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Monday, August 31, 2020

Giving Assurances

We can be saved, but can we know we are saved? The idea is called "assurance." The Catholic Church denies it vehemently. (They call it "anathema.") There are a lot of others that aren't too keen on it, either. "People can and do lose their salvation," they assure us. (That's the only "assurance" they allow on the subject.) "It's wrong, wrong, wrong to be confident that Christ has saved you. You need to check it out, work it out, be constantly looking over your shoulder -- do the work."

So, which is it? Is there room in Scripture for assurance, or are we to be in a constant state of concern and awareness to keep ourselves in line? The hardline "Once Saved, Always Saved" folks (I mean the hardliners, not just the average) will tell you that once you're saved it doesn't matter what you do, so sin all you want. No rules at all. The "You can lose it so be careful" extremists, on the other hand, are pretty sure we all lose it from time to time and need to keep getting saved ... often. Are there answers in Scripture? Sure!

First, to the "You can't ever know" folks, John disagrees. "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:13) Sorry, guys. You can know. Next, to the "Go ahead and sin all you want" types, again, John disagrees. "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." (1 John 3:9) Now, we can discuss this "practices sin" phrase and explain how it is "ongoing" and assure everyone that it is not sinlessness, but there is no doubt that those born of God experience a decrease in sin and cannot "sin all you want" because, well, they don't want to. And to those who argue you can lose it and need to keep coming back to get saved again, be aware that Hebrews 6:4-6 makes it clear that if you do lose it, you cannot ("impossible" is the word used) get it back. So neither "There can be no assurance" nor "You can be so assured you can sin with abandon" works biblically. There is, therefore, assurance. We just want to make sure we do it biblically. "Well, you said the prayer/walked the aisle/made the right choice, so you are in" isn't biblical. Let's see what is.

So, biblically what can we determine? By "biblically" I mean we will premise this on Scripture. So what does Scripture use as its premise? The message throughout God's Word is that God is faithful. "Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass." (1 Thess 5:24) Like that. Oh, wait ... what was the context of that claim? "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thess 5:23) See that? That's the premise. Salvation, beginning to end, is God's work, based on Christ's sacrifice for sin, and empowered by the Spirit in the lives of believers. Paul says that we're saved that way and we're sanctified that way (Gal 3:1-3) and anyone who doesn't see that is "foolish." Paul told Titus, "He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit." (Titus 3:5) The premise, then, is that we are not saved by our efforts, so assurance is possible on the basis of the work of God.

So what does God say on the subject? Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." (John 10:27-29) Jude assured us that He is "able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy." (Jude 1:24) While many Scriptures warn of our need to work and test and such, every biblical reference to God's work in salvation is one of complete assurance that He will complete it. That's His promise.

What a relief, eh? It's all about Him and nothing about us! Well, sort of. Paul does say, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith." (2 Cor 13:5) That is, it is possible to find evidence in your own life that you are "in the faith" -- that you are saved. Maybe "I prayed the prayer" isn't a good way, but there are concrete, biblical offerings on where to look. John wrote that 1 John 3:9 text above. Very important. If you're perfectly comfortable with sin, you might have a problem. He also wrote, "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers." (1 John 3:14) If you have little love for believers, you might want to be careful. Paul wrote, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God." (Rom 8:16) Anything like that going on with you? We have "the deeds of the flesh" (Gal 5:19-21) in contrast with the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal 5:22-23). Which seems more like you? The author of Hebrews argued that the Father disciplines His children (Heb 12:5-6). He warns, "If you are without discipline ... you are illegitimate children and not sons." (Heb 12:8) If you don't feel like God ever disciplines you, you shouldn't feel comfortable in your salvation. Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15) Something to consider. Mind you, none of this saves. Not at all. Salvation is a work of God, beginning to end. But God doesn't fail to save those He saves. That is, you can't be saved without having a changed life (2 Cor 5:17). So this "performance" concept is not what we do to obtain it, but the natural results of a changed life. This "performance" is God's performance in a believer.

The Scriptures are full of these kinds of "tests" or "indicators" and you should probably look for yourself. You should definitely examine yourself. But Scripture is equally clear that it is God who saves and God who sustains and that we can know if we have eternal life. (Note: If you "have eternal life" and lose it, it's not eternal, is it?) Don't look at the date of your prayer or the time you walked down the aisle. Those are well and good, but not always indicators. Certainly not biblical indicators. Look to Christ. Know what He has promised and count on it. And test yourself, because changed hearts make changed lives. You can know.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Who Do You Love?

Annie Hawks wrote I Need Thee Every Hour back in 1872. It doesn't take a genius to decipher the message: "I need Thee every hour." The song has several good points in it, but the one I'm looking at is in the second verse. She writes,
I need Thee every hour,
Stay Thou near by;
Temptations lose their power
When Thou art nigh.
For the uninitiated, she is saying that when she is closest to Christ, she is the least tempted to sin.

No, Annie isn't writing Scripture, but it's the same idea that Jesus stated. "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15) The closer we draw to Christ, the less sin tempts us. In fact, isn't that present in Jesus's famous, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt 6:21)?

We view our sin problem as a problem of our will and our strength. We either lack the will or the ability (or both) to fend off temptation. Jesus places the problem elsewhere. The question isn't "How much can you do?" It is "Who do you love?" We are told, for instance, to "Flee from sexual immorality." (1 Cor 6:18) That's all well and good and appears to be a product of the proper will and ability, but the command alone doesn't tell us where to flee to. Just ... run? No. It's not about me and my proper will and my personal capabilities. In fact, relying on those is what gets me into trouble.

The problem, then, is the heart (Matt 15:17-19). The problem is what we treasure. The problem is what or who we love. Because the way we work properly is by "God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." (Php 2:12-13) Not on our own.

We do need Him. Perhaps Annie was a bit too ambitious; I need Him every moment. Because godly living is not a product of my will and my efforts and avoiding temptation is not all up to me. The real question is "Who do you love?" If you (or anyone but Christ) are at the top of your list, avoiding temptation will be downright impossible. If you are fleeing to the arms of your Savior, "you will obey My commandments." And I will remind myself of that every chance I get.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

News Weakly - 8/29/20

COVID-related Deaths
All along there have been questions about just what constitutes "COVID-related" in the death. I think this should. In Lima, Peru, 13 people were crushed to death at a nightclub stampede. What caused the stampede? The club violated lockdown rules and was raided by police. The crowd fled to avoid prosecution for violating the night-time COVID curfew. Clearly COVID-related deaths.

Mixed Messages
So, KFC is suspending their 64-year-old slogan -- "Finger lickin' good" -- because it sends the wrong message when we're not supposed to be touching our faces, but CBS is releasing and advertising their new season of Love Island where everyone is doing everything that the authorities are telling us not to do during this COVID pandemic because, as we all know, eating chicken can be bad for you if it sends the wrong message, but the right message of hedonism, random sex, and partying with social crowding, wild parties, and maskless face-to-face close encounters is a wonderful thing for you and your kids.

Nothing To See Here
Let's see ... the RNC had its convention. Nothing of interest there. What else? Riots, shootings, unrest ... well, nothing newsworthy, I guess. Just status quo. Like in Minneapolis when "unrest" broke out because of another shooting of a black man ... who, as it turned out, took his own life. I mean, that can't even be termed "black on black crime," can it? But it was enough to start up the Minnesota National Guard and impose a curfew because people were breaking windows and looting stores. Makes sense, I guess, after police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot Jacob Blake in the back in front of his kids. Fortunately we have a new and quick system to determine guilt in these cases. If a black person dies in the vicinity of a police officer, it's a hate crime. Easy, right? This is the current expectation. I don't suppose it qualifies as "news" anymore. Part of our "new normal."

Weird Protest
I have to be honest. There have been a lot of times protests seemed weird to me. Like when protesters block public roads to make their point ... making enemies of potential allies because people couldn't get to work. Or when rich minority sports figures refuse to work to protest racial injustice. (In case you missed it, those were three separate stories there.) They're all doing it without pay, right? I would assume that their quest for justice would include the agreement that you shouldn't expect to be paid if you refuse to work, right? (By the way, the NBA protests may have a point. There is absolutely an underrepresentation of white people in the NBA. I'm pretty sure that was the racial injustice they were protesting, right? No, of course not.)

What is news, perhaps, is that a "Christian college" acquiesced to student and alumni protesters and disinvited Vice President Pence to speak at their commencement because, the protesters said, "Mike Pence has failed to promote policies that reflect Christian values" (without, of course, explaining what policies he has promoted that didn't reflect Christian values) and called it "disrespectful" to have a Christian vice president speak at a Christian school. I would suggest that disrespect of those in office and intolerance (not allowing views to which they're opposed) on the part of the students and alumni does not reflect the kind of Christian values that Christ held.

Good And Bad Protesters
Kamala Harris defended protesters. "People are rightfully angry and exhausted ... after the murders (of black people by police) ... And I support them." But she distanced protesters (and herself) from the violent, the vigilantes, and the looters. You can tell these are not part of the protesters because look how the real protesters react, intervening and stopping them from doing the violence, vandalism, and theft. Oh, wait ... no. Not when they say, "Looting is reparations." Kamala, you may not favor the criminal element of the protests, but there is scant evidence from the protesters that they have a problem with it.

Ain't It The Truth
Yes, it's the Babylon Bee, so, yes, it's satire, but so close to true. The headline reads, "America Ranked #1 Place In World Where You Can Get Rich By Writing About How Awful The Country Is." On the other hand, I did have to chuckle at "RNC Surprise: Trump Announces Space Force Has Defeated Jupiter." On a more serious side, there seemed to be a lot more fact checking coupled with a lot less generosity in evaluation of the Republican Convention than there was of the Democratic Convention. Like, for instance, the "outlandish claim" that a Biden win will "invite MS-13 to live next door." Does anyone think that someone actually expected a Biden administration to send out invitations to gang members to move into the neighborhood? Does no one grasp figures of speech like hyperbole anymore? (I say that without even agreeing with the claim.) That's the kind of generosity I would hope for from the media which was certainly given to the Democrats and denied the Republicans.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Down In My Heart

We had that refrain when we were kids. "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart ..." We'd sing it because it was fun (especially when we got to the verse, "I've got the wonderful love of my Blessed Redeemer way down in the depths of my heart ..."), not necessarily because it was true. No one I know lives a joy-full life. Some encounter more joy than others, but when laid out across your waking hours, "full" wouldn't be a fair description, would it?

So I ask myself, "Why not? Why aren't we as joyful as Jesus planned for us to be?" Well, first, "joy" is not "happiness." Happiness is an emotional response to our perception of how pleasant our circumstances are. Joy is not quite that. The secular site,, says that happiness is "an emotion experienced when in a state of well-being" but joy "comes from the inner self." It is connected to "the source of life within you." So happiness is dependent on circumstances and joy is dependent on God. But in thinking through this, I think I might have stumbled on something. Tell me what you think.

Three times Jesus said He came that our joy may be made full (John 15:11; 16:24; 17:13). One of them was a little more explicit.
"But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. (John 17:13)
The "full joy" He's referencing isn't ours so much as it is His. The "full joy" He talks about is "My joy made full in themselves." Not merely human joy, then. And what was it that was Jesus's joy? Well, He expressed it in His High Priestly Prayer in the chapter that this verse comes from. His primary concern for His whole life was "Glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You." (John 17:1) His primary point was God's glory.

Could it be, then, that the full joy He had in mind for us was His joy and that His joy was full when He was pursuing God's glory? Could it be that our greatest joy -- full joy -- can be experienced at those times we are pursuing God's glory? Could it be that our joy is made full the closer we get to God's glory? If that's true, and if everything we do is to be to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31), it would stand to reason that the gap in "full joy" is the same as the gap in our pursuit of God's glory. And if that's true, we might have a direction to go, right?

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Dead Religion

Christians are "people of the book." That is, we have a book (technically a collection of books) that is our manual, our go-to guide, our instructions for, well, just about everything. Christianity is not designed to be some eclectic "whatever you think is right" kind of religion. We have a book that says it was "breathed out by God" (2 Tim 3:16-17). So, we consider it not only important; we consider it essential.

"So," they tell us, "your religion is bounded by man-made, 2000-year-old documents. In essence, your religion is dead." Is that true? As people of the book, are we stuck in a dead, outdated religion?

I suppose, if you take at face value that this is a man-made thing, it might be. I guess, if you assume no God, no miracles, no divine intervention, certainly no Omniscient, Omnipotent God, well, then, we're pretty much done here. But, of course, we don't. Because, at the core, we are not counting on a 2000-year-old man-made document. We're counting on an eternal (meaning without beginning and without end) Being who is indeed Omniscient and Omnipotent. We're not counting on a paper god; we're trusting an actual God. We're trusting in Jesus who prayed, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." (John 17:17) We're resting in Jesus who is simultaneously "the Word" and God (John 1:1), who Himself claimed to be "the truth" (John 14:6). Jesus said of the Law and the Prophets, "Until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished." (Matt 5:18) (As an aside, why is it that these "progressive Christian" types are eager to quote Jesus when He says what they want Him to but quite sure that "He never said that" when He doesn't? Sorry. Rhetorical question.)

They tell us it's dead paper. The author of Hebrews tells us, "The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Heb 4:12) They believe they have a better way -- coming up with their own, new versions that makes the old one obsolete and actually contradicts what God said before. This is why Jesus said, "If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32) Jesus said, "Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God." (John 8:47) My confidence, then, is not in dead books; it is in a living Savior, an eternal, Omniscient, Omnipotent God who is perfectly able to express and maintain His thoughts in a 2000-year-old text without making a mistake or needing a revision or update. My confidence is not in the impressive minds that are quite certain they've figured out where God was wrong in the past and have a better way now. Ours is not a "dead religion." We are a "people of the book" because we are people who know God and trust Him, not merely a book.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Thinking It Through

It's an election year. I'm sorry. Politics has to come up sometimes. I don't like it any better than you do. But, look, maybe you can help me think this through.

So, we have two competing perspectives here. No, not the two that first come to your mind -- Biden or Trump. On one hand, we believe that "there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God." (Rom 13:1) But we also believe that we ought to vote, where "ought to" is intended to express a moral obligation rather than a mere suggestion.

These appear to be opposite sides. I mean, if God establishes all authority, then why vote? On the other hand, if our voting is important to God (because calling it a moral obligation suggests it is), how does He establish all authority? I mean, do we do it and Paul was mistaken or do we fool ourselves by voting and it's all Him?

As in so many of these types of questions, I think there is a "yes" on both sides of the question. We do need to vote as citizens of the country in which we've been placed by God -- as God's appointed representatives here -- and, yes, God establishes all authority. He does it in our case using the tool of our voting, but He is not limited to our voting.

Here's the thing I'm trying to puzzle through. We like to think that God has good plans for our country. We vote as if God's plans depend on it. While we know "You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2), we seem to think that God won't be able to accomplish His good plans for America if we don't get this thing right. If we don't vote correctly, God's plans fail and it won't be a good thing.

So, how does that work? Like the Arminian that prays earnestly that God will change people's hearts (like a Calvinist), Christians agree that all authority comes from God and then panic because "What if we don't vote the right guy in?!" How does that work? How are we to make sense out of it? I intend to vote my conscience and trust God, but I've been told that's naive, stupid, and possibly even sinful. So I should not trust God and vote their conscience? That's what they told me four years ago. That's what they're telling me now. I don't get this at all.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

What's a President to Do?

The Democratic National Convention struck out hard at the current president. (Don't take that the wrong way; it's what these conventions do. "Elect our folks because their folks are bad for the country.") Apparently the current president is responsible for the deaths of more than 170,000 Americans apparently because he didn't prevent the COVID-19 virus from entering the country or something like that. If Hillary had been president, no one would have died ... right? (Again, I'm not casting this as "Trump vs Hillary" or anything of the sort. It's what politicians do.) Obama brought prosperity and Trump famine. They said that Obama and Biden brought overtime pay to more than 4 million workers. Well, no, they didn't. The rule never went into effect. "Ah," you say, "now you're demeaning Obama and Biden." No, not my point. All of this (and so much more) makes me wonder. What exactly is a president to do? Candidates make all sorts of claims and promises. "I'll put two chickens in every pot!" and the like. But can they? Should they? No!

We are a gullible bunch of voters. We listen to the wild claims from both sides and decide which wild claims we prefer and vote. We don't understand the nature of political advertising. (Did you know that political ads are exempt from "truth in advertising" laws? Political ads fall under "free speech" protection and the FCC does nothing about them.) We don't understand the government. Ours is an intentionally divided government -- "separation of powers" is the term. The executive branch can only do this and the legislative branch can only do that and then, of course, there is the judicial branch which is only supposed to keep the other two in line. Now, to our defense, it's understandable why we don't get that. When Iraq was trying to put together their new Constitution, comedian George Carlin quipped, "They can use ours. We're not using it." Funny, but true; we're not. So the president (most presidents, not just the current one) makes rules that the Constitution says he can't and the Congress fails to make the decisions the Constitution requires and the Supreme Court (all the judicial branch, actually) passes laws from the bench. It's not really that hard to see why we're confused.

So what is a president to do? He can make treaties ... with the approval of the Senate. (Not alone.) He can sign or veto bills ... approved by Congress. (Not alone.) He can act as Commander-in-Chief ... during a war declared by Congress. Things he can do without permission? He can make suggestions for new laws, grant pardons, appoint ambassadors, enforce laws passed by Congress, things like that. He can issue executive orders, but those are limited. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was such an order. But they must be constitutional. For instance, the Supreme Court overturned five of FDR's executive orders in 1935. Now, Biden, for instance, is promising to ban the ownership and manufacture of assault weapons. Mind you, we still don't have a firm definition of "assault weapons" and nothing in the Constitution allows for such a ban. Perhaps Congress could do it (theoretically), but not a president. (I say "theoretically" because it seems like Congress as a whole has a hard time accomplishing anything anymore.) Kamala Harris promised the same thing during her campaign -- comprehensive gun control by executive order. Is it constitutional? Who knows anymore?

Again, I'm' not pointing any fingers at any individuals, parties, or even positions. It is the nature of the beast for politicians to make promises ... that they can't keep. And we, like sheep, just follow along. "Well, I like what they're promising, so let's vote 'em in." What was the line from Top Gun? "Your ego is writing checks your body can't cash." Something like that. They're making promises they don't have the authority to deliver and we're angry when they don't. But who's at fault here? Maybe it's the sheep who are so easily deceived by the sheep's clothing?

Monday, August 24, 2020

Without Apology

At Merriam-Webster definition #2.a. for "apology" reads, "something that is said or written to defend something that other people criticize," the idea behind the use of the word, "Apologetics." One of the clearest texts for the concept of Apologetics -- the defense of the faith -- is found in Jude.
Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:3-4)
Here we read Jude's appeal that we "contend earnestly" for something. What? "The faith which was once for all handed down to the saints." Not something new. Something, for us, quite old, in fact. We're not defending new ideas and new notions; we're contending for something handed down "once for all" -- the faith.

Jude explains where the threat comes from. It comes from false teachers among us ("crept in unnoticed"). What marks them? They "turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." Now, that word, "licentiousness," doesn't really work in today's vernacular, so newer translations use words like "sensuality" or "unbridled lust." The idea is that they make God's grace into justification for "my personal pleasure" which, obviously, requires that they deny Jesus as Master and Lord. They make grace "all about me" -- my plaything. They use God's grace as license. "God doesn't mind at all if I sin; He's okay with it." They don't merely ignore God's view; they use God to indulge in and defend their own sinful passions. "Only God can judge me." They minimize the Son and maximize their own personal pleasures.

Jude goes on to point to Sodom and Gomorrah as examples of this kind of thinking and God's opinion of it. They "indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh" and suffered "the punishment of eternal fire" for it (Jude 1:7). "Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties." (Jude 1:8) A clear marker of these false teachers is their rejection of existing authority (such as God's Word) and their abuse of authority. Remember, it's "the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints," not their new version, whatever it might be. They cause divisions, "worldly people, devoid of the Spirit." (Jude 1:19)

The "problem" is clear. What, then, are we to do?
But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. (Jude 1:20-23)
It isn't "nothing." Nor is it "go to war." It is immersing yourself in the faith and praying. It is keeping yourself in the love of God and trusting in Christ. It is showing mercy to some, snatching some from the fire, and avoiding their sin. It is, ultimately, a reliance on "Him who is able to keep you from stumbling" (Jude 1:24).

Jude has been very clear about who it is that has "crept in." They are disguised as one of us. They use God's grace as license. They deny Christ as Master and, ultimately, as God and instead revile authority and pursue self-interests. If you see them, be aware of them. Jude, under the inspiration of God, told us what to do. Oh, and Peter asks us to do it "with gentleness and respect." (1 Peter 3:15) You have your marching orders. Go and apologize without apology.

Sunday, August 23, 2020


Recently I mentioned that Trump's primary motivation has been self-interest, which, of course, spurred some "lively discussion." I'm not discussing Trump. I won't entertain any conversation about him in the comments. That's not my point here. My point is "self-interest." Is it bad? Isn't it normal? What's the big deal?

I'd suggest that most of us operate most of the time on self-interest and all of us some of the time. It is ... human. Well, sort of. Not part of our definition, perhaps, but certainly part of our nature. Unfortunately, that would be the sin nature. "Really? Why would self-interest not be normal and moral?" Why, thanks for asking. (Nice when I can control the conversation, eh?)

Self-interest is indeed quite normal. So while it might be odd that I'd suggest that it's not necessarily good, I don't think, deep down, that anyone disagrees. Just the term "self-interest" evokes "selfishness" especially "to the exclusion of others." Which, of course, is why there were objections to my claim that Trump operated out of self-interest. That is, we know there's something ... not entirely right there. But, of course, what is common to humans isn't the best method of deciding this question. What does Scripture say?

When asked the greatest commandment, Jesus gave two. You know this; say it with me. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matt 22:37-39) So, love is our first and greatest commandment. And in Paul's famous "love" chapter, he offered a critical component of love as "does not seek its own." (1 Cor 13:5) Its own what? Some fill in "way" or something and that's fine, but the basic comment is that love is fundamentally not self-centered; it is other-centered. Love is not about self-interest; it's about the interests of others. Paul explicitly says, "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." (Php 2:3-4)

The Christian life, then, is not primarily self-interest as it is for every other human being. It is regarding others as more important than you and looking out for their interests. Now, how does that work? Don't we need to look out for ourselves? If we don't, who will? "It's all well and good to hope that others will regard you as more important than they and it all balances, but it just might not happen. Then what?" And that's where we're different. As believers, we may and will experience failed love from others, but we will not and cannot experience failed love from God. We, uniquely, cannot be separated from the love of God (Rom 8:38-39). Our confidence in His love, then, enables us to look out for the interests of others.

Self-interest is normal and even Christians "look out for your own personal interests" (Php 2:4), but not in the way that the rest do. Self-interest as a primary motivation is normal for them but it is not a Christian virtue. Love is. Love doesn't seek its own; it seeks what's best for the other. I think, in the final analysis, that only believers who cannot be separated from the love of God are capable of that kind of love. I would urge us to make a practice of it.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

News Weakly - 8/22/20

In Case You Were Still Wondering
Some people are saying that Disney is no longer about "family values," but is that true? Variety is reporting that Disney is making history with a cartoon whose lead character is bisexual. Because everyone knows what we want to get across to children is sexual information in their entertainment, right? This way you can manipulate the upcoming generation. Oh, and in case you were unclear on my point, the answer is "Yes, Disney is no longer interested in family values. At least, not for many families." In this case, Disney is saying the customer is not always right.

Proud Export
It is abundantly clear that Americans are on this razor's edge of offense all the time these days. We have "microaggression" and find practically everything offensive in some way because ... well, I'm not sure why. Good to know, then, that we've managed to export our national hurt feelings. In Germany a company is changing the offensive name of a paprika sauce product from "gypsy sauce" because apparently gypsies are concerned that they're making it from grinding up gypsies or, perhaps, that others my try it at home. Why do I say we've exported it? The story says, "The death in police custody of African-American George Floyd has prompted a groundswell of concern about racism around the world." Good job, America. Export your over-sensitized misery. You know, now that I think about it, there was a color in that news item that I found offensive. Why does gypsy sauce have to be red, hmm?

The Plan
The news continues to be "It's getting worse!" Dr. Fauci believes there is "no end in sight." Meanwhile CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield told the House subcommittee that suicides among the high school ages account for more deaths than the coronavirus. "There has been another cost that we've seen, particularly in high schools. We're seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from COVID. We're seeing far greater deaths from drug overdose that are above excess that we had as background than we are seeing the deaths from COVID." So, here's the plan. Nothing we're doing appears to be working, so let's keep that up and just see which kills us first -- the disease or the cure.

Ban Women's Suffrage!
There has been a video floating around for years where a guy visits a women's studies campus and asks women to sign a petition to ban women's suffrage. They do, willingly. Funny, I guess, but only because they don't know what the word means. On the other hand, on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment the story came out that, as it turned out, the Women's Suffrage movement was, in fact, specifically white women only. They "specifically excluded women of color from their movement." I would think in today's cancel culture that should put an end to women's suffrage, shouldn't it?

Media Bias
Lots of people think it is possible for media outlets to be unbiased. It's not. It's just not possible. The question isn't if they're biased, but how. As in this this story out of Maine. The story is that "more than two dozen Maine residents have tested positive for the coronavirus after a wedding reception in Millinocket." The headline gives the bias: "Large coronavirus outbreak linked to wedding reception in Maine." Now, with big stories about breaking daily records and how there is no end in sight and all, doesn't it seem a bit over the top to call "more than two dozen" a "large outbreak"? I mean, if we had 2 dozen cases today, that would represent a significant drop in cases. But the bias of the media is to continue to sensationalize this problem to keep us scared. Make no mistake; it's working.

Values Clarification
We're clear now ... at least about German values. Dogs are important. The country's agriculture minister is introducing a new law that will require that dog owners walk their dog twice a day. An hour minimum each time. And dogs can't be left alone at home all day. Nor can they be chained out for long periods. Oddly enough, there are no rules about making sure their children get enough exercise, are not left without adult supervision too long, or tied to a TV or computer screen for long periods. Got it. Thanks for the clarification.

Now that we're all perfectly clear about masks and all that, it turns out that consensus on the topic isn't entirely accurate. Do masks actually make a difference or don't they? The world may never know.

Pray for the president. At least, that's what was intended when Paul wrote, "I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity." (1 Tim 2:1-2) And we need to do it because the president wants to allow more wasting of water in the shower. Why? "Because my hair — I don't know about you, but it has to be perfect. Perfect." He has urged Americans to boycott Goodyear because they didn't allow MAGA hats. Well, they don't allow any political attire, but it's obviously just about Trump, right? Please pray for the president so we can lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

And Finally ...
I normally try to put something from Babylon Bee or the like in this spot. Something amusing. Nothing struck me this week. The DNC wasn't that interesting or funny. It's hard to laugh when the message is "We want you to elect our people because we don't like their people." (And that's the primary theme of the other side, too, so don't get your knickers in a twist.) Jabs at Biden or Harris or AOC proliferated, but maybe I'm just tired of them because nothing struck me as worthy of your attention. Maybe that's newsworthy? Naw.

Friday, August 21, 2020


I don't know if you remember this commercial. I believe it was for a new computer operating system. It's a family -- mother, father, and a 8-10 year old boy. The boy asks Mom and Dad if he can have a puppy. They turn him down. So he goes off and, with this new operating system, produces a scintillating board-room style presentation complete with slides and facts and figures all about why he should have a dog. Because you have this new operating system, you can do all that even if you're only 9. Well, Mom is so impressed that she gives him permission. The dad picks up on this and runs off to his computer. He prepares an equal presentation on why he should be allowed to play golf on Saturdays. He doesn't get a slide or two into it before she shuts him down. Nope! Denied. The hierarchy is clear here. Mom is kind of the apex, except the kid can top her if he tries. The dad? Fairly useless. No authority. No brains. No real purpose. If you watch much that comes out of Hollywood these days, you'd have to conclude that this is universal. Women and children are wise and vital; men are not.

I think it's a picture of the modern notion of maleness. Where there was once a patriarchal society we've moved on. Little by little, day after day, we have pulled down males as having power and replace them with males as useless. The goal is not equality. It's not to "even the playing field." It is to put males in the trash heap that they've long deserved. For instance, in Sally Fields' Emmy acceptance speech in 2007, she boldly declared, "If the mothers ruled the world there would be no g*****n wars in the first place." Because, as we all know, women do not go to war. Not one. Well, ignoring Queen Boudica (60 AD), Catherine of Aragon (1513), Joan of Arc (1429), Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher ... and more. (According to a study in 2017, over the last 500 years female leaders have been 17% more likely to go to war than males.) But the point is clear; men are warmongers. Then there's the avalanche started by kicking a rock named Harvey Weinstein that still isn't over. Men fell like boulders everywhere. Because, as we all know, men are pigs. But at least they still need us to make babies, right? Well, it wasn't that long ago that scientists claimed a woman could get pregnant without men. Men! Who needs 'em?

Currently men aren't highly regarded in much of our culture. Feminism dominates. It dominates so much that you'll find it where it ought not be. Recently I sat in an adult study in church. There were 20 of us, perhaps, but only 5 males. It's the older group, so there are a lot of widows and women with unbelieving husbands, so it's probably a lower-than-average ratio of men to women, but I think statistics would show that women outnumber men in church in most settings. Our text of the day was Proverbs 31 -- the famous "excellent wife" text (Prov 31:10-31). Good stuff. It describes essentially a super mom who feeds and clothes her family while buying and selling and bringing home the bacon, so to speak. Halfway through, one dear woman had a question. "If she's doing all this, what's the husband doing?" The answer came a few verses later. "Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land." (Prov 31:23) What's the husband doing? He's sitting at the gate, strutting like a peacock. He's useless. The women in the class largely applauded (not literally) and the men kept quiet ... because we're pretty much useless except for finding a good wife and sitting in the gate. Says so, right there in your Bible.

We are 21st century Christians in 21st century American churches. We live in this world as we should (1 Cor 5:9-10), but instead of being transformed, we are being conformed (Rom 12:2). We don't even notice it. We simply pick up the prevailing wind, so to speak, like everyone else. It is the way of the world, in fact. For instance, conservativism has been described as the shadow of liberalism, following just behind as liberalism moves farther left. The "Left" today is far more left than it was 50 years ago ... and so is "Right." So it is with American churches. We don't stand; we lag. So we don't notice that biblical values place certain responsibilities on men (e.g., 1 Cor 11:3; Eph 5:25-28; Eph 6:4; etc.). We don't recognize that God ordained the patriarchal system, beginning with God as Father. Oh, not that perversion that sinful men have twisted it to where women are demeaned and devalued, but a patriarchal structure (e.g., 1 Cor 11:3; Eph 5:22-24; etc.) just the same. That the world doesn't get this is expected. That the world finds this offensive is understandable. That the people of God reject it is, frankly, heartbreaking, especially since it begins with God as Father.

We live in a sexist society, to be sure. We've made bizarre divisions down male and female lines, shifting their roles and purposes to suit a modern taste, demeaning what was once valued, and calling it "equality." We -- Christians -- are doing this. God told Eve that part of the curse was that she would desire to rule over her husband (Gen 3:16), so this state of affairs is what we should expect, just not what we should embrace. We Christians. It reflects poorly on God. It reflects poorly on God's Word. It reflects poorly on us. We're supposed to be in the world, not of it (John 15:19). So I pray that God would protect us from the world that we are in but not of (John 17:14-15).

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Problem of Racism

We all know that racial divide in this country is a problem. A serious problem. An "at the verge of going to war with each other over it" kind of problem. The levels of hatred some people hold or experience over the color of our skin is a very real evil. I do not deny that racism is a problem. That's not the problem I wish to discuss here.

There is a problem with the concept. You begin to see it when you define "racism" in its traditional sense as "a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others." If you are to understand that definition, you have to ask, "What is race?" That term is built on the concept of genetic divisions within the human race. Wait ... racism within a race? That should cause at least a momentary bump in our pondering. Where does "race" within the human race come from?

The whole concept is built first on ethnicity. Ethnicity is a social group of common national or cultural tradition. It is a construct. That is, a white person and a black person and an Asian person and an Hispanic person share, in common, personhood. At our core we are all people -- humans. The differences are not in the DNA, so to speak. They are an after-birth process. It's how you're raised and who you're raised with. It's language and environment and social interaction and religion and so on. It is the product of a basic, unconscious, "us against them" response where "us" is "what I'm used to" and "them" is ... not. Race theory has held that it is a genetic difference, but "Genetic evidence has undermined the idea of racial divisions of the human species and rendered race obsolete as a biological system of classification." Race as considered as a subset of the human race, then, is purely subjective. It is not a scientific classification; it is a self-identification based on physical traits, historical affiliations, and national origins. It is sociological, not scientific.

If that's true that race is a subjective reality, not a scientific reality, how is it that we have redefined "racism" as a systemic oppression of one race over another? Race is a social construct and should make racism an individual thing, but now they've applied it to an entire population in this social construct. Why? How is this reasonable? How is it fair?

I started with the clear agreement that racial divides in this country are a major problem. I end with that, too. I'm not saying there is no problem. It would be stupid to argue that there is no work to be done here. I'm simply pointing out that this new definition of racism as "all white people oppress people of color" is nonsense. It makes no sense scientifically. It makes no sense rationally. And it diverts attention from the problem -- individuals. It makes enemies of friends (e.g., the white person that has no animosity toward black people) and friends of enemies (e.g., the black person who disagrees with this new definition). It leaves no room for repair or reconciliation. If you get outside of a society where white people are dominant, it falls apart entirely. No racism exists, apparently, in black nations or other non-white cultures, right? It can't. But even black people acknowledge that discrimination exists between people of color. (They call it "colorism.")

We have some serious problems here. Making it an institutional problem where everyone of a particular social construct that we'll call "white" is at fault simply obscures the problem and slows the ability to address the problems. If race is a social construct how can it be that, in racism, individuals are irrelevant? Social constructs are not universal and cannot be applied universally. Today's racism is a bizarre concept that ignores science and hangs everything on who has and who does not, on an uneven perceptions of who is oppressed and who is not. It's not actual race (human). There is no solution in complaining about a problem of an entire group that doesn't exist in an entire group. That's the bottom line. That's a problem.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Who're You Gonna Believe?

The story goes that a wife comes home and catches her husband in an embrace with his secretary. She's outraged, but he defends himself. "It's not what you think! There's nothing going on here. Who are you gonna believe -- me or your eyes?"

A joke, sure, but there is something more underneath. On the serious side, there is a question. How reliable are your eyes? Or your perceptions? Or you comprehensions? We assume at the outset that what we see, for instance, is real. Today, of course, with deep fakes and photoshop that's just no longer a tenable position. It's just too easy to deceive your eyes. And from there deceit only gets easier. Like foley artists. A foley artist has the job of making sound effects for movies. Now, a lot of what they need to make can't be made normally. There is no way to simply record the sound of a hyperdrive on a starship, for instance. Just a silly example. So they find creative ways to fool your ears. And they're impressively good at it. Who are you going to believe -- your ears or reality?

It isn't outlandish, then, to suggest that your senses can be wrong. Move beyond that. How about your memory? Or your knowledge? Are you really certain that what you think you know is true? But we all operate on the assumption that all of this is fairly reliable and we move along. And that's mostly fine.

So what do we do when God steps in? How can we respond when Scripture challenges our current ideas? What's the right way to go when we've always seen it "this way" and it looks unavoidably as if God's word is saying it's "that way"? "It's not what you think," the Bible seems to say. "Who are you gonna believe -- God or your perceptions?"

I think it's a valid question. I think it's an important question. And I'm concerned that too many who call themselves believers would choose "me" over God. Without regard to Scripture or God's character or anything else that might contradict their own positions. After all, aren't my eyes more reliable than His word? (Hint: The answer is a loud "No!")

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Without a Vision

I try not to follow the news too closely. Too depressing, frankly. Politics, especially in an election year like this, are the worst. You can't ignore it, but it's worse than watching a train wreck ... on all sides. Lately, though, I've become aware of a trend that probably should have been obvious years ago. Donald Trump is a child in big-boy pants.

No, that's not it. But close. One of the things that should distinguish an adult from a child is vision. Children cannot see beyond the here and now. Children can't think that eating the whole cake will give them a tummy ache. All they can see is the whole cake and they want it; they want it now. That kind of short-term thinking. Teenagers aren't much better. Premarital sex and drugs and alcohol are all symptoms of immediate gratification rather than delayed gratification. Childishness. Adults are supposed to see beyond that. Adults are supposed to be able to save for a rainy day or take steps now to make the future better or to make sacrifices for a greater good. It looks like Trump lacks that ability.

It's been there all along, I guess, but the story that finally clicked that over in my head was the one where Trump wanted to make new showerhead rules. Why? "Because my hair — I don't know about you, but it has to be perfect. Perfect." Seriously? Areas of this nation are in water crisis that will only get worse and your primary concern is your hair? Seriously?? Look back, though, and it was always there. Just look at his Twitter feed, strewn with childish tweets and remarks, embarrassing to adults that supported him. Look at the rule changes he's made giving business new liberties for making money at the cost of the public and the environment. Look at the tariffs he's imposed that alter the here and now of business without a care for the long-term effects. Everyone knows he's brash and volatile and lots of people like him for that, but it looks to me like he's more of an angry kid -- "I want my way!" -- than an adult president. "I will allow the post office to fail so I can block mail-in voting" was his recent ploy followed by, "Oh, can I get a mail-in ballot so I can vote?" It's a running-but-sad joke about how the Clintons (especially the wife) had opponents rubbed out; Trump's legacy is a battlefield of civil servants whom he fired when they disagreed with him, supporters and opponents alike. And on and on it goes.

This is it. This is the only choice for Republicans. This is the only option we have to ensure that Biden and his socialist-denying socialist running mate don't get into office. (She denies that she's a socialist -- even a Democratic Socialist -- but if it quacks like a duck ... well, you know.) So I have to decide. Will I vote for a big baby for the next four years in the White House who, perhaps, is helping big business and, therefore, by trickle down, the rest of our pocketbooks, while shredding future resources for the rest of us or vote for a pair that enjoy killing babies, running our lives, and taking our money for "equality"? Someone will call for "the lesser evil." As in 2016, I don't know what that means in this case. Because a child in power can run this country into the ground just as easily as a leftist in power; just not as clearly and as obviously, perhaps. As in 2016, at some point some of us will need to stand on principle rather than stark pragmatism and believe, against all belief (Christian or otherwise), that all authority is from God and God is actually in control. Silly, I know, but that's just me, right? That Christians find this approach offensive makes me deeply sad.

Monday, August 17, 2020

We Hate Hell

I think it is safe to say that one of the major disputes with Christianity is the Christian concept of Hell. To be fair, I think that most Christians aren't entirely comfortable with the concept. I say that because so many have tried to explain it away. The first objection, of course, is the enormity of "eternity in torment." "No, no, that can't be. That's just ... too big." I mean, eternity is hard enough to grasp. An eternity of torment? Way outside our comfort range. And then there's the obvious objection, "That's not fair!" How is it fair to have a lifetime of peccadilloes answered by an eternity of torment? The question is one of justice, and that just doesn't seem right.

So why would anyone believe in Hell? I don't think most humans like the idea, even if we're all pretty sure it won't be us there. Clearly it's not some internal enjoyment. Like so many other things in the faith, this one doesn't seem like it would be thought up by human beings because it's so repulsive to human beings. So, why?

Well, of course, we believe in Hell because it's in the Bible. "No, it's not!" some will immediately object. Sorry. It is. Jesus (yes, that Jesus ... the One whose title, Christ, adorns our faith) spoke of the eternity of torment (e.g., Matt 13:41-42, 49-50; Mark 9:43, 48-49; Matt 22:13; Matt 8:12; Matt 25:46). Other texts do as well (e.g., Rev 14:9-11; 19:3). Dance around it if you will, but it's still there -- "eternal" and "torment." If we strip that out, there's very little we can't strip out of whatever Jesus might have said ... or the rest of the Scriptures. "It doesn't mean that ... because I don't like it or I don't understand it."

So, how can that be fair? How can that be just? In what possible sense can we consider it correct that someone who spent a lifetime of sinning would need to spend an eternity of paying for it? For reasons I can't quite fathom, most people seem to think in terms of time here. "It's such a short time to be sinning compared the eternity of punishment." Of course, no one actually sees justice that way. If we did, we'd protest life imprisonment for murderers. "Well, it only took him two minutes to kill that guy, so he shouldn't do more than two minutes in prison." No! That's not how it works ... anywhere. We humans understand that the punishment must fit the crime, not the time. Stealing a candy from the local store is not the same magnitude of a crime as murder with malice aforethought. We get that. So what about sin? Scripture isn't vague. Sin is against God (Psa 51:4). Sin is a violation of God's glory (Rom 3:23). Sin isn't merely breaking the rules; it is an attempt to overthrow God (Gen 3:5; Isa 14:14). Sin is idolatry, replacing God with something less -- generally ourselves in the final analysis. When we transgress the Ultimate Being, it is the ultimate crime. When we violate an Eternal Being, the penalty is likely to be eternal. Not because it took us an eternity to do it, but because of the magnitude of the violation.

Here's the funny thing. If you are one that believes in the biblical concept of Hell, you're likely going to nod your head and say, "Yep, that's right." Maybe you'll say, "Hey, I never saw it that way. That helps me understand a little better." All well and good. But I'm pretty sure that if you are one that does not believe in the biblical concept of Hell, showing you biblical reasons to believe it won't make a dent. I'm pretty sure that you'll be outraged that anyone would stand on mere Scripture for such an unjust thing while you offer no Scripture in response or give an answer to the ones I've given (and there are more). "The Bible never talks about Hell" is a common objection to Hell without actually addressing the fact that it does. I guess that just goes to show that Jesus was right (John 10:16, 27). No, we humans are not comfortable with Hell, but the humans who are listening to Scripture still have to accept that it's a reality. And a very good motivation to give the gospel to as many as possible so others can avoid it.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

If It Is Your Will

A friend of mine berated me for praying, "if it is Your will." "You have to have faith," he told me. "That's just a cop out." Truthfully, I suppose we often use it that way. Like, "This prayer is really big and perhaps radical. I'm not sure I have enough faith for this" or "I'm not sure I am confident enough to know God's will here" or "I don't even know what I want to pray here." So we don't do the hard work -- the believing, the discovery, the examination.

That, however, is not always the case. The best place to go to find out is, of course, Scripture. And more than once Jesus prayed this way. Teaching His disciples how to pray, He included, "Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." (Matt 6:10) Clearly Jesus had sufficient faith, confidence in God, and the proper prayers. This wasn't a cop out. Most notably He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, "Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will." (Mark 14:36)

Cop out? No! Jesus was facing the ultimate sacrifice at this point and He knew it. He made His request known -- "remove this cup from Me" -- not out of a lack of faith or a lack of clarity, but out of a heart speaking to His "Abba," His Father. His final statement wasn't a cop out. It was an agreement, a submission, a surrender. "Yet not what I will, but what You will." If "Remove this cup from Me" was His heart speaking to His Father, so was "What You will." "Father, I want this, but more than that I want Your will."

The prayer for the will of God need not be a dodge, a cop out, a failure to pray properly. Jesus taught it. Jesus practiced it. And asking that God's will be done ought, actually, to be at the heart of all our prayers. "This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us." (1 John 5:14) If He is our first love, asking Him to do His will in all situations reminds us that we don't know how to pray (Rom 8:26). It puts His will at the forefront and ought to be our pleasure and our passion, a sweet surrender of our lesser desires.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

News Weakly - 8/15/20

Slippery Slope Fallacy, Meet Reality
"Don't let those college players get paid for this," they cried. "The next thing you know they'll want a players' union and minimum wage and ..." "Slippery slope fallacy," was the reply. So the report is out that college players are calling for ... you guessed it ... a players' union. It's not a fallacy if it actually happens.

Government Sucks
This is amazing. After that nightmarish explosion in Beirut, the entire government resigned. Gone. It's what's called a "vacuum," and, as we all know, vacuums suck. (That's a pun, in case you weren't sure.) Some might wonder if the same sort of thing would be good or bad for America.

Changed Hearts, Changed Minds
They released the full body cam video of the police encounter with George Floyd. It shows a man resisting arrest. It does not exonerate the officer that killed him by kneeling on his neck. It does call into question 1) the level of murder this rises to and 2) the allegation that it was racism -- a hate crime. Does it change anyone's mind? I'd bet that's a largely "no" answer, because regardless of your view on this, it was predetermined by your heart before it ever was examined by your mind.

The Real Story
First, there was a riot in Chicago because police, responding to a call about someone with a gun, were shot at and returned fire. In the riot, officers were injured and more than 100 rioters were arrested. Then there was a rally for the police arrested because the argument is that looting is right and reasonable. "Our futures have been looted from us," one sign read. "Loot back." "'I don’t care if someone decides to loot a Gucci or a Macy's or a Nike store, because that makes sure that person eats,' Ariel Atkins, a BLM organizer, said. 'That makes sure that person has clothes.'" "'That is reparations,' Atkins said." The real story is many in the movement want to fight offense with crime; the ends justify the means.

Only the Name is News
I think we all knew Biden would select a black woman for his running mate. In that sense, his selection of Kamala Harris is not news. If Biden's camp had drawn up a list of potential running mates using an intersectionality chart, I don't think he could have found a candidate with much more intersection. She's black and Asian, female and Californian. Lots of intersectional oppression there. And while Biden is largely center in his political stance, she's not. She favors single-payer healthcare and killing babies in the womb, favors federal legalization of marijuana and prostitution, and favors reparations for black people. Harris was part of the group of lawmakers that introduced a $10 trillion plan to address climate change and, more recently, favored an aid package that would have increased the $4 trillion coronavirus aid package, giving $2,000 a month to all adults and dependents. She favors a law that makes it a crime for parents to have children who are truant and, on the other hand, free college for all. Oh, and, of course, she has stated that entering the country illegally is not a crime. If Biden is center, Harris is left.

Peace that Passes Understanding
If Islam is the "religion of peace," it sure looks odd this week. Someone posted something in India on Facebook perceived as offensive to Muslims and the rioting began, including rocks, burned cars, and a torched police station. Christians aren't always what they ought to be, but I can't think of anything that would cause a violent riot among Christians because of an insult to the faith. We are promised a "peace that passes understanding," which is not this kind of unfathomable version of "peace."

Dear Mr. Trump,
Stop, please, just stop. I've been voting by mail for 15 years. If there was any surprises in that time, it was your election. Opposing mail-in voting appears to me to be sheer conspiracy-theory thinking on a grand scale. And then to request a mail-in ballot so you can vote? That's a deeply double standard, isn't it? I'd prefer to have a president that doesn't fall for those kinds of shenanigans. Terminating the mail service so you can have your way with mail-in voting is just as offensive to me as all those protesters that block roads and upset the general public for their personal causes. It's counterproductive and childish. Stop it, please. Be a man, just this once.

Do and Die
The coronavirus crisis is bad for our health. The CDC says so. No, not in the obvious way. It is the prevention that is hurting us. CDC researchers found that serious depression, mental health problems, thoughts of suicide, anxiety disorders, and drug and alcohol use are up significantly. Oh, and it's worst among the younger generation and Black Americans and Hispanics as well as those most likely to have adverse economic impact. Among health workers 21% are experiencing these effects. Coronavirus is killing us, and it's not all the disease; some is the panic required by leadership. When is the cure worse than the disease?

Scary Humor
I didn't want to, but I had to laugh at the headline: "Biden: 'A Black Woman Will Become President Over My Dead Body'." Funny and terrifying all at once.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Learned His Lesson Well

I've been in 1 Peter recently as well as John and I thought it was interesting. In the upper room with Jesus (John 13-17) He tells His disciples a lot of stuff. One thing He makes clear: "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you." (John 15:19) Well, now, that's kind of ominous. Peter was there; he heard that.

But wait! The Sermon on the Mount was taught primarily to Jesus's disciples. "When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them ..." (Matt 5:1-2) Right there, at the beginning of the sermon, Jesus walks through the famous Beatitudes. The last one goes something like this.
"Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:11-12)
So, if "The world hates you" was ominous, the promise that we are blessed if we are insulted for the sake of Christ seems the opposite. And, again, Peter was listening.

How do I know?

Peter echoes these very same concepts in his first epistle. "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you, " (1 Peter 4:12) he begins. He goes on to say, "If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you." (1 Peter 4:14) See? Right out of the Sermon on the Mount. Right out of the upper room dialog.

Peter really nails it down here. "Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right." (1 Peter 4:19) Did you catch that? We like to think that if we're in Christ, everything will be peachy. And we're sometimes a bit miffed when it isn't. I heard someone say to a fellow believer once, "I know God didn't mean any of those bad things to happen to you." Really? Peter didn't. Peter actually believed that we "suffer according to the will of God."

So, it turns out, we should expect suffering if we're believers. It is God's will at times. But not to worry. We are blessed when that happens. Good news. If, when our current culture is berating our beliefs, it looks like you're complaining, check yourself. It is a guarantee from Christ. It is for your blessing. And you should rejoice (1 Peter 4:13). I know; it ruins the "victim card" we might like to play, but, trust me, this is much better.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Problem of Justice

The current state of affairs in our country these days is largely outrage over injustice. Even the NBA has become a platform for "social justice reform." And no one in their right mind would (or should) say, "I'm opposed to justice!!!" So ... clearly we should all be on board with this, right?


You see, like in so many other cases these days, we're all calling for the same thing -- "marriage equality," or "love," or "equal rights," or, in this case, "justice" -- while the terms turn to mush under our feet. We all favor justice, perhaps, but what do we mean by the term? Scripture says that God is just. What does it mean by the term? You see? If we're all in favor of justice and Christians believe that God is just, then we must be saying that God is in favor of the Black Lives Matter movement, right? Right? And suddenly definitions, again, become important.

Justice, in its most basic form, is the quality of being right. In the Bible, they use "just" and "righteous" -- justice and righteousness -- as synonyms. In English, justice can be defined as "moral rightness." Other aspects include "administering deserved punishment or reward," "equitableness," or "fairness."

So, what's the problem? Well, if "justice" is "that which is right," who gets to determine what is right? In our nation we've rejected God as the one who determines right and we've substituted the loudest, most outraged voices. It is mandatory in our society today that you agree that "whatever we say is right is right" if you are going to be classified as loving "justice." In other views justice is about personal freedom or about fairness, but in our current crisis it's entirely about power. Who has it? "We don't, and we should!" Based on what? Who gets to decide? On what basis? It is entirely subjective -- no foundation, no objective reality, no conformity to a solid core. I'm not saying we disagree, necessarily; we just don't know how we got here when we do.

For instance, "justice" for the Black Lives Matter movement (I differentiate between the principle that black lives do indeed matter and the BLM movement -- the two are not the same thing.) is the dissolution of the police, the disruption of the nuclear family, and a Marxist form of government. "No justice, no peace!" Wait ... is that the "justice" we're crying for? "We embody and practice justice, liberation, and peace," they say on their website, which sounds strange in the ears of those watching the riots on TV and wonder how burning cars and buildings qualifies as any of those three things.

Here's the basic problem of justice, then. Justice is "rightness." We have discarded any objective "rightness" and are now substituting whatever we currently feel is "right" and then demanding that everyone concurs. Having properly and completely dismantled "justice," we can now use it as a baseball bat to club people over the head with because they don't agree with our version of "justice" even though it's only our version. This is a real problem, a solution for which doesn't exist in our world untethered from any solid reality. Of course, I believe there is solid reality and I believe there is objective truth and objective morality -- objective "rightness." But the rest of our culture is stuck in an untenable position and is angry about those who disagree.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Planning to Fail?

This is odd. If you look at multiple people that God used in Scripture, you'll find that the plan was ... to fail. Take, for instance, Isaiah. After his encounter with God (Isa 6:1-7), God calls him to "go for Us" (Isa 6:8). And he volunteers. God tells him to tell the people to "Keep on listening, but do not perceive ..." (Isa 6:9) Isaiah (rightly, I think) asks, "Lord, how long?" (Isa 6:11). And God says, "Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant." Wait ... hang on a minute. Let's see if we got this right. The plan is to have Isaiah take God's word to the people until they refuse to listen and end up in annihilation. That is the plan? Yes, it was.

Take Jeremiah. God told Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations." (Jer 1:5) No question about his calling, is there? And what was Jeremiah's job? His job (like so many of the Prophets) was to proclaim repentance and judgment knowing full well that Jerusalem and Judah faced certain annihilation (Jer 1:15-16). Again, what was that? The plan is for Jeremiah to fail to turn Israel? Yes ... yes it was.

Just two examples. I think if you look at most of the Prophets, you'll find the same story. Their job was not to change people; their job was to tell people. In almost every case, they would do their job -- warn people of God's judgment -- and the hearers would not only refuse to repent, but would torment the messengers. The predictions of doom and gloom came true over and over.

This is not "success" in our book. This is not "the plan." The plan is clearly that, say, pastors would have a successful church with lots of people coming to the Lord and lots of people serving God as a result. Not this. The plan is that believers would go and make disciples and be so inundated with them that they hardly have time for anything else. Not this. You get the idea. And I would suggest that maybe -- just maybe -- we're a little turned around, because it looks like God's version of "success" and ours are not the same. Sometimes His version looks like failure to us. It is obviously not. So maybe we might want to be more careful when we try to assign our "success" plans to God's plans. His version might be different than ours. But it's always the best one.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020


You know how magic tricks work, right? The magician distracts you. He gets you to look away from what he's doing while he manipulates your perceptions. It works.

Satan, of course, is a genius at this. Well, he would be, wouldn't he? You know, "the father of lies." So he has a conversation with Eve in which he starts talking about "Did God actually say ...?" (Gen 3:1) and then moves on to, "You won't surely die" (Gen 3:4) followed by "You will be like God!" (Gen 3:5) And Eve is left looking at ... what? Where is Eve's attention after this conversation with the father of lies? Is she looking at what God said? Is she looking at the truth? Not at all! "The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise." (Gen 3:6) Distraction.

We live in a full-court press of distraction these days. We have "marriage" issues and "LGBTQ" issues and "church and state" issues. We have COVID hysteria and a BLM movement rolling along that undercuts police and government and family. We're under extreme political pressures and extreme economic pressures and extreme ideological pressures. If there is any such thing as distraction, we're living in a world of it right now. Not just everyday kind of distractions, either. I mean, really, really big distractions.

There was a famous biblical character that encountered colossal distraction that almost killed him. You know the story. Jesus had just fed the 5,000+ (Matt 14:14-21). He went to pray while His disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee (Matt 14:22-23). A storm came up, so Jesus took a stroll out to the struggling fishermen (Matt 14:24-25). When they saw Him, they were scared, but He told them not to be afraid (Matt 14:26-27). Peter was remarkable. "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." (Matt 14:28) And Jesus did. So Peter walked on the water (Matt 14:29). Astounding! Amazing! I mean, what could be a more vivid illustration of following Christ? Why is it, then, that Peter is more remembered as rash than remarkable? "When he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!'" (Matt 14:30) Distraction. Really big distraction. Super-storm-level distraction.

Jesus saved him, of course (Matt 14:31-32), but this is a good example of what you and I are enduring these days. We're urged to "take heart" and we're commanded to follow Jesus and we really want to, but there's this whole "perfect storm" thing going on. A society increasingly opposed to biblical faith, a pandemic, a nationwide protest on racial issues, an ugly political year, and a massive economical downturn and on and on and on. Our own super-storm. And we look away. We look at the storm. We don't look to Jesus. "O you of little faith," Jesus asked Peter, "why did you doubt?" He asks us the same.

Our world is buying the distraction. They're largely fine with the regulation and the destruction and the politics and the whole thing. They make their decisions on the storm rather than on anything reliable. So violent is this storm that the truth is hard to find at all. But that doesn't have to be our plight, does it? We have a Savior who walks on water and calms storms with a word. Shouldn't we be looking to Him instead?

Monday, August 10, 2020


I think we've thoroughly bought the lie. Perhaps it's the whole "People are basically good" thing that's messing us up. It can't be because we're clear thinking people ... because we're not.

What lie am I talking about? "Better laws make a better world." So we pass gun legislation and police legislation and voting laws and more and more rules so that people will be better people and our society can be a better society. Now, I could go through the effects of "better laws" we've seen that have not resulted in a better world, but, as you all know, my starting place is Scripture, so let's try that one on for size.

Here's what our Bibles tell us. "By works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." (Rom 3:20) Isn't that interesting? According to this text (and others), the purpose of the law is not to make a better world, but to ... describe sin, so to speak. Paul wrote, "What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead." (Rom 7:7-8) In essence, then, God laid down "the perfect law" (Psa 19:7; James 1:25). Not a "better law," but the best. But God's goal was not to make the best world; God's goal was to tell His creation what sin was. Without that law, we wouldn't know the standard so we wouldn't know if or when we transgressed the standard.

A couple of observations at this point. First, since God made laws, we must agree that, in principle, laws are good and right (as long as, you know, the law in question is good and right). I'm not suggesting that we should be lawless. We need and should have laws. Second, making laws that are not enforced is stupid ... but we do it all the time ... which suggests we, as a society, can be stupid. No, we need laws. They ought to be good laws and they ought to be enforced.

So what's my point? We need laws, but it's unwise to expect laws to make a better world. You can't expect better gun laws to make people better gun people. You can't expect better police laws to make police better. Better rules don't make better people; better people make better people. If God's "perfect law" made no one perfect, it would stand to reason that our best laws, imperfect as we admit them to be, will not make people better either. So we need laws, but we need more urgently to have better people. That only occurs in changed hearts. Christians, our failure to share Christ with people -- our lack of obedience to Christ's command to make disciples -- has made America a mission field like never before. Christians, we need to get to work on obeying the Laws (Matt 22:38-40; Matt 28:18-20). Because better laws don't make a better nation; better people do. And we know Who can accomplish that.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Closed Communion

Last week I used an event with our new pastor to illustrate what I consider to be a problem -- making rules. You remember. He instituted a shift from "open communion" to "closed communion." So I got to thinking about the principles and thought I should examine it. I mean, in context of making rules, if "closed communion" really is what Scripture means to say, then it's not "making rules" -- it's God's command. So I need to take a look and see about it.

Now, for those not fully familiar with the terms, let me give a brief explanation. The question here is "Who can take Communion? Who can participate in the Lord's Supper?" Both closed and open versions have their own version subsets. For closed communion, it might be 1) only members in good standing of this local body, 2) only members in good standing of this denomination or class (like "baptized evangelicals"), or 3) only members in good standing of some congregation. (That last one is sometimes referred to as "close communion.") For open communion, it is generally only believers with the further stipulation, "It's your responsibility that you are not taking the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner." A second and less common version would be anyone can participate without distinction or qualification. There are certainly some agreements from all sides on the question. First, Communion is for believers and not unbelievers. (So that last group of "anyone without distinction or qualification" does have distinction or qualification; they just leave it up to the individual to determine if he meets them.) The other is that Communion must not be taken lightly. That much is clear.

So, what's it all about? What is the text in question?
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. (1 Cor 11:23-31)
I highlighted the key part, but the whole text is necessary to understand the point and the context. As the story goes (1 Cor 11:17-22), the Corinthian Christians were meeting for "the Lord's Supper" but were actually eating and drinking and getting drunk. (It was more of a "love feast" rather than today's version.) "In this," Paul says, "I will not praise you." (1 Cor 11:22) So he explained the Lord's Supper as he received it and passed it on with the clear explanation, "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." (1 Cor 11:26) The Corinthians weren't doing that. They were taking it "in an unworthy manner" (1 Cor 11:27) to the point that some of them were "weak and sick, and a number sleep" (1 Cor 11:30), meaning some had died. This, then, was a serious problem. Paul's essential solution is highlighted: "A man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup." (1 Cor 11:28)

So let's reapply that to the question of "open" or "closed communion." Which does this text call for? The "Closed Communion" folk would say closed communion, obviously. "This is serious. We don't want people, believers or not, taking the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner. We need to be responsible shepherds and insure that no one does that. We need to hold our people accountable." That's what they say and I'm sure it's true ... to a point. But the text says that each person must examine himself. It does not say the church leadership does that. Now, it is true that the local body is responsible to hold the local body accountable as believers and followers of Christ (e.g., Rom 16:17-18; 1 Cor 5:6-8; 2 Thess 3:16; 2 Thess 3:14-15) and I will even stipulate that we don't do that very well in most cases. I'm not suggesting that the local faith family is not responsible for that. But it appears according to the text in question that this particular point -- participating in the Lord's Supper with the local body of believers -- is a matter of individual concern and responsibility. Yes, the leadership must keep track of its people and be responsible for them, but in this case Paul appears to call the individual and not the church leadership to "examine himself."

Let's be clear. The Lord's Supper is important. It is a communion of saints with the body and blood of Christ. It declares His death until He comes. Vital! The Lord's Supper is so important that the Scriptures say taking it in an unworthy manner can be harmful, even fatal. Surely we can all see the gravity of this. That is not in question and those who argue that it's "just a symbol" and take it lightly are absolutely missing the point. I'm agreeing with all of that. Where I fall short here is with those who argue that the responsibility for insuring that fellow believers don't take it in an unworthy manner is on the leadership of the local fellowship. I just don't find it in the text. Perhaps we're making the Lord's Supper too solemn by harping on "Take some time to confess your sins" to the exclusion of "This is a celebration of Christ's sacrifice on our behalf." Perhaps we're not stressing enough that it is more important than, frankly, most of us realize. I'm not suggesting we're doing everything right here. I'm just questioning the idea that the local church leadership should decide who takes Communion. (And, in my experience, those that do believe that are pretty lax about enforcing it, leaving it, in the end, to the individual to decide if they meet the closed communion guidelines. But, hey, that's just me.)

Saturday, August 08, 2020

News Weakly - 8/8/20

Has It Come to This?
Miami Heat center Meyers Patrick made news Saturday because he stood for the national anthem. Radical. Bigger news, to me, is that "the NBAPA negotiated that the games will be used as platforms to promote social justice activism with phrases on jerseys, 'Black Lives Matter' t-shirts, and the same slogan written on the court." The agreement was a prerequisite to agreeing to play. Because, as we all know, if you were to pick the best platform to showcase the mistreatment and abuse of African Americans, it would be the NBA, and if the NBA is about anything, it's about "social justice activism."

The headline reads, "Trump appointee Merritt Corrigan fired from USAID amid anti-LGBTQ tweets." According to the story, Corrigan was fired because she tweeted "anti-LGBT" statements like "Gay marriage isn’t marriage" and "Men aren't women." Corrigan believes she was fired "for my Christian beliefs." This "anti-LGBT" tag is misleading, intentionally so. The media spin uses it all the time when someone disagrees with this behavior or that position -- well, anything regarding LGBT politics or principles. But to oppose politics or principles is not necessarily to oppose people. First, not all LGBT agree with those politics or principles. Second, if it is opposition to LGBT people, then the media's constant reporting of "anti-LGBT" statements like these is "anti-Christian," and they won't admit to that, will they? So it's a spin, not a fact. Just like the anti-Trump shading in the headline.

Beyond Reproach
There is a famous verse in the King James Bible that says, "Abstain from all appearance of evil." (1 Thess 5:22) I have long contended it's not possible. It is not possible because someone somewhere will think that anything you do is evil somehow. Our current society seems to be proving my point. When Audi released an ad for their Audi RS 4, they used a picture of a little girl eating a banana in front of their care with the line, "Lets your heart beat faster - in every aspect." No appearance of evil. Except the Twittersphere erupted with outrage that the girl is likely to get run over, that she's being sexualized holding a phallic symbol, that Audi doesn't care about children ... no end of nonsense. If you live in today's world and Twitter hears about it, you will have the appearance of evil to someone. Enough that Audi pulled the ad and apologized. No such thing as "beyond reproach."

Racists Encounter Justice
Two obvious racists ran headlong into justice this week when the husband of Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey was charged with pointing a gun at pre-dawn BLM protesters banging on their door. He counters that he feared for her life because she had received death threats because she had failed to prosecute some police brutality cases. DA Lacey will face her own justice as the arrest of her husband will surely affect her race for District Attorney. Clearly racist. Oh, did I fail to mention? Mr. and Mrs. Lacey are black.

Just the Facts, Ma'am
According to the story on BBC, in an interview reposted to Twitter, Trump said, "If you look at children, children are almost - and I would almost say definitely - almost immune from this disease." This is "harmful Covid misinformation" for which both Facebook and Twitter restricted his account. The BBC (rightly) points out that children are not immune, but then goes on to say that studies show that they make up "only 0.8%" of the cases ... or that they're not immune, but they're almost immune. (The story also points out that an earlier "tweet by entrepreneur Elon Musk suggesting children are 'essentially immune'" did not break the rules ... showing the complete consistency and fairness of Twitter and Facebook.) Since the story makes the claim that Trump did, the BBC has now censured themselves and will delete themselves from their news coverage.

Pardon Me; Your Bias is Showing
Here's the news item. Vice President Mike Pence commented on an interview with CBN that "Chief Justice John Roberts has been a disappointment to conservatives." He referenced several cases in which the "conservative" justice had ruled with the liberals. Okay, fine. But what I thought was interesting was the array of depictions from various outlets. Business Insider said, "Pence slams Supreme Court Chief Justice ..." Politico said, "Pence blasts Chief Justice ..." CBS news said, "Pence knocks Chief Justice ..." At Intelligencer he "goes after" Roberts and the Bipartisn Report said he "snaps" at him. Then there was Townhall who simply said he "says something about" him and lastly, USA Today who reported, "Vice President Mike Pence calls Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts 'a disappointment to conservatives'." That's an interesting array of spin, isn't it?

"No cops. No prisons. Total abolition"
That isn't opinion. That's the stated aim of the protesters in Portland. They want "total liberation." (Read "anarchy") Of course, all anarchy movements have leaders and, in the end, it's a different sort of tyranny. In this case, it will be the Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front that runs your life in Portland. Because, as we all know, youth leadership is the wisest and most benevolent leadership ... after, of course, they burn things to the ground.

COVID Marketing?
This is a little creepy. Yale University apparently has been doing a study for the NIH to determine the best approach to convince people to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. Approaches vary, including personal freedom, self-interest, guilt, embarrassment, and "Trust in science." Apparently they believe they'll have to manipulate people to do it instead of just require it like masks and social distancing. Who would have thought America was that free anymore?

Headline News
The Babylon Bee is at it again ... or still. For Christians, you might like, "Outraged Governor Newsom Orders Furnace To Be Heated Seven Times If John MacArthur Will Not Bow Down And Worship Him" or "Bible Briefly Consulted To See If It Supports Already-Formed Opinion." On politics we have, "Veteran Mailman Phil R.E. Quinton Volunteers To Collect All The Mail-In Votes." Oh, and a subtler-but-funny zinger, "Biden Campaign Says He Is So Close To A VP Pick He Can Smell Her."

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.