Thursday, March 23, 2017

Ephesians 5 Marriage and Divorce

Okay, so it's somewhat of a large passage. But it's necessary, so I'll put it down here and then refer to it as we go:
17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is Himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Eph 5:17-33)
Ephesians 5 is famous for what it says to married couples. Or should I say "infamous"? Truth be told, a lot of people, even Christians, don't much like it. All that "wives submit" stuff and all. Gotta do something different, right? Well, in fact, we don't get that option if we're going to be true to the Word of God. We need to stick with what He says. My point here, however, is not to repeat the very clear commands of God that wives submit to their husbands and husbands love their wives as themselves. I mean, it's abundantly clear, even if you don't like it. You'll have to decide whether you're going to classify your feelings and preferences as right ... or God. My consideration here is the question of divorce in light of the text.

Now, to be sure, divorce is not mentioned here. You won't likely hear a preacher come to this text to talk about it, for or against. It's just not in here. I, however, would like to consider divorce from the perspective of what Ephesians 5 says here on marriage. Note, first, the aim of the text: "Understand what the will of the Lord is." Now, all Christians want that, right? So let's go there.

Paul here gives the famous "do not get drunk with wine ... but be filled with the Spirit" line. This, then, ought to be our starting point. We aren't reveling in our personal passions; we're operating on the Spirit. And what first do we know about the Spirit-filled life? "Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit." (Rom 8:5) "Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh." (Gal 5:16) So, "flesh" and "Spirit" are opposed and those who live by the Spirit aren't fulfilling the sinful desires of the flesh. Got it. That's how we get to the command that we should be "submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ."

This brings us to the upsetting text. On one hand we have, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord." Many people (especially of the female persuasion) don't like that one. Somewhere along the way "submit" became a bad word. It is, of course, biblical (e.g., 1 Cor 14:34; 2 Cor 9:13; Heb 13:17; James 4:7; etc.), but that doesn't seem to help. Jesus submitted Himself to the Father, but that's Him, not us. So "submit" is bad and "wives submit to their husbands" is really bad; somewhat sexist, isn't it? "Me? Submit to him? Not likely." The other "offense" doesn't seem to be quite as offensive: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church." "That seems reasonable," most wives will say, even when you point out that Christ loved the church to His own death. At that point, however, most guys balk. "Wait ... that sounds a lot like submitting my own interests to taking care of her over myself." And we're stuck again with an unpleasant idea. So let me point out, regardless of how you feel about it, it's in there. It's biblical. These are the commands of God. Like them or don't, obey them or not, you will be doing so to God.

So, what do we see regarding marriage in this text? We see that wives are to submit to husbands as to the Lord. How does that work? Do we submit to the Lord as long as we like what He says and stop when we don't? Do we submit when it's comfortable and not when it's uncomfortable? Wives are commanded to respect their husbands (which, by the way, includes the same sense of "fear" that the Bible commands all believers to have toward God). Do we respect (fear) God only when He earns our respect and not when He doesn't do what we want? Clearly, no, in all cases. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. How is that? Well, when everyone was in rebellion ("while we were yet sinners") He died for us. That is, it isn't merely doing what's best for us in a friendly situation. Christ died for a Church that was, at the time, hating Him. That is the kind of love husbands are supposed to have for their wives. Paul also describes it as "husbands should love their wives as their own bodies." This isn't a part time or variable. It is without reserve. That is, it is a form of submission on the part of the husband where his personal comfort and preferences are secondary to the needs of his wife.

And how is this related to divorce? When the Jews asked Jesus, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" His reply was not ambiguous. He answered, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." (Matt 19:4-6) Short version: "Is there any reason one can divorce one's wife?" "No." Now, that is a shorthand "no", but when you consider what is commanded of a wife to submit to her husband as to the Lord and what is commanded of a husband to love his wife as Christ loved the Church, on what possible basis can you come up with a "yes" answer to their question? How would divorce fit into that submission of wife to the Lord and that love of husband as Christ loved the Church? When don't we submit to the Lord? When does Christ stop loving the Church? When, then, do we get to give up our marriage?

Now, sure, there are situations, instances, events, things that might make for exceptions. I'm not writing here about exceptions. I'm writing here about the rule of thumb. I'm writing here about the vast majority of Christians who are married. Given the relationship commanded by God in this passage of wives to husbands and husbands to wives, surely you can agree that divorce among Christians ought to be a rarity rather than a common occurrence. If this is true and our experience does not bear this out, where is the problem? It is not in the marriage. It is in our failure to obey Christ. And that's not something we should tolerate in ourselves.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What's Wrong?

If you have any close relationship with anyone, I'm fairly certain you've encountered this kind of interaction. You see evidence of a "disturbance in the force", so to speak. They seem upset, maybe uncomfortable, something. So, caring as you do, you ask, "What's wrong?" They reply, sometimes irritably, "Nothing." And we have what appears to be the "theme song" of our society.

"What's wrong?" "Nothing." Nothing is wrong. Can a mother kill her baby in the womb? Absolutely, if she wants to. She is actually applauded for her choice. Is it wrong to release secrets about our government to the public? Not at all. Those who do it are heroes. Is it wrong to violate the law ... say, speed limits or crosswalk rules or the like? Certainly not. If you can get away with it, it's great. If not, complain. "What's wrong?" "Nothing."

To be fair, our society does still consider some things wrong. There is the obvious "intolerance" which is defined as "not agreeing with me on what I consider good" and "hate" which is defined as "not agreeing with me on what I consider good." Someone who fears for the eternal well-being of a person who is described in 1 Cor 6:9-10 is functioning in hate, not love. That's bad -- wrong. Believing the Bible over current popular opinion is wrong ... clearly wrong. Do you question the theory of Evolution? Yeah, likely bad -- wrong. So there are things that are wrong. It's just that they're variable and without any solid basis. Nothing objectively wrong.

Atheists worth their salt admit it. Richard Dawkins argues, "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference." Oscar Wilde said, "Nothing is good or bad, only charming or dull." Bertrand Russell wrote, "Outside human desires there is no moral standard."

"What's wrong?" "Nothing." Seems to me that, to a very large part, our society is embracing that view. Maybe it's just, "Nothing that used to be wrong."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Have We Trials and Temptations?

I'm currently in Matthew. I just finished the fourth chapter. I was interested to read the first verse of that chapter.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matt 4:1)
Did you catch that? Jesus was led by the Spirit. Good. He was led into the wilderness. Okay, fine. He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Oh, wait! The purpose of the Spirit in leading Him into the wilderness was temptation. Is that right?

Well, it's in there, so it must be. Apparently, temptation is not bad. Giving in to it is. So how could it be good for the Spirit to lead Him into the wilderness to be tempted?

In Hebrews we read, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Heb 4:15) Was He actually tempted in every respect as we are? I think so. John describes "all that is in the world" that is "not from the Father, but is from the world" -- "the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life." (1 John 2:16) So we have a list. In His temptations Jesus encountered "the desires of the flesh" when the tempter told Him "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." (Matt 4:3-4) Now, what's so wrong about that? Why not? Jesus wasn't offering a judgment against eating. He was rebuking "the desires of the flesh" because they were offered by the tempter and not God. He encountered the "pride of life" when the devil took Him to the top of the temple and suggested He demonstrate His standing as the Son of God by jumping and having the angels protect Him (Matt 4:5-7). Was He not the Son of God? Did He not wish to demonstrate that He was? Of course He was the Son of God and He did miracles to demonstrate it, but this was a temptation to pride rather than submitting to the Father. He was tempted with the "desires of the eyes" when Satan showed Him the kingdoms of the world "and their glory" and offered them to Him if He would bow to him (Matt 4:8-10). In truth, Christ was to rule the kingdoms of the world, so it wasn't that rulership that was questionable; it was the method.

Christ pushed back in all cases with properly applied Scripture. In the end, "the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him." (Matt 4:11) In the end He was "without sin". But He did indeed endure all the temptations we do. As such, we have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. And that is a good thing. So when the Spirit led Him into the wilderness to be tempted, I would say that it was a good thing. And when we are led into trials and temptations, do we conclude the same thing?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Entertainment Outrage

So, Disney's live action Beauty and the Beast is released with its gay agenda. No, not some sneaky "make your kids gay" plan. Just make it feel "normal". And lots of people are up in arms. Russia was thinking about banning it. Disney rescinded the release in Malaysia. Lots of Christians are upset because it's got that whole "gay" thing going on. Like they're surprised.

Me? I'm baffled. Oh, not with Disney; with Christians. What did we expect? Did we think that the world would provide us with wholesome entertainment in their constant drive to feed the lusts of the society they're producing entertainment for? Is it because they've produced so much quality, wholesome entertainment that we might be shocked at this one? Is it because the nation that is producing it is so moral that it's a surprise? Is it that we think that we are owed "wholesome entertainment", at least from the likes of a "Disney"?

Brothers and sisters, we fool ourselves if we expect something different. Hollywood has smuggled smut and sin into your entertainment from the beginning. Oh, sure, early censors tried to catch it and filter it, but not much anymore. And what you deem "normal" today is far from "wholesome". To me, it's a good thing. Wake up, American Christians. Do not expect the world to be your friend, to share your values, to cater to your idea of wholesome ... entertainment or anything else. We have, for far too long, taken our families to see things in direct contradiction to the Word of God and His standards. Way back at Bambi where they declared "Man" the enemy up through the rewrite of history that they called "Pocahontas" and on into their TV shows such as The Fosters, a family drama series where a lesbian couple raises a multi-ethnic blended family, and Baby Daddy about a man in his twenties who is surprised when a one-night stand lands a baby on his doorstep, "wholesome entertainment" has been leaking away from Disney and its "ABC Family" enterprise. And they're just the tip of the iceberg.

Wake up, Christians. We are not called to have "wholesome entertainment". We are called to make disciples. We are not called to complain about the sins of the world. We're called to preach the Good News. We are not called to be friends with the world. We're told the world will hate us. What will it take to wake us up to the fact that "all that is in the world -- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life -- is not from the Father but is from the world" (1 John 2:16)? We are commanded to teach our children, to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4). Nowhere have I found the command, "Be sure your kids get wholesome movies." I'm pretty sure that's not in there.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Your Father in Heaven Knows

CHICAGO - An Oak Park father of three was charged with eight counts of child neglect in Cook County Circuit Court after DCFS was called to check on his children. The report was that they were sickly, poorly clothed, poorly fed, poorly monitored and not attending school. The floors were covered with garbage and feces. The toilet was backed up, causing further damage. There was plenty of food in the house, but the children were emaciated.

When questioned by the prosecutor, the father said that he had worked hard to provide them with clothing, food, and education. He had given them warm clothing for the winters and plenty of food at meals. He had told them to go to school and offered to drive them. However, in all cases, the children had refused, preferring instead to wear their worn out clothes and eat junk instead while consistently refusing to attend classes. They made messes and wouldn't clean up no matter what he told them. They stuffed rags in the toilet. "What could I do?" the father asked the judge. "I did all I could, but I had to honor their free will."

The case was thrown out and the father was applauded for offering them all the best while holding their free will in highest esteem. He was commended by the judge and the mayor's office is planning to award a medal for this father's self-sacrifice.
________

Nonsense? Absolutely. "Fake news". Well, more like a parable. Because to hear people talk about how God supposedly treats His children, you'd think it should be the case. God will not intervene in the free will of His creatures, and if He does, He's wrong. We like this notion that God does not violate human free will.

This is why so many Christians protest the claim that "Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps." (Psa 135:6) We know that He can do all things and that no purpose of His can be thwarted (Job 42:2) unless that purpose is to change my choices. Nebuchadnezzar said, "All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, 'What have You done?'” (Dan 4:35) Nebuchadnezzar was wrong. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as invaluable and He does what He can with our choices so that we can and do often ask "What have You done?" God told Abimelech, "I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against Me. Therefore I did not let you touch her." (Gen 20:6) In fact, the Bible is full of passages claiming that God is not a non-intervention God (e.g., Isa 64:8; Prov 21:1; Prov 16:1,9; Prov 19:21; Jer 10:23; Lam 3:37-38; Rom 9:19; Acts 2:23; Acts 4:26-28; etc.)

Clearly human beings have free will. Clearly God allows us to use it ... a lot. But when we hold that He never alters human choices, how are we not applauding that father who allows his kids to live in filth and despair because he wished to honor their free will? I understand that we're trying to exonerate God for not fixing everything, but it seems to me that we're only causing a bigger problem by exonerating Him against His Word.

There is another issue here to me. It is rather important. I believe that the Bible teaches that those who belong to Christ will continue to belong to Christ until the end. On one hand, this is clearly a function of God's efforts (e.g., Phil 1:6; John 10:28-29; Jude 1:24-25, etc.). On the other hand, we are commanded to "work out your salvation" (Phil 2:12), so there is work on our part as well. So how is it that there can be any assurance of salvation in the end (1 John 5:13)? How can we know that once we are born again we can never again become "unborn"? It is this concept of God intervening in human free will. Scripture tells us that He has placed in us a new heart (Ezek 36:26) with a new nature (Rom 6:2). God says, "I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules." (Ezek 36:27) That is, this "new creation" that we have become (2 Cor 5:17) lacks the capacity to make a continual practice of sin (1 John 3:9) because God is at work in you "both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13) This is the certainty we have that all who come to Him will surely be His in the end.

Does God remove human free will? No, of course not. Does He ever intervene in human free will? While most of us would like to say He does not actually do that, I don't think it is supportable from Scripture. Nor would we applaud the father who treated his earthly children that way across the board. Sometimes love demands intervention. I, for one, am grateful.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

News Weakly - 3/18/2017

As Expected
So, we stop telling kids that ours is a great country and that they ought to be grateful and to honor our nation. Then we find out that "Millennials are making it difficult for the U.S. intelligence community to keep secrets." Huh. Who would have thought? General Hayden told the BBC, "This group of millennials and related groups simply have different understandings of the words loyalty, secrecy and transparency." Wait ... you mean to suggest that relativism in language, morality, and perception of reality has produced problems? How can that be? To which any thinking person would respond, "How could it not be?" In the vernacular of my day, "You gets what you pays for."

Just ... Odd
Republicans in Congress are working on a replacement for Obamacare that the CBO says will cause 24 million Americans to lose their health insurance. So how can that be if there are only "a total of 12.2 million Americans" enrolled in the plan? Obamacare forced people to be insured. Will this new plan force them not to be? It just seems odd.

Equal Opportunity
When "our guy" is blamed for events that occur, "we" will often say, "It's not his fault; it was the former administration" or something like it. When "their guy" gets credit for events that occur, "they" will often say, "That wasn't him; that was 'our guy'." So after an unexpectedly large increase in jobs in February, Trumps first month in office, will it be "our guy" did it or "their guy" did it? Will this be applied evenly? Or will it just turn out that no matter what happens good on Trump's watch, it will be bad. (Ironic, I think, that on the page where CNN Money had this article about improved job market and "Trump is on pace to fulfill that promise" to create 25 million jobs was a side story about how economic data is meaningless in the Trump era.)

WikiLeaks
WikiLeaks is keeping us up to date, releasing big secrets telling us how we can't trust our government and all that because ... well, you know, they have the goods on us and WikiLeaks is reliable. That's the same WikiLeaks of Julian Assange who promised to turn himself in to the U.S. government if Obama released Chelsea Manning. Obama did; Assange has not. Reliable as the day is long. And, yet, Americans are all abuzz about what we can learn from self-identified liars.

Unbanned Again
Trump's second travel ban (and if you're going to call it a "Muslim ban", you're going to have to do it against the fact that it included only some Muslim countries, making it the most bizarre "Muslim ban" of all time since it, you know, didn't ban Muslims, only some Muslims) has fallen flat again. I am neither surprised nor particularly concerned. What was a little surprising was that "Trump called the ruling an 'unprecedented judicial overreach'." Apparently the president is unaware that the Supreme Court legalized the murder of babies in 1973 and redefined marriage for all Americans in 2015, just a couple of examples of genuine "unprecedented judicial overreach". You'll have to get in line to make that call, Mr. President.

It Must Be True
Archaeologists have discovered a fragment from the book of Acts that has confirmed that during Peter's sermon at Pentecost a guitarist quietly picked a riff while Peter called for belief and repentance. It has to be true; I saw it on the Internet.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Saved for What? Part 2

We have the "why". We are saved by God to show His magnificent character. Now, what is entailed for us?

In the Old Testament God promised a coming day when His fundamental relationship with His people would change.
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules. (Ezek 36:25-27)
This appears to be an excellent description of what occurs in one who repents and believes. Jesus called it "born again" (John 3:3) and said this new birth is "of the Spirit" (John 3:5-6). Considering our old self, this is expected and necessary.

The Bible describes those who receive Christ as "children of God" (John 1:12), specially called to be conformed to the image of Christ "in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers." (Rom 8:28-29) We are part of the family of God.

Paul described believers as a "new creation" (Gal 6:15), something entirely new. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Cor 5:17) He speaks of "the renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Peter says we become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4).

The largest part of this whole thing is centered on the unique relationship with the Spirit. We are described as the temple of the Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), the place where He lives (Ezek 36:27; John 14:17; 2 Tim 1:14; Rom 8:11). Before this we were described as "in the flesh" and unable to please God (Rom 8:5-8); now we are indwelt by the Spirit (Rom 8:9-11). The Spirit living in the believer has multiple effects. Remember that God told Israel He would "cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules." So we are filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) wherein He leads us (Gal 5:18) in all truth (John 16:13; 1 Cor 2:12) and produces fruit in us (Eph 5:22-23). We are "caused" to "walk in My statutes" because we have the Spirit indwelling us, "both to will and to work for His good pleasure."

The Bible is quite clear that this "new creation", this "new birth", this "heart of flesh" produced by the indwelling of the Spirit cannot go unnoticed, so to speak. You can't become one with Christ and not change. James says that saving faith always produces works (James 2:14-26). Faith that produces no changed behavior is dead faith. But this new faith and the work of the Holy Spirit produces work. So Paul tells the Philippians, Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:12-13) We work, work hard, work with fear and trembling, because God is at work in us giving us both the will and the power to do what pleases Him. And this work is one of the things for which we were saved. "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:10)

One aspect of this salvation for the saved is assurance. John wrote his entire first epistle with this aim: "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:13) We can know. It isn't a question. It isn't elusive. Paul told the Philippians, "I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil 1:6) Jesus said, "I give them eternal life, 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. I and the Father are one." (John 10:28-30) There is no ambiguity in this text. "No one" does not include anyone at all. So while we have the Holy Spirit at work in us causing us to work out our salvation from our end, we have the absolute confidence that God "is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy ..." (Jude 1:24-25) Our confidence isn't in us, our faith, or our faithfulness; it is in Him. Consider this sequence of thoughts:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of Him. (1 John 5:1)

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-5)

"The one who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death." (Rev 2:11)
This leaves no room for error. Born of God -> overcomes -> no second death. No deviation. No question. Similar to Paul's chain. "Those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified." (Rom 8:30) From our perspective, there is work to do. From God's perspective, the answer is complete.

There are lots of benefits to the believer. We are one with God. We have a new heart. We are part of God's family. We are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We work to obey, but we work to obey because He works in us. We have complete confidence in His ability to carry us through. There is the absolute assurance that the day will come that we will cease from our labors and enter into His rest, united with Him. Saved for what? For His magnificent glory and our great benefit. The good news; the Gospel.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Saved to What? Part 1

I've been writing about the Gospel. What is it? What is required? Why is it even necessary? I've covered the problem of human nature -- sin that deserves God's wrath -- and the remedy of repent (turn away from sin and toward Christ) and believe, placing one's confidence in Christ to the point of a changed way of living. I've covered the aim of God in this process, the union of God and His people, a concept beyond human comprehension but of ultimate worth. And I told all of this in reverse, starting with the good news and working my way backward. Well, I now want to jump back to the other side of "saved". We've been sinners, recognized the problem, repented and believed, and are now counted among "the saved", those who are God's people. What is it all for? Why did God even allow for salvation? And what does it entail now?

We like to think that God has saved us because we're just so ... lovable, valuable, worth it, you know? How could He not? It just isn't so. He told Israel, "It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set His love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt." (Deut 7:7-8) It was not Israel's worth; it was God's love. When Israel was repenting for asking for a king (1 Sam 12:18-19), Samuel explained something critical to them. "For the LORD will not forsake His people, for His great name's sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for Himself." (1 Sam 12:22) It was for Himself, for His name's sake. When He was promising Israel that He would lead them out of their captivity, He said, "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD when through you I vindicate My holiness before their eyes." (Ezek 36:22-23) Salvation, then, is for our benefit, indeed, but it is primarily for His name's sake, for His glory, for His vindication. By "name", the language is referring to His entire character, and by "glory" it refers to the magnificence of His entire character. Thus, the ultimate reason behind God's salvation is the fullest revelation of His character. Paul says we are "looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds." (Titus 2:13-14) We benefit, but it is ultimately for Him.

There are, for us, many benefits in salvation. The first, of course, is this new relationship with God. And that new relationship is predicated on His forgiveness, another excellent benefit. But the answer to the question of why God allowed for salvation at all, of the primary purpose of salvation, is that it is primarily for God's benefit to demonstrate His glory.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What Seems to be the Problem?

In case you haven't noticed, I've been working backwards for the last few days. On Sunday I started with the "Mystical Union", the mystery of Scripture that is the Gospel. A key component of the Gospel is that God intends to be one with His children, a thought beyond my comprehension, but immensely wonderful. On Monday I asked how we get to be one of His children and the first answer was "repent". On Tuesday I pointed out that included in that first answer, "repent", was the second component, "believe". So over the last few days I've explained what the good news is -- a glorious union with God -- and how it is obtained -- repent and believe -- and just what those things are. Of course, working backwards like this, it seems to beg the question. "Repent from what? Saved from what? Why doesn't God just carry out this grand plan of union without all this 'repent and believe' stuff?" In short, "What seems to be the problem?"

To answer that question, we need to take some time to examine what God's Word says about humans. All humans. Even you and me. What is the biblical perspective on the nature and condition of Man?

We know that in the beginning God created Man in His image (Gen 1:27) "and it was very good." (Gen 1:31) Then it went downhill rapidly. Man chose to sin in the only known way (Gen 3:1-6) and, as Paul puts it, "just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned." (Rom 5:12) So, since that time, how does God in His Word describe Man?

Most of us are clear on the basics. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) I don't even think unbelievers would completely disagree. After all, don't we have an axiom, "To err is human"? So Christians know that all humans are sinners and most people aren't too disturbed by the claim. Unfortunately, when we examine what the Bible actually says about humans, it gets much, much worse.

The problem was visible early on. At the beginning of the story of Noah we read, "Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Gen 6:5) What follows is a flood that kills all but 8 humans, but it clearly did not eliminate the problem because at the end of that story we read God's evaluation.
"I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done." (Gen 8:21)
Biblically, it starts early in life. Here it is "from his youth" which simply refers to childhood. Elsewhere we read, "The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth." (Psa 58:3) The concept of the "innocent child" is quite a human concept, but not a biblical one (Psa 51:5). Childhood innocence is only relative to adulthood decadence.

Since it starts "from the womb", it would only be reasonable to agree with the rest of the claims of Scripture. The psalmist wrote and Paul repeated,
None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:10-12)
And it's not just an unwillingness; it's a condition. It goes as far as an inability.
For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8:5-8)
Jesus said it a couple of times.
"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:44)

"No one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father." (John 6:65)
Natural Man is spiritually disabled. He is "dead in sin and trespasses ... by nature" a child of wrath (Eph 2:1-3). He is the possessor of a deceitful and desperately sick heart (Jer 17:9), not accepting the things of the Spirit of God "for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." (1 Cor 2:14) He is blinded by the god of this world so that he cannot "see the light of the gospel". (2 Cor 4:4)

Of the church at Laodicea Christ says,
"Because you say, 'I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,' and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. (Rev 3:17-18)
Wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked; that's His description. And "you do not know" it. Our best acts are described as "filthy rags" (Isa 64:6). It is in our nature.
"Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil." (Jer 13:23)
Jesus said, "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders." (Matt 15:19) Paul wrote,
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19-21)
Scripture speaks of humans as "darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness." (Eph 4:18-19) It speaks of "the futility of their minds." (Eph 4:17)

"Now, look," some might protest, "we're not all that bad, right?" We like to think of "big sins" and "little sins", but James says, "Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all." (James 2:10) All sin has the same outcome -- "For the wages of sin is death ..." (Rom 6:23).

When you boil it all down, it does not look good for humans ... at all. We are violators of the glory of God, sinners from birth. We lack the ability to obey, to please God, to even understand. We suffer from a sick heart and a futile mind. We are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked ... and we don't even know it. Instead of seeking help from the One possible source of help, we are hostile to God, incapable of turning, and unwilling to change. As such, we stand rightly condemned and without hope. So when the good news of the Gospel comes along that the Godhood intends to be one with His people as He is one with Himself, it is astoundingly good news. Clearly, under these conditions, repentance is an absolute necessity and faith is our only means of appropriating that salvation because there is absolutely nothing in ourselves that would bring about that union other than His grace and mercy.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Faith

So, now we have the Gospel, the mystery of the union of God with His people, which is truly good news. And we have the requirement that in order to be part of God's people we need to repent. Included in that "repent" message from the lips of Jesus was "Repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15) It is abundantly clear in God's Word that faith is another necessary prerequisite to being part of salvation and the subsequent union with God. It would seem to be a really good idea, then, to figure out just what this "faith" thing is, because not everyone is clear on it. What do we learn about faith from the pages of Scripture?

Well, we know that "without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him." (Heb 11:6) Faith, then, is absolutely necessary. But Hebrews 11 tells us more. We know quite clearly that "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Heb 11:1)

Faith defined

First, there is the word "faith". It means "to be convinced (by evidence or argument)." Faith in God, then, would entail being convinced that God is and that He is reliable, faithful, truthful. Faith in God is simply agreeing with Him about who He is. Note that this isn't in contradiction to reason or evidence; it is in agreement with both. And let's not miss out on those two factors in the text -- assurance and conviction. The word for the first, "assurance", is that which supports, the essence of something. The word for the second is conviction, evidence, or proof. Genuine, biblical faith is faith that agrees with God regarding His existence and who He is. It is assurance that He will do what He promises ("rewards those who seek Him") and the proof of things we don't yet see. It is premised on God, so it is not "credulity", the blind belief in something without evidence or reason. It simply takes the evidence and reasoning to its clear conclusion. God exists and is who He says He is, so He will surely do as He has said He will.

This presupposes something. It assumes that God exists and that we know what He has promised. Not all, necessarily, but there must be some known truth claims and promises. That is, genuine biblical faith requires first and foremost that we believe the truth. It is not biblical faith to believe that which is not true.

In John's Gospel he often uses the phrase "believe in" or "believe on". Most literally John is using a phrase that is most accurately translated to "believe into". That is, biblical faith is an investment. It is a "leaning on", so to speak, that which is believed. Habakkuk wrote, "The righteous shall live by his faith." (Hab 2:4) This is, apparently, a really important concept because Paul repeated it in Rom 1:17 and in Gal 3:11 and the author of Hebrews also included it in Heb 10:38. Notice, then, the key component here. Faith is lived. That puts it beyond mere "mental acquiescence." It is a principle of living. James informed his readers that faith without works was dead (James 2:17). Indeed, "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe and shudder!" (James 2:19) Mere mental agreement with facts is not saving biblical faith. That only rises to the level of demons and is classified as dead. Living, saving faith produces changes in behavior because living, saving faith is a placing of confidence in that which is believed. We will always act on genuine faith. Real faith is visible (Matt 9:1). Like repentance, genuine faith produces corresponding action. (Not vice versa. Our actions do not produce faith.)

In his argument that we are saved by faith apart from works, Paul uses Abraham as his "proof text" (Romans 4). He starts with the claim that "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." (Rom 4:3) That is biblical, saving faith. Notice that Abraham's faith was "counted to him as righteousness." That is, Abraham's righteousness was attributed to him on the basis of his faith (not his works).

Where does faith come from?

We already saw that repentance was granted by God (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25). The Bible tells us that faith is also a gift. Paul wrote that all believers have a "measure of faith that God has assigned." (Rom 12:3) He told the Philippians that they were "granted, on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also on behalf of Him to suffer." (Phil 1:29) Jesus explained to His disciples that the reason people don't believe was because "no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father." (John 6:64-65) So faith is a gift, a "grant", from God that we, then, exercise. And it isn't necessarily stagnant. Faith can grow (2 Thess 1:3). It can be increased by hearing the Word of God (Rom 10:17). It can be increased by prayer (Mark 9:24; Luke 17:5).

Conclusion

Faith is essential to salvation. We must believe in Christ for salvation. That is, we must agree that He is our Savior and trust Him to save us. In the process, we must repent (turn from sin) and believe (turn toward Him and place our confidence in Him). This faith is more than mere belief -- intellectual assent. It is an investment of confidence in the existence and nature of God that will necessarily produce a change in the behavior of the believer. It is a lifestyle. "The righteous shall live by his faith." Without it, no one can please God. On the other hand, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved." (Acts 16:31)

Monday, March 13, 2017

Repent

Yesterday I wrote about the Mystical Union, the mystery of Scripture that is the Gospel which leads to the union of God and His children. That is, indeed, truly good news. There is none better. So, how do we get there? How do we get to the point of being His children, being in that Mystical Union? In view of that Good News, we ought to examine this question.

Repentance is an unfriendly word. It's odd, too, because it is so ... biblical. But we prefer to go a "kinder and gentler" way. Tell them that Jesus loves them. Tell them that they can be saved by faith. Tell them it will be okay. If you're really far enough out there, tell them that Jesus will give them health and wealth, too. Why not? It's surely a much friendlier concept than "Repent!" I mean, that's that old "fire and brimstone" stuff and we don't want to go back to that, right?

As it turns out, "repent" is a continuous, ongoing message in Scripture. It's in the Old Testament. It's in the New. It was John the Baptist's message when he came out of the desert.
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matt 3:2)
Right on his heels was Jesus preaching the same first message:
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt 4:17)

"Repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15)
"Yeah, yeah, sure, but is it important? I mean, can't we just go with the easier, friendlier message?"

Jesus wasn't ambiguous.
"Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:3,5)
Got that? If there is no repentance, there is no salvation. Paul said, "I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 20:21) Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 18:3) No repentance, no salvation. Simple as that.

"So ... what is repentance? I mean, we live in a world that redefines things. Can't we redefine this to our liking?" Yeah, sure ... as long as you keep the biblical components. For instance, biblical repentance includes grief for sin.
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Cor 7:10)
Be careful, though. Grief is essential but not sufficient (Matt 27:3).

What else? Well, the term means to turn from. Scripture bears this idea out.
Repent and turn from all your transgressions (Eze 18:30)

"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." (Isa 55:7)

"Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 18:3)
So there is grief over sin and there is the need to turn away from sin. There is another factor repeated in Scripture.
"Bear fruit in keeping with repentance." (Matt 3:8; Luke 3:8)

"I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance." (Act 26:19-20)
Genuine, biblical repentance requires grief, turning from sin, and turning toward new behavior. "Fruit." Repentance without corresponding change in behavior is not repentance.

What else do we know about repentance? Well, interestingly enough, the Bible says that it is a gift from God. On one hand, the fact that we are allowed to repent is a product of His kindness (Rom 2:4). But Scripture is quite clear that we don't acquire repentance or drum it up somehow. It is granted.
To the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life. (Acts 11:18)

God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim 2:25)
That may not have been one of the pieces you were aware of.

So, how does biblical repentance work?
1. God grants it (2 Tim 2:25).
2. We recognize sin (Psa 51:3-4).
3. We experience remorse for sin (Luke 18:13).
4. We turn from and to (2 Kings 17:13; 2 Chron 7:14; Acts 14:15; Acts 26:18). We turn from sin and to God, from sin and to works reflecting that turn.

Repentance is not an option. There is no salvation without repentance. Nor is it merely feeling bad about your sin. It is a gift that produces genuine recognition of sin, actual remorse for it, and a turn away from it toward God and corresponding good works. Do that ... repeatedly (1 John 1:8-10). A lot. Our "kinder and gentler" Christianity these days prefers not to go there. We do so in the face of our Savior who started with that message and in opposition to the repeated command throughout Scripture. And if we get to it, we often stop at one time and done. Brothers and sisters, repent!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mystical Union

The Bible talks about several mysteries, but there is one that recurs more than the rest. Paul wrote about the mystery of the union of man and wife.
"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church. (Eph 5:31-32)
He calls it a mystery. He calls it profound. And the mystery is that biblical marriage (as opposed to the stuff today so frivolously referred to as "marriage") refers to Christ and the Church. Mystery! A mystical union.

As it turns out, this is precisely a recurring mystery that pervades other texts. In Ephesians Paul speaks of how God was "making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth." (Eph 1:9-10) He refers in Rom 16:25 to the mystery that is the Gospel. Also in Eph 3:3-6, Eph 6:19, and Col 1:26. How is this last one -- the Gospel -- the same thing? Well, Paul explains more in the next verse
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col 1:27)
Are you starting to see what this mystery is?

Paul refers to marriage as the mystery that actually refers to Christ and the Church. He says that the mystery was set forth in Christ as a plan ... to unite all things in Him. He says that the Gospel is a mystery in that those who learn it have "the riches of the glory of this mystery", which is ...? "Christ in you, the hope of glory."

Think of it. God's plan from the beginning was to make a people for Himself out of His creation. He wasn't planning to merely make us. He wasn't planning to simply save us. His plan was union with us. What union? The union that the mystery of marriage portrays -- "the two shall become one." The union of the Eternal God and fallen-and-redeemed humans. The union of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit -- the mind of Christ -- in His people. That union. That mystery.

I don't, frankly, understand it. This union is beyond my comprehension. But Scripture is clear what kinds of effect we should expect from it. Jesus prayed,
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that you have sent Me. The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as We are one, I in them and You in Me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them even as You loved Me. (John 17:20-23)
Our union with Christ, as reflected in marriage and as a reflection of the Son's union with the Father, makes us one. "Perfectly one." As a reflection of His love for us. As a message to the world that Christ was sent by the Father. A union with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit that so invades our lives that as we allow that union to influence our lives we become one and God is glorified.

Big. Really big. I don't comprehend it, but I want in on it. And, apparently, anyone who belongs to Christ is in on it. A place to live -- one with Him and with each other. A union beyond human comprehension.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

News Weakly - 3/11/2017*

Court Rules Against Christ
We've already been told that we don't have the right to act on the belief that God defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Now the courts in Great Britain have taken the next logical step. "Two street preachers have been convicted of a public order offence after a public prosecutor claimed that publicly quoting parts of the King James Bible in modern Britain should 'be considered to be abusive and is a criminal matter.'" (Emphasis in the original.) That's right. Even though Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man comes to the Father but by Me", it is deemed a crime to agree with Him. Prosecutor Jackson argued, "To say to someone that Jesus is the only God is not a matter of truth. To the extent that they are saying that the only way to God is through Jesus, that cannot be a truth." Thank you, Magistrates. It is illegal and deemed hate speech to agree with Scripture on these things.

Our Supreme Court was happy to rule against God on the subject of marriage. Our federal court system was pleased to rule against the free exercise of religion. I don't see the ruling from the UK as far away from coming soon to a United States court near you.

Who'd Have Thought?
March 8 was deemed "International Women's Day". In conjunction (and ironically) it was also A Day Without a Woman in which we are asked to consider, "What would happen in a world where women didn't exist?" Seriously? What would happen? Nothing. Nothing at all. No people. Nowhere. End of story.

The protest was coordinated by the same people that brought us the "Women's March" in January. You know ... the one that refused to include women who agreed with them on every issue except abortion. As it turns out, fundamental to women's rights is the right to murder your unborn child. (It's classified as a "Unity Principle".) As always, all women are created equal; it's just that some are more equal than others.

Oh No, Not Again
I'm sure you've heard the news. Here, let me just lay down the headline from the New York Times. "Trump, Offering No Evidence, Says Obama Tapped His Phones." I'm sure you've heard all about that. And more sniggering, guffawing, or outright righteous indignation pours forth from anti-Trump forces because he's a loon and everyone knows it. Never happened, Mr. President. Get a grip.

So why is it that everyone including the New York Times is offering this "lack of evidence" story forgetting entirely that news outlets including the New York Times said precisely that the government had been intercepting communications between Trump and Russia? This seems to be going something like this. The New York Times claims, "The government has been listening in on Trump's communications." Trump says, "I've just learned that the government has been listening in on my communications!" The New York Times says, "Don't be ridiculous; there's no evidence of that." Or ... is Trump right ... again?

Did the Apple Land Near the Tree?
First, there was this "March 4 Trump" where citizens who, you know, like Trump expressed their support. It did not end well. The rally turned violent in a clash with Trump-haters. (Is it right to classify their view of Trump as "hate"?) Well, as it turns out, one of those arrested for starting the fight was Linwood Kaine, son of Senator Tim Kaine, the former Democratic candidate for Vice President. Now, any parent can have a "kid gone wrong" event and we need to be sensitive to that ... except that the senator's response was, "We love that our three children have their own views and concerns about current political issues. They fully understand the responsibility to express those concerns peacefully." Um ... apparently not.

Who is Right and Whose Rights?
Apparently a group of openly homosexual veterans have not been included in Boston's St. Patrick's Day Parade. (Note: St. Patrick's Day Parade, as in "Roman Catholic event".) Apparently including them "would conflict with the parade organizers' Roman Catholic heritage." On the other hand, they are "reigniting a fight over cultural inclusion." Because "homosexual behavior" has transformed into "gay" as a state of being (which cannot actually be defined as such because apparently people go in and out of it all the time) and now into "a culture". The mayor is outraged. "I will not tolerate discrimination in our city of any form. We are one Boston, which means we are a fully inclusive city." That's the "fully inclusive city" that banned Chick-Fil-A from opening stores there because the owner believed homosexual behavior was a sin. Not actually fully inclusive. Just absolutely inclusive of a not-culture of not-gays who wish to be there in the face of the Roman Catholics about whom the event is centered.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Trump Used Russia to Hack the Election!

Please read that headline again. It is what is called in the common parlance "fake news". Never happened. And, yet, I think that very few Americans today who are following current events would doubt the headline because, after all, it's what has been suggested, implied, hinted at, and pushed without ever actually saying it out loud.

First, we have the "Russian hack". The media is referring to it as Russia's "hacking the election" as if Russians broke into our voting systems and changed the outcome. Never happened. What did? Well, in truth, we aren't quite sure. The accusation is that Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee and released compromising email exchanges. Of course, the release of these exchanges came through WikiLeaks, and WikiLeaks says that Russia didn't do it. So ...? Still, the pall of "Russian hacking" hangs over the election process.

Second, we have the whole "Trump's people talked to Russians" story. Apparently it is illegal, immoral, or ill-something to talk to Russians. This is sad, too, because I have spoken to Russians in the past few years so I suppose I'll have to give up my citizenship and retire to some sympathetic South American country somewhere so no one will find me. Silly, of course, but that's the sense of it somehow. And clearly and repeatedly implied in this story is the ongoing suggestion that Trump or his people engineered this fiasco, using Russia to "hack the election". (I find it ironic that so much of the media and, therefore, the unthinking imbibers of the media Kool-Aid think of Trump as dumber than a box of rocks ... yet wily enough to produce this amazing stunt.)

But, is any of this true? Well, of course it is, because, thirdly, we have the media's confident assertion that the FBI has dived headlong into a deep and thorough investigation of these allegations and, therefore, the allegations must be true. That's the American way, right? "If he's someone we don't like and the media says so, he's guilty until proven innocent."

Well, then, there you have it. The Left was right. Trump's presidency is illegitimate. So ... pull the plug and let's shut this baby down. The only correct thing to do is install Hillary as empress ...

... or ...

... the media is lying, the public is buying it, and this whole thing is just another "We hate Trump and will tear down our government and build it in our own image any way we can" thing.

I am a believer in the rights of Americans to their opinions. Even in their right to protest. The truth, however, is that when their protests block traffic or harm people not actually part of the issues, I suddenly stop caring about the issue they're protesting. Or when they start trotting out lies (like "We're not illegal; we're just undocumented"), I stop caring about their issue. Mind you, I've never been a Trump fan, but this repeated piling of problems without apparent proof or even cause is starting to make me stop caring about their issue. And I continue to wonder how long the media and the public would have put up with it if the story was reversed -- if Hillary was elected and the "we oppose Hillary" forces kept protesting, complaining, fighting, and throwing stuff against the wall to try to find something that sticks.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

In the Balance

If you ask most people, you'd find that they think they're okay when it comes to the afterlife. Why? Well, one common idea is that "I'm not as bad as a lot of people." I believe, however, that another popular position is, "I think I've done more good than bad." Isn't that how it often works in our minds? "Let's see ... put the plus on this side of the scale and the minus on that side of the scale and ... I'm probably okay."

Therein lies the problem. It is a dual problem. One one hand we've got a pile of plus on one side that shouldn't be there. On the other hand we have the wrong pile on the other side.

Justice is measuring what is right against what is and making them balance. We humans do not have a natural sense of what is right. We think we do, but in truth "what is right" is God, His glory, and His standards. Put that on the plus side of the balance. His perfection. Then there is our contribution. Put that on the other side of the balance. On our own, the Bible says, "No one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:12) ... with emphasis ("not even one"). God's Word says, "All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment." (Isa 64:6) We're not measuring up. If justice was to be meted out, we'd be in big, big trouble. Comparing ourselves with each other or with ourselves does not satisfy the need for balancing what is right against what is. What is turns out to be pretty bad -- awful, in fact, when laid in the balance against God's perfection.

It is here that the principle of Imputation becomes immense. The Scriptures say, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Co 5:21) Now, don't let that slip by too easily. Consider the vastness of this concept.

Imagine, for a moment, a school kid who is assigned the task of solving a math problem on the blackboard. He works away at it for awhile and accomplishes absolute error. Nothing in his work is right. The teacher walks up, looks it over ... and erases the board. Where are we now? The kid is now without error. The error he had on the board is gone. Nice ... but incomplete. The teacher then takes up the chalk and writes out the full and correct solution. He turns to the kid and says, "That's an A for you." Two parts, you see? There is the deletion of the error -- the absolution. But that would be insufficient. That would be a blank. That would be the absence of error, but it would also be the absence of good. But what we get is "the righteousness of God in Him."

Back now to that balance. On one side we no longer have our good works and our bad works on the other. We no longer have our lives over against others' lives. We have the right standard on one side -- the perfection of God. And on the other side, where we are placed for evaluation ... we have the perfection of God, Christ in us. Perfect balance. Perfect justice. Not a righteousness that is our own, but His. What a deal! It's the only way we can stand in the presence of a Holy God. It is His perfect plan.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Prostitutes

One of those odd rules God gave to Israel was the whole "tassels" thing.
"Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all My commandments, and be holy to your God." (Num 15:38-40)
He tells the rule there -- put tassels on the four corners of their clothes. He includes the instruction to "put a cord of blue" in them. He tells why: "For you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord." All well and good. (And, I'll be honest, I don't actually understand how the 4 tassels help that, so ... moving on ...) What's really interesting is what follows. They were to remember His commandments for a reason. What reason? So they would obey them and "not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after."

Pretty tough language, isn't it? He describes their propensity to follow after their own hearts and eyes as prostitution. How is that prostitution? Well, consider. What is a prostitute? A prostitute is someone who engages prostitution. (Thanks, Free Dictionary. That wasn't helpful.) It is someone who engages in sexual activity for pay. In a more general sense, it refers to someone who compromises principles for personal gain.

God is drawing a parallel here. "Obey My commands. The alternative is to sell what I have invested in you for personal gain." How do they sell what He has given them? They pursue their own heart and their own eyes. They do what pleases them rather than what pleases God. They tell God, "You are not enough. What you've given me is not enough. Our relationship is not enough. I want what I want and will get it on my own."

In the Old Testament, God referred to Israel as His wife. In the New Testament, the Church is portrayed as "the Bride of Christ". There is a human parallel here offered in the relationship of God's people with their God. That parallel is marriage. And when God's people stray, He calls it "adultery". "You, God, are not enough. I'm looking elsewhere." The exact same concept.

This is not a world problem. The world doesn't have this relationship with God. The world is already immersed in its own pursuit of its own pleasure with a total disregard for God. No surprise there. This is a problem for the people of God. It is a failure to cling to God, a refusal to find our satisfaction and joy in Him. What does that look like? What is that refusal? It is when we pursue our own hearts and our own eyes. I do it. So do you. Who are the whores in the text? Each and every one of us that opts to pursue our own ideas and vision rather than God's ideas and heart. God says it is a natural inclination.

It's an old joke. "If anyone ever calls you a two-bit whore, you just hit them with your sack of quarters." Don't have a sack of quarters. Let's keep our heart and eyes on Him. Prostitution among believers is not a good testimony. "Remember and do all My commandments, and be holy to your God."

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

People and Ideas

I talk a lot here about ideas. Is God Sovereign? What does marriage actually mean? What does God say is the proper family hierarchy? Isn't it absolutely clear there is "male" and "female"? Lots of ideas. Some are acceptable to my readers; some are not. Some are controversial, others are just "new", and some are "yawn". (I don't think I have ever actually offered something new; just a different slant, perhaps.) Some rouse ire and others rouse a cheer. But they're almost exclusively about ideas ... not people.

There is a sharp difference between an idea and a person. In a debate it is a logical fallacy to attack the person rather than the idea. It's called ad hominem. And it is oh, so common. (Think today's president for a quick and dirty example ... in both directions.) Attacking an idea based on the person that offered it is not reasonable or helpful.

But way beyond that, there is a stark difference between straightforward ideas and their outworking in individuals. Ideas have pretty clear cut issues, pretty easy lines, fairly simple ways of viewing them. Sure, some get tricky and complicated, but, still, all in all they're easy to examine. People, on the other hand, are complex. There are histories and backgrounds, emotions, individual stories, individual circumstances, individual individuals. Take, as a simple example, the idea of weight loss. Non-controversial, right? I mean, it's easy. To lose weight, eat less and exercise more. Done! That is, until you get to people. While, for the largest portion of us, the idea might be true, there are still the few. They are affected by hormones and imbalances, psychological or genetic situations, big or little bones. (Seriously, has anyone ever said, "I'm not skinny; I'm just little boned"?) As it turns out, the idea of weight loss is simple and straightforward, but it is not always helpful to apply the simple idea to all people. Our ideas and how people actually fit into them are not always the same.

It is here, then, that we need to be careful. For instance, the Bible is not unclear that homosexual behavior is a sin. Argue all you want; it won't change the fact. However, that is the idea, not the person. It is the principle, not the outworking. We need to retain that idea, but then we need to interact with the people. Slapping them upside the head with "homosexual behavior is a sin" isn't often the right way to go. We must not ignore the struggles of sinners. After all, we are sinners. People need to be considered. People need to be loved. The Gospel is an idea and the truth, but we must consider how people will best receive it rather than lobbing the idea over the wall.

The phrase is often, "Love the sinner; hate the sin." I don't actually care much for it. But I do differentiate between truthful principles and personal interactions. Telling a believer going through difficult times, "All things work together for good, you know" may be a true statement, but it won't likely help the person. And while we ought to love the truth, we are commanded to love one another. So we mustn't abandon the truth because that wouldn't be loving, but neither should we ignore the individual. Christians are supposed to be marked by their love for one another. Many of us seem to have the "truth statement" down. More of us might need to work on loving sinners who need the truth we have.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Judge Not

It is listed as the best known verse in the Bible, especially among unbelievers. It used to be John 3:16, but now it's Matthew 7:1. "Judge not, that you be not judged." And the world shouts "Hallelujah!" because now those darned Christians have to shut up or violate their own Savior's commands. Jesus commanded His followers not to judge.

Or did He?

The first hint that this is not an actual command for Christians not to judge in any way is in the context of the command. Jesus warned them to examine themselves -- the famous "log in your eye" section -- and then said, "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matt 7:5) Note, then, that Jesus does not rule out "taking the speck out of your brother's eye." He simply requires that they check themselves first. He goes on to say the famous "pearls before swine" comment which, by definition, requires recognition of "swine", a judgment. Just a few verses later Jesus speaks of the false prophets about whom He says, "You will recognize them by their fruits." (Matt 7:16) Jesus meant something, of course, but His "Judge not" simply cannot be understood to mean "Never make a judgment call; you are not allowed to recognize sin or call it sin." He says, for instance, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother." (Matt 18:15) Try to fit that into the standard sense that the world uses when they throw "Judge not!" at us.

What, then, did Jesus mean when He very clearly said "Judge not, that you be not judged"?

Well, first and most clearly, Jesus explained about His own command that our first priority -- our first task -- is to judge ourselves. "For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you." (Matt 7:2) Whatever measure you're using to judge another, then, be sure you use it first on yourself. That's when Jesus uses that "log in your own eye" metaphor. "You think you're judging rightly, but you're actually overlooking your own large failures while focusing on another's smaller failure." We need, then, to hold ourselves to the standards we're applying to others.

Also implied in the text is a standard. The standard is outside of "me". That is, we don't get to be the standard. We know this because we're supposed to hold ourselves up against this standard. We -- human beings -- don't get to set the standard and say, "All of you need to measure up to me." There is something else, something higher. That is, at issue is not whether we are allowed to recognize sin as sin, but what is the standard of sin. It is not us. It is God Himself and His standard offered in His Word.

One other thing I think needs to be noted. In Jesus's metaphor of log and splinter, you should notice one thing. The aim of this "check yourself out first" thing and judging by the right standard is quite clear. Jesus assumes that the point is to "take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matt 7:4-5) Identifying sin is not the point. Identifying evil is not the aim. We aren't supposed to simply tell people that what they're doing is wrong. The aim is repair. The goal is to fix problems rather than simply identify them. And when it comes to sin, we are in possession of the best possible remedy. So our pointing out that homosexual behavior is a sin, for example, is a truth statement, but does no good if it ends there. The goal is to remove the problem and that is accomplished by Christ alone.

Despite what you may have been told, Jesus actually told us to be "fruit inspectors" (Matt 7:16). Scriptures are full of judgments we need to make -- recognizing what God calls sin and repenting from it. We must necessarily examine ourselves for it and we are, on the basis of love, commanded to help others in the same thing (e.g., Gal 6:1). Clearly we must examine ourselves first. Clearly we need to address our own errors before we attempt to assist others. Then we must attempt to assist, not condemn, others. That is our "judge not". "Don't condemn them; help them."

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Above All

Michael W. Smith made the song popular -- Above All.
Above All
by Lenny LeBlanc and Paul Baloche © 1995 Integrity Music

Above all powers, above all kings
Above all nature, and all created things
Above all wisdom, and all the ways of man
You were here, before the world began

Above all kingdoms, above all thrones
Above all wonders, the world has ever known
Above all wealth, and treasures of the earth
There's no way to measure what You're worth

Crucified, laid behind a stone
You lived to die, rejected and alone
Like a rose, trampled on the ground
You took the fall, and thought of me
Above all.
Really great song. Talks about how Christ was above all -- all powers, all created things, all wisdom, even time. And, yet, He became a man and died on my behalf "And thought of me above all." It's a wonderfully warm song. An actual tear-jerker, really. That the One who was above all would die for me, would think of me above everyone and everything else ... that's ... well, amazing.

But is it right?

This is, to me, a prime example of our modern "me" Christianity. We appear to be missing the point. We appear to believe that it's all about us. We're amazed at His grace that saves sinners from eternal torment and we're delighted that He would deign to die for us and attribute to us His righteousness and call us sons, fellow heirs. It's all truly amazing. It really is. That isn't the mistake. The point is in thinking that it's about us.

Paul told the Roman Christians that "from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen." (Rom 11:36) He told the Colossians "all things have been created through Him and for Him." (Col 1:16) He told Titus that Christ "gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works." (Titus 2:14) Further we are commanded "whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31) Would it make sense, then, that the Son of God would violate God's own command -- God's own nature -- to do something other than to the glory of God? It would seem to me, then, that the Bible is abundantly clear that it's all about Him, not us. If we wanted to be accurate in that Michael W. Smith song, we'd have to say, "He thought of Himself above all." But, of course, that doesn't have the same ring, the same feel, the same impact.

And therein lies the problem. Our default setting is "me above all". The notion that He thought of me above all, then, feeds right into that setting. It is, unfortunately, our default sin nature setting. Because reality would demand that the Ultimate God would think of what was right above all every time ... and that would be Him.

In fact, this ends up actually more amazing than "He thought of me above all." You see, the Father, according to the plan laid out before time began (Titus 1:2) sent His Son to die to save creatures He made in order that they would become conformed to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29) to the praise of the glory of His grace (Eph 1:5-6). The more amazing thing is that God sent His Son to die on our behalf to save us for His glory. The amazing thing is that He finds us useful to the only important mission of the universe -- the praise of His glory.

Does He love us? Certainly. Did He die to save us? Absolutely. Does He think of us? No doubt. Value us? Surely. But we are not the end. We are the means. He loves us for the glory we can give Him because He deserves all glory. He grooms us for the glory we can give Him because He deserves all glory. And we could receive no higher honor than to be given the opportunity to shine to His glory.

Walt Harrah offered a modified version of the song. I think he nails it perfectly
Above All

Above all powers, above all kings
Above all nature and all created things
Above all wisdom and all the ways of man
You were here before the world began

Above all kingdoms, above all thrones
Above all wonders the world has ever known
Above all wealth and treasures of the earth
There's no way to measure what you're worth

Crucified, laid behind a stone
You lived to die, rejected and alone
Son of God, Lamb for sinners slain
Exalted Lord, we worship you
above all.
Now that's the way we should sing it.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

News Weakly - 3/4/2017

Reality Bites
Remember Rachel Dolezal? She was the white woman who said she was black and ran the Spokane, Washington, chapter of the NAACP until she was "outed" as white. Well, now she's " jobless, living on food stamps and is days away from being homeless." The only jobs she has been offered since then are in reality TV and porn. But she's not apologetic. "I don’t think you can do something wrong with your identity if you’re living in your authenticity, and I am," she told the Guardian.

It's unfair. It's wrong. If "he" can feel like he's a "she" and we are supposed to accept and embrace it because "she" is "living in my authenticity", why don't we have to embrace Rachel's reality? Why do we have to embrace one "felt reality" and not the rest? Why must we accept "gender reality" or "sexual reality" or "marriage reality" in direct opposition to ... you know ... real reality and not this one? In what world does this make sense? Oh, the humanity!

A Whole Lot of Learnin' Going On
Interesting school news of late. I already wrote about the preschool teacher in Arlington, Texas, who was blasting anti-semitic rhetoric to social media including the claim that not enough Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Any other pleasantries you'd like to pass along to the kiddies, dear? Then there was this Ontario, Canada, 8th grade teacher who thought it would be a good idea to assign homework to have the kids figure out how to make and inject crystal meth. Nice. And let's not forget this New Jersey middle school teacher who prevented a fourth grader from talking about his project to collect gloves for poor children and informed him that stuff "belongs in Sunday school, not the classroom." What does belong in the classroom is an instructional video on the 5 pillars of Islam. Christianity and Judaism? No. Islam? Mandatory.

Oh, yeah, there's a whole lot of learnin' going on. You can rest assured it's not all that you think or want.

Truth in Media
This is interesting. I talked to people in the last years of the Obama presidency and asked, "Where's this much-vaunted economic recovery?" From what I could see, stores, big and small, were going out of business, people were out of work, incomes weren't going up ... on and on and on. "Oh, no!" they told me adamantly, "All the data says we're seeing a huge economic recovery!" Fine. I wasn't. But they and the media would have none of it. "If there were any economic problems," they all assured me, "they were all carryovers from the previous administration." Until now. With the "Great Change" Artist out of office and the hated Trumpster at the helm, suddenly they're reporting that "The number of U.S. retailers ranked at the most-distressed level of the credit-rating spectrum has more than tripled since the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and is heading toward record levels in the next five years." Now, you have to admit that's not classic "economic recovery". Nor can it be laid at the feet of a president who hasn't been in office 100 days. But we'll think it's the Donald's fault and ignore the 8 years of silence from the media on the subject because that's what we expect from the media -- spin, not truth.

Remove All Doubts
Disney was once the "family" company. You know. "Can I take my kids to see that movie?" "Well, it's a Disney." "Oh, yeah, so, good, it's safe." In case there was any question about their current status as the "family" company, there should be no question. "The highly anticipated live-action remake of Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast' will make history this month as the first film by the animation company to feature an openly gay character in a love scene." Just the thing you want to take the kids to see, right? No. Disney is not a safe place to find family-friendly movies. We've long suspected it, but this should remove all doubts.

In the Courts
So, let's see ... well, in Columbus, OH, a 19-year-old woman was sentenced to 9 months in prison for livestreaming images of a man raping a 17-year-old girl. (The actual rapist got 9 years.) Then there's the 20-year-old woman who recorded herself raping a 4-year-old boy and then posting it online. And there was a 12-year-old boy charged with murdering a 21-year-old store clerk in Arkansas. He cannot be charged as an adult, but he sure can kill like one. This kind of stuff can be depressing.

Ash Wednesday
March 1 was Ash Wednesday this year. It is supposed to mark the beginning of 40 days of fasting. Why ash? Because ash is supposed to represent repentance. You know, "sackcloth and ashes." So it would appear that the sheer irony is completely missed when some opted to make it a "gay Christian" day by using "glitter ash". "Ash Wednesday kicks off the six-week somber season called Lent," the article says, so a "fabulous" kick off is good for a somber season of repentance marked first by a complete defiance of God's explicit commands, right? Sigh.

And There It Is
So, the next Alien movie trailer is out because we haven't had enough Alien movies and this one includes a gay couple as part of a colonization mission to ... wait ... hang on a minute ... a gay couple to colonize a planet? What were they thinking? Don't they know that same-sex couples can't bear offspring? Don't they know that makes no sense? And ... there it is ... the perfect example of what's unnatural about same-sex couples and what happens when we divorce child-bearing from sexual relationships.

Right Again?
Recently President Trump blamed Obama for the protests all over the Republican sphere. The world guffawed. Loser. Lunatic. Idiot. Except ... Trump was right. Turns out a group of "former congressional staffers" from the Obama administration have formed the "Indivisible movement" aimed at opposing Trump at the local level by interrupting and disrupting townhall meetings for Republican members of Congress.

Now, look, I was clear that I was not a Trump fan. I'm still not. But when the Left continues to prove him right, it gets increasingly difficult to stay over here in thorough opposition to his views and agenda.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Living in Escher's World

You know who M.C. Escher is, right? He's the artist known for those remarkable pictures of scenes that are so amazing, beguiling, even beautiful ... and utterly impossible. They are pleasing to the eye, but what you must never do is follow them through because you will find yourself stuck right up against the wall of reality with nowhere to go.



Take, for instance, his famous work, Waterfall.

It is really an interesting piece, a house, apparently, with its own stream and waterfall. Except, the waterfall, if you trace it out, feeds ... the waterfall. An impossibility.

Kind of like "We demand $15/hour minimum wage!" Oh? Where is that money coming from? Well, it will come from ... your $15/hour income. Easy! See?











Consider Escher's Convex and Concave

An entire village, built with real efficiency, where the whole community can be close and friendly and ... wait ... hang on a minute, nope, that's not working. You can't get there from here.

Wrong angles, lamps hanging from stairs, windows where they couldn't be, ladders to walls that are floors, and all the while a couple of monsters getting ready to devour everyone.

Like the ACA where everyone is insured but very few can afford to use it or the ever-popular "Tolerance!" that doesn't tolerate and "No Judgment!" that is so judgmental or the "reality is determined by how you feel" except when "how you feel" violates "our reality".

Escher's fascinating work seems to me an illustration of our society today. It is largely built with beautiful lines, appealing images, warm feelings, but whatever you do, don't follow it to its logical conclusion. You'll find yourself up against logic and reason and reality that just won't let you go where you thought you were headed.

Apparently Escher was a prophet. Or it's just that God was right when He said, in essence, that sin rots the brain. We appear to be living in Escher's world.


Thursday, March 02, 2017

Repentance?

I'm trying to figure out how this works. I'm only using this story as an example because you know it's only one of many, but there is this story out of Arlington, Texas, of a preschool teacher, Nancy Salem, who was fired because she posted not one, but a series of tweets about killing Jews. One said, "How many Jews died in the Holocaust? Not enough!" Okay, so, good, she was fired. As it should be. This isn't what we want teaching preschool. The part I don't get, however, is this.
Salem has since released a statement that said she was "truly sorry for the pain and hurt my words caused, especially to members of the Jewish faith."
Is that it? Is that how it works? You dump out appalling hate on the Internet and, when you're caught, simply say you're "truly sorry"? John the Baptist preached repentance, but with a different flavor. "Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father,' for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham." (Luke 3:8) You can see that's much beyond, "I'm sorry." This kind of repentance shows in a change in lifestyle. This kind of repentance goes beyond mere words likely intended to put out the fire others have set on you.

It's easy to think of this story and my writing about it as an attack on Muslims or anti-Semitism or whatever else you may think, but I'm not pointing at Nancy Salem. I'm pointing at so many of these events where an apology appears to be required, even if no genuine repentance is forthcoming. Like the Mark Cuban assault on the Bleacher Reports tweet that was "disrespectful" of one of his players. With foul language and outright threats Cuban forced the Bleacher Reports to take down the tweet he found offensive and apologize ... because foul language and threats are not disrespectful, but making a joke is. But my point isn't Cuban, as two-faced as he was. My point was the apology. Repentant? Not likely. Just scared of the consequences.

I don't understand how that's supposed to work. Make a bad tweet or comment or something, face the wrath of the anonymous Internet, and "repent" with an "I'm sorry; it was a poor choice of words", and it's all good. It's not. And an "I'm sorry" is not defined as repentance.

Behind this point is my important one. You and I ought not be satisfied with this kind of repentance in ourselves. If it's avoiding fire or pain or seeking to get along, it's the wrong kind of repentance. The right kind changes how you and I live. The right kind is accompanied by fruit -- the fruits of repentance, the obedience of faith (Rom 16:26). Let's not practice self-serving repentance. Real repentance will prevent us from repeating those things of which we have repented.