Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day, 2017

Memorial Day in the United States is "a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America." It is intended to remind us of the nearly 2 million men and women who gave their lives since 1775 to defend our freedom. (Kind of makes you wonder about the appropriateness of our currently popular "get together and barbecue" party approach, doesn't it? Although I'm no longer sure if Americans have a sense of "the appropriate".)

My practice has been to highlight some of the winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor on this day. There have been nearly 3500 recipients of the Medal of Honor in our history. Only 72 are still alive. Most, however, died in their act of bravery.

Meet Freddie Stowers. Freddie was one of the rare black soldiers to fight in World War I. In September, 1918, Freddie's company was ordered to assault Côte 188, a tall, heavily defended hill in the Ardennes. The Germans faked surrender and then eliminated half of Stowers's company in one barrage, leaving Freddie in charge. Freddie regrouped his remaining forces and led the charge. He was struck by enemy machine gun fire but kept going. Shot a second time, he urged his men to keep going. His courage inspired his men to successfully drive the Germans from the hill. Freddie succumbed to his injuries and it wasn't until 1990 that the Army reviewed his recommendation and looked into the events. He was awarded the Medal of Honor 73 years after he was killed.

Who would be a less likely candidate for the Medal of Honor than Ben Salomon? Ben was an Army dentist in World War II. He volunteered to serve as head field surgeon when the original one was injured in the invasion of Saipan. (Not much dental work going on at the time.) In July of 1944 the fighting was fierce and casualties high. Salomon's field hospital was set up within 50 yards of the forward foxhole line. The Japanese overran the line and encroached on the tent. Salomon killed an enemy soldier attacking one of his wounded and ordered evacuation. He killed two more at the tent entrance and four who crawled under the sides. Salomon's fate wasn't clear until an Army unit returned to the scene of the battle days later. The Army dentist's body was slumped over a machine gun and 98 deceased Japanese troops lay in front of him. He had received 76 bullet wounds and just as many bayonet wounds. It was determined that he had sustained up to 24 wounds while he was still alive. Our brave Jewish dentist wasn't awarded his Medal of Honor until 59 years later.

Being partial to the Air Force, I have to give you an Air Force guy. Captain Steven L. Bennett flew with the 20th Recon Squadron in Vietnam. These weren't the hot fighter pilot types. These guys flew the most dangerous missions. They flew low and slow aircraft like the O-1, O-2, and O-10 to go into the toughest areas as Forward Air Controllers (FACs). They would find the enemy and fly over them while directing artillery or airstrikes. On one such mission, Capt. Bennett found a large concentration of enemy troops massing for an attack on a friendly unit. He requested air support but none was available. He requested artillery support with the same outcome. So he chose to strafe the enemy himself. He made four passes, forcing the enemy to retreat. On the 5th pass, his aircraft was hit by a surface-to-air missile. He realized they wouldn't make it back, so he told his observer to bail out. His observer couldn't. His parachute had been shredded by the impact. Now, Capt. Bennett's parachute was fine, but if he bailed out his observer would die, so instead he opted to ditch the plane in the Gulf of Tonkin. Keep in mind that this kind of aircraft had never survived a ditching. The impact damaged the front cockpit and Capt. Bennett was trapped. His observer escaped and was rescued. "Capt. Bennett's unparalleled concern for his companion, extraordinary heroism and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty, at the cost of his life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force."

We are privileged to live in a country like ours and blessed with a history of people who thought freedom and their fellow countrymen were worth protecting, even dying for. Let us be grateful on this day of memory.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Be Thou My Vision

Solomon wrote, "Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law." (Prov 29:18). "No vision." What is that? Many have concluded it was a reference to leadership. Leaders must have a vision, a direction to go, a plan, even big dreams. Using invariably the King James Version ("Where there is no vision the people perish"), they use this as proof of the need to dream big. As it turns out, the idea in Solomon's text was a direction from God. The text, in fact, tells you where to get that "vision" by contrasting with the happy person. He "keeps the law." Thus, "vision" is God's Word and "no vision" is disregarding God's Word.

So what is the vision found in the hymn, Be Thou My Vision?
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul's Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven's joys, O bright Heaven's Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
Typically attributed to Dallán Forgaill in the 6th century, this Irish hymn was translated by Mary E. Byrne in 1905 and put to verse by Eleanor H. Hull in 1912. The poem was set to an Irish folk tune in 1919. And this one appears to be without confusion. Clearly it is in the same sense as the author of Hebrews intended it:
Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1-2)
This vision is looking where you're going. Where does the hymn suggest? "Be Thou my vision."

Excluded, then, would be just about anything you might want to think. Riches, praise, family, inheritance, self-preservation, dignity, pleasure ... let's see ... what's left? Nothing. The song calls on God to be the sole sight, the only direction, the single vision. In Him we find wisdom, guidance, family, protection, dignity, joy, shelter, inheritance, treasure, and a future.

When contemplating this wonderful hymn, I came across an interesting feature. Now, mind you, it may simply be the difference between English in 1909 versus modern English, but note the first two lines: "Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art." Okay, let's first work through the unfamiliar language. "Lord of my heart, please be my focus." Fine. Easy stuff. And then a little more difficult. "Naught be all else to me" -- "Let nothing else be everything to me." If nothing else is to be everything to me, what is? Here's where the language gets interesting. "Save that Thou art." Now, perhaps there is a glitch in understanding. Maybe "that Thou art" is meant to convey "as much as You mean to me." "Let nothing else mean as much to me as you mean to me." But that's not what the words say. The words, taken at face value, say, "except that You are." Okay, hold on. Let me put that together in our English. "Let nothing else mean all to me except that You exist."

If this is accurate, the song is calling on us to love God simply for His being. It isn't loving Him for what He provides which is great. It isn't loving Him for loving us which is marvelous. It is loving Him because He is. It is the language found in Jeremiah's lament.
Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind; therefore I have hope. The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him." (Lam 3:20-24)
In this amazing passage of Scripture, Jeremiah hits bottom. He experiences hopelessness. What rescues him from hopelessness? It is not the promise of something better. It is simply the Lord. "The LORD is my portion," he says, and that is His reason for hope.

Let nothing mean as much to me as the fact that you are, dear God. You be my vision.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

News Weakly - 5/27/2017

Values Clarification
Over the weekend Vice President Pence gave a commencement address at Notre Dame. Some students walked out in protest. "The participation and degree-conferring of VP Pence stand as an endorsement of policies and actions which directly contradict Catholic social teachings and values," they said. "What values?" you ask. He's "against gay rights". Because as governor of Indiana he signed a bill protecting religious freedom (a la the First Amendment). Because, you see, the Catholic teachings and values are in favor of gay rights, homosexual behavior, and the loss of First Amendment protections in America. Also high on the list of Catholic teachings and values, apparently, is the disrespect of authority. Strange teachings, those Catholics. Or could it be ...?

Audacity Personified
A special education technician at a public high school noted that a coworker seemed to be going through some tough times. Since she went to the same church he did, she told him privately she'd be praying for him. Turns out, this is a violation of the First Amendment. She was reprimanded and warned to keep private beliefs private ... or else. The audacity! "I'll be praying for you." What gall! Who would have thought someone would do such a thing in today's enlightened, inclusive, tolerant America?

A Single Payer Plan
So, progressive California is considering instituting its own single payer health plan. Think of it. No California resident need pay premiums or obtain health insurance. It would all be supplied by the government without copay or deductible. Marvelous, right? Except that the government has no money to actually do this. They estimate it would cost $400 billion a year. California's current budget is $180 billion. That means that this service would triple their budget. That means that the government would be providing the service ... but at the cost of an additional 15% tax on income. Now, currently roughly 4% of my paycheck goes to paying for my insurance -- medical, dental, and vision -- and I'm pretty sure others aren't paying significantly more, so I can't imagine voters would actually think this is a good thing. That's never stopped government from carrying it through, has it?

The New Mission Field
Alan Shlemon, a Christian author and speaker from Stand to Reason, was invited to Oregon State University by a Catholic group to speak on how to better understand Islam and how to reach them for the Gospel. Fairly benign, you'd think, but Muslims protested, forcing the presentation off campus and then protested in the presentation. A Christian campus group protested as well, arguing that it made Muslims "targets for conversion" and "de-legitimizes their Abrahamic faith tradition."

It shouldn't be a surprise when the "religion of peace" opposes free speech and the freedom of religion, but when those who claim to side with the Prince of Peace oppose the clear claims (John 14:6) and commands (Matt 28:19-20) of the Prince of Peace, you might begin to see how America is no longer a "Christian nation" but a mission field.

Unclear on the Concept
Clearly Nancy DeVos is unclear on the concept. She told Congress that the federal government would make education funds available for states to spend at their discretion on school choice initiatives. Many were outraged. School choice? Government money allowing people to choose? Aren't we supposed to discriminate against those who discriminate?

Silly girl. She hasn't figured out that the 10th Amendment to the Constitution has been repealed along with others. What Congress (at least some or even many) believes is that the federal government should be bigger, not limited. And it is the federal government that should get to decide what standards private schools and companies can and cannot practice in terms of their religious beliefs. When will people like our current education secretary learn?

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Dilemma of Sovereignty

We discuss it here and there. We disagree here and there. Sometimes a lot. Scripture is abundantly clear that God is Sovereign in a way that demands a capital "S", in a way that exceeds any form of human sovereignty. "Whatever the LORD pleases, He does," the psalmist says (Psa 135:6; Psa 115:3). Isaiah quotes God as saying, "My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure" (Isa 46:10). Nebuchadnezzar said of God, "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) "Job said, "I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2). Paul called Him, "He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords" (1 Tim 6:15). Solomon said, "The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps" (Prov 16:9) Over and over the Bible repeats this claim of the Absolute Sovereignty of God.

Over against that concept we are faced with a dilemma that Paul recognizes. "You will say to me then, 'Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?'" (Rom 9:19). Over against Absolute Sovereignty we have the free will of Man. We are told to choose, to obey, to avoid, to do, to work. We are held accountable for our failures and rewarded for succeeding. Clearly human beings have some faculty that both allows us to choose and holds us culpable for our choices. If God's Sovereignty was the type that simply controlled everything, human free will would be a myth, an illusion, a farce. "Choose this day Whom you will serve ... and, oh, by the way, you cannot and what you do choose is chosen for you." That doesn't work.

This is the dilemma of Sovereignty. Is God Sovereign or is He not? Either answer we give will produce a large dilemma in the reliability of the Word of God and what we know about Him. If we choose one over the other, whichever way we choose, we're in trouble.

Here's what we do know. We know that God is Sovereign (I gave several references for that) and we know that humans have the ability and responsibility to make choices. We know, for instance, that Christ told His disciples at the Last Supper, "The Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" This claim holds Sovereignty in one hand and culpability in the other. Peter claimed that Jesus was "delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God" and was "crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." (Acts 2:23) Both a "definite plan and foreknowledge of God" and the culpability of "lawless men". The Bible has no problem holding the two apparently opposed concepts in either hand and consciously affirming them both.

The problem, I believe, is the ever-present problem of the infinite versus the finite. Anyone that tells you "I understand God" is lying because the finite (humans) can never fully grasp the infinite (God). If God ever becomes non-mysterious He is no longer God. We often don't like that, I guess, but I'm quite sure the reason is our arrogance rather than our grasp of reality. There are some things about God that He explains to our satisfaction and there are some things He does not -- cannot. That is, we lack the capacity to understand. There are things that the Bible refers to as "the secret things" that belong to the Lord (Deut 29:29). We are responsible for the revealed, not the secret.

So what will you do with this dilemma? Some have opted to go one way or the other. Some lean on the Sovereignty side and do nothing. "God will do what God will do. I won't worry about it." They don't pray much. They don't work much. They don't seek much. Far more jump to the other side -- Free Will! They discount God's Sovereignty in favor of a limited sovereignty that depends on Human Free Will, discarding the clear message of Scripture that God is Absolutely Sovereign and embracing the implicit but not explicit concept of Human Free Will. It is extremely common to hear Christians say something like, "God wants to do things, but Human Free Will prevents Him." In the former, humans are no longer humans, but automatons held captive by a cruel God who forces everyone to act the way they do and then charges them with Cosmic Treason for doing so. In the latter, God is subservient to His Creation, trying desperately to work out things and pleading with people to do the right thing so He can. In neither case is God God.

It is indeed a mental dilemma. Is God Sovereign? We must answer a resounding "Yes! Absolutely!" Is Man culpable, responsible, able to choose? Again, we cannot avoid the affirmative. So what are we to do? We must embrace them both. We must agree that God will do what He will and He commands us to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17). We must affirm that God chooses whom He will save (Eph 1:4; 1 Thess 1:4; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Peter 2:9) and requires us to choose Him (Josh 24:15; Acts 2:38; Acts 17:30; 1 John 3:23). We must do what we are clearly commanded to do and trust in God's Sovereignty, in His intent (e.g., Gen 50:20), in His character. We must bring our requests to Him with the confidence that it matters, all the while knowing that He will do what is right. Understand fully? No, that's not one of the commands. That's not available as an option. Joni Eareckson Tada said, "Sometimes God allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves." That's the God we must trust and obey.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Just Your Opinion

I presented my readers with a couple of stories on my News Weakly program. One was about how more and more they are trying to force doctors with Christian ethics to violate their ethics and ... abort babies, euthanize old people, perform sex-reassignment surgery, that sort of thing. Two others were about abortion. In one case India granted a 10-year-old the right to have an abortion and in the other a TV show was using support for Planned Parenthood as an Emmy campaign. Clearly I think abortion is wrong.

You may have picked up what you might consider a double standard in that series that day. "On one hand you say it's wrong to force doctors to violate their conscience and perform those things you listed and on the other hand it's wrong to allow other doctors to do those things if it is within their consciences." The question seems to be "So, you're unwilling to force people to do things that are opposed to what is right in your opinion, but perfectly willing to force them to align with what in your opinion is right." Is that it? Is it all just a matter of opinion?

The truth is that opinions are fine. No problem there. Everyone has them. Lots of them agree; lots do not. Whether you like broccoli or I like lima beans is a matter of opinion not worth fighting over. We can have differing opinions and get along fine. The problem arises when we look at whose opinion is going to be imposed on others. Anyone's? No one's? Is there an alternative?

In a world that has rejected God (and, make no mistake, it has, and not just in our lifetime (Rom 8:7; John 15:18,24; 1 John 5:19)) the truth is that the only accepted standard is "opinion". That's all we have. In a world without God, that's the only thing available. The believer who stands on "I believe the Word of God" is standing on the opinion that the Word of God is to be believed. Understand, I'm not saying that the only thing we have is opinion; I'm saying that the only thing available to the world in the absence of God's absolutes is opinion, and the world has rejected God's absolutes.

At the end of the line, we run on the opinion of those in power. Perhaps it's the people, perhaps a ruling group, perhaps a single leader. (In a theocracy, the ruling power is God and it is His opinion that matters.) It's just the way it's done. So we operate on opinion. If the ruling power determines that killing babies is good and acceptable, that is law. If the ruling power determines that not killing babies is good and acceptable, then that is the law. In a democracy (or republic), then, you can sway the opinion of the majority to change laws to your own opinion and the laws will change. That's the way it works.

So, how are we to proceed? It's not as if you can do it some other way. We could, I suppose, assign the opinion of each individual as the moral law. There is actually a term for that -- anarchy. In Judges, Israel did it (Judges 17:6; Judges 21:25). God forbade it (Deut 12:8). Solomon warned against it (Prov 12:15). Otherwise we're simply going to be standing on opposing opinions where some win out and others lose. Oddly enough, those people that complain about "It's just your opinion" aren't willing to actually go there themselves. I don't think, for instance, if the opinion of the ruling power held that it was perfectly acceptable to commit "postpartum abortion" -- "Any parent is allowed to kill their child up until the age of 18" -- that these "It's just your opinion" folk would say, "Good!" These same folk look at arranged marriage, as an example, that was the norm of yesteryear and call it "Bad!" Why? It was the opinion of those ruling powers to be good. So these people who complain "It's just your opinion" and "You're trying to force your opinion on us" are operating on their own opinion and would like to force their opinion on us. An obvious example: "You think marriage is defined as the union of a man and a woman (as it has been for all of human history) and it is our opinion that you must change your opinion. We will require it by force of law."

"Just your opinion" is the phrase some use to diminish your view and elevate their own. The question is not "Is this just your opinion?" The question is the weight of the opinion. What is the source? What is the reliability? What is the history? What is the reasoning? A witness to a crime who "dreamed that I saw him kill her" is offering an opinion just as the witness who "was standing there and watched him do it", but one of those opinions has more weight than another. Taking an opinion that coincides with God's ideas has greater weight than taking one that originates from "I feel". But don't be fooled. It's all opinion. It's the opinion of those who love God that His views are right and authoritative and the opinion of those who oppose God's ideas that those ideas are wrong. The weight of the opinion matters, but in our world the opinion of the ruling power is what becomes law. That is the problem in a world of deceitful hearts and hatred for God.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Tyranny of the Unusual

They tell me that roughly 5% of the population self-identifies as "gay". An even smaller percentage (less than 2%) are "transgender". The push these days is to call this "normal" and to urge people to "embrace" it in themselves and in others. Amazingly, in a relatively brief time our society is doing just that. Why? It's not, by any statistical analysis, "normal". The outlying 5% cannot be classified as "normal" unless the term has no meaning. Yet our society has been pushed into accepting as normal a tiny percentage of the population. I will call this "the tyranny of the unusual".

We have a strange propensity to allow the unusual to be our guide, to shape our views and our lives. I know that you will likely disagree, but consider the facts. Many people choose their views and courses of action based on the news. They won't fly because there was a plane crash. They avoid the freeway because there was an accident. They keep their kids away from playgrounds because there was a kidnapping. Let's go with that last one for a moment. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, some 800,000 children are reported missing each year. Subtract 203,000 from that to account for abduction by family members -- custody disputes and the like. Remove the family abductions, and you factor in the number of missing children who, soon thereafter, are found. Not missing, just misplaced. The numbers plummet. In 1999 something around 50,000 children and adolescents were taken for at least one hour. Ninety-one percent of non-family abductions lasted less than a day. And the numbers continue to drop. While kidnappings and missing kids get reported loud and clear, it turns out that the bottom line is that it's much less frequent than you would think. And, yet, parents are terrified of having their kids stolen. Because it's common? No, because it's news.

The truth is human beings are designed to notice the unusual. If someone held up a white sheet with a small black ink stain and asked you what you saw, you'd likely say, "An ink stain", not "a large white sheet." Think about this. You're driving down the freeway with 50 other people (in your immediate vicinity) all traveling approximately the same speed. One car is weaving in and out of traffic traveling significantly faster than everyone else. What car do you notice? Well, it's not the 50. Why? Because that one is not doing what everyone else is doing. But you know how this works. You'll likely think, "Wow, drivers are getting worse and worse. They're rude and uncaring and dangerous." But it's only one. Because of the tyranny of the unusual.

According to Wikipedia, crash statistics for the United States jumped up 10.5% from 2014 to 2015. "See?" I can hear some say, "Driving is dangerous." The statistics say there were 35,092 deaths by accidents in 2015. That was 1.12 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. How many miles did you travel by vehicle in 2015? In terms of population, that works out to 11 deaths per 100,000 people. Statistically that is a 0.01% chance that you will be killed in a traffic accident. And yet many people live their lives in fear of being killed in a traffic accident. The tyranny of the unusual.

We are geared to pay attention to the unusual rather than the usual. It's just the way our brains are wired. It doesn't mean that we ought to make our decisions or form our views or live our lives by the unusual. We don't actually live in a random, statistical world; we live in God's world. Reasonable consideration eases the tyranny of the unusual. Reasonable faith eliminates it. We should be careful about forming opinions from the news or the emotional grabs our world offers and consider instead the One who holds all things in His hands. A much safer place to be.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Wrong Way to Reason

Many people think that faith and reason are opposed. "Faith is believing something blindly," they argue. Jesus, on the other hand, had no aversion to blending faith and reason. He insisted that salvation comes from believing in Him (John 3:16) and encouraged reason. When the Pharisees, for instance, demanded a sign from Jesus, He told them, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' And in the morning, 'There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.' Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?" (Matt 16:2-3) That is, "Think!" Jesus favored it.

Interesting, then, when Jesus asked them to reason through a question.
They came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to Him, and began saying to Him, "By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?" And Jesus said to them, "I will ask you one question, and you answer Me, and then I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men? Answer Me." (Mark 11:27-30)
Simple question. "What do you think?" He simply asked them to tell Him if John's teaching was from God or not. Easy.

Now, notice their line of reasoning.
They began reasoning among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say, 'Then why did you not believe him?' "But shall we say, 'From men'?"—they were afraid of the people, for everyone considered John to have been a real prophet. Answering Jesus, they said, "We do not know." And Jesus said to them, "Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things." (Mark 11:31-33)
Notice that they were careful in their reasoning. "If we say" precedes both options. They carefully weighed the potential outcomes. They thought it through and gave the answer that would avoid an unpleasant end. "We do not know."

Not once did these men consider the question. The truth was not at issue here. The issue here was "How will this come out for us? What are the ramifications of our answer?" Not "What is the truth?"

You know this is common thinking. "If I say that the Bible is right about this, I won't be popular." "If I agree with God on that topic, I won't be able to do what I want." "If I admit that the Bible is quite clear on this, I'll be on 'the wrong side of history'." So they invent the dodge. "Oh, we can't say for sure." "It's only a matter of opinion." "True humility requires that we don't take a hard stance." "You must see that there are a multitude of possible ways to understand this. Maybe it's legend or myth. Maybe it's an allegory or a parable. It's hard to take a firm position here." All of this not because the question at hand is unclear. They do all this because they don't like the outcome if they come to the obvious conclusion. Sadly, the more they practice this method of reasoning, the easier it becomes and the farther they get from the truth. In the case of the Pharisees asking for a sign, they were already aware that Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead, "but let's not get bogged down with truth here ... give us a sign."

Brothers, these things ought not be. Truth does not rely on you to believe it; truth is true. On the other hand, Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." (John 14:6) In other words, receiving Christ as the Truth (with a capital "T") requires you to believe it if it is going to be to your benefit. Truth is not hurt by your examination, but you are hurt if you refuse the truth. Don't reason like the Pharisees, starting with the outcome and answering from there. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matt 22:37) The truth, regardless of the outcome, is always better.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Don't Judge Me

They tell me that the best known Bible verse today is no longer John 3:16. Now it's Matthew 7:1: "Judge not, that you be not judged." They love to pull that one out of their quiver full of arrows to fire back at anyone who dares to say, "You know, the Bible says the behavior you're engaging in is sin." Of course, it belies some ignorance to assume Jesus meant "Don't judge" because the rest of the chapter is all about judging. Taking the speck out of your brother's eye (Matt 7:3-5), giving what is holy to dogs (Matt 7:6), "Enter by the narrow gate" (Matt 7:13-14), beware of false prophets you will recognize by their fruits (Matt 7:15-20), the whole "I never knew you" thing to those who come to judgment thinking they knew Him (Matt 7:21-23). So it's not saying "Don't judge". What it is saying is judge carefully, beginning with yourself. Don't have a double standard. "With the judgment you pronounce you will be judged." And that, brothers and sisters, is something of which we need to be constantly mindful. Because double standards abound.

How common is it for those who deny the existence of God to complain about the morality of God ... or His followers? I've seen "God must be evil because He killed His Son to save us." Well, now, that's a handy double standard. "No, I deny the Basis of moral absolutes and then claim absolutely that the Basis of morality that I denied violates the morality I created." Go with that if you must, but it's quite a standard there.

How about the "humble" person who says, "You can't say that God's Word says what you think it says; you need to be humble and just call it your opinion"? These types are quick to tell you you're wrong. Not "It's merely my opinion and I don't want to suggest I'm right, but ..." No, when you disagree with them "You're wrong and you should be humble enough to admit it because I won't." They will debate your error into the ground without the least sense of uncertainty or humility because it's you that needs to be humble. "I'm good. I'm humble. I'm better than you. You wanna be a humble man, you look at me." (Sorry ... a line from a Steve Taylor song.)

In a similar vein, you'll see a lot of intolerant people complaining about your lack of tolerance and judgmental people judging you for being judgmental. It's generally the "inclusive" folk who exclude people for not being inclusive. It's amazing how hateful people can be who are complaining about others who they see as hateful. Double standards.

Be careful -- we do this, too. It's dangerous to say, "You ought to be following Scripture" when you're not willing to follow Scripture. That kind of thing was what Jesus was talking about. "You homosexuals are simply refusing to follow God's laws" is all fine and good as long as the person who says it is personally not refusing to follow God's laws. "You should repent of your sexual immorality" is not a good thing to say when you're keeping a porn stash on your computer. It isn't only those outside the church that are prone to double standards. We're all capable of such things.

"Judge not, that you be not judged" does not -- cannot -- mean "Never pass judgment on anything." It's clear from the context. It isn't reasonable. It isn't practical. It isn't biblical. What is in mind, then, is that we judge ourselves first and foremost. Don't be like so many of our detractors who sternly demand you subscribe to their standard ... the one they're not willing to subscribe to. Take the log out of your own eye first.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Blameless

The Bible talks on more than one occasion about being "blameless". Noah was "blameless in his generation" (Gen 6:9). The Lord told Abram "Be blameless." (Gen 17:1) David sang, "I was blameless before Him and I kept myself from guilt." (2 Sam 22:24; Psa 18:23) Job was "blameless and upright" (Job 1:1). (God called him that (Job 2:3).) Paul told the Philippians to "be pure and blameless for the day of Christ." (Phil 1:10) He even classified himself as blameless (Phil 3:6). A whole lot of "blameless" going on. A similar term is "guilt" or, rather, "guiltless". Paul says that Christ will "sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor 1:8) The popular song, In Christ Alone, speaks of "No guilt in life, no fear in death; This is the power of Christ in me." That's it, isn't it?

There's a problem here. I mean, there is indeed a lot of "blameless" in there, both commanded and claimed, and, yet, we know that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) We know that "no one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:12) We know that "whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it." (James 2:10) We know that "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves." (1 John 1:8) and "If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us." (1 John 1:10) So ... who is blameless here? How could Noah or Job or David be blameless? How could Paul (who wrote some of those things about "all have sinned") call himself "blameless"?

The problem is our understanding of "blameless". We think of it as "without guilt" or "without error", but that's not the idea here. It would be more at "unblamable". It's not that there was no sin; it's that all sin has been handled. It's like your finances. It's not that you don't have any bills; it's that you're up to date on them. No outstanding balances. Paid in full.

Well, again, aren't we left with the same problem? We don't have a means to pay our debt in full. We are incapable. Having deviated from "perfect" (Matt 5:48) and "holy" (1 Peter 1:15-16), can we make ourselves perfect and holy again? No. We do not have this ability.

We talk about "accepting Christ", but that's not the real question, is it? The real question is will God accept me? Thanks be to God I'm accepted because Christ was rejected. I have life because He gave His. I owe no penalty for sin because He paid the penalty for sin. I bear no blame because He took the blame. When Jesus said, "It is finished", He declared the debt paid. He canceled our record of debt (Col 2:14). He made us the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). He filled us full of Himself -- raised us up to "blameless". He solved the unsolvable problem. This is why we rejoice. This is why we celebrate. We will suffer from guilt as we sin and confess (1 John 1:9), but He makes us blameless in His sight. He has done what we could not. This is the good news!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

News Weakly - 5/20/2017

Toe the Line or Get Out
Elites of the medical profession are making a push to eliminate health care professionals who wish to perform their duties with a conscience. They declare conscientious objection unethical. If you want to be a doctor and operate in accordance with the Hippocratic Oath ("I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm"), you'll not be allowed to do it here. If you want to be in the health care profession, you'll have to submit your personal conscience to the consensus of the majority. You're opposed to killing? The majority thinks it's okay? Kill or get out. (Note: The paper was coauthored by bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel, one of Obamacare’s principal architects. Are you sure there were no "death panels" in that plan?)

"It's just one paper," you say. In Canada, Ontario mandates that physicians participate in assisted suicide. In the state of Washington a small, family-owned pharmacy store was ordered to carry "morning after" pills and other abortifacients against their beliefs or get out of the business. In Vermont it is required of physicians to counsel patients on ending their lives. The ACLU is making a point of going to court on this principle, suing one Catholic hospital in California for refusing to perform a sex-reassignment surgery and another for refusing to provide sterilization to a woman. Don't expect this to be a "one off" or to decline in the future.

Military Intelligence ... an Oxymoron
Bradley Manning (you'll see him referred to as "Chelsea" because he has delusions of gender) has been released in accordance with a commuted sentence from President Obama. Bradley, convicted for leaking a massive number of classified documents (called "treason" in normal vernacular), will remain on active duty after release because, he is appealing his conviction. What does that mean? He'll continue to get health coverage ... so he can continue his government-paid sex change ... which makes sense to someone somewhere.

To be fair, it is military law to cover someone during an appeal, so I could cast no aspersions on the military. It's the courts that have done this, requiring the army to stop calling him a man and to pay for his sex change. On the other hand, they were military courts that ruled this way, so ...

Crossing the Line
This sad story is one of those "lines", a definitive moment when which side you take has major ramifications. A court in India has granted the right to an abortion to a 10-year-old girl. Why? She was raped by her stepfather. Horrible story. The stepfather was arrested. Good. The little girl was impregnated. Bad. And this one is one that so many anti-abortion folk would give a pass. The standard exception is "in the case of rape or incest". (Frankly, I've never figured out the "incest" one. If it was rape, it wouldn't matter if it was a relative or not. If it was not rape, why does "incest" excuse the abortion?)

The question you have to ask yourself is this: Will your emotions determine what is right? All the factors -- the girl's age, the rape, the incest -- all cry out for making an exception in this case to go ahead and kill this baby. If this is your position, then you may, perhaps, be classified as "anti-abortion", but you cannot be classified as "pro-life". This is where you get to see where you stand. Is it about choice, or is it about life?

More from the Religion of Peace
Last week I brought you the story of Indonesia's conviction of a Christian "blasphemer" (where "blasphemy" was demonstrated by quoting a verse from the Quran). This week another story comes out of Indonesia. Two gay men were sentenced to 85 whacks with a cane for ... you know ... doing what defines "gay men". Neighbors suspected them, so they broke down their door and arrested them, complete with video. The ABC News story says this is "further undermining the country's moderate image." Ya think? Christians believe the behavior is sinful, but I don't know a single Bible-believing Christian who is calling for public caning of sinners. (Bible-believing Christians call for them to trust Christ.) Not true in the places ruled by the "religion of peace".

What kind of campaign??
Apparently CBS has a "hit show" called "Mom" about a dysfunctional mother/daughter duo ... the kind of show that convinced me to disconnect the antenna/cable. Well, this week they decided to donate $250,000 to Planned Parenthood instead of using the money for their Emmy campaign. Now, wait ... Emmy campaign? They do campaigns to get the awards? Large campaigns? Big bucks? Apparently. And, according to the story, the team met and asked, "What might our Emmy campaign be?" and star Allison Janney said, "Let's give the money to Planned Parenthood!" So that is their Emmy campaign. Follow that through. "We want to win an Emmy. We'll need to pay to do it. What is the best way to spend our money to win an Emmy? Give the money to kill babies!! Yeah!" "It makes sense," Janney said. "Our show is all about women and we don't shy away from dealing with all issues that affect women and families." Affects families by killing them? Nice.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Prior Commitments

There is a term derived from Latin that means literally "from the former" -- a priori. The definition is knowledge or reasoning that proceeds from a theoretical deduction from a previous position rather than from observation or experience. It is reasoning derived from prior propositions. And it is surprising how much of how we think is a priori.

Let's try a simple logic chain. Bob hates vegetables. A tomato is a vegetable. Therefore, Bob hates tomatoes. Note in this that there is an a priori position where Bob hates vegetables. He is committed in advance to this. When he hears, then, that tomatoes are vegetables, he automatically hates them. This is problematic because tomatoes aren't vegetables; they're fruit. That is, it isn't experience ("I ate a tomato and didn't like it") that informed Bob's opinion about tomatoes, but his prior commitment to a hatred of vegetables.

Very popular today is the concept of "global warming" or, more accurately, "global climate change". I would venture to guess that the majority of those who believe in anthropogenic global climate change -- the idea that human beings are killing the planet by changing the climate -- do so on an a priori basis. They have prior commitments that require it of them. Maybe it's a prior belief that humans are dangerous. Maybe it's a commitment to "trust what the scientists tell us." That's the same belief that, for the vast majority of people, is sufficient to convince them that Evolution is true.

Religion in general and Christianity in particular are rich in a priori commitments. The Bible begins with "In the beginning, God ..." (Gen 1:1) which is a statement "from the former" that there is, without question, a God. No question. No proof. No evidence. He just is. We have confidence in the authority and reliability of Scripture from which we derive the certainty of the existence, life, death, and resurrection of Christ from which we derive much more of what Christianity entails. These are just some examples.

It's surprising to me the number of positions Christians take from unexpected a priori concepts. Open Theism, for instance, begins with a previous position regarding the nature of the Free Will of Man. It is the Libertarian Free Will notion that requires that "Free Will" be defined as "without influence or constraint from God or human nature. Now, nothing in Scripture offers this definition and nothing in Scripture requires this definition. It is simply a prior concept from which a major set of conclusions are drawn.

The whole "old-earth" theory of Creation is built on this same kind of thinking. Nothing in the Bible requires the position that God could nor or did not make the universe in 6 days. It comes solely from a prior commitment to modern scientific views of the age of the Earth. To put it another way, the thinking goes, "Modern science says the world is billions of years old, so the Bible can't be right" or, more generously, "... so the entire historical understanding of the Church has been wrong." That is, it cannot be "The Bible says it's 6 days, so Science must be wrong."

Our prior commitments tell us a lot about what we believe. "If the Bible conflicts with Science, the Bible is wrong" has one prior commitment and "If the Bible conflicts with Science, Science must be wrong" is a different one. If the Bible were to teach that guys were to wear coats and ties to church, your prior commitment would determine the outcome. An a priori position of "The Bible is right" would lead to guys wearing coats and ties to church and an a priori position of "Culture (or comfort) is right" would lead to the conclusion that the Bible was mistaken on that point. The number of Christians who draw conclusions from prior commitments opposed to Scripture is discouraging. This speaks of a bottom-line prior commitment of "Truth is subject to my approval."

We ought to be people of prior commitments. We ought to assume, for instance, the character of God revealed in His Word. Like Abraham's "Will not the Judge of all the earth do what's right?", we ought to assume that God is loving, good, faithful, just, merciful, gracious, powerful, wise, and all the other attributes we know Him to be rather than question His character when we see things that cause us to wonder. We ought to assume that all Scripture is God-breathed and, as such, authoritative and incapable of error and act accordingly. That would include reading it, treasuring it, and obeying it even when we don't fully understand it. If the a priori position is correct, then it is right to hold to it, draw conclusions from it, and respond appropriately. Truthfully, God and His Word do not need our approval to be right.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Arrested Development

We live in a time and in a Church that appears to suffer from arrested development. American Christianity seems to be like a river a mile wide and an inch deep. There is the problem of terminology, of course. What once was standardized -- "justification", "sanctification", "ecclesiology", "exegesis" (especially in comparison to "eisegesis"), "hermeneutics", and so on -- is now forgotten, ignored, undefined, or, perhaps, so variably defined as to have lost most of its meaning. Essentials like the Gospel, the Trinity, the authority and reliability of God's Word, the doctrine of Original Sin, justification by grace through faith, even the Resurrection are no longer essential to many and, for far too many, no longer even true. The language of Christianity -- "Christianese" -- is fairly common, but we're still not speaking the same language. Then there are the forces of the world at work, trying to shape and distort "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 1:3) They do it from without, using the courts and public opinion and emotional pressure to try to force Christ's Church to change its orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxy (right practice). They do it from within, tares among the wheat, urging the church to be more like the world in the name of "Christian values". So we end up with churches with lots of people who are largely shallow in their grasp of orthodoxy and orthopraxy -- arrested development.

The author of Hebrews was busily explaining the deity of Christ and comparing Him to "the order of Melchizedek" (Heb 5:1-10) when he appears to stop in his tracks and tell his readers,
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:11-14)
What is that? Arrested development. "You ought to be teachers by this time." They're not. "It is hard to explain." Why? "You need milk, not solid food." What's up? What has made these early Christians so anemic, so dull of hearing, so baby-like? According to the text, it is arrested development. "Solid food," he says, "is for the mature," and they are not mature. What makes someone mature? The mature are "those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil."

They say, "You are what you eat." Sure, a proverb, but often true. Christianity in America has largely laid off the rich food of the Word, the meat, the real nourishment that comes from delving consciously, carefully, and continuously into Scripture. Much like the public school system, we've opted more for the "least common denominator" approach. You know ... teach at the level of the lowest person. Similarly churches tend to preach and teach at the level of the lowest person. The outcome is the lowest level.

Scripture says we should be trained by constant practice for "powers of discernment". This produces maturity and allows for "solid food". "Milk", on the other hand, is what is necessary for those who are "unskilled in the word." So instead of providing constant practice, instead of equipping the saints, building up the body of Christ, and building to spiritual maturity (Eph 4:11-14), we remain children, "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes." (Eph 4:14) Arrested development.

Now, I'm not keen on bringing problems all by themselves. I'm not happy when others point at issues and provide no solutions and I don't like to do it myself. Clearly, there is a solution here. Instead of being children, instead of failing to preach and teach the Word in order to mature and build up the saints, we ought to ... well, preach and teach the Word. A focus on skills in the Word and training by constant practice is the solution to this problem of arrested development. The only question is who is going to take up the solution? Are we simply going to be satisfied with our own arrested development?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Alternative Lifestyles

We know what they mean these days when they speak of "alternative lifestyles". They refer to lifestyles people may take that are not ... normal. They're not mainstream, not typical, not for everyone. Sometimes it's a reference to sexual issues such as homosexual lifestyles or "swinging" couples. Just as often it's about communes, nudism, co-ops, and such. The term includes vegetarianism, body modification, alternative medicine, and eastern religions. Lots of alternatives, as it turns out.

Paul offers two and only two.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: sexual 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. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Gal 5:16-25)
He begins with the briefest of statements. You can "walk by the Spirit" or you can "carry out the desires of the flesh." That's the summary version. Those are the options -- the only two. You decide.

Paul goes on to explain the two. What do they look like? Well, "the works of the flesh" include sexual sin of all types, idolatry of all types, and sins against each other of all types. Isn't it interesting that Paul uses here the exact same phrase he used in 1 Cor 6:9-10? There he warned, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?" Here he says that those who practice the kinds of stuff on this list "will not inherit the kingdom of God." That means that this is pretty important stuff. It's not about "bad" -- immoral. It's about eternity. People known for sexual immorality (a Greek term that broadly encompasses all sexual involvement outside of biblical marriage), who make a practice of idolatry, who embrace strife, who approve and perform disputes, who are known for "factions" -- the literal word is "heresies" -- people who embrace the "deeds of the flesh" are not bound for a pleasant eternity. It's not people who do them on occasion, but who make an ongoing practice of these things who are walking by the flesh and will not inherit God's kingdom.

We're all aware of the alternative. If not of the flesh, we would have to be of the Spirit. Just as the deeds of the flesh are evident, the Spirit produces fruit. Both are inexorable. The fruit of the Spirit is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." All of these fall within God's law. All of these are products not of self-effort, but of the Spirit.

What decides which way we go? What decides if we inherit the kingdom or not? Obviously if we walk by the Spirit or by the flesh. Paul says that one mark of walking by the Spirit is when we are not doing the things we please (Gal 5:17). Walking by the Spirit is not satisfying our own personal desires. To walk by the Spirit requires crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal 5:24).

Two alternatives. Only two. Check yourself. Which are you? Which list speaks more closely to your lifestyle? If inheriting the kingdom of God is important to you, this is an important answer. Important warning: If "If it feels good, do it" is your primary mantra, you might find you're in an extremely dangerous position. "I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh."

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The End to Abortion

I have always held that, at least in my case, "anti-abortion" is the wrong tag. I am not opposed to abortion; I'm opposed to killing babies. Currently pregnant women can 1) do the normal thing and carry the baby to term and raise it, 2) do the normal thing and carry the baby to term and give it away for adoption, or 3) kill it. In 2012 (the latest date of statistics available from the CDC), nearly 700,000 abortions were performed. That's 700,000 babies murdered instead of Options 1 or 2. I'm not opposed to the first two options. It's that third one that disturbs me because I'm pro-life and not anti-abortion. You see, if they could come up with a way to remove the baby from the womb of the mother who wants or needs it removed and have that baby live, I'd have nothing to say.

Just last month The Atlantic reported on the early results of a new technology that could potentially allow a fetus to continue to develop outside of the womb. Scientists from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia developed an artificial womb, a bag with amniotic fluids and artificial feeding tubes, that successfully grew lamb fetuses from conception to the equivalent of a 23-week-old human fetus. The idea is that a human fetus could be removed from the womb and allowed to gestate in this artificial version to an age at which it could survive. That, at least, is the idea. It's a long way from reality. The article says, "If they ever materialize, artificial wombs may stir concerns among pro-choice advocates, since the devices could push the point of viability for human fetuses even lower. That might encourage even more states to curtail abortions after, say, 20 weeks’ gestation."

See? This could potentially be the end of abortion! Or so some of us would like to think. Here's the problem. Since "choice" and not "life" or "that baby" is the highest priority, the question would still be "choice". What will the mother choose? It is my sad but firm conviction that many, many women would choose Option 3 even with this new option. Why? Well, women have always had the option of delivering the baby and giving him or her up for adoption and, yet, untold numbers of them opt to murder the child rather than not. I don't have much hope that removing the baby sooner from the womb would change too many choices. Too many women think that childbearing is a burden -- even an unfair one. Too many will also think that a live child reared by other parents would be worse than a dead child.

The statistics speak for themselves. Women could choose to deliver and give up their babies, but millions haven't, choosing instead to kill them. It's a sad commentary on how Americans think when so many either participate or support this. The worse thing is that changing the laws won't change the hearts, and it is what proceeds from the heart that defiles a person (Matt 15:18). Laws won't fix this; Jesus can.

Monday, May 15, 2017

You Want Me to do What?

We all know the story. It's pretty famous. Jesus fed five thousand. And four thousand. He seemed to do that kind of thing. But I wonder if we miss some of the details that, to me, are critical.

In Mark 6 we get Mark's version of the feeding of the 5,000 (Mark 6:34-44). Jesus and His disciples were trying to have a weekend retreat (or something like it), but the crowds followed them and when they came to shore they were waiting for them. Jesus "had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd." (Mark 6:34) So He taught them until it was late. His disciples came up out of compassion as well and told Jesus, "They're hungry and this is no place to get food, so send them away to get something to eat." (Mark 6:35-36) Look at Jesus's response. "You give them something to eat." (Mark 6:37)

Think about that for a moment. We're looking at 5,000 men (not including women and children) (Mark 6:44; cp Matt 14:21). That's a large crowd. Jesus's instruction is "You give them something to eat"?? With what? They told Jesus it would take 200 denarii. Now a denarius was the equivalent of a day's pay in their time. On a five-day work-week that would be 40 weeks of your pay. That's more than a three quarters of a year's wages. And Jesus said, "You feed them." Clearly they're thinking, "We can't!" It would appear, then, that Jesus commanded the impossible.

Now I've heard it said that God never commands us to do what we cannot. He commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30) and the assumption is that all men everywhere can repent, but it isn't necessarily true. We are commanded to be imitators of God (Eph 5:1), to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength (Mark 12:30), to be holy (I Peter 1:16), to be perfect (Matt 5:48) ... just a select few, but enough to illustrate that God does command the impossible. Now what?

Without missing a beat, Jesus asked, "What do you have?" (Mark 6:38) Five loaves and two fishes. That ought to do it ... not. But that's what they had. And Jesus proceeded to tell them to ... give the people something to eat. He had the crowd sit down for a meal and He blessed the food and He had the disciples pass it out until everyone was fed and satisfied with 12 baskets left over (Mark 6:42-43). Now, I don't know how big those baskets were, but I can tell you that the original five loaves and two fishes didn't occupy 12 baskets. They ended up with more than they started with after giving away all that food.

We are told the same thing. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength." "Um," we say (if we're honest), "I don't have the resources to do that." And He says, "Give me what you do have and I'll provide what you need." "Love your neighbor as yourself," we are commanded and, again, we say, "I am not able." And He says, "Give me what you do have and I'll provide what you need." "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling," we are told. "Really? How am I supposed to do that? I can't work out my salvation." "Just do it, for it is God who is at work in you to will and to do His good pleasure." (Phil 2:12-13).

It's the same thing. We are told to do what is not possible to do by our own resources. We might point out that we can't. We don't have the skills, the money, the time, the talent, the know-how, whatever it takes. "What do you have?" When we give to Him what we have, He is able to multiply it. And we are able to do what He says.

Who fed the 5,000? Jesus provided; His disciples handed it out. They got to participate in God's work. Too often we look at our meager five loaves and two fishes and figure we can't do the same. Wouldn't it be better for us to aim for God to work rather than simply expecting our pitiful capabilities to fail us? Participating in God's work could be a marvelous blessing. We don't need to pass that up.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day, 2017

There are lots of mothers in the Bible, some good and some not. For the "not good" you can think of folks like Jezebel or Lot's wife. But there were some really good ones.

Take, for instance, Hannah. She prayed that God would give her a son and, in so doing, vowed to give him back to God (1 Sam 1:10-11). That's a devoted mother. She highly valued children and wept for not having one, but more highly valued her God and believed that a child is a gift from God. She did quite literally what all good mothers must do in spirit as well; she gave her child to God.

How about the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-16)? She was a widow. She had a son. It was a drought. They were not going to make it. When Elijah asked her to give him some food, she answered, "I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die." (1 Kings 17:12) Elijah promised God would take care of them and she ... "went and did what Elijah said." (1 Kings 17:15) And God provided. She did what every good mother must do; she trusted God to provide.

Then there was the Canaanite mother in Jesus's day (Matt 15:22-28). She had a demon-possessed daughter. She begged Jesus for help. Jesus rebuffed her. "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Matt 15:24) When she continued to ask, He said, "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." (Matt 15:26) Unlike most mothers you may know, she didn't file a lawsuit for defamation or complain to the media about His unwarranted unkind representation of her heritage. She replied, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." (Matt 15:27) "Yes, Lord." That's the proper response. That's how every mother must respond in all things, but especially in the care of their children.

There are lots of good mothers in Scripture. I tried to pick a few you might not think of first off the bat. These mothers demonstrated what all good mothers ought to be doing. Your children are on loan; remember Who gave them to you. You are the one He chose to care for them; remember Who ultimately provides for them. Diligently seek the best for your children, even when it hurts.

Scripture says,
"Honor your father and mother" (this is the first commandment with a promise), "that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land." (Eph 6:2-3)
It's Mother's Day, and it's a great opportunity to honor your mother. It's Mother's Day and I have to point out that these mothers illustrate what has been my experience with my mother. When I was 3 and she was riding in the ambulance with me without knowing if I would survive, she told the ambulance attendant who asked how she could be so calm that I belonged to the Lord and He would do what was best. When the family struggled in my youth to make ends meet, she relied on God to provide, whether it was through my father or not. When I was leaving home for sinful reasons at 18 and she wept, she answered, "Yes, Lord", trusting Him to do what was best even when He was allowing sorrow and difficulties.

No mother is perfect. And we are commanded to "honor your father and mother" without regard to whether or not they are "worthy of honor". (I put that in quotes because, apparently, God regards all fathers and mothers worthy of being honored.) As for me, it's easy to honor my mother. I hope to continue to do so for the rest of my life. Thank you, Lord, for the mother You gave me.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

News Weakly - 5/13/2017

Education in America
Time is reporting on Butler University that defends its anti-Trump class. The class is titled "Trumpism & U.S. Democracy" and offers ways to engage in "strategies for resistance" to the president. Nice.

Strange Standards
A 16-year-old girl in Granite Falls has been charged with two felony counts of first-degree statutory rape of a victim under the age of 13. Of course, it's a girl who is facing charges and public opinion is largely, "Oh, I don't know ... should we actually be charging a girl for this?" The other side is saying, "Hey, if it was a 16-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl, we'd all be pretty sure he should do jail time." I'm wondering, "Why is it that most of us are sure to some degree that kids under adult age are not yet mature enough to be making decisions regarding having sex, but many of us are equally sure that kids under the age of that 13-year-old are fully capable of determining that they are not the gender they were born with?"

Religion of Peace
Former governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (say that five times fast) has been sentenced to two years in prison in Indonesia. His crime? Blasphemy. Prosecutors recommended a lesser "spreading hate", but the judges ignored them. What blasphemy or hate was he spreading? Well, he is a Christian, but his big crime was quoting a verse from the Quran to prove to his supporters that Muslims could vote for non-Muslims. Hater.

It seems that Indonesia is growing "more conservative", by which they mean "more conservative followers of Islam." They are pushing, for instance, to criminlize homosexual behavior. Why it is that people in this country consider Christianity an offense though it never seeks to criminalize the behavior but Islam is "the religion of peace" deserving respect and protection?

The article says the trial was "seen as a test of Indonesia's religious tolerance." I guess this means they failed the test.

Breaking News
Another wonderful headline. The ACLU tweeted, "BREAKING: Dan Heyman from @PNS_News has been arrested at the WV State Capitol by Capitol Police for trying to ask Secretary Price a question." That's what they tweeted. That's what the headlines read. That's what's being reported. Except that no one has charged Mr. Heyman with "trying to ask Secretary Price a question." The charge was "aggressively breaching the secret service agents to the point where the agents were forced to remove him a couple of times from the area walking up the hallway in the main building of the Capitol. The defendant was causing a disturbance..."

Now, the truth might be that he thought he was just asking a question and the truth might be that the secret service was overzealous in attempting to protect the Secretary, but it doesn't seem within the capabilities of the media (or the ACLU) to report, without severe bias, the simple facts, as evidenced by headlines like "Reporter arrested after repeatedly questioning Health secretary", "W. Va. reporter arrested for 'yelling questions' at HHS secretary", and "Public News Service Reporter Arrested After Questioning Tom Price". Where's the "fair and balanced" "Secret Service arrests reporter who they thought was creating a disturbance" headline?

A Bad Start for a Commencement
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos gave a commencement address to Bethune-Cookman University grads this week. She opened with, "While we will undoubtedly disagree at times I hope we can do so respectfully. Let's choose to hear one another out." In a reciprocal attitude of respect and attentive tolerance, "some students stood and turned their backs to her. At times hecklers drowned out her remarks." Because the university invited DeVos to speak, the NAACP Florida State Conference has urged the president and board chairman to resign. A reported 60,000 signatures were obtained asking the university to stop her from speaking. In like manner, Senator John Cornyn of Texas was "disinvited" to speak at Texas Southern University's commencement. His crime? He was guilty of "discriminatory policies" such as voting for a constitutional amendment to uphold traditional marriage, voting to confirm DeVos, and voting to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities. The cad! Clearly, free speech and respect are not a value in this graduating class. Is this indicative of this generation? Of this country? Surely not just the "well-educated".

Recommended Reading
Came across this piece (keep in mind, it's satire) and had to pass it on. It's worth reading. It's called The Case for Idolatry: Why Christians can Worship Idols.

Heard it on the Internet
Great headlines like "‘Down With Capitalism!’ Cries Man In Guy Fawkes Mask Ordered On Amazon", "Christian Bravely Questioning Biblical Doctrine Persecuted With Book Deal, Interviews", and "‘2 + 2 = 4,’ Insists Closed-Minded Bigot" make me laugh and point to some serious truths.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Humility

We all know that the Bible lists humility as a virtue. Paul wrote, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves" (Phil 2:3) (which, by the way, is something we all tend to do poorly) and then went on to give his prime example of this: Christ (Phil 2:5-8). As Christians, we ought to have the same humility that Christ had. This is true.

And, yet, it appears that the current popular thinking of the day is that we ought to have more humility than Christ had. How is that? One of the things that caused Him to stand out to people was that "He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes." (Matt 7:29) Jesus stood without embarrassment or wavering on God and His Word. He didn't fumble about when Satan tested Him in the desert; He answered with Scripture (Matt 4:1-11). He assured His listeners that God's Word was ultimate and reliable (Matt 5:17-20). His "proof" was often "Have you not read ...?" (e.g., Matt 12:3; Matt 19:4; Matt 22:31; Mark 12:26) To Jesus, the Scriptures were always right (e.g., Matt 22:29; Matt 26:54; Mark 12:24; Luke 24:45). Not us. Today we are assured that genuine humility means constant uncertainty.

I, of course, would disagree. First, there's the odd fact that those people who are pushing so hard for "humility" by which they mean "you can't know for sure you're right" are quite sure they're right and you're wrong if you aren't "humble" as they mean it. Kind of a self-defeating argument. But I don't think that's what we find in Scripture, nor would I imagine that if "God is not a God of confusion" (1 Cor 14:33) He would have left this all to be so confusing.

Let's keep in mind that we are warned not to go alone (2 Peter 1:20). We are supposed to have the Holy Spirit. We are supposed to learn from teachers. We have the text, the context, and lots and lots of commentaries. And we have Church history from which to draw. There is lots to go on here that is not limited to "me and my closed little mind". There are key principles -- context, interpreting the implicit from the explicit, the clear meaning, word-studies, Bible dictionaries, logical coherence, comparison of parallel biblical concepts, proper understanding of literature types ... lots of tools and principles. I mean, it's not like we're all alone out here.

You'd think that the right handling of Scripture was to be "never certain", but Jesus was always certain. He didn't muddle about with "Were Adam and Eve real?" (Matt 13:35; Mark 10:6) or "Did Jonah really get swallowed by a fish?" (Matt 12:39-41) or "Noah's Flood didn't actually happen, right?" (Mat 24:38-39; Luke 17:26-27) or the like. Jesus viewed Scripture as understandable (Luke 24:25), infallible (John 10:35), and authoritative (Matt 4:1-11). The Bible claims that it is suitable to make God's people "perfect" (complete), "equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17)

Now, if Jesus believed this about Scripture and Jesus taught Scripture with authority and God has provided all these resources with which to understand His Word, how ought we to go forward? We should, of course, be "rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15), but from my perspective the idea that we should be perpetually uncertain is more arrogant than humble. "Yeah, yeah, our Lord and Savior wasn't like that and God has certainly provided us with lots of ways to understand His Word, but we're too clever to fall for that. We'll remain ... humble."

Thursday, May 11, 2017

But If Not

We all remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. King Nebuchadnezzar had ordered everyone to worship the golden image he had set up. They refused. The Chaldeans "maliciously accused" them to the king (Dan 3:8) and the king was ... shall we say ... miffed.
Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, "Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?" Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." (Dan 3:14-18)
It's a magnificent picture, these guys standing there while everyone else is on their faces. They are heroic in their response. "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king." We like that. Very brave. Genuine faith. All that good stuff. But don't miss the next statement: "But if not ..."

How many of us would stand on that point? We are impressed with the boys because they trusted God to rescue them and we would like to have that kind of faith. It's not that common, even among us believers. Trials are not easy (or they wouldn't be called trials, would they?). But how many of us will stand on the confidence in God that does not include rescue? How many of us will stand with God in advance of trial with the admission that the outcome may not be pleasant? We're happy with "Our God can ...", but not so much with "But if not ..." We want comfortable outcomes.

I want this attitude, this faith. I know in my head that God is good -- indeed, that God is good all the time. I know that we are told that "for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Rom 8:28) These are things of which we can be sure. But it's a long way from head to heart and I want that to be my default, my immediate response. I don't want comfort or pleasant circumstances to be my god over Him. That's simple idolatry. Job said, "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him." (Job 13:15) Jesus prayed, "Not My will but Yours." (Matt 26:39) That's the position I want to take. He can keep me from all pain and unpleasantries, but if not ...

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Just Is

I love this. The dictionary defines justice as "the quality of being just." Thank you very much. Just what? But seriously, what is justice? Consider for a moment the famous representation of Lady Justice.

Lady Justice is typically depicted with three features or, rather, symbols. She is blindfolded to tell us that justice is blind. It doesn't care what your sex, race, social standing, or hair color is. It simply wants to provide justice for all. The sword is there to tell us that justice is armed, so to speak. It is, in fact, a two-edged sword. It can defend and it can attack. On this Paul wrote, "[Authority established by God] does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil." (Rom 13:4)

And then there are the scales.

It is my suspicion that very few of us actually grasp "justice". We may think "fair" or "equality" or something like it, but there is a fundamental principle at work in the concept of justice, and it is found in that image of the scales. The idea of justice is the idea of balancing the books, so to speak. On one side of these scales is "what is right" and on the other is "what is". If "what is right" is not balanced with "what is", we have injustice. "What is right" cannot require more than is right and "what is" cannot be less than what is right.

Now, one thing we know about God is that He is just. (There it is again ... just what?) Abraham asked the ultimate rhetorical question when he asked God, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" (Gen 18:25) The answer is clear. "Yes!! God will always deal justly." So for God to be just, He is obligated by His nature to balance the scales.

People have argued that God can just forgive sin. He doesn't have to be just. He doesn't have to balance the scales. Like us, He can just say, "Forget about it!" and it's done. If this is true, then we have to conclude that the answer to Abraham's question is "No! He will not deal justly." If God does not deal justly, He is not just. In this case, we cannot expect Him to punish the wicked nor can we be certain that He won't punish the innocent. It was Kant who argued that the basis for morality in our world was the belief in ultimate justice, so if we have no such expectation, what are we to do with morality? God is not the God Abraham thought He was and we can't be sure He will do what is right. But the Bible says God has "righteous judgment" (Rom 2:5) and will "render to each one according to his works." Justice. God is just.

So where does that leave us? Well, we need to check those scales. What is on the "what is right" side? For person-to-person justice, there is one list, but for God-to-person, it is a different list. God holds us to a rather high standard -- "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt 5:48) That's the "what is right" side. The singular command is "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." (Matt 22:37) That's the "what is right" side. What about the "what is" side? Well, we find something quite disturbing. We find that "all have sinned" (Rom 3:23), that "The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God" (Rom 8:7). The best we get to on this side is "filthy rags" (Isa 64:6). Even the slightest violation is a full violation (James 2:10).

You see the problem, don't you? God is just. God always balances the scales. He is not allowed, by His nature, to simply "let it slide". He always deals justly. Lots of people would like Him to be lenient. Lots of people would argue that He can just let us off. No big deal. We do it; why not Him? The answer to that is 1) we are not fundamentally just and 2) the only way we can do it is because He is ultimately just (Rom 12:19). The truth is we cannot afford God to be just. The just rewards of our "what is" on these scales is the difference between perfection and "filth". God doesn't conform to justice; He is justice. And we cannot afford for God to be just; He just is.

"Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" (2 Cor 9:15) -- His gift of His Son who paid the price so that the Judge has "canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." (Col 2:14) While we're grateful for His amazing grace and cling joyfully to His marvelous mercy, let's not forget that He is always just and what Christ has done was an act of justice, satisfying God's righteous demands on our behalf so that "He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Rom 3:26) Don't let anyone convince you that God "just forgives". He is just, and that balancing of the scales was expensive.

Addendum
Tim Barnett of Stand to Reason didn't conspire with me when he wrote this piece today, but it might look that way.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Tech Fallout

We are a tech society. We use tech. We live tech. We need tech. I mean, where would we be if we didn't have the Internet or the computer? How would we entertain ourselves without television, movies, the Kindle or Nook to read, and, of course, all of the above on our phones? Technology gives us long-distance connections around the world. You used to have to find a phone booth, but now you can call in an emergency on the spot. The sheer tonnage of information available is mind-boggling. We have new medical treatments and capabilities that only advanced technology can provide. Education has benefited in research, educational games, and web seminars. Some kids can go to school entirely on the Internet from their homes. Businesses have a broader reach. There are new technologies for disabled people. Automation has freed us from dull, repetitive tasks. Transportation is bigger, better, and faster. There are new and improved safety features. Hey, we even have GPS to tell anyone and everyone where to go. Life is grand with technology.

I wonder, then, if it would be a surprise if I suggested that there are many unintended consequences and serious dangers from modern technology. I wonder if anyone is paying attention.

Modern technology -- especially the screen, whether it's television, phone, computer, or otherwise -- is causing childhood developmental issues. At a very young age, the medium of the two-dimensional screen as a focus of attention has detrimental effects on normal brain development. In normal existence, the child would be looking in a variety of places, training the brain to change attention and focus, and adjust for distances and such. With the flashing images and flat screen, this development is arrested. One report says children are having a harder time recognizing emotions. Without face-to-face interaction, they lose touch with reading facial clues. Other studies say that the rise in ADHD among children is directly connected to television time. The recommendations are that children spend zero time in front of a screen up to 2 years old. For ages 3-18, no more than two hours a day. Another report suggested that "Young people exposed to modern technology for more than four hours a day are less likely to display high levels of 'wellbeing' than those limiting access to less than 60 minutes." The report was also linked to another report that "a generation of children risks growing up with obsessive personalities, poor self-control, short attention spans and little empathy because of an addiction to social networking websites such as Twitter." Now a study comes out that looks like if you let a child under 3 years old spend just 30 minutes a day on handheld devices such as smartphones or tablets, you can delay their speech. It's part of brain development of the young, they say.

Beyond the childhood development issues, they tell us that modern technology is actually causing injuries on its own. There are the texting-and-driving deaths and injuries and the texting-and-walking injuries. There are the damages to head and neck, the classic tendonitis in the thumb (called "blackberry/iPhone thumb"), and hearing and vision loss.

They tell us that we're "more connected" today, but it turns out that we're actually more isolated. The indirect electronic connections lack expression, touch, contact, and often accountability. Younger people are failing to acquire social skills. For instance, the anonymity of the Internet makes for more bullying and removes social boundaries. Less and less understand the concept of "appropriate". Without the personal connection, there is as serious lack of empathy.

More time in front of a screen translates to less time spent exercising and is a contributor to today's obesity problems. People are reporting sleep deprivation because of a type of addiction to their technology.

Given the hacking and the insecurity of the Internet, there is an increase in the invasion of privacy, either from hostile individuals or from the government.

Morality itself has been twisted by our technology. Sexual morality is being driven by the Internet rather than vice versa. Pornography reigns in cyberspace, and with porn everywhere, what porn shows becomes more and more perceived as "normal" and "good". And there is a warped sense of reality. The joke is, "I know it's true; I saw it on the Internet", but it's not much of a joke because that appears to be the belief of many. "Fake news" and the lack of accountability has contributed to more dishonesty.

The transitory nature of technology has made life more transitory. We're less interested in long stories, long interactions, long social connections. They tell us that people commit less to memory because "I can just Google it." Attention spans are decreased. And, of course, there is a short-circuiting of imagination. Why imagine it when it's all there in front of you?

At the bottom, we have managed to make technology not a benefit, but a necessity. When technology becomes necessary rather than helpful, other things are lost. Life experiences are computerized rather than actually experienced. There is a decrease in books. People are losing touch with how things work and how to do things.

We can hardly do without technology these days. Imagine no smartphones or computers, no television or automobiles. I live in the desert; I can't imagine no air conditioning. In many ways technology has made life much better. Unfortunately I think that we've stopped evaluating the pros and cons of technology and adopted the "if it feels good do it" standard for tech. I'm not sure long-term outcome is going to be a good thing. Technology itself is morally neutral; it's what we do with it that makes it good or bad. Technology as an idol is bad. Technology for us is very, very close to being an idol, especially if "very close" includes "already is".

Monday, May 08, 2017

The Great Commission Strategy

We are, by definition, supposed to be "Jesus followers". That is, as Christians, we should be like Christ. So it would likely be wise if we examined His life and His strategies and adopt them ourselves. At the end of His time on earth, Jesus gave His disciples what we call "the Great Commission". Yes, we even capitalize it. It was, in a sense, our marching orders.
All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matt 28:18-20)
We, in our infinite wisdom (read "sinful nature"), have managed to shorten that to "evangelize ... you know, if you feel like it." But that wasn't the commission. It was much bigger. Now, sure, to "make disciples" requires "evangelize" -- "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." (Mark 16:15) -- but considering that the fulfillment of the Great Commission is like saying, "I've completed the race because I crossed the starting line." So, Jesus gave us the Great Commission and we, as Christians, ought to so do. But we ought to do it as He did. How did He do it? What was Jesus's strategy for doing what He commanded us to do?

Most obviously, Jesus picked twelve men. Now, He had lots of disciples. He had hundreds at various points in time (Luke 6:17; Acts 1:15). Paul said He even appeared to "500 brethren at one time" after His resurrection (1 Cor 15:6). There was a broad component to His ministry, but it is undeniable that there was, within that broad ministry, a narrow focus on 12 and, even within that twelve, a few -- Peter, James, and John. These twelve were chosen and did not choose Him (John 15:16). They weren't the cream of the crop, the smart, the wise. They weren't special in any discernible sense. Fishermen, a tax gatherer, a fanatical Nationalist (Simon, the Zealot), unknowns; they weren't special people. They doubted Him, denied knowing Him, betrayed Him. But they were willing to follow Him.

Jesus spent 3 years in His recorded ministry. From all indications, He spent almost the entire time with these men. There were others, to be sure. There were women. There were crowds. There were needy people. There was even time spent alone. But for the vast majority of His time He was with these men to some degree. They represented a major investment of His life while He was with them. In this He gave Himself away. His personal life was more or less sacrificed. His focus was outward, not inward. His mission was His ministry.

There is a standardized method of teaching available in a variety of places and applications. First, the teacher masters the task. Then, the student observes the teacher doing the task. Then the teacher observes the student doing the task. Finally the student does the task alone. Jesus did this in a big way. Sure, He taught with words. Just look at a red-letter Bible. Lots of words. But He also lived a life that demonstrated what He taught. As an easy example, Jesus said, "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12) and then gave the blind man sight (John 9:1-7). Far beyond that He was the walking, breathing demonstration of "Love the Lord your God with all your heart" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." He taught by living submission, commitment, integrity, humility, forgiveness, and more. He taught by example a daily, real, personal relationship with God. Perhaps His strongest teaching tool was living it.

Then, after spending time with Him, listening to Him and observing, Jesus sent them out. On one occasion He sent out the 12 (Luke 9:6) and followed it with a review (Luke 9:10). Later He appointed 72 "two by two" to go ahead of Him (Luke 10:1-16). They returned and reported what had happened (Luke 10:17). So Jesus 1) mastered ministry, 2) practiced ministry in the presence of His disciples, and then 3) had His disciples do ministry while He watched.

Ultimately, Jesus expected His disciples to produce disciples. He expected them to reproduce. He told them, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." (John 15:5) He warned, "If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned." (John 15:6) He didn't merely teach them; He had expectations for them, expectations He taught them to meet.

There's an interesting story in Mark. Jesus went up on a mountain and "summoned those whom He Himself wanted." Among those "He appointed twelve." Why? We're not left to guess. It says He appointed these twelve "so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out the demons." (Mark 3:13-15) That was Jesus's plan. Minister to many, but choose a smaller number of men to be with, to share Himself with, and to teach to minister themselves. This was Jesus's strategy for His own Great Commission. To boil that down to "Go and preach the gospel" is to boil away all but the start of it. If Jesus meant merely "Go and preach the gospel", His ministry could have ended when it began (Matt 4:17; Mark 1:15). Jesus said to make disciples. And He didn't merely command it; He lived it. He demonstrated it. He illustrated it. The baffling question, then, is why it is that we are not doing it.