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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Words Get in the Way

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Postmodernism is defined as "a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power." Key components there are "skepticism", "relativism", and "suspicion of reason." Postmodernism was a reaction to modernism (you can't make this stuff up). Modernism, a standard philosophical view of the Enlightenment, argued that there was an objective natural reality, that statements can be objectively true or false, and that logic and reason are universally valid and useful to make us better people. It was this last suggestion that, following World War II, produced the postmodern assault because, after all, our logic and reason had produced more death than ever before. So postmodernism argued against objective reality, especially in language, and the value and use of logic and reason. In language in particular, postmodernism held that it was not a "mirror of nature." Language was not meaningful; words are "never fully 'present' to the speaker or hearer, but are endlessly 'deferred'." Words are whatever you want them to be.

That brings us up to today. Now we engage in discussions, debates, and disagreements ... over words. Words, you see, represent a reality outside of themselves. We use them as symbols of some reality. But postmodernism has ripped out the moorings of words so that their meanings are always in flux for both the speaker (or writer) and the hearer (or reader). This is why it was so easy to rip the meaning from "marriage" and reapply it to "gay marriage" as if there was any correlation at all to the two concepts. Marriage always meant the union of a man and a woman for purposes of procreation and mutual support. Practices varied, but if you lived in a community that practiced, say, polygamy, and you were on your first wife, you were married. Even for those communities, marriage was not defined as "two or more wives". But with postmodernism serving to undercut language, the symbol that we all understood in the term "marriage" was irretrievably altered to mean ... something else.

We're currently looking at another big word problem. Jose Iglesias, a senior seeking to eliminate school shootings, argued, "No one needs an AR-15. They are only used to kill." The news item came from the story of the Florida House refusing to take up an assault weapons ban. And everyone knows that an AR-15 is an "assault rifle" and "they are only used to kill" ... right? As it turns out, it's not at all that clear.

Look it up. "Assault weapon: any of various automatic or semiautomatic firearms" (Merriam-Webster). According to Wikipedia, "The definition varies among regulating jurisdictions." They may be automatic (pull the trigger and multiple bullets come out) or semi-automatic (one pull, one bullet), pistol, rifle, and shotgun, capable of large detachable magazine or any detachable magazine at all, or having a variety of features such as pistol grip, flash suppressor, grenade launcher (seriously ... grenade launcher?), or "intermediate-power cartridges". (Do you suppose there is a succinct definition of "intermediate-power cartridges"?) (And why "intermediate" and not "high"? Strange.) The Federal Assault Weapons ban of 1994 included two or more things like telescoping stock, pistol grip, flash suppressors, an unloaded weight of 50 oz or more (?) a barrel shroud (a safety feature that prevents burns to the operator ... because preventing burns is a feature of an assault weapon?), or "a semi-automatic version of a fully automatic firearm." In that last, then, an AR-15 would have been banned since it was the semi-automatic version of the M-16, for instance. As you can see, defining the term is not as easy as you would like to think. Even the New York Times admitted that defining assault weapons was complicated.

So now we want a ban on "assault weapons". So we all agree that they're bad and we all agree that they should be banned and we all agree it should be the law. Except for the problem of postmodernism. Word meanings, you see, are constantly deferred. Today's "assault weapon" might be a military-style gun, but if someone tomorrow decided "Baseball bats are used to assault people", what would keep them from being banned? In 2014 the FBI reported that more than 5 times as many people are killed by knives than with rifles in 2013. In fact more than twice as many people were killed with "personal weapons" (hands, fists, feet, etc.) than with rifles1. I suppose it would be logical, given a postmodern perspective and the numbers from the FBI, to ban hands and feet. Hey, they were used for assaults!

Now, of course, this seems ludicrous and I'd like to think it is, but we've already redefined "marriage" and gender, as well as "tolerance", "hate", and so many other buzzwords hurled down to ignite flames and eliminate discussion. And people buy these words without discrimination (another word we've redefined). One person told me, "I'm in favor of gay marriage" and when I asked why, she said, "I know how bad I'd feel if I couldn't marry the person I loved." Do you suppose she thought that through? Do you suppose she considered the ramifications of "marry the person I love" as a standard for legalizing marriage? Because if that were the rule, then family members could marry family members, multiple people could marry multiple people, and it could only decline from there. ("Hey, what about my dog?" "Hey, I love the Eiffel Tower.")

My point here is not marriage or gender. My point is not assault weapons. My point is language. We think we're using words that mean the same thing and we think we're communicating common ideas, but, in fact, the most popular philosophy of the day is that the meanings of words must be in constant flux, must mean what I think they do (and if you believe that's the case, these symbols of ideas can have billions of meanings). So we sit and discuss and debate and disagree and we're not at all sure what anyone is saying, but we're sure we're right. (By the way, if you didn't think you were right, you wouldn't be debating it. It's not necessarily bad to think you're right ... especially if you are.) Where is the solution to this problem? If words have no defined definitions and people are free to assign whatever meaning they want to these things, how are we going to be able to communicate? Is this a good thing? The sad thing, of course, is that this kind of relativity is defining more of our times than objective reality is.
1 Please keep in mind that I'm making a point about language, not assault weapons. Yes, more people were killed by knives or feet than were killed by rifles, but more people were killed by handguns than all of those things. I'm not suggesting that assault weapons are not a problem. I'm talking about language and its seemingly endless variability.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


We are a schizophrenic society.

We label as "misguided" at best and "hateful" at worst those who reject the Science we affirm and then deny the science we don't like because we know that biology can't tell us a person's gender; that's a social construct. We warn about children who can't tell the difference between candy and laundry detergent and then look to children to solve our school shooting problems. We decry the murder of a dozen or two school children and defend in court the right to murder millions of unborn babies. We rise up declaring "not one more woman sexually abused" and, at the same time, demand that all a guy has to do to expose himself to our disrobed wives and daughters is to tell us he thinks he's a girl. We assert that there is no difference between men and women and then require that men who think they're women or women who think they're men be treated like the gender they think they are ... after we already asserted that there was no difference. We are opposed to the rich corporations from which we purchase our tools -- smartphones, computers, social media, and the like -- to oppose the rich corporations. We protest for our rights to speak and act in accordance with our best judgment and deeply held beliefs and protest laws that ensure people's ability to do so. We march for our rights and freedoms ... unless they are rights and freedoms we don't want you to have. "No special rights for you, you, or you ... but for these extreme minorities special rights are required." We are hateful and intolerant of people we deem hateful and intolerant.

And, ultimately, we look to us, the schizophrenic, to solve our societal problems, as if there is anything in us that could rationally be expected to solve our societal problems. We "go down to Egypt for help" and "trust in chariots because they are many," but "do not look to the Holy One ... or consult the LORD!" (Isa 31:1) We sing about "looking for love in all the wrong places", not realizing we're looking for self-help in the same way. And if someone says, "Hey, I can't help you, but I know Who can," we call them "religious" and "bigots" and "narrow-minded" and "blind". Frankly, people, we are not doing ourselves any favors, because Help is absolutely at hand -- ready and able to actually help. The Lord says, "How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" (Matt 23:37)

Our times mock "thoughts and prayers." As for me, "I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth." (Psa 121:1-2) You go ahead and expect your children, your citizens, your political party, your "special rights" movement, your government, or whatever other crippled assistance you might trust to solve these big problems. I'll look to Someone who can.

Monday, February 26, 2018


I like the concept and practice of Apologetics, the rational defense of the faith. This is not about that. The term seems funny to our ears. "What ... you're apologizing for your faith?" It doesn't mean that, but it sounds like it. This is about that.

There are some Christians who take up arms with gusto and do battle. Sometimes they do battle even where they shouldn't, but they enjoy it, so they do it. There are some Christians who lay down their arms and sneak around the corner. Don't poke your head out. Don't be recognized as "the enemy" (because, let's face it, the world as a sinful system hates every genuine Christian). Just keep your head down and you'll make it through okay. Most of us, however, are somewhere in the middle. We'll take a swipe now and again, but we'll mostly deal in "apologetics", the lowercase "a" form, where we largely apologize for our beliefs.

A student I know was once challenged by a teacher. "So, you call yourself a Christian. Do you actually believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven? Isn't that rather narrow-minded?" He responded, "I know it sounds that way, but I didn't say it; Jesus did." He was right, but you can hear the appeasement in the answer. "It wasn't my fault. Take it up with Jesus." But ... aren't you standing with Jesus on this? Sure, He said it. Was He right?

In many similar ways, we want to appease others around us. We want to set aside the clear teachings of God's Word and soothe the antagonists. Oh, here's a word: ameliorate -- to make something bad or unsatisfactory better. We treat the truths of Scripture as if they're bad or unsatisfactory and we attempt to make them better, more palatable, more user-friendly. So when Scripture says that it is God's will that He demonstrate His power and wrath on vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Rom 9:22), we "ahem" and demur from the position and point quickly to the exception, the "vessels of mercy" (Rom 9:23). More likely, we avoid the text entirely as too controversial and unfriendly. "Look, let's just focus on the 'God loves the world' kind of texts. Yeah, yeah, we know that there are some uncomfortable passages in there. Oh, those are Old Testament ... you can ignore those. Oh, yeah, those are not clear ... you can ignore those." So we apologize for God and His Word and try to avoid the controversy.

God says (this is an actual quote from God), "I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things." (Isa 45:6-7) Really? God creates calamity? Oh, no, let's not go there. So we ignore it or apologize for it and move along. Paul told Timothy the hard instruction to correct his opponents so that "God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will." (2 Tim 2:25-26) Really?? God may grant them repentance? As if God is even in the business of "granting repentance", let alone the suggestion that He may not do it. No, we'll set that aside and move on. Sorry about that. Just a misunderstanding. Let's look elsewhere.

Since when was it our job to apologize for what God does? I'm pretty sure He's not sorry about it. I'm equally sure that if we are sorry about what He says and does, we are in opposition to the God we claim to love. Now, we can do that in other human circumstances. You might support, say, Israel as a nation without agreeing with all of her policies. But we're talking about God. Either He is actually all-good and all-right or He is not. If not, He doesn't deserve our worship. If so, He deserves our worship and our agreement. Apologize for God? Makes no sense. We should probably stop that.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

You know the saying -- "Out of sight, out of mind." If you don't see it, you likely don't think about it.

I live much of my life out of sight. I try to be constantly aware of people around me and anticipate them. I'm not very likely that guy you see walking down the sidewalk engrossed in a phone and oblivious to everyone else. No, I'd be the one stepping all the way off the sidewalk (which I've actually done) to avoid being in their way. I'll see that the lane next to me is going away and the car next to me needs to be somewhere, so I'll get out of their way in advance and let them go on. If I'm walking toward an intersection, I often stop way before I get to it to allow the car waiting there to proceed before me. That is, much of what I do in my life is intended as a courtesy that, as a side effect, causes me to remain invisible. I try to be kind and courteous and considerate, but most of that is simply making sure they're not inconvenienced. As a result, you can be fairly certain that I'm mostly unnoticed. No one notices the collision that never happened, the road rage that never occurred, that kind of thing.

As it turns out, I'm a poor example of this. The best example is God. I know that sounds odd, but think about it. Scripture says that God "works all things according to the counsel of His will." (Eph 2:11) So, when you're driving down the road in a hurry and that light ahead unpleasantly turns red, you might see it as a random affront to your forward progress, but what you won't likely think is that it was God keeping you from being in an intersection down the road (literally) where some bad driver would have been that would have hit you. The "good deed" gone unnoticed. Because we don't notice the things that never occurred. Yet God does this all the time. There are injuries and illnesses you don't get because God prevents them, bad jobs or bad relationships you never enter because God prevents them, or all sorts of things like that.

What's my point? My point is that we are, by nature (Rom 1:21), often ungrateful children. We might thank God for "good" things (meaning pleasant) that He does for us. Often we just take them for granted. We don't likely recognize the everyday blessings we have -- drinkable water, a roof over our heads, a job, that kind of thing -- although these are provided by God (Matt 5:45). We are surely ungrateful for the "bad" (meaning unpleasant) things God brings our way -- sickness, loss, etc. -- even though we are promised that He uses those, too, for our good (Rom 8:28-29; James 1:2-4; etc.). And I'm fairly certain that we almost never thank God for all that He does that we never see. Because, "out of sight, out of mind". We just don't recognize those at all.

We should. We should at least acknowledge that they exist and be grateful to the God who manages all that for us.

Perhaps that's why we are commanded, "In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (1 Thess 5:18) To accomplish that in a being (like me and you) so unaccustomed to gratitude, it will probably take a lot of awareness and practice. What we are hoping for in this case is "out of sight; still on my mind ... thank you, Lord."

Saturday, February 24, 2018

News Weakly - 2/24/2018

In the wake of the horrible Florida school shooting, we have the mayor of Dallas asking the NRA not to hold their annual convention in his city and students holding a "lie in" at the White House, all demanding "stronger gun control" and "better gun laws".

Of course, it makes me ask questions. To the mayor and the students (and all the other voices like theirs, of which there is legion), what "stronger gun control"? What would you consider "good enough"? What will fix this problem? "We as teenagers want something to be done. It's not our parents, it's not adults. It's something that we truly believe needs to change," high school junior Eleanor Nuechterlein declared. So, what do you recommend? "Change" is an insufficient reply, because "change" could be removing all limitations or banning guns and anything in between. "Change" is just "something else". What will satisfy your demands? Two students suggested that disbanding the NRA and "stricter gun control laws" should help. That's both disturbing and nebulous. Maybe they think that promoting murder will help stop the violence?

To the lawmakers and legislators, what are you doing? Anything ... at all? And to all of the rest of us out here wondering, what do you think will fix this problem? Eliminate guns? Proliferate guns? Legislate guns? Maybe enforce the existing laws? Because I would suggest that these killings are not done by guns, and the problem is not solved by attempting to control or remove them. That would be a stopgap measure at best. "We're done with thoughts and prayers!" one protester shouted. Good job ... throw out the possibility of God's help in favor of new laws.

Did Something
You've probably seen this news item, but Billy Graham, age 99, died this week. He's someone who did something, bringing the Gospel to untold numbers. He has run the race; he has finished the course.
Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.
-- Billy Graham
That's the Problem
Delaware Governor John Carney asked the Department of Education to figure out how to limit gender and racial identity bullying. The result is a possible new law currently marked Regulation 225 which will allow school-aged children (yes, like 5 year olds) to choose their gender and race. (Why not species?) In Delaware, if this bill passes, your white kindergarten boy could soon be a black kindergarten girl. And they won't inform the parents.

A member of the team that drafted the regulation, Mark Purpura, said they have received some 11,000 public comments, mostly negative. "A vast majority of those negative comments refuse to even acknowledge the existence that someone could be transgender. So that to me is problematic," Purpura said. Yeah, that's the problem. People who trust science to tell them that there are two genders and you don't get to pick your gender or your race are the problem. Instead, let's legislate science. Reasonable indeed.

Immigration Reform
The story is about immigration reform, about tightening controls over immigration, expediting deportations, and tightening qualifications for asylum. Do you suppose, since it is France and not the "evil Imperialist United States", it will be less offensive? Do you suppose that, since 63% of French citizens say there are too many immigrants in France, that will make it okay? I'd figure it's likely.

The End of the World as we Know it
A Hamilton County judge gave custody of a transgender teen to his grandparents rather than his parents because they refused to allow her to undergo hormone treatments and be called by her chosen male name. The parents argued that their daughter was not "even close to being able to make such a life-altering decision at this time." The county prosecuting attorney (they prosecute for this??) argued that it was the parents' religious beliefs that caused them to refuse to allow the insanity. The judge also "encouraged Ohio lawmakers to create legislation giving judges a framework in which they can evaluate a patient's right to gender therapy."

It's the end of parenthood. You don't get to decide what's best for your kids. You don't get to determine the best values, the best views, the best course for your kids. Loving them and providing for them and teaching them and guarding them is not enough. If your son believes that he's a female Chinese unicorn, you'd darn well better let him or you could find yourself in court facing a prosecutor and the loss of parental rights.

Mixed Messages?
As it turns out, there was an armed police officer at the Florida high school where a gunman killed 17 people last week. He just didn't do anything. The question I have is whether the masses will be upset that he didn't use his gun to stop the killing, or that he had a gun at all. Their response ought to tell you more about where they fall on gun control and guns in school than any other yelling they might do.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Diet Tips

I've been on a diet for more years than I can count. To me, "diet" is "die" with a "T" at the end. It seems as if the best approach for dieting is to 1) find out what you like most and 2) cut it out. When you learn to like other things, those will likely have to go, too. Rinse and repeat. So why do I do it? Well, it turns out that my latest physical and blood work all say I'm in pretty good health, so that's good, right?

In America we enjoy a glut of spiritual food. You can get stuff from Joel Olsteen or Kenneth Copeland and learn all about how God wishes to make you fat, dumb, and happy. No, that's not right. Healthy and wealthy. Yes, that's it. Or you can listen to the likes of Fred Phelps (who died in 2014 -- I didn't know that) and find out that "God hates fags" (Phelps's words, not mine.). Quite a range. And like food consumption, what you eat will have a major impact on your spiritual health. Eat a lot of "tasty", "rich" stuff and you'll get fat and die young. consume that hate stuff and you starve to death. Watch what you eat and obtain genuine nourishment, and you'll tend to be much healthier.

There appears to be a biblical link between food and spiritual health. "Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked; you grew fat, stout, and sleek; then he forsook God who made him and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation." (Deut 32:15) Moses was speaking here, and "Jeshurun" appears to be a name for an Israel allegory, but the problem he cites here appears to be that God's people had one real problem -- plenty. The result of "having it good" was they forsook God.

What about us? Do we have that problem? Maybe it's actual fatness -- actual overabundance of "stuff" -- or maybe it's just too much spiritual "stuff" to choose from. So we consume what we like and ignore what we don't. "You have become dull of hearing" the author of Hebrews says, "for though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil." (Heb 5:11-14)

We love the milk thing. Tell me about how God loves me and it makes me feel warm all over. Tell me about God's grace and mercy and I feel a lot better. It's not that these aren't true; it's just that they're not all there is to it. It's just that by this time you ought to be teachers, but you need someone to teach you again the basic principles. So we mix in some pop Bible verses and some Eastern mysticism and Buddhist ideas and find we really have an audience. Just don't give us meat. Don't give us doctrine, "hard truths", actual texts, or what the Scriptures actually mean. By no means should you offer us commands from God -- that's just meddling. So we grow fat on milk and honey and can't figure out why the church in America grows weaker. Preachers actually avoid preaching the harder texts and deeper doctrines in order to avoid controversy and to make us feel better. "Fat, dumb, and happy" might be an appropriate description of much of American Christianity.

Tasty is not always healthy. Warm and fuzzy is not always best. Or, in the words of Scripture, consuming milk doesn't teach us to eat meat. Instead, "solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil." Are you going to be a fat cow, or are you willing to be trained by constant practice?

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Problem of Morality

We all know it. There is a morality problem in our nation ... in our world. All I have to do is mention Harvey Weinstein and we will all nod and say, "That's a bad thing." We are constantly flooded with repeated and new accusations of sexual abuse and harassment and it just doesn't seem to end. It is positively immoral.

There is, however, a problem here. We are all in agreement that it is immoral while we aren't very much in agreement just what constitutes "immoral". The difficulty, you see, is that we can't agree on a definition of "morality." Do we mean "that which a society or group considers right or wrong" or are we referring to "absolute morality", the idea that some things are right and some things are wrong and these ethics apply to everyone regardless of the society's view on it? Is morality relative, depending on the feelings of the group in question, or is there objective morality?

Our society would argue, "No, there is no objective morality." You can see this pretty plainly from just looking at the large moral shifts of the last half century. "Marriage outside of sex is bad" to "sex outside of love is just fine", the rush to embrace homosexual behavior as good, the belief that women are best at home to the near certainty that women cannot be fulfilled in life if they are homemakers ... you must admit we've come a long way in a short time.

And herein lies our difficulty. We defend in the courts and in the streets the right to murder babies and then are shocked because some of those that weren't killed kill others. We know that the Weinsteins of our society are evil, rotten people while we embrace the open freedom of sexual interaction of any and all types. We love "free love," a euphemism for sex with or without love and hate "microaggression" even when we can't really define it or see it. We have set up a moral system -- the morality that is defined as "that which society holds as right and wrong" -- that is schizophrenic and then land firmly on one point (that happens to stand in opposition to other firmly held points) as "wrong, wrong, wrong!" And we suggest that we have the moral high ground.

Christianity has always held that right and wrong are determined by the Ultimate Lawgiver. It is only in this type of structure that "right and wrong" have any genuine footing and, therefore, any useful meaning. It isn't surprising, then, that as our world shoves that concept out the door, we are seeing an embrace of the relative morality that contradicts itself and bears little resemblance to any sense of "right and wrong". Why are we having these problems these days? It's not guns or sexual abuse or poor parenting. It's our rejection of the Creator and His solution to our problem. Guns don't kill people; sinners do. Men aren't sexual predators; sinners are. And the double-minded morality we carry about these days just serve to distract us from the real problem and God's answers.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


I'm familiar with PCs, so this may not be the same as it is on Macs, for instance, but if you go to a file on a computer and right click and you will be given some options. Among them you might find "Copy", "Delete", and "Rename." I suppose you can figure out what each of those would be good for.

I suspect we're doing some of that with our behaviors these days. Well, to be fair, always have. Humans have always copied others' behavior. You know, "Bad company corrupts good morals." (1 Cor 15:33) Why? Because we tend to act the way that those we spend time with do. That would be "copy" and if we are going to copy someone, it ought not be people of the world (1 John 2:15). But, we know this, don't we? We know that we are supposed to be more like Christ and less like the world. Well, then, good.

So what do we do? We might do the "delete" function and eliminate attitudes and behaviors that we know to be sin. That would be the right thing. Or ... we just might do the "rename" function. Now that seems to work as well because that seems to be "Christian". How? Well, we will take our irritability and self-righteousness and call it "righteous indignation" that we can tote around on our moral high horse. Now that makes it good, right? We will hang on tightly to our disdain for those different than ourselves and call it "Christian discernment", and now we're being "just like Jesus", aren't we? We can take our love of worldly comfort and worldly goods and rename it "stewardship" and we make it sound godly. We can even take a personal "homosexuals are icky" feeling and tuck it into a biblical "homosexual behavior is sin" text and make it sound biblical.

Oh, we're adept at this. That "delete" function isn't as easy as it seems like it would be and certainly not as comfortable as it should be and this whole "rename" function lets us keep our vices and sound "Jesus-like." Except we're not. These things aren't. And we ought to do better. We won't, however, if we keep relabeling sin as godliness. You won't be spending any time becoming more like Christ if you think you already are.

Now, who do you suppose would be at the base of this "relabel sin to look like godliness" thing? Because, you see, even in a computer, "rename" doesn't change the actual content, and it is the actual content that we need to address.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21).
A "word of the day" entry: "anthropocentric". We can find a dictionary definition, but let's see if we can figure it out from its roots. "Anthropos" is the Greek word for "man" -- primarily "man" as a group, not a gender. You know ... humans. Then there is the "centric" part. I think most of us can figure that out. So, simply put, "anthropocentric" means "centered on humans".

On one hand, it is fundamental to humans to be anthropocentric. After all, everything we know, everything we experience, is human-centered because we're humans. Fine. No problem. The problem occurs when thinking humans cast that experiential knowledge further and decide that "human-centered" is all there is. This second aspect is the natural result -- in fact, the fundamental position -- of fallen human nature. "I will be like the Most High." It seems generally to be the default position for humans. "The universe revolves around me."

Anthropocentrism has its fingers everywhere. Our culture, for instance, determines today what is "good" and "bad" based on whether or not it "benefits humans". Television entertains us, so it's good. We like whatever the popular music is today, so it's good. Killing large numbers of Americans (terrorism) is not pleasant, so it's bad. Preaching the Gospel to people who don't want to hear it or have a different perspective interferes with their personal freedom, so it's bad. The ultimate "bad"? God. You see, God does things that are definitely unpleasant to humans (like allowing babies to die or allowing tragedies to occur everywhere), so He is definitely bad.

It's not just secular culture that embraces anthropocentrism, though. Check out your local church. Most churches have decided to shift to an anthropocentric perspective. The position is not "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." The position is, "We need to make the truth 'relevant'. We need to make it marketable. We need to conform our message to a culture that opposes it so they can hear it better." So we find "seeker-sensitive" approaches and marketing approaches to church. We even find -- as stunning as this is -- anthropocentric worship. Think about this. On what basis do most churches determine the sound and style of their worship service? Is it designed to do what pleases God, or is it designed to cater to what people want to hear? Is the primary concern "What would Jesus like?" or is it "What would best stir the emotions of the congregation?"

As it turns out, anthropocentrism is the fundamental problem. Human beings, Christian and non-Christian alike, tend to derive their worldview, their opinions, their evaluations from a human perspective. That is, meaning and value is determined primarily by how it affects humans. The counter-approach is theocentrism. In a theocentric perspective, all meaning and value is determined by God's view. All good and bad is determined by God. Theocentrism starts with God and works its way down to humans.

I wouldn't expect non-believers to have a theocentric view. They are, by nature, hostile to God. They are "by nature children of wrath" (Eph 2:3). I get that. What is terribly sad, however, is the overwhelming numbers of believers who blithely evaluate everything from an anthropocentric perspective. They run into problems, for instance, when the Bible portrays God as commanding "Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey" (1 Sam 15:3). "Wait! God doesn't do that! People are important! I mean, think about the innocent children!" And this is an understandable response ... from an anthropocentric perspective. Key questions like justification by faith apart from works and the Sovereignty of God hinge on a theocentric view and come into question with an anthropocentric approach. Why do Christians, for instance, balk at the idea that God causes all things to occur as He wills? "Well, what about the human will? Isn't that important?" It is ... from an anthropocentric approach. It is far less important when you start with a Sovereign God. Other key matters fall apart as well when you start with a Man-center. Values change, morality shifts ... your treasure moves as does your heart. When you start with Man, you even lose your capacity to determine sinfulness. On the other hand, most of the more sticky questions simply vanish when you start with God and allow Him to define value and meaning. "Good" takes on a different sense. "Sovereignty" assumes a wholeness of meaning that it lacked with anthropocentrism. "Sin" becomes real ... very real. Standards change. It all falls into place.

Here's the real problem, and I indicated it at the beginning. The #1 problem for humans is idolatry. We like to think of idolatry as worshiping some sort of wooden figure or some such, but idolatry is much more generic. It is accomplished any time you substitute anything for God. That would include a faulty notion of God. That would include an anthropocentric notion of God. That would certainly include an anthropocentric Gospel and anthropocentric worship. All of reality starts with God. When we substitute anything for that starting place, whether it is science or nature or human beings, it is idolatry. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Love Language

Gary Chapman wrote a fairly well known book (and follow-ups) on the "5 love languages". This is not about that. Join me while we listen in on a brief conversation.
She: "I found out you've been having an affair with Linda."

He: "Who told you?"

She: "It doesn't matter. We're through."

He: "But, honey, I love you!"
How does that work for you? Is there something in there that doesn't make sense to you? There is for me. Because I can hardly imagine a circumstance in which someone would say, "But, honey, I love you" because what had happened was a demonstration of love. "You've been having an affair" coupled with "I love you" makes no sense.

Now, of course, that's an extreme example. An affair is clearly a total breach of love. And we're not doing that, right? But it's not an affair I'm thinking of. It's everyday, "normal" living. I say "normal" because we see it all the time, but I do not mean to imply "good" or "acceptable" -- just common. You will see siblings who claim to love each other being genuinely mean to each other. It is a regular occurrence to hear two friends engaging in not merely playful, but malicious banter. You will hear married couples digging viciously into their spouses in a conversation with someone not their spouse with language which, if their spouse had heard it, could not be construed as "I love you." And yet, in all cases, we would claim, "No, I certainly do love that person. Why do you ask?"

Why do we do that? Why do we "love" and demonstrate it with something much closer to hate? Why do we as parents sometimes treat our children with "not love"? Our spouses with "not love"? Our friends and family with "not love"? It's not that we don't love them. It's that we're currently not doing it. We know that X demonstrates love and instead we offer not Y, but not-X. Why?

I'm not going to answer the question. But you should on your own. I should on my own. We should ask ourselves these kinds of questions. "Am I loving God? Do my words and deeds demonstrate it?" "Am I loving others? Am I showing it in the way I treat them, both in their presence and out of it?" Oh, how about this one? "Would what I'm doing to them demonstrate love to me?" Since loving God and loving others are our two highest commands, I think it might be important to figure out why we claim to do that while we act as if we aren't.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

God Is Love

John writes, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God." (1 John 4:7) He goes on to say, "God is love." (1 John 4:8)

It's an interesting claim. We believe that we love because, well, we love. John claims that we love "because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19) We love because God gives it. The love that we give is a gift from God, "for love is from God." So just what does it mean when he says, "God is love"?

I remember a church (not Christian) that called itself something like "the Church of Love and Light". (Note: This was a long time ago, it doesn't exist anymore, and any connection to any other church by that name is coincidental.) The (female) pastor surmised that if God is love, then love is God and when we had sex we had God. (You can see that isn't outlandish thinking given our society's tendency to make an irrevocable connection between "love" and "sex".) Clearly, "God is love" does not mean that God is defined as love. I mean, clearly He is so, so very much more than that. So what does it mean?

Well, if love is from God, then God defines love. So at the outset we can say that "God is the definition of love." If you examine the 1 Corinthians 13 text (1 Cor 13:4-8), you'll find attributes of love that are associated with God. We read that "God demonstrated His love for us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:8) We read that God loves the world in a particular way; He sent His Son so that those who believe will have eternal life. (John 3:16) And, of course, we've already seen that we love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19) Love, then, is an attribute of God that is defined by God and given to us by God. God is the definition and source of all genuine love.

As such, perhaps we can obtain a more well-rounded understanding of the concept than our current "make love not war" society can offer. God loves positively, providing His Son as a substitute for our sin to save us, to apply to us His righteousness. He supplies our needs, wicked and not alike (Matt 5:45). "A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice." (Isa 42:3) He loves negatively, disciplining and chastening those He loves. (Heb 12:5-11) What we might call "tough love" is a biblical fact.

If we love because He first loved us and if we love because love is from God -- if God defines and bestows love -- then perhaps we should adjust our thinking about love as much, much more than "warm affection" and seek instead to emulate His version as we relate to one another. Perhaps we should learn to celebrate His love more than we do. I suppose we'd have to recognize it first, though, wouldn't we?

Saturday, February 17, 2018

News Weakly - 2/17/2018

Like We Thought
A group of Republicans at the University of Washington had a rally to "bring conservatives together and promote free-speech rights." More than 1,000 counter-protesters showed up to oppose the event.

Wait ... they showed up to oppose free speech? Isn't that ... wait ... that's not even making sense.

A Trump voter said, "I learned that they thought my vote was a hate crime." A counter-protester said, "I'm not a fan of the president ... and what you're doing is not okay."

Got it. We're clear on this. The "loving" Left wants no free speech for those who disagree and wishes to put an end to anyone suggesting otherwise. The new definition of "tolerance". Clear enough.

Wait ... What?
So, it looks like a California judge "has ruled that owner Cathy Miller can continue to refuse to make wedding cakes for same sex couples." Wow, didn't see that coming.

To be fair, the judge simply said that the owner would be free to continue her business (and principles) until the hearing on the case in June. The judge thought that the arguments premised on the First Amendment -- free speech and the free exercise of religion -- were compelling. The owner violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act which prohibited refusing service on the basis of race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. The claim was that the First Amendment trumps lower state laws. The position was that it was the event and not the gender or sexual orientation in question. (I thought it was interesting that the defense argued around the point that the cake wasn't made. It wasn't an existing product to be sold; it was a creation.)

The attorney for the complainants wasn't concerned. "Our fight against bigotry and discrimination (and free speech and the freedom of religion in America) is only beginning," she said. (Okay, I added the parenthetical part, but that doesn't mean it's not so.)

Movie Protest
The movie, Peter Rabbit, was released last week and parents are protesting. Are they protesting the violence done to the forest animals? No. How about the vandalism the animals commit? No. Oh ... then the cruelty of the guy with the electric fence to kill rabbits? No. Okay ... then the dynamite for killing bunnies? No. What then? A rabbit at one point of the battle between man and beast launches a blackberry into the guy's mouth. He's allergic to blackberries. They're protesting "allergy bullying." As a coworker asked, "Is that even a thing?" Must be. Carla Jones, CEO of a charity called Allergy UK, said, "Mocking allergic disease shows a complete lack of understanding of the seriousness of food allergy." Apparently all the rest of the outrageous show is acceptable. It was only that "violent food allergy bullying scene" that was "Pure and unnecessary violence."

Sony has apologized. The rest of you studios should get ready, because there is nothing that anyone can do that will not be protested by someone somewhere. Like the Super Bowl Jeep ad that "glorified" the destruction of aquatic habitats. Really? Like I said ...

Makes Sense
Trump managed to get us an income tax break at the trailing edge of last year. Would it make sense, then, that we hear now that Trump backs a 25-cent-per-gasoline tax hike? Well, sure! I mean, he gave you the tax break and now will help you spend it. What makes more sense than that? Oh, sure, not increasing taxes in an attempt to not increase taxes might, but we're talking politicians here, right?

Friday, February 16, 2018

Only Nice

I came across this interesting text in Isaiah.
My soul yearns for You in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks You. For when Your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. If favor is shown to the wicked, he does not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness he deals corruptly and does not see the majesty of the LORD. (Isa 26:9-10)
I don't think this line of thinking comes naturally to us, at least not in our day. I think that it is more natural to think that God only does "nice" things and, in fact, that all "good people" only do "nice" things. The unpleasant is never good. It would appear that this text disagrees.

Isaiah points to one thought in two directions. First, there is the claim that God's judgment teaches people righteousness. We'd like to think that God doesn't really do that "judgment" thing anymore and, besides, as any child development specialist can tell you, inflicting pain is never a good way to teach a good thing. But the claim is that the pain God inflicts does, in fact, teach us about what is right. The second claim is that evil human beings do not learn righteousness simply by God showing grace to them. Now, again, we know these days that this isn't right. "You teach righteousness by positive measures only. You encourage it in them. You show them examples of it. You show them kindness. And that, surely will produce good behavior." And, from the text, we'd surely be wrong.

The Bible claims to be "God-breathed". As such, the Bible should often be counterintuitive. That is, if God is behind it, it must often vary from what sinful Man thinks. Our mistake, then, would be to insist that God is wrong and we are right when we encounter these kinds of things. Our mistake would be to insist that God's words in Scripture are "on the wrong side of history", "against known science", or the like rather than to let God be true though every man is a liar (Rom 3:4). Instead, we must evaluate our thinking against His stated truth and align our worldview to the Creator's. If He says that He doesn't always do "nice" things (e.g., Heb 12:5-11; Isa 45:5-7; etc.), we should 1) take Him at His word and 2) consider those "not nice" things as good, coming from a good God. We shouldn't attempt to conform His Word to our world. We should aim to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2).

Thursday, February 15, 2018

What Does Your Smartphone Say?

We are a culture immersed in digital technology. Today's handheld smartphones are more capable than NASA's 1970's room-sized computers. We can talk, read, video-chat, surf, write, compute, play ... well, just about everything ... all right there in one device. Now, of course, I'm oversimplifying things. There are certainly limitations and all that, but, still these things are ubiquitous, omnipresent, everywhere. (That's what's known as repetitive and redundant.) People wake up and, before anything else, check their phones. They are on their phones checking, chatting, or otherwise most of the day and, before they go to sleep, check their phones again. There are smartphone addicts today -- and not a small number -- who don't believe they could be without their phones for very long on any given day. Rangers at National Wildlife Refuges are reporting an alarming rise in the fear young visitors experience at all things natural. Why? Largely because the average 8-18 year-old spends more than 7 hours a day using entertainment media. Their closest connection to nature is movies about monster creatures that will kill you, so they don't know what to expect in real nature. Besides, why endure the hardships of outdoors when they can simply "experience nature" online?

Our technology tells us a lot about who we are and what we think. In fact, our technology is often telling us what and how to think ... intentionally. There is an identity connected to some technology. Apple ran the "I'm a PC/I'm a Mac" ads for awhile, suggesting that PC users were boring while Mac users were cool. For many the tag still works. "You're an Android user? Not cool. Only iPhone users are cool." Then there's the whole tablet idea. "You're still using a laptop? That is so last year!" But more than that, what we do with our technology tells us a lot about how we think.

My wife and I were out to dinner for an anniversary at a nice restaurant. Nearby the staff set up a table for a large party, a dozen or so. As people arrived, it was clear that it was a family birthday party or some such. As people settled in, out came the smartphones. By the time the wait staff was ready to take their orders, two or three of the crowd were actually conversing while the rest were immersed in their phones. The message was loud and clear. "We're happy to be here ... just not much interested."

You might begin to wonder if your smartphone is a tool for you to use, or if you're just an appendage for your smartphone. Do you check your Facebook and Twitter feed before you check your Bible in the morning? How long can you go without that digital device? How much reading time do you get in comparison to your screen time? No, they are, as it turns out, not the same. They've discovered that our digital culture is training us toward "tl/dr" -- "too long/didn't read" -- as we succumb to soundbites, 140-character comments, and skimming. As a result they're finding we read less in time and content because we're being trained that way. Beyond that, retention, they tell us, is dropping. We tend not to memorize things we expect to have readily available. With "google" as a verb, now, they tell us we're not likely to try very hard to remember much.

These are just starter questions. It turns out that our smartphones are changing us, and not always in a good way. It turns out that we are saying things with our smartphones that we likely don't realize we're saying. Are you texting instead of talking? What does that say? Does your phone use suggest a set of priorities that you don't realize? How many genuine, personal interactions does our phone interfere with? Because that "like" or text or funny cat video or just about anything I find on my little screen seems to be far more important than you or you or even you.

Look, I'm not saying smartphones are evil. That's nonsense. They are tools. Tools can be useful. So can they. You can use a hammer to pound nails and that's useful. I'm not saying that they're evil and you should get rid of them. But if your strongest urges are to use that hammer to break fingers or kneecaps or skulls, it just might be time to get it out of your hands and out of your sight. Mind you, getting rid of a hammer that incurs urges to harm isn't the answer; it's a stopgap. But it's a good place to start (Matt 5:30).

For believers, we have a higher calling. We're supposed to "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matt 5:16) Is your smartphone helping you do that? Does your technology assist you in loving God and loving others? Does it push you to spend time with Him, to pray, to serve others? Is that smartphone a hammer to make things we should be making or is it for breaking things up? Since we're supposed to "do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31), shouldn't that "all" include our digital media? Something to think about?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


It's Valentine's Day, a day we've decided will be aimed at celebrating "love". I put it in quotes because, of course, I'm not at all sure that we even know what that is anymore. I think we've shifted. To illustrate, walking through the mall the other day I saw Victoria Secret's ad in their window: "It's V-Day Me-Day!" That's about where we've come to.

Some women, as they age, decide "It's time for a baby in my life." Why? Not because of an overwhelming desire to love a child, but more often from a deep desire to be loved. Guys woo girls, offering them romance and heartwarming words. Why? Not because of a deep desire for her best, but more often from a deep desire for her body. We can't seem to distinguish between "love" and "sex", as if the two are inseparable. (Of course, if you "love" your mother or your kids like that, you can and should expect jail time.)

We know that whole 1 Corinthians 13 thing. Even unbelievers have quotes from it on inspirational art and such. But how many of us actually think of love as related to these descriptions? "Patient and kind." Really? "Does not boast." Do we agree? "Does not insist on its own way." Come on, do we actually think that way about love. (Think, "If you loved me you would do what I want.") "Not irritable." "Does no rejoice in wrongdoing." These do not describe today's version of "love". But the real killers are those last ones. "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (1 Cor 13:7) No ... no it doesn't. Not today. Not in our day. "Love never ends"?? We know that's not the case. Today's divorce rates, even among self-professed Christians, says it does.

Love should be celebrated. Love between a husband and wife -- even in its romantic sense -- practically has its own book of the Bible (Song of Solomon). Love is commanded. (Think about that one for a moment. If love is that "chemistry" thing, an emotion that alters your insides without you even knowing why, or even sexual, in what sense can it be commanded?) The celebration of God's love (John 3:16) is at the core of the Gospel. If only we could get it through our heads that love is outward, not inward. It is aimed at others for their best rather than at ourselves for our pleasure. That kind of love would be the kind to celebrate.

Love is something we give. As it turns out, we love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). God, then, is the source of all the love we give. Not that downstream, romantic affection. That's all well and good. I'm not suggesting it's not. But this love, the love from God, is the best, the right, the real love. Imagine, then, what we have available to give in terms of love. We have an abundant source that can't be exhausted. We can give it freely and generously to spouse and sibling, parent and child, family and friends, neighbors, coworkers, classmates, and that barista that gives us our coffee. We can be liberal with it because we can't run out. And I'm talking about the quality stuff, the kind of love that genuinely seeks the best for those around us, starting with the source of that love, our heavenly Father.

That's the kind of love we can celebrate. It rips the covers of "Me-Day", exposing it as no love at all, and cries out for joy at the opportunity to love others with God's unending love. Now that makes for a happy Valentines Day.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


The legal definition of "slander" is "the oral communication of false statements that are harmful to a person's reputation." That would differentiate between "libel" which would be a written or published communication of false statements harmful to a person's reputation. That's the legal reputation. Interestingly, the dictionary defines slander as "defamatory words spoken about a person." Note the difference. The legal definition requires that the statement be false, but the general definition merely requires that it is harmful to their reputation.

God's Word isn't ambiguous on the subject of slander.
Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. (James 4:11)

Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy. (Psa 101:5)

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. (Titus 3:1-2)

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. (1 Peter 2:1)

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. (Eph 4:31)
God considers our tongues to be dangerous (James 3:1-8). We are told to guard our mouths (Prov 21:23) and to be slow to speak (James 1:19). David prays, "Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!" (Psa 141:3) Solomon declares, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." (Prov 18:21) We are far too cavalier with our mouths, especially in this digital age.

Biblical slander doesn't include the "false" component. It simply refers to speaking against another. It includes the concept of malice (and, as such, might include a false connotation). The point is not whether the statement is true or false; the point is whether the intent is to harm the person being referenced. We often hide behind that legal requirement. If it's not true, it's off limits, but if it's true, we're free to run people down as we please. Scripture doesn't allow for that. Biblical slander is speaking with the intent to besmirch the reputation of another even if the speech is accurate.

The Bible is quite clear, on the other hand, that we aren't supposed to ignore sin. We don't keep quiet about it. "If anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness." (Gal 6:1) Jesus was quite clear that we don't remain silent. We seek to remedy it by first showing him his fault in private, then taking two or more, then taking it to the church, then removing the offender (Matt 18:15-20). The point is neither "Never make a false accusation" nor "Never say anything negative about someone." The biblical approach is to seek restoration on the basis of love.

We live in a fast-paced, largely anonymous digital world. We will cruise the Internet and the Twittersphere or anywhere else those with whom we disagree might be and blister them with our digital words. Sure, it's what you might expect from unbelievers, but it would be extremely naive to suggest that only they do it. We Christians who seek to follow Christ remain just as guilty. We excuse ourselves because, after all, it's true that this false teacher is a false teacher or that blogger is wrong, holding views we find offensive. If, however, we wish to be followers of Christ, it will require that we love our neighbor as ourself (Matt 22:39) rather than seek to destroy his reputation online. It demands
a deep and abiding love of the truth, but also a love of fellow believers that should be restored rather than annihilated. Even when we're right about their errors, when we address them with malice, we stand guilty of God's version of slander, for which we should repent and seek restoration ... for ourselves and for others.

Monday, February 12, 2018


I saw a t-shirt the other day. "You don't have to be a racist, sexist, homophobic hater. You can just be quiet." Okay, fine, but how much do we consider the meanings of those terms? Do these words mean what we think they do? I wanted to tell the wearer, "I'm pretty sure you know how you feel about these things, but I'm not entirely sure how much you've thought about them."

If I say, "Science says that males and females have some fundamental differences that will give them differing roles. For instance, males cannot bear children and females cannot impregnate males. Thus, while males and females have equal value, they can have different roles." Does that make me a sexist? If you deny the statement, does that make you an irrationalist?

Let's say that we're both HR managers. Your first consideration in hiring is to give preference to minorities and I only consider qualifications and don't take race, ethnicity, skin color, or gender into consideration. Are you the racist or am I?

If a person holds to the view that a particular behavior is immoral, is it necessarily true that he or she is "homophobic" or is it merely true that he or she holds to a view that a particular behavior is immoral and may be concerned for the welfare of those who practice that behavior? (Hey, while we're at it, is "homophobic" a reference to a fear or a hatred? Seems like the word usage is ambiguous.)

Oh, I know one. Let's you and I consider NAMBLA -- the North American Man/Boy Love Association. (I gotta say it feels dirty just writing it out.) We agree that that is immoral.

"But wait," I protest, "didn't you just say that male-male sexual relationships are not immoral?"

"Yes," you counter, "but it's not about the male-male aspect; it's about the adult-child aspect."

Okay, so you're not homophobic. Got it. "Okay," I continue, "so you favor protecting children."

"Yes!" you assure me.

"And would you say that people that do not protect children are haters?"

"Absolutely!" you agree. (Isn't it nice to find agreement?)

"So, if I say that we should not allow abortion, you'd agree, right?"

"Oh, no," you'd counter, "that would make you a sexist."

"Hang on," I'd respond. "By your own words, those who are unwilling to protect children are haters, and you're advocating killing the most vulnerable of them. Doesn't that make you the hater?"

In all of this I've asked questions rather than make claims. In all of this I've asked us to think about it. Racist, sexist, homophobic, bigot, hater -- all terms we throw around as if we all know and understand them. I don't think we either know or understand them in common. I'm pretty sure we feel them, but thinking them through doesn't seem to be a real concern these days. I'm not at all sure that it's the best way to conduct a debate on a subject when we don't know what we're talking about.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Blessings and Curses

We use the word "blessed" a lot. He's blessed for winning the Super Bowl. She's blessed for getting a good job. They're blessed to have a good family, good health, whatever. We use it, generally, to express gratitude for good things, even if there is no genuine object of the gratitude. That is, often people say they're "blessed" for the good things they have without acknowledging the "Good-Things Giver." Generally, then, we think of "blessed" as "happy".

Biblically, there are blessings and curses. The structure is found in the classic Aaronic blessing:
The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. (Num 6:24-26)
That is, in biblical terms to be "blessed" by God is to be kept by God, to have God's grace, to have God's peace, all on the basis of having God's "face toward you." A curse, then, would be the opposite -- God looks away. He turns His back.

Keith Green was an American Christian musician. He wrote a lot of songs, but one of his best known was Oh Lord, You're Beautiful.
Oh Lord, You're beautiful
Your face is all I seek
For when Your eyes are on this child
Your grace abounds to me.
In this song Keith captures some of the wonder of being biblically blessed. We tend to think -- in the Beatitudes (Matt 5:2-12), for instance -- that "blessed" means "happy," and it does, but it means so much more than happy. It means God is looking. It means that God is paying attention. It means that He is actively involved working things out. It means He is pleased. It means that He is keeping you, being gracious to you, giving you peace. It is so much more than just "happy".

We all want to be happy. It's just part of the human structure. It's not bad. How we become happy can be, but "happy" itself is not bad. It's just ... transient. It is a warm feeling in response to a perception of a positive condition or event. How much better, then, is "blessed"? It isn't merely a shade of difference. When His eyes are on you, His grace abounds to you. To seek that blessing is a singular goal, a very good thing.

Bottom line, where is your treasure? Do you find your greatest satisfaction in a close relationship with God, or is your satisfaction found in other things? Where your treasure is your heart will be (Matt 6:21). If your heart's desire is to know Him (Phil 3:8-11), then your greatest joy will be found in the biblical blessing -- His face toward you. In this case, "happy" does not begin to describe it.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

News Weakly - 2/10/2018

In Plain Sight
We've been seeing more and more pushback on religious freedom over recent years. "No," they always want to tell us, "it's not about religious freedom; it's about other people's freedom." Last week in Canada the Ontario Divisional Court ruled that doctors must refer patients for all procedures including abortion and assisted suicide even if they conscientiously object. The Court held that access to healthcare services (How are services that provide death considered "healthcare"?) is sufficiently important "to warrant overriding" the right of religious freedom.

You can see it in the UK where they are trying to ban Franklin Graham from coming because preaching the Bible is "hate speech."

They have been doing it, little by little, but in back channels. When they start in the open, they start in earnest.

Egalitarian Inerrancy
Moody Bible Institute (MBI) in Chicago has long been connected to biblical inerrancy, so to speak. It was there that the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978) was made. And now it appears to be the central issue for problems at MBI. So, it would seem to follow that a professor at MBI has complained that she was fired for her egalitarian views. She wrote,
As an egalitarian, I believe in biblical equality — that God created women as the equals of men — or, more aptly, that God created men as the equals of women; I believe that women should not be excluded from any role, function, or office within any sphere — work, church, home. (Emphasis hers.)
That all makes perfect sense as long as you do not take the Bible as authoritative, literal in any real sense, or actually inerrant in a meaningful way. While the Bible clearly teaches that men and women are of equal value, it also clearly teaches different roles for men and women in the church and in the home. So her "egalitarian" cannot go together with "inerrancy." On one hand, a school which holds to biblical inerrancy would be perfectly justified in removing a professor for holding a position in opposition to that view. There is, on the other hand, the fact that they hired her knowing she held that position. That would be their mistake.

In Other News
Good news for balding folk. Japanese scientists may have discovered a cure for baldness. It seems that the method uses the oil in McDonald's fries. "Do you want fries with that?" "Yes, I'll take two -- one to eat and one to smear on my head."

Please, Dear God ...
There are people -- people who claim to be "with us" when, in fact, they are not -- that sometimes just make me want to pray, "Please, dear God, make them stop!" Gloria Copeland is just one of those people. While one of the worst flu epidemics is killing people across the nation, she is telling people, "Ignore the flu shot. We don't have a flu season. Jesus 'redeemed us from the curse of flu.'" All while ignoring the outbreak of measles in 2013 in her husband's Texas megachurch.

Remember that Jesus warned of false prophets "who come to you in sheep's clothing" (Matt 7:15). Remember that Scripture has multiple warnings of false teachers coming from our midst (e.g., Acts 20:28-31; 1 John 2:18-19). Don't be fooled. "They are not of us." Unfortunately, it's God who gets the black eye in this.

Didn't See That Coming
So, Bermuda legalized gay marriage. Not news. And then, on Wednesday, they outlawed it. Really? What next? Agree that there are only two genders? Encourage lifelong marriage? Declare homosexual behavior is immoral? Is there no end to this madness??

Sure, it won't last, but good for you, Bermuda.

Friday, February 09, 2018

John 3:16

When Tim Tebow was in college playing for the national championship, he had "John 3:16" written under his eyes and 93 million people googled John 3:16. Exactly 3 years later in the first round of championship play-offs with Denver against the Steelers, Tebow encountered some interesting statistics. He threw for 316 yards, with 3.16 yards per rush, 31.6 yards per completion, and a time of possession of 31.6. Oh, and the Nielsen TV ratings for the game peaked at 31.6. Coincidence?

The truth is that John 3:16 is among the top 10 best known verses in the Bible. (It used to be #1, but "Judge not" has taken that spot in the last several years.) I think, perhaps, that its overwhelming attention has made it less clear to us over the years. Maybe we could benefit from a closer look.

The verse comes in the middle of a conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Nicodemus seemed to be genuinely seeking insight from Christ despite the animosity of his sect toward Jesus. So he came at night and talked to Jesus. "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." (John 3:2) Jesus's response is singular. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3) As you can imagine, this is baffling to Nicodemus. He can't figure out how to get back into the womb and do it again (John 3:4). He's not getting it at all (John 3:9). Jesus is clear that the fundamental requirement for a relationship with God (Remember, that was Nicodemus's point at the outset -- "We know that you are a teacher come from God.") is to be born again. And how does that happen? "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life." (John 3:14-15) It is what Jesus referred to as being "born of the Spirit." (John 3:8)

Which brings us to the verse in question. Depending on where you hear it, you might hear a variety of nuances.
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16, ESV)
"Nuances?" you ask. Sure! I'm pretty sure that most of you think of the phrase "only begotten Son" in there, although the ESV doesn't include that. Beyond that, there is the rewording so common that says, "God loved the world so much that He ..." Nuances. So what does the text actually say and, therefore, mean?

The word "so" in that verse is a bit misleading in our ears because it is a bit ambiguous. It might mean "to a great extent" -- a quantity -- but it might also mean "in this way" -- a quality. "They ran so fast that the hounds couldn't catch them" indicates a quantity. "If you have to handle explosives, do it just so" indicates a quality. The word in this text indicates a quality, not a quantity. Jesus was not indicating the quantity of love God had for the world, but the quality of it. It might be written (and is in other language translations) "God loved the world in this way." The significance here is that God didn't love us so very much because we're just so lovable and how could He not simply adore us? It's not that He loved us so much that He approved of our conduct or earnestly desired our happiness. The point is that God loves the world in a particular way.

And, of course, that begs the question. In what way? What was the quality of God's love for the world that Jesus wanted to express? "He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." So, the way in which God loved the world was to send His Son. Now we're at that other question. What does the text tell us about His Son? The word translated in most places as "only begotten" is the Greek word, μονογενής -- monogenēs. It is built on two parts. The first you recognize -- "mono". We use it in our own language a lot. There is monogamy -- one spouse -- and monopoly -- one company -- and the monologue -- one person talking. It refers to "one". The second part is "genēs". This word means to come into being, but it is the source of our word, "genus" -- a kind. Thus, the word monogenēs might better be translated "one of a kind" rather than "only begotten", or, as the ESV has done, God's "only Son".

God loved the world in a particular way. It wasn't for His approval. Nor was it our lovableness. God sent the only Son He had to remedy a problem. It was the problem Jesus told Nicodemus we all have. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh," He said (John 3:6), so the need is to be born of the Spirit, and that only happens through faith in the Son God sent to be lifted up and die on our behalf. Believe in Him and we need not perish; we will have eternal life. That was the nature of God's love for the world. Without that mission of the Father and the Son, the alternative would be that we perish without eternal life. Jesus went on to say, "Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (John 3:18) When Jesus told us that God loved the world, that was the nature of God's love. It's what we call "the Gospel", the good news. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:31). Good news.

I wrote this entry three days ago and scheduled it to be posted today, so there was no collusion between my entry and this one at Ligonier on the very same day of this release.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Wolves Among Sheep

Paul, in his farewell address to the elders of the church at Ephesus, offers them a warning.
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. (Acts 20:28-31)
Okay, let's review. First, there is the flock. Then, there are the elders, to whom he is speaking. These he refers to as "overseers", the would-be shepherds of the flock. Finally, there are the wolves. Paul warns that "fierce wolves" will "come in among you." Worse, some of them "from among your own selves" will arise "speaking twisted things." Paul urges them to be alert.

How are we to view this warning?

First, it is significant that Paul refers twice to the threat being "among" us. The wolves come in among us and the false teachers come from among us. It's the very same thing John wrote about. In his version, they are "anti-christs" (1 John 2:18) who "went out from us" (1 John 2:19). That is, the problem is an internal one to the church, not an external one from anti-theist enemies. We are well aware that "the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God" (Rom 8:7), but there is clearly a threat from within as well, and apparently it's not a small threat.

Second, compare the difference between a shepherd and a wolf among sheep. A shepherd's concern is for the sheep. He feeds them, waters them, houses them, and protects them. A wolf's concern is for self. The wolf is looking to kill and to feed, but not to care for the sheep. In the same way, those tasked with caring for the flock are to have the flock's best interests at heart while the wolves will have an ulterior motive.

Modern wolves are easy to find. They broadcast their de-conversion stories; people like Bart Ehrman, Rob Bell, Peter Enns, and Jen Hatmaker. These are not people who simply change their beliefs and move on. They are on a mission -- to kill the sheep. They are former Bible scholars, pastors, and well-known Christians who have "seen the light" ... that God's Word is not as reliable as you thought and Christianity is not what you've been led to believe and it's time to throw it out and start over. Oh, they often do that while "defending the Bible", but it is always with the idea that "I have figured out what the Holy Spirit failed to tell the Church for the last 2,000 years and they were all wrong while I'm finally right." So they begin by undercutting Christ's promise to send the Spirit to lead us into the truth and then assure you they're defending the truth. ("You know," they say, "there hasn't been agreement on almost anything ever," while they point at homosexuality and gay marriage and suggest that they are in line with Scripture. Never mind that on this point all of Church history has always been in agreement -- homosexual behavior is a sin and marriage is the union of a male and a female.)

The concept of the wolf in sheep's clothing comes from the lips of Jesus Himself. "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves." (Matt 7:15) Thus, we are assured that they will exist, that they will dress themselves like us, and that they do not intend our best interests. "Therefore be alert."

Wednesday, February 07, 2018


C.S. Lewis called pain God's megaphone.
Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world (The Problem of Pain, 1940).
Lewis was a bright fellow, but let's do something better.

Wise Solomon wrote, "In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him" (Eccl 7:14). Joseph indicated that the evil suffering he endured at the hands of his brothers was meant for evil, "but God meant it for good" (Gen 50:20). James commands us, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4). Jesus said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt 5:10-12). Paul assured us, "More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom 5:3-5). Among other things on the subject, Peter wrote, "Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good" (1 Peter 4:19). Just a smattering, but the source is the best -- God's Word -- and the message is consistent. Pain in the life of the Christian is not a bad thing. God uses pain in our lives for His good purposes and for our benefit. We know, in fact, that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). What good does He have in mind? That we might "be conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom 8:29). The Bible is full of information on pain. God uses it for a variety of purposes. All of them are good, whether it be judgment, correction, or training. The truism is ours: "No pain, no gain". But it is generally true. And that gives value to pain.

Pain comes in various forms. Obviously there is physical pain when your body is forced into something it was not designed to endure. There is mental pain when you try to figure out a difficult problem. There is emotional pain when you face a tough emotional situation. There is the pain of an injured conscience when you do what you know to be wrong. And more.

Tony Dungy was the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts from 2002 to 2008. Dungy has a son, Jordan, who has a rare condition that makes him incapable of feeling pain. That's good, right? Tony says it's not. You see, Jordan doesn't know when he picks up a hot item and burns himself or catches his hand in a drawer or ... Pain, you see, is God's method of telling us that something isn't right. Dr. Paul Brand wrote The Gift of Pain. A pioneer in the study of leprosy, Dr. Brand discovered that the primary problem was not that body parts rot and fall off. The primary problem was that nerve endings died. When the patient failed to feel pain, they would do damage to themselves, and eventually the damage would destroy body parts. Pain, you see, is essential. It is God's megaphone, our warning, the red light on the dashboard that tells you you're on dangerous ground.

We don't like pain. We don't like physical pain, but I don't know if we tolerate physical pain better than we do other types. Guilt, for instance, is a pain we'd rather avoid, but it's not physical. Still, guilt (proper guilt) can serve as an important indicator of sin, and that's something we need to address, both in our interactions with God and with others. In the same way, other pain can provide us a critical service. The pain in your body may be telling you you need to do something, stop doing something, or maybe just rest. An emotional or spiritual pain can direct you away from more serious injury or even drive you to the Savior. In pain we can "count it all joy." In every case we should "not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Phil 4:6) Since it's God's plan, I think it's a good one.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018


Sunday's sermon was about grace. Included, then, in Sunday's singing was ... you guessed it ... Amazing Grace. In that famous hymn we sing the line, "'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear." Do you ever stop and think, "Huh?!" In what sense does grace teach you fear? Doesn't grace relieve your fears? (Isn't that the next line?) I mean, how does that make any sense?

We all know that we are saved by grace (Eph 2:8-9). Good stuff. That is the core of the Gospel. We are saved by grace apart from works. Good news! So grace should ease fear, not teach it. I think in our time with the prevalence of the "grace talk" we've missed an essential element of the Gospel -- the bad news part. That part comes from a recognition of our sin and the subsequent certainty of judgment. So if we recognize our sin, it is a matter of God's grace that we do and it is to our benefit that we do.

Don't take my word for it. Jesus said, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matt 10:28) Apparently there is something to fear -- Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Apparently Jesus thought it was a good idea. David prayed, "Teach me Your way, O LORD, that I may walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name." (Psa 86:11) Apparently David thought it was a good idea. So did John Newton.

John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, was a ship captain and slave trader. He was as salty a sailor as you could imagine. Then, one day, he found himself in a violent storm at sea. Fearing for his life, he recalled Bible verses his mother had taught him in his youth. He remembered that God would demand justice, that he would face God's wrath. He called to mind the warning in Proverbs,
I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon Me, but I will not answer; they will seek Me diligently but will not find Me." (Prov 1:26-28)
Why does God say this? "Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord." (Prov 1:29)

Newton saw himself as vile -- loving sin -- and deserving of judgment. And he found himself afraid. Newton saw that fear both as imposed by God and as an act of grace from God. God, as an act of grace, reminded Newton of his sin condition and coming destruction. Newton experienced Jesus's words, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, 'And they will all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me." (John 6:44-45)

We're not real keen on fear these days. Even as believers, commanded to fear God, we're pretty sure fear is not a good thing. I think we do so to our own detriment.

Jesus was eating with Simon, a Pharisee (yes, Jesus even ate with Pharisees), when a woman who was a sinner came in and wiped His feet with tears and dried them with her hair (Luke 7:36-38). Simon ws horrified. "If He knew who she was, He'd never let her touch Him." (Luke 7:39). Jesus explained to him via parable and then direct statement, "Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven -- for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little." (Luke 7:40-47) It is in the "forgiven much" that we acquire a greater love for Christ. It is in a greater recognition of our need that we acquire a greater appreciation for His satisfying our need. It is, in fact, when we face a greater recognition of our fearful sins that we gain a greater grasp of how amazing God's grace is.

Monday, February 05, 2018

The Devil Made Me Do It

Some polls in the 21st century have suggested that not only do unbelievers not believe in the devil, but many so-called believers. The numbers vary, but up to 66% of Baptists in one poll didn't believe Satan existed and 33% of pastors denied that he was real. So, perhaps, the notion that "the devil made me do it" is passé, but I think we're still pretty sure that someone out there is responsible for the bad things we do. I mean, it's certainly not our fault, is it?

Believers are marked by a desire to stop sinning. James says, "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:17), and John wrote that it was not possible for one born of God to make a continuous practice of sinning, so clearly something outside of us is causing this problem, right? Paul addresses this situation. What did he say?
I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Rom 7:19)
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (Rom 7:21-23)
Hmm, that's odd. Paul does not blame some external agent. He says it is "my members." Paul blames himself.

James seconds the thought.
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:13-15)
So, as we well know, God doesn't entice us to do evil, but, apparently, it also isn't Satan. Instead, it is "his own desire." It is our own lust. We have met the enemy and the enemy is us.

Thus, Paul tells the Thessalonians that the will of God is our sanctification and explains how that works.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. (1 Thess 4:3-5)
Ouch! So, Paul is saying that we are supposed to abstain from sexual immorality, that we are supposed to control our own bodies in holiness and honor, that we are supposed to avoid our own lust.

So, what now?

Clearly we are commanded to "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." (Phil 2:12) Anyone who suggests otherwise is giving you a false gospel. We, however, are not on our own in this. In the same text that tells us we are saved by grace through faith apart from works (Eph 2:8-9), Paul tells us that "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:10) We're not on our own. We're supposed to walk in the good works that God prepared beforehand. Not only that. We have the Holy Spirit. He provides "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." (Gal 5:22-23) He provides all you need to control your own body in holiness and honor. And, of course, at the same time that Paul tells us to work out our salvation he tells us how:
For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Phil 2:13)
While Satan is indeed a dangerous adversary (1 Peter 5:8), it turns out that we are the real problem. That's the bad news. The good news to everyone who wishes to be conformed to the image of Christ is that we can and will be. He has provided us with all the necessary means and power. We need to stop passing the blame and get on track.

Sunday, February 04, 2018


"Mundane" can mean "lacking excitement" or "dull", but it can also mean "earthly rather than heavenly or spiritual."

I recently read the book, In His Steps. Published in 1896, it was the originator of the popular "WWJD" -- "What would Jesus do?" Now, the book was ... mundane. It was a fictional story of a pastor that urged his congregation to ask, "What would Jesus do?" and then do it. The premise was interesting and, perhaps, even challenging, but it was mundane in that the definition of "What would Jesus do?" was specifically and repeatedly defined as "What do you feel Jesus would do?" It was purely subjective and individual. And the author felt thoroughly compelled to repeatedly affirm that no one could say for anyone else what Jesus would do. As an outcome, all of what Jesus would do revolved around ... the mundane. The newspaper editor was quite sure that Jesus would never print a story about a prize fight. The lovely girl with the lovely voice was convinced that Jesus would never take a God-given talent and earn money with it. And the preacher was staunchly opposed to "that Satan, rum" and was doing all he could to eliminate saloons. I wanted to ask, "Umm, excuse me ... has anyone thought of ... oh, I don't know ... looking at the Jesus of the Bible for this?" Because it seemed to me that, for instance, the certainty that Jesus would seek to impose Prohibition after reading how He made water into wine would be somewhat contradictory.

We are to be imitators of Christ (Eph 5:1; 1 John 2:6; 1 Cor 11:1, etc.). Part of that is God's purpose and function (Rom 8:29). But there is a better way to imitate Christ than "How do you feel about it?" That would be the product of knowing about Christ. Based on that, we can make "guesses". No, in order to imitate Christ, it is necessary to know Christ -- more than just about Him.

We are to be imitators of Christ. It is necessary to know Him to imitate Him. Thus, our entire focus in life should begin with the focus Paul had:
I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:8-11)
Our example for life is the Christ we know. Our motivation is our love for Him. Following Him fully is spiritual worship. Anything less is mundane ... in both senses of the word.