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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Anthropocentric

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 19, 2018

Love Language

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

He: "Who told you?"

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 18, 2018

God Is Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 17, 2018

News Weakly - 2/17/2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

Only Nice

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

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

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

Thursday, February 15, 2018

What Does Your Smartphone Say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

V-Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Slander

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 12, 2018

Hater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes!" you assure me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Blessings and Curses

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 10, 2018

News Weakly - 2/10/2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 09, 2018

John 3:16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Wolves Among Sheep

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

How are we to view this warning?

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Pain

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

In-Fear-iority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 05, 2018

The Devil Made Me Do It

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

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

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

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

So, what now?

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

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Mundane

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 03, 2018

News Weakly - 2/3/18

Strange Standards
So, Volkswagen is in trouble again, this time because they tested the affects of diesel fumes on monkeys (and humans). At the same time, the U.S. Senate blocked a bill to protect children above the age of 20 weeks. The 20 week limit was premised on the principle of experiencing pain, the idea that a baby can feel pain at 20 weeks and, thus, deserves protection. "Nope!" our fine Senate declared.

Message received, loud and clear. "Protect the monkeys! But, hey, kill the babies if you want."

Safe, Legal, and Rare
Speaking of abortion, Ireland is on the edge of repealing their defense of the most vulnerable. Ironically, Children's Minister Katherine Zappone said "I hope we will live together in an Ireland someday soon where abortion is safe, legal and rare." (That's what a "Children's Minister" hopes???) We, of course, have heard the phrase repeatedly from American pro-abortionists (who often prefer to be called "pro-choice"), but it makes no sense. Who would ever say, "I hope we will live together in a world someday soon where murder is safe, legal and rare"? Well, apparently a lot of people.

(A devastatingly sad note in the story was about how "Ninety per cent of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome in Britain are aborted. In Denmark, 98% of children like my son are aborted, with Iceland now reporting a close to 100% abortion rate for babies with Down syndrome." When we open the door to terminating life because we determine that they will be "defective", "nonproductive", "ugly", or "too much trouble", who is next?)

Things that make you go "Huh?"
An unnamed woman was denied permission to bring her ... wait for it ... "emotional support peacock" on her United flight. United said, "This animal did not meet guidelines for a number of reasons, including its weight and size. We explained this to the customers on three separate occasions before they arrived at the airport." I just ... huh? An "emotional support" peacock?? And, of course, the supremacy of "I feel ... therefore I'm right and should be afforded all the privilege I demand ..."

Methinks They Doth Protest Too Much
There was an uproar this week over two models in Vogue, a British fashion magazine. Gigi and Bella Hadid each had a cover shot for two versions of the magazine, but inside the edition the two posed nude together, creating a backlash. One response was, "This is a fashion magazine; 'nude' is not a fashion." Okay, fine. But the real outrage was "it is definitely inappropriate to have sisters posing naked together."

Now, hang on, people. Haven't we already decided that women are not objects and that sex is whatever you want it to be and that no one has any right to pass judgment for anything at all in that arena? You've undefined marriage, stripped away sexual morality, glamorized sex in every facet, and undercut any argument for anything resembling "common decency" in sexual matters, and now you want to complain when they show two naked sisters in a fashion magazine? You're going to have to do better than that, people. If you're not careful you'll begin to sound just like the Christian morality you despise.

There's an app for that
We live in a radical new world where sexual morality is defined "on the go", so to speak, a running redefinition every day. At its core, for the most part, is the simple principle of "consent". No consent? No sex ... at all. Consent? Anything goes ... at all. But ... what is "consent"?

We are victims of this post-modern undefinition of language, so we have to find some way to remedy the problem of consent. How do you know? Don't worry; there's an app for that. That's right. Now they have an app you can put on your phone that will give consent or not. (In a world where asking the question is sometimes considered sexual abuse, I don't know how this will help, but ...) The app "allows for private and contemporaneous recording of evidence" if you are being assaulted in some way and documents if she gave consent to prevent the "he said/she said" problem. There you go! A solution to all this sexual mayhem! Or not.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Dysphoria

Dysphoria is defined as a general sense of unease or dissatisfaction. It's used today with the adjective "gender" -- "gender dysphoria" -- to refer to those who are born one gender but think they are ... another. I'm sure there are others.

Denominational Dysphoria
"I am a Christian," she told me.

"Oh, really! How wonderful! So you believe that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ apart from works, and that saving faith produces works that conform us to the image of Christ?"

"No, no, of course not. I think there are lots of ways to heaven and, frankly, that God will save everyone because He's a nice God."

"But ... that's not Christianity."

"Well, that's what the Bible says it is."

"Oh, sure, that's the kind of thing I used to believe, but I'm much more comfortable with this new Christianity, so I'm convinced that this is the right one. So don't be so narrow-minded or judgmental."

Denomination Dysphoria
I went to the coffee place and asked for a coffee.

"That'll be $2," he said. I gave him a one.

"That's two dollars."

"I gave you a five," I told him. "It was printed as a one but now identifies as a five. What are you -- some sort of intolerant bigot? Give me my change, please."

It was a good cup of coffee.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

The Servants' Entrance

It used to be that "acceptable people" were allowed in the front door, but the "less acceptable people" had to go in through the servants' entrance. You know ... we needed them around; we just didn't want them to be seen.

Immanuel Kant, in three separate works, carefully and persuasively explained that it is impossible to prove the existence of God. In the view of many, what Kant managed to do was to usher God out of the front door of the Logic House. You know ... "Sorry. We don't want you in here." Or, "There is no God." Now, of course, Kant never intended that, but that's how it worked out. We know that he didn't intend it because he later wrote a short book, Groundwork of a Metaphysic of Morals, that explained that while we can't logically prove the existence of God, if there is to be any morality, God was a logical necessity. (Did you follow that? It's not easy.) That is, if morality is to have any basis, any weight, any teeth, there must be a God. Thus, having ushered God out the front door, Kant let Him back in the servants' entrance. "We don't really want to see You, but we really need You around."

The sad thing is that many of us do this ourselves. We will block God's entrance through the front door of our theology and then usher Him back in through the servants' entrance. How do we do that? One example is in terms of God's Sovereignty. We give a head-nod to His Sovereignty, but when faced with the real question, we close the door. Is God actually in charge of everything? "No!" we will respond with certainty. That is, when bad things happen, that's not God. When an illness strikes or a tornado hits or a car accident takes away life or limb, that wasn't God. When you get robbed or someone hurts you, that certainly wasn't God. "No, no, God is sovereign" (because by now it has degraded to a lowercase "s") "only insofar as human Free Will is not involved. God cannot or does not contravene the Free Will." "Oh, and He also doesn't control natural events like those hurricanes or cancer ... that kind of thing." So we carefully absolve God of any responsibility in "bad things" by closing the door on His Sovereignty. Nebuchadnezzar said of God, "He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, 'What have you done?'" (Dan 4:35) and we say, "Um, well, actually we do."

That's all well and good, perhaps, but, as it turns out, we're not actually happy leaving it that way. We're fine with the theory -- God limited by Human Free Will -- but we're not too comfortable with the practical outcome. So we borrow words from Scripture and pray "Lord, open their hearts to hear You" (Acts 16:14) without regard for whether or not they want to hear Him. We ask God to "guide the hands of the surgeon" without thinking about the surgeon's Free Will in the procedure. We pray for "traveling mercies" for folks even though we just said that God is not involved when traffic accidents occur. We "pray a hedge of protection" around people when we already declared He doesn't do that kind of thing. In other words, we're very firm in our theology that God is not "that Sovereign" but pray fervently that He would be. We are happy to let Him back in the servants' entrance if He'll just do what we ask, even when we already said we don't believe He does.

Just an example. I think if you consider it, you'll find it's true in many of God's attributes. Is He really Omniscient or only "mostly omniscient"? Is He actually Omnipotent or is it a limited edition of omnipotence? For some, they're perfectly happy to limit God in His justice or even His love if it violates their own perspective. But when it comes down to it, we don't actually want to worship and serve a God who is not actually all those things and more. "No," we tell Him, "You can't come in this way. You'll have to go around to the servants' entrance."

We expect unbelievers to ... well ... unbelieve. We know that those who are not people of faith have no faith. But that's not us. Or it shouldn't be. We shouldn't be undercutting God at the front door of our lives only to let Him in the servants' entrance to do those things for us that we most keenly require. We need to let God be God. That will likely require a realignment of our thinking, and likely more than once. Sometimes it is often. But we must allow God to be who God says He is rather than superimposing our own version. That's just idolatry.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Sin and the Sinner

People have famously said we should "Hate the sin; love the sinner." Whether or not that's true, we can all understand the concept, I believe. I mean, we can understand that there is a distinction between an idea and an "idea-er" (yes, I just made that up). In easy terms, a 12-year-old boy may delight in the idea of slaying dragons, but offer him the opportunity to try his hand at it and he'd likely (if he had any sense) refuse. That's an easy concept. There are ideas, and there are people, and we ought not confuse the two.

Now, I do this, even regularly. I oppose what I call "gay mirage" because I think it doesn't exist regardless of what the crowd says, but that doesn't tell you how I will respond to those who are in it. I believe that the Bible is abundantly clear that homosexual behavior is a sin, but that doesn't tell you how I relate to those who practice it. There is a clear distinction to me between an idea and those who carry it out. So it seems obvious to me that we can "Hate the idea; love the idea-er." (You know, using that word more often doesn't make it any prettier, does it?)

This is why I am surprised at the seemingly large and certainly loud number of people who think otherwise. They appear to think that if I oppose an idea or an activity I hate the person engaging in it. Opposition to so-called "same-sex marriage" is declared "hate". If you believe that homosexual behavior is a sin, you are "homophobic" and "bigoted." If I consider it wrong to jettison God's Word in favor of Man's Reason, they think I am "intolerant" of those who do it. It seems to me, from the prevalent furor on this kind of thing, that I may be rarer than I think I am. It looks like the majority cannot distinguish between the idea and the idea-er. If you hate the idea, you must hate the one who carries it out. I know I don't, but my objections generally fall on deaf ears.

It seems to me, then, that there are logical ramifications if what looks to be true actually is. If the majority of people cannot distinguish between a view on a concept and a view on the people that engage in that concept, then I can expect other things. They are hostile to God (Rom 8:7), so I should expect that they would be hostile to God's people. They hate Christ (John 15:18), so I should expect they will hate those who belong to Christ. They despise Christianity, so I should anticipate they will be hateful and bigoted toward Christians. And I think, if you look around, that's what you see.

It isn't a big deal. This isn't a "martyr complex". It was promised by Christ and we shouldn't be surprised (1 Peter 4:12). We aren't at the mercy of those who would victimize us; we're in the hands of the Master. Jesus said it would happen. I'm just pointing out that it likely will. And I'm hoping that you won't be among those who hate the sin and, therefore, hate the sinner. Our call, regardless of what the rest of the world does, is to love our neighbor. Let's just keep doing that. We should "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matt 5:16) Even if -- especially if -- they don't like you (Matt 5:43-47).

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Turnabout

Now, this is interesting. Isaiah the prophet passed on to his people what God told him to -- all about how the Assyrians were going to come in and wipe them out. Judgment. That sort of thing. But in chapter 10, God says, "Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hands is My indignation." (Isa 10:5) Now, wait a minute. Assyria is "the rod of My anger." Assyria is the nation God sent to annihilate Israel. So ... why is He saying "Woe" to them?

It's not like it's the only time. Habakkuk complained to God that He wasn't doing anything about Israel's sin. God replied, essentially, "Don't worry about it. I'm bringing down the Chaldeans to judge My people." "Hang on," Habakkuk replied, "the Chaldeans are worse than we are!" (Hab 1) God tells him not to concern himself about them, and Habakkuk 2 is a litany of the woes God will visit on the Chaldeans ... for carrying out the judgment on Israel that God ordained them to do.

We find the same thing in the New Testament. Jesus said, "For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" (Luke 22:22) That is, Judas was ordained ("it has been determined") for this task of betraying Him and Judas would be held responsible for it. And not just Judas. In Acts we read, "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. (Acts 4:27-28) That whole "killing the Son of God" thing? That was carried out by evil men performing evil acts that God predestined to occur.

We (mistakenly) think -- quite often, I think -- that God only does "nice things". God only arranges the pleasant events in life. If bad things happen, it wasn't His doing. He had no part, no intent. We are wrong to think that. Scripture says, "The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil." (Prov 16:4) Just like the story of Joseph, where his brothers meant it for evil, God was there intending it for good (Gen 50:20). So bad people do bad things that God allows for God's purposes. They are still culpable for their evil even when God uses it for good. He allows that which He hates in order to accomplish that which He loves. He holds those people responsible for the wrong they do while working it together for good (Rom 8:28).

Some Christians don't like that. Some don't want a God who doesn't only do nice things. Some balk -- sometimes vehemently -- at the idea that God allows, even causes calamity (Isa 45:7). I rest in it. If I can be confident that everything that happens occurs within the realm of His control, I can relax in the toughest of circumstances knowing that He -- not they nor I -- is going to bring it to good even when they intend otherwise. The alternative, to me, is terrifying.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Treasure

I saw a friend the other day. He was limping. "Oh, that looks painful. What is it?" "I hurt my ankle." "Too bad. How long ago?" "A month ago." "Really? Have you seen the doctor?" "No, no, it's minor, I'm sure. Costs too much to see a doctor." Now, this friend has good insurance and good income; it was not a case of insufficient funds. "Oh, I see," I replied. "You're fine with a permanent limp as long as you die with a few extra dollars in the bank." "Well," he answered, "yeah, I guess."

Generally speaking, "economics" is the management of limited resources. You have Y dollars on hand and Y x 2 dollars in bills; you need to decide where that Y will go. And the resources are not merely in terms of money. They would include all resources -- time, talent, effort, etc. We all engage in this form of "economics", where we weigh the "cost" (in terms of whatever resource we're considering) and decide if we'll spend it on "this" or on "that" since we can't do both. Limited resources.

Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matt 6:21) Have you thought about that? It is easy to tell where your treasure lies (and, therefore, where your heart is) by observing your choices -- how you manage your resources. Does he buy cigarettes and beer before necessary medication? You know his priorities. Does she shop for clothing before she shops for food? You know her priorities. If "my reason" supersedes God's Word, you know your priorities. Do you decide to sleep later rather than get up early and spend time with God? Then you know your priorities. If it's just too much trouble to involve yourself in the lives of God's people at church, you know your priorities.

We all do it. Every day. What do your daily choices tell you about what you treasure? Is that what you intended?

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Joy

In Nehemiah 8, after the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, the people gathered to hear Ezra read from the Book of the Law of Moses (Neh 8:1). While he read it (for half of the day!), the people stood (Neh 8:5) and worshiped (Neh 8:9), and when they heard it, they wept (Neh 8:9). Nehemiah, the governor, told them "Do not mourn or weep," (Neh 8:9) and told them to go home and eat. "And do not be grieved," he added, "for the joy of the Lord is your strength." (Neh 8:10)

Think about that for a minute. What did that mean? "The joy of the Lord is your strength." It could mean, "The joy that God has should strengthen you." That is, "God is joyful that we've done this today and that should give you strength." It could mean, "The joy that God gives should strengthen you." Clearly Nehemiah was differentiating between regular joy and what they were experiencing that day. That is, it was not "Let's party because we feel good!" This joy was "of the Lord", not fleshly. Given the context -- the reading of God's Word -- it would appear that this joy was a holy joy in the goodness and grace of God. The answer to my question, then, would be the "joy of the Lord" is the joy that the Lord gives, but we must remember that this joy that the Lord gives comes from the joy that God has. In a sense, then, the answer is "Yes."

In what sense does the joy that God gives (from the joy that God has) provide strength? To me, it is the key. If we have joy in God, it is the best possible motivation for serving Him. We can do it out of duty, but that's more work. We can do it out of fear, but that's not strength. But if we find joy in the Lord, then serving Him is great, not just duty or fear. If the thing that really makes you happy is serving God, then it is the strongest position to have.

Often we are perceived as dour. People think of us as killjoys -- no joy for them and no joy for us. They think we're stern, no fun. I would suggest that people think of that because, honestly, too often it is accurate. But, brothers and sisters, these things ought not be. We serve the Risen Savior, the Creator of all. We serve the God of love, the Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent Jehovah. We are in the service of the King of kings. Why? Because He saved us and replaced our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. Because it is our joy to do so. When we represent the Christian life as a life of duty and drudgery, we misrepresent the joy that the Lord gives and miss out on the strength we can gain from it. Sometimes, I think, we need a realignment in our thinking and feelings because, in fact, "the joy of the Lord is your strength." And that's certainly something we can offer to others.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

News Weakly - 1/27/2018

In Case You Hadn't Heard
A porn star is confirming that Donald Trump cheated on Melania with her. And the people are wondering why conservative Christians are being so quiet.

Now, to me this is not news. Christians (and the rest of the world) knew he was a philanderer before they voted him in. They knew about his "locker room talk" to which he admitted in his crude discussions of women and his views on them. One of the reasons I couldn't vote for the man was because we were all reasonably certain that he was an adulterer, and a man who will cheat on his wife will easily cheat on his nation as well. Why it is that other Christians who are actual Trump supporters are being silent on this is not something I grasp. Is it right to say, "Well, look, he's acting in our best interest in 'these' issues, so we'll keep silent in 'those'"? I think not, but that's between you and your God to decide.

Religious Freedom
A group called the Satanic Temple is suing Missouri because the state's informed consent law requires women to see an ultrasound of her fetus and pledge to read a booklet that states that the "life of every human being begins at conception." Since she does not believe that a non-viable fetus is a human being, her religious freedom was violated and the informed consent law "has essentially established a religious indoctrination program intended to push a single ideological viewpoint."

A couple of thoughts. First, the fact that the life of every human being begins at conception is not a religious ideology; it is medical fact. Second, if anyone is going to win a "religious freedom" argument in court these days, I'd bet it would be this "nontheistic religious organization dedicated to Satanic practice and the promotion of Satanic rights." (Notice how, when it suits them, they can argue that a religion does not have to have any basis in a belief in deity.)

Speaking in a Sound Bite World
Erykah Badu is a singer/actor/activist. She is under fire because she had the audacity to say, "I saw something good in Hitler" and "I love Bill Cosby." Bad ... really bad. Oh, of course, she has explanations for it all. The "good" she saw in Hitler she says is that he could paint well. And she loved Bill Cosby for "what he's done for the world." Her point was to think for yourself, not be driven by loud public voices (like, she explained, the crowd that called for Barabbas to be freed instead of Jesus).

I read some of the interview. She was asked, "Is anything being lost in how younger people absorb music?" She answered, "You can’t roll a joint on the cover of a digital download." I was amused that they're angry about her finding something good in some people but they didn't mind at all that she was bemoaning the loss of a place to prepare illegal drugs. But the real problem is this outrage over her Hitler and Bill Cosby comments. Don't find out what she said. Don't consider the ideas she's trying to put out, like "Don't get caught up in the public furor" and "Think for yourself." Oh, no. She didn't castigate these two hated characters as per the public furor and group-think crowd, so they're mad.

A Gospel Moment
Rachael Denhollander is one of Larry Nassar's victims. Nassar was sentenced to 175 years in prison after more than 150 women said in court that he sexually abused them. Rachael was one of them, but her impact statement was phenomenal. In the middle of her statement, she began, "In our early hearings. you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you." She went on to tell him, "The Bible you speak of carries a final judgment where all of God's wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you. I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me -- though I extend that to you as well."

Now that is a woman who has experienced the grace, mercy, and empowering of God and that is a powerful statement for the Gospel.

The Latest Baby Craze
In recent times the classical "baby shower" has been replaced with or augmented by a "gender reveal party", where friends and family gather to learn the gender of the nearly-arrived newborn. There is sure to be a new trend coming, now that we no longer believe in a "binary gender" paradigm. A "progressive OB/GYN ultrasound tech" refuses to tell her patients the gender of the baby. Instead, she suggests parents "do the responsible, loving thing and wait five or six years and then ask my child how they would like to identify." Then you can do the gender reveal party.

Must be true; I read it on the Internet