists would use such a move against us, and the chilling ramifications of pulling out before finishing the task at hand are all irrelevant to me. People are dying, so I'm unhappy. Maybe they'll come later and start killing more of us, believing that we are spineless and unwilling to defend ourselves, but we can deal with that when it happens.

"Stop the War" is a nice sentiment, but extremely short-sighted. Beyond "bring our troops home now", does anyone have a suggestion on how we deal with the ongoing war against our civilization by Islamic fascists? Beyond "bring our troops home now", does anyone have a recommendation as to how to save the Iraqi people from the power hungry factions that would tear the country apart without our presence? Beyond "Get rid of Bush", is there a helpful proposal to retain some respect in the world when we suddenly withdraw and leave struggling nations to fend for themselves and demonstrate to our enemies that we don't have the fortitude to stand for anything? Or is "Stop the War" the best we have?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bashing Bush

I have to wonder, sometimes. How far can we go?

Overheard the other day at work: “Well, he did steal the election in 2000. It’s no wonder he’s such a loser president now.”

The conversation was between two PhD types, not lightweight thinkers. For some reason I expected more intelligence out of them. But what would you expect from university types?

But cruise through the Christian blogs and you’ll find the same sort of anti-Bush rhetoric with reasonable frequency. Somehow that surprises me more. Maybe it shouldn’t. It just seems like the Bible sees things differently.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience (Rom. 13:1-5).

I’m wondering how a believer is “subject to the governing authorities” while ridiculing, insulting, and decrying them. It doesn’t work in my head.
I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:1-4).

Yes, I know, it is possible to insult someone while lifting them up in prayer, supplication, intercession, and thanksgiving, but somehow it seems counterproductive. Aren’t the two concepts actually in opposition?

We live in a republic. We get to vote people into office. We need to recognize bad government and vote on it. I have to wonder, though, how far we can go with that. Do Christians have the right or even obligation to speak with disrespect and unkindness about the authorities that God has placed over us? Do American principles of the democratic process override biblical principles of respect and love? Or am I missing something here? It just bothers me.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Foxholes and Christians

(I wrote this in the days following Sep. 11, 2001. I wrote it for myself. Not too many others have seen it. But on this, the 5th anniversary, I thought I'd share it with others. It's longer than my normal post. I think it's worth it.)

The events of September 11 and following have been shocking, frightening, unnerving, devastating. They have stirred emotions and responses that one wouldn’t have found a week before the aircraft hit those buildings and killed thousands of Americans. In the aftermath, an interesting series of events has unfolded. A resounding “God bless America!” has been shouted around the country that has resoundingly evicted God from America. The masses have flocked to prayer services. Leadership has called on God for support. The President has declared that God is on our side. The old saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes”, has been demonstrated once again. My question, however, isn’t about these frightened people who are turning to God in time of trouble. My question is about Christians. In this new surge of spirituality, what is the Church offering? What are the Christians doing in the foxholes?

The public responses have been embarrassing at best. One Christian leader has stated that America got what it deserved. This is a running theme in many churches. We are a decadent country, and God is judging America. Others are backpedaling. “God didn’t have anything to do with this,” they assure us. “God is a gentleman.” Some religious leaders are on a similar bandwagon. “This isn’t God’s fault – it’s the fault of Man’s Free Will.” Private responses have been similar. Christians have responded with everything from “Kill ‘em all and let God sort it out” to “God loves everyone and would never allow this to occur.” So, with this gaping national wound bleeding from our televisions and a mad rush for support and answers to the best place to find support and answers – the Church – all we have to offer is either an angry God who smites His enemies or an uninvolved God who was just as appalled as we were and wishes He could have done something about it.

What ever happened to the God of the Bible? This God seems to be a different sort of God than the one of which we’re hearing from Christians. This is what God says about Himself in the words of Scripture:
Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the vault of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. Scarcely have they been planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, but He merely blows on them, and they wither, and the storm carries them away like stubble. "To whom then will you liken Me that I should be his equal?" says the Holy One (Isa. 40:21-25).

Have you not heard? Long ago I did it, from ancient times I planned it. Now I have brought it to pass, that you should turn fortified cities into ruinous heaps. Therefore their inhabitants were short of strength, they were dismayed and put to shame; they were as the vegetation of the field and as the green herb, as grass on the housetops is scorched before it is grown up (Isa. 37:26-27).

I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these (Isa. 45:6-7).

These are words from Isaiah, but they are God speaking about Himself. He says that from His viewpoint human beings are “like grasshoppers”. He says that He “reduces rulers to nothing”. He says that He destroys their crops. He says that He plans to destroy their fortified cities, and He brings it to pass. In Isaiah 45, God Himself declares that He creates calamity. This is the image God is presenting concerning Himself.

Does God cause bad things? It is important, in answering the question, that we understand that God does not cause sin. Very clearly, “God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” (James 1:13) But don’t be deceived into believing that God does not cause unpleasant events. He says He creates calamity. And even in the sin of Man, God is not out of control. He doesn’t cause evil, but He surely ordains it. Our clearest proof is our most blessed event, the death of Christ. No sin was more heinous than Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Christ. Of this event, Jesus said, “For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" (Luke 22:22) In other words, God planned for Judas to do what Judas would do. It was foreordained. Judas still bore the responsibility of his choice (“Woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!"), but his sin did not mean a deviation from God’s plan.

Do not be deceived. God is sovereign. He plans the events that bring us happiness. He plans the events that bring us sorrow. It is all in His hand, and it is good.

Solomon writes on the same topic in Ecclesiastes.
Consider the work of God, for who is able to straighten what He has bent? In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider -- God has made the one as well as the other so that man may not discover anything that will be after him (Eccl. 7:13-14).

Solomon claims that God has made both the day of prosperity and the day of adversity. He claims that God does it for a reason.

Interestingly, throughout Scripture we see people who understand this and accept it. Job says, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). We would look puzzled at Job. “The Lord took away? And you say He is to be blessed?” But God’s perspective on Job’s comment is “Through all this Job did not sin” (Job 1:22). We see the same concept from Sarah in Genesis. She tells her husband, “The Lord has made me barren” (Gen. 16:2). Clearly Sarah is not happy about it, but there are two features present that we lack today. First is the absolute certainty that God is in charge. It wasn’t “a fluke of nature” or “a string of bad luck”. The Lord did it. The second is that, while she may not have liked the condition, she accepted it and worked with it rather than complaining. She worked in the wrong direction, but to her it was not “unfair” of God to do what He had done. To her, God had the perfect right to do what He would do, and He did.

This God is a different God from is being offered to many within the Church today. This God is a God who is intimately involved in everyday existence. This God doesn’t retreat from saying “I am the One creating calamity.” Instead we read that God “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). David rejoiced in the knowledge that God had ordained all his days (Psa. 139:16).

Consider Daniel’s viewpoint of his God:
The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god (Dan. 1:2).

This is a key example of God at work. Today’s Christian would say “God does not do bad things; these things are caused by Man’s sinful Free Will.” The events described in Daniel are as bad as they come. Judah was overrun and sent into captivity. The Temple was overrun and its holy vessels were put to profane use in a pagan temple. It doesn’t get any worse. But Daniel starts with the very clear statement as to who was in charge in all of this. “The Lord gave” them over. It wasn’t pleasant, and it wasn’t pretty, but this same Daniel who believed that God had actually given His people into captivity and His holy vessels into pagan use still stood firm in his faith, as evidenced by the rest of the book of Daniel. In Daniel’s view, God Himself brought all this to pass, and in Daniel’s view God was allowed to do so – it was “fair”.

Consider Jeremiah’s viewpoint of his God:
He has filled me with bitterness, He has made me drunk with wormwood. And He has broken my teeth with gravel; He has made me cower in the dust. And my soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness. So I say, "My strength has perished, and so has my hope from the LORD."

Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him." The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man that he should bear the yoke in his youth (Lam. 3:15-27).

Here we have Jeremiah standing in the ruins of his homeland. There is no doubt that Jeremiah is unhappy. Faith in God’s sovereignty does not necessarily mean bliss. He says he has no peace. He says that he has even lost hope. Then something occurs to him that renews his hope. What is that? “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness.” We know these words. They’re in our songs. But Jeremiah lived them. He understood that nothing around him brought comfort; nothing around him gave reason for hope that circumstances would improve. His single source of hope was in the simple, sure confidence that God was God. While we clamor for joy or peace or blessing, Jeremiah said, “I’ve lost all that . . . but God is good enough.” Paul says the same thing. “I count all things as loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ.” (Phil. 3:8) Knowing God is enough.

Consider Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s viewpoint of their God:
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Dan. 3:16-18).

These three men stood on the brink of disaster. They were about to suffer a horrible death. So hot was the fire they were to face that it killed those who threw them into it. They spoke confidently, as we would have our heroes do. “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire.” “You tell them, guys,” we cheer. “God can deliver you. Trust in Him.” We’re behind them. But they aren’t lost in a false sense of “God only wants us to be comfortable”. They recognize that this may not be His plan. “Even if He does not . . . we are not going to serve your gods.” Here we would typically draw the line. If God, in our estimation, is going to be fair to these guys, He must reward their faithfulness to Him by saving them. To do otherwise would not be right. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego disagree. To them, God decides who lives and who dies, and God is just in doing so. His saving them from the fire is not the expected result of their faith. To them, this is right. Their God is the One who decides. Their God is right in what He decides.

This is not the vengeful God being portrayed on one end, the “hands off” God in the middle, or the “He loves us too much” God being offered on the other end. This is the God who is intimately involved in the everyday existence of human beings. This is the sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient God who brings both affliction and comfort, justice and mercy. This God answers our cries of “That’s not fair!” with the simple retort, “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” (Rom. 9:20) This God grants us suffering (Phil. 1:29). This is the God who leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. There may be painful and frightening things in this valley, but “I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” This is the sovereign Lord who “comforts us in all our afflictions” (2 Cor. 1:4) and provides a peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4:7) by never leaving or forsaking us (Heb. 13:5). We don’t have confidence in God because He makes us comfortable. We have confidence in God because He is God, because He is sovereign, and because He will always do what is best.

We have attempted to “fill in the blanks” where God is concerned, and we have failed badly. When some in Jesus’ day tried to do that, Jesus responded accordingly:
Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He answered and said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:1-5).

Jesus’ disciples made the same mistake with the man born blind.
His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:2 3).

In both cases, people grossly misjudged the circumstances. As Job’s “friends” who gathered to inform him that his suffering was the result of his sin, these assumed that bad things do not happen to good people. The premise is “If something bad happens to you, it’s because you did something wrong.” Jesus disagrees. “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate?” Jesus makes two clear points. First, not all unhappy events are punishment from God. Second, we all deserve unhappy events. We have tricked ourselves into believing that we deserve pleasant circumstances, and God is unfair or angry if we don’t get them. What we have missed is that we deserve Hell, and any pleasant event in life is an act of sheer grace on God’s part.

In fact, Jesus holds that unpleasant events can actually be God’s plan, “in order that the works of God might be displayed.” From the perspective of our Lord Jesus, our dire circumstances are God’s opportunity to shine, to display His power, to show His strength. God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). We view our pain and suffering as things to escape. God views them as opportunities for Him to declare His glory.

Did God judge America? Perhaps. Or did He merely withdraw His hand of protection? Could be. But it is folly to try to explain God’s intent in the events of September 11 without a specific word from God. It is foolish to assume, for instance, that they are God’s judgments and chastening for specific sins. Instead, we need to recognize that every bad thing that happens is part of God’s curse upon humanity for our rebellion against Him in our father Adam. We dwell in a cursed world. So we should not jump to the conclusion that all bad things that happen are God’s acts of retribution for specific sinful actions. Jesus’ teaching in Luke 13:1-5 makes this clear. Every evil that befalls us beckons us to return to God Himself. We need to flee the anemic God offered by our therapeutic culture who loves everybody without discrimination. We need to flee the irate God of the other view that capriciously smites His enemies with wild abandon. The God we need is the God of Daniel, who sovereignly ordains calamity for good purposes. The God we need is the God of Jeremiah who removes tranquility while remaining faithful. The God we need is the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who may not meet our expectations of what we might like, but is certainly to be trusted to perform what is best. We need to see, with Joseph, that “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). This God is not a powerless god who cannot intervene, nor is He a “gentleman” who does not intervene. He is not subject to Man’s Free Will nor given to fits of temper. He is the LORD God Almighty (Rev. 4:8), the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 17:14), the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (Rev. 22:13). He is God of all, over all, through all, and in all (Eph. 4:5), for Whom and through Whom are all things (Heb. 2:10).

It is only in that sovereign, good, faithful God that we can find a peace that passes understanding in times of harsh crisis, and it is only that God that we can offer to the hurting world around us. Any other God is not God at all, but a caricature of the True God – an idol carved by human hands.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

If we're worthless, why would He die for us?

Gina from Refreshment in Refuge asked an excellent question. “If we are completely and totally worthless, why did Christ die for us? Why would Christ die for something worthless?” It’s the obvious question to my Truth in Advertising post from yesterday. And it’s a very valid question.

Yesterday I said that the value we do have is extrinsic – applied by God. So we aren’t worthless; we are simply worthless intrinsically. But there is more to the answer, and it’s something that I find quite exciting, so I will share it with you.

Paul’s epistle to Titus opens with this:

Paul, a bond-servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, but at the proper time manifested, even His word, in the proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the commandment of God our Savior; to Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior (Titus 1:1-4).
The highlighted portion is verse 2. The literal translation of “long ages ago” is “before times” or “before the world began”. In other words, before there was time, before there was anything but God, God made a promise. Two points here: 1) If God made a promise before there was anything, to whom did He make this promise. 2) What did He promise?

Before time there was only one entity: God. He existed in His Triune perfection. In this passage, Paul gives us a glimpse into an inter-Trinity exchange that occurs prior to anything being created. In other words, God promises … Himself.

What is promised? What promise did God make to Himself? The “hope”, referenced in verse two, references eternal life, but eternal life for whom? The eternal life promised before time began was for “the chosen of God”. So before time began God promised Himself an elect group to save for eternal life. The exchange isn’t given verbatim, but I imagine it would go something like this, based on the text. “Son, I’m going to make you a promise. We are going to make a Creation. Of that Creation, I am going to make for you a Bride. This Bride will be spotless, perfect, just for you. The only catch is that You will have to die for her. How’s that?” And the Son says, “Perfect! Thank You.” And so begins Creation.

Now, let me bring this down a step so we can contemplate it a moment. The Bride – the Church – is the Father’s love gift to the Son. Imagine, for a moment, that my wife loves orchids. So I decide to give her an orchid for her birthday. (To anyone who knows orchids, I apologize. I don’t. If I mess up on the particulars, bear with me. It’s simply an illustration.) So long before her birthday, I buy seeds and I plant orchids. I keep this orchid in a safe place. I keep it properly watered, properly fed. I give it exactly what it needs and tend to everything required to make this the perfect gift for my wife. Now, imagine this orchid is a special orchid because it is sentient … it can think. What do you suppose this orchid would be thinking? “Wow, I must be really, really special. Look at all this guy does for me. He takes care of my every need. He makes sure everything is good. He cares for me daily. I must be very, very special.” Is the orchid right? Or is it wrong? The correct answer is “Yes”. The orchid is wrong in the sense that the orchid itself is not very special. The orchid is right because as it is a love gift, it holds special value. In other words, because I love my wife, I love this orchid. If I didn’t love my wife, the orchid wouldn’t be of any great value.

This is us. God cares for us, tends to us, ensures that all things work together for good, feeds us, clothes us – gives every indication that we are of great value. The truth is that in and of ourselves we are not of any great value, but because the Father loves the Son, we are of tremendous value because we are the love gift the Father has promised to the Son. We think of ourselves as valuable. Our shortsightedness confuses us. The Father sees His Son as of ultimate worth and therefore places value in us commensurate with that.

That, to me, is very exciting. To be a love gift to the Son is exciting. To know that the Father will ensure the success of this gift is very exciting. Or think about this: The value placed on me is not based on me, which makes it impossible to lose. That's exciting. It puts me in the proper perspective, my proper place, and gives me great comfort. And for me, it answers the question Gina asked.

One last thought on the topic. Some time ago I read one atheist's protest to the existence of God. His argument was that if God exists, He is immoral. Here was his reasoning. Imagine a man sitting by the pool, reading. A 2-year-old comes in and falls into the pool. The man notices, but doesn't jump in to save her. That's immoral. The fundamental flaw in this argument is in the equating of us with God. The story makes us "2-year-old" gods. God is mandated to save us because we are so valuable. If we are as valuable as we seem to think we are, then the story has merit.

Let me suggest a more fitting parallel. The man is sitting by his pool, reading. A swarm of angry mosquitos descend, intent on killing the man. They misjudge their attack and wind up in the pool, drowning. What must the man do? Nothing ... nothing at all. He is under no obligation to save drowning, hostile bugs. There is no intrinisic value in a swarm of mosquitos. So if he gets up and decides to pull a few out just because he's merciful, that's an amazing thing, not an obligation. It is my belief that until we get this, we are going to be missing the magnificence of grace and mercy and suffering from the lack of gratitude that arrogance brings.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Truth in Advertising

I've already stated that I believe the “self-esteem movement” is a lie we've bought. What, then, would I suggest in its stead? I would suggest the truth.

In Romans 1:18 we read this from the pen of Paul:
The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness
It would appear from this that one of our primary problems as human beings is that we tend to suppress the truth. On the other hand, Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). So I don't think I'm overstepping my bounds when I suggest that the better course than “self-esteem” is the truth.

This is what we see Paul commanding. He tells us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Instead he tells us to “think soberly” -- to have sound judgment. What, then, is the truth as it relates to our self and our worth?

1) I recently posted an entry against “groupthink” and the dangers of lumping large groups of people together. Here is one of the exceptions. The truth is “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). We are sinners, deserving damnation. We are under the just wrath of God.

2) God, out of His marvelous grace, has placed worth on human beings. In Genesis, God institutes the death penalty because “in the image of God He made man” (Gen. 9:6). The point here is that man has no intrinsic value, but God has placed extrinsic value of His own choosing.

3) Because God has chosen to value His creation, God has provided a means of escaping His just wrath. It is His will to demonstrate His wrath and power (Rom. 9:22), but He also wishes to demonstrate mercy to some (Rom. 9:23). This group who are under His mercy rather than His wrath have a special place, called “the Bride of Christ”, and, as such, special worth. This worth, again, is not intrinsic, but applied by God.

4) From a purely human perspective, each person has gifts, talents, abilities ... and shortcomings. If we lie to ourselves regarding either, we are not free. If, in the name of “self-esteem”, we tell ourselves we are good at things that we are not, we are not free. If, in the name of “self-esteem”, we deny our failings and shortcomings, we are not free. Only a truthful evaluation -- “sound judgment” -- will do.

We need to remind ourselves that we are not intrinsically valuable, but that God places value in us and, as such, we are of inestimable value to Him. We need to remind ourselves that we have God-given abilities -- each of us -- and not deny them. We need to remind ourselves that we each have shortcomings, failures, and not deny them. If we can keep this balance, this “sound judgment” concerning ourselves, it will serve as part of the truth that sets us free.

A final thought on “self-esteem”. Is it remotely possible that the high numbers of people who suffer from low self-esteem is simply due to the fact that there is within each of us a recognition of our sinfulness and, because of it, our own intrinsic worthlessness? In other words, is it possible that a “low self-esteem” is simply the truth? Just a thought.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Self-Esteem (AKA Over-inflated Egos)

We all know about self-esteem. It is one of the leading problems in our society today. Some have estimated that upwards of 90% of Americans suffer from self-esteem problems. Such maladies as intolerance, disrespect, lack of motivation, contempt, blame-shifting, and many, many others are the result of low self-esteem. Poor self-esteem is to blame for “violence, alcoholism, drug abuse, eating disorders, school dropouts, teenage pregnancy, suicide, and low academic achievement” (NASE). There are books written about it, studies made about it, and even a National Association of Self-Esteem to counteract the situation. Low self-esteem is a real problem.

What is self-esteem? Self-esteem is part of how you value yourself, how you think about yourself, and how you act in response to these. The basic concept is that of worth. A healthy self-esteem, they say, is one that views oneself as worthwhile and competent. A person who thinks of himself as not worth much or not very competent would be said to have low self-esteem, and this breeds problems.

Funny thing … although it is a major problem in today’s world, there isn’t a single mention of it in Scripture. Oh, there is a mention of the opposite problem, but not a whisper regarding low self-esteem. That seems odd.

Paul warns, “I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment” (Rom. 12:3). One doesn’t have to search far in Scripture to find out that pride is a problem, that arrogance is a sin, and that thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought is not a good thing. Why is it that we don’t find anything about thinking too lowly of ourselves?

This morning I read this: “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Gal. 6:3). Now, Paul, that's not kind. How are we going to build up self-esteem if you suggest that people really are nothing? That won't work.

I think we have bought a lie. I think that we've bought a nice-sounding perspective that encourages everyone to think of themselves as good, worthy people. I think that the biblical perspective is more along the lines of David's words in Psa. 22:6 -- “I am a worm and not a man.” And Bildad rightly says “If even the moon has no brightness and the stars are not pure in His sight, how much less man, that maggot, and the son of man, that worm!” (Job 25:5-6). Instead of having intrinsic value, the Bible portrays us as “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (Rom. 9:22). Paul quotes the Scriptures as saying:
As it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good, there is not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12).

That's quite an indictment. Try to place "you are a good and worthwhile person" over against that, and you'll have a collision of thought. I think the “self-esteem movement” has its origins in someplace other than God's perspective.

Now, this subject is larger than this simple post, so I'll address more of it tomorrow. I simply ask that we consider the possibility that the Bible disagrees with our modern drive for “better self-esteem”. I simply ask that we consider that we generally suffer from the opposite syndrome -- arrogance.