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Monday, April 30, 2012

Theistic Evolution and Me

There are good Christian people who believe in Theistic Evolution. They are trying to align Scripture with Science (and I didn't mistakenly capitalize "Science"). There is a certain amount of trepidation that standing against Science solely on the basis of Scripture could damage our credibility and even put Christianity in general and the Bible in particular in question. I am not one who believes in theistic evolution. I don't suggest that those who do are false believers. I just have certain problems I can't overcome to make that leap.

1. Genesis says that God created everything, and that "it was very good". Theistic evolution would require that no such thing happened. Or it would require that the millenia of death and destruction wrought upon humans prior to the mythical events of Genesis 1 was "very good".

2. While the Bible is not science, it presents things as fact that touch on history, biology, and other factual areas. The suggestion is that the authors of the Bible simply weren't privy to this information and were, well, wrong. This brings God into question. Why couldn't He tell them what was right?

3. Paul refers to Adam as a real person, the "first Man". Jesus is "the second Man". However, if Adam was not a real person, what was he? If no actual sin occurred (the reason Paul references Adam as the "first Man" as the source of sin entering the world), what did occur? If there was no such event, what event is the Bible referring to? What is the source of the curse on the ground of Genesis 3 and the curse of creation in Romans 8? If there is no "first Man", in what sense is Christ "second" anything?

4. If theistic evolution is true, it calls into serious question the capabilities of the God I worship. It would require that He was incapable of properly informing the writers of Scripture about the truth. Further, He played on His own inability by commanding His people to "honor the Sabbath" in the same way that He rested on the seventh day ... which, of course, never happaned. "Do what I never did," He commands His own. It would demand that the God, the Holy Spirit, failed to get across the fact that Genesis was just myth to 2000 years of Christendom. It would suggest that God is using Science as a crutch to finally explain to His followers what He could never get across in the history of Man.

5. The Bible is riddled with myths and legends. You won't really know where they are. You'll just likely have to wait until Science points them out to you. It's good to have an atheistic materialism around to correct the errors of millenia of Christendom so we can finally get this stuff straightened out. Did God create the heavens and the earth? No. He "made" them by natural processes like a farmer "makes" a crop of corn. Did God form Adam out of the dust? Don't be ridiculous! There was no actual Adam. Was there a worldwide flood? Of course not! Science can inform you of better than that. Localized, maybe. Did Jesus rise from the dead? Of course He did!! Oh, wait, I suppose Science would disagree. Maybe not. Maybe it's another legend. You know, telling us about victory and joy and that kind of thing. No, certainly not real.

6. Evolution starts with the simple and works its way up. Creation operates as creation built for a purpose -- humans. In Evolution, Man is an after-thought, the latest in an ongoing changing universe. In Christianity, we were the point -- the created beings who would reflect His glory. Theistic evolution would like to make us an after-thought that was the point.

7. Since Genesis is full of myths and the Old Testament is riddled with "historical events" that didn't really occur, what am I to believe? When Paul bases his statement about women in leadership on the order of creation and no such order of creation occurred, what am I to believe? When Paul says that Eve was deceived when no Eve existed, what am I to believe? When Paul compares and contrasts Christ to Adam and no Adam ever existed, what am I to believe?

8. Where else? Where else do we give in? We're surrendering the historical comprehension of Genesis. Science has informed us we were mistaken. Science also assures us that no Flood ever occurred, no silly crossing of some "Red Sea" could have happened, no extended day happened in Joshua's time, Hezekiah never had the shadow move, and certainly Elijah didn't raise the widow's son. Or Jesus Lazarus. Nor, in fact, is it possible that someone named Jesus rose from the dead. It's all pretty clear with modern Scientific examination that none of this could happen, so let's put aside the myths and legends of a 2,000-year-old book and move on with fact, okay? Where else do we surrender? How about God? Is He now just "the God of the gaps", the filler for the empty spaces while we wait for Science to figure out the rest?

That last, in fact, is the bottom line. We're holding two truth claimants. One is the Bible. One is Science. Often they agree. (Happy day!) Sometimes they don't. So, what do we do when they don't? The current trend is to figure out what we did wrong when we read our Bibles and, if possible, set aside what has always been the case in order to subscribe to a truth claimant centered on a naturalistic world with open hostility to anything spiritual. Yeah, that sounds like the best approach. Let's do that.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Show Me Your Glory

There is a passage in Exodus (Exo 33) where God, exasperated with His people, tells Moses, "You guys go on to the Promised Land. Just do it without Me." Moses prays that God would not desert His people and God agrees. "I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name" (Exo 33:17). Moses's response is somewhat out of the blue, and, yet, perfectly understandable. For the God of the Universe, the One God, the Lord of All, to say, "You have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name" is quite stunning. So Moses answers, "I pray You, show me Your glory!"

That's quite a prayer. "Show me Your glory!" It's quite a prayer because it is the prime purpose for which humans were created. It's quite a prayer because God's glory is the thing we've missed. It's quite a prayer because, as it turns out, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!" That is, for normal humans to see God in all His glory unmitigated is fatal.

God agreed. He had caveats. He hid Moses in a cleft in a rock and passed before him, covering the rock so Moses would be spared a life-ending view. But God agreed. What did God declare in this moment of highest revelation?
Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations" (Exo 34:6-7).
There is a lot to the glory of God -- so much that it is inconceivable to humans. Even fatal. But there are some key components that would allow us a lifetime of contemplation and wonder. There is His self-existence of God. Fundamental. The concept behind YHWH. "I AM." Nothing else is self-existent; only God. There is His compassion and grace. There is His patience and lovingkindness. Christ referred to Himself as the Truth. There is His mercy on one hand and His justice on the other.

These, apparently, are the primary components of His glory that He wanted to express most clearly when He passed before Moses. These are the main components to contemplate. Omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, even love are contained in these primary components. All that God is seems to have its roots in these components. While the vastness and immeasurability of God exceed human comprehension, these are a start. A good start. God's opinion of a good start. A wonderful place to dwell when we contemplate the glory of God.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Paradigm Shift

A paradigm is, in light terms, a pattern of thinking, but in broader terms it is a worldview. A worldview is the underlying theory and methodology that explains ... well, everything. It can, of course, be a limited worldview. That is, "in the world of biology, the paradigm is ..." wouldn't require that the paradigm in question explains what happens in the entire world. Still, a paradigm is a pretty big thing. It is the approach and understanding of a large way of thinking.

So, here I am, operating on a particular paradigm when it comes to Christianity. What paradigm? My paradigm is an interwoven rug on which my theological understanding stands. It stands on the belief that the Bible is the sole authority in matters of faith and practice. It is premised on the belief that the Bible is God's Word. I have to pause at that to be understood. It is the belief that God breathed the Bible to authors who, in their own vernacular and under His supervision, wrote what He wanted written. It is not merely "inspired writing", but "God-breathed". Because of this, it is inerrant in its original form and absolutely rational. By rational I don't mean "makes perfect sense to me in every case", but logical. Nor is it contradictory. While the Bible is made up of 66 books, nothing in any of the books will contradict anything else in any of the books. I believe in the perspecuity of Scripture, a crazy word, hard to understand, that indicates that the Bible is not hard to understand. This doesn't require that it takes no effort to understand or that some parts are not as clear as others. It simply means that God, via the Holy Spirit, communicates His person and will to the ordinary reader using the text of the Bible. Key to my paradigm here is the belief that God uses the Holy Spirit to communicate the truth of His Word to His followers. Thus, while historic understanding is not the authoritative explanation, it is certainly informative. When I come across a new understanding of a particular passage, I get concerned. If I cannot trace my understanding of a particular passage back through history, I get concerned. I don't believe the Holy Spirit to be inept, so I see this as a vital piece of the paradigm pie.

So, along comes a "progressive" or a "liberal" or a "skeptic" or (oh, I don't know, sometimes they're all hard to tell apart). They assure me that reading the Bible "as written" is a foolish venture. Inerrancy is a myth. The Bible is full of stuff that never really happened and taking it as a historical narrative where it appears to be a historical narrative or a list of rules where it appears to be a list of rules or a moral statement on this particular behavior where it appears to be exactly that is foolishness. "Use your head," they tell me, the suggestion being that up until now I haven't. "Your way makes no sense. We've discovered a new, better way." And that "new, better way" may range from converting historical documents to myths and legends or tossing out plain references to unpleasant things like Atonement, blood sacrifice, Resurrection, or Judgment/Justice.

In my mind I hear, "Come to the dark side, Stan." But that's not entirely fair, is it? So what am I being asked to do? Simple. A paradigm shift. "Sure, sure," they suggest, "you've spent decades studying this stuff, fitting together logical trains, piecing together rational arguments and fitting Scripture to Scripture, but forget all that. Sure, sure, you've come to a clear understanding with footnotes and logical deductions included, but set all that aside. We'd like you to set aside your logic, your inerrancy, your personal history, your Church history, all that you've taken apart, examined, and put back together to see how it fits. No, no, we wouldn't exactly say, 'Throw out your Bible'. We just recommend you throw out all you've figured out so far and start our way. It's progress! It's liberal! It's ..."

Foolish. That's what it is. I hear the voice behind it. "Did God say ...?" So, no, I think I'll keep my paradigm. I think I'll keep the paradigm that the saints throughout history have kept. I think I'll stand in the company of those who have gone before and those who today stand with them. Sometimes "progressive" isn't progress and sometimes "liberal" isn't generous or freeing. On the other hand, I have it on rather good authority that those who are outside the faith will see the Gospel as foolishness. So I'll stick with Scripture, evident reason, and the saints who have gone before. I'll rely on the Holy Spirit to use the Word of God to tell me what's right, what's real, what's truth. Certainly He's a better source than those who are calling on some unsupported paradigm shift.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Confusion on all levels

Here's a story for you. According to CBS New York, "Controversial Website Offers $1M For Proof Of Sex With Jets’ Tim Tebow". Huh? Yes, that's right. A website that advertises itself as "The world's leading married dating service for discreet encounters" (and I won't link to it) -- a website devoted to promoting adultery -- wants to ... how does the story put it ... "challenge one of Tebow’s core beliefs."

Oh, now that's interesting. What core belief is that? Apparently the concept is that Tebow's Christian beliefs include, at their core, abstinence until marriage. That's right. If you fail that command, you are no longer a Christian. Christianity is a hoax. No true believer in Christ would engage in sexual relations outside of marriage. In fact, the founder of the "most recognized name in infidelity", Noel Biderman, said, "If Mr. Tebow is indeed abstaining from adult relationships, I would encourage him to find a nice lady or two and enjoy his youth and fame as much as possible."

So confused on so many levels. Christianity is not based on premarital sex. Christianity is based on the belief that we're sinners. The starting point to becoming a Christian is not perfection, but perversion.

Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:9-11).
But those of this world that are hostile to God "although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them" (Rom 1:32).

How many problems do I count in that one little story? Christianity is not based on perfection (sexual or otherwise). The reality of Christianity is not dependent on Tim Tebow's (or anyone else) ability to achieve perfection. Sex is not about recreation. Keeping sexual relations for marriage and for marriage alone is not something to be ridiculed. Indulging in sin and encouraging others to do the same is not something to be proud of. Being willing to indulge lust rather than value Christ or even other people is not a trait worth encouraging.

Rest assured. If they find that Tebow has remained true to his convictions, they will not pat him on the back and affirm his courage. If they find that Tebow has not remained true to his convictions, it is not a reflection on the reality of Christianity. And it isn't open-minded, good-hearted, moral people who would seek to miss the point and besmirch someone who is recognized as moral.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Screwtape Letters

One of my favorite authors is C.S. Lewis. I've read much of what he has written. Not all. But right now I'm re-reading The Screwtape Letters. If you haven't, you must. You really must. Such well-written insight into the mind of Satan (and, by contrast, God).

So many good quotes in there. So many great concepts. The senior devil, Screwtape, tells his nephew, Wormwood, that, while demons want to make humans into slaves so they can become food, God wants to make them into servants so they can become sons. He talks of how God does His best work when we are at our lowest. So very true. But early on I came across this phenomenal quote. Screwtape tells Wormwood:

Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.
Think about that for a moment. That speaks of a changed heart, not driven by emotion but truth, not thriving merely on reward but on reality. It speaks of the blessing of duty. And, I suppose, I appreciate it because I've been there ... and likely will be again.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Truth, Justice, and ...

Many would recognize that phrase and finish it. "Truth, Justice, and the American Way!" You know, the values Superman holds. You know, the mythical guy. Mythical, of course, because he's a comic book hero, but clearly mythical because his values are sorely outmoded.

Setting aside "the American Way" in a global environment, we already know the truth about humans and truth. As a group we "suppress the truth in unrighteousness." Pilate was speaking for most of us when he asked Jesus, "What is truth?" Even in our courtrooms where we're supposed to "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth", we know that truth is not at issue there. It's who can win.

So we arrive at the question of justice. Surely justice is something we all favor. Maybe not. Take, as evidence, the case of Anders Breivik. Remember him? He was the guy that detonated a car bomb last July killing 8. His plan was to capture and decapitate the Norwegian prime minister. When he arrived on the youth camp island where she (the prime minister) was supposed to be, she had already left. So Anders started killing the youth he could find. Before he was stopped, he managed to execute 69 of them. So, how is justice looking for Mr. Breivik? According to the Washington Post story, "If found sane, Breivik could face a maximum 21-year prison sentence or an alternate custody arrangement that would keep him locked up as long as he is considered a menace to society." Wait ... wait ... a "maximum 21-year prison sentence"? For murdering 77 people? That's justice?

While many would say, "No!", Norway would disagree. They think that the notion of "punishment" for crimes is barbaric. While we debate "cruel and unusual punishment", they consider punishment of any kind "cruel and unusual". They tout their recitivism rates as proof. Reporter Stefan Theil points out that "only 20 percent of former convicts end up back in jail after two years, compared to nearly 60 percent in America. With only 71 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants, Norway’s incarceration rate is less than a tenth of America’s." Norway's maximum-security Halden Prison has room for 250 inmates whose cells are more like college dorms -- flat-screen TV, private bath, large unbarred window, and all. "Inmates take cooking classes and work out with personal trainers; there’s a deluxe gym with a rock-climbing wall as well as a professional music studio for prisoners’ bands. Half the guards are women, which prison governor Are Hoidal says creates a less aggressive atmosphere. For the same reason, the guards don’t carry weapons and freely mingle with the inmates. Prisoners even fill out questionnaires to rate the level of service." Prisoners rate the level of service. The goal is not punishment, you see. It is "to reacclimatize the prisoner to society." The goal is not justice. The goal is living nicely in society.

What we're looking at here is a post-Christian society. Europe is considered the most secularized continent on the planet. A full 33% of France considers itself atheist. A quarter of those asked in the UK believed that the world would be better off if no one believed in God. The website devoted to Secular Humanism lists the top three countries with the highest percentage of nonbelievers as Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. So why is this significant?

You might remember Immanuel Kant. He was best known for his work the Critique of Pure Reason. In it he argued that we cannot prove the existence of God. Now, understand, Kant was not an atheist. Kant argued elsewhere that if we are to have a common moral code, it requires one thing: Justice. And since people universally violate common moral codes without encountering justice, this Justice must be beyond the immediate experience. There must be a Judge who is Himself beyond reproach -- holy. He must be omniscient so He doesn't have faulty information with which to judge. He must be omnipotent in order to carry out the penalty. He must be immutable so He doesn't vary in justice. And so it goes. Kant argued that we may not be able to prove the existence of God, but we must believe in His existence if morality is to have any force at all. And that force would be Justice.

Say goodbye to justice. As we edge away from a world dominated by Christianity, we edge away from a world that even recognizes justice. It is only by relying on the echoes of Christianity that justice continues today. While they argue vehemently against having religion in the public square, they continue to claim the rights bestowed by the Creator whose existence they deny. It's wrong to kill, but they can't offer solid reasons why. We are outraged by the suggestion that a mass murderer might get 21 years for killing 77 people (and be eligible for parole in less than that), but we've stripped off the value that God gave humans made in His image. There are even those who classify themselves as Christians who argue that justice is not an issue at all. "Forgive and forget ... that's the right thing to do." Without regard, then, to "the American way", we have already suppressed "truth", and we are working hard to eliminate justice, because, after all, that will make a better world. There is no wonder, then, that the Bible tells us, "Thinking themselves to be wise, they became fools." I shudder to think about the world where truth and justice have no real bearing at all.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Theistic Evolution

Maybe you're not up to date on this stuff. I know I'm a bit lagging at times. So, there is this self-proclaimed Christian organization called The BioLogos Foundation that is seeking to argue Christianity into the 21st century by assuring us that a literal interpretation of Scripture is a stupid way to go since science has demonstrated that at the very least Genesis is wrong. No "Creation". No "Flood". No literal Adam and Eve. Get over it. Get on the bus. We need to get this train moving out of the Dark Ages so we can reach the world for Christ in the now. Okay, there's that. Recently a well-known, fairly well-respected Christian preacher named Tim Keller wrote a paper for BioLogos to help Christians see evolution and the Bible as compatible. That, you see, should solve a lot of the conflicts between the world and Christianity, and for many Christians between what they see in science and what they see in Scripture. Keller argues for "theistic evolution".

Now, we've all likely heard that term, but we're all likely unclear on what it means to varying degrees. Just so we're on the same page, here's what it means. Theistic evolution argues that God used evolution as His means of creating the world. He guided natural processes to make the world we see today. (Understand that this concept, intended to align Christianity with science, is opposed by science at its core because science here is dedicated to a naturalistic-only view.) So while science (ignoring God) would see natural processes at work, we Christians would know that behind those processes there was a guiding hand. There, see? All fixed.

Well, maybe not. There are problems. Theistic evolution requires some premises, some conditions that we must accept. We must accept (and Keller agrees) that Genesis 1 (at least) is not an actual account of Creation. Indeed, we have to rule out Adam and Eve as the proto-parents of the world. Adam was not the "first Man" as Paul suggests, but one of a many. Sin did not bring death to humanity. It had been happening for millenia. Then, of course, more of Scripture starts to break down. Adam was not made from the dust of the earth (Gen 2:7) and Eve was not made from Adam's rib (Gen 2:22). Not all humans are descended from Adam and Eve. Genesis 3 is mistaken when it says that God cursed the ground and Paul was mistaken when he said that all creation groans under the curse (that never happened). God spoke strangely to the Israelites when He told them to honor the Sabbath on the seventh day like He did at Creation (which never happened, certainly not in seven days). Indeed, every time we come up against science, it appears that the Bible needs to give ground. An underlying premise must, therefore, be in place here. Science is right; the Bible is in question.

Look, if, after all, we just need to realign our understanding of the Bible to correspond with science, why bother with the Bible. It's clearly not an understandable, reliable document. Stupid Christians for thousands of years have failed to figure out what we enlightened believers have only recently discovered thanks to the anti-theist scientists of the day ... that the plain reading of the Bible is wrong. I suspect, if we're careful in our dealings, holding the Bible to the shining light of modern science, we can eventually eliminate all those silly difficulties like miracles, divine intervention, or Resurrection. If we're very careful and faithful to the anti-theists of the day, we can probably eliminate Christianity entirely. Now, can't we all just get along?

Monday, April 23, 2012


What is incrementalism? According to the dictionary, incrementalism is "a policy of making changes, especially social changes, by degrees." So, what is incrementalism? It's the process of changing things a little at a time so that no one will notice. It's the fabled "frog in the pot" concept. Make little changes at a time and we'll never notice we're being cooked.

People have an interesting tendency. We tend to think that things have always been as they are now. The Democrats, for instance, will tell you that "For more than 200 years, Democrats have represented the interests of working families, fighting for equal opportunities and justice for all Americans." As it turns out, the Republican Party (you know, those labeled today as racist, bigoted, and narrow-minded) was founded in the 1850's to free the slaves. They sought abolition of slavery. Andrew Johnson, President Lincoln's Vice President, was a former Democrat selected as a compromise to get the votes of Democrats. After Lincoln was assassinated, Johnson thwarted Republican efforts to recognize civil rights for freed slaves. But, you can do your own search. I think you'll find that while we may view the Democrats today as those interested in equal opportunities and such, it hasn't always been the case. And that's just one example. Of what? Incrementalism. We think that things have always been the same as they are now, but they aren't.

This is a problem for Christians. Much of what we practice and believe today is traceable not to Scripture, but to culture. Our views on how church is supposed to be, how marriage is supposed to be, how to raise a family, oh, a host of things are more influenced by culture shaped by incrementalism than we realize. We think, "Well, it's how we see it today; it's likely how we've always seen it." And, again, it's not necessarily the case. A couple of easy examples. The concept of arranged marriages in Christianity was a given, not an exception. The concept of a pre-Tribulation Rapture is new, not historical. Contraception, up until the 1950's or so, was universally considered wrong among Christians. And, yet, most of us believe today that marriages must not be arranged, there will certainly be a pre-Trib Rapture, and who could even question the morality of contraception? That's outrageous! And the cause of all this? Incrementalism. Baby steps bit by bit into something radically different that we never saw coming.

The question I'm faced with, then, is this. What do you do when your incrementalism runs into your biblical understanding? That is, if you are used to something, convinced of something, relatively confident of something, and then you read a clear and unavoidable concept in Scripture that denies what you've always held true, which one wins out? Will you shift the meaning of the text to align with the present culture, or will you surrender your present understanding to align with Scripture? I know what you'd like to say, but what is the real answer? So, let's do a test case to see what you do with it.

The text of 1 Corinthians 11 is not vague. It isn't popular, but it isn't vague. It starts with that whole "the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God" thing. Yuck! Patriarchy. Well, okay, a few of you are still on board. It says it, so let's go with it. But Paul is just using that as the basis for his next zinger. "Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head" (1 Cor 11:4-5). The text goes on to refer to head coverings as "a symbol of authority" (1 Cor 11:10). Paul references universals here, like the angels and "nature itself". Historically, women wore head coverings of various sorts as symbols of submission. (Note: "Submission" does not equal "inferiority". Don't get confused.) Up through the 19th century the Church understood that it was proper for a woman to wear a head covering especially when involved in matters of worship or prayer. Now we today are much more liberated, much wiser. We've figured out that it had to do with prostitution (although no such reference is made in the text) or long hair (although the text makes no sense in reference to hair as a head covering, considering "if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short" (1 Cor 11:6). "If she won't have long hair, she should have short hair!" Yeah, that's not working.). We're told that it's a cultural thing but can find no cultural link and no historical belief that it was a cultural thing until the incremental steps away from it in the late 1800's until today when we don't give it a passing nod.

So, what is it? Do we say that we've figured it out when all those silly folk from Paul through Augustine through, oh, I don't know, R.C. Sproul understand it to mean just what it says? Do we add on some cultural dimension that isn't there to explain it away? Do we shudder at the thought of burkas for Christians (which, by the way, would be a false dilemma -- no one is going there)? Or is it possible that women have removed the symbol of authority on their heads along with the rise of radical feminism and the denial of the authority of the husband (yeah, try that phrase out in public these days -- "the authority of the husband") and we've allowed it as a product of incremental sin?

Now, like I said, this is a test case to see what you do with it. I offered a text that is opposed to our current way of thinking and asked questions. You decide. But understand that deciding on something that is opposed to your current way of thinking can be a difficult step to take. Don't let that determine what is right or biblical. Rather, let what is right and biblical alter your thinking. If you dare.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Walk by Faith

"In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).
I was always fascinated by the story of the Exodus. Particularly the part about the Red Sea. You recall how that went. Israel had just undergone the 10 plagues without suffering from them. The last was the angel of death and they were spared by the blood on the door and the Passover. Pharaoh begged them to leave and the people showered them with riches just to get them out. Then he changed his mind (again) and hunted them down. That evening, stuck between Pharaoh's army and the Red Sea, they got to observe up close and personal an undeniable miracle. The sea parted and they walked through on dry land. When they got to the other side, it closed again and Pharaoh and his army were destroyed. Magnificent! Truly amazing! And they were so excited and elated that they practically danced all the way to the Holy Land and walked in victorious, knowing without a doubt that the hand of God was with them.

No, wait, that's not quite what happened, was it? No, they walked to the Holy Land and turned back, too scared to go forward. Cost them 40 years in the desert. Before that, they walked to Mount Sinai, received the Decalogue directly from God, and forgot so soon that before Moses came down the mountain they were having a worship orgy with a golden calf. Before that, they got hungry. No, catch this. It's important. Exodus 14 is the story of God telling Moses to prepare the people, then getting them across the Red Sea on dry land, then annihilating the Pharaoh and his army. Exodus 15 is the song of Moses, exulting in God's reign. Exodus 16 ... almost no time elapsed, you see ... begins with "And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, 'Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger'" (Exo 16:2-3). They went from "Hallelujah!" to "Hell in a handbasket" in nothing flat. Fascinating!

I know that we're being told that the economy is turning around. I know that they say we're on the rise again, that the jobless situation is improving, that incomes are inching up, that things are getting better. Maybe. All I know is that my little corner of the world it isn't necessarily so. They just cancelled the project I've been working on for 7 years. New contracts aren't showing up. One source says, "We've been promised another year of support" and another says, "I don't think we'll make it past July." Jobs in my qualifications are scarce and getting one that pays the bills is scarcer. Things aren't looking too good.

"Okay, now wait," some of you are saying. "Normally you may write a bit odd, but it flows from thought to thought. What's this leap from 'Aren't those Israelites funny?' to 'My job is in jeopardy'?" Reasonable question. You see, I'm just as foolish as they. We tend to think that we're going through life on our own. We find a spouse, we find a job, we forge a career, have a family, all that goes into life. We don't. You see, "In Him we live and move and have our being."

So what about me and my job? Well, as it turns out, I can trace a history of God and my employment. My wife was pregnant and I was out of work. What was I to do? Well, look! The military will let me in ... and they will let me in immediately (instead of the 6 months they originally told me) as long as I took this job ... which turned out not to be the job I would ever choose, but to be the best possible job they could give me. Nice. And when that finished? We went cross country to get another job which I lined up and turned out to be unavailable. But there was another job there and when I was asked, "Where did you hear about us?" I said, "Your ad in the paper." "We didn't put an ad in the paper," they told me. And then there was the next move and I landed this job out of the blue without the proper qualifications after looking for 6 months without any luck and doing stuff I really enjoy. Look, just in jobs alone I've been through the plagues and walked through the Red Sea. I've watched the hand of God in my employment record. So how could I possibly say, "Things aren't looking too good"? How? Because, like the Israelites, I forget too easily. I tell God, "I'm worried about this job" and He asks, "What makes you think you got this job in the first place?" Oh, yeah, I forgot.

"In Him we live and move and have our being." I make choices. I walk by sight or I walk by faith. I choose paths and select a wife and raise kids and all that. In the final analysis, however, "It is God who is at work in you both to will and to do His good pleasure." Oh, and He is good. Really good. It's much better to walk by faith than by sight because my sight isn't so good. God is.
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God (Psa 42:11).

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Devil's Advocate

The phrase, "playing the devil's advocate", comes from a task in Roman Catholic polity. When someone was/is nominated for sainthood, a team of people from the Church would go out and gather evidence that so-and-so deserved to be a saint. Another, however, was assigned the task of "digging up dirt", so to speak. This special office served as a canonical lawyer -- the concept of the "advocate". This one -- the "devil's advocate" -- had the job of explaining why the nominee should not be sainted. He served as a check and balance against falsely declaring someone a saint who didn't deserve the position. Of course, that's a Catholic thing. We who are not Catholic believe with Scripture that all believers are saints. But I'm interested here in the concept of a lawyer for the devil. I present to you, then, a Cease and Desist order from the Devil's Advocate.

Dear Christians:

This law firm represents Satan. If you are represented by legal counsel, you might think of directing this letter to your attorney immediately and have your attorney notify us of such representation. Don’t bother.

You are hereby directed to cease and desist all defamation of Satan’s character, reputation, and plans.

Satan is a respected entity in the community. He has spent years serving the community in his campaign against religion and morality – well, against God – and building a positive reputation. Satan is aware that you continue to engage in spreading destructive and defamatory rumors about him.

Your defamatory statements involved references to the Bible as truth and then leaping to the conclusions like "because the Bible says that homosexual behavior is a sin, it's a sin". You have suggested that he is "the god of this world" and that he has blinded people. You have made him out to be the "father of lies" and "the prince of the power of the air", and not in a good way. You have portrayed him as seeking to destroy God's work and His people. Surely you can see that none of this is complimentary regardless of whether or not it's true. And then you suggest that he was beaten at the Cross and defeated at the Resurrection? Obviously these statements demean and degrade our client.

Accordingly, we demand that you immediately cease and desist your defamation of Satan and provide us with prompt assurance within ten (10) days that you will cease and desist from further defamation of Satan’s character and reputation.

If you do not comply with this cease and desist demand within this time period, Satan, as a roaring lion, is entitled to seek damages and equitable relief for your defamation. In the event you fail to meet this demand, please be advised that Satan has asked us to communicate to you that he will pursue all available remedies, including seeking damages, swaying public opinion, and additional co-opting of your government and societal laws to more closely align with his schemes. Your liability and exposure under such action could be considerable.

Before taking these steps, however, my client wished to give you one opportunity to discontinue your disruptive conduct by complying with this demand within ten (10) days. You have been warned.

I recommend that you do not consult with an attorney regarding this matter. Please contact me directly or, in your own best interest, stop making claims regarding biblical truth.


The Devil’s Advocate
Legal Counsel for Satan

Friday, April 20, 2012

If God is like that ...

It is not uncommon to hear people, believers and unbelievers, say something like "If God is like that, I want nothing to do with Him." Think about that for a moment. The position is remarkable.

It requires several things to hold that position. It requires the ability to judge God. It requires a moral superiority over God. It requires that God submit to my standards.

And, yet, here we are. I would venture to guess that a large number of people, even classifying themselves as "Christian", deny the biblical explanations of God and His character because "If God is like that, I want nothing to do with Him." "If God chooses whom He will save, I want nothing to do with Him." "If God creates light and calamity, I want nothing to do with Him." "If God willingly allows people to go to Hell, I want nothing to do with Him." "If God ordered the deaths of the Amorites, I want nothing to do with Him." And on and on.

In Defense and Explanation of All the Articles, pg. 81 of Luther’s Works, Vol. 32, Luther said, "Even Lucifer was not guilty of so great a sacrilege in heaven, for he only presumed to be God’s equal." Not us. Some presume to be His superior. As long as He aligns with our allowed pattern of what God ought to be and what our version of "good" is, they will allow Him. I guess that makes some of us more demonic than the demons.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Hate Crimes

With the Trayvon Martin case blaring almost daily on the front page news, we're all well aware of the problem of hate crimes. Most of America is quite certain that George Zimmerman coldly cut down this fine young man in the prime of youth simply because of racial hatred.

And you can see why. According to the FBI, a total of 7,722 incidents and 9,080 offenses of hate crimes were reported in 2006 alone. Of the 7,330 known offenders, 58.6% were white and 20.6% were black. Some 9,652 victims were identified, with 52% of them targeted because of race. Something like 19% of them were because of sexual orientation. Those are big numbers.

Of course, some hate crimes go unnoticed. The Gay and Lesbian community assures us that many of the hate crimes they experience go unreported. Others are reported, but go unnoticed. Last month, for instance, seven white people were beaten by mobs of black men in Grand Rapids, MI. While Zimmerman is assumed to have shot Martin based on race, these mobs left no doubt. They told one of their victims, "This is what you deserve you white piece of ...". It's a hate crime that has gone unnoticed. While the unjustice (as opposed to "injustice" because so far justice has not been served) of the Trayvon Martin case has the nation's attention, the murder of Daniel Adkins has gone unnoticed. He was an unarmed hispanic man walking his dog and was shot to death by a black man because he felt threatened. No uproar there.

But perhaps the biggest hate crime of all is going by silently. No one appears to notice. No one appears to care. If someone does raise their hand -- "Um, excuse me ... is anyone aware of this?" -- they are ridiculed as reactionary and over-zealous. What hate crimes are these? According to Massimo Introvigne, a human rights representative for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a Christian dies every 5 minutes for their faith. According to Assist News, more Christians were killed for their faith in the 20th century than were martyred in the total history of Christianity. You must understand. In 2000 years of Christendom, an estimated 70 million Christians died for their faith. Some 45.5 million of those died in the 20th century.

Hate crimes are deplorable. Truly awful. Violence, cruelty, killing because of racial prejudice or even sexual preference. (Wikipedia reports that in 2004 2% of hate crimes were against heterosexuals, so it happens to all types.) We're all agreed (well, almost all -- someone is doing these crimes) that hate crimes are horrendous. Apparently, though, while all hate crimes are created evil, but some are more evil than others. Given the silence of the lambs (because people tend to be sheep) on the deaths (let alone violence and cruelty) of Christians, it would appear that this kind of hate crime is much more acceptable in the world than others. In some places it is endorsed. In some places it is the law. And while it's not as big in America today, it looks, based on the talk, like some would like it to be. We are opposed to hate ... as long as it's not those we hate.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Offense of Christianity

I recently wrote about the offense of Christianity. The offense is 1) that we claim exclusivity (which nearly all religions claim and which is the claim of Christ ... you know, the One we claim to follow) and mostly 2) the Cross. Christianity according to Scripture will be an offense to unbelievers simply because Christ died for our sins and that is unacceptable.

The truth is that there are other reasons that Christianity is considered offensive. I'm sure you've heard quite often how Christianity brought about the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the witch hunts, all sorts of evil. All total, deaths "in the name of Christ" in history could add up to some 500,000. The New Atheists like Sam Harris think that religion in general and Christianity in particular ought to be eliminated because religions are dangerous. Add to that the rude, argumentative folk who argue in the name of Christ, the "Westboro Baptist" types who call themselves devout Christians while passing off hate as Christianity, the narrow-minded and bigoted people who in the name of Christ perpetrate cruelty and crimes. An easy example would be Joseph Kony, the head of the "Lord's Resistance Army" in the news lately, claiming to be "fundamentalist Christians". Really bad press. It looks bad for Christianity.

There are responses to these problems, but that's not where I'm going here ... not yet. I wanted to examine the alternatives. Let's take, for instance, Islam. One only has to say "9/11" to recognize that Islam has violent adherents. The truth about the Crusades is that during the Middle Ages Islam was on the warpath conquering all sorts of territory. The Church sent troops in to defend people who were under attack. In the 7th and 8th centuries Islam prosecuted a military-based expansion that spread from Persia through North Africa and into Spain, Crete, and even Italy. Islam calls itself the religion of peace, but its history has been a violent one, and no one can doubt that it remains so in the most Islamic areas*. If they aren't at war, they are comfortable with executing unbelievers. Today, Christianity is the largest religion with 2.1 billion adherents followed by Islam with 1.5 billion followers. It looks like the #2 choice is not a peaceful solution.

According to, the #3 option is "secular/nonreligious/agnostic/atheist" with 1.1 billion in that camp. How does that group do in the question of violence? Well, since they lack organization, it's not too easy to pinpoint. However, we can examine how the adherents of atheism have done when in power. The fundamental premise of 20th century Communism was atheism. It was the official "religion" of China and the Soviet Union. Lacking any sort of "made in the image of God" valuation of human life, estimates are that Stalin alone exterminated from 20 to 65 million Russians. Mao Tse Tung took Communism to China. Various experts provide various numbers, but the conservative guess as to how many this atheist leader terminated round out about 40 million.

Another leader well known for mass murder was Adolph Hitler. Some have tried to tie his beliefs to Christianity, but history suggests that Naziism rather than religion was his motivating factor. While he referenced Christianity at times, he denied it as well. A song from the Hitler youth said, "We follow not Christ, but Horst Wessel; Away with incense and Holy Water; The Church can go hang for all we care; The Swastika brings salvation on Earth." This "religion" of racism brought about the deaths of 6 million Jews on top of the millions who died in his world conquest.

Here's the question I want to ask. Given all this death, which is consistent and which is not? Christians, presented with the embarrassments of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the witch hunts, and all that are appalled. It takes a very brief look into the Christian Instruction Manual, the Bible, to see that all of that is in violation of Christianity. Nothing in Scripture would support those things. They were certainly done in the name of Christianity, but they violate Christianity. On the other hand, we have Islam whose Holy Book demands death to infidels and approves conquest by sword. Atheism and its pals, lacking any religious demand of "made in the image of God" or rights endowed by a Creator, are perfectly consistent in destroying humans who get in the way of their plans and endeavors. And for a worldview that is based on "the perfect race", killing the "imperfect" is simply "survival of the fittest".

The point? Christianity is offensive for what it teaches. Given. We can't avoid it. Christianity is also offensive for what it doesn't teach, for people who claim the name of Christ and violate His commands. That's not our call. We are opposed to that crowd. We agree that the Crusades, the Inquisition, the witch hunts, all that was wrong. I would submit, though, that consistent Christianity on its face as defined by the Bible is not the dangerous religion that those who are offended claim it to be. On the other hand, the next best alternatives are indeed dangerous in their practice and consistent in their killing. Christianity has killed its hundred thousands, but the alternatives have killed its hundred millions. I think we should think twice about the alternatives before we toss Christianity out on the offensive pile.
* This, of course, will be denied in today's "Let's just talk nice about Islam" world. Funny how it's okay to denigrate Christianity at the drop of a hat, but Islam shouldn't be examined or questioned at all. But in truth there are over 109 verses in Islam's holy book that are open-ended demands to kill infidels. These commands were acted on by Muhammad himself as well as centuries of followers including today. By "open-ended" I mean that they are not, like the Old Testament examples of the same, contained in historical context. God told Israel to slay the Amorites, as an example. One time event. Not an ongoing command. Closed. The commands in the Quran are open-ended and ongoing. Those who deny them in Islam today do so by the same means that "Christians" today deny the clear commands of the Bible, the Resurrection, the Trinity, and the like. For a "Christian" to deny the Atonement requires the same abrogation of basic instructions as a Muslim who denies the calls for death to infidels from the Quran. Both types exist. Both require denying basics.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Cost of Compromise

Very often when the question of "same-sex marriage" is debated the popular challenge thrown at those who wish to retain marriage for what it has always meant will be "What difference would it make to you if they changed the definition?" Oh, to be fair, they rarely openly admit that they're changing the definition. They are, but usually it's more like "What difference would it make to you if gay people got married?" And, of course, it's considered the "kill shot", the question that ends the argument. From their perspective, it would make no difference to marriages defined as "man and woman", "husband and wife", if they changed to "man and man" or "woman and woman".

A big part of the reason that this seems to be the case (it isn't; it just seems to be) is, in fact, the erosion of gender roles entirely. It is the onslaught of radical feminism that has, in its efforts to bring about "gender equality", sought to dismantle any perception of gender differences. Oh, sure, there are the obvious physical differences, but inside we're all the same. There is no "female", no "male", no gender-based roles. We even get this in Christendom today with the egalitarian movement. "Doesn't the Bible say that in Christ there is no male or female?"

So, what difference will it make to me if society redefines "marriage"? First, I need to point out that it already has. Marriage was "for life" and "for offspring". Sure, sure, some couples couldn't have kids. A few could but wouldn't because of a medical danger or something. But the general rule of thumb was that marriage was for life and procreation was the norm. If you couldn't have kids, that was a sad thing, not a good thing. Before the push of a homosexual agenda, those shifts already occurred. Now we get this.
It's no secret that the past few decades have transformed traditional gender relationships. Both men and women are operating by a whole new set of rules. Instead of celebrating Mother's Day or Father's Day, some schools are celebrating Parent's Day to accommodate kids from the wide diversity of families today.
I'd like to point out to my detractors who assure me that no one is suggesting the erasure of gender differences that this is exactly what this is saying. "Traditional gender relationships" are being "transformed". Genders operate "by a whole new set of rules." "'Mother' and 'father' are often archaic concepts." The author of the article, Dr. Peggy Drexler, admits that "mother" and "father" generally indicate "egg donor" and "sperm donor" (like that is the primary understanding of gender-related parental roles), but she goes on to say, "The rise of donor insemination and surrogate pregnancies open debate even on that." Single parents, single parents by choice, and now the coup de grace of homosexual parents are bringing an end to the concepts of "father" and "mother". "Mothers' Day" and "Fathers' Day" are going by the wayside and we'll be left with "Parents' Day" because that will be the only acceptable term.

According to Dr. Drexler, we're looking at a complete melding of "gender roles". Her understanding of such roles are apparently limited to laundry, cooking, and earning a living. But even she admits that "Certainly, there are still things that fathers undertake more than mothers, such as teaching a child to ride a bike. Some things often seem to fall more to mothers, such as arranging childcare." You see, hidden under the veneer of cold clinical examination the truth still seeps out. Can a single mother raise a well-functioning child? Of course. That's not the question. Is it possible for a homosexual couple to parent a kid? Silly question. That's not the point. The question is "What is best?" and the reality remains that a loving mother and loving father in a loving marriage provide the best platform for child-rearing. Anything else, while perhaps tolerable, is less. But as society moves away from the longstanding traditional definition of marriage to this new form and embraces a "gender equality" that is defined as "gender equivalence" and generally dismisses any sort of biblical concepts of marriage, parenting, or child-rearing*, I guarantee that it will have a large and negative impact on our world, including "heterosexuals", "Christians", and, yes, even "homosexuals". It will make a difference, and the difference will not be positive.

* As an example, while Scripture talks plainly and openly about corporal punishment as a suitable (in fact, recommended) means of training a child, we've moved so far from the concept that a news report the other day was offering "ways you can scam your children to do what you want." Instead of "training up a child in the way he should go", we've degenerated into begging, pleading, and tricking kids. This cannot end well.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Political Deists

Well, as anyone who has any news source at all knows by now, Rick Santorum dropped out of the race, leaving only (for all intents and purposes) Mitt Romney. Romney has run a phenomenal (expensive) campaign that carefully explained how all genuine conservative candidates are bad while skillfully accentuating his out-of-touch-rich-guy status. While he has been adamant that he is a real conservative, we don't really know where he is. Both the Democrats and the Republicans know that Romney is good at a few things. He knows how to outspend his opponents. And he is a world-class flip-flopper.

Back in February I wrote about my dilemma: How do I vote when there is no good vote? Over at Blog & Mablog Doug Wilson has started an uproar among conservatives by saying that he cannot vote for Romney, which spawned more commentary on more objections. "What?!" the cry will be, "Do you want the horrors of Obama to stay in office???!!!" Dr. Mattson called it Pragmatic Misanthropy and warned about "real suffering. Real economic stagnation and/or collapse. Real houses under water. Real 401(k) accounts depleted. Real babies aborted. Real medical death panels. Real Supreme Court appointments. Real Iranian nukes. Real race and class divisions and conflict." You see, if we don't vote for the wavering reed, Mitt Romney, we are voting for ... what ... the end of the world? At least as we know it.

I'm not here to smooth out the brouhaha over whether to vote for Mitt Romney as the only right and practical thing to do in the face of the Axis of Evil headed by Barack Obama or whether to vote (or refuse to vote) on principle even if it necessarily rejects Romney and elects Obama. Like I said before, I'm asking that question myself. But what I can tell you is that most Americans are political atheists and most Christians appear to be political deists. And I don't mean that in a good way.

Look, we need to examine the issues carefully. We need to vote and we need to vote our consciences. We need to decide if the general principle of not voting for someone with whom you heartily disagree (or, at least, whom you find wholly untrustworthy) is a larger principle than voting out the offensive current administration. You need to consider whether there will be new appointments to the Supreme Court and whether or not those would make a difference (because, I'm telling you, it seems as if more often than not they don't). You need to decide if the current trend against Christianity in America is something you can tolerate or if you think that voting against the current president might change that. You have to weigh the issues, perform your finest prognostications, consider as many angles as you can. I'm not saying that I'm telling you how to vote here because I'm not.

What I am telling you (as I write basically to genuine Christians) is that no matter what occurs in Washington D.C., God is on the throne. God will do with America what He will do with America. Voting in a Rick Perry or a Michelle Bachmann would not stop God from erasing America if that's what He wants to do, and another 4 years of Barack Obama cannot eliminate the country if God doesn't want it to. Maybe God wants to take the country to its bottom rung on the ladder to light the fires under our feet and make us repent back up. Maybe God has decided enough is enough and will end it all for the United States. You know, maybe our iniquity is complete. Could be, you know, with all the hard work we've been putting into it. Practice, practice, practice. But no matter who is in the White House, God is on the throne. "There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (Rom 13:1).

By all means pray about it. Absolutely spend time examining issues, considering alternatives, examining your heart, testing your principles. By all means vote. But don't do it because you're pretty sure that it would have gone better if only you had voted right and, oh, too bad, the country went in a direction that God never intended. Do it because there is no authority except from God. Do it because you are a follower of Christ and want to do what will bring Him the most glory. Do it because you think it is right, not because you are a believer in a God who isn't there when it comes to American politics. That God doesn't exist.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


The Church has several rites it performs. The typical term is "sacraments". They're things we do to memorialize and set apart some events. There are things like baptism and marriage. One of these is the "Eucharist", the "Lord's Supper", "Communion". Another -- although you won't ever see this one listed in any list of sacraments -- is "the Lord's Day".

These last two are different than others. We are to be baptized once and married once. That's it. But Communion and the gathering on the Lord's Day are ongoing. Of the Lord's Supper Jesus said "As often as you drink it, do this in remembrance of Me." It is a repeated reminder, not a single event. And we gather on the first day of the week as part of a apostolic tradition as a repeated reminder, not a single event.

Of course, it would seem wise, then, to remember what we are trying to remember. What do these two reminders point to? The first is Christ's death. Communion reminds us of His body, broken for us, and His blood, shed for us. It is a reminder of the "new covenant" in which that Christ died for our sins. It is a reminder of the cost of our sin and the love of the Lord and the price He paid to redeem us. It is a reminder that he who is forgiven little loves little, and the price He paid for us was not little. A constant reminder.

And we gather on the first day of the week because it is the day that our Lord completed the task of saving us. He rose again on the first day of the week. He is alive. His Resurrection declares to us His victory over sin and death, the victory that He imparts to us. It declares the certainty that nothing, not even the grave, can stop Him from saving us and bringing us to be with Him. It is the beginning of the great "Hallelujah!" because it is the absolute confirmation that our Lord God Omnipotent reigns.

Baptism is a good thing, an essential thing. It demonstrates our joining with Christ in His death and resurrection. It speaks to us of dying to sin and rising cleansed, of no longer being a slave to sin, but a slave to righteousness. That's good. And marriage sets apart that relationship of two-become-one, that mysterious union that is the image of the union of Christ and the Church. Important things to remember. But the two things we as Christians want and need to be repeatedly reminded of are the death and the resurrection of our Savior. All good things hinge on those two events. We assure people that we will never forget the victims of 9/11. I'm pretty sure we will. But the death and resurrection of Christ are things that we must never forget. So let's not allow the repeated reminders to become stale and cause us to forget what they are supposed to make us remember. Christ died for us, and He's alive!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

First World Problems

Perhaps you've heard the phrase, "first world problems". It references some of the inane complaints that people (like us) have that completely miss the point of how good we have it. "My Kindle battery is dead. How will I read tonight?" "My parents bought me a used car." "My Big Gulp went flat before I could finish it." "My teacher marked me off on my paper because my spellchecker didn't catch that I misspelled 'your' in that sentence." That's the idea. Between our technology and our riches (especially compared to the rest of the world), we're developing our own set of problems, and some of them are nonsensical.

Arizona lawmakers are trying to pass a bill that would make it illegal to kill a child over the age of 20 weeks. Oh, sorry, abort a fetus after 20 weeks. Same thing. The pro-abortion crowd is in an uproar. Apparently the bill states that the 20 weeks starts from the end of the last period the pregnant woman had. "Wait!" they protest. "That takes something like 2 weeks off the counter. That means that women only have 18 weeks to kill their baby legally! That's not fair!" First world problems.

While forensics tell us that the gender resides in the genes and the bones of a victim can tell us the sex of the victim and such, our society has determined that the identity of the gender is determined by how the person feels about himself or herself. If I have an X chromosome and a Y chromosome (genetically a male) but feel like I should have female body parts, I can have myself modified and be declared a female. Thus, the best looking Miss Universe contestant from Canada is a man. First world problems.

Artificial insemination is a good thing. We've figured out how to help women with infertile husbands (or single women who would like to forego male relationships or ...) to have a baby. We just need a literal sperm donor. Easy. So now a British scientist has been donating so much sperm at his own fertility clinic that he is estimated to have fathered 600 children. The question becomes "Who is my father?" because there are certainly chances (since the "good doctor" only allowed his close circle of friends to participate in his donations) that one of the 600 children might wish to marry another of the 600 children and we would have accidental incest. First world problems.

Perhaps you've seen the commercials for the car where the kids are trying to help out their poor benighted parents while the parents are out living life. One of them is a daughter who tried to set up her parents' social networking. Her poor parents ... they only have a dozen friends on their account while she sits at home with over 600 friends. How sad for them. Of course, they aren't sitting at home; they're out with friends. As it turns out our modern technology is making us lonely according to studies. While we live in the most connected society ever with ever-present Internet, immediate texting and tweeting, ubiquitous phones, and the most comprehensive social networking ever imagined, it turns out that we're lonely and getting lonelier. While virtual communication expands our "contact list", face-to-face avoidance promotes anonymity. Now we have room for online bullying, males pretending to be females pretending to be interested in males pretending to be single, easy-access pornography in the privacy of your own room, and a host of other immoral activities that promote loneliness rather than community. No facial expressions, no body language, no verbal cues, and while we think we're just a keystroke away, we feel like we're not on the same planet. Connected without connection. First world problems.

Now, I'm quite sure that we're (almost) all happy about technology and where we're going. Life is improving. We're better off. I mean, sure, we don't have our personal rocket packs yet and we're still waiting for the holographic phone calls and all, but life is getting better and better for us. We'll keep telling ourselves that. Don't examine it. Don't think about it. Don't be grateful for what we do have. Don't consider the possibility that some progress is not progress. Don't even think about the time lost in front of the computer or the television or the distance created between friends simply by eliminating real tete-a-tete conversations or the dangers of sitting forever in front of a screen instead of moving around (called "exercise"). I would encourage you to talk to your neighbors about it, but I suspect some of us have never met our neighbors. First world problems.

Friday, April 13, 2012


All of Paul's epistles have introductions. You know, that's what letters do. "Dear Bob ..." Introductions. My tendency is to gloss over the introductions. "From Paul to Rome" ... blah, blah, blah. Got it. Let's get to the good stuff. That tendency, however, is a mistake. Look, for a moment, at the introduction to Paul's epistle to the Church at Rome. It is packed full of really important stuff.
1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 7 to all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
There, that seems simple enough, right? It's from Paul. Yeah, we knew that. He is a servant of Christ, an apostle. Yeah, we got that. It was written to "all those in Rome" who are "called to be saints". Yeah, yeah, now can we move on? No! Because I just skipped some really big stuff!

Paul was "set apart for the gospel of God". (Notice, by the way, that it is "the gospel of God". Keeping that fact in mind will cause problems for the Pauline Dispensationalists that suggest that Jesus's Gospel was different than Paul's Gospel.) Since "the gospel of God" is in view, what is that gospel?

"Gospel" means "good news" and there is all sorts of "good news" available. It may be good news that you got a promotion or good news that the lump turned out to be benign or good news that you received unexpected money. But Paul is not talking here about just any "gospel", just any "good news". This is "the gospel of God". It is the core of Scripture, the purpose of Christianity, the point. What does Paul say about that gospel? Let's look.

1. The gospel was promised beforehand (v 2). The prophets and the Scriptures (to Paul, that's our Old Testament), these speak of the gospel of God.

2. The gospel is about His Son (v 3). God's gospel is not "the social gospel". As I said, there are lots of gospels -- "good news". The one about which God is primarily concerned is not justice for the oppressed, feeding the poor, or health care for all. It is "concerning His Son". The gospel of God is first and foremost about Christ. Now, "other gospels" is just one mistake that is often made. The other is that the gospel is about us. While it certainly affects us, it is not about us. That error is an error of pride. The gospel is "concerning His Son", not "the people of God" or anything like it. Christ is the central point of the gospel, not helping others or even our salvation.

3. Key to the gospel of God is the physical and historical nature of Christ. He was "descended from David" (v 3). He was "according to the flesh" (v 3). Any "metaphorical" or "spiritual" reality of Christ is missing the point. At the first point of contact God's gospel is about the physical and historical reality of Christ.

4. The Trinity is key to the gospel of God. Notice in the unfolding of this introduction to this epistle is the entire three-in-one Godhead. The Father promises and sends. The Son becomes flesh and dies and is resurrected. The Holy Spirit declares to all the deity and Lordship of Christ. Dismantling any part of that three dismantles the gospel of God. Many suggest that the Trinity is not essential to Christianity. If the gospel is essential to Christianity, then the Trinity is fundamental to the gospel.

5. The "proof" of the gospel of God is the Resurrection (v 4). Many voices today will try to tell us that Jesus didn't rise from the dead. "Preachers in good standing" argue that Jesus didn't even exist, let alone rise from the dead. Islam considers Jesus a great prophet, but they assure us He never rose from the dead because He never died. But biblically the resurrection of Christ, attested to by the eyewitness of the disciples, by Paul, and by "more than 500 brothers at one time" (1 Cor 15:6), is the key proof of the gospel of God. No resurrection, no gospel. No gospel, no hope.

6. The gospel of God includes the Lordship of Christ (v 4). There have been books written and arguments made for and against "Lordship salvation". Say what you will, but Paul holds that God's gospel entails "Jesus Christ our Lord". On one hand, the Lordship of Christ is part of the good news of God. On the other hand, stripping that away eliminates that good news.

7. The gospel of God supplies through the Lord Jesus Christ grace, obedience, and sainthood. We get the grace part. We're all good with that. But the gospel of God includes in its primary components the gift of obedience that faith produces (Phil 2:13) and a declaration of holiness for all who are elect. Roman Catholic sainthood is a specialized structure that is reserved for the elite. Biblical sainthood is the declared righteousness of all who are in Christ. That is basic to God's gospel.

You see, hidden in this nice little introduction to the letter to the Romans is a huge explanation of the gospel of God. It was not an after thought, but predetermined. It is absolutely about God's Son, not about some "social gospel" or what Paul calls "a different gospel" (Gal 1:6-9). God's Son came in the flesh at a historical moment, not some spiritual event or mythical story. The gospel is about the Trinity, the work of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and it is proven by the Resurrection, a fundamental event without which the gospel of God is no gospel. The point of God's gospel is Christ and Him as Lord. The outcome of God's gospel is His gift of grace, obedience, and holiness. In all of this, Christ is central. This is the gospel of God about which Paul says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Rom 1:16). Let's not get the point (Christ) mixed up with the result (salvation). Let's not get the cause (the Godhead) confused with the result (obedience). Let's not run off with "a different gospel". The Bible doesn't say nice things about that gospel.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

High Places

I've been reading in the books of Kings (1 and 2). There is a general consensus in there. You know the story. David was king of Israel and then his son, Solomon, became king. Solomon was wise and made the Temple. But Solomon was foolish and got entangled with pagan women and, consequently, pagan worship. So God split Israel. Ten tribes went one way and two another. The northern group was called Israel and the southern group was called Judah. I haven't found a single king of Israel that was a good king. All of them "did evil in the sight of the Lord" including, primarily, idolatrous practices. Judah, on the other hand, had a few kings that the Bible calls "good". They tried to do what was right in the sight of the Lord. Not a lot of them, but some.

There is a repeated phrase that starts with Solomon and echoes on through the stories with many of the "good" kings of Judah. Almost every "good" king of Judah receives this indictment from the Lord. Speaking here of Asa, it says, "But the high places were not taken away. Nevertheless, the heart of Asa was wholly true to the LORD all his days" (1 Kings 15:14). Over and over we hear that this king or that king of Judah did right ... "but the high places were not taken away." A few removed them, but most didn't. What's up with that?

Historically, "high places" were typically actually high places -- hilltops or the like -- that were set aside for the purpose of worship. Sacrifices were offered there. Before the Temple was built, it appeared (despite the tabernacle, apparently) to be the only place for the people of God to sacrifice to God. Even after the Temple, however, these high places remained. Generally, then, these high places were the places that the people went to worship other gods. This worship included animal sacrifice (1 Kings 3:2), prostitution (Jer 3:2), and even human sacrifice (Jer 7:31). They were decorated with "sacred pillars" and were used for the worship of various deities such as Baal, Asherah, and Topheth, deities that provided answers to problems such as fertility and fortune. They even had their own priests. These, then, were the places that the evil kings of Israel and Judah and even most of the good kings of Judah allowed to remain.

We, of course, know better. Whether we're Christians or not, we don't have these hilltops where we seek answers from deities by means of sinful practices. Or ... do we? I suspect that we're more attached to high places than we realize. I suspect that we Christians, although we have hearts that are "wholly true to the Lord", still find ourselves tolerating high places in our own lives. What do our modern high places look like?

If a high place was an elevated place where people went to obtain answers to their problems typically via sinful means, places that were not dedicated to God, but had their own priesthood, I would argue that we can find a lot of these places today. They come in various "elevations" with varying popularity, but they appear to meet these qualifications. And of most concern to me is that Christians seem to use them just as frequently and fervently as the unbelievers. There is, for instance, the government. We anticipate that the government with its attendant priesthood of legislators and governing bodies will give us good laws and fair taxation and reasonable protection of our rights. We do not anticipate that God will do that. We know that, in fact, because, well, sometimes our rights are violated. Part of that "high place" called government but distinct is the judicial system. We often anticipate that the "high place" of the court with its priests, the judges, will provide for us the relief that God has failed to give us when what we consider to be our rights have been violated. Farther down the hillside, perhaps, but still a "high place" is law enforcement. We anticipate that they will provide for us the protection that God has promised us. Then there are other "high places" for other needs. It's good, after all, to cover all your bases. So while we call on the god of government and its minions, the judicial system and law enforcement, to provide some relief for us, we will also turn to other "high places". One extremely popular one is "Social Security", although that "religion" is starting to fall into less favor and the god of 401K is on the rise. Still, we know that long term security comes not from God, but from the "high place" of the Stock Market with its priesthood of wise financial advisors. You know their names in some cases. Most of us have heard of the high priests Charles Schwab, T.D. Waterhouse, and Ed Jones. Names we can relate to. We sacrifice and they provide us with comfort and security. Throw another virgin on the fire.

Our high places don't stop there. We have a lot of them. We have sex and money and power. We have friendships and self-esteem and pride. There are a host of high places that we might seek out for blessings and answers to our difficulties instead of God. And, too often, like the good kings of Judah, while we do indeed serve God, we still retain these high places, back up gods to get answers to our daily problems. To our own shame.

So, what am I saying? Should we ditch the government, eliminate the judiciary, and drop our 401K's? No, that's not what I'm saying. Let me illustrate from another repeated sequence in First and Second Kings. Over and over some army would threaten some king. What's a king to do? Well, you can try to buy off the opponent which many did or you can try to fight off the opponent which many did or, of course, you can just surrender. Not a lot of options. What is interesting, however, is that the good kings of Judah when faced with this problem would typically not come up with their own plan, but would ask God for His plan. Sometimes God's plan was for them to do nothing and watch God beat the enemy. Nice! Sometimes God's plan was to do exactly one of the things that they would typically have done, but with an assured outcome because it was God's plan. Excellent! So, you see, in God's plan, kings often used standard means to accomplish what God wanted to accomplish. The difference, then, between the ungodly king who went to battle and won and the godly king who followed God's instructions to go into battle and win was that one was relying on his own strength and the other was relying on God. Thus, I'm not advocating that we withdraw from the government, avoid the judiciary, ignore the police, or withdraw our 401K's. God will use what God will use for His purposes with an assured outcome -- good (Rom 8:28). I'm not saying that we don't use these high places. I'm saying that we don't worship at these high places. I'm saying that we allow God to use whatever means He pleases and trust Him for the outcome rather than anticipating that the gods of this world will provide the relief we need. Sometimes God will use common means to solve our problems. Sometimes God will use uncommon means for solving our problems. Sometimes that means that an apparent injustice will be done, and we can join the early disciples in rejoicing "that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name" (Acts 5:41). But in all cases we have relied on God, the outcome is assured, and it will be certainly good. On the other hand, the "high places" of our current world do not offer the same guarantee. Counting on them to do so is foolishness.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


There are accusations being bantied about these days about the rise of anti-intellectualism. What does it mean? Well, the concern is that the world at large and even the Church in particular are opposed to the use of the intellect. It's not that we're opposed to education or even to intelligence. We're opposed to the intellectual elites. We're opposed to thinking too much. Christians, especially the conservative side, really suspect highly educated folk. And thinking too much. You don't want to think too much. No, no, we "walk by faith, not by sight," you see. It's better to be intuitive, to be "led by the Spirit" (especially if you don't think too much about what that means). After all, as we all know, knowledge puffs up. Reading too much, thinking too much, gathering too many big words, "too heavenly minded to be any earthly good", these things are bad.

The case can be made, I think, that this anti-intellectualism -- this opposition to deep learning, examination, thinking -- is greater today than it was a couple hundred years ago. Oh, sure, we know more now, but isn't it the learned elite that have carried out the strongest attacks on Christianity? Isn't it higher education that is stripping away too many young Christians? No, in Christianity we are all a common priesthood. We are confounding the wise. We are led by the Spirit and not confined to thinking too much, and we're continuing off in that direction. So we've ditched the Encylopedia Britannica in favor of Wikipedia because we trust much more the common man than the educated intelligensia. It's an outgrowth, I think, of American independence and equality. We're all equal, so don't try to tell me you're smarter than me. We're all independent, so I don't really need your input. Regardless of the cause, it's pretty clear that there are a lot of folks claiming that we are opposed to intellectualism.

I think also that the case can be made that God Himself is against our anti-intellectualism. Oh, maybe that caught your attention, eh? Jesus, in reciting the Greatest Commandment, said, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength'" (Mark 12:29-30). Did you see that? Included in that list is "mind". We are commanded first and foremost above other commands to "Love the Lord your God with all your ... mind." We know that "as a man thinks in his heart, so is he" (Prov 23:7). After Paul wrapped up 11 chapters of his letter to the Church at Rome, he started out his application of the doctrine he had expounded. Where did he start? Well, we need to sacrifice ourselves as worship. That self-sacrifice begins with avoiding being pressed into the world's shape by renewing our minds (Rom 12:1-2). We are to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt 10:16). Paul warns the Corinthians, "Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature" (1 Cor 14:20). Indeed, over and over again the Word tells us that we are supposed to be thinking -- using our intellect. I would say, with the preponderance of Scripture on the subject, that God is opposed to anti-intellectualism and calls on His people to think and to think rightly.

I would like to address, however, another aspect of the accusation that anti-intellectualism is on the rise. May I suggest that it is the nature of human beings rather than a recent development? The indictment of Scripture is that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" (Rom 1:18). We are not, by nature, in the habit of revealing the truth. Instead, we are, by nature, truth suppressors. Truth serves our sin poorly. Thinking too much in truthful ways will not give us license to continue in sin. The nature of sinful man is anti-intellectualism. So I would suggest that it is not a recent development. It is a constant problem that ebbs and flows. Indeed, it is we who are the enemy, not the intellect. But to the extent that we feed it, it would appear that we are concurring with God that we suppress the truth. That's probably not a good thing in the end. That might be something we want to work on fixing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How to Build an Apostate

As every devout Christian in modern America knows, our kids are in danger. There is a distinct possibility, perhaps even likelihood, that if we send them off to college, they will come out apostate. They will have rejected the faith. They will have, at best, ended up lukewarm, and we know what God thinks of "lukewarm". This is not good. Some have responded by homeschooling to better inculcate their kids before they get there. Others have simply decided not to send their kids to college. Or, if they do, send them to a good Christian college. Well, of course, that gets harder and harder to find. Did you know, for instance, that Harvard was founded in 1636 by the Puritans? It's motto was Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae -- "Truth for Christ and the Church". They've shortened it, of course. Now it's Veritas, and neither Christ nor the Church have any part at all. But don't worry. Harvard isn't an isolated case. Yale was founded in 1701 by the Puritans, and we know that there are no puritanical influences left there. The Presbyterians founded Princeton in 1746 and God has been evicted from there, too. Dartmouth was founded in 1769 by the Puritans and, again, has freed itself from its Christian origins. Or how about the most recent debacle? Vanderbilt University was founded in 1873 as a private university for the training of Methodist ministers. Contrast that with their latest move to require Christian organizations to allow anyone to lead them. Campus Christian clubs will not be allowed to prevent an atheist leader from running them because that would be discrimination. Of course, Vanderbilt is not taking its fraternities and sororities to task for discriminating for whatever reason they wish, so it's apparently just the Christians that they want to eliminate. No, finding a "Christian college" that is actually Christian gets harder and harder to do. And the "Christian colleges" that are out there can be more dangerous than the secular ones.

Is that the problem? Is it the lack of Christian universities that is causing our young people to flee the faith? Perhaps the homeschoolers have it right and it's just a lack of earlier education, a failure to provide our kids with the proper information? Is that the problem? I would suggest that, while both are problems, neither are the key issue. How is it that we are building such easy apostasy these days? I don't think the answer is education.

I think the answer is a bit more complex. I would include those difficulties, sure, but I think the real problem is that the real problem is missed. Do you want to know how to build a sure apostate? It's easy. Fake it. That's right. Act like a Christian.

According to recent polls, while 96% of America claims to believe in God (of some sort or another) and something like 70% claim to be Christian (of some sort or another), only 15% actually go to church and ... get this ... only 5% say that their beliefs actually influence how they live. That, my friends, is the recipe for disaster. All the Sunday school and Christian education and proper teaching in the world will not overcome the influence of family and friends who claim to love Jesus while failing to live it. Or, in the words of James, "Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17). I'm certain that the biggest problem is that there is too much religiosity and not enough living faith.

Christian parents are required to teach their children. It is a command from God as well as a simple act of love. "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (Deut 6:4-9). When Jewish children used to ask, "When can I study other philosophies and teachings?" their wise fathers would say, "Well, you are to learn the Word of God when you rise, when you walk, when you sit and when you lie down. Any other time is yours." Education is not to be ignored.

On the other hand, Christ did not say, "Let your good teaching show before others, so that they may hear your good words and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." We are not called to be good wordsmiths. We are called to be living reflections of Christ. We are called to demonstrate where our heart is by treasuring Christ above all else. We are called to be conformed to the image of Christ. We are called to live it, not merely teach it. A son who comes across his mother on her knees before God is much more impressed than the one whose mother tells him to pray but never does. A daughter who sees her father sacrifice for Christ is much more impacted than the one whose father encourages sacrifice without living it. Asking for repentance from children without ever demonstrating it is a much harder lesson to get across.

Sure, education is important. We must teach our children the truth. We must "train up a child in the way he should go." No doubt. We need to prepare our children. Failing to live it, however, is a sure way to erode any sense of reality in the truth being offered in word alone. And, of course, in the final analysis it is not our education or our lives that make the result. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. I'm not suggesting otherwise. I'm simply encouraging parents to remember that actions speak louder than words, that changed hearts make changed lives, and that our kids need to see that in us. Our failure to live Christian lives is the surest way to make apostate children, immunized with small doses of Christianity against Christianity. Let's not make that our legacy.

Monday, April 09, 2012


I recently wrote about Paul's, "For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." I talked about the difficulty most of us have with "to die is gain". And it makes sense. I mean, in a purely animalistic manner, we have a survival instinct. We want to live. "To die is gain" makes little sense. On the other hand, I pointed out that, given the glory of God and the awe of His presence and the wonder of an eternity without sin or tears but simply wonderful perfection, "to die is gain" absolutely makes sense. I wondered, in that piece, how Christians did not see it.

The natural response (I know because I've heard it) is, "So, are you going to kill yourself?" or something like it. That is, "If that is such perfection, why would you possibly continue to live?" I would like to propose that, while Paul's "to die is gain" is really, really hard for us to grasp, I think his "to live is Christ" eludes us even more.

"Now, wait," I can almost hear some say, "that part is easy." I think not. I think that we tend to think slightly different on the topic and, in so doing, largely miss the point. The reason I think that is because when I suggested that "to die is gain", the response is "So, why would you possibly continue to live?" I think we're missing the point because, well, I don't think we often live that way. How? "To live is Christ." That's how.

I think that we often miss the point that we do not live for ourselves. It's not about us. It's not about our pleasure or our comfort or even our efforts or our work. It is Christ. To live is Christ. At least, for us. Thus, if "to die is gain", why would I want to continue to live? Because living is about Christ. Now, if my viewpoint is that dying is gain but living is entirely for Christ, then I would end up slightly conflicted, wouldn't I? Oh, not for the reason that other people are. They don't want to die. Some think that dying is a good thing because life is so tough. That's not the reason that dying is gain. No, I'd be conflicted because I'm looking at two positives -- "live for Christ" or "die to be with Christ". As it turns out, this is exactly what Paul says in the passage. "I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account" (Phil 1:23-24). It's not about me.

To most people, dying is bad. To most Christians, we can mentally understand that dying is a good thing. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, and what could be better than that? But we still have this will to live, this survival instinct. So we balk at Paul's "to die is gain". I think, however, that in getting that piece stuck in our craws, we may entirely miss the other half of the equation. Living isn't glorious simply because we live. Living is glorious because we get to serve Christ. Christ produces life in me. He authors my faith, directs my spirit, disciplines me as needed, provides purpose and value. He is the "Bread of Life". Death is marvelous gain when we get to be eternally and perfectly in the presence of Christ. On the other hand, the other marvel is a life spent in the glorious service of Christ, spreading His Gospel, bringing Him glory, reflecting His character. This is what answers "If death is so good, why go on living?" It is what balances "to die is gain". For believers, to live is Christ. He is the central issue, the main point, the primary focus, the reason. And it is the only accurate idea of how we are to live as followers of Christ.