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Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Solar Idea

I have an idea. Let's try it out for a moment. Maybe it's a good one.

Everyone knows, regardless of where you fall on the whole "global warming" thing, that it would be good to modify our energy sources. There are wind, hydro, solar, geothermal ... lots of options. Living here in the Arizona desert, I'm particularly aware of the solar option.

Now, folks like Senator Barbara Boxer are hard at work refusing to allow us to get California's oil and even California's solar power, despite being on the Environment and Public Works Committee and touting strong environmental concerns. "Not in my backyard" is her idea. You see, building solar systems large enough to make a difference would occupy a lot of desert, and she doesn't want to disturb the kangaroo rats (or whatever).

Okay, so here's what we know. We know that there is actually a limited part of the country that makes for good solar power. California's desert, Arizona, and New Mexico are really about it. And we know that solar power takes a lot of space to make a difference. Here's what else we know. Every business has parking associated with it. And it is hot parking here in Arizona's sun. So, here's my idea.

What if we started building solar panels in parking lots? Elevate them, of course, and put them in the rows of parking. They wouldn't disturb any animals, and they would provide much appreciated relief for people who park there. Larger businesses would have larger parking lots and provide larger solar arrays. If the businesses installed them, they could use the output to offset their energy expenses. If power companies put them in, they could "rent" the space at a small fee. Everyone gains. There are probably hundreds of square miles of parking lots in Arizona, more than enough to provide a large, clean power source for more than just Arizona. It would add shade, make parking more pleasant, lots of benefits.

I don't know. I'm sure there are a lot of considerations I'm not taking into account right now. But I think it could be a good idea. Maybe?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Problem of Experience

Epistemology is a fancy term and mostly just for philosophers. It is a discussion about the question, "How do we know ... anything at all?" While it is often a heated debate among philosophy types, the truth is that it's a common question behind much of our everyday lives. "I think I know who took your pen." "How do you know?" "I know my wife loves me." "How do you know?" "I know there is a God." "How do you know?" So while it may not be often asked explicitly, it still looms behind most any claim we might make to knowing things.

We could discuss until we're blue in the face what is the best way of knowing. I won't do it. Lots of people think "Science is the best way of knowing", but science is always changing, so I have to ask, "How do you know?" A lot of people operate mostly on feelings -- they "know" because they "feel" it's true. I have to wonder about that one, too. But one we almost all agree upon is the concept of experience. For instance, if a person spouts advice on how to raise a troubled child to a parent in distress, one of the first questions that parent may ask is "Do you have any kids?" You see, we're not sure we can trust their information if they haven't experienced it. You can tell me that this or that is true and I may or may not go along with you, but no one can question what I have experienced because, well, I was there. Consider a fictional Mr. Burns. There is a fire. Forensic science can come along and examine what type of accelerant was used and find that unusual accelerant at Mr. Burns' house and find that he has no alibi for the time of the fire and demonstrate that he has a motive for setting the fire and finally conclude, "Mr. Burns is an arsonist." Or, I could say, "Mr. Burns is an arsonist" and they would ask me, "How do you know?" to which I would reply, "I was there when he lit the fire. I tried to stop him, but couldn't get there in time. I saw him pour out the accelerant. I saw him light it. I saw him rub his hands with glee as the fire started to spread." Which is more compelling ... the logical deductions of a forensic scientist or the experience of an eye-witness? You see, we are all pretty much convinced that, regardless of what else you might claim, experience is the best method of knowing something.

There is a problem here, however. In my example above, I touch on it. "I saw him rub his hands with glee as the fire started to spread." How do I know it was "glee"? You see, at this point in what I know I know, I have applied deductions of my own. The problem occurs a lot, but because we experienced it, we don't question it. We assume reasons for things because we experienced it ... and we may not be right. That's a problem.

Consider the biblical record. In the Bible it is abundantly clear that God is at work at all times in all places. If this were not so, all biblical theology would change. Still, what we don't see is exactly what God is doing at all times in all places. We don't know what was going on with the Hittites or what God was doing with the Perrizites (I just like the name). We do get some God-given glimpses into what He was doing with His chosen people, but only some glimpses. We know, for instance, that God kept Israel in slavery in Egypt until the iniquity of the Amorites was full (Gen 15:16), so God was using Israel as His method of judgment. God told Habakkuk He was going to use the Chaldeans (Hab 1:6) to punish Israel. So we get glimpses, but not a complete picture. Two things we do know. 1) God is good ... all the time. 2) God is working ... all the time.

Now, consider the experiences of the people in the Bible. Joseph was sold into slavery. He could have concluded "This isn't good; my experience tells me so." Instead he concluded, "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Gen 50:20) in spite of his unpleasant experiences. Job could have concluded that life wasn't worth living based on his experiences (Job 1:1-19), but amidst the agony (in spite of his experience) it says, "Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped" (Job 1:20). Or how about the Chaldeans? You know that when they were planning their campaign against Israel they weren't thinking, "We're going to be a part of God's work in chastising Israel." No, they were thinking, "We're going to take over the world" (or something akin to it). In other words, their experience lied to them. "We're setting out on conquest; we know because it is our experience." No, you're wrong, you're setting out to be used by God as a tool to correct His people, Israel.

It is a given in most of our minds that experience = truth. We can dally about with all sorts of other arguments about epistemology, but we all accept truisms like "experience is the best teacher" and "I know what I saw." Unfortunately, we generally do not see God's hand at work. Since that is the typical case, and since we do know that God is good all the time and God is working all the time, is it possible that we are allowing our experiences to lie to us when we should be concluding something different? Wouldn't it be better, for instance, when things go badly, that we conclude the truth -- God causes all things to work together for good -- rather than rely on our faulty experiences to inform us? Or, to put it another way, when our experiences contradict what God says, who is lying? (Hint: It's not God.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I just finished off the portion of Exodus that details the tale of the golden calf (Exo 32). There was a lot we all know. We know that the Israelites who affirmed mere days before "All that the LORD has spoken we will do" (Exo 19:8) didn't do what they affirmed. We know that they "coerced" Aaron (Moses's question was, "What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?" Nothing. They simply asked.) into making a golden calf. And I'm sure we've all been amused by Aaron's response, "I threw [their gold] into the fire, and out came this calf." Nice, Aaron. Of course, we all know that "that day about three thousand men of the people fell" (Exo 32:28). Something that struck me this time around, however, was a small verse at the end of the chapter that I never seemed to notice before: "Then the LORD sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one that Aaron made" (Exo 32:35).

Frankly, I find the verse a little unnerving. We already had the event where Moses "persuaded God" (yes, I know, that's not actually what happened, but that's how it appeared) not to entirely annihilate Israel (Exo 32:7-14). Moses was so angry himself that he threw down the tablets that God wrote (Exo 32:16, 19). And we already had the "judgment" of 3,000 people put to death for the crime. But here we have something ... ominous. "The Lord sent a plague." Now, we don't know what kind of plague. Israel suffered several plagues, among other things, as judgment. And we don't know how many died. Israel has a history of losing lots of people to God's plagues (see, for instance, in 2 Samuel 24 when David numbered the people and 70,000 people died). So an unnamed plague killed an unknown number of people on top of the original 3,000 for this sin.

The concept of God's justice is largely pushed away from 21st century America, including the Church in America. We just don't like to talk about it. We don't think about it. We like the "good news", the "salvation" thing, the whole "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life" approach, but this whole "fire and brimstone" thing is out. As a result, when we talk about things like adultery, fornication, sexual relations between same genders (for Von's benefit), dishonoring the Sabbath, dishonoring parents, and so on, well, we're against it, sure, but we don't generally think of it in terms of judgment. Paul offers a variety of lists:
... covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless ... (Rom 1:29-30).

... sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these (Gal 5:19-21).

... the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers ... (1 Cor 6:9-10).

... lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power (2 Tim 3:2-5).
The people that fall in these lists are not merely "bad people", "immoral", "in need of salvation". Oh, they are all that, but not merely that. These people fall under the just wrath of God. They are the ones through whom God is "desiring to show His wrath and to make known His power" (Rom 9:22). They're the ones with a plague, so to speak, hanging over their heads.

There is a tendency among Christians to ignore God's judgment and focus on a "kinder, gentler" version of God. This wasn't the God of the Old Testament and, therefore, is not the God of today. Yes, He has prepared a way of escape, a method of salvation, and that is truly good news. But the good news is minimized when we minimize the wrath of God against such things. On the other hand, for those Christians who "cry out against the evils of this world", there is another problem. These people tend to feel a sense of superiority. "You see, we see the true nature of their evil and call it what it is. Thank you, Lord, that I'm not like them." Me? I'm thinking that if I care at all about my fellow man, I need to avoid the two errors. I must not ignore God's judgment. We don't even know what it cost Israel that day in the Sinai desert. What will it cost us? On the other hand, it isn't superiority that would make me stand on these issues. It is genuine concern. It's more like fellow soldiers: "Hey, hey, buddy! You're standing in a minefield and you are ready to step on a mine! You really need to stop and follow my directions to get you out of there!" To me, neither "God loves you and it's all good" nor "Repent in dust and ashes, you wretched heathen!" will get across what I'm trying to get across. I think I'd prefer a middle ground that recognizes both the seriousness of the problem and the predicament my fellow humans are in.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Earth Day 2009

We just celebrated another "Earth Day" ... you know, where we all celebrate ... the Earth. The notion is that we all need to become aware of the environment, to protect the Earth, to keep nature safe. Some might think that this is irrelevant to Christians. It shouldn't be. We were given the mandate to be God's representatives on this planet. We are to be the caretakers, so to speak.

It seems, though, that it is very easy to slip into extremes on the topic. One side will be very happy if human beings were exterminated so that our planet will be better off. Plants and animals rise to the highest exalted position, and humans are the problem. You know, like the ominous line from Bambi: "Man was in the forest." On the other side you'll find the extremist that says, "We were commanded to dominate the planet, and I'll do whatever I please to it."

Someplace in between I think we'll find the truth. On one hand, we are tasked with the job of taking care of our world. It is not because our world is more important than we are. It is not that we are not allowed to use the resources God has built into this world for us. We are simply to be responsible about it. We are to take care of the weak where we can. We are to manage our environment to the best of our ability, simultaneously making use of and maintaining it. On the other hand, we know the end game. We've skipped to the back of the book and we know how it comes out. If we were tasked with making this planet better and better all the time at all cost, we'd find a problem. We'd be running against God's stated outcome. We already know that the final outcome of the planet on which we live is destruction by fire from God.

Somewhere between "Dogs are people too, you know" and "Use it up" I think we'll find the truth. First, this world doesn't belong to us, so we are not free to abuse it. Conversely, this world was built and put in place for our benefit, so we are expected to use the resources that are available. Beyond that, as representatives of God on Earth, we need to be responsible without being fanatical. We need to take care without being "tree huggers" because, frankly, "hugging" a planet that is scheduled for demolition just doesn't make a lot of sense.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (WCF III-1)
Some time ago I was teaching an adult class on Sunday morning. I read that paragraph to them and asked them what they thought. "No way!" they said. They were quite sure that God did not ordain all that came to pass.

In days gone by, the doctrine of the Providence of God was a given. There was no dispute. It was certain that, as the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it, "God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy." Okay, yeah, it's a mouthful, but you get the idea. The doctrine of the Providence of God is simply this: God is in control of all things. Duh! Of course! And still, like my Sunday class, while Christendom was quite sure of this prior to the 20th century, we aren't convinced anymore. Why is that?

I would suggest two sources that have caused this doubt. First, science came along and subverted God as the prime source of truth. Then it went on to replace God entirely. Who needs Him? We figured out how stuff works. Who needs God? It's a funny thing, though. For instance, we've figured out a lot about how cells work. They are routinely compared to factories ... as if factories are self-sustaining engines with no intelligence or design behind them. The suggestion we get from science is that life itself is self-sustaining. And even if you're not a hardcore atheist stridently clinging to Evolution as the answer, you'll find it is likely that you, too, think of our world as running basically by itself with various physical laws and natural functions and ... where is God in all of this?

Another real problem occurred in the 20th century as the Enlightenment was assuring us that things were just getting better and better -- World War. It happened not once, but twice. And there were more ... lots more. According to The War Scholar, in the last decade of the 20th century alone there were 74 wars raging around the world. In fact, there was no time in the 20th century that someone wasn't at war with someone -- generally many someones with many someones. Add onto that the apparent decline of well-being. While we continually seem to make life "more comfortable", more and more things go wrong. There are increases in violent crime, increases in famine, increases in conditions like ADD, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and so on. We "wipe out" smallpox and come up with AIDS. So, while one would think that a God who is Provident would make things better, they don't seem to be getting better.

So, assured by science that our world runs on its own and beleaguered by experience that things are not going well, we can easily question whether or not God is in charge. You know it is just about the first question that is asked when you hear about a tragedy. "How could God allow that?" So God is on the outside looking in, a Deistic God who is relegated to the outskirts, even of a lot of Christendom.

It isn't, of course, what was believed in previous Christianity. It certainly isn't the God of the Bible. That God "works all things according to the counsel of his will" (Eph 1:11). That God is the Creator of all things. Paul said, "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Of Christ, the Bible says, "All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:3) and "By Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together" (Col 1:16-17). Jesus claimed, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me" (Matt 28:18). The author of Hebrews said that Christ was "the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world" and "He upholds the universe by the word of His power" (Heb 1:2-3). In other words, while science tells us that the world runs itself, the Bible argues that the world could not exist without God continually making it so, and that He does so for His own glory. And the problem of evil is interesting in Scripture. It is never anything but evil, receiving just condemnation, but it is also never out of control. It is always by God's design for God's purposes. While we question God in times of trouble, it was exactly times of trouble that pushed believers back to the Providence of God. Joseph, sold into slavery by his own brothers, concluded, "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Gen 50:20). In the midst of threats and jailings, this is what the early church prayed:
Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, Your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, "Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against His Anointed" -- for truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to Your servants to continue to speak Your word with all boldness, while You stretch out Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of Your holy servant Jesus" (Acts 4:24-30)
The loss of the doctrine of the Providence of God is not an improvement on Christian theology. It is a violation of historic orthodoxy, a separation from clear biblical teaching, a leap away from reality, and a departure from the only source of real sanity that can be had in troubled times. You may wish to question, "Why would God allow this to happen?" I understand. But if you don't answer, finally, "Because He is good," then you don't really know God ... and that is something that is all-important.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Speak the Truth

Most people don't know this about me -- perhaps no one does -- but it's the truth. I spend a great deal of my thinking time trying to talk myself out of my feeling that I'm a waste of human skin. Oh, it ebbs and flows. There are tides in this feeling. Sometimes I feel like I'm not really all that bad. But most of the time I'm pretty sure that I'm a zero at best. Mind you, these feelings have no root in reality. I'm not stupid, ugly, poor, unhealthy, unkind, unemployed, or any of the myriad of other things that might suggest in today's society that someone is worthless. On the other hand, I do have reasons to tell myself I'm nothing, even if they're not valid (reasonable) reasons. And it's certainly easier to hear the negatives tossed my way than any positives someone might offer. But even though my feelings are lying to me about reality, I still struggle with it continually. It's just something over which I've fought with myself for as long as I can recall.

It's a funny thing about this inferiority complex of mine. Behind it there is a sense of superiority. Oh, it is carefully masked, hiding in the shadows, making sure it never shows its face fully. Still, there is the unspoken idea of "Thank you Lord that I'm not like those arrogant jerks who think more highly of themselves than they ought to." And the moment I catch a glimpse of that masked man, I begin to think that my inferiority complex ... is a lie.

There may be questions about my inferiority, superiority, or lack thereof. Let's start with what I can know.
I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! (Psa 139:14-17)
Now, comparing what is clear there with what my opinion of me is, we find a conflict. I say, "I'm no good at anything" and this says "I am fearfully and wonderfully made." That is, I say, in essence, "No, I'm not!" I say, "I'm not doing any good" and this says, "In Your book were written every one of [my days] when there were yet none." That is, I say, in essence, "Your plan for me, God, is a thorough failure." And on what do I base my conclusions? I'm not at the same speed (appearance, skill, income, intelligence, whatever you want to consider) as other people that God designed. Now, if that's not sheer, unadulterated arrogance, I don't know what is.

I will continue to struggle in this arena. It's an emotional issue, something about which I need to keep telling myself the truth. In other words, I'm fighting the same thing every one of you is fighting -- a deceitful heart. But the slap in the face that I get when I realize that my "humility" of feeling inferior is actually an arrogant assault on the character of God is a real help ... on occasion. You know how it is. Too many slaps or too hard, and it just gets too painful to think about anymore. So instead my goal will be "to think with sober judgment" (Rom 12:3).

Friday, April 24, 2009

A heated discussion

A heated, multimedia gay-marriage discussion spanning YouTube, Twitter and "The Hills" ensued after a Miss USA contestant answered a question about the topic ... (Source - WSJ)

Carrie's answer to the hot button question cost her the crown - at least according to Perez. (Source - Yahoo)

Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears have taken to Twitter to support gay marriage, just days after Miss California Carrie Prejean sparked controversy during Sunday night's Miss USA competition when asked by celeb blogger Perez Hilton if more states should legalize same-sex marriage. (Source - MTV)
I'm sure most of us are aware of the controversy. Miss California Carrie Prejean was not crowned Miss USA 2009 apparently because she had a point of view on the topic of whether or not marriage should be redefined to include same sex couples that didn't coincide with the Hollywood majority.

What was actually said:
Perez Hilton: "Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same sex marriage. Do you think every state should follow suit? Why or why not?"

Miss California Carrie Prejean: "Well I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. Um, we live in a land that you can choose same sex marriage or opposite marriage and, you know what, in my country and in, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman -- no offense to anybody out there. But that's how I was raised and that's how I think that it should be between a man and a woman."
This response spawned "a heated, multimedia gay-marriage discussion". It brought out the truth from the likes of Miley Cyrus (who claims to be a devout Christian and "always go to church"(Source - Parade)) that people who call themselves Christians don't necessarily agree with what the Bible says. But it also brought out the truth of the question at hand.

The question, apparently, was entirely disingenuous. While being presented as a genuine question -- "What do you think and why?" -- it was actually intended as a test question where you can get it right or wrong. The only right answer was "Yes", and any other answer -- even "I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman" without trying to impose anything on anyone else -- is the wrong answer. Bzzzz! Sorry! Fail!

So ... this is where we're getting to, if we haven't already arrived. America is a free country where you have the liberty to have your own view on questions like whether or not to redefine marriage ... unless, of course, you disagree with the loudest group. If you do, then it will produce heated (not measured, intelligent) debate and could very well cost you in other ways. In other words, you had better back off believing anything that the loud, angry crowd (regardless of whether or not they are the majority) believes. You simply need to change what you believe, change your perceptions ... submit! You see, it's the quiet, "I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one or the other ... but I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman -- no offense to anyone" types that are the dangerous ones, don't you know? Where it used to be that "your freedom ends at my nose", it has become "your freedom to think what you like is ended."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What's that you are saying?

In a sub-conversation over at The Practical Theonomist, I've been discussing with the owner his choice of terminology. He prefers the word "sodomite" to "homosexual" because, well, he is quite sure that the connotations of "homosexual" are dishonest while the term "sodomite" is truthful. And we are to speak the truth. I would agree that we are to speak the truth. My concern is that in "speaking the truth" we do what we can not to terminate the discussion.

Take, for instance, Jesus and His association with prostitutes and tax collectors. I'm guessing that if Jesus was here today (that is, in our English-speaking world) and associating with prostitutes as He did then, you wouldn't find Him walking around with them and telling His disciples in their hearing, "It's a good idea to minister to these whores and sluts." Now, "whore" is defined as "a woman who engages in promiscuous sexual intercourse, usually for money" and "slut" is defined as "an immoral or dissolute woman; prostitute", so the terminology would be correct, accurate, true ... but it would certainly terminate any such ministry. These are trigger words that provoke an emotional response long before any literal interpretation can take place. They carry a definition, true, but they also carry emotional baggage, a sense of insult and attack and disdain, that cannot be quickly or simply divorced from the terms. While they may be true terms in definition, they are intended as an affront. So if Jesus intended to continue the ministry to these sinners, He would need to do so 1) while still speaking the truth, but 2) without using unnecessary trigger words that immediately alienate.

The response I get to this notion is, essentially, "Well, if my choice of words offends them, it's their choice to stop listening, not mine." And, of course, it's easy to pull up a heart-warming Bible verse or two about how sinners won't accept what believers have to say. Indeed, put that way, it's almost vindication. And, I have to admit, there is a point at which inflammatory terms might become necessary. Using Jesus's example, He dealt for a long time with the worst of His ministry -- the Pharisees -- in truthful but non-inflammatory terms. Eventually, however, it became necessary to switch gears. They weren't hearing. "Your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees" (a back-handed way of saying, "Their righteousness is insufficient") turned into "You are of your father, the devil", which finally became, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness" (Matt 23:27). As kind and considerate as Jesus was at the beginning, we can clearly see that at the end His choice of language was no longer "kind". They weren't hearing the kinder, gentler terms, so He had to resort to harsher terms. So, I get it. I see that it's necessary at some point. My concern is when people who have something to say to particular people start out, in the name of "speaking the truth", using terms that are intended to offend and then find that the offense is vindication. "See? The Lord said they wouldn't hear, and they didn't."

As for "sodomite", I have to say that I think it's a poor choice of words today. I understand that "homosexual" carries with it connotations that are inaccurate. Today's society hears "homosexual" and thinks "lifestyle" and, almost certainly, "born that way" with its accompanying "therefore it's okay" notion. None of that fits with the biblical concept. It tends to remove the sense of choice and, therefore, culpability. It aims at eliminating God's judgment on the issue. It's wrong in these senses. But I would also contend that "sodomite" is not an accurate representation of the biblical concept either. According to the dictionary, "sodomy" means "anal or oral copulation with a member of the opposite sex", or "copulation with a member of the same sex" or "bestiality". Yes, "bestiality". The biblical term in Hebrew is qadesh (Deut 23:17) and references specifically a male cult temple prostitute. The Greek term is arsenokoites. This term is a combination of arsen -- "man" -- and koites -- a bed (from which we get our term, "coitus"). It is a reference, then, to men who essentially go to bed with men (mixing Greek intent with English vernacular). It does not reference "anal or oral copulation with a member of the opposite sex" or "bestiality", two of the other standard definitions of the term "sodomy". The term "sodomy" is not, therefore, the most accurate, truthful term to express what God is referencing as an abomination (Lev 18:22). It is referencing much more ... and therefore less clear.

The Bible isn't unclear on the subject. Any sexual relations outside of the marriage bed is sin. And "marriage" is clearly defined as "man and woman". So sexual relations with animals or the same gender or a person of the opposite gender to whom one is not married qualifies as sin. Indeed, all of that qualifies as egregious sin, under the judgment of God. We can't minimize it. We can't distort it. We can't call it what it's not. Still, it would seem to me that before we start shouting "Whore!" and "Sodomite!", we might want first to try to select truthful terms that don't begin by insulting the listener before the call to repentance is done. It just seems like the thing that Jesus did -- call for repentance and, if they don't hear, then change tactics.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What Have You Done For Him Lately?

I believe in the Doctrine of Election. (Don't worry. This isn't a post about Election.) I believe that God chooses whom He will save and they will get saved. So, you may wonder why I bother with evangelism. If God is going to save whom He chooses, why bother? Well, first, I am commanded to share the Gospel. You know, "Because He said so." But behind that, God invites me to participate in what He is doing by sharing the Gospel. In evangelism, I get to take part with God in His work. So sharing the Gospel with people is working with God as He works. It's doing something "for God", so to speak.

I believe in prayer. I believe that prayer changes things. I do not believe that prayer changes God's mind. It seems fundamentally ludicrous to me to think that I can say, "God, please do this or that and it will make things better" and God would reply, "Oh, thanks, Stan! I hadn't thought of that. I'll do it your way because your way is better than what I had in mind!" So ... if God doesn't change His mind, why pray? Well, first, I am commanded to pray. You know, "Because He said so." But behind that, God invites me to participate in what He is doing by bringing my requests to Him and seeing Him answer them. In prayer, I get to take part with God in His work. So, praying is working with God as He works. It's doing something "for God", so to speak.

I like to teach the Bible. It's something that really fulfills me. Now, I believe that it is the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth. So, if the Spirit is doing it, why do I bother? Well, I think you're beginning to see the pattern. Doing what God has given me to do, even though it is God doing it, is a chance to work with God in what He is doing. It's doing something "for God", so to speak.

Here's the thing that struck me recently. God says, "If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine" (Psa 50:12). (It's in that famous passage where God says He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.) Now, I understand that God is the one at work in me both to will and to do His good pleasure (Phil 2:13). I understand that God saves whom He will save, that He does what He will do, that He teaches whom He will teach. I get all that. So it's not as if God needs me to share in His work. I can participate with God as He works by sharing the Gospel, praying, teaching, or even obeying. Job points out "Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right, or is it gain to Him if you make your ways blameless?" (Job 22:3). Jesus spoke of how a servant who does what he was supposed to do has simply done what he was supposed to do. It doesn't give him credit. "Does [the master] thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty'" (Luke 17:9-10). It is not need on God's part that causes Him to allow me to be a part of His work. It is not to our merit to take part in His work. It is pure grace.

What have I done for Him lately? The question is only on my side. God is not fidgeting in heaven thinking, "Oh, I hope someone helps me out with this or that. Oh, good! There's Stan pitching in to help me! How nice!" No, it is only on my side. Like a father who could do his own work on his own car, but graciously allows his young son to take part (even if it slows him down), God graciously allows me to take part just so I can be with Him as He works. So, doing "for God" is really intended simply as a blessing for me. What a gracious God we serve!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Value of the Narrative

The Bible is filled with narratives, stories about events set in time and place. There are other things in there as well. You have poetry and you have propositional statements -- statements of what is true. You have doctrine and wisdom passages. You have prophecy and parable. There are a lot of different literary styles in the Bible, but a good portion is narrative.

One might think that it would be to our advantage if God didn't put that in there. After all, if the writers of the Bible had just made truth claims, we could just run with those. It's those pesky details of narratives that cause a lot of people problems. Take, for instance, the sequence of events outlined in the Genesis account of Creation. Now we're at odds with science because every good scientist knows that you can't have "day" (Gen 1:5) without "sun" (Gen 1:16) and you can't have vegetation (Gen 1:11) without the sun (Gen 1:16) and, oh, it's all wrong! You see, in this case, it seems, the devil is in the details.

Nice, well-meaning folk come along and try to smooth over the problem. "No, no," they assure us, "God never intended that to be taken literally. That's a problem of the literalists. Us wiser folk can see that it was myth, legend, metaphor. It wasn't actual." And they run roughshod over the narrative to spare themselves the problem.

So why did God include narrative in the Bible? I mean, couldn't He have just had Moses write, "Look, people, God created the world." End of story. Why all this stuff about Abraham? Moses put in details like places (like Canaan, Shechem, Haran, and so on) and people (Ishmael, Melchizedek, king of Salem, and Abimelech, king of Gerar, etc.) that are subject to investigation. Did the Hittites ever exist? (As it turns out, they did.) Was Israel ever really enslaved in Egypt? All these pesky details spelled out in these narratives ... wouldn't it have been better just to make declarative statements and be done with it? You know ... "God made everything", "God chose Abraham", "God promised Israel a particular land", that sort of thing.

I would hope that anyone who is a writer and anyone who is an avid reader would be rather irritated with me by this time. They know the value of the narrative. Or, at least, they have a sense of it. Most of us don't really think about it, but there is substance in narrative that is not found in the simple declarative. Let me give you a simple example. I tell you, "Bill is strong." Easy. Declarative. Now you know something about Bill. On the other hand, I go to the narrative approach and try it this way: "Bill saw the young boy pinned beneath the car and picked up the car to free the child." What do you know about Bill now? Well, you certainly know that he's strong. You also know something of the magnitude of his strength and a bit about how he uses that strength. You know much more about Bill because of the narrative. Now, obviously, it would seem that the best choice would be to combine the two. In this version, I would tell you, "Bill is strong. One time Bill saw a young boy pinned beneath a car and he picked up the car to free the child." I've given you a declarative statement and an example to make my statement clear.

This, as it turns out, is what we find in the biblical narrative. Remember, the Bible is God's Word, His Story. It is about God and His work, culminating in His Son. We find declaratives (i.e., "God is love" (1 John 4:8).). By going through the narratives, the Bible fills out what that concept means. We see it "fleshed out" in the choice of Israel (Deut 7:7-8). (God chose to set His love on Israel because He chose to set His love on Israel.) We see it illustrated in the chastisement of Israel. We see it portrayed in the restoration of Israel. And we see it laid out in glowing imagery in the arrival, life, death, and resurrection of His Son. In other words, it is possible to read the declarative "God is love" and then go through the entire Bible and see it illustrated. Or you can read "The Lord God omnipotent reigneth" (Rev 19:6). Then you can go back over Scripture and see that laid out in its broadest sense, from Creation to the Flood, from the promises to Abraham to their fulfillment in Christ, from fighting for Israel (I particularly like the story of Jeshoshaphat in 1 Chron 20 when he took the choir up to watch God fight with their enemies.) to taking them into captivity, from the Virgin Birth to the Resurrection to the end of the story. The Bible offers sprawling narratives to lay out just what "omnipotent" means when applied to God.

The Bible is full of all sorts of literary types. One of those types is the declarative -- propositional statements. Propositional statements are nice. They declare something to be true. Easy. Clean. But it is in the narrative that we can begin to experience the propositional. It is in the stories of the Bible that we can "see" and "feel" what God is like. Sure, He could just say, "I'm this way and that way", and it would be true and valuable. Still, it is the narratives that end up providing more clarity than the declaratives ... if we are looking for it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

To Judge or Not to Judge

Matthew 7:1 has surpassed John 3:16 as the most recognizable Bible verse in the world. It is a popular weapon that non-believers like to throw at believers when a Christian tries to point out that such-and-such a thing is immoral. "Judge not, that you be not judged." And, of course, it is equally true that the notion that this phrase means "Do not call into question any moral values" is utter nonsense.

Why? Well, most simply, the very next passages says, "First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (Matt 7:5). In other words, you do need to take the speck (error) out of others' eyes (and that obviously requires judgment). Jesus immediately goes on to warn "Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you" (Matt 7:6). In other words, you need to judge two things: 1) what is "holy", and 2) who are "dogs" or "pigs". No, no, to suggest that Matthew 7:1 is a command to stop followers of Christ from recognizing sin when they see it is utter nonsense.

There is, however, a real need to avoid some other types of judgments that come so easily to us. James talks about an example of the types of judgment of which I speak.
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4).
This is a distinction based on appearance. In this example, someone sees the rich guy and thinks, "This guy is more worthy of my attention that the poor guy." James calls it "judges with evil thoughts".

You have to admit ... we all do it. "Look how big she is! She must really eat a lot! Obviously she doesn't care about her appearance!" And she's shunned. Or "Did that kid really intend to look like that when he left the house? Doesn't he know how bad he looks with the tattoos and the piercings and the pants that ride below his boxers?" And he's shunned. Most of us routinely determine "He looks like a homeless guy; I think I'll avoid him" or "This girl looks like trouble." We also routinely do the opposite. "He looks like he takes care of himself and is well-dressed and well-mannered; he probably knows what he's talking about." "Well, I've seen her at church every week and she always seems to nice. I'm sure she knows Jesus." In both types of cases, we look at the outside and ascribe character traits and motives without genuine cause.

We all know "You can't judge a book by its cover" ... and we all do it. We all ought to stop. (I use "ought" there in the moral imperative sense.) You don't know the real reason why she is overweight or he is poorly dressed or she has a tattoo or he has been attending church all this time. We ought to avoid judgment (positive or negative) based on these things. (We really need to spend time with these folks to figure this stuff out -- hint, hint, nudge, nudge.)

It is foolhardy and arrogant when we withhold judgment of sin. God said it is sin; we would be idiots to disagree. It is equally foolish to judge on the basis of appearance. God doesn't (1 Sam 16:7). Let's see if we can work on judging rightly rather than stereotypically.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
O’er us sin no more hath dominion—
For more than conquerors we are!

His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!
The song was written back in 1918 by Helen H. Lemmel. She was given a tract by a missionary friend entitled Focused. It challenged the reader to "turn your eyes upon Him, look full into His face and you will find that the things of earth will acquire a strange new dimness." According to Helen, "Suddenly, as if commanded to stop and listen, I stood still, and singing in my soul and spirit was the chorus, with not one conscious moment of putting word to word to make rhyme, or note to note to make melody. The verses were written the same week, after the usual manner of composition, but none the less dictated by the Holy Spirit."

The song is an echo of other Bible passages. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt 6:33). "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb 12:2). "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth" (Col 3:2). So it's not as if Helen Lemmel is providing us with an idea of her own here. No, this is God's notion.

Are you weary or troubled? Is life wearing on you? Are you concerned about circumstances (our phrase -- "under the circumstances")? Are you just not in the mood to worship? Are you hestitant at sharing your hope with others? Then "Turn your eyes upon Jesus -- look full in His wonderful face -- and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Bible Maps

I was looking for a map the other day. I wanted to find out how tall the mountains were around my house. So I looked at the climate map and found out what the climate is like in my area. I looked at the road map and found out the roads that access my area. I looked at the physical map and found that there were mountains in my area, along with some hills, a canal, and a lake, but not how tall. Then I looked at a topographical map and, at last, I found out how tall these mountains were.

I was disturbed by this exercise. I would like to think that the maps that are available were trustworthy. Obviously they're not. The climate map didn't show me any roads, for instance, but the road map said there were lots of them. Clearly a contradiction! Of course, the climate map was obviously lying as well. You see, I live here and nowhere do I see those large swaths of colors (you know, red, orange, yellow, all that) where I live. So that map was clearly wrong. I couldn't trust the physical map either, because, while it showed me mountains, they were all ... flat. Everyone knows mountains aren't flat. And I know the streets I drive, so why weren't they on the topographical map. Obviously no one makes a map that I can trust ... right?

Of course, I'm being willfully ignorant. Everyone knows that these maps don't contradict each other. They are all correct even though they present different information. The reason they all differ is that they are trying to present different information. The cartographers had differing intent and focus, so the maps represent the individual intent and focus. And the only way to read these individual maps is to know first what the focus is and then know the convention that the cartographer is using. In the climate map, for instance, you had to first know that the intent and focus was the typical, general temperatures of the area. Then you had to know that orange is hotter than yellow and red is hotter than orange and so forth. (Trust me. I live in Arizona. My region never sees blues, whites, or any of those "cool" colors.) Now the map is generally correct, tells me what the map maker intended to convey, and provides useful information. It is not the same information the other types of maps provide.

The Bible is a lot like this. In the Bible we have 66 books written by a variety of authors with a variety of intents and foci (focuses, if you will). There is a general intent throughout -- telling about God and His work in our world. But each one also has some other purposes as well. In every case the intent is pretty obvious. Sometimes there are multiple goals at work, but it's not hard to figure these things out. Some give narratives of historical events to tell about what God was doing. The point was not the historical events. The point was what God was doing. Thus, you won't hear much about the Hittite Empire, for instance, because, well, that wasn't the point. God was working with Israel. That's the point. Does this make the Bible inaccurate? No, no more so than the climate map was inaccurate when it failed to show roads. Sometimes you will read events expressed phenomenologically. (I like that word. It means expressing things as they appear.) So when Joshua 10:13 says, "The sun stood still, and the moon stopped," there is no need to think that this is expressing a scientific phenomenon. It is simply explaining what an event looked like. In other words, you have to ask what the author intended to convey. (Remember, the intent is to convey God at work.) It was expressed in a way that the readers of the day could understand. It is not, therefore, any more inaccurate than the physical map was when it showed flat mountains. One of the popular attacks on the Bible today is in the harmony of the Gospels. Clearly they contradict ... right? I mean, was Jesus quiet on the cross like Luke portrays or did He cry out like Mark portrays? If you keep the maps in mind, you'll find that they don't contradict any more than the topographical map contradicts the road map. They are presenting the intent and focus of the particular author and offer differing, but equally accurate views. (Note: The concept of "harmony" in music is not that each person sings the same note, but that each person singing different notes work together to make a whole sound. This is the same sense in which the Gospels are harmonized.)

Lots of skeptics like to take the Bible to task. Why are there variations? How can anyone understand it? Obviously there are scientific errors! The problem is that these skeptics are failing, even refusing, to read the Bible as it is written. It is not a science book. It is not even a history book. It is a book about God. If you take the time to understand the various approaches and intents of the authors, it turns out that there are no genuine contradictions, no passages impossible to understand, no errors. Instead, you get a chorus of voices with a diverse set of approaches painting a vivid picture of God's work in the world, all with a view to the apex of His work, His Son. It takes real effort to twist these things ... like I did above when all the maps were wrong! It takes willful ignorance.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Here's one for you. It probably won't be a surprise, but it really strikes me as if it should be. April 18-26 is World Laboratory Animal Liberation Week. World Laboratory Animal Liberation Week (WLALW for short) was established as a national week of protest. Seriously ... a national week of protest. Organizations around the country, from commercial laboratories to universities, are gearing up for this event. Expect protests, to be sure, but be prepared for violence, aimed primarily at ... humans. The stated goal is "to fight for the animals that are imprisoned in laboratories". They want all animal testing stopped.

There are no alternatives offered. There are no ways suggested whereby scientists can safely test drugs for human consumption. They simply demand that testing with animals be stopped. I can only guess that if you want to test your AIDS cures or your diabetes remedies or your drugs to eliminate cancer on humans, by all means. And they don't mind at all using the existing medicines and other products that were obtained by animal-testing methods. Just let those poor animals go!

I find it stunning that there are so many who now hold animals as more valuable than humans. It's reverse speciesism. It flies in the face of standard Darwinian Evolution which praises the survival of the fittest. And if you try to suggest that God has made humans in His image, you're the lunatic. I find it amazing that these same people are generally perfectly happy with embryonic stem cell testing and even abortion. Kill the babies; that's okay. Just let those poor animals go!

As this kind of thinking (I use the term loosely) grows, it becomes more and more apparent that sin rots the brain. We have gone beyond Paul's "Phase 1": "Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things" (Rom 1:22-23). We've easily surpassed "Phase 2": "Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen" (Rom 1:24-25). Too many in our society have reached the third level: "And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done" (Rom 1:28). Welcome to the asylum, where the inmates run the show.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


It is a tendency, I think, for humans to think in reductionist terms. We like things boiled down, simplified, easy. We like things in steps, in simplistic processes. Life, unfortunately, is not that simple. It's a complex matter with shades, variations, vagaries.

When it comes to Christianity, then, people (believers and unbelievers) like to think in simplified terms. "Christianity is a set of doctrines (orthodoxy)." "No, no, Christianity is a moral code (orthopraxy)." "Christianity is a religion." "No it's not; it's a relationship." And we talk as if one nullifies the other or, worse, all the rest.

The source book for Christianity is the Bible. The Bible is not a simple book in the sense of one-dimensional. It is, to coin a term, a "hisstory" book. It is a book about "His Story", the story of God and His work, culminating in Christ, and the ramifications thereof. This book contains doctrines without a doubt. It also contains commands -- imperatives. It contains promises and warnings. It contains propositional statements -- claims to truth. But even as it makes claims to truth, it steps away from the simplified concept of "truth" into an organic concept. Jesus said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). He went on to say, "I am ... the truth ..." (John 14:6). So there is truth, and the truth -- ultimate truth -- is not only found in the person of Christ; it is Christ. Remember, "By Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together" (Col 1:16-17).

Just as the Bible is not a simple book, neither is Christianity. You don't become a Christian by subscribing to a philosophy or agreeing to simple facts, although you do need to agree with the truth of the Gospel. You don't get saved by following a moral code, although we are commanded to be holy. The Christian life isn't a 12-step process, even though there are processes involved in Christian living. I'm sorry to make it sound so difficult to the reductionist's ears, but Christianity is dynamic. It is orthodoxy and orthopraxy. It is religion and relationship. It is truth that changes how you live. It's not a simple thing. Fortunately, while it is a complex thing, it's not a complicated thing. As Paul puts it, it's a mystery. "To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col 1:27).

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Inerrancy and Interpretation

It is a fundamental belief in Christianity that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. This doctrine is logically necessary and a practical necessity. First, if God breathed it, how could it be in error? If God superintended this document, how could it possibly be wrong? Practically speaking, we need solid ground on which to stand. If you believe the Bible is riddled with error, then arguing about what it says and what it means and how we are to respond is pointless. It's wrong. (I've never been able to figure out why people that deny the inerrancy of the Bible go on to argue about what it means. Why bother if it's erroneous?)

The basic premise of inerrancy is that the Bible is without error in its original form. In other words, it is possible to allow the possibility of copy errors. Of course, that becomes a non-issue when you consider that, due to the large number of extant manuscripts, we are sure that more than 99% of what we have is true to the original, so "in its original form" becomes an extremely minor point.

The problem, however, arises when we mix the inerrancy of the Bible with our own interpretation. Christianity affirms (despite what some might say) that the Word of God is inerrant. Good! But nowhere in Christianity do we find the argument that our interpretation of what the Bible says is inerrant. Somehow, it seems, this fact eludes a lot of people.

Here is often how it goes. An ardent believer will make a statement like, "The Bible says ___." A skeptic (who may be an equally ardent believer) might reply, "No, it doesn't." And the first will respond, "So, you deny the Word of God??!!" (with the implied "Heretical Blasphemer!" unsaid on the end). No, not necessarily. The denial is not of the Word of God, but of the interpretation applied.

Let me give you an example that should be obvious. The Bible says, "There is no God." Oh, sure, deny it if you will, but I can give you chapter and verse. Psalm 14:1 is quite clear. "There is no God." Of course, I've managed to stretch what it actually says by ripping it entirely out of context. What it actually says is "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" Was I accurate when I said that the Bible says "There is no God"? Yes! Would you be correct in disagreeing with me? Absolutely!

We have an inerrant Bible. It is logically and practically so. We believe it by faith and have found by experience that it is so. Good! Let's not make that next step, however, and mistakenly think, therefore, that our interpretation is infallible. We are, after all, according to Scripture suffering from hearts so deceitful that we don't even know it. It should bring some sense of humility to your approach if you keep in mind that God is always right ... but you and I are not.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Membership has its benefits

Remember that classic, The Sound of Music? It is the story of the Von Trapp family based (loosely) on a true story. One of the main characters, of course, is Captain Von Trapp, the father of the family. As the story progresses, the captain is ordered to join the German navy. The captain is so repulsed by the Nazis that he refuses, choosing instead to take his family and flee his beloved Austria. The man had character. There were other characters in the story as well. Remember Rolfe? He was a good kid and, according to the duet he sang as he wooed the eldest daughter, Liesl, "older and wiser". That's why it comes as quite a shock when, at the end of the story, Rolfe is part of the Nazi organization, even attempting to prevent the Von Trapps from escaping.

It begs the question. What is it that makes a person join? Now, Rolfe is a fictional character, so asking why he joined and why the captain did not would be futile. Still, I often wonder. What makes people join ... whatever? Why do kids join gangs? Why do people join PETA or other such organizations? Why do some join the Young Republicans? And let's be fair ... why do some join the church? I think that there are multiple answers, and the "why" makes a big difference.

The most obvious reason to join a group -- any group -- would be ideology. You like what they are saying, you deem it a worthy cause, so you join in the effort. It's a good reason. I would argue, however, that it's not likely the most common reason. I don't think, for instance, that the Hitler Youth organization was populated by young, eager kids dedicated to the Nazi cause. I would expect that, instead, they became dedicated to the cause long after they were indoctrinated by being in the group. So what would be the more common reasons?

If you visit the Young Republicans website, they'll offer you a reason to join. "Join the future of the REPUBLICAN MAJORITY!" I would guess that this would be an extremely common reason to join a group. It's not that the ideology is sound or the cause is such a good one. It's that it's good to be part of a group ... preferably a group with power. I suppose that's the more likely reason, isn't it? Power? People often feel powerless as individuals, but as a group they have power! Join the crowd, you see, because there is strength in numbers. And if your particular group starts to lose power, perhaps it's time to move to a new group. Young people join gangs for power. They certainly like the strength in numbers (as opposed to the extreme vulnerability of being outside and alone). It certainly is not the ideology of gangs that draws them. It's the power. I remember the story of a young man who was chased by a group of thugs. He was a runner, and as he ran the pursuers began to drop out. Finally he took a wrong turn and ended up in a dead-end alley, cornered. As he turned to face his pursuers, he found only one remained. This one looked around, saw none of his compatriots, shrugged, and walked away. You see, it wasn't that getting this guy was important. It was the power of being in a group.

For many, just being part of something is a large draw. It is, I'm quite sure, a common reason for the large numbers of attendees at mega-churches. They get to be part of something big. Even smaller churches have this draw. They have the potential of making you feel like you're part of a family. If you've felt like you're "outside" and alone somehow, this has a warm impact on a person. These folks may not go their churches because they are in agreement with the content, but because they want to be part of something. Some families go to church because the parents think, "It's good for my kids to have some good moral guidance", not because they think, "This stuff is true." Membership, you see, has its benefits.

Or look at it from this direction. Why do people join the military (as an example)? Well, the media and politicians would have us believe that the only reason there are people in the military is because they're poor, destitute, stupid people in need of work. That's a reason, I suppose. I joined because I wanted some job training. Others joined because they wanted to see the world on the government's dime. Some joined because it was cool to be in the military -- you know ... power, strength in numbers, part of something. I knew one guy who joined because he wanted to kill legally. Pat Tillman joined because he believed in the cause. There are lots of reasons to join, and believing in the ideology is only one.

There are two sides to this coin, when all is said and done. On one side, it is perhaps unwarranted to conclude that because someone is part of a particular group they are dedicated to the ideology of that group. There are far too many more popular reasons to join something than simple agreement with ideology. So before you go judging Rolfe (as a fictional example), remember that he more likely succumbed to other pressures rather than being convinced by Nazi beliefs. On the other hand (since I am primarily concerned about matters of Christianity), this is a problem for church-goers. You need to ask yourself, "Just because I go to church, does it mean that I am a Christian?" Church attendance doesn't achieve this. Even regular attendance isn't sufficient. Even ardent involvement doesn't do the trick. Remember the false believers who, at the final judgment, said to Jesus, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?" (Matt 7:22). Jesus rejects them. No, only one thing gets you to being an actual Christian. That is admission of guilt and faith in Christ as your sole source of salvation.

Membership does have its benefits. We need to be careful that we aren't relying on membership and its benefits as our means to salvation. Remember, most people don't join because they believe. They join because of the benefits. So ... if you consider yourself a Christian, why are you allied with Christ? Is it for the strength of numbers, the feeling of being part, even the notion of being loved and saved? Or is it because you are placing your sole trust in Him? It will make an eternal difference.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Dedicated Deviants

Deviant: Deviating from the accepted norm.

It has always puzzled me the number of people you find who are dedicated to deviating from Christianity while ardently maintaining their Christianity. I've never been able to figure this out. People go to great lengths to redefine the Gospel, the Bible, and Christianity in general in order to keep their pet view (read "sin") without losing their "faith". Why would they do that?

Despite what many might think, Christianity has a monolithic core. I know. Lots of people will disagree with that. But if you define "Christianity" as "following Christ" and Christianity's core definitions come from Christ's original followers (read "the Bible"), then Christianity is pretty narrow. You have to believe a set of things, and there is no negotiation. Christianity is built on the premise that God is (and there is no other), that all humans are sinners unable to save themselves from the just wrath of God, that in order to accomplish salvation, God became flesh in the from of Jesus Christ, lived a sinless life, died on the cross, and bodily rose again from the grave. Other doctrines stand without negotiation as well. There is, for instance, the Trinity, the inerrancy of Scripture, the Virgin Birth, and the Church, a universal entity made up of genuine believers. There is a moral code that follows from all this, a code derived from that inerrant Scripture.

Now, I won't deny that there is much discussion among true believers about the meaning and interpretation of Scripture. I would certainly affirm that not all genuine Christians agree on all points of doctrine. And, in that, I would also affirm that disagreements on these issues does not negate their Christianity. It's not these folks about whom I'm talking. You see, these folks all start with the sinfulness of Man, with salvation as a result of unmerited favor from God ("grace") through faith (apart from works) in Christ as our sole means of forgiveness and righteousness. These start with the Bible as their reliable source document, with the deity of Christ, with the Trinity as a given, and so forth. There is, in other words, fundamental agreement on so much before we ever get to the peripheral questions.

No, it's the rest that confuse me. It's those who argue, "You don't need to believe in the Resurrection to be a Christian." It's those who assert, "There is nothing in the Bible about sexual sin or homosexuality or how we should live our lives. You guys are just imposing your beliefs on others." It's the post-modern attack that says, "We cannot actually know truth. There is no 'worldview'. Texts have no inherent meaning. Morality is simply a power ploy. Truth is whatever you want it to be." Frankly, it's all a ploy to allow people to sin to their hearts' content and not face the truth. When people who like to call themselves "Christian" accept these arguments and run with them, I'm baffled. I mean, by all means you're free to believe what you want, but why would you demand that it is referred to as "Christian"? Why do people work so hard at stripping off anything that marks beliefs as "Christian" and then try to keep it "Christian"?

Sinning, frankly, is easy. Don't think about it; just do it. Still, it seems as if there is a large group of people that not only choose to sin, but also work hard at justifying it through Christianity. I don't get it. I don't see the point. It is not possible to deny Christianity and then call it Christian. And it's not right to impose a new, personal perspective on Christianity and expect it to be Christian. Now, I'm not telling these people to stop sinning. Oh, they should, and they would be better off for it. I'm just trying to figure out why they need to try to destroy Christianity by redefining it while they're at it. I just don't get it.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

My Favorite Easter Story

1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you -- unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me (1 Cor 15:1-8).
That's has to be one of my most favorite renditions of the Easter story. It catches it all. It is, first and foremost, the Gospel ... you know, the Gospel "by which you are being saved". It includes absolutely essential components: Christ died, was buried, rose on the third day, and did so all in accordance with Scripture. It includes a evidence for the skeptical: There were eyewitnesses, many of whom you can go ask. What a marvelous rendition!

Of course, there is more wonderful stuff in that chapter. Paul speaks of the absolute necessity of the Resurrection. Some today discard it. You know ... it's inconvenient to try to explain to people how someone could rise from the dead, so they throw it away. Makes us all the more acceptable, don't you know. Paul, on the other hand, assures us, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins" (1 Cor 15:17). Hmm ... no small thing, then, eh? And, of course, the very fact that Christ did rise from the dead has wonderful ramifications. Here in this same chapter Paul says, "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor 15:22). Christ's death took our sin, but Christ's Resurrection gave us life! That event overcame the ancient curse! Paul almost (or maybe actually does) sings, "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (1 Cor 15:55) as he extols the glory of going from perishable human to imperishable (1 Cor 15:35-57). And I simply love this line: "Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed" (1 Cor 15:51).

You see, in His death, Christ took our sin, but in His Resurrection, He defeated death for us, took on the imperishable, and made the way for us. Because of the Resurrection we have certainty of the defeat of death and the ultimate victory over sin -- for us. Oh, I love a good Easter story -- especially the true one!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Dangerous Definition

We didn't think it was, but, to be clear, the game isn't over. Sure, we voted in several states to amend the Constitution to define marriage. In California, they amended it in spite of the court ruling that it just wasn't so. Still, the fight goes on. Iowa fell to judiciary legislation this week when they decided that the standard definition of marriage was against the law. Vermont's legislature has also decided to change the definition for their state. So the struggle continues on one side to force the rest of the world to change their definition and on the other side to retain the time-honored definition of marriage.

Here's the standard argument. "It's wrong! It's immoral to prevent a certain group of people from expressing their love for and commitment to one another simply because they are a 'non-standard' couple!" It's the moral high ground, you see. We who believe that marriage is, should be, and always has been between a man and a woman are immoral, even hateful. Well, to tell the truth, it's primarily us Christians. We're influencing everyone else, you see. (I suppose the "gay rights" side should be delighted that Newsweek has declared The End of Christian America.) I frankly don't get the "standard argument". Here's what it claims. Every religion ever has been wrong ... forever. Every religious leader has been wrong. Jesus was wrong for not standing up for a change in the definition of marriage, sure. We got that. Christians are to blame. But so was Moses, Buddha, Confucius, Joseph Smith, Mohamed, and the Pope. No, please, go on. There are lots of religions and lots of religious leaders in history. They never saw the fundamental inequity in the definition of marriage. Every single one of them ... was wrong. No, worse. Since it is immoral to prevent the union of same sex couples, they were all immoral. In fact, no society, large or small, has ever redefined marriage this way. So not only were all religions and all religious leaders evil, so were all societies, from the little village of Maori in deepest Africa to the sprawling Roman Empire. Dirty rotten humans! Well! It's about time someone got it right, eh?! I don't know, dear reader, it really strikes me as arrogant.

"No," they might reply, "You're misrepresenting us. Marriage has been constantly redefined throughout history." I would beg to differ there, my friend. While it is certainly true that marriage has been practiced in different ways throughout history, it has never been defined in a different way. It was always a union of opposite sexes -- always. Sometimes that union took place by force, as in arranged marriages or even conquered brides. Sometimes a certain society would define "that ethnic group" as "not human" or, at least, as a different breed of human, and forbid the union of a human with a non-human. Many societies would allow the union of one man to multiple women. Sure, there have been a variety of practices regarding marriage ... but not a variety of definitions. It has always been "man and woman" (two different genders) for the purpose of making a family unit.

No, the definition hasn't changed, and no society and no religion prior to the 21st century ever thought it should. Still, they'll throw this at you. "What difference does it make to you? How will it change your marriage?" That one generally trips us up. It certainly wouldn't change the way I relate to my wife. They're right ... as if that's the only concern. But this fundamental redefining of marriage would have to make a difference in subsequent generations. How do I know? Because we've already gotten lax on the existing definition and the results have already been devastating. The original definition (in its simplest form) was "the union of a man and woman ... for life". Even the disciples said, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry" (Matt 19:10). So we moderns have decided that we don't really think that this whole "for life" thing is really too important. The result is split families, destroyed homes, torn children, and vast ripples into everyday life. Why should your teenager work it out in school when you won't work it out at home? Why should this young adult put in the effort to work hard at his job when his parents didn't bother working hard at marriage? And so it goes. Now ... change that definition again. It's no longer a family, no longer procreation, no longer a union of man and woman. It's ... well, essentially whatever you feel like. You see, it's about "love", isn't it? And, he surely loves both those women and she surely loves both those three guys and, look, to be honest, poor old Aunt Sally really loves her devoted Lhasa Apso. Commitment? Already irrelevant. Faithful? Now, don't you think that's a bit narrow? Family? Now why do you have to go inserting things that have no business in this discussion? And I'm quite sure that the ramifications of such a change would be much larger than I'm currently able to envision. No, it wouldn't change today for my wife and me. We already hold a different view of marriage than much of the rest of our society, and society's changing their definition wouldn't alter ours. But it would certainly change the next generation's view and the next and the next. Or ... don't they really matter to anyone?

What is really at stake here? What is the real goal? No one is talking about this, but the real goal is and has been the removal of gender entirely. There can be no difference between the sexes, you see. Men and women aren't different. Look! That's why we have "transgender"! They're ... both ... right? Gender is simply how you feel, a societal construct, not a reality. Now, if we can remove this false societal construct, then women will be free to rule the world and men will be free to marry men and reality will have no real connections to ... reality. Truth, you see, is not discovered; it's made.

I don't think my stand is hateful. It is historical. Nor do I think my position is "right wing". It has been the standard view of all religions and all civilizations for all of history. My view is informed and shaped by my religious beliefs, but it's not a case of imposing my religious beliefs on my society. It's a case of standing on what has always made sense ... even when there was no "Christianity". Nor am I opposing a particular group. No, I'm thinking instead of all those who come after. Will we leave them with a marriage minefield? Are we going to exchange the glory that is manhood and the wonder that is womanhood for a morass of sameness? Are we going to stand on what's true, or are we simply going to devolve into oblivion? Overstatement? I don't think so. When we make truth statements that deny truth, what do we have left but oblivion? This question of redefining marriage is not a small one, despite how you may feel or what you may think.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Exercise in Irony

Have you ever considered the considerable irony of the trial and execution of Jesus?

The first thing we find is a trial without truth. The actual truth is of no concern in this exercise. As John's Gospel leaves Jesus's interaction with the world and goes to the private interaction with His disciples, John tells us, "Though He had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in Him" (John 12:37). The evidence was in. The proof was present. The case was shut ... and they didn't care. The Sanhedrin went to great efforts to convict Him on false testimony (Mark 14:57). That didn't work. Pilate was more concerned about his status with Rome than the truth. He was pretty sure Jesus was innocent, but that didn't stop him from having Him crucified. And when Jesus brought up the matter of truth, Pilate dismissed it with a curt, "What is truth?" No, in this trial the truth before them was of little importance.

It was ironic, wasn't it, that the trial was started by the religious leaders of Israel. I call it ironic because here we have the religious leaders putting the Son of God on trial. He condemned them. He did what His Father told Him to do. He healed on the Sabbath and demonstrated the fact that He was God ... and the Sanhedrin put Him on trial as if God could be tried by Man.

Of equal irony, then, was the Roman Pilate weighing the culpability of the Sovereign of the Universe. Now, Pilate was no god, but he served Caesar, a "god on Earth". He was god's emissary, so to speak. Still, standing in the presence of the Creator and asking blindly, "Are you the King of the Jews?" (Mark 15:2) seems quite feeble.

There is, next, the irony of the "winners". In the trial, the Sanhedrin and Pilate came out as winners. The Sanhedrin wanted Jesus killed. Jesus was put to death. Pilate wanted to avoid the appearance of being an enemy of Caesar (John 18:12) and he managed to succeed by verifying that Jesus was no threat to Caesar. These two won ... didn't they? Of course, the truth is that they were final losers. To secure their goal, the Jewish leadership surrendered their loyalty to God when they said, "We have no king but Caesar" (John 19:15). They stood guilty of opposing the Son of God. They violated their own rules by trying and condemning Jesus even when they were trying to remain pure for the Passover (John 18:28). They surrendered all that was of real value to them to win this trial. Pilate, too, lost when he won. He surrendered integrity by convicting a man he believed to be innocent. He put a conflict between himself and his wife. Trying to remain in control, he yielded to the whims of the people. Trying to appear strong, he crumbled at their threat to tell Caesar. Like the other "winners" in this scenario, Pilate lost everything he tried to retain.

The final irony, of course, is that the "loser" in this process turned out to be the ultimate winner. The despised and condemned Christ took on the sin of the world on our behalf. He took the rejection of His Father on our behalf. He died on our behalf. And ... He rose again! He proved He was God's Son. He received "all authority in heaven and on earth" (Matt 28:18). He was declared Judge of all (Acts 10:42). The one who called Himself "The Truth" (John 14:6) demonstrated that fact, defeated the Jewish leaders, the Roman authorities, the false trials, death, and Satan himself.

This whole thing turned out to be a grand exercise in irony. I suppose the ultimate irony here is that we find ourselves repeating this too many times. We get caught up in power plays or self-aggrandizement and think we can get Jesus to play along. We use religion for our own ends and try Jesus for not doing it our way. We seek to maintain our own feeling of power by setting Christ aside. We actually put God on trial, thinking we have a case against Him. We too often set aside truth -- truth we know like the fact that God is sovereign or that Jesus is Lord -- to pursue what we want. We know that God causes all things to work together for good, but we don't thank Him for the bad. We know that we are more than conquerors in Christ, but we try to do it on our own. And we even think we win. Then, in the final twist, the Savior offers to us forgiveness rather than retaliation. He offers us love and welcomes us, like the wayward Peter at His trial. Ironic, isn't it?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Not of Works

One of the primary distinctives of Christianity among all other religions is this simple phrase found in Ephesians: "Not of works". And, of course, every good Protestant knows to what that refers: "For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). It is not a negotiable point. While every standard human religion includes the necessity that you work your way to heaven, Christianity begins with the simple claim, "You can't." It was largely this sticking point that produced the Reformation. The Roman Catholic church argued that works are necessary for salvation; Luther argued that we are justified by faith. It is still the point on which the Church stands or falls. We are saved by grace apart from works (Rom 3:28).

The unfortunate tendency among many Christians, however, is to therefore shun the idea of works. This occurs in a gamut of perspectives from "works are okay but not important" to "if you mention works you're a legalist offering a different gospel -- anathema!" The latter are antinomians, those who reject any sort of law whatsoever. The former are ... most of the rest of us to some degree.

This is unfortunate ... largely because it is so unbiblical. For instance, immediately following that grand passage of Ephesians 2:8-9 is, strangely enough, Ephesians 2:10. Here Paul writes regarding this salvation which is not of works, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10). The "for" at the beginning of the sentence indicates a reason. The reason we are gifted with salvation apart from works is so we can meet our purpose of being created ("His workmanship") -- walking in the good works He predestined for us. Sure, we do it as His workmanship, but we do it. Paul warned the Philippians, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling" and gave them the reason for it: "For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to do His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13). James, in fact, differentiates between live faith and dead faith ... based on whether or not the faith is producing works.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:14-17).
In our delight at being saved "not of works", we have a tendency to throw out works and can even deny the necessity of works altogether. But Jesus said, "You are My friends if you do what I command you" (John 15:14). John warned, "No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God" (1 John 3:9).

We're all quite pleased that we're saved by grace. We're all delighted that salvation isn't based on what we do. We are vastly relieved to know it's not something we have to earn ... because we are all quite aware that we'll fall short. It's just so good to know that we are saved by faith apart from works. Do not, however, fall into that mistaken idea that, because we we are saved apart from works, that means that our faith is without works. No, works don't earn us salvation. No, works don't even earn us credit in God's eyes. But faith without works is dead. That faith doesn't save. Faith always brings about a changed life. Remember, "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor 5:17). That will include our works.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

What we ought to be

2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall (2 Peter 1:2-10).
Perhaps the number one complaint against Christianity is "The church is full of hypocrites." On one hand, it's a nonsense complaint. The basic requirement to be a Christian is that I must agree that I'm a sinner beyond any capacity to save myself. In other words, the Church is made up of a bunch of self-professed losers. It would seem ridiculous to label us as hypocrites.

Still, the charge sticks to some degree. Having come into a relationship with Christ, having come to the truth, we often find ourselves acting as if we're better than we thought we were. As in all humans, we might say, "Such and such is evil" even though we might indulge in that ourselves. The Bible is abundantly clear, for instance, that sexual relations outside of marriage is sin. As it turns out, lots of Christians sin in that way. Still, we call it sin ... as if we're better than that. And this, in itself, perhaps isn't actually hypocrisy. It is possible to fail, recognize your failure, and still call it failure. That's not hypocritical.

No, the problem among too many Christians isn't so much that we call sin sin or that we sin ourselves. The problem is that we do not live what we say we believe. We tout that God is sovereign and then try to seize power through politics. We preach "peace that passes understanding" and worry ourselves to death. We far too often shout "Joy!" and live morose lives. Most condemning of all, of course, is that we far too often lack that single hallmark of disciples of Christ that Jesus called us to -- love (John 13:35).

Why is that? Why is it that Christians are better known for their condemning of Democrats or their assault on homosexual behavior or their stand on abortion than their love? Why is it that we aren't marked as a community that loves one another? In Acts 2, the first church made a name for itself. They "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people" (Acts 2:42-47). These believers devoted themselves to God, to the Word, and to each other. The result was "favor with all the people." That is not the Church we see today, at least here in America.

Now, I know that "favor with all the people" is not the goal, nor is it my point. But it says something about believers when we seem to largely lack the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). It says something about Christians when we do not demonstrate in our lives that by which all people would know that we are Christ's disciples (John 13:35). Peter said "Whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins." In Peter's view, it was possible to deceive yourself into believing you are one of the elect. The only way to be sure, he warned, was to have increasing qualities of faith, steadfastness, godliness, love for the brethren, and love for God and others. In Peter's (God-breathed) view, then, if we lack these qualities, the best that can be said about us is that we are blind ... and the worst is that we are not genuine believers.

What does it say about us when we lack these things? I suppose there are various answers to that question besides Peter's suggestions ... but none of them are good. Perhaps, while we pursue comfort and well-being in our day-to-day world, we should pursue the more important things. You know ... those things we claim to be of utmost importance. After all, you always act on what you truly believe. I'm afraid that sometimes that reflects badly on me.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Capital Steps

My mom comes from a previous era ... you know, prior to computers. She was taught that you hit "Return" (what today's crowd knows as "Enter") at the end of each line, that a period in a sentence is followed by two spaces, that paragraphs begin with 5 spaces ... that sort of thing. And you can see it when she emails me. There are returns in odd places because it was the end of her line on her screen. There are two spaces between each sentence. My mom follows the rules. And that's a good thing. But it's not a common thing.

Today's society has changing rules. What was scandalous in my youth is so normal today that those who disagree are considered foolish, narrow-minded, and outdated. Even in small things, the language changes, the rules of punctuation and grammar and writing change, things are constantly moving. Some of these things are small and amoral -- neither good nor bad. Some are huge, contributing to the decline of our society. And some ... well ... I just don't know.

One of the changes I've seen that I just can't quite decide on (See? I just ended that phrase with a preposition ... previously a no-no) is the concept of capitalization. What I specifically have in mind here is the capitalization of the pronouns that refer to God. It used to be that we always capitalized "He" and "Him" and even "Me" and the rest when used in reference to God (or, of course, Jesus). It was a differentiator. It indicated respect. Today, of course, that is just about completely gone. The modern Bibles don't do it. The modern writers don't do it. It has almost vanished entirely.

It is a bit odd to me. Like my mom, I come from a previous era. You always capitalize those things because ... it's God we're talking about. I mean, we always capitalize the pronoun for ourselves, don't we? You almost never see "I" written "i", and if you do, it's because the author obviously didn't care about standard communication protocol (read "is too lazy to hit the SHIFT key"). Of course, English, it seems, is the only language that capitalizes the first person pronoun. We don't capitalize "me" or "we" or "he" or "they". It seems that "I" am the ultimately important person. God's pronouns, on the other hand, have been devalued. He's just another person ... right?

I know. Things change. I can't stop it. And I frankly don't know if changing "He" to "he" is a big deal. But, hey, I'm still wondering if changing "Thou" to "You" was a good idea. (You know ... I came from the culture that prayed in King James English ... as if that was the only English God understood.) Sure, it's easier for us, but are we losing something? Are we losing respect? Are we bringing God down to our level? Or are we just moving with the language because, after all, God looks on the heart, right? I don't know. I haven't decided. Where do these steps of capitalization and such take us? Do we want to go there? I'm not at all sure.