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Saturday, March 31, 2018

News Weakly - 3/31/18

A Band-Aid on a Flesh-Eating Virus
By now this story is a week old, but it occurred on the day of my last News Weakly, so obviously it wouldn't make it in that entry. As we all know, hundreds of thousands of protesters around the world marched in protest of school shootings to demand that not one more child or teacher be shot at school. And this isn't just the U.S.; it's global. They want, primarily, gun control. That, they're quite sure, will prevent any further school shootings.

I am baffled, of course. First, they can't eliminate guns. They can only limit them. Second, if they did eliminate guns, it would eliminate school shootings, but certainly not the murders of school children. For instance, on the day of the Sandy Hook killings in the U.S., 28 school children in China were stabbed. Is it really shootings they want to prevent? No. They want safety. They know this. (One Pennsylvania school district wants to stock classrooms with rocks for self defense.) Finally -- and this is the real issue -- it's not about guns. Guns, like chains, knives, baseball bats, or hammers, are a tool. They can be used well or they can be used poorly, but they are a tool. The problem in view is not the use of the tool; the problem here is what makes someone choose this tool to solve their problem. If all we're looking at is taking away tools, we will not be solving actual problems. And as far as I can see, no one in these marches, protests, or calls for ending gun violence is asking any questions at all about how to solve the problems that cause someone to use a weapon. Gun control is a band-aid on a flesh-eating virus.

As Expected
With all the clamor for gun control to fix our problems, the NRA types have been pounding their "2nd Amendment" pulpits while the anti-gun advocates have been assuring us that they do not intend to take away all guns. Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens isn't as duplicitous. He has urged the repeal of the 2nd Amendment specifically on the basis of the recent marches in response to the school shooting in Parkland, FL. "The demonstrators should seek more effective and more lasting reform," he wrote. "They should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment." "The enemy" appears to be guns and the NRA. Still no one seems to be asking why these people kill rather than how.

I would expect more these days. "And while we're at it, we're pretty sure we could do some more Amendment house-cleaning. Think about it. The 10th, the 27th, the 22nd, these could go. Definitely the 1st Amendment. Way too much freedom of religion and speech these days. We should regulate speech and, frankly, eliminate religion in public. We define 'person' and 'non-person' from the 14th. Why not just let us decide all your rights and freedoms?"

Not Me Too
So, in response to #MeToo, the national movement to eliminate the harassment of women, Walmart has decided to pull Cosmopolitan out of the check-out lines. Cosmo is known for its racy stories and often scantily-clad women on the cover. (Many stores routinely put a "blinder" over them in the check-out line because mothers with children have complained.) In keeping with ending the sexual objectification of women, Walmart is making this move and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) is applauding.

Apparently women aren't. NCOSE says, "That's over 5,000 stores where families and individuals will no longer be automatically exposed to Cosmo's hyper-sexualized and degrading article titles that regularly promote pornography, sexting, BDSM, group sex, anal sex, and more, all while marketing toward young teens with Disney star cover models." Women are saying, "Hang on! What if we want all that stuff?"

In other words, we're supposed to sense at the moment whether or not this kind of objectification and perversion is wanted or not. No rules. No standards. "#MeToo" might mean "I don't want to be objectified anymore" or it might mean, "I do!"

Shadow Boxing
You may have heard about this dispute this week. Conservative Fox commentator Laura Ingraham tweeted an insult about David Hogg, one of the vocal Parkland shooting survivors who has called for more gun control and demanding Congress and the president "do something." He admitted that he had been rejected from some college applications and she called it whining. Hogg retaliated by listing advertisers for her show and calling for a boycott. Ingraham apologized for the tweet while advertisers started dropping her show. And Hogg rejected her apology. So it goes. Advertisers and the public, both liberal and conservative, are outraged at Laura. Insulting victims is never a good move. Insulting children is never a good move. I'm sure there's more to follow.

I don't have a lot to say on the subject. I am disturbed by the duplicity. The Babylon Bee parodied the notion: "I Will Stop At Nothing To Take Away Your Constitutional Rights—Whoa Bro, Why Are You Attacking Me, I’m Just A Kid!" In the same vein, Hogg wrote, "It's time to love thy neighbor, not mudsling at children." And we all give him a hug and shake our fist at those mean adults. We're pretty sure these "children" (his term) have the answer to the problem of school shootings (and who knows what else) and he's perfectly justified in waging war against those who attack him. How is that fair and reasonable? Some of these kids go to war against parents, government, police, whatever adult environments they want, but expect to be treated as a kid when they get push-back. It illustrates what I consider to be a serious problem today in our youth. Not focusing on David Hogg, but our young people in general, I believe our youth have been pampered and protected so much that they have no concept on how to deal with stresses and strains and believe that "safe spaces" are their divine right. We've given them "shadow boxing" where they know how to land a punch but not how to take one. We have given them, "You're brave and heroic if you can attack those with whom you disagree (as long as we disagree with them, too), but you shouldn't have to bear any consequences for it." If that's what we've taught them, we've failed.

Friday, March 30, 2018

This Mind

It's Good Friday. It's the day we celebrate not His Resurrection, but His murder. Odd, isn't it? But the Bible says God planned it (Acts 4:27-28). And we needed it (Rom 3:23-24).

In Paul's letter to the church at Philippi he urged them to be "of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose." (Phil 2:2) (I know; it sounds like I just changed the subject. Just hang with me for a moment here.) Does that mean that he was asking them to all think alike? No. He was talking about unity, not uniformity. So what unity did he want? He doesn't leave us to guess.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Phil 2:3-4)
Clearly Paul is repeating himself for emphasis. There is one thing in which he wanted them to be "of the same mind". It entailed "the same love". It was indeed a unity. It was one purpose. What was it? "Regard one another as more important than yourselves." He says it in the negative. "Do nothing from selfishness." He says the same thing in another way. "Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." All the same thing. "Less of me. More of you." Be of the same mind, united, loving, intent on the same purpose ... to eliminate self and make your lives all about others. It's a radical notion since it goes against the core human principle of self-as-center, but that's what he asks.

He doesn't ask it in a vacuum, however. He gives an example for us to follow. He gives us a target, a mark to hit.
Have this mind in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:5-8)
And here we are, full circle, back to Good Friday. The Crucifixion is important to Christianity. It is a key component of the Gospel (1 Cor 15:1-8). On it our forgiveness depends (Rom 5:9). It is critical for our salvation (Rom 3:21-26). But beyond all that, it is this mind with which we are to live our lives. It is this attitude that is to be our point of unity, our love maintained, our singular purpose. Jesus who is God emptied Himself. He took on the form of a slave. He humbled Himself to obedience and to death. Have this mind in you. Don't consider yourself to be of such importance. Don't see your own concerns and interests as more valuable than others. Don't regard yourself more highly than you ought. Have this mind in you.

We can get a lot of good things from Good Friday, a celebration of the murder of the Son of God on our behalf. We can get forgiveness. We can get salvation. We can get a working relationship with God. And we can get a singular, shared purpose from His amazing example. "Have this mind in you."

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Are We Missing the Point?

I've heard it said on multiple occasions from multiple sources that the problem with conservatives is that their arguments are logical while liberals' are emotional. Now, I know, liberals would disagree, and I'm not entirely sure it's true, but it is true that many of the discussions, dialogues, and debates I've seen and had were on these two footings. "Well," I might say, "Scripture says this, that, and the other" and they might reply, "Hater! Homophobe! Bigot!" Umm, you know that's not a rebuttal, right?

But, look, I'm not trying to draw a distinction here between conservative and liberal arguments. I'm trying to ask if we might be missing the point here.

Consider. A dear friend loses a loved one to, say, cancer. Your dear friend is a Christian, a believer, a follower of Christ and the Word. So you go to comfort your dear friend with the truth. "They're in a better place" or "The Bible says that God works all things together for good for those who love God." It is the truth, sure, but is it helpful? Do you think you have actually provided comfort? Not likely. Because the problem here is emotional, not logical. The truth when emotions are not running so high might absolutely help, and, in fact, I think arming ourselves in advance with the truth might help during emotional circumstances, but the problem at that moment isn't a lack of truth; it's emotional pain. "God will work it out" doesn't address that pain.

Just an example. But I hope you see what I'm saying. I hope you see my question. Are we missing the point? Sure, maybe we have our ducks in a row. Maybe we have our proper basis and our proper facts and our proper line of reasoning to the proper conclusion, but are we missing the point? Are we addressing their issue?

I can't tell you how many times I've argued, "This is the truth from Scripture" and been rebuffed with, "No, this is" with the clear and careful reasoning, "because it feels right." Rarely have they offered, "This is where you're wrong in your facts or arguments because of these facts or arguments." It is almost exclusively an emotional response. Mind you, I'm not even limiting this to "them." I include Christians with whom I share much of the same beliefs. But on certain points when I pull out Scripture that disagrees with what they feel is right, they disagree because it doesn't feel right. "What about free will??" "If God did that, I would have a hard time." "It can't mean that; that would demean women."

Look, I am not, here, defending my arguments or texts. I'm talking about approach. I'm wondering if we are not missing the point. In 1 Corinthians Paul tells them, "For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some." (1 Cor 9:19-22) I don't understand that to mean "I become an legalist (which I refute) to win legalists and sexually immoral (which I condemn) in order to win the sexually immoral" kind of approach. It's not "Let's go get drunk to win drunks for Christ!" It's the approach Paul used all his ministry. To the Jews, he offered Scripture and Jewish thinking (Acts 17:1-3). To pagan philosophers at the Areopagus he offered a philosophical approach (Acts 17:16-23ff). He didn't become those things; his approach started with where they were.

Are we missing that point? Do we need to address feelings more with people who are arguing from feelings? Do we need to respect the starting point of the atheist to address the atheist? If we fail to observe how the homosexual sees things, can we effectively direct their attention to Christ? Now, clearly we aren't the ones who actually change their hearts and minds. I'm just thinking that we might be missing out on our approach if we simply refuse (for whatever reason -- arrogance, superiority, certainty of being right in the facts and logic, confidence in our understanding of the Word, whatever) to see where they are coming from and meet them there. We may be completely right and still miss the point.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Assigning Blame

The Bible has some pretty edgy stories. There are Lot's incestuous daughters who, afraid they'll never find husbands (in the desert), get their father drunk enough to get them pregnant. There is the prophet who was taunted by some young lads, so he cursed them and they were mauled by bears (2 Kings 2:23-24). There's the story of Jael who urged the enemy general Sisera to hide and rest in her tent and then, when he was asleep, drove a tent peg through his head (Judges 4:13-21). Many gruesome stories. But these are about people and we can deal with them. The ones that really upset us are the ones about God. You know what I mean. He killed everyone on the planet except Noah and his family. Kind of extreme, wasn't it? He opened the earth and swallowed enemies of Moses and burned 250 people of their family members who rebelled (Num 16:31-35). He ordered Israel to annihilate an entire community -- men, women, and children, "and your little dog, too" (1 Sam 15:1-3). He burned Nadab and Abihu to death for "strange fire" (Lev 10:1-3) and struck down Uzzah for steadying the Ark when it nearly fell (2 Sam 6:5-7). What's up with that? Those human failings we understand, but this stuff about God isn't so easy to grasp. So we have one basic response; we assign blame.

At one end of the spectrum we have the atheists. I would say they assign the blame to God, except, of course, they hold that they don't believe in such a Being. "What's the question?" they will argue. "There is no more reason to believe those stories about a capricious deity smiting people than to believe the stories about incestuous daughters. It's all fiction, made up, pointless." Maybe it's not God they blame. But their answer to the dilemma of "What about those horrible things the Bible says about God???" is "No problem; no God."

A little further down that spectrum are the Left-leaning folk who blame the writers. "Hey, you people who take this stuff too literally, ease up a little. This isn't a problem. It's those crazy writers of the Bible." Did God actually create the heavens and the earth and all that? "No, of course not. Metaphor. Myth." Was there really a Flood? "Don't be ridiculous; no one with any sense or credibility believes that." Did God command Israel to kill the Amalekites? "Not at all. That's crazy. Look, we're rational beings. We know science and we know morality and none of that makes any sense. It's fiction, mostly. Teaching life lessons perhaps. Written by early, superstitious primitives. If there is any truth to the stories, they're tainted by blind religious beliefs. Uzzah, for instance, was just so scared by the pressures of the moment that he died of a probable heart attack and the author of the story attributed it to God. Nadab and Abihu had an unfortunate accident with fire and burned to death and the crazy author attributed it to God. Most of that stuff isn't literally true. It's just story, myth, metaphor. Sometimes misguided. Not to be taken as written."

This part of the spectrum, as it turns out, extends a long way. At the far "Left" end it goes as I described, but in its arc toward the right, there are still a lot of people -- believers, Christians -- who chalk it up to bad writing and, more likely, foolish Christians. There are many on the right that argue that "Much of the Bible is true, but, hey, we know that some of it isn't. After all, God doesn't 'smite' people. That's not the God we know from Jesus." So they know a bit better than others that the Bible is ... tricky. You cannot take that as written. "You have to be more sophisticated, more savvy, more cautious. Maybe you should leave it up to the scholars who have more carefully figured out just what is ... and is not." The Jesus Seminar, for instance, was a group of thirty scholars on the quest for the historical Jesus. "These guys knew what they were doing. They voted down some of Jesus's words and deeds in the Bible and voted others up. They understood. You Christians should, too." The difference, then, between the "Left" of this group and the "Right" is primarily degree. The Left takes less and the Right more as valid, but neither takes all.

This brings us to the last group. Admittedly, it's a small group. They believe what the Bible says. They take the Bible as it is written. Who do these blame? They blame themselves. "Well, I never would have guessed that God would actually burn two priests to death for offering 'strange fire', but it's what the Word says, so I'm going to have to go with it. I never would have imagined that God would order the deaths of a specific group of men, women, and children along with their livestock, but if it's in the Bible, it's true. Apparently my ideas of God need to be revised. Apparently I don't fully grasp God. I seem to be limited by my finiteness, deceived by my own heart (Jer 17:9), and in desperate and ongoing need to renew my mind (Rom 12:2). I know that God is good and I know that His Word is true, so I'll have to fix my faulty thinking."

What the Bible says about God (and other things) can be difficult to understand or accept. Maybe you'll blame God. Maybe you'll blame the writers for that (I've often heard about how rotten Paul was, being a misogynist and all that.), or those who believe the Bible for being too narrow-minded. Or maybe you'll recognize that you might be the problem and take God at His Word. If the latter, expect to be in a minority. Of course, that's what Jesus said (Matt 7:13-14).

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

I Have A Question

Okay, this is not a Bible study, a call to repentance, a political commentary, or (one of my favorites) an examination of the meanings of words. This is one of those "I'm just wondering" entries. I'm trying to figure something out and don't seem to be able to wrap my mind around it, so I'm going to see if any of you can help.

Here's the thing. We are mean people. Oh, no, not all and not completely mean. But among friends we will casually and with a smile insult one another just for a laugh. I suspect guys do it more than girls, but I think most of us do it to some extent or another. We will say something with a smile -- usually in jest -- that, taken at face value, is just ... well ... mean. You know, we do this "friendly ribbing" between friends (usually). One might say to a buddy, "Hey, your momma wears combat boots" and the other will retort, "Oh, yeah, well you're ugly and your mother dresses you funny." (I know ... really outdated, but you get the idea.) They laugh together and go about their day because nothing was actually meant by the exchange. We rarely (if ever) make jokes about positive things. In fact, we rarely say positive things (in jest or not). But we're really good at the jab.

Since it's often between friends and/or family, we can be quite adept at this. We have inside information. We know what their fears or weaknesses are. We know where to hit them. All in fun. Because it's just us, the two of us, having fun together. No harm intended. But does it do harm? In our kidding around like this do we actually injure friend without intending to?

I'm just wondering why we do it. I'm wondering what the motive is. I'm wondering what we get out of this ... meanness. I'm just wondering this stuff and I really can't find an answer here that makes sense to me.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Just Blowing the Trumpet

Any regular reader of this blog knows that I talk with fair regularity about the problem of sin. I talk about the sins of Christians including my own and the sins of churches and the sins of unbelievers. I do not try to mitigate the sin, but state it as plainly as I can. While society is trying to tell us that "gay is good" and "loving homosexual relationships are fine", I continue to point to the Scriptures that say otherwise (e.g., Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9-10; 1 Tim 1:8-10; Jude 1:7). Our culture is sure that wives shouldn't submit to husbands and biblical patriarchy is evil while I keep saying, "Yes, well, I get what you're saying, but the Bible isn't vague on this." (e.g., 1 Cor 11:3; Eph 5:22-24; 1 Peter 3:1-6) Our world tells us and many in the church echo, "Women should be pastors! Don't be a sexist!" and I point to Scripture (e.g., 1 Tim 2:9-14; 1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6) and urge a biblical view instead.

The question is "Why?" Why do I do it? Am I trying to regulate your life? Am I trying to dictate morality? Am I trying to cram my beliefs down your throat? Do I think that if I can get you to be more moral you will be saved? Am I trying to reject or discriminate people who disagree? No ... to all of that.

Ezekiel was a prophet of God. God actually spoke to him. In the 33rd chapter, we read a passage that begins, "The word of the LORD came to me." (Ezek 33:1) This isn't his ideas or his suggestions. This is God speaking directly, the most literal and obvious "Word of God." What God tells Ezekiel is compelling.
"Son of man, speak to your people and say to them, 'If I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from among them, and make him their watchman, and if he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people, then if anyone who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But if he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman's hand.' So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from Me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. (Ezek 33:2-9)
That's why. That's the only reason. I'm not trying to make you more moral. I'm not trying to make you believe. I'm not trying to change the laws to align with biblical rules. I'm not trying to remove your freedoms or run your life. I'm simply sounding the alarm. "In His Word God says ..." and I tell you what He says. I'm just trying to sound the trumpet. Your response is your responsibility. If I discharge my responsibility to raise the warning flag correctly, I have discharged my responsibility. If not, I bear the responsibility. I don't want to bear that responsibility. I want to raise the issues that God raises. After that it's on you what you do with it. Just as it is on me what I do with it.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Singing in Church

We all know what to expect in church on Sunday, right? Some singing, some preaching, some giving. We get that. We're used to it. But what does Scripture say about it? Did you know that the Bible has something to say about singing?
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col 3:16)
Now, was that what you expected? I ask because it's not what I normally experience. Normally we sing to worship, we sing to express our love for God, we even sing to feel good toward God, but to sing to teach and admonish? That's not what we normally do. I mean, how often does the person leading the singing teach and admonish in that singing? That just isn't the norm.

Notice, however, that the notion of teaching and admonishing with music isn't a standalone idea. The text is in the midst of two other ideas.

First, it is premised on an ongoing condition: "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you." Does that describe your experience? Does God's Word dwell in you? Richly? You see, this is the premise. Conditioned on this mode of operation -- the rich indwelling of the Word -- it makes perfect sense that our singing and our lives would be one of teaching and admonishing. We would want to use every tool available to share the Word that dwells in us, and singing would be an excellent one.

There is a second notion here. This singing includes "singing with thankfulness in your hearts." Okay, so the idea is to teach and admonish with songs and hymns and spiritual songs. The premise of this process is that we have the word of Christ richly indwelling our lives. The result of this process is gratitude.

Does this describe you? I know I fall short. I think we -- you and I -- need to make this a focus, a priority. Our use of music should primarily be for the purpose of teaching and admonishing. That requires applying reason to our singing. What reason? The reason derived from the Word living in us. The more we do that, the more we sing with God's purpose. To what end? To be grateful. So that "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father." (Col 3:17) Or something like that.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

News Weakly - 3/24/2018

So Lonely
Here's a story that made it under my radar. Back in January UK Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a "Minister for Loneliness". That's right. The UK will have a department aiming to help "the millions of people across the UK who suffer from loneliness."

Odd. I mean, look, we have all this Facebook and texting and so many ways to connect. How can there be so much loneliness? Well, apparently our modern living with our modern value systems and modern technology has created a loneliness epidemic. So, using modern methods, they will figure out how to better address this problem. How could that fail?

Double Standard?
In an interview from The Guardian, a 42-year-old man gives his thoughts ... on detransitioning. When he was 19 he "transitioned from male to female." A few years ago, he "detransitioned" -- made the change back to male. He believed that "the transition had caused more problems than it solved."

What I found interesting in the story was this comment. "Detransitioning isn't as unusual as you might expect, but it is underground, for a number of reasons, and the trans community isn't happy discussing this." Why is that? The public in general and the LGBTQI crowd in particular are pounding their pulpits about the moral rightness and human value of these things -- "You need to be allowed to be free to be yourself, to live as you identify." -- but when they identify other than what is currently allowed, you have to keep quiet about it. You can say with boldness, "I believe I am not the gender I was assigned at birth," but you must not assert, "I was wrong." How is that not a double standard?

Pray for Life
On March 20, the Supreme Court started hearing the case of National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra. The case is between a pro-life pregnancy center in California and a California law that requires that licensed facilities "disseminate a notice to all clients, as specified, stating, among other things, that California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, prenatal care, and abortion, for eligible women." Obviously, forcing a pro-life organization to provide information about where to kill babies would be contradictory when the point of such an organization is to provide an alternative to murder. The California law, essentially, states, "You have a conscience? Too bad. You will align with ours or you will face consequences." Worse, the stated reason for the law is the concern for the number of publicly funded births. California would like to reduce the number of births they have to pay for, so if they can encourage more women to kill their babies, they believe the state will be better off.

Court is in session. Pray for life.

Values Clarification
San Francisco has banned fur sales. The sale of furs "doesn't reflect the city's values." Teacher Gregory Salcido was fired for disparaging the military in his El Rancho Unified School District (California) classroom. "His comments," the president of the Board of Education declared, "do not reflect what we stand for."

It doesn't matter what you think about the particulars. Fur or no fur? Military or not? Teachers firing or no? Not my point. My question -- my deep and abiding concern -- is that, when we make laws and fire people based on "what we stand for", who gets to determine "what we stand for"? Since God's law and God's views are no longer allowed, "what we stand for" appears to be fluid, a relative and moving target based loosely on the public opinion of the moment, subject to swift change. What happens, for instance, if they determine "Christianity does not reflect our city's values"?

That's What I Was Saying
Tennesee lawmakers have passed a bill that would require public schools to put up the "In God We Trust" motto. The bill goes before the governor for signing. The state representative, Susan Lynn, who sponsored the legislation said, "Our national motto and founding documents are the cornerstone of freedom and we should teach our children about these things."

Now, of course, who knows if the governor will sign it? Who knows if the courts will allow it? Frankly, why would anyone think it is true anymore? We are not a Christian nation. It is true, however, that our roots are deep in Christian beliefs, our rights were endowed by the Creator, and the earlier morality that once made this country great was Christian morality. They may not be successful, but it is true that a faith in God was at the bottom of this nation's founding and serves as the only basis for further success. Which is I was saying.

I just ... what??
What they tell us is that abortion is for the poor unfortunates to whom bad things have happened. But ... apparently not. In Ireland a prostitute (I'm sorry, "sex worker") made her reasoning to repeal the 8th amendment and legalize abortion known:

They said it was a hardship thing, sometimes a financial thing, something bad mostly out of their control. Apparently not. Apparently it is due to bad choices and immoral sexual behavior.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Does God Care?

We are in the midst of what some have termed "worship wars". "Traditional" or "contemporary"? Do we sing hymns or do we "jazz it up" (although I would suspect "jazz it up" betrays my more traditional thinking -- not hip enough)? A pulpit? A stage? Oh, does anyone remember those elevated pulpits where the preacher had to climb at least a few steps to get up into it? Yeah ... those are almost entirely gone. Now there is more lighting, staging, "performance space". We're live-streaming and preaching from PowerPoint. You might not even have to bring your Bible to church. If they don't supply you with one in the back of the chair in front of you, they may just put something on the screen ... or skip it entirely.

On one hand, many of us are baffled by the whole thing. I mean, how can this even be a question? What is worship besides our warm feelings toward God? So whatever engenders warmth toward God is worship, right? If that is your stodgey old hymns, so be it. For most of us that more current, "with it", emotionally satisfying, stuff is better. You might have a band, an orchestra, a choir (although not so much anymore), a guitar, a piano, or, in some case, pure a capella singing. It just doesn't matter -- whatever makes you feel warmly towards God. So the whole thing is a non-issue ... right? Thus my question, "Does God care?" Is worship "warm feelings toward God" or does God have something else in mind? Does God care how we worship Him?

The first issue appears to be that we don't know what worship is. We're likely to think, "That singing portion of a church service," but Paul says that sacrificing your body is worship (Rom 12:1). Conversely, Scripture says that we're supposed to use music for teaching and admonishing (Col 3:16). (Interestingly, a large portion of the Old Testament prophets' messages were done in song.) The dictionary defines worship as "the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity." Worship, then, is not about "me". It is about God. Worship is a lifestyle, from doing good works in such a way that God gets the glory (Matt 5:16) to giving God priority in everything (1 Cor 10:31). Worship includes singing, of course, but far beyond that it encompasses the preaching and teaching of His Word, the giving of our time and resources to His work, the prayers we offer in and out of church -- every aspect of everything we do as believers. So the question is "Does God care about how we do that?"

The general perspective seems to be, "No, He doesn't care how. He just cares that we do." And I would suggest that Uzzah might disagree (2 Sam 6:1-7). What was Uzzah doing? He was making sure that the holy Ark of the Covenant didn't fall into the dirt. God struck him dead. I would argue that Nadab and Abihu might offer a different perspective than "He just cares that we do." (Lev 10:13) What were they doing? They were serving God in the tabernacle. Their sin? They offered "unauthorized fire." Seriously? What is that? "Strange fire"? What does that even mean? How bad could that be? "Fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them." That's how bad.

It is true that the life of the believer ought to be an all-encompassing act of worship. It is true that it is not limited to Sundays, let alone to just the singing portion of a church service. But I think it is unwise, even dangerous to assume that God doesn't really care how it is done. If the good intentions of a Levite got him killed and the "strange fire" of a couple of priests cost them their lives, perhaps we ought to be asking more carefully, "What does God want in our worship?" rather than our commonly cavalier "whatever makes me feel good about God" approach.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Practice, Practice, Practice

The author of Hebrews spends the first five chapters explaining the superiority of Christ over angels and earthly high priests. At the end of that initial passage, he writes this:
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 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)
The Hebrew Christians to which the book is written were falling short. They should have been teachers. Why? Well, they had the original Word of God. They had the original texts from God on the subjects of priests and sacrifices and angels and all that. And they had the proper teaching of the Apostles that connected all that to Christ. This stuff should have been natural, logical, abundantly clear. This wasn't rocket science; it was plainly obvious. But instead of moving on to greater heights, they needed milk, not meat. Why? What was their shortcoming? What mistake had they made?
Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:14)
That appears to be the error in their ways. That seems to be the shortfall. They had the oracles of God and the principles therein. They had the information they needed. They just didn't use it.

If you look around today, you'll likely find a lot of this in Christianity today. We have phenomenal access to God's Word. We have it translated to our language, constantly updated, constantly restated, readily available. We can read it and even listen to it. It's available free of charge. Easy access. Beyond that, we have amazing tools. We have Bible dictionaries, Greek and Hebrew dictionaries, commentaries, and centuries of teachers, preachers, and the like. We are not lacking in available resources or input. We do appear to lack precisely what the Hebrew readers lacked. We have failed to put the "principles of the oracles of God" into practice -- everyday use in everyday affairs and everyday circumstances.

What do we practice? Well, we're pretty savvy on the use of Facebook or Snapchat or Instagram. We have our favorite characters in our favorite TV shows or movies. (I've been hearing about the serious battles going on among fans of Star Wars, for instance, because the latest one failed to be accurate enough. Really? Inaccurate fiction?) We practice our favorite activities and favorite entertainments. But we do not generally have our powers of discernment trained by constant practice in distinguishing good from evil on the basis of the principles of the oracles of God. In act, we're not really keen on the principles of the oracles of God so much, right?

We are without excuse. We have been so blessed by God with so much so that we ought to be teachers of these things. And it's not like we don't have directions on what to do about it and where to go. You know ... practice God's Word. Know it well enough that it informs your everyday existence. Why would we not?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Direction Matters

In our current world we have two primary competing worldviews. A worldview is defined as "a mental model of reality — a comprehensive framework of ideas & attitudes about the world, ourselves, and life, a system of beliefs, a system of personally customized theories about the world and how it works — with answers for a wide range of questions." A worldview provides your basis for interpreting things, answering life questions, determining reality, etc. The current most common worldviews are humanism and theism. (There are certainly others; these are just two, but quite prevalent.)

According to Wikipedia, humanism is "a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism and empiricism) over acceptance of dogma or superstition." This worldview is specifically nontheistic, centering instead on humans as the primary determiner of life, the universe, and everything (so to speak). Is it right, wrong, moral, immoral, real, fake, true, false? We decide. We don't need a deity for that. This worldview interprets all of life's questions starting with and ending with Man.

Over against that, theism begins and ends with God. God is the beginning; God is the end. God is the point. All of life -- right, wrong, moral, immoral, real, fake, true, false -- is focused on and determined by God. Science, humans, all of reality is dependent on God. If He says it's so, it's so. If He says it's right (or wrong), it is. Everything in life is explained by God. (Note: I didn't say "can be explained" because if there is, indeed, a God, it is certain that He won't be able to explain to finite human beings everything that He is.)

Now, here's the interesting thing. Both humanism and theism share some values in common. Both argue that humans have intrinsic worth. For instance, both humanism and theism think that shooting school children is a bad thing and we ought to do something about it. Both humanism and theism argue that sexual abuse is a bad thing. Both humanism and theism use terms like "equality" and "rights". Both humanism and theism value things like compassion, integrity, generosity, personal responsibility, and such. In a sense, it appears that both humanism and theism are pretty much alike in their values. That, of course, would be a mistake.

You see, one of the fundamental differences between the two is their basis -- humans or God. As such humanism suffers from a curious lack of support ... for humanist values.

Humanism values human dignity and science. They argue that life's fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. They seek the best outcome for the most people. Their moral values seek to avoid harm. They expect science and reason to make sense of the world. They champion human rights. One poster I saw said, "I am a humanist. If you are hungry, I will offer food ... I do not do these things in hopes of being rewarded ... I do these things because I know them to be right. I set my own standards and I alone enforce them." And therein lies the problem. Humanism values human dignity, but the basis for that dignity is ... human. It's circular. Which means it's meaningless. "It just is" is not a basis. Science is the primary source of answers, but science by definition is constantly changing. Based on testing, experimentation, hypotheses, asking-answering-repeat, what is true in science today is likely to change tomorrow. But this is their sure footing, their basis for life's answers. Science might tell them that humans evolved and are, therefore, just another biochemical bag more complicated than earlier ones. It is not rational to conclude, then, that this latest evolutionary step is more valuable than earlier ones, but the humanist is quite confident in the value of the human being. Never mind the inconsistency that argues that the human being prior to exiting the birth canal is not of equal value. Never mind the inconsistency that argues that science answers our questions until we ask what gender we may or may not be, in which case we will ignore science. Humanism and its god, Science, eliminate objective reality, which removes the basis for the values it holds dear.

On the other hand, theism begins with God. God declares that Man was made in His image. As such, theism provides a solid basis for the intrinsic value of human beings. Further, God as Creator and Master declares what is right and wrong, good and bad. He does so infallibly; He does so as Good. Thus, morality has its footings in His declarations. One might think that science would not fare well in a theistic worldview, but that would be a mistake. According to J. Robert Oppenheimer, the non-Christian American theoretical physicist that helped develop the atomic bomb, and others, modern science has its roots in theism. The idea was that if a rational Being made all that is, rational beings should be able to make sense of what He made. The entire pursuit of scientific thought has its underpinnings in theism. And the values that theism holds with humanism have their sure foundation in God.

And so it goes. The things that humanism values it cannot support. The things that theism values it supports. There is no basis in humanism for morality or human worth. As the poster I quoted said, "I set my own standards and I alone enforce them." Theism and humanism might share some values, but the basis and, therefore, solidity of those values isn't the same between them. The direction you come at the question really does matter.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


I argued recently that pain is unpleasant but, in the hands of the Master, not necessarily bad. In fact, I suggested that the Bible teaches that God uses it to improve us, to purify us, to refine us, to correct and shape us. I believe that to be the case.

I wonder sometimes if our drive to shelter our kids isn't causing more problems than it's helping.

I've seen people argue that violence is never the answer. Now, I have a real difficulty with superlatives -- "always", "never", "every", "none", that kind of thing -- so I have to ask, "Really? Never?" And they will nod and assure me that it is never the answer. This, of course, is problematic to any ... you know ... biblical Christian because the Bible is riddled with God-caused violence. There are divine judgments, divine warnings, and divine curses. God Himself says, "I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things." (Isa 45:7) In the New Testament, Jesus made a whip and chased people out of the Temple (John 2:15). Violence is God's answer from time to time. (See, for instance, Acts 5:1-11; Lev 10:1-3; 2 Sam 6:5-7.)

By extension, I would suggest that there are times when we do our kids (and others) harm by providing "safe spaces", so to speak. We try to make sure there are no conflicts for our kids. We try to avoid conflicts for ourselves. I suspect this concept is a key reason some pastors are avoiding preaching doctrine -- conflict avoidance. We hoist the "Judge not" flag (ignoring the rest of the text that follows - Matt 7:1-6) and urge everyone to just get along. In so doing, we remove God's tools for doing God's work.

It wasn't the feisty Calvinists who urged, "Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 1:3) It wasn't the self-righteous Christian Internet troll that declared, "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." (Matt 18:15-20) It wasn't some modern homophobic religious zealot that said, "I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one." (1 Cor 5:11) In fact, it was God who stated, "Purge the evil person from among you." (Deut 17:7; 1 Cor 5:13) (How often do you hear today, "When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord." (1 Cor 5:4-5)? I think we are tame compared to biblical language.) There are times, according to Scripture when it is necessary to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching." (2 Tim 4:2)

There is the argument out there that one (only one) of the reasons that school shootings are on the rise is that we have worked so hard to make our kids' environments so "safe" that they lack the tools to handle conflict and disagreement. Maybe. I think that we've certainly done that in the church. Biblically, though, conflict is necessary -- even good (e.g., Prov 27:6; Prov 27:17). Let's not waste these tools. Let's use them carefully, rightly, and lovingly.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Commenting on Commenting

I have a Christian blog here. More to the point, I have a conservative Christian blog. That, in itself, makes it something of a target at times. If you're writing about how to make taffy or giving shopping tips, you're not likely to raise any ire. If you're suggesting, "Let's just all be friends," you're not likely to upset too many. But if you offer "You know, the Bible says that your pet sin is sin," you're more likely to irritate some readers. There are some who seem to cruise the Internet looking for just such blogs in which to deposit their little "gifts". Some are trolls -- the Internet term for people who come in just to stir up trouble. Others are troublemakers. These come in to actually do battle. One is "hit and run" and the other is "stand and fight".

One of the difficulties I have is in figuring out how to respond. I generally -- not as a rule, but as a general principle -- try to say something to everyone who comments. (Sometimes there is just nothing to say.) I want to answer, but I don't want to "answer a fool according to his folly" (Prov 26:4). I want to "speak the truth in love" (Eph 4:15). Obviously sometimes that "love" will look friendly enough and other times it will lean more toward "tough love". That is, sometimes it will be understood as love and sometimes it won't, even if it is. But that's my aim. I don't want to be like so many other duelists who simply want to parry and thrust. I want to stand for the truth.

I don't know about you, but for me that's not always easy. Sometimes the trolls are easy and sometimes they're not. Sometimes the fighters come across with such vitriol that it's hard to contain an emotional reaction with a reasoned response. And, frankly, I'm not entirely sure that in all cases some heat is not required. I mean, Jesus "brought the heat" in the Temple (Matt 21:12; John 2:15). Paul wasn't quiet when he confronted Peter (Gal 2:11-14). So some "righteous indignation" may be warranted. It just seems to me that it should be controlled and motivated by love rather than anger.

I'm not typically one who goes around the Internet hunting down mistaken self-identifying Christians to inform them that they are wrong. My Internet commenting is limited almost exclusively to my own commenters here. Oh, I might comment on other blogs, typically in an affirmative fashion, but sometimes asking questions. "Are you sure about that?" But I don't think I suffer from the "Someone's wrong on the Internet" syndrome that others appear to.

Still, I want to the words of my blog to glorify God and I want my comments to encourage, "reprove, rebuke, and exhort" (2 Tim 4:2) others. Maybe the commenter, maybe a reader, but someone. I want to defend the reason for the hope that is within me, but I want to do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). It's not always easy. I'm not always able to do it. It is my aim.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

In Him we live and move and have our being

When Paul was in Athens, he came across the erudite, the learned folk, all discussing their wise stuff. He offered them some "strange things" (Acts 17:20), so he addressed the Areopagus, telling them about the "unknown god" they honored (Acts 17:23). In that discourse, Paul offers a phrase I'm sure you've heard.
"In Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28)
Good stuff, really. You may not remember that earlier in that same discourse he said, "He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things." (Acts 17:25)

Now, let's just take those two, simple statements. "In Him we live and move and have our being" and "He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things." Think about that. Because I'm pretty sure you and I don't actually see God that way.

We're generally self-sufficient people. We feed ourselves, dress ourselves, get ourselves out of bed in the morning, that sort of thing. Most of us earn our own living, pay our own way. I mean, for the vast majority of us we get ourselves through everyday living. We're mostly doing okay. Sometimes we're not. In those times we go to God. "Please, dear God, get me through this." "Please, dear Lord, give me the strength today to do what's right in this situation." "Please, Father, give me peace in this situation." But the rest of the time we have it covered.

You see, though, that Paul disagrees. Paul said that God gives all (a superlative) people life, breath, and all (another superlative) things. You do not live because of your ability to do so. You do not breathe because of your own capacity to inhale and exhale. Everything you have was given to you by God. Get this. The only way you are even able to move is because of God. If He did not make it so, you and I would not exist. In Colossians we read, "In Him all things hold together." (Col 1:17) The very subatomic particles that make you and me consist in Him. If He didn't make it so, you and I would not be.

From the first day of Adam and Eve's sin it has been all about "me". "I will be like the Most High." We call it "sin", but it's really an entire worldview where we are the center. And it is a lie. We do not have the simple ability to take a breath if God did not enable it. When we ask Him to "get me through this", the reasonable question would be, "Who do you think got you through everything else?" When we pray for strength for this trial, the truthful response from God would be, "I gave you the strength to get out of bed this morning." Without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).

Perhaps you can begin to see why it is God's will that we should give thanks in everything (1 Thess 5:18).

Saturday, March 17, 2018

News Weakly - 3/17/2018

All About Freedom
Good news! Standford University has decided to allow college Republicans to have an American flag on their apparel. Because, as we all know, our modern leftward universities are all about freedom, right?

My kids are all grown up. Some of you have kids that are not. Do you think it's safe to send your kids to colleges these days when there is a swelling tide of anti-Christan, anti-freedom, anti-thinking forces at work there? Not that I have a dog in this race. Just wondering.

Cold-Hearted Compassion
Los Angeles prides itself on its compassion for the various groups that reside there, including a large homeless component. They have vowed to build thousands of units to house them ... and retain their ability to cut them off simply by withholding a letter of acknowledgment. It sounds like they care, but their actions say otherwise.

National Geographic used to be the "go to" magazine for the young man who wanted some "porn" but wasn't allowed to get it. You know, those titillating pictures of nearly naked African women and such. Well, that was then. Lots of more graphic, more soul-slaying stuff is available now. But National Geographic is repenting. They have admitted that they've been racists for a long time. "The coverage wasn't right before because it was told from an elite, white American point of view," editor in chief Susan Goldberg said. Apparently it comes from too many white guys taking pictures. Who knew? Guess they're woke now.

Riding the Bus
They're jumping on board, but who's driving? Filmakers are jumping on the bandwagon to include inclusion riders. The aim -- the sole purpose -- is to include females, individuals from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities. If your movie doesn't include them, you're not a good artist. If you're making a movie like Dunkirk, you'll have to modify history to include some transgenders and females and disabled people or something to tell the story because, after all, diversity by definition makes entertainment better.

Mind you, I'm not opposed to hiring all sorts of people. I just think making it a standard rule makes no sense. And, tell me, if a woman makes an all-girl film with lots of underrepresented and LGBTQ and disabled people but not one single male, do you suppose anyone will say, "Hey! What about inclusion?!" No, I'm pretty sure the prevailing winds don't blow that way. (How's that for a mixed metaphor?)

Saying "No" to Love
Our repressive society just won't stop saying "No" to love. Poor Oklahoma woman, Patricia Ann Spann, pleaded guilty to felony incest. What was her crime? She loved her children too much. In 2008 she married one of her two sons. In 2016 she married her biological daughter. Both marriages were annulled. She figured it wasn't illegal because her name wasn't on their birth certificates.

I don't understand. How can our society today, given its standard of "consent" and "I should be allowed to marry whom I love" say no to this poor woman just because of some archaic notion of "incest"? (Hint: They can't. Their rules are arbitrary.) Oh, the travesty of it all! (Do I have to explain that I'm speaking sarcastically here?)

The Ultimate Reality Bend
We've complained that the courts are modifying reality. We know, for instance, that an unborn child is a human being, but the courts have declared them "non-person humans" and you can kill them. We know that marriage is between a man and a woman, but the courts redefined it and two people of the same gender can "marry". We know that science tells us there is male and female, but the courts have agreed that there is also "other" (without any real definition or even verification), so we have to let guys into girls' bathrooms if he identifies as a woman. Well, the Romanian courts have topped it all. A 63-year-old man came back from an extended trip to Turkey to discover that his wife had obtained a death certificate for him. Despite the fact that he was standing in front of the judge asking to have him declared alive again, the judge told him he was too late and would have to remain deceased.

Stands to reason.

Almost Not News
California appointed Lizbeth Mateo to a statewide committee and they're proud of it. "The state Senate made history Wednesday by selecting the first undocumented resident for a statewide appointment," state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon said. Let's see if we can make that more clear. They made history by selecting a documented criminal for a statewide appointment. I guess it's what California is leading us to expect.

But, look, here's what I'm really wondering. The story says she "was born in Mexico and came to the US at age 14 with her parents." It says, "She was the first person in her family to go to college. She has a law degree, and her own firm in metro Los Angeles." Okay, good for her. All fine and dandy. But what I want to know is why hasn't she applied for legal immigration status? I'm not anti-immigrant. I'm not anti-opportunity. I'm not complaining that she has done well. But why can't she simply comply with immigration law and be a legal resident instead of an illegal one? Because to me I would not want a documented criminal who refuses to comply with the law serving in my government. But, then, I don't live in California.

Was That Supposed to be Funny?
The Babylon Bee is supposed to be a Christian satire news site. So they ran this one about Jimmy Kimmel telling the nation about sexual impropriety and respecting women. This is the same Jimmy Kimmel who got famous doing "The Man Show" which included a feature on guys coming to watch scantily-clad women jumping on trampolines. This is what happens when satire writes itself from fact.

I would give the standard "I saw it on the Internet" line, but the "Let's emphasize women as sexual objects" crowd lecturing us about not seeing women as sexual objects just isn't making sense in my head.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Why Not to Believe

Steve Taylor sang a song back in 1990 titled Harder to Believe Than Not To. It came from a line from a letter from Flannery O'Connor, an American writer from Georgia, who was responding to friends who were shocked that she would believe something so unfashionable as Christianity. She responded that there is a high cost to following Jesus and, as such, "It's much harder to believe than not to believe." The truth is, the world has several reasons not to believe.

Someone said that the most controversial verse in the Bible is Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning, God ..." It is the driving conflict between humans and God. "Is it about Him, or is it about Me?" As we all know, it's about Me. Except God disagrees. But "all about Me" underscores our everyday existence, our entire worldview. So the question becomes, "Who are you going to believe?" The result is an inherent conflict ... with God (Rom 8:7).

The first message of the Gospel is the bad news -- we are sinners (Rom 1:16-18). We are all sinners (Rom 3:23). In fact, there is none good; not one (Rom 3:12). Now, of course, none of us believe this. We're all pretty good. Well, not completely good, of course. I mean, we all agree that to err is human, that "nobody's perfect." But sinners? Worse, there is a penalty involved -- eternal damnation. Torment for the rest of eternity. Hell. "Okay, now hang on! Just because we've may have committed some ... mistakes here, why does that call for such a drastic result?" Well, since it's all about Him and He is infinite, the crimes we have committed against Him are infinite and the payment is, too. Having stood carefully on "It's about Me", this is another reason not to believe.

"But, look, we can be reasonable. Let's just say You're right. Let's say it's all about You and not us and that we are actually sinners. Maybe we even risk Hell. Do You have a solution?" This shouldn't be too bad, we figure. I mean, everyone knows that there is a "good enough". If we can be good or, at least, "better than you", we should be okay. Right? The solution God offers isn't helpful. No, there is no "good enough". No, there's nothing we can do to mitigate our debt. No effort, no work, no penance. If there is a solution, we don't play a part in it. Another reason not to believe. (Because, remember, the original problem is "It's not about Me" and we don't find that acceptable.)

So, none of my works, none of my effort, none of my penance will do. So, what? Are we without hope? (Puny religion.) No, of course not. There is a remedy. God sent His Son to die on our behalf. Death is required; He took that death. He lived a perfect life and paid the price. In this, God is both just and justifier (Rom 3:26). He doesn't surrender His justice but also maintains grace and mercy. This is God's remedy, but even the Bible recognizes that this answer won't fly. "We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23). "Sounds too barbaric," we say today. "God is too bloodthirsty," we taunt. Because, after all, it is all about Me, not God, and this just won't do.

"But let's just say that you have something there, okay? Let's just let your whole premise thus far stand. Why be a Christian? I mean, the debt is paid, right? No need to do anything else. End of story." Again, that idea is predicated on "It's all about Me" and falls short. "There is no other name given under heaven among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) Jesus stated unequivocally, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6) This isn't a catch-all, universal fix. It requires faith, agreement, submission. Another reason not to believe.

"Look," we finally say, "you're really pushing it. Now you're saying we need 'faith'. You're not even going to offer proof?" Well, proof is a problem. Proof is defined as the argument or evidence that establishes the fact of a statement, but that kind of proof doesn't exist. Biblical faith takes evidence and reason and goes to the next step. "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Heb 11:1) "Yes, that's what we're saying. You're arguing that we have to trust in something we don't see?" Yes. And that requires an act of God (e.g., John 6:63-65). So we're back down to "It's all about God."

We believers are convinced that we have something here. It flies in the face of the underlying premise of Natural Man. It carries bad news -- really bad news. It eliminates the abilities of humans to solve the problem and lays it on the back of a single gift of God, His Son, who died on our behalf and paid our price. It refuses to allow alternatives or other routes. It stands on faith in things not seen, a faith that is given by God. In the end, it starts and ends with God. In the end it is all about Him. Perhaps you can see why it might be harder to believe than not to. It's just that ... well ... that doesn't mean it's not right to believe.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Church Doesn't Save

We know better. We truly do. We know Jesus is the only way to be saved (John 14:6). We know "there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) We know we are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9) and that any other gospel is a false one (Gal 1:6-9). We know all this. And still ... we walk into walls all the time.

We think that good works will save. Oh, most of us don't run afoul of that too often. Still, we tend to think that if we're good we ought to get rewarded for it and if we're bad ... funny thing ... we shouldn't see any negative outcome because, hey, we're one of the King's kids, right? But we know it doesn't work that way (Heb 12:5-11). Some think that homeschooling will do it. Keep our kids out of the bad influences of the world and, bingo! They'll be saved. As if that's a new gospel. As if that's a magic pill. But it isn't.

When we stray from "Christ alone", we generally stray to a cocktail, a mixture of means to the end. If we can give our kids the gospel when they're young and we can raise them in the discipline and admonition of the Lord (Eph 6:4), if we can train them up in the way they should go (Prov 22:6), if we can take them to church ... every Sunday and to youth groups and to camps, then we can insure they will be saved, right? Right?

You know it doesn't work that way. You know that. You know that humans are, by nature, hostile to God (Rom 8:7). You know that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer 17:9). You know that "the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth." (Gen 8:21) Didn't Jesus tell us, "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Matt 7:13-14)? Hear that? The gate we want is narrow and small and few find it. We know this.

So, we do what we can. We obey where we can. And we fail. For a variety of reasons we cannot guarantee the eternal condition of our progeny, our loved ones, our friends and family. So placing our faith in works or homeschooling or proper upbringing or church is a false gospel. So what are we left with? We have to trust Jesus to save us and we have to trust the Father to do what's best for those about whom we care the most. Frankly, that can seem a bit ... shaky. We can do our best and still not have the outcome we hope for? Yes, indeed. So you have to ask yourself: Is that okay with you? Is whatever God does okay with you? Or do you have a better idea? It's something you'll have to answer for yourself. We do our best, we obey as far as we can, we do all we know to do. Is God's outcome okay with you? Is He good enough? That's the real question.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Suffer the Little Children

English is tough, but throw in Old English and it gets tougher. "Suffer the little children" (Matt 19:14 KJV) has been thought by some to refer to making children suffer. Not the point. In a similar way, I think we're confused about suffering.

In church on Sunday the sermon was on finishing the race. Fine and dandy. Someone (not the pastor) mentioned that the day was coming when we'd be in the presence of our Savior and all our sufferings would be at an end. True enough. I caught, however, a sense that what we would experience was simply pain relief, so to speak. As if Heaven would be the best aspirin you've ever had. I think, also, that this is common. The Bible promises there will be no more tears (Rev 21:4). The notion we appear to come away with is that all the tears and mourning and crying and pain in this life were all a bad thing and when we get to Heaven all this bad stuff will be over. I don't think that's the point.

Scripture is abundantly clear that God intends difficulties (e.g., Gen 50:20) for a good purpose. Malachi talks of one coming from God. "Who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness." (Mal 3:2-3) He is "refiner's fire" and purifies with fire. Similarly, Peter urges his readers to rejoice in distress "so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:7) The author of Hebrews assures us that God "disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." (Heb 12:6) Imagine that! Chastised (literally "flogged") for love!

It is true that our suffering in this life will end some day. It is true that He will dry our tears. It is true that our pain will end. I do not believe, however, that it means that suffering was bad and God will finally end that bad thing. I believe He will not merely end the pain. We will see the point and the value. We won't think it was too much; we will find that it was perfect, just the right thing to shape us and mold us and mold us into the image of His Son. We will rejoice that the pain is ended, sure, but we will also be grateful it was there, doing the work God wanted done to refine, purify, and shape us into just what He wanted us to be. Suffering won't be merely terminated; it will be appreciated.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Just a few thoughts for our times

Transgender Dichotomy

The idea of transgender is that a person born in the body of one particular gender believes him or herself to actually be the other gender. (Mind you, that's simplified. They go all sorts of places with that, a spectrum of possibilities. That's just the easy version.) The suggestion (nay, the outright statement) is that gender is a social construct, not a biological reality. Now, the fact is that no male body has a uterus and no female body produces sperm (just to name a couple of obvious biological differences), but this biological reality does not intrude in the transgender notion. Ultimate Reality resides in the mind of the beholder, and no amount of science is going to change that.

Why is it, given their dismissal of the notion that physical reality should define internal reality, that the aim of the sufferers of gender dysphoria is to transform themselves physically into their internal reality? If they've already indicated that physical doesn't matter, why does it matter? If all genders are equal and there is no significant difference between male and female, why do guys who believe themselves to be gals work so hard to conform to the image of female (and vice versa for girls who believe themselves to be guys)? Why are they discarding the physical and societal notions of gender and then working really hard to take up the physical and societal notions of gender? And force others to play along?

The Age of Consent

When did "consent" become the gatekeeper for all things moral? The other day I was talking to someone about the article I read in which a porn website pulled ads from a congressional candidate because he was accused of sexual abuse. Now, this website would have videos of sexual abuse (real or acted out), so why were they complaining about a candidate who acted out what they had on their site? Were they just mad because they didn't get the video? Well, someone told me, "It's not abuse if it's consensual." When did that happen? When did we enter the Age of Consent?

It's not true, you know. I mean, we say it is, but we don't believe that. We didn't really care if women and girls do not give consent to a guy who identifies as a girl being in their bathrooms and locker rooms. In their case, consent doesn't matter. A 40-year-old man who has consensual sex ("Consensual": involving or carried out by mutual consent) with a 12-year-old (male or female) will be accused of statutory rape. A woman who has sex with her dog even though she didn't coerce it is guilty of bestiality. No amount of consent will allow a man to marry three women (polygamy) or two men and two women to marry each other as a group (polyamory). "Consent" is not the end-all for morality. It's only the license we confer when we want to allow previously immoral acts and withhold when we don't. Thus, beating a woman is a crime against which women march ... unless she is a masochist who consents to it; then it's a bestseller and a hit movie.

We live in an age when "consent" defines "moral," but we don't really, and we don't really know why. The question is not "Do I approve?", but "Is it right?" Lacking any basis for an answer, we're left with random methods of determining morality. Expect random results.

The Intolerance of the Tolerant

Why is it that the loudest, most intolerant people are the ones crying for tolerance? They shout down the voices of those with whom they disagree. They create labels like "bigot" or "hater" or "homophobe" or whatever will turn your anger against those with whom they disagree. The guy who says, "The Bible holds that homosexual behavior is a sin" is saddled with an "anti-gay intolerance" label.

If you're white, your racist. If you're male, you're sexist. If you don't know it, you're "not woke." If you're Trump (whether the actual guy or anyone remotely connected to him), you're evil and deserve to be hated! If you ask, "Does science really demonstrate that climate change is the direct result of human activity?", you are immediately castigated as a "climate denier" and dismissed as an idiot.

"No, don't kill lions; yes, keep killing babies legal." "No, don't take away my rights to free speech; yes, take away their rights to the same." "We will fight for the rights of LGBT but dismiss the 1st Amendment rights of Christians." Jon Favreau, director of Ironman (1 and 2), Chef, and The Jungle Book, is slated to create a live Star Wars series. It is evil and wrong because ... he's male and white. Or take the example of Mike Pence tweeting about honoring and empowering women to be castigated by women. "Every woman hates you." Nice tolerance. Lots of examples of the intolerance of the tolerant.

Often the Bible proves itself to be true. We suffer from deceived hearts (Jer 17:9), made insane by sin (Rom 1:28ff), in need of Christ who gives a new heart (Ezek 36:26), and a renewed mind (Rom 12:2).

Monday, March 12, 2018


Jim Elliff wrote a piece asking, "Why do Some Pastors Deliberately Avoid Teaching Doctrine?" He suggested that "many pastors" have begun to intentionally avoid teaching doctrine. Why? The aim is to encircle more people for our churches by minimizing that which limits us. "The problem is," he says, "it works." Why? "Doctrine does narrow things." And, frankly, there are fewer attracted to sound doctrine than to "tolerable beliefs".

The Bible favors doctrine. Paul told the young pastor, Timothy,
Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (1 Tim 1:8-11)
And his depiction of those who teach a different doctrine is not "user friendly" (1 Tim 6:3-5). Instructing Titus in the selection of elders, Paul told him, "He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it." (Titus 1:9) He warned Titus of those who profess to know God but deny Him by their works (Titus 1:16) and countered, "But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. (Titus 2:1) The author of Hebrews complained about his readers being "unskilled in the word of righteousness" (Heb 5:13) rather than having their "powers of discernment trained by constant practice" (Heb 5:14). Doctrine, biblically, is good. Unfortunately, it appears that many preachers these days disagree.

I was in a church in 2001 where the pastor was preaching through Ephesians. On the Sunday following September 11th, I wasn't exactly excited to go to church. I figured the events of 9/11 would be the topic and, frankly, I was tired of the topic. I wanted a break. But then I realized that the passage of the day would include Eph 1:11, including the claim that God "works all things after the counsel of His will." Now that would be a message I'd like to hear from the pulpit on this particular Sunday. He didn't do it. He skipped the concept. When we got, a few weeks later, to chapter 2, he turned "You were dead in your trespasses and sins ..." (Eph 2:1-10) into a sermon on marriage. That is avoiding doctrine.

The early church "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship ... day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes ..." (Acts 2:42-47) We've diminished that whole "day by day" thing greatly, and now we've largely dropped the "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching." We barely even believe in "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3), let alone contending for it. When a man named Simon offered the Apostles money, Peter didn't take it with thanks. He berated him for His false beliefs (Acts 8:18-23). Today we gladly limit our preaching and doctrine in favor of some extra cash (beginning with "501c3"). Brethren, we do not well.

Elders are required to "give instruction in sound doctrine" and "rebuke those who contradict it." (Titus 1:9) In some congregations, the elders are the pastors. In others, they're the ruling body. In either case, if either the pastors or the elders are not teaching sound doctrine, is it because they don't have it or is it because they're refusing? If so, are they qualified to be in that position? If elders are the ruling body and not teaching sound doctrine, is it because pastors have failed to teach them? Do we even know what "sound doctrine" is anymore?

Paul warned Timothy that the time would come when people would not endure sound doctrine, "but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths." (2 Tim 4:3-4) I would argue that the time has arrived. The remedy, according to Paul, is "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching." (2 Tim 4:2) The alternative is a group of people misguided and misled, without genuine truth. Look around and see what you find.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

I'd Rather Have Jesus

We want a lot of things in life. We want health and happiness, comfort and satisfaction, wealth and fame and power. We want a long life. (I mean, who wants to die, really?). We want people to like us, a job that fulfills us (even if that's no job at all), a "significant other" (or others) who pleases us. We want freedom and peace, love and joy, stability and passion, self-confidence and safety. Oh, and control ... we really want control.

Unfortunately for us, many of these things are elusive and, ironically, out of our control. We don't determine most of this stuff. They come and they go, sometimes with our help and sometimes all on their own. They are evasive and transitory. And, yet, we are upset when we don't get what we want and, strangely enough, rarely grateful when we do.

As for me, I'm hoping for something different. Let me explain. I am "hoping" in the sense that I don't always at all times in all senses have this hope down. I'm hoping, then, to want this in a more consistent and sure fashion. It's not that I'm hoping to get something different, because this "something different" is not in question. It's a sure thing. And, of course, I've already told you what it is. I'd rather have Jesus.

Jeremy Camp sang, "Give me Jesus. Give me Jesus. You can have all this world; Just give me Jesus." Rhea Miller wrote and George Beverly Shea put to music "I'd Rather Have Jesus."
I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I'd rather be His than have riches untold;
I'd rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
I'd rather be led by His nail-pierced hand.

Than to be the king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin's dread sway;
I'd rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

I'd rather have Jesus than men's applause;
I'd rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I'd rather have Jesus than worldwide fame;
I'd rather be true to His holy name.
That other stuff is cool, I suppose, and if getting more of Jesus gives me some of that, it would be nice, I imagine. But, seriously, the longer I live, the less those things matter to me in comparison to Him. And the really excellent thing is that "more of Jesus" is a certainty and my ultimate outcome will be an eternity in His presence.

We used to sing a little ditty in our high school youth group. (Don't know who wrote it.) "I want more of Jesus; more and more and more. I want more of Jesus than I ever had before. I want more of His great love, rich and full and free. I want more of Jesus so I'll give Him more of me." That's it! That's what I want. "You can have all this world; just give me Jesus."

Saturday, March 10, 2018

News Weakly - 3/10/2018

Diversity by Force
I don't follow the Oscars, but the news item says Best Actress winner Frances McDormand called for an inclusion rider in the future. The best guess about what that would mean is the stipulation that future movies "could require the cast be 50 percent female, 40 percent underrepresented ethnic groups, 20 percent people with disabilities, and 5 percent L.G.B.T. people." Now, if you're doing the math, it looks like we're at 115% and would necessarily exclude men, but, of course, that would be faulty math. I mean, it is entirely possible for one or two men to be in the "underrepresented", "people with disabilities", or "LGBT" groups, so there. The idea is that no longer can studios consider things like market forces, what the crowd wants, superstar status, artistic preferences, and such. Now it is purely demographics. Start there and work your way out. The implied claim is that diversity (even if forced) makes things better. Good for you if you think that works. (I'm concerned that we, as a society, have already determined that "think" is not really an important part of our vocabulary anymore.)

Assigning Blame
One might think that the one to blame for the Florida school shooting was ... you know ... the shooter. That would be a mistake. Apparently the real culprit is the authorities. One (of, I'm sure, quite a few more) of the survivors will be suing the Broward County Public Schools, the principal, and the school resource officer. According to his attorney, "The failure of Broward County Public Schools, and of the principal and school resource officer to adequately protect students, and in particular our client, from life-threatening harm were unreasonable, callous and negligent."

I suppose if we can't ban guns, we can hold people with money responsible, right? (Hey, I wonder if the shooter can sue, too. You know, "Their failure to prevent me from shooting those people was unreasonable, callous and negligent." Surely he could throw in the president, the NRA, and the police, too.)

This is What Happens
For decades we've been presented with stories, images, movies, and shows about how the really bright, intelligent, and even wise people are the youth. Adults could learn a lot from them. No, the adults have nothing much to offer to them; kids are the gurus, the rabbis, the seers of the age. It has gone on so long that of course we'd get to the point that 21 children would be suing the Trump administration for "its dangerous fossil fuel policies." The article says that "the young plaintiffs assert that the government's actions to promote fossil fuel emissions violate the basic constitutional rights of future generations."

What do they want? Besides punishing those who disagree with them (which would be anyone who even questions their position), what else do they have in mind? What are they doing in their own lives to affect the problem? (Because from what I can see the loudest voices protesting the problem are doing so from SUVs and private airplanes.) Are they aware that the same science that tells them there is climate change tells them that it is unstoppable? Are they aware of the fact that if it is true that climate change is caused by humans (and that's still a question), they still can't make everyone submit (like China, India, every other sovereign nation)? Do they understand that the only means of affecting the so-called human-caused climate change problem is a demolition of the old order? Are they willing to give up things (like cars, technology, comfort, cheap power, etc.) for what they see as a massive problem? It would appear that they are not aware that the administration is not "promoting fossil fuel emissions", but in today's world where the wise ones are children and truth is suffering a greater decline than the environment is, the truth in this case shouldn't be an issue, I suppose.

International Women's Day
On International Women's Day Myanmar State Counsellor Suu Kyi was quoted as saying, "A country's human rights values will be enhanced when women are granted their rights." This is the same person who had her Holocaust Museum award rescinded because she and her league for democracy "have refused to cooperate with United Nations investigators, fed hate attacks on the Rohingya and denied reporters access to areas where alleged abuses have taken place." I wonder if Jane Toppan would have made a popular "women's rights" speaker?

Filed Under "You Can't Make This Stuff Up"
The headline is truly a stunner: "Pornhub pulls Benjamin Thomas Wolf's marijuana ad over abuse claims." That is wrong in so many ways without including the story itself. 1) A congressional candidate is accused of sexual abuse. 2) A congressional candidate is advertising on a porn site. 3) Pornhub is a porn website on which you can find all manner of "sexual abuse" videos, but they're pulling this guy's ad because of alleged abuse. 4) The candidate is running on a "legalize marijuana" platform. I suppose you might guess that the details of the story won't make it any better.

I recently wrote about smartphones and some of the effects they are having on our lives. One was the tendency to read less. You know ... "TL;DR" -- "too long; didn't read." Well, good news! They've come out with the TL;DR Bible that will reduce God's Word into bite-sized snippets that are easier to bother reading instead of that whole big thing. You're welcome.

I know it's true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, March 09, 2018


A commenter recently suggested that the idea of purgatory exists among "most Christians" and is supported in Scripture. The suggestion was that to disbelieve in purgatory was to "align yourself against the biblical grain". Now, of course, I wasn't trained in Roman Catholicism; all my training has been in non-Catholic theology. I've only had a smattering of Catholic teaching to examine. So I thought I'd look into purgatory for myself and anyone else who might not have much Catholic teaching under their belts.

First, I need to note a distinction. There is "Roman Catholic", often abbreviated to just "Catholic", which is distinct from "catholic" with a lowercase "c". The uppercase versions refer to a specific group. The lowercase version refers to "catholic," an adjective meaning "including a wide variety of things; universal." Thus, while I don't believe in the Catholic church, I do believe in the catholic Church -- the Church that Christ has made that encompasses all Christians. Just in case you weren't aware of the distinction.

Moving on, what about purgatory? The term is from Latin, purgatorium. I'm sure if you think about it you can easily catch the intent. It is a place to get purged. The doctrine is found in a reference in 2 Maccabees 12 regarding praying for the dead. Now, most Protestants (non-Catholics) would say, "2 Maccabbees? That's not in my Bible." Yes, that's right. It is found in the Apocrypha which Roman Catholics believe to be Scripture but not Protestants (or Jesus). So there's the first rub. The Catholic church regards "Sacred Tradition" to be of equal (greater?) authority to Scripture and hold that Sacred Tradition (some writings from Origen, Ambrose of Milan, Pope Gregory the Great, etc.) established the doctrine of purgatory as well. Purgatory, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is the final purification for "All who die in God's grace and friendship." (Does that strike anyone else as odd?) The catechism lists two Bible references as proof of a fire (1 Cor 3:15; 1 Peter 1:7). It is linked to the Catholic practice of praying for the dead and is also linked to the Catholic practice of giving alms, buying indulgences, and performing acts of penance on behalf of the dead. The idea, then, is that no one (or at least almost no one) gets out of this life "clean" and everyone needs some measure of purification -- "purging" -- which is accomplished through painful but temporary fire. Thus, by prayer and paying off some of their debt, you can speed up this process for dead loved ones. The concept is predicated on three states of being. Non-Catholic Christians see two -- unsaved or saved, in sin or not, guilty or forgiven. Catholic doctrine holds out for a third state -- sort of saved, still tainted by some sin, mostly forgiven. It goes along with their "mortal sins" versus "venial sins", where mortal sins incur eternal punishment and venial sins just temporal punishment. The former is in direct opposition to God and the latter is simply moral disorder.

According to the commenter, "most Christians" believe in purgatory. Let's see if that's true. First, there is a necessary assumption. When John the Baptist said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29) he was wrong. He only partly takes sin away. When Jesus said, "It is finished" (John 19:30), He was wrong. More was required. When John wrote, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness," (1 John 1:9) he was wrong. "All unrighteousness" is an overreach. When Paul wrote, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God," (Eph 2:8) he was wrong. You will be contributing to your salvation. The requirement for purgatory to be true would be that Christ's death on our behalf was incomplete, that sin was not fully paid for, that, in fact, we pay for our own sin. Peter said that Christ suffered once for sins (1 Peter 3:18), but the doctrine of purgatory says that there is more required. So, what's my point? If purgatory is true -- we need to be further purged after death -- then Scripture in general and Jesus in particular are all wrong. The Gospel is not one of grace and mercy and salvation is earned (with great effort). In other words, the very fundamentals of the Christian Gospel are false. Therefore, the doctrine of purgatory falls under the heading of "another gospel" which Paul declared "anathema" -- accursed (Gal 1:6-10). In other words, if you are placing your faith in purgatory to get you to heaven, it disqualifies you from being a Christian.

I should be clear here. I am not saying that it is impossible to be in a Roman Catholic church and be saved. I am not suggesting that there are no Roman Catholic Christians. What I am saying is that Roman Catholic doctrine, where it deviates (sometimes knowingly) from Scripture, will not produce biblical Christians. The truth is that most Roman Catholics don't follow Roman Catholic doctrine. As such, it is possible, even reasonable, that there would be genuine believers in the Roman Catholic church. In other words, I believe there are catholic Christians in a variety of places, including the Catholic church. But if purgatory is your plan to get to heaven, I'd suggest you think again. Think about the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice (Col 2:13-14; Heb 9:26) and the righteousness of Christ applied to us (2 Cor 5:21). Further, if you have the capacity to pay for your own sin, it's just not that bad, is it? Jesus did it because we lack the capacity. Purgatory, then, diminishes Christ and the Scriptures, and that's not a good thing from a genuinely Christian perspective.