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Monday, April 23, 2018

Where is Love?

Love is defined in various ways. "I love pizza" is not the same as "I love my dog" or "I love my wife." But, for the most part, we see it as "warm affection." And I'd suggest that is all well and good, but not biblical. Biblical love is something else entirely.

Paul, in correcting mistakes of the church at Corinth, tells them they're misguided on the gifts of the Spirit. He explains that all gifts are from the Spirit and are for the common good (1 Cor 12). He says they should "earnestly desire the greater gifts" and follows that thought with "And I show you a still more excellent way." (1 Cor 12:31). What way?

Paul explains that all the "greater gifts" without love are useless. Worse than useless. Annoying, unfulfilling, empty (1 Cor 13:1-3). Having established the necessity of love over gifts, he goes on to offer the famous description of love. Lots of people, even unbelievers, have heard it. They make wedding songs out of it.
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1 Cor 13:4-8)
Read that list and answer some questions for yourself. How does that list of descriptive items compare with our current cultural view of "love"? What part of these items are based on emotion? Many today link "love" with sex. Can you find that link here? Some modern marriage vows include "til love does us part" and people commonly "fall out of love". How do these ideas fit in with "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails"? We are told that if you love someone you will embrace them, sin and all, and accept them for who they are. How does that correlate with "does not rejoice in unrighteousness"?

If you're paying attention, I think you can see in this description that feelings have nothing to do with this kind of love. This love is a choice, an act of obedience, a constant decision. It is clearly based outward -- a focus on the loved one -- rather than our rule of thumb -- a focus on me. Without this version of love even the gifts of the Spirit are useless. What about the rest of the things we do?

It's not really that hard. Love is a choice we make to seek the best for others at our own expense. It doesn't embrace sin, but doesn't reject the sinner. It is not self-seeking. (That's actually a quote from the text.) It isn't an emotion.

We understand love to be an emotion. We're mistaken. Love is a choice. Liking someone is chemistry, but love is something we do, not feel. The interesting truth is that when we treat people this way, that "warm affection" that we've come to associate with love is the result. But it's the result, not the cause. This kind of love is the mark of true Christianity (John 13:35). Now, ask yourself: Is that the kind of love I have toward God and my neighbor?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

I'm Grateful

I'm grateful.

I'm grateful for health. I'm not talking about the health I work to maintain. I'm talking about the health that has clearly been handed to me by God. Most of my life I've been in good health, sick very little, no big health issues. You might argue that some of your health is your doing, but I'm grateful for the majority of my health that is simply a gift from God.

I'm grateful for my life. That would include a family and friends whom I love and who are happy to have me in their "thoughts and prayers". I'm grateful for those. That would include a job that I have no business having -- an obvious gift from God -- that pays the bills and keeps us fed and takes care of my family and all that. I'm grateful for that. I'm grateful to be in America. Not something I arranged. But I appreciate the freedom and opportunities and if I fail to be grateful for this I will end up ungrateful, entitled, arrogant and miserable. So I'm grateful that God put me here.

I'm grateful for the little things like clean water and hot water when I need a shower, for air to breathe and sunshine to enjoy, for skills and talents I've been given by God. I'm grateful for comfortable shoes and the ability to fix myself a sandwich. I'm grateful for a Bible I can read and books readily available ... and the simple ability to read.

I'm grateful simultaneously, for not getting what I have earned and for getting what I have not earned. I have not earned God's favor, but He gives grace -- unmerited favor -- freely. I have earned God's wrath, but He gives mercy -- withholding the punishment I justly deserve.

I'm grateful for Christ. I have amassed a great sum of offenses to the Most High and God has laid it on Him. My entire "debit" column has been wiped out, past, present, and future. Besides the clean slate, I have also been given the righteousness of Christ, completely filling my "righteousness deficiency". Because of Jesus, all the places I did the wrong thing are erased and all the places I failed to do the right thing are credited to me as done. I have no idea how to express my gratitude for that.

I'm grateful. Really grateful. Grateful to God.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

News Weakly - 4/21/18

New Party in Town
"The Working Families Party endorsed actor Cynthia Nixon over two-term Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Saturday, fueling Nixon’s left-flank challenge and deepening a split among New York Democrats." That's how the story reads. Cynthia Nixon is an actress, most famous for her part in Sex and the City. She spoke of "the progressive New York that we want to create" and "has promised to legalize and tax marijuana, end cash bail, push for single-payer health care and increase funding to public schools — raising taxes if necessary."

I guess I get it. A "progressive New York" is one that relies on government, not people, indulges drugs, compromises income for a "single-payer health care" system, and trusts, from all appearances, the wisdom of Hollywood. By the way, Working Families Party, I hope you have good jobs. This is really going to cost you. (In California they estimated $400 billion a year. They estimated a 15% payroll tax just for the "free" health care.)

Shooting the Deceived
Perhaps you've heard of, maybe even read, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven. It was written as a true story about a boy unfortunately named Alex Malarkey, who was in a 2004 car crash and purportedly died, visited heaven, and came back. The book was written by his father, Kevin Malarkey. It was released in 2010 to much acclaim in certain sectors and followed by a movie of the same name. Subsequently, in 2015 Alex released an open letter that denied the accuracy of the book or the reality of its claims. "People have profited from lies, and continue to," he said. "They should read the Bible, which is enough." Well, now, in order to finish the story, 20-year-old Malarkey is now suing Tyndale for making him famous for it even though Tyndale pulled the book from print when they found out it was a lie. Malarkey wants them to disassociate his name from the book. You know, the book that they pulled, the book that is no longer available, the book that it took young Malarkey years to disavow himself. What his father did in fabricating the lie was reprehensible. Don't take it out on those who were deceived.

Exclusive Inclusivity
The Free Pride Glascow parade considers itself a "more open-minded alternative" to the traditional Glasgow LGBT pride events, so, in order to be more more open-minded, they are banning drag queens from the parade because it might offend "non-binary people". That is, if a guy thinks he's a girl, he's in, but if a guy thinks he's a guy but likes to walk around dressed as a flamboyant girl, he's definitely out. We'll have none of that kind of inclusivity here.

The Natives are Restless
So, apparently not all Californians are on board with California law, especially when it, you know, violates federal law. Another California city has voted to opt out of the sanctuary state law, ironically called the "California Values Act." Two municipalities now have voted to declare, "Those are your values, not ours."

Not the Same
On Tuesday Barbara Bush died at the age of 92. She had been sick for some time battling congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She was a true matriarch, married to George Bush senior, our 41st president, for 73 years, the mother of our 43rd president and Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and presidential candidate in 2016. In her dying days she wasn't worrying about herself "thanks to her abiding faith." The nation will mourn her passing.

In like fashion, Queen Elizabeth "lost the last of her beloved corgi dogs this weekend." It marks "the first time Her Majesty hasn't had a corgi in her household since World War II." Now, if this is the same kind of news item, we, indeed, live in a fallen and sick world.

Unnecessary News
The Public Religion Research Institute, PRRI, has released a report that "White evangelical support for Trump at record high."

Maybe.

I think it's odd that the chart shows that in January of 2017 only 68% had a favorable view of Trump. But wait! Didn't they tell us that 81% voted for him? I think it's questionable, given the vague definition of "evangelical", that this actually reflects the ideas of actual Evangelicals. And I find it offensive that the race card gets played again and again. What does "white" have to do with "Evangelicals"? Why is that a factor? Why are they even asking the race question? I have all sorts of problems with this kind of reporting.

(One more point. The thinking/intent here is clear. "We don't like Trump. Whatever Trump does is wrong. Anyone who associates in any way with Trump is evil. White evangelicals associate in some way with Trump. Therefore, white evangelicals are evil." This is a classic logical fallacy known as "guilt by association". Don't buy it. The correct approach is to 1) find out if the person in question is Evangelical, then 2) find out what they really think, then 3) evaluate their position, not what you think of Trump, the poll, or the term "white evangelical".)

Friday, April 20, 2018

If Christ Is NOT the Only Way

One of the sharpest complaints against Christianity is the concept of exclusivity. We claim that Christ is the only way to salvation. We make that claim because He did. In the face of that, it wouldn't be feasible to call ourselves "Christians" and deny what Christ said. But what if? What if Christ is not the only way? Have you ever considered that?

Well, to start with, logic would dictate that, if Christ is not the only way, then Christianity is no way. That is, if the Author and Finisher of our faith is, frankly, wrong, then there is nothing in our faith that we can count on. Logically, if most faiths claim to be exclusive, most faiths are wrong. They can't all be exclusive and correct. We have it from Christ that He is the only way (John 14:6), so if He's wrong, we can eliminate Christianity from that list of possibly true faiths. The rest of them will have to fight it out to determine which is correctly exclusive, but we're out of the running.

Paul gave the gospel in brief in the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians, where he claimed that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised the 3rd day to many witnesses (1 Cor 15:3-8). He goes on to say that "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins." (1 Cor 15:17) This puts Christ and His resurrection as a cornerstone of Christianity in general and salvation in particular. If Christ is not the only way, then His death and resurrection are meaningless at best, your faith is worthless, and you're still in your sins.

Paul listed two men in history that were significant to the question. He speaks of the first Adam and the last Adam (Rom 5:12-21). The first brought sin and death and the last brought life (Rom 5:15). If Christ is not the only way, Paul breaks down here. No "first" and "last" man. No life through Christ.

Paul wrote:
Having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Rom 5:9-10)
The problem isn't "bad people" or "not good enough". The problem is enemies of God and dead. If Christ is not the only way, then Paul was seriously overstating his position. Not enemies of God, not dead in sin, not really that bad off. But Paul, the "saved by grace through faith apart from works", "no other gospel" Apostle, was obviously confused. When the Philippian jailer asked, "What must I do to be saved?" Paul should have answered, "Whatever you darn well please," not "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 16:30-31) If Christ is not the only way, Paul didn't know it (1 Tim 2:5).

Neither did Peter (Acts 4:12), the author of Hebrews (e.g., Heb 2:3), Jude (Jude 1:3), John (e.g., John 3:13-18; 10:1-8; 14:6) ... well, any of the authors of the New Testament.

The Bible speaks of Jesus as unique. He is the "only begotten" (John 2:24; John 3:16; 1 John 4:9). In Him all things exist (Col 1:17). Everything is from Him, through Him, and to Him (Rom 11:36). It is Christ "in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Col 1:14) If Christ is not the only way, then our only response to this unique, only begotten, source of existence and purpose of all things is "Meh, who cares? We can find that elsewhere."

If Jesus is not the only way to God, then the biblical record is not only unreliable, but evil. It claims that God sent His Son to die on our behalf. It claims that He lived a sinless life, qualifying Him and Him alone to pay for sin. It claims that He is God Incarnate, deity, the second person of the Trinity, qualifying Him and Him alone to be capable of covering all sin.

If Jesus is not the only way to God, Scripture is not to be believed. Jesus said it. The Apostles said it. Every other possibility is denied in Scripture and Jesus alone is offered as the way to salvation. If it is true that Jesus is NOT the only way, then the Scriptures are pointless and Jesus, in particular, is unreliable.

Exclusivity seems like a big problem. It's so narrow. It's so offensive. It's so ... necessary. You see, if we admit that 2 + 2 = 4, then we are denying that 2 + 2 can equal anything else. Exclusive. It's the nature of truth. That is, exclusivity itself shouldn't be such a problem. Other religions claim it and no one complains. We all believe in it in everyday living. We all practice it. So it appears to only be a problem when it comes to Christ. As it turns out it is unavoidable that the Bible teaches that Christ and Christ alone is the only way to God. They may not like it, but it is unavoidable.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Guns Don't Kill People

On one hand we have the many and loud voices clamoring for gun control. "Save our children," they cry, and the like. On the other hand we have the NRA-types who are quick to respond, "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." I'm sure you're following me so far. I'm sure you've heard all this. But here's my question: What next?

It seems to me that no one goes beyond the initial volley. We're talking about murdered people here and all we want to argue about is ... guns. Why is that?

I think it's abundantly clear that more laws, even great laws, won't solve the problem. I think it's patently obvious that guns don't kill people; people do. And while I'm not opposed to good laws and good law enforcement, it seems to me that we're ignoring the problem. People are killing people.

Isn't it interesting? In all the times I've heard one of that ilk say it -- "Guns don't kill people; people kill people" -- I've never seen one of them run on down the path. "Okay, given. Now what?" They appear to think that the fact that people kill people is the answer to the question at hand. It isn't. The question at hand is not "Should we have stricter gun laws?" The question at hand is "Why are people killing people?"

You see, this brings it down to a bigger problem. No, gun laws won't solve it. Neither will gun ownership. Guns or the lack thereof are not the problem. The problem is that people kill people.

This is, for me, the most frustrating thing in this whole mess. While so many are over in this corner debating gun control or gun rights, where are those actually looking at the problem? The problem is the current culture that minimizes human life and maximizes personal desires. The problem is a nation that makes "my feelings" and "my rights" -- always "me" -- the guiding principle. The problem is a society that has rejected the basis for objective morality and then complains that bad things happen. The problem ultimately is the same one that has ever been -- sin. Neither gun control nor gun rights will solve that problem. Christians -- those commanded by Christ to make disciples -- we have the solution to that problem.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

God Did NOT Say ...

A "helpful" blogger on the Huffington Post suggested "6 Things Christians Should Just Stop Saying." Interesting. So what things do we say that we just ought to stop because they clearly aren't true?

Number 1: "The Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God." Well, that's interesting. Why do you suppose that's #1? He tells us why. "You can't prove it." And why do you suppose that the very next one is "We just believe the Bible"? Well, of course, because that's the corollary to #1 (as he points out). Because you only believe your own interpretation of the Bible which is "replete with errors."

Number 3, then, is a zinger. We should stop saying, "Jesus is the only way to heaven." And there you have it. The end of Christianity. On what does he base this recommendation? Well, "I refer back to No. 2 above" which was his corollary to #1. You cannot know that the Bible is true at any point and you cannot know that anything in it is true and just because Jesus is claimed to have said it is no reason to believe that He actually did ... or, at least, that we can actually know He did because some of us disagree that He did, so there!

The rest doesn't matter at this point. Following "Christ" becomes purely subjective where we can't know what He said and we can't know what He meant and we can't know ... well, much of anything. We can know that those silly disciples that argued later that "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12) were confused. Since it was a running theme in all of the New Testament, we can be sure that all that New Testament stuff was confused. We can be certain that Jesus wasn't speaking clearly or accurately when He said, "No man comes to the Father but by Me." (John 14:6) We don't have a reliable Savior. We don't have a reliable source. We don't have ... Christianity.

Now, perhaps, you can begin to see why undercutting the Bible is the starting place for this kind of "helpful" thinking. It isn't an assault on the Bible; it's the end of Christianity.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Blessed Be the Name of the Lord -- the Sequel

In the book of Job we read that Satan tested Job because of a challenge from God and took away Job's property and children (Job 1). What a blow! He lost everything. He lost everything at Satan's hands under God's supervision (Job 1:12). So, of course, Job was upset with God, right? Right?
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." Through all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong. (Job 1:20-22)
Well, he was upset. He "tore his robe and shaved his head." But did you get what he did next? He "worshiped". Really?? The chapter ends with the astounding claim, "Through all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong." Seriously?

Who among us would be with Job on this? I've seen a lot of people endure a lot of things in my life. Accidents, injuries, deaths of loved ones, cancer, sickness, financial, social, and other loss. Lots of stuff. I have to say that the most common response has not been worship or "Blessed be the name of the LORD." I've heard a lot of "Why, God?" And that's not necessarily bad. I'm not suggesting it is. If you read through the book of Job, he eventually asks the question himself (Job 31:35). That's not a problem. But how many of us are going to say, "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" (Job 2:10)?

What does it take to get there? I ask because clearly we're mostly not and clearly we should be. What does it take to accept adversity from the hand of God -- serious trials -- and say, "Blessed be the name of the LORD"? I would suggest it takes a renewed mind (Rom 12:2). I would think it would take confidence in the Sovereign Lord. Perhaps we have -- I have -- a ways to go on that. "I do believe; help my unbelief." (Mark 9:24)

Monday, April 16, 2018

Blessed Be the Name of the Lord

A friend of mine is undergoing some serious surgery this week. I'd like to encourage him. I'd like to tell him, "Look, lots of people have been through this and come out okay." I'd like to assure him that the doctors are skilled and medical advancements are many and it will certainly be just fine. But that's just logic. That's surface thinking. I want more for him.

You remember the story of Jesus walking on the water, right? Well, one thing that is often forgotten is that Jesus wasn't the only one. When Jesus walked out to them in the storm, Peter said, "If it's You, call me out there." And Jesus did, and Peter did. So why is it that Peter is so easily forgotten? Because "when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, "Lord, save me.'" (Matt 14:30) Peter got his eyes off of Jesus and on the very real problems and started to sink. But Scripture says, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee." (Isa 26:3) I would want to encourage my friend not to dwell on the very real problems, but to keep his mind on Christ.

But there's more. I would like to point out to him that God said, "I will ... bind up the broken and strengthen the sick." (Ezek 34:16) I would like to remind him that "the very hairs of your head are all numbered" (Matt 10:30), that God knows and cares. I echo Abraham: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?" (Gen 18:25) I want to assure him that God always does what is right and nothing can happen that is outside of His Sovereign power.

Perhaps there's a miraculous outcome. Perhaps God heals him without needing the surgery. Perhaps God uses the surgery to heal him completely. Perhaps God "medicates" him to minimize the pain and maximize the recovery. And I would say, "Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Perhaps the outcome is less pleasant. Perhaps. But I would like to encourage my friend and the rest of the believers around him to still say, "Blessed be the name of the Lord." Because God always intends what He does for good (Gen 50:20; Rom 8:28). In the case of the less pleasant, I would like to encourage him to hear from God, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness" and respond as Paul did, "Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me." (2 Cor 12:9)

I'm praying for him. I'm letting my requests be known to God (Phil 4:6). I'm praying, like all his many friends, if it be possible, to let this whole thing pass -- God can heal. If not, I'm praying that the Lord will guide the surgeon's hands and that he will be well and recover quickly and all that good stuff. I'm certain of a good outcome. But my prayer ultimately is that God would be glorified in whatever He does. That is, whatever the outcome, God is at work and doing what is best. I'd like my friend to remember that. Not just for the sake of comfort and peace (Phil 4:6-7), but also for the confidence that nothing is trivial, nothing is out of God's view, nothing is out of God's control, and everything is significant to God. We sometimes think bad things happen when God is out of control in some way or isn't looking. That doesn't happen. I'd like my friend to know that. We know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). So I'll pray, but I won't worry. I know Whose hands my friend is in, confident that no matter what, the outcome cannot be bad.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Engaging the Mind

If you look around ... not even closely, but in general ... you will likely notice what is termed "syncretism" in the church. Syncretism is when you combine beliefs or practices. So, for instance, when Roman Catholics in the Caribbean added voodoo practices to their religion, it was syncretism. And we see it all around us. We certainly see it in our modern churches. Now, don't get yourself in a tizzy. It's not just "us" and "they" never did it. It has always been this way. Remember, Paul had to "unsynchronize" Peter when Peter tried to merge Jewish legalism with Christian liberty (Gal 2:11-14). It is the constant danger, the ever-present pressure. What is it? "Conform." Whether it's "Conform to your Jewish roots" or "Conform to our current views on sexuality", it is the same. "Conform." And we see our churches conforming. We conform in small ways to technology and to musical style all the way to large things like whole new versions of doctrines and values. We conform.

Paul had something to say about conforming to this world.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:2)
The word translated "conformed" in this text is ... not important, but it is the source of our term, "schematic." A schematic is a symbol, a representation of a reality. It is not the reality. To "conform" in this terminology is to take on the outer appearance of something. The word there for "transformed" is a different term. It is the root of our word "metamorphosis", and carries the idea of an internal change of reality that gets translated into an external change. It isn't simply an external change; it is a transformation into another form.

Churches these days are largely aimed at your emotions. The music should stimulate an emotional response. The sermon should move me. The trappings and styles should all aim to tug at your feelings. We want a Sunday morning mountaintop experience. And that might seem like a good thing. I mean, we do want to feel good about God, don't we? Yes, we do.

Here's the problem. By focusing on obtaining the proper, good feelings about God, we are ignoring the problem. We are conforming, outwardly, to the world rather than transforming, inwardly, to God's will. The result is syncretism. We take on the world's characteristics without the tools to determine when those characteristics are good or not.

"So," you might be saying, "you're saying we should become sour-faced Puritan-types where fun is banned and we only care about doctrine?" Not at all. You see, what we feel is determined by how we think. If you see something as positive, you feel good about it. If you see it as negative, you don't. If you think of something as a gift, you feel gratitude. If you think of it as your rightful due, you don't. Our feelings are predicated on our thinking. And when we know the truth, our feelings toward God rise. When we understand the truth, they climb higher. When we wisely apply the truth, they go even higher. The proper, good feelings about God that we want are best found in the deeper grasp of God and His Word.

Maybe you are in a position to affect this situation. Maybe you're a pastor or a teacher and you can do something here. If the command is "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind" and you have the capacity to aim in that direction, I would urge you to do so. More likely, you are not in a position to change the aim of your church from "feel good" to "think right". (FYI, "orthodoxy" means most literally "right thinking".) The lack of emphasis on engaging the mind is not merely an effect of churches; it is a personal thing. You can engage your mind with God and His Word. You can "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly." (Col 3:16) You can study His Word to rightly handle it (2 Tim 2:15). Don't allow mere emotional feeding. Aim for something better. Something biblical.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

News Weakly - 4/14/18

No Kidding
You might think I've accessed an extreme right Christian news source for this. I haven't. George Washington University is offering a course on how to combat "Christian Privilege." That's right. While more people were killed for being Christians in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined, and while more than half of Americans believe that Christian freedom of religion is in decline, the problem these days is "Christian privilege." Like the Christian who said that she couldn't assemble flowers for a gay wedding, but she could offer alternative sources, and lost her business for it. Or the photographer or the baker or ... you get the idea.

Do I think there should be "Christian privilege"? Not at all. Do I think that the Bible argues for the "free exercise of religion"? Actually, no (Acts 4:19-20; Acts 5:29). That is purely a constitutional question. But we appear to be tossing that out ... and teaching how to in college.

Lincoln's Logic
Okay, normally this is news items of the week, but I am making an exception in this case. This article talks about Abraham's logic in debating the slavery question of his day and applies the same logic to the abortion question of our day. I wanted to commend it to you; excellent article.

Compare and Contrast
Contrast the extraordinary story of Mekhi Johnson, a Baltimore student, who was just accepted to all eight Ivy league universities with poor David Hogg, a "self-appointed spokesman for a generation" who is demanding gun control to put an end to school shootings, who was rejected by four University of California schools because, he believed, they didn't want to support him in changing the world. Then consider that Mekhi hadn't told anybody. As opposed to Mr. Hogg. Two different stories.

Heart Control
Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed into law the legislation that will offer such rules as raising the gun buying minimum age limit to 21, banning bump stocks, limiting rifle magazines to 10 rounds, and requiring background checks.

All good stuff, but I have a question. Every school I've walked by in the last year has had a sign by the entry that said, in one way or another, "No weapons allowed." Why didn't that stop the tragedy in Parkland? Could it be that people who commit crimes do so in violation of the law?

That is, it's not a bad step to limit guns and such, but don't think it's an answer. Sinful humans need more than good laws to make them good.

When Sci Fi becomes reality
I've seen science fiction stories about societies that allow Facebook-like environments rule them, where you're social status ("Likes" and "Dislikes") determine your actual status. In 2014 China issued a "national reputation system" that would offer incentives based on their citizens' credibility in commerce, society, etc. The word is out now that they plan to expand by 2020 to one (using current technology that can actually do it) to offer rewards or negative consequences for social behavior. Do a good deed? Positive points. Watch something unacceptable on their version of YouTube? Negative points. If you do well, you get favorable interest rates or better jobs or the like. Do poorly and you could end up with travel restrictions, slower internet, and so on. It looks like China is aiming for an actual "Big Brother" system to control their people.

It's murder, but let's not get radical about it.
I don't know how much you are up on this. Last week conservative commentator Kevin Williamson was fired by The Atlantic a month after they hired him. Conservatives might think it was because they just couldn't stomach a conservative on the typically "less than conservative" Atlantic, but that's not the case. No, they fired him "over his views on abortion." And the conservative webosphere goes wild.

Of course, the fact is that Williamson was fired because of a podcast he did that came to light in which he suggested that women who got an abortion ought to be hanged for murder. An organization called Media Matters for America hunted it down and complained about it. I think it is suspicious that a left-wing organization built for the purpose of "monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media" (their words, not mine) managed to dig out a 2014 podcast like that. It suggests that Williamson was indeed a target by virtue of being conservative. But, hey, who am I to say?

My point is not to exonerate Williamson or to complain about his firing or to demand "Free speech!" That "free speech" thing in the Constitution is 1) not biblical and 2) not about the public -- it's about governmental limitations. I only ask you, the pro-life folk, to consider. If you (like me) use the term "murder" when referring to the legal execution of the most vulnerable humans on the planet if a mom wishes to do so, you will eventually have to ask yourself, "So?" Williamson answered it. He thought killing babies ought to be treated like killing any other human being. He did not fall for the insanity that the federal government has. (They made it murder to kill the unborn ... unless you wanted to.) What about you? Whether you agree that execution is the right thing or not, you should ask yourself, "If I believe that killing the unborn is murder, what do I think should happen to those who commit it?"

Friday, April 13, 2018

Confused Praying

Our world revolted back in February (and following) against the whole concept of "thoughts and prayers" in cases of catastrophe, crisis, or calamity. Neil deGrasse Tyson confidently asserted that "Evidence collected over many years, obtained from many locations, indicates that the power of Prayer is insufficient to stop bullets from killing school children." Not denigrating Mr Tyson. It represents the common response. I even heard it from self-professed Christians. The fact that divine intervention is the only effective way to change these types of problems doesn't bother too many people, some Christians included. We need to do something rather than thinking that Jesus might change hearts.

This is a problem. We live in a real world. There are real things in this world (like bullets and people who wish to use them) and there are real people in this world, real people whom, as I understand it, have managed to tie God's hands with their Free Will. Now, any biblical Christian will obviously balk at that last problem. God is sovereign, to be sure. Still, we have to admit that in some sense God doesn't always do His will. For instance, "You shall not murder" is clearly God's will and, as demonstrated on that particular February 14th event, it happens.

Here's the question. Why pray? How do we pray? What's up with prayer?

We often pray with extreme "Sovereignty of God" in view. "Change her heart, O God." "Bring him back to you, dear Lord." Even, "Guide the surgeon's hands, Father." Good things, all, but we are begging God to intervene in an Omniscient and Sovereign way. We often do it without any assurance that it is His will to do so, even though we know that the certainty is that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us (1 John 5:14). We often pray with the apparent concept of "God is my butler" behind it. You know, "Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." (John 15:7) "Well," we think, perhaps unconsciously, "I want a better job, a new house, better-behaved kids, and, while I'm at it, a new car." Like Janis Joplin's "Lord, Won't You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz?" Kind of like our own Santa Claus at our beck and call.

You can see, I hope, that these are problematic, right? We don't get to tell God what to do and expect with any certainty that He will. On the other hand, if we are going to affirm Man's Free Will, is it reasonable to ask God to violate it? And, finally, if we affirm God's Sovereignty, what's the point of praying at all? I mean, God will do what God will do. Why are we bothering? In other words, no matter which way you come at it, prayer is confusing. Can He contravene Man's Free Will? Will He contravene Man's Free Will? Is there any real reason for me to pray if He does what He does? Or, in terms of Tyson-like thinking, is there really any reason to think that my prayers will make a difference at all?

So let's just start with this. God is God. That is, He is Creator, Over-all, Sovereign, King, and, oh, don't forget, Holy, Holy, Holy. That means that He is above and beyond us. Although we are in His image, He is not (simply) like us (Psa 50:21). So God will do what He will do in the way that He will do it. And He commands prayer (1 Chron 16:11; Luke 18:1-8; Eph 6:18; 1 Thess 5:17), so ... pray. Why pray? The classic, "Because I said so." That ought to be a good enough reason to pray.

So, God said to pray. That means we pray. But why? It's certainly not to change His mind. It's obviously not to change His will. We wouldn't even want that. Beyond "because He said so", what is the purpose of prayer?

Prayer has power (James 5:16). Prayer makes things holy (I Tim 4:4-5). That is, it makes them set apart for God. Prayer encourages thanksgiving (Col 4:2; Phil 4:6). Prayer allows us to lay our burdens on the Lord (Phil 4:6). Prayer allows us to engage in the lives of others beyond our human capabilities (Eph 6:18; 1 Tim 2:1-4). While prayer doesn't change God's mind, God uses our prayers to help others (2 Cor 1:11). At its core, however, prayer is a fundamental part of this thing we call "Christian". If being a Christian is first and foremost a relationship with God, then conversation with God is part of that relationship. It's not as much a shopping list, a wish list, or a demand for action; it's an opening of myself to the God I love. "But, wait!" a thinking person might say. "Doesn't He already know me?" Indeed. As such, prayer is not for His benefit, but for ours. Prayer doesn't change God; it changes us.

Would you like a prime example? Think of Jesus in Gethsemane. He knew why He was on earth. He knew what was coming in the next few hours. He knew the reason, the plan, and the outcome. Unlike most of us most of the time, He knew perfectly God's will for the things He would be enduring. And still He prayed, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me." (Matt 26:39) Did God know what Jesus wanted? Surely. Did Jesus expect to change God's mind? Not at all. He included, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus was expressing His innermost feelings to His loving Father. That was prayer. That was sufficient. His prayer was not ineffective because God didn't grant His request. His prayer was not useless because God knew already what He would ask or because Jesus knew already what God would do. That prayer was perfectly effective because it accomplished the primary purpose of prayer -- expressing His deepest self to His Father. He was obedient in prayer. He was successful in prayer. God said, "No." That didn't change the correctness, value, or efficacy of the prayer.

We can easily get confused in our praying. We might think it's to get God to do what we want. We may think it's to change God's mind or alter His will. We might think that the only effective prayer is the one that gets approved. These are confusion. The prayer that God wants is the conversation that you give Him. That prayer, in faith, is a prayer He can use. That prayer, between you and Him, is a prayer that transforms ... you. That is successful praying.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Most Dangerous Prayer You'll Ever Pray

You know this prayer. You could probably pray it with your eyes closed. (Little joke there. We were always taught to "bow your head and close your eyes" when we prayed.) It is, perhaps, the most well-known prayer there is. You probably know it best in King James English. It begins like this:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven. (Matt 6:9-10)
You recognize it, I'm sure. Most people do, even if they're not Christians. It's what we've come to call "the Lord's Prayer."

Most of the prayer is "reasonable". I mean, it's what you might expect. "Give us our daily bread." Yes, indeed. "Forgive us our debts." Amen! Okay, that caveat, "as we forgive our debtors," gets a little sticky, but we're pretty sure we want/need forgiveness. "Lead us not into temptation." Of course not. We don't want temptation. "Deliver us from evil." Absolutely! We're even okay with that first request, "Hallowed be Thy name." We would certainly like everyone to regard Him as holy. Oh, and, hey, we often pray for His kingdom to come in many ways. We're good with all that. So, what's difficult about any of this?

It's that prayer I skipped over. "Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven." Do you hear what's built into that request? "Not my will ... Yours." It is a prayer for the abnegation of what most of us consider nearly divine -- Human Free Will. It is a reprioritization of the authority structure. Not Satan. Not me. The Father would be Supreme.

Maybe that doesn't seem very dangerous to you. Maybe there is no sense of cost with that prayer. I would suggest you're not thinking it through. Ask yourself, "What if?" What if it's God's will that you lose your job? Your spouse? A child? What if, as Joni Earickson Tada believes, it is God's will that you become a quadriplegic for His glory? The real question is not in the details. The real question is in the extent. How much of you and your will and wishes are you willing to surrender to God and His will and wishes? The hymn says, "I surrender all." Really? All?

I have heard this prayer a lot. I've heard it coming from unbelievers. Sure, sure, it's generally by rote, but when you think about it it's a huge prayer. "Father, do Your will here perfectly and completely, just like you do in Heaven." Is that your prayer?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

He Who Has Ears

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. (1 Peter 3:18)
If that's not "substitutionary penal atonement", what is it? Christ "suffered once for sins." A purpose statement. Why did Christ die on the cross? "For sins." That's paying the penalty. It was "the righteous for the unrighteous." Another purpose statement. Why did Christ die on the cross? "For the unrighteous." That's substitution. He did it "that He might bring us to God." Another purpose statement. Why did Christ die on the cross? "That He might bring us to God." That's atonement.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Rom 5:8-10)
Hey, there it is again! Substitutionary: "Christ died for us." Penal: "justified by His blood." Atonement: "reconciled to God through the death of His Son."
He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)
And again! Substitutionary: "He himself bore our sins." Penal: "By His wounds you have been healed." Atonement: "that we might die to sin and live to righteousness."
But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. (Isa 53:5)
Well, would you look at that! An Old Testament reference (lest you think the early Church fathers cooked the books). And it's all there, too. Substitutionary: "He was pierced for our transgressions." Penal: "upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace." Atonement: "with His wounds we are healed."

I don't know ... seems like a running theme to me. I'm probably just not educated enough to see how this is not abundantly clear that Christ died in my place, paying the price for my sin, in order to make me right with God. Seems like good news (read "the Gospel") to me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Terrorist Activities

Terrorism: "the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes." That's what the dictionary says. Of course, the FBI has a more directed definition. They say it is "perpetrated by individuals and/or groups that espouse extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature." Okay, so terrorism is the act of spreading terror for a particular agenda. I think we're all fairly comfortable with the definition of terrorism.

Why is it, then, that we don't recognize it when we see it?

Oh, we recognize it when someone from a foreign country or someone from an extremist religion or someone from a domestic anti-government militia group, for instance, does it, but not when it's right under our noses.

I've been reading a lot of late about students walking out of class and people marching for safety. Again and again they shout, "We don't feel safe at school!" A nationwide study said that only 3 in 10 students feel safe in school. Then the Miami Herald reports that the black students at the Parkland high school felt less safe because of the presence of police officers. Cops don't represent protection to them; they represent "more chances to become a victim of police brutality." Now, that's terror. And that's what terrorism is about. Terrorism is aimed at creating fear or terror for their own personal purposes. These kids are terrorized. Who's to blame?

A short while after 9/11 and the new rules for air travel security were in place, one of the local network news outlets was going to air a show about how dangerous air travel was -- the holes in the system. I read the advertisement and asked the reporter why. "Aren't you just spreading terror?" He (actually responded and) told me, "No, the people have a right to know." "But," I countered, "I can't do anything about it and I have no recourse. It appears to me that the only possible response is don't fly anymore or choose to risk death." He disagreed. But I call that "terrorism."

We have the vast media complex that operates under the First Amendment that guarantees, among other things, the freedom of the press. And they march to some undocumented "right to know." They bring to us in living color the immediate sensations of what is happening at the moment. They show us the devastation, the pain, the evils, the trauma. Because, well, the public has the "right to know." What they don't tell us is the other side of the story. For instance, we'll see the horrors of highway deaths, but what they won't tell you is that the number of fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled is roughly 1.18. That is, your chance of death on the highway is extremely low. They don't tell you that part. People are afraid to fly often because of reporting about plane crashes, but we know that statistically you have a much higher chance of dying on the highway than in flying. Or take this current fear students are reporting. Why? Well, understandably, 17 kids were killed in a high school shooting on Valentine's Day this year. What we are not told was the real numbers. Something like 400 people have been shot in over 200 school shootings since Sandy Hook. That's bad. Now, there are more than 50 million students enrolled in elementary and secondary public schools in America. If you do the math, then, you'll find that the chances that any student in America would be shot in school is roughly 0.00086%. The school shooting rate for kids in America is less than 1 in 100,000.

Does this mean there is no problem? Not at all. One is too many. I'm not saying there is no problem. In fact, the numbers of school shootings and the numbers of injuries and deaths in these shootings is on the rise. That's a problem. (Note: "Guns are the problem!" does not take into account the fact that guns have been around for centuries but this rise is a matter of less than a decade. There is some other problem.) What I'm saying is that the fears caused by the reporting are not rational in relation to reality.

If terrorism requires an agenda and I am claiming the media is perpetrating terrorism, what is their agenda? Well, of course, that's how they make a living. That's their income. And that's before we factor in their politics and such. A media outlet opposed to guns, for instance, would certainly air a gun story in the most terrifying light to accomplish their anti-gun aim. And no media outlet is without bias.

Much of how we live is driven by these irrational fears perpetrated by media coverage. Now, rational terror might be when you see a bus bearing down on you at high speed. That ought to scare you. I'm not suggesting there are not things that should scare you. I'm suggesting that we are allowing the media to be terrorists for their own ends, be it income or other goals, based on the Freedom of the Press (1st Amendment) and some unsubstantiated, insubstantial "right to know" which ends up driving our lives without a genuine link to reality. (If you think they actually believe in your "right to know," ask them about their sources and the like. "Oh, no, you don't have the right to know that.") They produce more terrorism, more terrorists, more copycats, and their own terror for their own purposes. ("Stay tuned for more on this story coming up.")

Am I advocating censorship? No, that would be like gun control. It's not the freedom of the press that is the problem; it is the character of the press. It is the character of the public. I'm suggesting that character is the problem and we're not addressing that at all.

Monday, April 09, 2018

What is Truth?

One of the big differences between Christianity and most of the prevalent worldviews these days is the certainty of objective truth. Objective truth is that which is true apart from your opinion, preferences, or feelings (subjective truth). They are true in and of themselves. Now, of course, I admit that Christianity doesn't have a lock on objective truth. Others who are not Christians do believe in the concept. And, on the other hand, not all Christians, even real Christians, function as if they believe it. But Christianity is the sole worldview that includes the claim by its Author and Finisher, "I am ... the Truth" (John 14:6) Christianity links speaking the truth with love (Eph 4:15). Christianity is based on objective truth. If it's mere opinion, we're done.

In this world there are lots of things "up for grabs," so to speak. For instance, a Yale research project revealed a galaxy with almost no dark matter ... which wouldn't be odd, I suppose, except for the fact that dark matter is a theoretical type of matter unproven and unseen. But in this instance, they say, the absence of dark matter (which is not a proven substance) proves its existence. Ummm, okay. We can discuss that. Or you can read that studies show that coffee is good for you and bad for you, that eggs are good for you and bad for you, that wine is good for you and bad for you. Which? We can discuss it. There is a lot of stuff "up for grabs." It's not easy to tag this stuff with an "objective truth" label.

Recently I watched a video that offered two responses to the question, "Why does God allow evil in this world?" The two were men I respect -- good Christians. And their answers were almost as far apart as it gets. One said the standard answer. It was along the lines of "God has to allow us to do what we want because" (say it with me) "love that is not freely given is not love." God, in this scenario, is sorely limited -- sure, self-limited, but limited -- by Man's Free Will. The other said, "God is Sovereign. He allows what He allows for His glory and our good. Conversely, that which is not ultimately for His glory or our good is prevented." Not the same thing. And I was struck with the reasons given. The first was a philosophical argument and the second a biblical one.

To me, "objective truth" may be elusive at times, but there are other times that it is abundantly clear. If it's clearly in God's Word, it is clearly true. Now, the Bible doesn't have much to say about dark matter or the value of coffee, so I won't worry about that. It does have much to say about other things, and I can stand there fairly certain that I'm standing on truth.

So I took a look at the two arguments. One is based on the argument that love must be freely given to be love. It is predicated on free will. What does the Bible say about free will? It wouldn't be fair to say "Nothing," but neither would it be far wrong. The Bible doesn't say anything explicitly about the nature of Man's free will in a positive sense. Now, there are commands to "choose" and the like, so we know something like "free will" exists. When Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery, they intended evil (Gen 50:20). There is free will there. God holds us responsible for our choices, so there is free will there. Free will -- the ability to make choices without coercion -- does exist, biblically, in some form or another. So far, so good.

But the Bible is equally clear that God is the Decider in all things. "Many are the plans in the mind of a man," writes Solomon, "but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand." (Prov 19:21) "The mind of man plans his way," we read, and that's free will, "but the LORD directs his steps." (Pro 16:9) Again we read, "The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes." (Prov 21:1) Scripture even says that God prevents some from sinning (Gen 20:6). We know that we repent and place our faith in God, but Scripture also tells us that both faith and repentance are gifts from God (Rom 12:3; Heb 12:2; Phil 1:29; 2 Tim 2:25; Acts 5:31). Biblically, it would seem, our wills are not as free as we like to think.

If our view of Free Will and Sovereignty doesn't align with both of these perspectives, we are not aligning our view with reality. If we say, "Love isn't love if it's not freely given," we're saying a popular thing, but is it biblical? I can't find it. If we say that God is limited (or limits Himself) to Man's Free Will, we're in mainstream thinking, but is it biblical? I can't see how.

My point is not the "Free Will vs God's Sovereignty" debate. This is just an example of a truth claim and determining what is true. My point is where do you derive your objective truth? If you take it from science or philosophy or "how I feel about it", it becomes subjective -- a matter of opinion, preferences, or feelings. If you derive it from God's Word, now you have solid footing. If God says something, it's true. Explaining away what God says because "it doesn't align with my understanding" is a fool's goal. We know the Truth. It is a person (John 14:6). It is the Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14). We are told to "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." (Col 3:16) "Every word of God proves true; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you and you be found a liar." (Prov 30:5-6)

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Solutions

We, as a race, are pretty good at telling each other what's wrong. It's too hot or too cold. You're too narrow-minded or you're so open-minded that your brain leaked out. I don't like my job. I don't like my spouse. I don't like my government, my neighborhood, my quality of life. Currently there are protests everywhere about so much that is wrong. Shootings in schools, sexual abuse, governmental foolishness, the media ... the list just goes on and on. Something that has always disturbed me in all of this is our apparent inability or unwillingness to provide solutions. Oh, we might give it a half-hearted try. "Limit guns" is supposed to put an end to school shootings. Does anyone actually believe that? Howard University students demand (among other things) that there be no armed police on campus. Is that really going to solve the problems? And, although it disturbs me that people offer what's wrong without offering any genuine solutions, I also find myself readily shooting down the ones that are offered ... like I just did in this paragraph.

We have a lot of problems in our world. Corruption, environmental problems, greed, murder, racism, sexism -- all kinds. We are not offering solutions. And the ones we do offer are too little too late.

Let me tell you, then, about a solution. I would like to, at least for a moment, stop complaining about what's wrong and stop complaining about what's wrong with the meager solutions that are offered for what's wrong. I'd like to say there is an answer.

The primary problem at the root of every single problem we see is the heart problem. It is the sin problem. And there is a solution to that problem. I would like to say that the solution is Jesus. He is, in fact, a solution. He can change hearts and make people new. He can forgive sins and make people God's people. And that is certainly a solution. Changed hearts make changed lives. But I held back slightly in saying that He is the solution because He only changes hearts and lives of those who come to Him. And He said that the number would be "few" (Matt 7:13-14). If there is to be a comprehensive solution, it must be more than "accept Christ" since we already know that not all will. What, then? Well, the rest of the story is God. We have the comprehensive affirmation that God "works all things according to the counsel of His will." (Eph 1:11) "All things" is complete. Sinful humans intend evil (Gen 8:21) and God intends good (Gen 50:20). "The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble." (Prov 16:4) Even the wicked.

We can be certain that Christ is the answer for all who believe. We can have confidence that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin (John 16:8). There is not the slightest doubt that "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out." (John 6:37) We know that God works all things together for good to those who love Him (Rom 8:28). We know that He does whatever He pleases (Psa 135:6). We can trust in Him, so that whether in Christ or not, everything will work out for His glory and for our good.

Now, be careful. It may look like I just said, "Don't worry; be happy." It might come across like I just gave you a free pass to do nothing, to sit back and watch. I didn't. We are called to work (Eph 2:10). We are commanded to make disciples (Matt 28:19). We are even called to suffer (James 1:2-4). We don't get to take it easy. We just know that the outcome is certain. That ought to embolden us to do the work that seems so hard. Because "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31) That's our answer.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

News Weakly - 4/7/18

Upset Over Promising the Truth
So, I assume you've heard the story about Sinclair Broadcast Group. This organization owns something like 173 stations. The company required their news outlets to read a script verbatim. It includes stuff like this:
The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, national media outlets are publishing these same fake stories without checking facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control "exactly what people think" ... This is extremely dangerous to our democracy ... We understand truth is neither politically "left or right." ... Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.
The media is outraged. Sinclair is "weaponizing the media", making them Trump's dupes. The script praises "quality, balanced journalism" and makes them promise to do the best they can to bring you the truth and to correct themselves when they fail. They ask for feedback for when they get it wrong.

And the crowd goes wild. Boycotts are called for. "No!" they cry. "We will not offer quality, balanced journalism! No media outlet has ever offered fake news or failed to check the story before airing it! We will not admit to it. We will not allow it. The owners of our stations have no right to hold us to such standards! We will not aim for the truth!! Asking the media for the truth is extremely dangerous to our democracy!1"

Got it. We understand. Thanks.

Upset Over Offering the Truth
In the same vein, the Supreme Court refused to take up the case of the releasing of the Center for Medical Progress abortion videos. You know the ones; it's where all those people admit to killing babies and selling their components for profit. The Supreme Court left it as it stood by the lower court. The lower court "concluded there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the abortion providers captured in the videos."

Again, "No! We will not release the truth! We won't admit that the video shows anything criminal and we won't let you release that information to the public. What? Do you think you have the right to free speech?? This is America, buddy! We decide what part of your speech is free."

Too Much Government
Or not enough? Or is it just that Trump is speaking, so it's wrong? So, on one hand we have things like tax cuts and deregulation and this whole "trade war" going on where Trump is talking tariffs and other countries are responding in kind. People, both here and abroad, are unhappy. Now Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, is praising Trump for his deregulation. And others are saying he's right on his trade war thing.

On the other hand we have a president who is removing control, first by removing some federal land from the protection of National Park status, and now the possibility of removing protection of threatened animals. Is this too much government or too little?

We, of course, have lost sight of a simple fact. The amount of government a free society needs is directly related to the self-control of the society. A society with personal self-restraint and high moral values needs less government than one (like ours) with little self-control. Less governmental influence on life presupposes a moral society. That's not what we have today.

Problem Solved
The city of Deerfield, Illinois, has managed to do what no one else in this country has been able to do. They've solved the problem of mass school shootings from assault weapons. As of June 13, they've banned assault weapons to include semiautomatic rifles with a fixed magazine and a capacity of more than 10 rounds as well as a list of specific weapons. There ya go; problem solved.

Of course, we need to be careful not to think. For instance, the Sandy Hook killings were perpetrated by a kid that murdered his mother and stole her guns. Pretty sure "No rifles" wouldn't have changed that outcome. Most schools I know of are "no gun zones"; pretty sure that hasn't changed the outcome, either. And given the fact that hands and feet have killed more than twice as many people as rifles have for the past several years suggests there might be more work to be done. (Maybe ban hands and feet?) We should at least ban cutlery, right?

China Increases Control of Religion
CNN reports that China's government is seeking to increase its control of religion in China. They have claimed that citizens are free to practice religion, but even when they eased up on their anti-Christian position they maintained control, requiring churches to be state-sanctioned. In their latest move, they have eliminated Bibles from online sources.

Now, isn't that odd? In America many self-professed Christians think of Bibles as secondary, "nice to have but not essential," and certainly not the primary source for Christian truth. It appears as if the atheist Chinese government has a higher view of the Bible than some here do.

Seen on the Internet
A team of Harvard mathematicians have crunched the numbers and have calculated that, based on the rate of exits -- both firing and resigning -- of White House personnel, President Trump will be the sole remaining person in the White House by 2 p.m. tomorrow.

It must be true; I saw it on the Internet.
________
1 That last line -- that it is "extremely dangerous to our democracy" -- is a quote from Jimmy Fallon.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Consistency

There is a famous misquote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Not quite accurate, as it turns out. The actual quote was, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Because, you see, we are consistent. We operate on a consistent scheme, a consistent set of principles. Or so I've always believed. The trick, I think, is finding the underlying principles, because much of the time these days it looks like people are acting irrationally. So I try to find the consistency.

See if you can find the consistency in these very common viewpoints:
"I think we need to protect children. I am opposed to killing ... unless it's a baby I don't want."

"I am firmly in support of diversity as a supreme value all on its own ... unless I want to have a women's organization or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Then diversity is wrong. No men; no whites."

"We demand that society be supportive if you are born a male and believe yourself to be a female ... unless, of course, if you're a male who believes yourself to be a female and want to serve as the director of a women's rights organization. We don't want that."

"We hold Congress and adults responsible for their failure to pass the gun legislation that we deem vital to our existence ... but we don't want to be held responsible for our own actions."

"We demand the right to free speech ... but don't really want to give that same right to those with whom we firmly disagree."

"The rights of the homosexual and the transgender are paramount ... we don't really want to consider the rights of Christians."
The commonality, of course, was that each of these was self-contradictory. But that was not the consistency I was looking for. I am looking for how it could be that a person holding these types of views could be consistent with themselves. It's in there. Did you see it? It is in the two-word phrase, "I want." If your standard is "What I want I should have", then I can want to save babies and kill babies and that is consistent because these I want to save and those I don't. It's the same with all of them.

I don't offer this to attack these views. I offer it to point out that most of us have this problematic consistency. Most of us -- all of us at times -- decide what we will think or do based solely on "what I want" apart from any other concern. It is a vanity, a problem of pride, a constant carryover from the standard sin position, "I will be like the Most High." And it produces in each of us that obvious irrationality, that clear-cut inconsistency within our own viewpoints and positions. Here, consider one that you may have indulged. "I want to be more like Christ ... unless, of course, there is something else I want at the moment." Maybe that's a little closer to home? Or would you call it meddling?

Thursday, April 05, 2018

The Science of Perspective

Recently I wrote about how we might need to be ... not less focused on our own arguments, but, additionally, more aware and sensitive to the emotional sensibilities of those with whom we are interacting. I pointed out that a common view is that conservatives tend toward logical arguments while liberals toward more emotional ones. I pointed out that "liberals would disagree" and said "I'm not entirely sure it's true", but, of course, it didn't go unnoticed by liberals and they wanted to point out that liberal and conservative brains were different. So I looked into it.

In a Scientific American article from 2012, "psychological insights" are offered regarding the brains of liberals and conservatives. "They are different," the article says. How? Well, apparently conservatives are "fundamentally more anxious than liberals." The outcome is that they desire structure, stability, and clear, comprehensive answers. Several articles said that researches found that a simple MRI could tell with something like 70% accuracy whether you were conservative or liberal based just on the brain structure. Interestingly, they report that physiological differences in the brains of liberals versus conservatives means that "Conservative brains are more active in declarative and episodic fact-based memory and negative emotions like fear" while "Liberal brains are more active in terms of emotional awareness and empathy." So the data says that conservative brains require more declarative and comprehensive answers and liberals are more emotional and empathetic. Which is what conservatives have said about liberals for a long time -- more emotional, less logical.

I was intrigued by this claim that conservatives were more fearful. The perception and sense of it seemed to be that this was a bad thing. The Scientific American article pointed out that researchers "found that asking Republicans to imagine that they possessed superpowers and were impermeable to injury made them more liberal." Interesting, but ... we aren't superbeings and we aren't impervious to injury. That is, while Superman doesn't need to fear jumping off a building, we do. In fact, if we do not we are crazy at best and dead at worst. My point is that there are things that wisdom would urge us to fear. Beyond that, Scripture is clear that fear is actually a good thing when properly applied. In the negative, for instance, the Bible warns against the failure to fear God (e.g., Psa 36:1; Rom 3:18; etc.) and, in the positive, fearing God is a good thing (e.g., Deut 6:24; Psa 112:1; Prov 1:7; 9:10; 10:27; 1 Peter 2:17; etc.). And not just the fear of the Lord. Paul urges the church at Philippi to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." (Phil 2:12) Fear is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can be a good thing, a beneficial thing. It can save your life.

Now, I don't know what I think about all this stuff about brain differences. The researchers themselves don't know if it's cause or effect. Are the differences in viewpoint because the brain was different, or are the brain differences caused by the different viewpoint? They admit they don't know. Further, it was abundantly clear as I read up on these things that the reports were written from a liberal perspective. "We are the brave ones, going forth to better things, while those foolish conservatives try to hold us back." And the article from factmyth.com made it clear that "what is true for a group on average is not necessarily true for an individual." Something to keep in mind. So I'm not sure of the validity of the studies. I am sure, however, that the perception that fear is always bad is not always right. I am sure, for instance, that urging people to ignore God and His commands is extremely foolhardy (e.g., 1 Cor 6:9-10). I've said before that a slippery slope argument is not a fallacy if it actually happens. In the same way, being afraid of something that is certainly possible and certainly dangerous is not a foolish thing. Ignoring it is.

I'm equally sure that liberals who look at the data I've looked at will conclude that conservatives are "less" and liberals are superior and the more reasonable one is the liberal. Even though that's not what the reports seemed to say.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Love Yourself

A popular note to sound today is the concept of self-love. "Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all," George Benson and, later, Whitney Houston sang. We're all about "self-esteem." Conversely, there is a sense among many that Christians -- at least the Bible-believing kind -- are self-haters. Think of the Puritans. They really hated the self, didn't they?

It might surprise you to find, then, that this is not biblical. Neither a focus on self-love nor a focus on self-hate is biblical. We are never commanded in Scripture to "love yourself." And the Bible assumes self-love as normal and even unavoidable.

That last might be the more controversial of my statements in that last paragraph, so let me show you. First, the repeated command of Scripture in both Old and New Testaments is the command to "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Lev 19:18; Matt 22:39; Gal 5:14; James 2:8) Notice the structure. The command: "Love your neighbor." The standard: "as yourself." In other words, "You already love yourself; now, love your neighbor that way." This is made clear in Ephesians 5:28-30 as well.
In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. (Eph 5:28-30)
He explains here how we love ourselves. "No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it." Indeed, Paul argues that this is a depiction of Christ's love for the church. He begins that thought with "In the same way" because the context is the standard for husbands to love their wives (Eph 5:25-27). Love her "as Christ loved the church" and this is how. In the same we we love ourselves Christ loves the church.

It is, then, nonsensical for Christians or skeptics to argue that Christian virtue requires self-loathing. And it is equally foolish to argue that you need to learn to love yourself. We do it, naturally, without fail. Even those who opt to end their lives because "I hate myself" are doing so because their love for themselves makes them believe that ceasing to live is the best thing for them. There is certainly room for hating sin within oneself and dislike of certain aspects of self, but at our cores we do love ourselves and we should love ourselves. We are called to deny ourselves, but that is the denial of self-indulgence and sin, which, in the end, is the best thing we can do for ourselves.

So when I write about a "Think of others as more important than yourself" kind of attitude, I'm not writing about self-hate. I'm writing first about obedience, but I am convinced that all of God's commands to His people are predicated not on some artificial morality, but on what is best for the creature. As such, I would contend that "Think of others as more important than yourself" would be to your advantage. I would argue that "I die daily" would be in your best interest. I would hold that there is far more benefit to the obedient believer in selflessness than in selfishness. Loving God and obeying Christ (John 14:15) are in perfect harmony with biblical self-love -- nourishing and cherishing yourself.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

What is a Christian?

We've had conversations and debates about what it takes to be a Christian. "Do you have to believe in the Trinity?" "Do you have to believe in the Bible?" "Do you have to be good?" On and on. I've even written a series on the Essentials of Christianity. But what is it? What makes a Christian? Can we really settle this?

I think we make a mistake when we look for a checklist, an itemization of what we need to believe or do in order to be a Christian. I think the biblical version is something else entirely. Jesus told His disciples,
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'" (Matt 7:21-23)
There. Did you see it? First, we have a group of people entirely convinced they're "in" with Jesus. Hey, they even call Him "Lord", right? Jesus disagrees. What was their shortcoming? Why did He tell them to depart? "I never knew you." We see the same thing in Jesus's High Priestly prayer. "Eternal life," He says, "is that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." (John 17:3)

That's not what we expected. Some of us thought it was "being sufficiently good". Others were sure that it was "believe". But neither of those show up here. Instead, it is found in an actual relationship -- literally an intimacy -- with Christ. That's what makes a Christian -- a personal, intimate relationship with Christ. Not knowing about Him; being connected.

There are signs, measures to take, evidences. In order to enter that relationship with Christ, it takes faith (Acts 16:31). It takes repentance (Acts 2:38). And the life that is made alive in Christ (the biblical definition of "Christian") will be a changed life (1 John 3:9). There is baptism and fellowship with believers and good works. There is sanctification. These exist in our minds like some sort of checklist because they do exist, but most of them can be faked. People experience false versions of them all, like those ones that called Jesus "Lord, Lord." No, the real definition of what it means to be a Christian is in that relationship between Christ and you. It can't be faked. It can't be manipulated. It can't be forced or manufactured. "If I say the right words and do the right things I can claim it." No. If you claim to be a Christian -- if you want to be a Christian -- it is that singular reality that you will need to have. The rest is just support material.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Defining Marriage

I have contended since the beginning of the debate that marriage has a definition and "man and man" or "woman and woman" are not included in that definition. The primary basis for that argument has not been biblical. It has been entirely historical (and rational). All of mankind for all of history has always defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Practices around that definition have varied. How do you get married? Is government involved? Do you need a license or a church? Can you repeat this (polygamy)? And other variations. But at no time has it ever been understood any different as the fundamental "man and woman."

If you edge into the Bible, you'll also find this same definition. It started with Adam and Eve. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh." (Gen 2:24) So fundamental and universal was this definition that it was repeated verbatim by both Jesus (Matt 19:5) and Paul (Eph 5:31). In other words, "No, it's not simply an Old Testament thing."

I said, though, that you find this by edging into the Bible. If you look at the biblical concept beyond this simple idea, it turns out that God had a deeper notion in mind. When Paul quotes Genesis and Jesus on the definition of marriage, he is making a specific point.
"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." (Eph 5:31-32)
We see then that beyond the standard stuff -- companionship, procreation, and such -- God had an idea for marriage that imaged something much, much larger. He intended marriage to be an object lesson on the relationship His Son would have with the Church. Marriage is a God-ordained depiction of Jesus's marriage to His own. As such, it is much more than anything the courts, the government, or public opinion dreams up.

At this point you might begin to realize that marriage is not merely sacred in word. It is regarded as sacred by God. So as you dig further into this notion, you will find that marriage itself is not what we currently think it is.

In that Ephesians passage, Paul indicates differing roles in marriage. Wives submit to their husbands as to the Lord (Eph 5:22-24) and husbands love their wives as Christ loved the Church (Eph 5:25-27). That's not normal. That's not what we see today or even typically think of as a good thing. It is countercultural. But Paul's descriptions in 1 Corinthians really turn things on their ear.
The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Cor 7:3-5)
Maybe you don't see it, but this strikes me as revolutionary in contrast to today's version. (I'm not talking about "same-sex marriage". I'm talking about the genuine article.)

Think about it. What kinds of things do we say about marriage today? "He really fulfills me" or "He doesn't give me what I need." "She's really good to me" or "She doesn't give me what I need." "I think he's the one for me." "She just makes me feel warm inside." You know what I'm talking about. Positive or negative, our idea of marriage is "What does she/he bring to me? What does she/he do for me? How well does she/he meet my needs?" Normal, to be sure, but compare it to the text.

Paul says that husbands must fulfill their duty to their wives. Hmm, odd. Nothing about "Husbands must make sure their wives fulfill their duty to their husbands." Lest we get ahead of ourselves, Paul says the same thing to wives. They, too, need to fulfill their duty to their husbands. But, again, not one thing about, "I should nag him until he does." That is, the attention of each individual of this one-flesh couple is the other, not "me". And that carries into the bedroom. In a world where one of the primary reasons for divorce is "She doesn't give me what I need in the bedroom" or "He makes too many demands in bed", we find the biblical version to be the exact opposite. Husbands, your body is not your body; wives, the same goes for you. And yet, our world, our society, our current culture, and most of us Christians are quite sure that the opposite is true. The whole basic premise of biblical marriage is the exact reverse of the world's version.

It is indefensible to argue that marriage should be between two adults without regard to gender. First, our time would be the only time in history to have ever constructed such nonsense. Beyond that, it can't stand like that for very long. By tossing history and morality, they've made an "only two" position without any support. Why not polygamy? Polyamory? And, for that matter, incest? As long as we're talking about two people who cannot reproduce, on what possible basis would they forbid it? It is indefensible, illogical, non-historical, and clearly an actual slippery slope. But up to this point it is not about biblical marriage. If you, want a biblical marriage, you've got a lot farther to go. It is a God-ordained sacred image of the relationship of His Son to His people. (One aspect of that image is He gets to say what it is.) It is predicated on a love that goes beyond "warm affection." It is aimed outward rather than self. Its goal, along with the basics of the union of a man and wife for the purposes of procreation and mutual support, is to fulfill the needs of your spouse rather than your own, to seek the best for your "other" without regard for yourself. I mean, imagine that. Imagine approaching a potential spouse with the question, "What do I have to offer her/him?" instead of "Is he/she right for me?" Just a start. It would be revolutionary for Christians to make a practice of this version of marriage. I fear such a revolution isn't at hand, but I will start with me.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

The Significance of the Resurrection

All Christians understand that the Resurrection of Christ is essential to Christianity. Paul classified it as part of the core of the Gospel.
I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Cor 15:3-4)
So we celebrate that Resurrection every Easter. I suspect, however, that if you were to ask Christians, "Why is the Resurrection so important?" they might have a hard time finding much to say. So I'm here to help.

The top layer of this question is simply the "proof" nature of the miracle of His resurrection. That is, we can point to the event and say, "See? Explain that any other way than that He was who He said He was." It is the biblical nature of all miracles. Scripture refers to them as "signs", proof that the person in question is an actual emissary of God as they claim. Jesus even said, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name bear witness about Me." (John 10:25) He said, "Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own authority, but the Father who dwells in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me, or else believe on account of the works themselves." (John 14:10-11) Miracles prove it. No other miracle matches His resurrection. Other resurrections occurred in Scripture, but nowhere do we find one that is predicted and accomplished someone else involved and produces a new body.

Another layer of "proof" is that the Resurrection assures us that Jesus accomplished what He intended to accomplish. If He had died and that was the end, we wouldn't have known that His sacrifice on our behalf was accepted by God (1 Cor 15:13-14). His resurrection, then, was God's indication that the price was paid and the payment was accepted. Beyond that, in a very real sense it is His resurrection that provides for our justification. Paul wrote, "It will be counted to us who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification." (Rom 4:24-25) The cross paid for the trespasses and the resurrection provided justification.

There are other important aspects that are often missed. For instance, without believing that He was raised from the dead, salvation is impossible (Rom 10:9). "Yeah, I believe in Jesus, but I'm not convinced that He rose from the dead" won't work.

In his speech to King Agrippa, Paul said, "I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles." (Acts 26:22-23) The resurrection of Christ proclaimed light to Jews and Gentiles.

Christ's resurrection is what provides us with life as believers. We live an "exchanged life", my dead life for His living life, the "Christ in you" life (Col 1:27). That life was only made possible by His resurrection. "We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His." (Rom 6:4-5)

We are able to bear fruit as believers because He was raised from the dead (Rom 7:4).

We have a hope that there will be an ultimate resurrection for us someday. The proof of that hope is found in His own resurrection (1 Thess 4:14). Most of us have heard the biblical passage so often quoted at funerals intended to give people hope. "What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body." (1 Cor 15:42-44) You know, "When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?'" (1 Cor 15:54-55) That whole thing. We love that. Well, the premise of that is Christ's resurrection (1 Cor 15:20-28). How can there be any hope beyond the grave? Christ rose; so will we. Thus, we can speak with confidence, "knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into His presence." (2 Cor 4:14)

As we face everyday living, it is His resurrection that provides the benchmark of the power we have to live for Christ. "God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by His power." (1 Cor 6:14)

Our position, "seated with Christ in heavenly places", is proven by His resurrection (Eph 2:4-7).

His resurrection is our life (Col 2:12), our proof of forgiveness (Col 2:13), our certificate of canceled debt (Col 2:14).

His resurrection is the source of our faith and hope in God (1 Peter 1:20-21).

The Resurrection isn't a small thing. We tend to think of it as miraculous, of course, and a good thing, but it is far bigger than I think we generally see it. It is the core of the faith. It is proof -- proof that He is who He said He was, that He accomplished the payment for our sin debt and it was accepted, that there is hope, that we can be seated with Christ in heavenly places, that we are forgiven, that we can hope in God, that we will someday be with Him in heaven. His death paid for our forgiveness, but His resurrection is the reason for our justification -- that necessary exchange of our sin for His righteousness. His resurrection is the source of power for the Christian life, the reason we bear fruit as believers, the means by which we can combat sin in our own lives daily. Thus, as Paul said, it is "of first importance". Perhaps we don't appreciate it sufficiently. Perhaps we should.