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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Avoid the Appearance of Evil

I'm of the opinion that it's a good idea not to do unto others what I don't like being done unto me. Revolutionary, I know, but it's my opinion and I'm welcome to it. You know that guy who sits in every meeting drumming his fingers on the table? Or that coworker who whistles tunelessly and drives you up a wall? Or the kid who sits behind you in church kicking the back of your seat? Or the aunt who cannot seem to tell a story without loading it with mindless and quite useless details? You know, all those people who don't seem to mind at all how irritating they can be. Well, I try not to do that. This creates some difficulties, however. Over the years, I've had people comment to me about this or that and I've tried to change what I do because this or that irritates them ... until I end up being completely unable to do almost anything at all because everything seems to irritate someone at some time.

Enter this famous verse from Paul's first epistle to the church of Thessalonica: "Abstain from all appearance of evil" (1 Thess 5:22). I grew up with that verse. I knew people, friends and relatives, who made it their life's goal. They didn't go to movies not because all movies were bad, but because it was possible that you could be coming out of a theater that was playing Bambi and someone driving by may not have realized that last week's R-rated movie had changed and they would think you were doing something wrong. You don't play cards because, even though you were just playing "Go Fish", someone looking on could easily conclude that you were gambling. As a kid I once took a game for a rainy day to school. This game had dice in it that had numbers on them. You rolled these numbered dice and then tried to fit the numbers into math squares -- "__ + __ = __; __ - __ = __", and so on. An educational game. No, no! The game had dice, and even though you knew they weren't gambling dice, onlookers might not know and you could have the appearance of evil.

This whole thing bothered me for years. You see, it's not very likely that you can find anything you can do that will not appear evil to someone. You may join the military to serve your country and be "evil" because you're joining the military or refuse to join the military because joining the military is wrong and be "evil" for refusing to serve your country. You can shop at Macy's and be "evil" for your extravagance or shop at WalMart and be "evil" for supporting an evil way of doing business. You can stand for the truth and be "evil" for being argumentative or keep quiet and be "evil" for not standing. It is very unlikely that you can find anything that someone won't find "evil".

So ... Paul, what are we to do? We can continue to try to meet its requirement but that's impossible. We could throw out the verse, but that's certainly not a good choice. Or, maybe, just maybe, we can figure out what it means.

As it turns out, this isn't as hard as it seems. The Greek word translated "appearance" is eidos. It is, most literally, "form". It references the appearance or shape of something. So what is actually being said here is "Avoid the form of evil." Of course, newer translations have figured this out (so it's not like I thought this up myself). Green's Literal Translation says, "Keep back from every form of evil." The ESV says, "Abstain from every form of evil." The NAS agrees. So does the New King James. So maybe this wasn't such a hard saying after all. The real difficulty occurs when people don't think through what they're reading. "'Avoid all appearance of evil'? How do I do that?" Now if only someone can help me out with this whole avoiding whatever irritates someone because I'm running out of options.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared (1 Tim 4:1-2).
Paul's warning is a bit ominous to me. You see, we have a built-in sin detector. It's called "conscience". Of course, as believers we're not necessarily supposed to rely on that sensor. We're supposed to observe all that we are commanded. In that sense, whether or not we detect a particular act or attitude as sin, if we're told it is, it is. Still, most of us operate with that "sin detector" as our first and best line of defense. If it doesn't feel like a sin, it's quite difficult for us to conclude that it is. "How can it be sin? I don't see how it's harming anyone. I don't feel like it's wrong." Or, in the words of a 1977 hit by Debby Boone, "It can't be wrong if it feels so right."

Paul is warning Timothy about the problem with this very common thinking. There is a problem in human beings. If you indulge in lying (and all humans suffer from the suppression of truth to varying degrees), you can suffer a seared conscience. In the movie, Marathon Man, the dentist who was torturing our main character by attacking a nerve in a tooth assured him, "Don't worry, I won't do that again. There's no point. That nerve is already dying." That's us. Ignore the pangs of conscience long enough and we become numb to the sensations. What we once were pretty sure was wrong we no longer see that way. "It can't be wrong if it feels so right."

The conscience is indeed a valuable tool. Paul commended himself to the consciences of his observers (2 Cor 4:2). He told Timothy that the goal was "love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." A good conscience is a good thing. But there are conscience malfunctions. Besides searing it, you can have a weak conscience. Paul uses this phrase to describe people who tend to think of things as "bad" that aren't necessarily so. Interestingly, Paul recommended that we avoid doing things that would offend people with weak consciences. It is more important, then, to avoid violating conscience than to be right. And there are solutions offered for conscience problems. The author of Hebrews says that we can come to Christ to have our consciences purified (Heb 9:14). Drawing near to God helps to clean what is termed "an evil conscience" (Heb 10:22). The seared conscience, then, can be repaired by bathing in the blood of Christ and continually drawing near to God.

Conscience is a good thing. It's best when it works. It can be harmful when it is weak. But Martin Luther said, "To go against conscience is neither right nor safe." We can, with some effort, violate our conscience enough to make it numb. Bad choice. Keep in mind: "It can't be wrong if it feels so right" may not be the best method of determining right and wrong. We can, through immaturity, have a weak conscience. But the real aim is a good conscience, a clear conscience. It is obtained by a vibrant relationship with Christ. It is a primary component of the love that we are aiming at. As such, it isn't an optional item for Christians.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Names of God - El Shaddai

One of the early names of God comes originally from Genesis 17.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless, that I may make My covenant between Me and you, and may multiply you greatly" (Gen 17:1-2)
Translated there as "God Almighty", the Hebrew term behind it is El Shaddai. It is used some 30 times in the Old Testament and typically translated "God Almighty". I think, though, that we could use some clarification.

We know what El means. We already got that part. What about Shaddai? The word can be difficult to chase down. The root word appears to be shad, which translates to "destroy". You can find these together in Isa 13:6 where Isaiah warns "destruction from the Almighty it will come!" That is shad from El Shaddai. But it doesn't seem to make sense in the Gen 17 context. "I am God the Destroyer; I will multiply you greatly." Huh? Some say that it comes from sadu (not found in the Old Testament) which refers to a mountain. This approach takes it to a related concept, the Hebrew word for "breast". The Hebrew concept derived from this term is "sufficient, enough". You see, it's quite clear in human terms that a mother's breasts are sufficient to provide what her baby needs. And this seems to be the idea in the name, El Shaddai.

In this case, perhaps "God Almighty" isn't quite the best. Perhaps "God All-Sufficient"? It is, then, the God that supplies all you need (which, of course, requires "almighty"). This is the God introduced to Abraham at 99 years old when God was promising to multiply him greatly. "Don't worry about it, Abraham. I am all you need." It is this God in Gen 35:3 that tells Jacob, "I am El Shaddai: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body." "I'm all you need." It is this God about whom the psalmist says, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, 'My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust'" (Psa 91:1-2). He is all the refuge and fortress you need.

El Shaddai, God Almighty, God All-Sufficient. It is almost an intimate name with the images it casts. It is a commentary on the sufficiency of God. He is, indeed, all we need.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Early Christianity on Abortion

I have to drive an hour one way to work every day. I started "reading" audio books with that "free time". It has been quite useful. Recently I came across a reading of the Didache. "The what?" you may ask. The Didache is a book written somewhere in the first or second century. For a long time it was up for consideration as Scripture. It was believed to be the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. Eventually it was agreed that the book was an excellent book, but not inspired Scripture. So I was pleased to be able to download this admirable book containing good teachings from the early Church fathers.

The book seemed to be largely a lot of quotes from Scripture. You'll learn the basic rules of Christianity -- "First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself." You'll learn that "grave sins" are forbidden, like adultery, murder, fornication, and so on. (They specifically include pederasty in the list.) There are instructions regarding teachers, prophets, Christian assembly, and so on. Lots of the normal, good stuff. But, since this was written sometime prior to 200 AD, I was somewhat surprised at this instruction: "You shall not murder a child by abortion" (Didache, Ch 2).

Now, I've heard it said that this whole "pro-life" thing (expressed by opponents as "anti-abortion") is a modern-day phenomenon and didn't have any basis in historical Christianity. As it turns out, this isn't true at all. The Didache was quite clear. Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-215 AD) wrote against it in his Paedagogus (Book 2). Tertullian (circa 125-225 AD) specified, "In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth." (Apology Ch 9). With only a little searching you can find repeated references in the writings of early Church fathers who affirm that abortion is murder and, as such, forbidden.

Now, you can debate all you want about "when life begins" or some such, but what cannot be debated was the view of the early Church on the subject. They held that the fetus was human life and terminating a life when it wasn't yet born was still murder. Thus, it is "pro-life", not "anti-abortion".

Friday, November 26, 2010

New Things

Maybe it's just me, but have you ever wondered about this verse? I know I have.
Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Cor 5:17).
This is the NAS version, and here it's not so confounding. Other versions are more baffling:
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (KJV).

So that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (LITV)!

So that if any one is in Christ-- he is a new creature; the old things did pass away, lo, become new have the all things (YLT).
Do you see the issue? These all agree ... "all things" have become new. But ... I don't know about you, but I still suffer from "old things". I still sin, still have temptations, still am not perfect in my thinking or my walk. I have not yet arrived. So ... in what sense have "all things" become new?

Perhaps it would be a good idea to look at the context.
For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf (2 Cor 5:14-15).
In context, Paul is talking about "the earthly tent" (2 Cor 5:1) and the tribulations we endure, and how we should "walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor 5:7). The premise is that, in the midst of difficulties, we need to do what is right because there is a judgment coming (2 Cor 5:10). Not being able, then, to trust ourselves, he says that "the love of Christ controls us".

This is a bit ambiguous. The phrase, both in Greek and in English, can mean "the love that we have for Christ" or "the love that comes from Christ toward us". I don't think that Paul was being reckless here. I think that the answer to "Which is it?" is "Yes!" That is, in the midst of difficulties and trials and troubles in this life, we are driven both by the love Christ has for us and by the love we have for Him. Indeed, John says "we love because He first loved us", so His love for us spawns our love for Him, and the two work together to drive our lives. We are controlled by the love of Christ.

That's nice, but how does it answer the question of "all things" being new? Paul says that, on the basis of being controlled by the love of Christ, "they who live should no longer live for themselves." Now, stop for a moment and think that over. That, my friends, is a paradigm shift. That's a fundamental change. That is a big rock in a little pool -- the ripples go forever. You see, humans, by nature, are self-centered. We live for ourselves. That's what we do. The bottom rung of life is purely self-centered and the more enlightened have learned that being nice to others makes my life better, but it's still self-interest. Paul says that, due to the fact that we are controlled by the love of Christ, there is a massive shift in the human being who is now forgiven. These people no longer live as all other humans live -- for self. Instead, they live "for Him who died and rose again on their behalf."

Folks, this is big -- really big. This will alter everything. As these ripples work their way outward from your heart to every corner of your life, everything will change. Oh, wait ... that's what he said, wasn't it. "All things have become new." So, you see, if you are in Christ, the change has already occurred. It will take some time to work itself out, but it will, if it kills you. And, in this particular case, that wouldn't be such a bad thing at all.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving, 2010

Behind the holiday is the famous "first Thanksgiving" put on by the Pilgrims in 1621. The Plymouth colonists and the local Indians shared a meal together. It wasn't until 1863 that the holiday became official. President Lincoln set aside the last Thursday in November as a national Day of Thanksgiving.

Nationally, it made sense back then, but it's somewhat hard to believe today. I mean, religion in the public square is frowned upon. How in the world we get away with having a "national day of Thanksgiving" (let alone the day that follows) is hard to say. It's not possible to assume that this "Thanksgiving" is anything but a reference to some sort of God (since no one sees it as a day to give thanks to the people around you or whatever and being grateful to "good fortune" makes no sense at all). So we manage to sneak in a religious holiday every year (two, actually, if you count "Christmas" -- I mean, seriously, how can that not be a religious holiday?).

And, I have to say, it is quite remarkable. Thanksgiving is celebrated here, quite obviously, but the only other country that has such a holiday is Canada. That makes America, fighting so hard these days to be very secular, a certain stand out. While "civilized" Europe has moved away from religion, we still hang onto these vestiges. We still have Thanksgiving Day. Oddly, it is even celebrated by hardened atheists (although I'm not at all sure what it is they are celebrating). That's something.

One of the things, to me, that makes it most remarkable is this commentary by Paul. In his epistle to the church at Rome, he starts out explaining the basic problem with Man -- the suppression of truth. Despite having all the evidence required and even having the information embedded in them, "Although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened" (Rom 1:21). The basic problem with Man in his suppression of truth, then, is a failure to honor God or give thanks to Him.

So, here we are. Another Thanksgiving Day is upon us. We'll be gathering with family and friends (or not) and sharing time and food and maybe a football game or some such. And we'll know, whether we keep it in the background or make it a big deal of the day, that it's a day set aside for the primary purpose of honoring God and giving thanks to Him. The temptation will be to skip that part of the day (sin nature and all) but the name still hangs on the day -- Thanksgiving. And we indeed have more blessings than we can count. Thank you, Lord.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Christianese - Sola Scriptura

Okay, perhaps this doesn't fit under all the other "Christianese" terms I've been offering. Still, I think it deserves attention. It's somewhat different because, unlike the other Christianese terms which are common to all genuine Christianity, this one is certainly not part of Roman Catholicism. Since I believe that there are genuine Christians in the Roman Catholic Church (even though I think they're likely confused on theology), this one is not common to that particular group. Still, as I said, it's worth a look because, like the other terms, it is often misunderstood.

First, what does it mean? Sola scriptura is Latin for "Scripture alone" and refers to the position that the Scripture is the sole source of authority for Christians in matters of faith and practice. The Roman Catholic Church would argue that it is Scripture, Tradition, and the Church. The Anglican community might hold that it is Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. (I would differ from that in that Tradition and Reason are useful in understanding Scripture, but that Scripture alone has the authority.) The idea, then, first voiced by the Reformation, is thrown up against these other ideas. The Pope doesn't tell us what is true. The Church is not the authority. All of these derive authority from God's Word and His Word is alone the authority in these matters.

Seems pretty clear, doesn't it? I mean, why would anyone get confused? Well, it happens. So what does it not mean?

Well, in the 16th century as the Reformation was getting under way, a group known as the Anabaptists started their own Reformation. They were, in many ways, right there with the other Reformers. They thought the Roman Catholic Church was in error in many of the same ways the Reformers did. They agreed wholeheartedly with sola scriptura. But they had some differences as well. They disagreed with infant baptism and only allowed adult baptism (which was the cause of their name). They completely withdrew from conventional Christian practices such as marriage vows and refused to participate in government. Believing themselves solely "citizens of Heaven", they had a complete separation of Church and State, including absolute pacifism. But, as it turned out, while they agreed with sola scriptura, they disagreed with the Reformers' use of it. They believed the Reformers were simply substituting papal authority for theologian authority by suggesting that deep study of the Scriptures was the best way to incorporate sola scriptura. They argued that sola scriptura meant that anyone at all was a good, valid interpreter of Scripture by connecting directly to the Holy Spirit. They fostered this idea of "inner revelation" and favored personal revelation over study and "prophets" over careful, reasoned examination of the Scriptures. They, then, rejected sola scriptura for "Scripture and the Spirit" without offering any clarification on who had the Spirit or how two people, each "with the Spirit", could come to opposing conclusions on Scripture. (It was this devotion to "personal interpretation" and allegiance to "prophets" that caused the disaster at Munster.) They rejected sola scriptura "in favour of an understanding of revelation pregnant in Scripture" while denying the Protestant "quadrilateral of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience."

The result of this kind of split on the meaning of the term has had ripple effects today. The Reformers argued for careful, methodical, even group study of the Scriptures ("group" so that each could check the others, as opposed to individual interpretation). Today the primary argument is "Scripture means whatever I think it means, and that is authoritative for me." This isn't just the Anabaptists of today. It's much of Christendom. It is the cry of the Emergent Church. It is the voice of postmodernism. It is the song of the relativists. It is the cry of so many "independent Christians", those people who proudly hold themselves aloof from any denomination and demand that their interpretation of Scripture is just as valid as anyone else's interpretation and, therefore, authoritative. Some of those will argue that their interpretation is authoritative for them; others will argue that it's authoritative for everyone.

So, just to be clear, this is not the intent of the concept of sola scriptura. Peter wrote, "No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation" (2 Peter 1:20). The concept of sola scriptura is that a collective -- all those who are Christ's -- will commonly interpret Scripture. There is a single truth to Scripture, a proper interpretation. It is inherent in the Scripture, not a product of human evaluation. Jesus told His disciples, "When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13). So while we may stray in individual interpretation and while we may differ on what the correct interpretation is, there is a true interpretation and that interpretation is authoritative. Since we have this promise of Christ regarding the Holy Spirit, we should be able to find a common interpretation among believers (thus the value of tradition, Church history, orthodoxy, etc.). But it's not a matter of individual interpretation; it's a matter of a shared interpreter -- the Spirit. And it's not a matter of "inner light", "prophets", or "special revelation". This whole idea that "I figured it out after 2000 years of erroneous Christian interpretation" won't fly. That's not sola scriptura.

One other thing that sola scriptura is not. It is not the silly claim that "the Bible contains all truth." Indeed, the Bible is entirely true. However, truths like "gravity" or "2 + 2 = 4" are not contained therein, nor are they intended to be. The popular statement, "All truth is God's truth", simply says that truth is a product of God and can be found in a variety of places. Thus, sola scriptura does not reference "all truth", but quite clearly it references authority and only in matters of faith and practice. So let's not try to make it say more than is intended.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Birthday

Today is the twenty-something birthday of my youngest son. (I know what birthday; I just figure the rest of the world doesn't need to know.) I've had the joy and privilege over the last few months to have him close to home. Due to a couple of quite sudden events in his life, he ended up leaving California and coming to Arizona to make a new start. (That means that three of my four kids now live a stone's throw away. Well ... last son?) We put him up for the last few months while he put in the due diligence to get a job, find an apartment, and get on his feet again. So he's in his own place, but no longer a state away.

If you've paid attention, my son has contributed a few pieces to my blog -- 10 in all. He has writing skills. He has a good heart, a love for the Lord, a teachable spirit. He has learned to think (and delights, perhaps a little too much, in trying to confuse his brother). He is fiercely independent, unwilling to accept handouts or charity or much help at all -- somewhat of a rarity in today's world, I think. He has many good qualities and I try to tell him, but today, his birthday, I'll do it in writing.

There you go, Jonathan. Happy birthday. It has been such a pleasure having you in our house and I look forward to more time with you in the future now that you're just down the street. I appreciate you and am proud of you and now you have it in writing. Bookmark this page. ("See, Dad? You did say you were proud of me ... at least once. I have documentation!")

(Of course, this is pretty easy to write since Jonathan doesn't have an Internet connection and will likely never see it -- snicker, snicker.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Christianese - Quick Terms 2

The Heart: No, not that organ beating in your chest. No, not even the seat of emotions. It's not like the fabled body part left in San Francisco or given to that wonderful man. The term refers in Christianese to the innermost self. It is that which ... produces the fruit.

Repentance: You would think I wouldn't have to explain this term, but I suppose I must. It doesn't mean "Sorry" either in word (often spoken to dodge consequences) or emotional response. It means to turn around. Without turning around, you may be sorry -- even deeply sorry -- but it isn't repentance.

The Trinity: Still argued about today, this is a fundamental position of Christianity. It is not the belief that the God of the Old Testament became the Christ of the New Testament and then the Spirit of today (modalism). It is not tri-theism -- three separate gods. It is not a host of heresies offered today by people who refuse to see. It is the biblical doctrine that God is three persons in one, the hypostatic union of Father and Son and Holy Spirit, distinct but not separate, One God in three personas. Without taking the time to explain fully, it is absolutely necessary to Christianity. Without it the Scriptures become unreliable and incoherent, salvation breaks down, and we are without hope.

Witnessing: We've used this one so poorly for so long that we don't even understand it ourselves. You know ... it means when we get together and go door to door with tracts and speeches to try to share the Gospel. You may have learned Evangelism Explosion or the Four Spiritual Laws or whatever other canned method (and I'm not suggesting they're bad). This, however, is not witnessing. Evangelizing, yes, but not witnessing. In the New Testament you see "witnessing" when John writes, "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life ..." (1 John 1:1). It is the expression of what we have witnessed. It is the eyewitness accounts -- "This is what God has done." Can I get a witness?

Spirit-filled: Okay, here's an exception. When most Christians use the word "Spirit-filled", they are referring to the idea of the Charismatics or Pentecostals where there is some sort of "second filling", a special event, "something extra". No such thing. All Christians are "Spirit-filled". Period. The amount of that filling that works its way into your life may vary, but all Christians have the Holy Spirit and need nothing more.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Names of God - LORD God

Okay, so now we have El (or, more often, Elohim) and YHWH -- Jehovah. One of the earliest (and perhaps most interesting) names of God is the conjunction of the two. Genesis 2:4 references "the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens." The capitalization there is typical of many translations. Whenever you see a translation that capitalizes "LORD", it is translating the word YHWH. This term, then, is a dual term of YHWH and Elohim. Or, it is "YHWH who is God". (Remember, YHWH is His name and Elohim is His title.) (Note: There are places that the two are reversed. Those would look like Lord GOD, where "Lord" contains lower case letters and "God" is in capitals. In these cases it is typically adonai YHWH, where adonai means "lord".)

These two together are found in the Ten Commandments when God commands, "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain" (Exo 20:7). While many modern Christians fear that any irreverent use of the word "God" is a violation of this command, rationally the text is saying more literally that the name -- YHWH -- should not be taken in vain. In this approach, God whose name is YHWH needs to be honored (as opposed to simply worrying about the use of a title in a coarse manner). God (whose name is YHWH) in all that He is (which is the significance of "His Name") must not be referenced vainly. The problem in this commandment doesn't occur with the mouth; it occurs with the heart and is only expressed with the mouth. YHWH God demands and deserves respect, and we ought to supply it.

We ought to supply respect in reverence. Using God's name as a swear word isn't any worse than a flippant reference to God, like some are prone to do when calling Him "the Man Upstairs" or something like it. We ought to supply respect with our attention. Using God's name in vain can (and often does) occur in church when we mouth praises and prayers while our hearts are far from Him. We ought to supply respect in gratitude. It is a vain use of God's name when we claim to be His followers and fail to be thankful.

Jehovah is God. That's one of the common names applied to God. It has practical significance to believers. The Self-Sufficient One is the Power and Authority. He earns and demands our respect and attention.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Power of Perception

Someone I know wrote on their Facebook recently, "Apparently some people in the theater don't have a gay buffer." When asked what he meant by "gay buffer", he explained, "When two guys go to the movies they leave an empty seat between them. That empty seat is a gay buffer." The idea, in case you missed it, is the avoidance of a possible perception of being homosexual. Two heterosexual male friends may not sit next to each other in a theater so they can avoid other people thinking, "Oh, look, don't they make a nice gay couple?"

Perceptions change over time. I remember in the past seeing a man with his two kids on a Saturday morning at the local Denny's. The thought was, "Oh, how nice! This father has taken his kids out to breakfast so Mom can have some quiet, alone time." No longer the case. Now it's "Oh, look! Here's a divorced father trying to 'make nice' with his kids whom he only sees every other weekend and probably doesn't even pay child support." A man and a woman out walking their baby in a stroller used to be an automatic "married", but no longer. Perceptions change over time.

It's a shame, I think, about that whole "gay buffer" idea. I get it ... sure ... but that it would be thought of in the first place troubles me. The Bible, for instance, speaks about David and Jonathan, an epic friendship. They loved each other. No one thought a thing about it. They loved each other. Only in recent times did the suggestion come up that theirs may have been a homosexual relationship. Where the standard Middle Eastern culture includes males who kiss without having a sexual relationship, now, suddenly, perceptions change and it's clearly a sexual relationship in their case because ... well ... they kissed. Yeah, yeah, I know ... the arguments are longer than that and far more convoluted, but, still, it's the same thing. The only reason the question comes up at all is because perceptions change over time.

I think men have lost something in this paradigm shift. We are allowed to shake hands -- that's manly -- but not hug -- that's gay. We're allowed to go to see a movie together, but not sit together because that might be considered homosexual. Two men crying together (like David and Jonathan did)? Oh, yeah, definitely a sign of a homosexual relationship. And the shifted (and twisted) perceptions of society dictate to innocent men how they can and cannot relate to one another lest they be labeled in unfair, unwanted, and/or incorrect ways. At what point does the good father who wants to take the kids out for early Saturday morning breakfast to give Mom a quiet few hours of rest stop doing so because he will be perceived as a questionable, part-time dad just trying to appease his children? What other good and right things do we avoid and miss out on because perceptions prevent us?

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Upside-Down Pottery

This will be necessarily provocative. I apologize in advance. I like to "get along", but to go against Scripture is not wise. So I'm going to lay this out as it is, admitting along with you that it's not "pleasant", and leave it in your hands to accept or deny.

We live in a world of upside-down pottery. No, that's not my idea; that's the idea from God. He gave the concept to Isaiah to express:
"You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, 'He did not make me'; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, 'He has no understanding'?" (Isa 29:16).
"You turn things upside down!" That's the accusation. And what is upside down here? When the created deigns to dictate to the Creator. When the Creator is made out by the creature to be the same ... or even less. When the clay is what's important and the potter is required to submit to it.

This "potter" thing is a recurring theme in Scripture. Isaiah writes the famous "O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand" (Isa 64:8). (It was a popular little praise song in my day.) God uses the potter illustration in His instructions to Jeremiah:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: "Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear My words." So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the LORD came to me: "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel" (Jer 18:1-6).
"Can I not do with you as the potter has done?" That's God's simple question, and the answer is not elusive or ambiguous. God (the potter) is willing, able, and authorized to do as He pleases with his creation (clay).

We're mostly alright with that concept. "Sure, sure, God is able to do as He pleases with His creation. Why not?" We're not entirely happy about it, but we'll even give the point that He is authorized to punish, to judge, to destroy. "Okay," we'll acquiesce with some discomfort, "we'll give Him that, too." The idea that God makes people He knows will go to Hell really is uncomfortable for us, but it is also, if we are consistent with Scripture, unavoidable. So we'll grudgingly surrender that as well. But here's where we will not go: Does God make people intended for Hell?

Before we go down this path, let's be very clear. So doing does not require that God forces anyone to Hell, especially anyone who would have otherwise not gone there. All that is required for this question to be answered in the affirmative is that God knowingly and consciously makes individuals who, for His purposes, will indeed be damned. That they do so by their own choices doesn't change the fact that He made them and made them for that purpose.

Okay, with that caveat, is there any biblical reason to conclude that God indeed might actually make people who are destined for Hell? Well, the easiest text is in Proverbs. "The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble" (Prov 16:4). Now, unless my reading skills are horribly off, this text appears to plainly state that God makes the wicked for a purpose. In fact, it appears unavoidable. But let's go to another passage that comes from that same "upside-down pottery" theme. In Romans 9, Paul is explaining God's choice of who to save (Rom 9:8-13). The explanation is, as he is quite aware, somewhat offensive to the human ear. (Can we all at least admit that's true?) So he faces the standard objections. The first is "That's not fair!" (Rom 9:14-18). His answer is that God does whatever He wants. The second is "If God does what He wants, how can we be held responsible?" Or ... here ... let's see what Paul actually says:
You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?" But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, willing to show His wrath and to make known His power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy, which He has prepared beforehand for glory (Rom 9:19-23)?
The text is rich. Paul's first answer is "How dare you talk back to God?" It speaks of God's patience (we like that) and "the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy" and all that really, really good stuff. And it is in that same illustrative structure of potter and pottery.

Like Isaiah and Jeremiah before him, Paul uses the illustration of potter and clay to make a parallel between Creator and creature. First rule: the creature has no say. Stop! I know ... that is objectionable. But it is indeed the first rule. It flies in the face of our independent spirits, rubs up against our over-inflated sense of self-worth. But it is the first rule. The second rule is like unto the first: The Creator gets to do whatever He wants with His creation. And, according to the text, He wants to make some vessels "for dishonorable use". What use? Some vessels, according to the text, are made because it is God's will to "show His wrath and make His power known". Therefore, the Potter makes some vessels as "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction." Not my words; Paul's. He makes other vessels for "honorable use". These would be "vessels of mercy" that He can use to "make known the riches of His glory."

The Bible isn't unclear. God actually makes people who are destined for Hell. He does so for a purpose -- His good purpose. He makes them just like He makes everything else. Our objection is "That's not fair!" Our objection is the clay demanding that the potter treat His pottery in a way that the pottery would find acceptable. Our problem is that we are upside-down pots demanding a hearing of the Potter. "Listen, God, you'd better correct these errors or we're going to have to take action! Maybe we'll deny it. Maybe we'll forbid it. Maybe we'll just kick you out entirely." It's not a good stand for a lump of clay in the hands of a potter to take.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Christianese - Quick Terms 1

Born Again: A biblical term (John 3:3-7) that references a person who has been given new life. It is predicated on the problem of Natural Man being "dead in sins" and, therefore, needing a spiritual birth. Someone once told me, "Born again? Yeah, I tried that ... it didn't work." It cannot not work, and you cannot "try it". This spiritual birth, this "born again" condition is mandatory for anyone who is a Christian. Without it ... you're not.

Christian: First used in Antioch (Acts 11:26), it means "follower of Christ". It does not mean "member of a church by that name or associated in some sense, no matter how remote, with what people think of as 'Christian'." Christian is not defined by whomever says they are any more than claiming to be a car makes me a car. It is simply a follower of Christ and any step away from following Christ is not "Christian". (Thus, something like the Crusades may have been perpetrated by people who labeled themselves as "Christian" was not Christian as it was incoherent with the idea of following Christ.)

Faith: Oo-oo! I got this one! It means believing in something that makes no sense!! Yeah, that's the common perception. It is neither the rational nor biblical perception. The biblical word means "to be convinced (by argument)". It includes evidence and argument, not opposing them. Rationally it says, "Based on the evidence this appears to be true and, given that, this other can be assumed to be true as well." That's faith. Beyond that, faith requires confidence. That is, not only must biblical faith be based on truth and agree to it, it must also lean on it. If I mentally assent that Christ died for my sins and don't place any confidence in it as my source of salvation, it isn't faith.

The Flesh: The term has a few biblical usages. It may simply mean the physical body. More often it is used to reference the sinful self. Normally when we use the term, we are using it to reference "the sinful self" in opposition to "the spirit" -- God's work within us.

Fruit: Borrowing from the field of husbandry, this term uses the imagery of trees bearing fruit to illustrate that we produce what we are. Filled with the Spirit, for instance, we will "bear fruit" that reflects the Spirit. It references the natural output of the heart. In the case of both the saved and the unsaved, "you shall know them by their fruits."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Christianese - Inspiration

We like to talk about "the inspiration of Scripture". We claim that the Bible is "inspired by God" and this, to us, makes it special. This, then, is more "Christianese" because lots of people use the term "inspired" without meaning at all what we mean. So ... what do we mean?

The English word is rooted in the concept of breath. That is, its root word means "to breath into". Indeed, at, the 6th definition of the word is "the drawing of air into the lungs." We typically use it, of course, in a more metaphorical sense. That is, if "inspiration" means "to draw in air" and "draw in air" is to live, then "inspiration" is that which causes activity, action, vitality. The various dictionaries I looked at couldn't avoid the concept of "supernatural or divine influence". The idea is to go beyond the mundane to something higher.

This, of course, is often the understanding that people port in with them when we say, "Scripture is inspired by God." This, of course, is not the meaning of the term in this case. For us, the concept comes from 2 Tim 3:16 which begins with "All Scripture is inspired by God ..." The term in Greek is theopneustos, where theo references God and pneustos references breath. The literal translation (check just about any literal translation) is, then, "God-breathed" Paul's claim is not simply that the Scriptures were inspired writings, but that they were quite literally breathed by God into their authors.

This is meant in a few senses. There are, for instance, a large number of direct quotes from God. "And the Lord said" or something like it is quite common. The "Red Letter" Bibles have Jesus's words in red -- direct quotes from God Incarnate. The prophets quoted heavily from God. The author of Hebrews begins with the claim that "God spoke to our fathers by the prophets." Thus, in these large numbers of passages the claim is that they are actually the words of God. But what about the rest? Just inspired writing, right? No. Peter says that "men, moved by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God." That's not merely "inspired". It's directed. It's controlled. Beyond that, Peter says that none of these writings "was ever made by an act of human will". Scripture, then, is not a product of human will or human intellect. It is God-breathed, directed and controlled by God Himself. Using their words, their character, their personalities, their culture and circumstances, God breathed His word into their pens and the product we have today is inspired Scripture -- Scripture given directly by God at the hand of a secretary, so to speak.

Sometimes people confuse inspiration with inerrancy. It's an easy mistake to make. Inspiration simply says that God caused, breathed, and controlled the writing of Scripture. Of course, the only logical conclusion is that what God produced through these writers was without error, but that's a different concept, right?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Part of the difficulty of Christianese is that different people mean different things using common terms. I'm trying to clear some of those up. At least I'm explaining what I mean and, in fact, the most common understanding. Another problem, though, is that these Christianese terms are shorthand. They are designed to say in a single word what is actually an entire concept. When the concept and the word are not linked, there is a disconnect. But one other problem occurs in Scripture itself. While these Christianese terms are often used to mean exactly what I'm explaining ... sometimes they're not in Scripture. That is, even in the Bible these terms can have varied meanings and uses.

Take the concept of "salvation". We all know what that means, right? It means "saved from damnation", "saved from the wrath of God", "saved from sin". Yes, fine, most of the time. Sometimes, though, it doesn't. The biblical concept of "salvation" is "salvation" -- saved from something. Often it is exactly what we mean by the shorthand, but sometimes it is not. Look around in Scripture. You'll find many references to "saved" that do not suggest the grand "saved from the wrath of God", but, instead, "saved from my current trouble". I'd even suggest that the word "saved" is used more often to mean "saved from my present troubles" than "saved from sin". (I would suggest further that a clear understanding of this idea of being saved from really bad things is essential to our appreciation of "salvation" in the sense that we're saved from damnation.) Context is important.

Take the word "justified". "Yeah! We know that one! 'Declared just by God!'" True ... usually. But don't conclude that this is always the case. Jesus said, "By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." So, justification is found in what we say, not by faith, right? No, that's not what's being said here. If "justified" means "declared right" or "shown to be right", then your words will show if you're right or not. They don't declare you just in the eyes of God. That's not the context. Jesus said elsewhere, "Wisdom is justified by all her children." Oh, see that? So, wisdom is declared right in the sight of God by her children. No, that's not it at all. Wisdom is shown to be right by the results and consequences. Not the same "justified" even though it's the same concept. Context is important.

Christianese can be complex. These are just two examples of how the Bible uses the same term to mean different ideas. Sometimes they're related. Sometimes they're not. Context is the key. The truth is that despite our confidence of using Christianese terms to explain large concepts, we need to be careful to continually examine those concepts and not get lost in the words. These words have multiple meanings and we need to be aware of that in our thinking and in our communication.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Christianese - Salvation

Salvation is an easy word to figure out. It means simply being saved from something, presumably something bad. That's accurate. For a long time when I was young Christians would ask people, "Are you saved?" Assuming that "saved" simply means "being safe" or "being rescued from something bad", the question is mindless. So obviously it has a point in Christianese -- a particular "bad" from which you need to be rescued. When I was young, it was our "shibboleth", our code word for finding out if you were a genuine Christian or not. Before long, of course, it got to be old hat and we progressed from there, but what was the code?

In Christianese the term "salvation" is meant to represent a specific saving, a particular "bad" from which you are saved. It is death. Of course, to the Christian "death" is much more than simple "termination of this life". Far more important is eternal death and eternal life. Thus, in Christianese the term "salvation" is used to refer to the concept of being saved from eternal death to eternal life.

This idea carries several properties. For instance, why is there a threat of eternal death? Well, humans are sinners guilty of overthrowing God and deserve punishment. If treason is an offense punishable by death, Cosmic Treason would be an offense punishable by eternal death. All humans have that judgment hanging over their heads. Enter "the Gospel". Now we have Christ dying to pay for our Treason and rising again. In this Gospel, we have payment for offense and promise of life. So this salvation removes the penalty and replaces eternal death with eternal life. We are saved, quite literally, from God's wrath, from eternal damnation. A second aspect of this concept of salvation is that it carries with it implications for life. Not just eternal life, but life here and now. Jesus said that "he who is forgiven little, loves little." Being forgiven for Cosmic Treason produces great love. You can see that. Your gratitude for someone who saves you from tripping on the sidewalk is not the same as your gratitude for someone who pulls you out of the way of a speeding bus. The prime ethic of the Christian life is this gratitude, the natural response of someone who has been saved from ultimate disaster. Further, being saved from death to life includes (quite obviously) life. That is, the first step of salvation in this sense is the new life. We understand, for instance, that we will have life eternal -- in the future -- but there is a sure sense in which it is now. John wrote, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life" (John 3:36). There is a new spirit, a new life, a "new man" involved where before there was only spiritual death. So while "salvation" is essentially "saved from eternal death to eternal life", it includes a new kind of daily existence. In fact, according to Scripture salvation is for this purpose. "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10). Paul wrote that Jesus "gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14). Of course, the ultimate purpose of those good works is "so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven", but "to be conformed to the image of His Son" is indeed a primary goal.

On one hand, salvation is a simple concept. Saved from bad things. We get that. In Christianese it takes up on one side a much narrower perspective -- saved from eternal death to eternal life -- and on the other side a much broader perspective with ramifications that effect everyday living. Too often we use the term "saved" lackadaisically. We forget to consider "Saved from what?" or "How?" or "Why?" In so doing we forget the abyss from which we are saved, the marvel of the Gospel by which we are saved, and the Christ-reflecting life to which we are saved. It's a big concept in a simple word.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Names of God - YHWH

The name of God used most often in the Bible is this name which we have learned to pronounce "Jehovah". It is the Tetragrammaton, the name of God too sacred to be spoken. It is first offered by God when Moses asks at the burning bush, "Whom shall I tell them sent me?" It is the great "I Am". It is the personal name of God.

From a philosophy perspective, the name is simply stunning. You see, in human existence all things are contingent. All things are cause and effect. Something causes this effect which causes in turn that effect and so on. Science likes to trace the origins of the planet and its life to the Big Bang, but no one can go any farther back because something had to cause the Big Bang. We know that for every effect there must be a cause. But to avoid infinite regression, there must, at some point, be an existence that is not an effect, an uncaused cause, an unmoved mover -- a self-existent being that has no dependencies, no contingencies. God's primary name, YHWH, is the claim that He alone is that singular Being.

It is the same name that Jesus claimed and almost got murdered on the spot for it.
So the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple (John 8:57-59).
Jockey all you want, but both in the Greek grammar and in the response of the Jews it's quite clear that Jesus claimed, just as God did with Moses, to be YHWH, the Self-existent One.

His completely unique name and trait of self-existence has large ramifications. One is the complete lack of dependency. We tend to think that God needs ... something. He needs our obedience. He needs our praise. He needs His people. None of it is true. He surely wants all that, but there is no lack in God, no dependency on anything or anyone but Himself. He is self-existent. Another is the fact of His self-centeredness. I know, I know, that sounds bad, but it is only logical and, in fact, absolutely mandatory. Since He alone is YHWH, the Self-Existent One, He is indeed the true center of the universe. His first allegiance, logically and morally, is to Himself. We like to think that it is we who are the important ones, but it is not so. God is. We rank under Him. As the Self-Existent One, He is the one of supreme importance and value and any time we impugn that, we diminish His Godhood. On the other side of the coin, since He is self-existent, there are no contingencies for Him. That means that He does whatever He wants. He lifts up and lays low, brings about and prevents from happening, enriches and impoverishes, all without interference. He doesn't wring His hands, hoping that His people will do the right thing and get it done. He doesn't depend on us. In Job we read, "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). That might surprise you. I mean, "Of course God is pleased if I do what's right!" Yes, but I have not added pleasure to God by doing so. He has no contingencies, no lack of pleasure that He needs or would have had if I had done the right thing.

"Jehovah" -- YHWH -- is the singular name of God. Other names are tied to it. Other terms are linked with it. It is, however, at the root of God's name and, more importantly, the root of His existence. It is a much bigger name than we often realize. It speaks of His uniqueness, His self-existence, His sovereignty, His independence, His omnipotence ... and on and on. It's a really, really big name ... built out of 4 little letters.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Positively Dangerous

This phrase, "positively dangerous", means something to us. It means "While this is likely dangerous, that is certainly dangerous." It means "I'm positive that this is dangerous." Is it possible, though, for a different take? Is it possible that something can be both positive and dangerous? Is it possible for something to be dangerous in a positive way? I think it can.

Imagine an election (not like the one we just had) where honest, wholesome, rational, moral people with integrity and real values were put in office ... en masse. An influx of honesty and integrity. That, to me, would be positively dangerous. It would be positive for obvious reasons, but it would be dangerous because of the potential to radically shift our society. It would contain a danger to the status quo, a threat to the current crop and climate of politicians. A second election that had a similar wave of people would carry a greater threat to what is currently "the government", portending greater change and less "government as usual". It might stir up the current politicos, the current Republican and Democrat and whatever other side that hasn't aligned with this kind of thinking. They'd have to rethink, respond. Sometimes stirring up a hornets' nest like that can be dangerous. Dangerous? Certainly to some. But positive.

How about if you were to discover that your theology was in error? This doctrine you believed to be true isn't or that which you denied is. This thing you do all the time is sin or that thing which you ignore is a sin to ignore. Now that would be positively dangerous. You see, as long as you think you're okay in doctrine or sin, you're not going to do anything about it. I mean, why should you? But if you come to the conclusion that you've made an error, now you're faced with various problems. You have to choose what course to take -- the original one or the new one. There is the possibility, even likelihood that friends and family are among those who agreed with your error. What will you do about that? It may even be that you determine that your pastor or favorite teacher(s), your spouse, your parents, or other people you respect are in error. Now that is tough. You have to choose to stop the sin, to change the perspective, and how to deal with others. That is certainly trying -- dangerous. But surely the move toward truth and godliness is positive, right? In truth, for some this whole thing is too trying to consider and they blow it off in favor of keeping the peace. Positive, probably, but dangerous, too.

I bet, if I think about it further, there are many more things that could be classified as "positively dangerous" in a positively different sort of way than the standard use of the phrase.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Christianese - Sanctification

Sanctification, like the others, is a biblical term. Just some references for ... reference:
Just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification (Rom 6:19).

Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life (Rom 6:22).

And because of [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Cor 1:30).

To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with His blood (1 Peter 1:1-2)

3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness (1 Thess 4:3-7).
In the entry on Justification I said that it was not a synergy. Justification was not a product of cooperation between God and Man, but a divine declaration. That's it. Done. Sanctification isn't the same thing. It is, in fact, quite a bit more complicated.

First, in English, it means "to set apart; to make holy". Paul addresses his first epistle to the church at Corinth this way: "To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints ..." (1 Cor 1:2). That word translated "sanctified" is hagiazo in Greek and the word translated "saints" is hagios in Greek. In other words, they are the same concept. Hagios is the concept of "holy" and holy is not so much the concept of "separated from sin" as much as "set apart" (which would include sin, but so much more). Thus, "sanctification" is this process whereby we are set apart to God, declared holy, and move toward holy living.

As such, sanctification is both an event and a process. It is an event when we are justified. At the point of justification, we are declared perfectly righteous. That sets us apart. That makes us something new for God's use. That is an event. However, every practicing Christian knows that this event, while monumental, is just the start. Sanctification is the lifelong process of every believer. It is the process whereby we grow into the perfection that has already been declared. In Philippians 3 Paul says that he has not arrived at perfection (Phil 3:12). In the same chapter he also says, "Let those of us who are perfect think this way" (Phil 3:15). He puts these two thoughts together when he says, "Let us live up to that which we've already obtained" (Phil 3:16). That is, "We have been declared perfect; now let's live it."

So what is sanctification? Well, we can learn a lot from the references I referenced above. It is a process of cooperation whereby we present ourselves to righteousness and remove ourselves from sin (Rom 6:19). This produces sanctification. And sanctification ends with eternal life (Rom 6:22). This process is produced in us by the presence of Christ (1 Cor 1:30) and the Spirit (1 Peter 1:2). It is primarily visible in our obedience (although obedience is the product of a changed heart) (1 Peter 1:2). Sanctification is quite important to the Christian. It is, in fact, "the will of God" (1 Thess 4:3). It includes such trappings as avoiding sexual immorality, living holy and honorably, disengaging lust, treating others fairly, and arriving at holiness (1 Thess 4:4-7). It is, in fact, one of the main purposes for which God has called us.

Sanctification is, then, the process of becoming the genuinely holy person that you are declared to be when you are born again. It starts right at the beginning, goes on through your life in your work at becoming more and more conformed to the image of Christ, and culminates in eternal life and heaven's ultimate perfection. That, dear reader, is sanctification.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

November 11 is officially Veterans Day here in America. Begun back in 1926 in honor of the end of World War I, "the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals"Source, the day is intended to honor all military veterans. It is differentiated from Memorial Day. That day is to honor all fallen military folk. This one is "a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace" by honoring those who have seen active duty in the military, whether in conflict or peace time.

We easily recognize the combat heroes like those who earn the Congressional Medal of Honor. Less common is the every day veteran who served his or her country. Many of these folk may not have fired a weapon or been shot at. They didn't face harrowing circumstances or come close to death. They served food, drove vehicles, repaired aircraft, managed paperwork, any of thousands of behind-the-scenes, thankless jobs that made the job of the combat troops possible. Without these folks, the military wouldn't function.

World peace is a good thing. Peace, though quite valuable, is not free. It always comes at a price -- sometimes a great price. And we are usually pretty good at recognizing those who pay those highest of prices. We applaud those who are in harm's way, standing for what is right, standing for freedom. We honor those who give the ultimate price -- their lives. Veterans Day is a day to honor the forgotten rest. They're in among us now. They served here and there and everywhere. They served without notice, sacrificed without being obvious. Some fought and some died, but more hardly held a weapon. They have done their jobs for peace. For that, to all veterans, I say thanks.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Christianese - Justification

Another term that we Christians toss about like it's nothing is this wonderful word, "justification". There, we said it. Now it's all clear, right? Not at all.

First, the term is pretty easy to define. Any dictionary will likely tell you that it means something like "The condition or fact of being justified." "Thanks. So 'justification' means 'being justified'. That's clear as mud." Okay, okay, it's pretty easy. It's simply being right. In Christianese, it is specifically being right in God's eyes. Or, in moral terms, being just in God's eyes. (Thus, "justification".) We're all actually pretty clear on this. However, how this occurs (and the standard use of the term includes its method) seems to be unclear.

To the Universalist, justification is a singular event that occurred at the Cross and affects all human beings for all time. Because "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2), quite clearly all have been made just in God's eyes ... end of story. Universalists cannot account, however, for the almost omnipresent warnings regarding faith and damnation. That's not what I mean when I use the term.

To the Roman Catholic theologians, justification is a process whereby people cooperate with God and, in time, become genuinely right with God. It starts with faith, then on to repentance -- genuine sorrow for sin. Next comes baptism (whereby the stain of Original Sin is removed). From there you move to the continual, repeated steps of obedience, repentance, and correction with the aim to arrive at perfect obedience, but with the remedy of repentance to keep moving when you don't obey perfectly. Justification is a cooperation between God and Man. That is, Roman Catholic theology requires the act of human will to be just. Now, rarely (if ever) does perfect justification actually occur in this life. Thus the need for Purgatory. (Get it? "Purge-atory".) Everyone (nearly everyone) needs to have some vestiges (or, perhaps, a lot) of sin purged before they can actually be allowed into heaven -- "justified" -- because, you see, in Roman Catholic theology, "justification" is something that is actually arrived at by the justified -- something that is a product of either performance or payment. And, in truth, this concept fits within the definition of "justification".

The alternative concept of "justification" comes from Luther and other Reformers. To be quite clear, they derive their position not from personal views, but from Scripture. And their view -- the "Protestant" view -- has been around for several hundred years since it was recovered from the Scriptures, so in many non-Catholic circles, it has become obscured ... again. So now it can be a hazy concept ... again. Just what is meant, then, by "justification" when I (or others like me) use the term? Justification is a divine act where God declares the sinner to be innocent of sin. It is what is called "forensic justification" in that it is a divine declaration as opposed to the Roman Catholic process. Some use the term "imputed righteousness". The concept is found, for instance, in Genesis when Abraham "believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness" (Gen 15:6). "Counted", "reckoned", that's the idea. Not "earned" or "attained". Paul uses this passage in Romans 4 in his argument for justification apart from works. "Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness" (Rom 4:4-5). Thus, this condition of being right in God's eyes is not a product of synergism -- the work of God and the person working together to actually become wholly perfect. It is the product of divine fiat. Christ took our sin so that we could receive His righteousness ... not our own.

Justification, then, is a single event. It occurs when a person places their faith -- their sole confidence -- in the Gospel, the payment of Christ on our behalf. When we believe God, it is reckoned to us as righteousness. That's justification.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Christianese - The Gospel

We Christians often share what we believe to be a common language. It carries with it words that we believe to hold common meaning. We don't, for instance, need to explain to one another who is "Christ". We know that it is a reference to Jesus, the son of Mary and Joseph and, more accurately, the Son of God. We know He died for us and rose again and all that. Good. Common language. All set. And then you find out that the "Christ" you are talking about is not the same "Christ" that he (or she) is talking about. You're talking about the only Son of God, the One who came as God in the flesh, the second part of the Trinity, who actually died and actually, physically rose again and actually paid for our sin. He (or she) is talking about one of many sons of God(s), a representative from God, a godly human, a mode of God, a good prophet who didn't actually die or didn't physically rise again and didn't really pay for sin (how barbaric!), but just modeled how we should live. Not the same person. So we suffer from this common language that I call "Christianese", thinking that we're speaking the same language when, in fact, we may not be. I thought, then, that it might be helpful to define terms. Maybe you'll find that when I say "x", it's not what you mean when you say "x". Maybe you'll think, "Hey! I always heard that term, but I was never quite clear on what it meant!" Maybe you'll just say, "Yep, that's what I thought as well." But a little clarity might go a long way. So I'll do this in a series and it will be available for future reference and future conversations.

The first term that I find so easily confused when we think we're talking about the same thing is "the Gospel". We throw that term out there and assume we're all talking the same thing. Unfortunately, this can be hazardous. "Gospel" may refer to a musical style. That's not what's in mind. Some may be thinking of what is currently called "the social gospel" -- feed the poor, care for the needy, heal the sick, that sort of thing. Now, the biblical command for Christians to "love your neighbor" would certainly be good news ("gospel") to people who need it, but when we speak of "the Gospel", that is not the good news of which we speak. It isn't "live a good life", "be a good person", or even the popular "trust God and you'll be healthy and wealthy" or some such. Not at all.

Paul lays out the Gospel clearly in his first letter to the church at Corinth.
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you -- unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:1-4).
This Gospel, according to Paul, is the only Gospel. Some like to argue that Paul's Gospel was different than other Gospels. Paul disagrees. "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel -- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ" (Gal 1:6-7). There are other uses of the term, "gospel", but Paul's "Gospel" is the same as Jesus's "Gospel", is consistent with the entire New Testament "Gospel", and is what Paul describes here in 1 Corinthians.

Note that the text has some absolutely key components. First the bare facts: Christ lived, died, was buried, and rose again on the third day. Throw out all offerings whereby Christ did not live, did not actually die, or did not physically rise again. Second, an essential, obvious fact included: Christ died for our sins. He didn't die to be an example. Sin is not a non-problem. Sin is the problem for which Christ came, lived, and died. Another important point here is actually so important that Paul repeated it. Twice in this short explanation of "the Gospel" Paul uses the phrase "in accordance with the Scriptures". That is, however you define "the Gospel", it must be in accordance with the Scriptures. It must correspond to, align with, be in accord with the Scriptures.

That's it in short form. God's Son took on human form, lived a sinless life, and died because we, His creation, are sinners in Cosmic Treason against the Most High. We justly deserve Eternal Death for this crime, but the God-Man Christ came and took our punishment. Had it ended there, it would have ended there, but He rose again, completing the process and promise. By placing our confidence in this sole source of remedy for sin, we can share in the promise that we can be justified in God's eyes, be freed from the sin problem, and be guaranteed life ever after. That is the Gospel. It is the truth offered in the Scriptures. It is repeated throughout, actually from Old to New Testament. It is the consistent message of the Bible and the Church. It is the only hope, the only solution for Man's sin problem. Anything else is not the Gospel.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Does God make people He knows will go to Hell?

It's a tough question, really. The first response is easy. "No! It can't be. It's not acceptable. No way. Not a loving God!" And, truthfully, anyone of us would find the mere suggestion unpleasant at best and abhorrent and unthinkable at worst.

Then you start mulling things over. Thinking can be such a mistake sometimes. Consider God's Omniscience. David wrote (speaking to God), "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" (Psa 139:16). Now, some would like to argue that God's Omniscience means that God knows everything that can be known, but that since future events haven't occurred, He can't know them. This passage says that before we're born God has every day of our lives already written down. That sounds a lot like He knows the end from the beginning.

Now, assuming that God is indeed Omniscient in the sense that He knows all things (including the future to us) and assuming that He knows all things accurately, ask that question again. "Does God make people He knows will go to Hell?" Assuming that no one is born whom God didn't intend to be born and assuming that God knows all things, the answer to the question becomes inevitable: "Yes. Undoubtedly. Absolutely. If God knows all things and people are born who will go to Hell, then God makes people He knows will go to Hell."

Now, there is a biblical reason given and you can find it if you wish, but I'm interested in the reason that we have a problem with this idea. We find this notion repulsive. (Don't misunderstand. It bothers me as well.) Why? I would guess that there are a few reasons.

First, I would suggest that it is a problem of holiness. You see, God is holy. No, more than that. He is "holy, holy, holy" -- holy to the utmost. This doesn't merely mean "completely apart from sin". It means "other". And inherent in human beings is the absolute dislike of "other". It is the source of racism and sexism and the conflict between classes. We are most comfortable with the things most like us. We are uncomfortable with "different". And God is different. So we more closely align ourselves with other humans than we do with God. That's natural ... but it isn't right.

Second, I would assume that it is a problem of self-centeredness. You see, if the natural problem of sin is "I will be like the Most High", then self-centeredness is the natural result. It makes us value ourselves most highly. So while God is actually the highest Being, we tend to think of ourselves as quite important. The suggestion that God doesn't think of us as important as we do is offensive to us.

Related to that is the problem that Paul points to. Describing the sinful decline of Man he writes, "For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 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 1:21-23). We call it "idolatry". It's simple. If we exchange the glory of the immortal God for anything at all that is less than God, it is idolatry. And that's the state of Natural Man. "They exchanged the truth about God for the lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (Rom 1:25). Sinners worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. Therefore, for God to actually make creatures He knows will go to Hell would be evil because we serve the creature.

So, let's see where we stand. Does God make people He knows will go to Hell? Absolutely. Given His Omniscience, it can be no other way. Why is that a problem for us? We have a natural distaste for the "otherness" of God, a natural problem with self-centeredness, and a real problem with the idolatry of serving the creature over the Creator. Now, we could continue to be upset about the notion that God makes people He knows will go to Hell, or we can work at eliminating the sinful perspectives that make that so repulsive. You decide.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Names of God - El

I thought that, since Sunday is a great day to reflect on the Lord, perhaps I'd do a series on the names of God ... you know, spread out over a whole bunch of Sundays. (I almost said "a month of Sundays", but I'm not really sure what that means.) The first needs to be this name -- El -- because so many others are built on it.

One of the most common names for God in the Old Testament is this Hebrew word, El. To be most precise, it isn't a name so much as a title. It is linguistically tied to "Allah" (although that is about the end of any connection between the Judeo-Christian God and the God of Islam). This version -- singular -- is used some 250 times in the Old Testament. The plural version, Elohim, is used some 2570 times. Some versions of El may reference pagan gods or even human powers (see Psa 82:6). It references powers which could include magistrates, angels, or judges.

Interestingly, when speaking of the one, true God, Elohim (the plural) is often used with singular verbs. This is the earliest suggestion of the Trinity, a plurality of one, a single entity of three. It is this reference that has Genesis 1:26 quoting God (one) saying, "Let us make man in our image ...". It is the reason that the Bible may refer to God as Creator, Christ as Creator, or the Holy Spirit as Creator -- the plural entity of God, which is one.

The basic meaning behind the word is "strength". It references "the strong one". This is the basic idea whether referencing humans or judges or angels -- strength. And this is the first thought in the names of God that include El in their wording. It is a title that speaks first and foremost of His strength, His power. The very first name applied to God -- the title by which He is first known -- is The Strong One. It's a very good start.

Saturday, November 06, 2010


Perception is an interesting thing. There is so much going on in life that our brains tend to block out the "norm" and pay attention only to "the extreme". Here, let me illustrate. I hold up a large white sheet with a tiny black ink spot on it and ask you, "What do you see?" You will likely answer, "An ink spot", not because that's what you see, but because your attention, despite all that is placed before you, is drawn to the ... extreme.

The news media thrives on this concept. The millions of people who go through the day without being shot, getting in an accident, committing a crime, or whatever else you might hear on the evening news are not news. No, it is only the outliers, the exceptions, the extremes. But it's not the media's fault. We live this way. If you are walking down the street with noise and motion and bustle all about and someone shouts above the din, your attention will be turned there ... because it is extreme. Given a lovely green hillside with a few trees and flitting clouds, your attention will immediately be drawn to the motion of a rabbit hopping across the terrain ... because it is extreme. Or consider modes of dress. Walking in a sea of people, there are really only two types that will likely catch your eye -- either the extremely well-dressed or the extremely shabbily-dressed person. The host of "in-betweens" will elude your attention entirely.

Life is like that, and, for the most part, it has to be. There's simply too much going on. Our brains are designed to catch changes, not sameness. I'm sure you've experienced this, for instance. You notice a new smell in the room. It is quite apparent, whether pleasant or unpleasant. After a short time, the smell seems to go away. Then you leave the room and come back and ... there's that smell again! It's your brain first noticing the new smell then blocking it because it has become "same" and then, when reentering the room, noticing it again because it is "new". It's the way we are designed. Life is like that.

The problem occurs with the "in-betweens". We notice extremes. We generally miss "in-betweens". We are quite aware of the outspoken atheist and the outspoken Christian, for instance. These are extremes. We largely miss the middle of these two. In fact -- and here is the problem that concerns me -- it is this middle section that is the most difficult with which to deal. Someone who is firmly in favor of Christianity is a good thing. Someone who is absolutely opposed to Christianity is someone we can engage because of their stance. But someone who is neither for nor against is someone with whom we have little to do. We can't counter their non-position. We can't argue their non-arguments. We can't warm their apathy. Worse, it is very likely that we'll miss them entirely because ... life's like that.

Extremes are easy. We know the foes and allies in our views and we can address them. But a larger portion is not expressing itself and is going outside of our detection zones. They are invisible. Unfortunately, they are just as needy as the extremes, but in perhaps greater peril because no one notices them. I know far more people in this group than I know of any extreme views. So how do I find, remain aware of, and address this group? This one is tougher.

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Man Who Knew Too Much

It was a well-known Alfred Hitchcock movie from 1956 starring Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day. (Did you know that it was a remake of an earlier 1934 movie of the same name ... by the same director? Starred Peter Lorre and Leslie Banks.) (By the way, Peter Lorre did not play the Jimmy Stewart character; Leslie Banks did. Yes, in this case "Leslie" is a man.) Stewart plays a doctor on vacation with his family in Morocco where he is suddenly given information on an assassination plot -- information that is incomplete, unclear, and unhelpful -- and in order to keep him quiet, the assassins kidnap his son (his daughter in the 1934 version). The movie is about their mad race to retrieve their son before the assassination can be carried out. Now, perhaps these assassins were right about needing to keep the good doctor quiet, but I'm not at all sure. While the premise is "the man who knew too much", it turns out that Stewart knew too little and had a hard time making heads or tails out of the "tip". (He was, for instance, told to seek "Ambrose Chapel". In London he looked the guy up -- turned out to be a taxidermist -- and had no idea what he was talking about.) He didn't know who would be killed, who to warn, who to protect, when it was going to happen, who was doing it. He didn't know a whole lot. He knew, in fact, too little.

I, on the other hand, am a man who knows too much. There are times when I feel like the kid in the Far Side cartoon who asks his teacher, "Mr. Osborne, may I be excused? My brain is full." It feels as if, in order to learn a new name, I need to forget an old one. There's just so much stuff up there that it becomes quite difficult to wade through it to find the rare, useful items like "Where did I leave my keys?" while easily being to locate "helpful" info like ... Jimmy Stewart starred in Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much.

There is so much I know I don't need or want to know. I have a larger-than-average vocabulary, which is fine, but I also know most of the double meanings of seemingly half my vocabulary. This is stuff I don't need to know. I know most of the clinical terms for body parts, so why would I need so to retain so many of the slang terms for sexual deviations that have no use and no bearing on my life? I can easily recall movie trivia and pointless facts, but have a hard time remembering things that could be valuable like birthdays of loved ones. Mostly, though, it is a lot of information packed into this pea brain and it is information I don't need, never needed, and don't want. I know too much.

In my work I deal a lot with computers. In computers it is possible to wipe memory. You can format a hard drive and everything it once remembered is forgotten. You can overwrite and sometimes simply turn off memory and whatever was there before is gone. Worst case, you can always add more memory or hard drive and, without losing anything, your computer has a greater capacity to remember. Not me. There is no "mind wipe". I can't unsee the things I've seen. I can't go through the files in my brain and delete ... permanently. I know too much.

Sadly, there is also so much I don't know. There is history and economics, science and mathematics, and, very much, theology. I'd like to know my Bible better, know how to read ancient Greek and Hebrew, have a better understanding of their cultures and times. There is so much more out there I don't know than what I do know. I'd love to be able to wipe out all that stuff I know that I surely don't need with its attendant ramifications and consequences. Sometimes it feels like I know too much, but more often not enough. Often it feels like I have just enough information to be dangerous or useless ... kind of like the good doctor from the movie. Hmm, maybe he did know too much.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Adding to Faith

I believe in the doctrine of Sola Fide -- faith alone. That is, we are saved by faith apart from works. We don't need to add to faith to be saved. There are other components. We are saved by Christ alone. We are saved through grace alone. I get all that. But we don't need to add to faith for salvation.

Having said that, we are commanded ... to add to faith. Did you know that? Now, it's not a matter of salvation. On the other hand, the failure to do so is a good reason to question your salvation. Therefore, it is not insignificant. Look, here's what Peter says:
2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. (2 Peter 1:3-11)
Yeah, yeah, I know ... "TL;DR" -- too long, didn't read. I would recommend you take a moment to do so. It isn't unimportant.

Peter tells "those who have receive a faith of the same kind as ours" that, because we know Christ, because He has granted to us everything we need for life and godliness, because of His great promises through which we actually become "partakers of the divine nature", you need to "add to your faith" (KJV). We need to supply more than simple faith. We need to add love (agape). This agape love is on top of brotherly love (philadelphia). This brotherly love is on built on godliness. This godliness is premised on perseverance. This perseverance comes from self-control. This self-control is a product of knowledge. This knowledge is shaped by moral excellence. Moral excellence only comes as a product of faith. Think you're done? Think again. He says, "If these qualities are yours and are increasing ...". That is, you don't get to stop, to arrive, to "be all you can be." You are a work in progress. All of this, then, is added to faith.

How important is it? If you have this in increasing amounts, you will be neither useless or unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Did you know that you could have true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and be entirely useless? That's not good. Remember what Jesus did to the tree that did not bear fruit. In fact, Peter says that a lack of these qualities makes you blind and short-sighted. Indeed, it is only in these qualities that you can be sure of His calling and choosing of you. It's that important. In other words, if you settle for "faith" -- "I'm resting here on 'faith alone' because that's all I need to be saved" -- beware. The best you can be is useless. The reality is that it is more likely that you were never called, never chosen. You are blind.

I believe in the doctrine of Sola Fide -- faith alone. I believe that it is by faith in Christ that we are saved, born again, brought into a genuine relationship with God, made alive. That faith, however, is not -- cannot be -- alone. Faith, if it has no works, is dead, being alone. We are saved to be "His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them."

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Against the Truth

I have been accused (elsewhere) of preventing people from commenting because I wish to avoid polluting my website with their heresy. The idea never occurred to me. What I have told my accusers is that I block comments when they cease to be friendly. But it brings up an interesting point. There is a sense we have of people who we perceive that are "opposed to the truth". We stand for the truth; they attack it. This is likely the perspective from all sides. I'm not suggesting my side is right in this perception and their side is wrong. I'm simply saying that it is the perception.

Addressing this concept, I read this interesting little piece in one of Paul's epistles to the church at Corinth:
Now we pray to God that you do no wrong; not that we ourselves may appear approved, but that you may do what is right, even though we may appear unapproved. For we can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth (2 Cor 13:7-8).
I read that and it struck me as quite odd. What did it mean when it said, "We can do nothing against the truth"? Of course we can. We can (and regularly do) suppress it. We can deny it. We can cover it with lies. We can so obliterate it that those around us cannot see it. What does it mean that we can do nothing against the truth?

With help, I dug into this further. This word for "against" occurs multiple times in the New Testament:
If God is for us, who is against us (Rom 8:31)?

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Gal 5:22-23).

Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel (Rom 11:2)?

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Col 2:13-14).

Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses (1 Tim 5:19).
In the last three examples we see where "against" references "in opposition to", like we normally think about it. In the second example is another common term in which we consider something "against the law". That, too, is "in opposition to", but there is a sense about it in which we don't think of that as "doing damage to", but just "opposed to".

It is the first one that gives the clearest idea. "If God is for us, who is against us?" Well, according to Jesus, the starting answer to that question is ... the entire world. He promised His followers that the world would hate them just as it hated Him. So what was Paul saying? Was Paul anticipating that answer? No, indeed! Paul was clearly saying that no one can be against us if God is for us. So what did he mean? He means that God (the Accuser in this scenario) is not against us and Christ (the Judge in this scenario) is not against us. The law is not against us and the angels are not against us and all that is good (on God's side) is not against (opposed to) us. But more than that, Paul is saying that no one, whether on God's side or opposed to God, can ultimately harm us. This "against" is like the "against the law" thing, where the law is not imperiled but opposed. We may be opposed, but we are not imperiled.

That, I believe, is what Paul is talking about with his statement about the truth. We can do nothing to imperil the truth. We can and do oppose it, but it cannot be harmed. It is outside of our reach to put it in jeopardy. Though we suppress it, lie about it, bury it and consider it quite dead, we cannot do it any harm at all.

In terms of the opening thought, then, I'm not opposed to people commenting on my blog who do not present the truth. I do not believe that the truth is in danger by those who oppose it (whether or not they think they are opposing it). I have no need of protecting the truth from harm. It cannot be harmed. I will contend for the faith and I will make a defense of my hope and I will stand for the truth, but truth itself doesn't need my help. We can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Enjoyment Adjustment

Happiness and joy, we are told, are two different things. According to the dictionary, happiness is the feeling of pleasure that accompanies good fortune (or luck). Joy, on the other hand, is intense or ecstatic happiness. They are, then, two "different" things, but, in common usage, only in terms of intensity. The other thing that would seem patently obvious but, for reasons not clear to me, often missed is the connection between "joy" and "enjoyment". That is, if "joy" is "intense happiness", "enjoyment" would be finding or receiving or indulging that intense happiness. I don't think I've gone too far or stated anything we don't already know. But there is a concept I want to get across that might be elusive, so I'll start small.

My wife enjoys shopping. She likes to do it. It brings her pleasure. I, on the other hand, don't. Hold up a card that says "shopping" to ask if this is one of the things I like to do and I'll say "No." So what happens when my wife says, "I'm going shopping. Will you come with me?" There are, of course, several possible reactions. The self-centered man in this case would say, "No, I don't like shopping" and be done. She gets nothing; he gets his way. The altruistic husband would say, "I don't like shopping, but I love my wife, so I will sacrifice my desire not to shop in favor of doing what pleases my wife." And we'd consider that a good thing. You know ... selfless. She gets her way; he doesn't. I would suggest another option -- an "enjoyment adjustment".

Imagine, in this third option, if "shopping" was not the issue. Imagine a husband who thinks, "What I really like to do is please my wife. What brings me the most joy is bringing my wife joy. So ... if it will bring her joy to have me go shopping with her, I can't imagine anything else I'd rather do." You see, in this scenario the husband gets to be both selfless and selfish. Because pleasing his wife is his greatest joy, then shopping with her (in this example) becomes his greatest joy not because he surrenders his desires but because it is his desire. Both win!

This can be a little obscure, I think. I mean, we tend to think in terms of surrendering what we want for another or something like that. That's the noble thing to do. But isn't it far better to actually enjoy doing what's right? It would be no sacrifice to do what pleases his wife if pleasing his wife is what pleases him, you see?

Imagine, then, that this carries over beyond husband and wife. Picture an adjustment in your perspective of enjoyment whereby your genuine pleasure comes from pleasing God. Visualize what it might be like if you actually enjoyed doing what God wanted you to do. In this case, each time you did something that satisfied God would bring you happiness. In this condition, wouldn't you find that "intense or ecstatic happiness", that ongoing state of mind that is joy, would be a given? That seems to me quite obvious. And that, in my point of view, is the process we call "sanctification" -- the move from selfish pleasures to finding genuine pleasure (despite all the false stereotypes of the "sour Christian") in doing what pleases God. In this state of being, it cannot be said that I am sacrificing anything for God because it is my greatest joy to do what God wants me to do. That's my aim.