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Sunday, August 31, 2008

What Makes a Church?

"Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel," declares the LORD. "Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land," declares the LORD. "Work, for I am with you," declares the LORD of hosts (Haggai 2:3-4).
It's an interesting passage. Israelites had come home from Babylon to begin rebuilding Jerusalem and the Temple. They worked ... for awhile. Then they stopped work on the Temple. The "old guys" were standing around, clucking their tongues. "Not much to look at," they were saying. "I remember the original Temple. Now that was something. Nope, not much here." And God steps in ...

We see a lot of this these days. Church is changing. Forms are shifting. And, yes, there are declines in doctrine -- no doubt. But just as often as not, it isn't a matter of doctrinal impurity. It's a matter of "I remember the old way ... it was much better." It's a matter of people who don't like new things. They look around and find "biblical reasons" why there shouldn't be drums in church or video projectors or praise bands. Why aren't people wearing ties or dresses for church anymore??!! The reasons are weak, sparce, vague. The truth is that they don't like it, so they'll try to match their preference with their Bible and come up with a mandate. "We never had drums in church before ... the old way was much better." They're the 21st century version of these people in Haggai.

What is it that makes "church"? It's very simple. "I am with you." A church is made when God is there. Funny thing. The church isn't made when a building has a steeple. It isn't made when there are pretty stained-glass windows. It isn't made with a piano and organ, nor is it built on a hot "praise band" and a dynamic preacher. A church is made by the presence of God. "I am with you."

We get confused sometimes. We don't like change. Sometimes we venture out and decide to define things that God defines differently. Sometimes we "stand for truth", not realizing we're actually standing for preference.

God makes the church. He says, "I am with you." Interestingly, He actually says, "Work, for I am with you." Before you start complaining about things in the church, remember that "former glory" is no measure; "I am with you" is.

For those of you facing similar hardships in your personal lives, it works that way in individuals, too. Artificial limitations and self-made standards limit us. On the other hand, if God is with you, you can know that the work will be valuable. Of that new, "lesser" Temple, Haggai this:
"The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former," says the LORD of hosts. "And in this place I will give peace," declares the LORD of hosts. (Hag. 2:9).
Don't limit your church to your perceptions that "the old way is better." Don't define church as "the way I like it." And don't think for a minute that your work in life will be inconsequential if God is with you.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Solving the Energy Crisis

Yeah, this is a long post, so I put it on a Saturday ... you know, when most people won't read it ...

The nation is up in arms. We need to save the planet! One of the key considerations for any presidential candidate is "What will he do about global warming?" The only allowable answer, of course, is to put an end to our use of fossil fuels. Al Gore has called for us to be fossil-fuel free (at least in energy generation) in 10 years. Global warming is clearly caused by us driving cars fueled by petroleum products and by producing energy using petroleum products and all that our Industrial Age is doing to ... well ... make things while spewing "greenhouse gases" (a term we all know but, I suspect, don't really know how to define). So, the answer, it seems, is "alternative energy".

It's a simple answer. We all know what that means. T. Boone Pickens, a legendary oil and gas executive, says that all we really need to do is switch to wind and solar power. We, of course, know that he's being a bit simplistic. We need to switch to electric cars, too. Changing electricity production isn't the only problem. Don't be silly.

Cielo Wind Power, a company based in Austin, Texas, touts wind power as a really big answer to our problems. They say they're have "developments equaling approximately 1,148 megawatts of wind-generated electricity." According to their FAQ, all told, wind power is producing about 6,000 megawatts of energy in the United States, enough to power 2 million households. In fact, "According to the U.S. Department of Energy, all U.S. electrical energy needs could be met by the wind in Texas and the Dakotas alone." Now, consider that for a moment. It's really cool to think that Texas and the Dakotas have all the wind we need ... but how do you harness all the wind in Texas and the Dakotas? How much land in those two states is required to harness that power? How do you transport the power when it is harnessed? What happens when the wind stops? The American Wind Energy Association (remember, they're in favor of wind energy) says that to power your house with wind energy would cost "from $3,000 to $5,000 for every kilowatt of generating capacity, or about $40,000 for a 10-kw installed system." That's for a single home use. And while we're currently producing enough power for 2 million households, the Census Bureau estimates that by 2010 we'll have something around 115 million households. Obviously, wind power alone isn't the answer.

We also need solar power. Solar power is the "end all" in a lot of people's minds, but there are many factors to consider. Solar power, for instance, costs about $9 per peak Watt to generate. Did you catch that? It was "Watt", not "Kilowatt". The website,, answers the question, "How many solar cells would I need in order to provide all of the electricity that my house needs?" "You need about 41,000 square inches of solar panel for the house. That's a solar panel that measures about 285 square feet (about 26 square meters). That would cost around $16,000 right now. Then, because the sun only shines part of the time, you would need to purchase a battery bank, an inverter, etc., and that often doubles the cost of the installation." That's no small area and no small cost. Add to that a key question: How much sunshine is available? The truth is that, with the exception of a small area in the southwest, most of the United States simply doesn't have a suitable amount of sunshine to do the job. We could maximize that particular area (because it is, after all, desert), but then you have the problems of power storage and transportation. If one house needs 285 square feet of solar panel with good sunshine, how much would 115 million homes need? And at what cost? Yeah, that's a big number.

One of the really popular ideas today is the electric car. Why aren't we all driving them? Most people aren't aware of the problems of the electric car. The simple truth is that, currently we don't have electric cars that can go much farther than 40 miles on a charge. That is fine for short trips around the local neighborhood, but won't get a lot of suburban Americans to work and home. Consider this. Did you know that a gallon of gas has the energy equivalent of 33.5 KWh? "Yeah ... so ... what does that mean?" That means that a gallon of gas in a standard engine is far more energy efficient than a battery. Take, for instance, today's best lead-acid batteries. These hold about 35 watt-hours (WH) per kilogram of battery weight. That's 35 WH, as opposed to the 33500 WH in the gallon of gas. The highest capacity battery is the zinc-air battery, holding up to 240 watt-hours per kilogram. In other words, if you were using a zinc-air battery and wanted it built to the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline, it would have to weigh about 140 kilograms. For the metric impaired (trust me, I went to a website to convert that number), that's over 300 pounds of battery ... to match 1 gallon of gas. In other words, the reason we do not currently have an electric car that can take us the same distance on a charge that your gas engine can take you on a tank of gas is not a product of some vast oil company conspiracy. It is a matter of the potential to store energy -- physics. In other words, electric cars are far more difficult than we imagined.

My point is not that we should not pursue these alternatives. My point is these alternatives are not the answer. They are part of a complex system of an answer. They are by no means simple. They are by no means "end all". They are extremely expensive and contain complications we're not ready to handle yet. We ought to engage them. We also ought to drill for more oil, expand the use of hybrids, build nuclear power plants, and sink money into research on alternatives. The reason we're not fossil-fuel free yet in the 21st century is because fossil fuels are so good at storing and releasing energy, and we just don't know yet what alternatives can do the same thing. It's a tough question without a simple answer, despite the claims of people like T. Boone Pickens and Al Gore.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Train Up Your Child

Last year I asked the question about whether or not a father's sins are passed on to his offspring. It seemed like the suggestion of Exodus 20:5-6. It also seems like a natural assumption. Whatever the struggles the parents have, the kids seem to have similarities when they grow up. It just seems to be a given. Alcoholic fathers often produce alcoholic-prone children. Fathers that abuse their children often have children that grow up to abuse their children. And so on. The question, of course, is "nature or nurture?", but regardless of the answer, it seems obvious that it happens.

Setting aside the cause, then, I have to wonder out loud if you fathers out there with children at home are considering how you are going to handle this obvious factor? You see, none of us -- not one -- is without sin. We all suffer from "weak links". We may have varying temptations, but we all have temptations. I may not, for instance, suffer from the urge to drink alcohol or beat my children, but I have other sins that I have to fight off. And if you, dear reader, are saying, "Oh, good, this one doesn't pertain to me", remember, "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). So are you considering how you're going to handle the fact that your besetting sins are likely passed on to your children?

It's an important question -- nay, absolutely vital. Are you working on the solution? Or are you giving in to the temptation? When you find the same tendency in your child, will you deny it is yours as well and simply correct them? Or will you warn them because it is yours? Will your children know what your temptations are and what your solutions are, or will you try to present yourself as some sort of "perfect parent", a father without problems?

I understand the urge to shield our children from our failures, but I question the wisdom. Imagine, instead, if you could tell your child, "I did what you are doing and it cost me this. I faced that problem this way." Imagine if you could tell your children, "Don't do that" and when they say, "But you did" you can reply, "That's exactly why I'm warning you away from it." Imagine if you could be planning now to help your children later with the temptations you already know they will face. Oh, wait, that need not be imagination. It should be fact ...

Thursday, August 28, 2008


The singular criterion that many people take to determine whether or not something is true is this concept of "falsifiable". Is there a test by which you could determine that a hypothesis is not true? Atheists are really big on this one. "Since there is no way to prove that God does not exist, the concept of God is unfalsifiable and, therefore, nonviable."

Isn't it interesting, then, that everyone has jumped on this "global warming" bandwagon without considering the fact that it's unfalsifiable. You see, we're on the "save the planet" train now. Anyone who isn't on that train is an idiot. So we're mobilizing to save the planet. Well, we have no choice. If we don't save the planet, we'll all be dead soon.

So, let's examine the two possibilities: 1) human-caused global warming is real, and 2) what is going on is not caused by humans. We'll assume we survive the event. In the first case, our survival would have happened because of our concerted effort. Despite the naysayers, enough of the nations of the world worked together and staved off the crisis. Well done, human race! Okay, back up. If the second case is true, the natural cycle that caused the warming will end and the crisis will be over. So, in either case, the global warming alarmists will claim that their efforts saved the planet.

It seems to me that the only way to actually prove human-caused global warming is a) for humans to do nothing and 2) none of us survive. In that case, the last of the AlGorians will croak with their last breath, "See? We told you so." Lose-lose. Of course, that is not a possibility since it seems to be a "universal truth" that humans are causing global warming, so we need to act now -- which makes it unfalsifiable, doesn't it?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

MSNBC Plays Race Card

Yeah, sure, tell me the media isn't biased!

MSNBC has a show called "Race for the White House." Now, if that isn't a tacit endorsement of Obama simply on the basis that he's black, I don't know what it is.

Huh? Oh ... wait a minute ... yes I do ... never mind ...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How does God stop?

Some time ago I went to a church that was dealing with ... issues. The primary indication that there were ... issues ... was the loss of members. People were leaving. They went from 250 or so a week down to 100 or so a week. The pastor called the elders together to ask, "What can we do about it?"

There were lots of ideas thrown around (as you might imagine), and not all of them were "bad" or "wrong". They all, however, focused on "What can we do to keep from hemorrhaging members?" I found myself wondering, "What if God wanted to close the doors on this particular church?" (As you can imagine, voicing that question in that company of fellows wasn't exactly welcomed warmly.)

My question isn't about that church. My question is more broad. I can't tell you how often I've heard pleas on Christian radio from various ministries that say something like, "Please, help us with giving. We're facing a serious shortfall." I can think of one right now that I won't listen to anymore because that's the constant message ... rather than the original intent of expressing the truth of God. And I've been receiving messages (plural) recently from a ministry I deeply appreciate that say the same thing. So it's not that church. It's all Christian ministries.

It seems to me that ministries are temporal in nature. That is, they last for a period of time and then they stop. They change. They shift. They disappear and something else takes their place. That's not a bad thing. It doesn't suggest (as too often people do) that there was something "wrong". It simply says that God has used that ministry as He intended and now He plans to use others. But people attached to those ministries seem to lose sight that ... it's God's ministry, not theirs. They lose sight of the fact that the glorious results that they've seen weren't due to their own marvelous efforts or good hearts or real wisdom, but to God's working. And since it is God's work done God's way, it stands to reason that God may, when He so chooses, stop doing that.

So ... while we are clinging so desperately to "our ministry", how would God go about putting an end to it? How would He let us know, "Well done. Now, let's move on."? Conversely, if He wanted to continue a ministry, would He need fancy money-gathering schemes? Is God up there fussing about? "Oh dear, one of My favorite ministries is having financial difficulties. How can I supply their needs when people won't step up for it?" I just don't see it.

So how would we know when God intends to stop something, and when is it wrong to beg for funds (etc.)?

Questions ... always questions ...

Monday, August 25, 2008

New Ministers

I caught a glimpse of a game show the other day and the contestant was identified as an "interfaith minister". An interfaith minister? Where did she get that? What made her an interfaith minister? What was an interfaith minister? I had to know. So I looked it up. offers its visitors the opportunity to become an ordained minister. It's simple. Just write a one-page biography, write a paragraph about what you do now and how being a minister will help you, fill out the application, and send it in with $150. There you go! Ordained minister! Of course, you'll have to decide what kind of minister you want to be. You could be an Interfaith Minister, an Esoteric Minister, a Spiritual Minister, a Psychic Minister, or one of a whole list of other titles including Gnostic, Druid, Teutonic, and "Healing Touch" Ministers. But hurry! The offer won't last forever.

The site clues us in on just what an "Interfaith Minister" really is. The goal of this minister is to "heal gaps between the many disparate religious faiths." It requires that "you recognize all positive spiritual paths regardless of denomination, including healing and earth-based traditions and make no judgements against other valid spiritual faiths." Ahhh, how nice! Here's what you agree to. There are a host of "valid spiritual faiths" (completely disregarding the fact that almost all faiths claim to be exclusive ... a complete breakdown of any rational thinking). Your goal is to, well, make people feel better regardless of what they believe. You'll want to reach the disenfranchised and assure them that, despite what some religions teach about exclusivity and all, they're actually just fine with God ... or Allah ... or whatever deity they happen to like. There, there, it'll be okay. No, no, don't engage your brain! That will just mess things up!

Now, to be an "Esoteric Minister" they require standards. "We ask that you study our tenets of faith to make sure you are in line with the esoteric philosophy of the church." Fortunately, the standards are pure mush. Their first tenet: "We believe esoteric Christianity offers ... [a] way of self-knowledge - a way, perhaps, to the ultimate knowledge of Self." They resolve conflicts like "How do you read the Bible?" by suggesting that "the Bible has always been meant to be read on several different levels, of which the literal is only one and in fact the lowest." There are, they are certain, many paths to God. "It is up to the individual to be the final authority in honestly seeking out that which is spiritually true." And who knows where "future spiritual evolution" will go? There are no limits. There you go ... esoteric.

The "Spiritual Minister" refers to mystics who directly connect with the Divine. The "Psychic Minister" serves "by use of extra-sensory skills and conscious interaction with the multi-verse (universe)." But don't limit yourself. They can provide a whole list of made-to-order titles. Whatever you want to be! Since you decide what is true, whatever you decide is, therefore, true and you should minister using it.

Somehow I wouldn't find myself comforted by someone who taught that "all truth is whatever I say it is" and "Oh, by the way, there is actually nothing that is absolutely true, so back off, Christians!" But, hey, a "beautiful Ordination Certificate with gold raised seal" ... might not that be worth the $150? No thanks.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Selah - Stop and Think

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Eph. 3:20-21).

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Efficacious. It's not a word you'll likely hear in casual conversation. You'll usually find it in a theologian's handbag of specialized words, especially a Reformed theologian. It means "the ability to produce the desired effect." It says that the thing it is describing is "efficient" -- it works. So while we don't typically use the word, I suspect that it is often the motivation for what we do. "Does it work?"

Why does a child throw a tantrum when he doesn't get his way? It works. They typically stop throwing tantrums when they realize it doesn't work. Much of our moral structures are based on "what works". For instance, many people do charitable work because it makes them feel good. It works. And it is, of course, the standard motivation for why a company does business the way they do. It works. It produces the results they want. If it doesn't produce the results they want, they change it.

There are, of course, other motivations. "How I feel about it" might be one without regard to if it works. (Thus we see people repeating what appear to be stupid actions that don't work.) There is the somewhat mythical altruism motivation -- "I'll do good for the sake of doing good." There are others. And, while much of our activities are built on efficacy, I would suggest that much of Christian activity is not. You see, we are commanded to obey without typically being told why. We are supposed to do the right thing whether or not it "works".

Some time ago I was talking to a friend about a particular problem with his wife. I told him, "You know you need to talk to her about it." He told me, "It won't do any good." That, you see, is the efficacy motivation. And that is often our problem. We know the right thing to do; we just don't think it will "work." It's like the fellow that told me, "I tried that 'born again' thing; it didn't work." Didn't work? What did you expect it to do? There is no measure of efficacy with "born again".

Whether or not something works is often a good reason to do it. If doing "this" action when you bowl makes you get better scores, then do it. If "that" model for doing business is making your company go down the tubes, then reconsider models. But Christians are commanded to obey. "Husbands, love your wives" is a command without a "why" or even a "therefore". We like to think "so you can have a better life", but the command carries no such guarantee. Sometimes, as Christians, we need to do the right thing even when it doesn't seem like it will work.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Functions and Roles of Elders

A brief exposition of the functions and roles of elders as found in the Bible:

The elders managed the money (Acts 11:29-30).

Elders were appointed by Apostles or their duly appointed representatives (Acts 14:23). (Elders were not elected.)

Matters of doctrinal dispute were settled by the elders (Acts 15:5-6).

The church was their "flock". They were the "overseers", the supervisors of the church. They were to be the shepherds (Acts 20:28).

The elders laid hands on and provided "prophetic utterances" for those who were being appointed to ministry. It appears that they were the vehicle through which God gifted these appointees (1 Tim. 4:14).

Elders were responsible for preaching and teaching as well as "rule" (1 Tim 5:17).

Elders were in every church (Titus 1:5).

The elders prayed for those in need and administered care. They also bore spiritual responsibility (James 5:14-15).

Peter was an elder who also happened to be an Apostle. His exhortation in 1 Peter 5 is not based on his Apostleship, but on his eldership. Here, as in Acts 20:28, elders were to be the "shepherds". They were the overseers who led by example, not authority. Their primary example was Christ. Elders were to be the authority ("be subject to your elders"), but this is because they were to lead "according to the will of God" and not as a matter of pride (1 Peter 5:1-5).

Two primary negatives for elders: 1) Not for sordid gain and 2) not for the position. Two important positives for elders: 1) Voluntarily, and 2) with eagerness.

Special note: Elders were always plural. There was no "elder" but always "elders" in a church.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Musings on Elders and Pastors

I've had some discussions lately regarding qualifications of elders and such. It caused me to spend a little time thinking about the whole thing. The result is an entire series on biblical elders. Here goes ...

The original concept of "elders" was an Old Testament concept in which "wise, discerning, and experienced men" head up smaller groups of a larger body (Deut. 1:9-15). Thus, elders would be a group of wise, discerning, experienced men who lead a local church, a part of the larger Body of Christ.
New Testament words include:

*presbuterous = an elderly, senior, or older person (any gender). Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17, 28-31; 1 Tim. 4:14; 1 Tim. 5:17-20; Titus 1:5 (ff); James 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1-5

*episkope = an over-seer, a super-visor, a superintendent. (KJV - Bishop). Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1-13. (I hyphenated "overseer" and "supervisor" because the Greek word is a two-part word. "Skope" is the origin of our word, "scope", and refers to vision. "Epi" means "over" or "super". Thus, the word is literally "over" "seer". The Latin translation is "supervisor", where "visor" is the same root as our word, "vision". I only offer this as further explanation of the meaning of the word and the function of an "overseer".)

(Interesting side note: The Greek for "elder" is the root for the current "Presbyterian", and the Greek for "overseer" is the root for the current "Episcopalian".)

What is the connection of "elder" to "church role" rather than simply "older"?

1. While "elder" is used at times in reference to "older", either male or female, it is often used in terms of leadership. Several passages indicate that "elders" are to be appointed. If "elder" refers to "someone who is older" in these instances, it makes no sense, since you don’t appoint someone to be older – they just are.

2. Paul appears to use the terms interchangeably in certain places. For instance, he tells Timothy about the qualifications for an overseer in 1 Tim. 3:1-13. In the parallel passage to Titus, he tells Titus to appoint elders, but his list of qualifications for these appointments is the same list he gave Timothy for overseers.

3. One of the qualifications for overseer/elder is that he is not "a new convert" (1 Tim. 3:6). This would indicate to me that the intent was to have older, more experienced Christians serve as the overseers for a local church. Thus, the two terms would be interchangeable in this application.

How do you tell the difference between "elder" as in "elderly" and "elder" as in "overseer"?

Context, context, context. The context of the usage always dictates its meaning. It is an error to assume that every use of a given word means the same thing every time. Thus, to assume that "elder women" means that women occupied a position as "overseers" is not supportable by the context. I don’t mean to imply it’s not possible; I’m simply saying that context needs to be examined. Sometimes the context dictates that the reference is to older people. Other times the context indicates that it is a reference to a particular group of older people who occupy the position of overseer. Check the context before assuming either.

What about pastors?

I equate biblical "pastor" with "elder/overseer". Here’s why. The term, "pastor", appears only once in the New Testament. The root word is poimen. The word means "shepherd". In every other instance, it is translated "shepherd". A prime example is in John 10, where Jesus explains that He is the "good shepherd". (It is also the word used for the "shepherds" who heard the angels announce Jesus’s birth.) In 1 Peter 2:25, Peter refers again to Jesus as "the Shepherd", but here he adds "and Overseer". Thus, the shepherd and the overseers have similar tasks. Peter carries this thought out in 1 Peter 5. Here he refers to "elders" as "shepherds" (1 Pet. 5:1-4). If these "elder/shepherds" are the same that Paul had Timothy and Titus appointing, then they are older men specifically appointed to be the leaders of the local body of church. Thus, since "pastor" is "shepherd", and both "elder" and "overseer" are linked to the same term, I conclude that "pastor" is actually an elder/overseer.

Why are "pastors" not the same as our modern day pastors?

First, the singular mention of "pastor" in Eph. 4:11 seems to indicate that pastors are not the primary factor in a church. They are today.

Second, in this same passage, Paul lists apostles, prophets, and evangelists as individual, separate entities. A fourth, separate entity, in the language, is something that Paul refers to as poimenas kai didaskolous. That is, he links linguistically "pastor" and "teacher" to make them a single creature – pastor/teacher. Thus, four "offices" are listed in Eph. 4:11. Now, given the linking of "pastor" with "elder/overseer", one of the key characteristics of an overseer is "apt to teach" (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9). Thus, pastors and elder/overseers are to be teachers. It seems to me that they are the same entity. However, in most churches today there is the pastor who is the leader of the church and there is an "elder board" (which is often at odds with the pastor, it seems). Even in churches where the pastor is part of the board, he is still the singular leader of that board, typically looking for "rubber stamp" approval of his goals and ideas, as opposed to an even, shared function of leadership.

Third, all references to elder/overseer positions are in plural terms. That is, biblical eldership is a plurality. It is a group of men who are the teachers and shepherds. Now, if "pastor" is equivalent to "elder/overseer", then churches must not be designed by God to have "a senior pastor" or the like. Instead, they are designed by God to be headed by a group of godly men who can "hold fast the faithful word" (Titus 1:9), keeping each other in check and promoting a unity rather than a singular leadership position.

What about deacons?

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he addresses it to three groups: saints, overseers, and deacons. In his letter to Timothy, he outlines the qualifications for two groups: overseers and deacons. While the qualifications are similar, they are not as stringent for deacons as they are for overseers. From these two facts, I would assume that deacon and elder/overseer are not equivalent terms. A deacon is a servant or minister and takes the role of taking care of the practical needs of the local body.


There appears to be no New Testament equivalent to the role that most churches have for a pastor. The New Testament uses interchangeable terms for "elder/overseer/bishop", defined by their context. This position is a role in the local body in which a group of experienced believers assume the leadership – shepherding – of the local church. These may be called "pastors", but they don’t equate to the same thing that most churches have today as "pastors". Thus, local churches are comprised of saints (all believers), a group of men called overseers or elders who shepherd the flock, and a group of men (and possibly women) called deacons who minister to the practical needs of the local body.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Responding to Objections

Christians of the Reformed realm see Romans 9 as a crystal-clear passage on the topic of Election. How can it be avoided? Of course, those who disagree with the doctrine of Election manage to do just that. "You see," they assure us, "the passage is about Election, sure, but it's about group election, not individual election. It's about God ordaining that there will be a Church, not that individuals will be saved."

I have difficulty with that. I have difficulty because the references to people in the passage are references to individuals, not a groups. I have difficulty because it seems like you have to really stretch to get "group" rather than "individual". But the biggest reason I have difficulty with that idea is the objections.

In the passage, Paul tackles the two standard objections to the Doctrine of Election. You can find them in verses 14 and 19. What I'm looking at here is not so much the argument, but the objections. Let's assume for a moment that the passage is indeed about group election, not individual election. Let's say that the idea of this passage is that God has ordained that there will be a Church, a body of believers. Who they are is not ordained here -- just that there is such a group. Now, what objections would be raised to that claim on Paul's part? Personally, I can't think of any. It doesn't make any claim on individuals. It doesn't push the envelope regarding personal freedom or free will. Frankly, it doesn't actually say a whole lot. There will be a Church. Okay.

Nonetheless, Paul faces expected objections. The first objection is, "That's not fair!" "What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means!" (Rom. 9:14). In what sense could anyone complain about the justice of God if God ordained that there will be a Church? If God determines that there will always be people who believe, how is that a reason to question His justice? Paul's response is "It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy ... He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills" (Rom. 9:16, 18). Paul would be saying, "God has ordained that someone will be saved" and someone would protest? I don't see why.

The second objection is more harsh. "Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?" (Rom. 9:19). I don't see the potential complaint. God has decided to show mercy to some. "Well," someone might object, "then how can God find fault with anyone?" Huh? If that is all that Paul is saying, what sense does the objection make?

If, on the other hand, Paul is making the claim, "God chooses individuals that will be saved" (verses 9-13), the objections make sense. Paul would be saying, "I know you might think that it's unfair of God, but I'm telling you that His choice isn't based on your choices or your actions (verse 16). It is based solely on His choice. And I'm guessing that you might conclude from that 'Well, if that's the way it is, how can it be fair that God would find fault?' I have an answer for that ..." And, of course, you can read Paul's response to that objection as well.

I know that many Christians disagree that God chooses some to be saved apart from their actions or choices. I know that it is popular to argue that this passage says no such thing. I know that many well-meaning Christians argue that this passage is a group-election passage. I'm just asking you to ask yourself, "If that's the case, do the objections that Paul addresses make sense?" They don't to me.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Lesser of Two Evils

Back in 2006 during our interim election cycle, I wrote a piece on ABS, the "Anybody But" syndrome. The idea is simple. "We don't want him (or her), so we'll vote for the other person." It's not that they're voting for someone they like as much as they're voting against someone they don't like.

It was the mode back in 2004 when people voted for John Kerry. He wasn't offering anything anyone wanted; he just wasn't George Bush. It was the mode in 2006. It wasn't that Democrats were offering positions people wanted; they just weren't George Bush Republicans. Oddly, it appears to be the standard mode in this presidential election, too, except it has spread.

I don't see a whole lot of excitement among Republicans for "their candidate" -- John McCain. They're not against him by any means, but, let's face it ... he's just not that exciting. He's not charismatic. He's not offering grand promises that really stir us up. He's not particularly innovative. So why is it that McCain is doing so well in the polls? Well, you'll hear it all over the place. "If you don't vote for McCain, you are voting for Obama!" Pragmatism, pure and simple. You see, we don't want Obama in there. Vote for ... whoever isn't Obama. And the "anybody but" syndrome comes home to roost among Republicans.

Of course, I see the same thing going on among Democrats. One key strategy to fight off McCain (versus electing Obama) is to portray him as a George W. Bush look-a-like. They call him "McSame" and run ads telling us that there is no difference between the two. It's not that Obama is offering us great things. We just don't want more George Bush. The fact that the man isn't running is irrelevant. If you can tie a candidate to Mr. Bush, you can defeat that candidate because Democrats want to be sure vote for anybody but George Bush. Sure, there are some Obama fans out there, but the majority of folks that are going to vote for him, it seems, are people who just don't want John McCain to win. You will certainly hear the same thing from that side: "If you don't vote for Obama, you are voting for McCain!" And that side continues their "anybody but" syndrome.

Is that the best America has to offer? Is it that we are so splintered that we can't find someone for people to be excited about? Or is it that we just don't have anyone in politics anymore that stirs us? Maybe we're just too jaded on politics entirely? I don't know, but I am not particularly interested in casting my vote for "the lesser of two evils", as if that's good for me, my family, my friends, or my country. I'll have to think this out more carefully ...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hollow Man

This is a repeat of my very first post. I liked it so much that I thought my newer readers might like it. For those of you who have seen it, try to look surprised ... and don't give away the ending.

Hi. My name is Hollow Man. I am not gender-specific. You’ll find me in men and women alike. The specifics may vary, but the underlying characteristics will remain the same. Let me tell you about myself. Who knows? You may know me better than you think.

My primary concern is for the individual. Of course, the individual I primarily have in mind is me. I determine right and wrong, good and bad, worthwhile or a waste of time by what best pleases me. I may take drugs because it makes me feel better or I may refuse to take drugs because it’s bad for me, but, bottom line, my evaluations are based on me. America loves individualism, and I am the personification of individualism. My goals, values, and interests are all oriented to what suits me best.

Older generations had this sense of "selflessness". They were willing to sacrifice personal gain and pleasure for the good of others – family, work, God, and country. I am not plagued with that malady. I know what is important. How I look is important. What I own is important. My comfort level is important. I may realize that what I have isn’t quite enough, so I will continue to strive for more. I am a lover of pleasure. I disdain the notion of delayed gratification and believe that we should seek pleasure wherever we may find it. The old "if it feels good, do it" is a reasonable motto for me. The reverse is also true: if it doesn’t feel good, it’s probably not worth doing.

Some have described me as narcissistic. I may be preoccupied with my own needs and desires, but isn’t self-esteem the number one priority? Some say that truth is important; I ask, "What is truth?" I subscribe to the notion that truth is relative – that there is no such thing as absolute truth – not recognizing that this is a statement of absolute truth. I disdain those who are intolerant and judgmental, not realizing that I am being intolerant and judgmental in this view. I will do all I have to do to obtain what I deserve. I will manipulate my friends, family, even God to get what I think I should have. There is, after all, no one who is more important than I am.

Entertainment is important to me. It comes in many forms. However, I don’t think I need to really do a lot to obtain it. I think that I should be entertained. If the show I’m watching isn’t entertaining, I’ll switch to another. If the game I’m playing isn’t entertaining, I’ll go to another. If baseball isn’t exciting enough, I’ll watch football or basketball. When I get tired of this music group, there’s surely another around the corner that will bring new excitement. Even the church service needs to be entertaining ... or I'm moving on. I don’t realize, of course, that excitement doesn’t last, and, unfortunately, the things that entertain me today are boring tomorrow. But it isn’t my job to amuse me. It is the job of the entertainers – the media and the musicians and the actors and the sports stars and the amusement parks and . . . well, our society is clearly built on this concept, so it must be true.

Some have tried to push us beyond the here and now, but I understand better than that. The clearest presentation of the world we live in is the senses. Religion may try to impress God on us, and that’s fine as far as it goes, but there’s nothing like science for the truth. Science tests things and proves things and demonstrates things. Pictures are worth a thousand words, so why read if I have the TV? I live in a world tuned to the senses – I should indulge them. What I feel is all that’s ultimately real. To go beyond the senses is to venture into the unknown and unproveable . . . and therefore the irrelevant. The deep thinkers, philosophers, theologians and the like are really unimportant to real life. Fortunately these days there are few of that type.

School may be of some importance to me, but only so far as it gives me a better life. If I can make more money, I might pursue an education, but why do some schools require all that History and English and the like? I might even go so far as a Masters degree if it means a larger income, but you’ll rarely find people like me with more than that because, frankly, it serves no purpose. Reading is not a priority with me, either. If I do read, it will undoubtedly be fiction, since that can provide some form of distraction. Frankly, reading is not entertaining enough, when I can get the images fed to me on the TV or movies screen.

I have been accused of having no heroes, but that’s simply not true. My heroes are the rock stars or the movie stars or the sports stars or the fashion stars of the day. I admire their looks or their abilities or whatever currently strikes my fancy. I am not the least bit concerned about their virtue. Character is not an issue. Good is defined not as that which is virtuous or right, but as that which gives me the most pleasure.

It’s a funny thing with me, but I hate quiet and solitude. I will always have a radio or TV going or be surrounded by friends. I may, for instance, keep myself in good shape (because looking good is important to me), but even while I exercise I’ll have the headset on with music going. A vacation is a good thing not because I can think more, but because I can think less when I vacate. Anything I can do to avoid real contemplation is a good thing. Noise is better than quiet, activity better than rest, and anonymous crowds better than solitude. It is much better to do than to simply be.

I am Hollow Man. Perhaps you know me. Perhaps you are me. I certainly believe my shallow beliefs and pursuits are important, and I will never, never ask "Why?" or "Could I be wrong?" or "Is there more to life than me?" I wonder if you don’t identify with me.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Crossword Wisdom

The other day I was looking at a crossword puzzle. They're good for exercising the mind, they tell me, so I try to do one once in awhile. There was a clue for a three-letter word that caught my eye: "Qualify for repentance." I have to admit, I was puzzled. I didn't get that word until I filled in the first letter on the cross word -- "S". Oh, yeah. You qualify for repentance when you sin. Until you sin, you do not qualify for repentance.

Why don't good people need a savior? They don't qualify. I do.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Yes, But Why

We'll likely give good reasons for it. "I want my husband to be a better husband." "I want my kids to be the best they can be." "I want my wife to be a great wife." It will sound right. It will sound noble. It will sound great.

Keep telling yourself that. The truth is that it's close, likely, but too often it's not nearly as noble. The truth is slightly different. "I am not happy with my spouse and want them to change so I can be happier." "My kids cause me stress and I don't want to be stressed." So while we sound grand and tell ourselves it's for them, the truth is something different ... something selfish.

Check your motives. It likely would be good if your wife was the best wife she could be, if your husband set aside his bad habits, if your children were better children, if your coworkers were nicer people. But until you are able to approach them with their best interests at heart (rather than your own), perhaps you ought to stay out of it. Perhaps. You know ... "log in your own eye" kind of thing.

Friday, August 15, 2008


We want to be comfortable. We like comfortable. We are most comfortable with comfortable. What we don't like is uncomfortable. Pain, discomfort, hardships, trials ... these things are not on our list of "good". No, no, we like comfortable. In fact, a lot of Christians expect it. If they don't have it, it's bad. If they don't have it, they expect, at least, to get it. For some, it's a matter of faith. They trust that God will, at least eventually, make their lives more comfortable. Indeed, some think of it as a matter of rights. Not only do they expect it; they demand it. They hold that God promised it and if they have sufficient faith, God is forced to provide it.

I have to say that this is entirely outside of my experience. You see, I have a problem. I like comfort way too much. God, being God, I think, knows this. So if I get too comfortable for too long, I tend to tell God, perhaps not in words, "It's okay, God ... I have this now. You can relax." And, of course, the simple fact is that "in Him we live and move and have our being." The truth is that the power we need to do what we ought and be what we ought is found only in Him. So ... when I get too comfortable for too long, I tend to believe a lie and forget about God.

I'm not saying that I'm not comfortable. I'm not saying that I'm not satisfied. I'm not saying that life is just too tough. It just seems that there is always something ... wrong. It might be a health issue or a relationship issue or a job issue. It might be a family problem or a personal problem. It might even be a fantasy problem. (You do know, I assume, that sometimes we suffer from difficulties that aren't real. You know the kind. "Oh me, oh my, I'm such a good-for-nothing. I can't do anything right. I'm too fat/ugly/thin/poor/stupid/whatever." Or, "Oh, dear, what will become of my child if he or she does ____???" We manufacture false problems.) But it seems as if, like Paul, there is a constant thorn someplace that serves as a constant reminder that "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9).

Maybe you, if you thought about it, might find that this, too, is you. Maybe you, if you think about it, might find that God's apparent refusal to make you comfortable is an act of mercy on His part, because you, like me, might have the very same tendency to forget the Source when we find the product. Maybe you, if you realize this, might find that difficulties in life are really blessings from a loving God who isn't willing to let you go into that malaise of comfort.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Arizona Justice

Justice prevails.

A judge sentenced Eboni Perri, 26, to lifetime probation after she admitted in court to intentionally starving her 2-year-old daughter to death. Investigators found no formula, cups, plates, or utensils in the home, but they did find a $15,000 life insurance policy on the baby that the mother took out on her daughter 7 days before she died. Her daughter, Nakeisha Walker, had neurological problems due to prenatal cocaine and marijuana in the baby's system. Child Protective Services (CPS) had been in the home 5 times because of complaints.

Who knows? Perhaps this is the logical conclusion for a society that has determined that killing children in the womb is "choice".

In other news, Chandler police sergeant Tom Lovejoy goes on trial on Friday. His police dog died when he accidentally left it in his car for too long after getting only 6 hours of sleep in two days and dealing with an auto accident involving his stepson and his wife's anxiety attack. There is no law in Chandler against negligent animal abuse, so Sgt. Lovejoy will be tried by the county courts.

Wait a moment. Did I say "Justice prevails"?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Colored People

What is it with colors? Have you ever noticed that they have a variety of meanings?

If you're angry, you're seeing red. If you're sad, you're blue. A person can be green with envy, and a coward is yellow. If you're healthy, you're in the pink. A "blah" day would be a gray day. And, of course, if you're really in a bad mood, it could be a black mood.

Then we can shuffle the deck. If you work for a company that isn't making money, it is operating in the red. Of course, if it is making money, you would think it was operating in the green, but it's not -- it's in the black. If it happens to be in the red, you might be seeing red. If you were smart you might feel kind of yellow, of course, realizing that they might give you a pink slip which could make you blue, but the goal for them would be to operate in the black. Yeah, like that's not confusing.

So ... what color are you?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Off Shore Drilling

Here are the numbers. America used (in 2007) 142 billion gallons of gasoline a year. Estimates for savings for tire pressure and tune ups are 5 million gallons a day and 7 million gallons a day respectively. The untapped resources in off shore sources are 86 billion barrels or about 2 trillion gallons of gasoline. Let's do some math.

If you only use the fuel from the untapped sources and include 12 million gallons a day saved by requiring properly inflated tires and tune-ups, it would take 14.3 years to consume the fuel in the untapped sources. If you set aside any tire inflation and tune up assistance, it would take 13.9 years to consume the fuel in the untapped sources. In other words, if we allow off shore drilling, we could extend our available fuel reserves for 14 years. The savings in fuel from tire inflation and tune ups would make a 5-month difference. On the other hand, not drilling would make a 14-year difference.

Please note, in a final observation, that no amount of tire pressure and tune up modifications will affect the 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas estimated to be available in off shore sources.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Answers to Tough Questions

Where do they come up with this stuff?

We heard it from Senator Obama. "We don't need to drill for more oil. We just need to fill the air in our tires ... and get a tune up." Over and over. They repeated the claim on CBS Sunday. That's it. We're saved. Who needs drilling? Fill up your tires, tune up your car, and ... Bingo! ... the crisis is over! Indeed, the claim is that the high price of gas is saving lives! There you go.

I guess, with the global warming problem, our goal is supposed to be to end the use of oil altogether. I would imagine, with that as our goal, that no more drilling for oil would be obvious. Now, the government estimates that there are nearly 86 billion barrels of oil in the nation's untapped outer continental shelf as well as about 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The oil could power the nation for 11 years and the gas is the equivalent of more than 14 years at the current rates. The primary protest to offshore drilling is environmental. In 1969, an offshore well spilled some 80,000 barrels of oil into the sea off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. This brought about new rules for offshore operations. Since 1969, records indicate a total of 833 barrels. Contrast this with the natural leakage off the coast of California. The ocean floor itself leaks about 1,000 barrels a week. So while there may indeed be a real problem with oil spills in the Middle East, it seems that the problem isn't here.

But, look, this all seems so short-sighted. There are so many factors here. We've been told, for instance, that driving 10 MPH over 60 MPH results in a 4 MPG decrease in efficiency. We are told that under-inflated tires contribute to a 3% loss of gas mileage, and a tune up could give us a 4% increase. Further, a study from the University of Alabama says that for every 10% increase in gas prices there is a 2.3% decrease in deaths on the road.

Clearly, people, we need to take advantage of these solutions that are currently available. We need to drop the national speed limit to 55 MPH. Everyone knows that. Of course, that wouldn't produce the results we're expecting because ... well ... people won't do it. So we have to institute something more than speed laws. We would need to institute speed regulators. They are currently available, so it would be easy. And while we would like to think "Education is the answer", we can clearly see that despite the fact that we've been told for a long time about under-inflation and tune ups, we're not doing anything. It would need to be mandated. Institute roadblocks for checking tire pressure. Mandate yearly tune ups, required before you can register your car. Think of the gas savings! Oh, and we should mandate a national gas price. If 10% produces 2.3% decrease in lost lives, we could easily require a doubling of the price of fuel. That would save easily 25% of the lives that would be lost -- maybe more. Surely it's not too much of a price to ask for saved lives and fuel. Better yet, why not outlaw cars? Just think of the savings in gasoline and lost lives! If we could just eliminate many of the personal freedoms to which we've unwisely become accustomed, we could really make headway here ...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Therefore I have hope

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in Him." The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him (Lam. 3:22-25).
What it doesn't say -- "God will make it all comfortable for me. Things will get better. Life will be comfortable."

What it does say -- Knowing God is sufficient.

Is that what you believe?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

I Get It!

I know, I'm a little slow on the uptake ... but I finally got it.

The other day I was buying something. I told the cashier, "I think I have exact change." I pulled out the handful of coins in my pocket and found I did have the right amount. I was correct, it seemed, in believing that I had change.

And it dawned on me. "Oh, that's what they mean when they say, 'Change you can believe in'."

Friday, August 08, 2008

What if it is true?

I've heard people rail against Election like it's a horrible thing. I've heard them cast aspersions on the character of those who believe it and on God were it to be true. It's not pretty, listening to some of the things that are said. But, I have to ask, what if it is true? What if God actually has an elect, a group of chosen people whom He plans to save apart from anything in those people? And, assuming that was true, it would also mean that there was another (large) set of people who were not chosen and, thus, by default, chosen for damnation. What if that is true?

I was reading in 1 Peter and came across this:
4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For this is contained in Scripture: "Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious cornerstone, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed." 7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, "The stone which the builders rejected, this became the very cornerstone," 8 and, "A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense"; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed (1 Peter 2:4-8).
Pay close attention to that last statement: "To this doom they were also appointed." We find the same type of statement in Jude. "Certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for condemnation" (Jude 1:4). The suggestion in these passages is that people were appointed for damnation.

I'm not proof-texting here. I'm not saying, "See! It's all true!!" I'm not trying to bend anyone with my skillful argumentation. I'm not suggesting why or how or offering argumentation on God's line of thinking. All I'm doing is asking the question ... What if it is true?

I've actually heard people -- self-proclaimed Christians -- say, "If that's what God is like, then I want nothing to do with Him!" I've heard them, in essence, affirm without equivocation, "I will only take God on my terms! If He violates my terms, I will not allow Him in my life." And I think, "Seriously, folks, is that what you want to say???"

If God were to choose to save some and leave the rest for certain damnation, would you say, "No, Lord!"? If it is true, would it cause you to stumble? Would you throw God out on His ear, or would you conclude, "Let God be true, though every man a liar"? I just wonder.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Cost of Brevity

In an attempt to be ... pithy ... I did a post last month on "Why do bad things happen to good people?" The "pithy" response was, "They don't." So much for brevity.

The problem is that the natural conclusion to what I said is that bad things happen to bad people (that was my point -- there are no good people) as a response to their being bad. That is, unpleasant things in life are clearly a judgment from God.

Job's friends thought so. Job lost his wealth, his family, and his health. He must really be a bad person. God informed his "friends" that they were barking up the wrong tree (Job 42:7). While I would still argue that Job was not a good person, neither would I argue that the things that happened to Job were judgment for sin. Jesus's disciples leaped to the same conclusion.
As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:1-3).
Easy mistake. If 1) there are no good people, and 2) something bad happens, it is an easy conclusion that bad things happen to bad people because they're bad. The conclusion is further bolstered because sometimes it is true. In Luke 13 some people told Jesus about some Galileans who were killed by Pilate. Jesus's reply was not what they expected:
"Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:2-5).
Jesus didn't deny that it was judgment. He simply confirmed that they would likely suffer worse if they didn't repent.

Stuff happens. Bad stuff. Sometimes it may be temporal judgment. Sometimes it may be godly discipline. (See, for instance, Heb. 12:5-12.) Sometimes it may be none of the above. In the case of the man born blind, he was designed to suffer blindness for a time "that the works of God might be displayed in him."

In other words, I have an answer for "Why do bad things happen to good people?" My answer is "There are no good people." It's a generalized answer. If you want to get to specifics -- "Why did this happen to me?" -- I'm afraid I won't be much help. I'm not good at guessing at those things and not foolish enough to assume "It's the judgment of God!" (said, of course, in a booming, self-righteous voice).

I still hold that there are no good people. I still hold that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. I still hold that every single man, woman, and child stands guilty, rightly deserving judgment. But don't confuse that with "bad things". I am not drawing a direct cause-and-effect line here. I'm simply pointing out that most of us have no proper notion of either "good people" or the depths of depravity of the human heart -- our hearts. We, in our own estimation, are just not that bad, you see? Of course, God's viewpoint tends to differ.

Here's what Paul would say. You ask, essentially, why God would be unfair to good people. You're asking the wrong question. The real question is "Why would God show mercy to vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?" (Rom. 9:22-23). Why would a single good thing happen to us? Why would there even be the possibility of salvation for the rebels we are? And are you sure you want ask God for "fair"? Much tougher questions if you ask me.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Plan

I know I said that Peter wouldn't be popular to discuss, but it is too good to not discuss, either.
13 Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." 17 And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 20 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:13-21).
First item: "Therefore." What is it there for? Because of the grand revelation of salvation that we have received, "things into which angels long to look" (1 Peter 1:12), there ought to be a rational response, a natural outcome. This is the natural outcome.

What is it? "Gird your minds for action." Contrary to what you might hear (over and over and over again), Christianity is rational and mental as well as spiritual. There is reasoning involved. There is logic in play here. We are required to think -- to "love the Lord your God with all your mind" among other things. There is certainly more than "gird your minds", but far, far too many Christians lay down their minds, believing, even, that somehow it's the right, more noble thing to do. You know, "walk by faith, not by sight." All well and good ... except it violates Scripture to use it that way.

What are the other natural results of the salvation we have been given? There is a soberness of spirit and a hope placed purely on grace (not works ... despite all we tend to believe about our works). And there are changes in lifestyle. Instead of living on lusts (How many of us live purely on what we desire -- what we feel -- rather than on every word that proceeds from God?), we are to be holy in our behavior. Instead of ignorantly defending unholy living, we need to live as our Savior did -- without sin.

Now, Peter has already said some tough things for our day. "Think!" -- not a particularly popular idea these days. "Hope completely in grace" -- something very hard for humans to do. "Be holy!" -- something outside of our experience. But here is one of the really tough things that Peter says: "Conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth." Look, I didn't say it; Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, did. "Oh, no," Christians assure me, "there should be no fear. We are not to fear anything at all. Christianity is a life without fear. If you fear ... well, you're falling short." It's not me who says this -- Peter does -- but "Wrong!!" Paul said "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). Peter says that our lives ought to be in fear. It's a biblical concept, not a human failing. I suspect that those who argue that there ought to be no fear do not understand 1) the sinful nature of Man and our propensity to fall, 2) the vast majesty and supreme holiness of God, and 3) the invaluable redemption we have been given.

One of the things that I find most fascinating about this passage, however, is the last part. It speaks of the lamb who "was foreknown before the foundation of the world". Now, it's really easy to glaze over that part. "Of course the Father knew the Son before the foundation of the world." But that's not what it says. It is the lamb who was foreknown. In other words, before the world was created, the plan of redemption was already in place. Do you get that? You see, most Christians think of the death and resurrection of Christ as something like "Plan B", where Plan A was to have human beings live forever without sin. Oh, but we messed that up ... so God had to go to Plan B -- He sent a Savior. This is contrary to what Peter says here. This "lamb" was planned before the world was made. Sin was expected -- part of the plan. The need for redemption was expected before the need existed. There was no question about what Adam and Eve would do in the Garden. God wasn't surprised or disappointed. The Redemption is not an ambulance. It was The Plan.

Yeah, now that's enough controversy for one day, isn't it? Feel free to talk amongst yourselves ...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Things People Say

People say some really stupid things sometimes. To often it gets passed off as "cool" or, worse, "wisdom." "I've got a mind like a steel trap," someone might say. What does that mean? It's rusty and illegal in 37 states? There are famous quotes from famous people, like when Queen Elizabeth II asked the Beatles, "So, what do you do?" Or when the Foreign Minister of Vietnam said, "We are not without accomplishment. We have managed to distribute poverty equally." I particularly liked Samuel Goldwyn's classic, "A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on." Or the wise guru who said sagely, "It's like the sound of one hand clapping."

There are the classics that everyone has heard. "It's always in the last place you look." Of course it is. Why would you keep looking if you found it? "There are more fish in the sea." So ... what's the connection with "fish" and the person you just broke up with? The opposite sex is all wet? Slimy? Easily hooked? What does that mean? How about this one? "If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times." What is that ... a proverb for the math challenged? And a phrase I've never understood: "I couldn't help it." I know it means, "I couldn't stop myself from doing that", so what does "help" have to do with it? It's like, "I could care less" used to mean "I couldn't care less." It doesn't make sense.

Then there are the contradictory ideas peddled as wisdom. Take, for instance, "Many hands make light work." Okay ... but we also know that "Too many cooks spoil the broth." So, which is it? We have all heard, "Look before you leap," but we've also heard, "He who hesitates is lost." So, which is it?

When I was in junior high school, I remember telling my coach, "I can't do that." I don't remember what "that" was, but I do remember his response. "'Can't'," he told me loudly, "means 'didn't try'." Even at my young age I understood that that made no sense at all. "I want you to fly up to the top of that pole and catch that bird." "I can't!" "'Can't' means 'didn't try'!" Um, no, "can't" means "I lack the ability." "Go rob that bank." "I can't!" "'Can't' means 'didn't try'!" No, again. "Can't" in this application means, "I am not allowed to do what you're telling me to do." Of course, explaining the various definitions of "cannot" and their ramifications to your junior high gym teacher who is three times your size and screaming at you at a distance of 2 inches isn't likely the right choice. So I proceeded to demonstrate to my coach that, in this case, "can't" meant "I lack the skills to do what you ask." While I get the intent of "'Can't' means 'didn't try'!", I question the wisdom.

One you've all seen, I'm sure, is the bumper sticker that settles everything. "God said it! I believe it! That settles it!" This one hurts me as much as it tickles me. You see, in this structure, there are two factors that determine if a thing is settled -- 1) God said it, and 2) I believe it. I picture God making a statement and then waiting, with bated breath. "Sure," He thinks, "I've met the first criterion ... but will he believe it? Oh, I hope, I hope ..." You see, it's sheer arrogance. The sticker would make sense if it said, "God said it! That settles it!" You could tack on "I believe it" at the end if you wished, but it would have no bearing on what determines a thing is settled. God saying it is all that is required.

I'm sure we all have things we hear and, more to the point, things we say that, if we thought about them, just wouldn't make any sense. I suppose our hope is that no one is listening, eh? No, that can't be right ...

Monday, August 04, 2008


Some people like to tell us that the Old Testament is gone. It's really of no use. That, of course, is nonsense. We read in 1 Cor. 10:11, "Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction." One use for the Old Testament (just one of many) is that it provides examples of truths that we need to heed. What things happened in 1 Cor. 10 that we need to heed?
1 I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did (1 Cor. 10:1-6).
"These things took place as examples for us." That's what Paul says. What things? Oh, there was baptism in the Red Sea, and we have baptism. There was "spiritual food" and "spiritual drink", and we have those. There was the Rock that was Christ, and we have that Rock. There are parallels here. You can see them. And Paul concludes that the reason we have these examples is "that we might not desire evil as they did".

First, what was the evil they did? Paul lists a few things in the passage that follows. There was idolatry, sexual immorality, and "grumbling". But Paul says "evil" here, suggesting possibly a singular evil. What was it? I think it's found in the passage. They had a cloud and they were walked through the sea and they were baptized and they were given food and drink and they had the Rock ... and they grumbled. It wasn't enough. They had it all and it wasn't enough. They had the very presence of God visibly offered in a cloud by day and a fire by night ... and they sought other gods. They had a very real experience with God at Mt. Sinai ... and they preferred sexual immorality to obedience to God. They had everything God provided and it wasn't enough.

Is that where we are? Is that where you are? "Yeah, God, sure, I have my health ... but it's not enough." "I have a job and a family ... but it's not enough." "I have enough to eat and a place to live ... but it's not enough." "I have the justification that the blood of your Precious Son provides and your Holy Spirit in me ... but it's not enough." Not pretty, is it?

So, what was the result of the evil they did? "With most of them God was not pleased." That ought to ring an ominous bell for us. "Most of them." We're talking about Israel, here ... God's chosen people. God was not pleased with most of them.

I don't know about you. I don't want to be numbered among "the average" in this reckoning. I don't want to be in the "most" category. I want to be one of the exceptions, one of those with whom God is pleased. I think that begins with gratitude. I think that starts with gratitude for all that God gives us, from the good to the ugly, knowing that God works all things together for good. I think that includes gratitude for tough times ... which are for our benefit. I don't want to be an idolater who isn't satisfied with my God or sexually immoral who isn't satisfied with the satisfaction God provides or a grumbler who isn't satisfied with all that He gives. I want to learn from others' mistakes. How about you?

Sunday, August 03, 2008

In This You Rejoice

I'm in 1 Peter these days. I can tell that Peter is not going to be a popular book to discuss with people. There are all sorts of early clues, but one alarming passage is here:
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith -- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire -- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7).
First alarm: "Trials." We're not too keen on the idea of trials. There are those who would argue that God never wants us to suffer. Pain is bad. Any pain is not from God. No way, no how. Not true. Did you get that? Not true.

Second alarm: "If necessary." If you go through trials, understand this -- it is necessary. It isn't optional. It's isn't a fluke. It isn't avoidable. It is necessary. Not my words ... God's words. Trials are necessary to God's people.

Third alarm: "The tested genuineness of your faith." Others put it this way: "the testing of your faith." Did you know that your faith may be false? It may be "dead" (James 2:17). It may be misplaced. It may be cold. The testing, you understand, isn't for God's sake. He knows. It's for yours. Therefore, when you undergo trials, it is for the testing of your faith which you require. "How did I do?" It's a fair question to ask yourself. If you collapsed in the test ... check your faith.

Now, it's not all alarmist theology. There is an up-side, so to speak. (If you're reading this carefully, it's all up-side, but ...) The up-side is that faith, properly tried and purified and confirmed, offers a reward "more precious than gold", the praise and glory and honor that will be given to you at the appearing of Christ, that glorious "Well done, good and faithful servant" that we long to hear from our Lord and Master.

If you're going through trial today, remember to say "Thanks" to the One who gives what you need ... including that trial.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Confirmation is Good

Justin Taylor has some interesting entries on the tomb and Calvary. They are interviews with Dr. Leen Ritmeyer, an archaeological architect who did work for the ESV Study Bible. The archaeology goes a long way toward affirming the biblical accounts.

We like it when archaeology (or any other science or secular discipline) confirms what we believe. It makes us feel better. We like to sit up and point and say, "See? Science agrees." When psychology reports that children do better with a father and a mother or when sociologists report that people who live together before marriage have a higher divorce rate than those who don't, we like to say, "See? They agree with us."

I, on the other hand, get a little edgy when we go there. I have to ask, "What will you say when they don't? What will you say when archaeology denies a biblical claim? What will you say when psychology reports that there is no value in monogamy?" And we already know the answer. When science decided that the Earth was much older than the Bible seemed to claim, Christians set about finding ways around the Bible claim.

I am not one who stakes my beliefs on secular affirmation. I like secular affirmation. I like good reasoning. I value evidence. But my reason for believing, in the final analysis, isn't that science confirms it or psychology agrees or archaeology supports it or sociologists are finally getting what we've always claimed. These things are prone to error. They are not without bias, as some might think. They are not without deception as some might claim. They are not without hidden agendas as we would all prefer to believe. So I'm not banking on secular affirmation of biblical truth. It's nice when you can get it, but I think there will come a time when science reaches its pinnacle of information only to find that Christianity was already there.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Law of Averages

America has been on a vast "self-improvement" effort for the past several decades. We have been stunningly successful. By careful and incremental steps, we have managed to raise many people to being "above average".

When I was young, above average meant that you had to know the definition and even use in a sentence the word "circumnavigation". Today you are above average if you know that "sale around the world" is not the same as "sail around the world". When I was young, a "locomotive" was a common term for the device that pulls a train. Today's young people would likely think it was some crazy reason for doing something. In order for me to excel in education, I had to get better than a 3.75 grade point average (since 4.0 was the highest possible) and then finish college. Today a 4.0 is "slacking" but tells others nothing about your abilities or intelligence (It's called "grade inflation") and graduating from high school is an achievement ... well, perhaps not a meaningful achievement, but certainly makes you above average.

When I entered the work force (which, technically, was when I was 12 ... but that's a different matter), to be above average you had to work hard. You had to do more than others did, produce more than others produced, be more accurate than others were, or serve more customers (with a smile) than others served. Whatever the business, you had to work hard to do more than the rest to be above average. Today new entries to the work force have to show up on time more often than the rest to be considered outstanding, likely management material.

I could go on, but here's the deal. In a very short time America has managed to push more and more of its young people "above average" simply by lowering standards and expectations. In other words, if we lower the average, then the law of averages would say that it's a lot easier to be above average. It was wrong of us to think that kids could behave in church, so the ones that don't are "average" and the ones that do ... well, it's a good chance those parents are abusive. It was wrong of us to think that the "service industry" would provide "service" ... so they don't. It was wrong to expect kids to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, so the ones that do must be brilliant. It was wrong of us to think that hard work and determination were values we should espouse. Show up most of the time and don't damage things and you'll be fine. By lowering expectations and standards, we've managed to raise a whole lot more of our people to the "above average" rating. I think that should go in the "success" column. Don't you? Or is that just too much sarcasm on my part?