Saturday, December 7, 2013

Preaching About the Wrong Man

This was originally going to be a post bemoaning the "ethics downgrade" plaguing American evangelicalism. Since Mark Driscoll and Ergun Caner are back in the news for their various violations of ethics rules accepted even among the most virulently secular, I was planning to compare the response of secular organizations in similar situations, and axe why the American district of the City on a Hill has lower standards than those in the valley.

And that would be an easy post to write, would it not? Recount some stories of people fired or expelled from hostilely secular schools and companies for relatively minor cases of plagiarism, then ask why Mark Driscoll can brazenly steal the work of others, and the response of the Christian elite (as if that term doesn't explain the problem) is to attempt to destroy the person who dared to expose his self-exalting theft.

Then I could recall the story of George O'Leary, the college football coach who in 2001 was hired for one of the most prestigious positions in his field, head coach at Notre Dame. But when the school went to prepare his biography for their media machine, some discrepancies were found. He had padded his resume three or four decades earlier to help him break into the field, and never got around to removing the padding from his bio. He had a great track record as a coach over multiple decades, so no big deal, right? Wrong. Notre Dame, a Catholic school, exposed the decades-old lies, and fired him immediately.

It would be easy enough to compare that to the case of Ergun Caner, who built a career through lying about, well, pretty much everything. In numerous sermons at churches all over America, he told a life story that simply isn't true. He lied to the Marines, presenting himself as an expert on Islam because of his background in order to train them in Muslim relations (shudder to think of soldiers dying because they followed his advice). Time after time, he told the same story of his life - and when someone finally looked into it, it was a mountain of lies. Did his employer, Liberty University, act as boldly as Notre Dame, especially considering how much more serious Caner's lies are than O'Leary's were? No. They 'cleared' him of lying, saying only that he had made "factual statements that are self-contradictory", and letting him remain on the faculty. Egads.  Now several years and several gigs later, he was hired as president of Brewton-Parker College. Was he hired in spite of his lies? Worse - according to their official statement, he was hired because of them. Specifically, because he remained unrepentant and defiant, and is fighting in anti-Christian ways to destroy those who exposed him. The liar is a hero and paragon of virtue, while the truth-tellers are pagan attackers.

That's not an ethics downgrade. That's hitting bottom and keeping on digging. The folks at Brewton-Parker hit rock bottom, and brought in the dynamite.

OK, so I guess I wound up writing that post anyway. So be it. Anyway, while I was thinking that through, something else occurred to me. I'm going to set Driscoll aside for a moment here - which, come to think of it, is good advice all the time; let the widdle boy-man pee in his own sandbox all he wants, don't worry about him, but be willing to hose him off if he ever realizes how much his diaper stinks and asks for a change.

For now, let's just focus on Caner, with one question - why does it matter so much that he's such a dirty rotten filthy stinking liar? What difference does it make that his life story has him sitting on a throne of lies? Aside from listing the bare-minimum qualifications for an elder, let's do a little thought experiment.

Think about your pastor, and maybe a famous pastor you respect (MacArthur, for instance). Imagine they had lied about some significant biographical details. How many sermons would they have to preach before the lies had an impact on the message? I suspect for many pastors, it would be several months before those stories were in sermons, if ever.

Now do the same with Caner. Find any sermon he preached from about late 2001 to 2010. How much would it change the message if you replace the biographical lies with the truth? Could you find even a 10-minute stretch which wouldn't be any different without the lies? Change Caner's lies about himself to the truth about himself, and his sermons would be completely unrecognizable!

For any faithful pastor, from the MacArthurs and Pipers and Sprouls to the myriad small-church pastors you'll never hear of until heaven - really, anyone who fits the minimum qualifications of an elder - the star of every message is Jesus Christ.

For Ergun Caner, the star of every message is Ergun Caner.

The trail of lies (and the inexcusable actions of his enablers) is disqualifying. But it wouldn't be so noticeable, and he maybe wouldn't have been so tempted to do it, if he didn't preach about the wrong man.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Gut-Wrenching Tale of a Partial Savior

When I started to think about writing a Thanksgiving post, I never imagined this article would be the inspiration. Before I link, here's fair warning: it's an ugly and agonizing read, about subject matter that some have dubbed "not safe for homeschool". And now, here is the article in question.

The article talks about the truth behind the carefully-fabricated façade of the homosexuality movement, and it's a tough read, downright ugly. The narcissistic idolatry that is homosexuality is shocking when you get a glimpse behind the curtain (though hardly surprising, for anyone who has read Romans 1 and believes God knows better than we do) and see the real turmoil instead of the utopian bill of goods we've been sold.

As you read this tale, if your heart is anything like mine, you will feel agony - disgust at the wretched sinfulness of such manifest pride, compassion for those who destroy their lives pursuing 'love' via sin (the very opposite of love), indignation at those who should know better but are persistently encouraging people to devote themselves to the sinful path, an aching for Christ to return and set all this right. It's shocking to see sin so enthusiastically embraced and the terrifying results of doing so, and pride-destroying to realize that aside from the restraining grace of God, my heart is capable of all that and much worse.

Let me put it this way: if nothing else open the article, hit control-f, and look for 'bug chaser'. See the vile depths unchecked sin can reach, feel compassion for those pitiable souls who are so blinded that they think this is a good idea, and renew outrage at those who (in the name of Jesus!) encourage people to follow those depraved passions in a search for 'love'.

But none of that is the most gut-wrenching part of this article. For that, I nominate the following paragraph:

"I am not proud of the life I have lived. In fact, I am profoundly ashamed of it. But if reading this prevents one naïve, gullible man from making the same mistakes, then perhaps with the assistance of Our Lady of Guadalupe; of St. Joseph, her chaste spouse; of my patron saint, Edmund Campion; of St. Josemaría Escrivá; of the blessed Carmelite martyrs of Compiégne; and, last but not least, of my special supernatural guide and mentor, the Venerable John Henry Newman, I can at least hope for a reprieve from some of the many centuries in Purgatory I have coming to me."

Ugh. After all the nastiness of the main article, this paragraph, meant to fill the reader with hope, is possibly the saddest of all. It's hard not to feel anguish over someone who finds his hope in a savior whom he believes cannot save! The best his 'savior' can muster is to allow him to save himself through centuries of suffering, as long as numerous other sinners help him out.

So how is this a Thanksgiving post again? More than anything, I'm thankful that this pathetic image of the unsaving savior is completely different from the true Jesus Christ we find in scripture. I'm thankful that, as opposed to this wretched Roman doctrine which denigrates Jesus, the Bible presents him as the Savior who actually saves! Compare how this deceived man describes his 'salvation' from homosexuality to how scripture describes it:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:9-11)

The Christ-demeaning doctrine of Rome says, maybe in a few millennia of your suffering and saints interceding, God may consider you clean. God says, if you are in Jesus, you are clean! You have been washed, sanctified, justified - solely by the work of Jesus. The blood of Christ is sufficient to save completely from any and all sin!

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:11-14)

Jesus does not make it possible for you to maybe redeem yourself via centuries of mini-hell if you get enough people to pray/donate for you. No, the blood of Jesus is fully sufficient to save even the vilest sinner - he has secured an eternal redemption!

Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:25-28)

Jesus has put away sin by the sacrifice of himself! It does not need to be dealt with again; his work leaves nothing to be completed by someone else. If it's a sin Jesus has put away, it's done forever, period.

And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:10-14)

One sacrifice, effective for sin for all time. The sacrifice of Christ does not earn us the chance to self-atone through our suffering for countless centuries to come. His single offering perfects his people forever - in Christ our sin is completely forgiven!

So how is it a Thanksgiving article? It prompts me to thank God that Jesus Christ is a Savior who truly saves! If we believe scripture rather than the pope, we can read an article like that, revealing the greatest depths of depravity, and be able to say confidently without hesitation that the salvation Christ provides is more than sufficient to instantly, completely, eternally forgive even that sin. Those who are in Christ are forgiven - sinners like them, and sinners like you and me.

Let us give thanks, for Christ is overwhelmingly sufficient. "Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen."

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

One Verse, Five Solas

Another Reformation Day has come and gone, and you know what that means. Yes, it's the annual peak of activity for Roman Catholic deceivers trolls apologists, who are again making the rounds to mock the Reformation as inventing newfangled doctrines. Before the 1500s, so the argument goes, nobody had ever heard of these strange new doctrines (that God saves by grace, through faith, in Christ, as revealed in scripture, to His glory). They're totally new, and besides that, they're new. This is supposedly in stark contrast with the Roman doctrines which were handed down from the early church through a series of antichrists popes and blah blah blah I can't even make myself write such drivel.

Look, we have the doctrine of the early church. It's laid out clearly in scripture. Compare the doctrine of Rome and the doctrine of a faithful Protestant church to the New Testament, and there's no contest.

But that's where I'm going with this post (there are tons of resources already available for that - a few seconds on Google will find you something far better than I could write). Instead of that, I thought it would be fun to see how far back I can trace the distinctive doctrines of the Reformation, and frankly it's not possible to go back much farther. Specifically, I want to show that the five solas are all present (to some extent) in Genesis 1:1. Here's the verse in case you're unfamiliar:

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth".

God is the creator, and everything else is His creation. God exists; everything in the entire created universe exists contingently, at God's pleasure. We came into existence at God's command, and we remain in existence only through His continued will. Everything - the air we breathe, the food we eat, the planet we live on, life itself - is a gift of God. He provides everything, we contribute nothing. This is clearly sola gratia - grace alone. Every aspect of our very existence is a gift of God, not just our salvation. This was true of Adam pre-fall, and it's true for the mightiest angel in heaven. How much moreso must it be true for the salvation of rebellious fallen man? If our entire being is by grace alone, how can our salvation not be sola gratia as well?

Now consider the relationship between Creator and the created. The Creator supplies everything for His creation; the creation provides absolutely zero for the Creator. What can we give to God that was not already His? What can we possibly do for God to earn His beneficence or put Him in our debt? Here is the complete list of what God needs from us: ....and, we're done. Zilch, nada, bupkis. Please, tell me how we can merit anything from God by our awexome works of righteousness. Thought so. The creator/creation distinction necessarily brings sola fide, faith alone. We can do nothing for God, we can only faithfully trust His provision for us. And again, this is true of all of creation all the time; how much more must it be true for rebellious sinful creatures? What could we ever do to earn anything from God, especially after we have committed cosmic treason?

God is the omnipotent provider of all, and we are entirely dependent upon Him for life and breath and everything else. The interaction between us is entirely one direction; God gives us everything, and we give Him nothing. Our proper orientation towards our Creator is perpetual complete worship; He is worthy of all glory and honor and praise. What could we ever do to deserve glory from the one who created and sustains our entire existence? Clearly, this is soli Deo Gloria, and again this would be true even if we had never fallen. The idea that we, as sinful creatures, deserve any glory for our salvation is beyond absurd.

Now imagine if one of the created beings was to rebel against his creator, exalting himself over God. Insane, I know, but bear with me. What would it take to mend this relationship, to turn aside the wrath that God would rightly have against such insolence? Is there anything the creature could do to make things right? Any gift or sacrifice he could offer is something God made and already owns. What would be an appropriate expression of reconciliation from the one who rebelled against the sovereign creator of all? There is nothing in all creation that a creature can give to appease the Creator. No, any reconciliation would necessarily be initiated by God, who alone would bear any cost himself. This of course points us to solus Christus; though the details would come later, we can see immediately that the reconciliation of God and sinful creatures must be of divine origin.

Finally, we can ask: what would a creature know of its Creator, and how would he learn it? Could he by observation and deduction figure out what God is like, and what God demands of him? By looking at creation, what can he know about one who is not part of that creation? Simply put, a man can only know about God what God chooses to reveal about Himself. This is the beginning of sola scriptura, but of course it doesn't get us there. From this verse alone we can get to 'revelation alone' (sola revelata?), but the exact form of that revelation (general vs special, scripture only or scripture plus papal imaginings) needs to be fleshed out later.

There you have it. Three are necessary just from the creator/creature distinction, the fourth is there in all but name, and the fifth just needs to be fleshed out. Far from being inventions of the 16th century, these doctrines are rooted before time began.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Bug or Feature?

Is it a bug or a feature? Anyone who's worked with new software or has a programmer friend (and if you do, God bless you) will be familiar with the concept. The shiny new program does something... unexpected... and you joke about whether it's an error, or a feature they just neglected to tell you about. Some are wonderful, but often it's something wrong.

Anyway, I thought about that when I saw this tweet from Adrian Warnock defending(?) the Charismatic movement in the wake of the Strange Fire conference:

So first off, I'm not sure if he's offering a defense or conceding. Wasn't it a large part of the Strange Fire case that the Charismatic movement is overwhelmingly full of "crooks, cons and cookies"? It would be tempting to just say "you're exactly right, now what are you going to do about it?" and move on.

But we need to press a step further.

It's obvious to anyone (except maybe discernment masters like James MacDonald and Mark Driscoll - who, lest we forget, absolutely should know better) that this movement is overrun by heretics and charlatans. It's nice to see Warnock agree. But the question remains, is this a bug of the system, or is it a feature?

Is the flood of "crooks, cons, and cookies" a bug - an error resulting from a few bad lines of code in an otherwise sound program, that can be fixed by a simple patch? Does it just need a minor recalibration, maybe a reboot, and everything will run smoothly? No doubt this is where Warnock stands - it's a good program, but inevitably something goes wrong somewhere, and BOOM - heretics!

Or is it a feature - is it how the system is designed? Is this overwhelming amount of heretics exactly what you'd expect when the system works? I think, and I believe MacArthur and friends made the case very convincingly, that this is an utterly predictable result of the distinctives of Charismatic theology. It's not an occasional aberration; the faithful ones like Piper, Grudem, Warnock, etc are the aberrations.

What else would you expect from a system that promises ongoing divine revelation apart from scripture? People will say all kinds of garbage and claim it's God. Or some will define prophecy down, so God's word will become errant and/or can be ignored at will. Gee, what could possibly go wrong with that?

What else would you expect from a system that teaches a second-tier, higher-plane experience for only some believers, which manifests itself in a particular physical act? Do you think maybe people will try to make themselves do that, and fake it till they make it?

What do you expect when such obvious fakery cannot be questioned under fear of blaspheming the Spirit?

We could go on, but I think that's sufficient for now. Why would we expect anything other than an overwhelming number of blatant false teachers, when all the distinctives of that theology promote the faking of supernatural revelation and signs? Another programming saying comes to mind - garbage in, garbage out.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Budgeting for Adults

I want to make a few points about the current chaos from Washington, but before I do, we need to be on the same page. So this will be sort of an Economics 101 - no, it's much more remedial than that, let's call it Economics 001. This is simply how an adult sets a budget, and the basic principles apply from the personal to the multi-trillion dollar level. This is stuff everyone should know, the sort of thing anyone who wants to be considered a grownup should have down, but, well, look around.

Essentials first. If you only had $100 this month, what would you spend it on? I reckon you'd probably make sure you have food before you have the latest UFC pay-per-view. Food: essential. Entertainment: non-essential.

What do you need? Make sure you have funds allotted for those things first. If you can't afford food/shelter/clothing because you bought Legos, you're a moron, no matter how cool those Legos may be.

Add luxuries in order of importance. Once the vitals are taken care of, add on everything else (and yes, everything non-essential is a luxury). If you had another $100, what would you do with it? Another $100 after that? And so on, until all your income is accounted for. It may be adding a new item, like getting cable. It could be increasing a previous allocation - bumping the food budget so you can go to a nice restaurant. It could be something non-immediate, like savings. Whatever is next-most-important, set aside the money for that.

Note that some categories are purely luxury, but some are a mix of essential and luxury. Food, for instance. The cost of subsistence-level food is essential; everything above that is luxury. A very great luxury to have, mind you, and one you would be wise to invest in quickly. But it's still non-essential.

When all the money is allocated, there is no more. If you have $50k in income, and $65k in allocated spending, u r doin it rong. If you don't have the money, you don't have the money. Either re-prioritize so it's paid for (which will require eliminating or cutting funds to something else) or learn to live without it for now.

That's it. Really. No matter what plan or technique you find, they all come down to this. Prioritize your needs/wants, and allocate funds in order of importance.

Now, let's take this ultra-basic principle and look at the government quasi-shutdown. What can we observe?

They keep using the word 'essential'. I do not think it means what they think it means. It's hard to believe everything 'non-essential' has been shut down when it's running at about 83% capacity (which is still at deficit, by the way). Would you believe 5/6 of your household expenditures are so essential that you can't cut so much as a penny from them? Yet somehow we're supposed to believe this about the government - they can't cut even a penny from these areas for even a few weeks!

So what makes something essential for the federal government? I would suggest several qualifications. (1) It must be a necessary function of a nation; that is, any nation which lacks it is not a nation at all. Examples include the ability to make, execute, and adjudicate laws, and the ability to repel attacks. (2) It must be necessary that this function is performed at the federal level. If state or local governments (or private entities) can do it, it's not essential for the federal government.

Which means that a whole host of programs, departments, and agencies are non-essential luxuries. Some are nice to have, but not necessary for the survival of a nation. Some could just as easily be done at lower levels of government. Even some things we like, like Defense, are a blend of essential and luxury (we may be willing to pay for the luxury of everything above survival-level military, but let's at least be honest that it is a luxury). Some programs are so utterly non-essential, they don't just need a temporary partial shutdown, they need to go away entirely.

When money is short, you cut the least important things first. If you don't have enough one month, you don't buy the Eddie Rabbit tickets while your kids go without food. The most important things are the first to get funded and the last to get cut, and the first things to get cut are the least important. At least if you're an adult, anyway.

If you want to know what politicians value, look at what they threaten to cut first if they don't get more money. Locally it's always liberals threatening to cut police, firefighters, teachers, and hospitals, which I guess means they consider them almost completely unnecessary. Now look at what Obama and his cronies have decided to cut first vs what remains instact, and tell me what he values. Many 'cuts' have been to programs that actually provide some benefit to the public, and the 'cuts' have often cost more than full operation, which would seem odd for a shutdown except that a petulant child is in charge. Which brings me to the last point.

If you are in a financial crunch, and your instinct is to spend more money to antagonize the people who pay the bills, you are despicable. Not that anyone would ever stoop so low, of course.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Nebuchadnezzar and the False Prophets

We could learn a lot from a pagan king.

Now, I don't mean that in a Willow Creek "let's ask wicked business and political folk how they do things and model our church after that" type of learning. I mean, there's an example in scripture where a pagan king gets something right, something that we in the American church all too often get wrong. I'm talking of course about King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon's dealings with false prophets in Daniel 2.

There were a whole bunch of magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, etc in Babylon, people who claimed to have supernatural powers, access to the divine, blah blah blah. They enjoyed a pretty good living and formal government sanction. But then one night, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that was clearly of divine origin. He brought the dream to his supernatural specialists for an interpretation - and that's when their problems began.

Because it was such an important dream, Nebuchadnezzar wanted assurance that he could trust the interpretation. So he devised a simple test - the one who could tell him the dream was the one who could correctly interpret it. After all, he reasoned, if this dream is from a god, surely it would be a trivial matter for that god to reveal the same dream to his chosen interpreter. He put the challenge before his divine experts - and they didn't fail, they didn't even try.

Nebuchadnezzar drew the only logical conclusion. They were frauds. For years they had been collecting their money and putting on a little show, but now he really needed them. Now there was something truly significant that he desperately needed to understand, and they didn't even pretend like they could do anything about it. They were utterly worthless when it really mattered, so what good were they? Worse, this was the first time they could show their true divinely-granted power, and all they could show was that they didn't have any. They had been lying to him, and if there's one thing tyrants don't like, it's finding out they've been deceived. They were deceitful false prophets, claiming to speak the words of gods when they didn't, and he reasonably decided to kill every last one of them.

Of course, the story doesn't end there. The dream was not from merely a god, but from the actual God. And there was a true prophet in their midst, Daniel. God revealed the dream and its interpretation to Daniel, who proclaimed the very word of God to the pagan king. Nebuchadnezzar was a great king, but his kingdom would fall and others would rise in its place. But one day would come a kingdom established by God, which would crush all the kingdoms of this world. As John would record centuries later, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever." At the name of this Lord of lords, every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.

But back to Nebuchadnezzar - what can we learn from his example, even though he was still a wicked unbeliever? He had no tolerance for deceivers who claimed divine power and divine words. Once it was clear they were charlatans, he decided to get rid of their poison. Why don't we?

The church is full of frauds who claim supernatural powers they don't have. False prophets who claim to speak for God when they don't. Charlatans who claim they can heal but can't. Wizards and magicians of all sorts who claim to be extra-special conduits of divine power, whose miracles elicit laughter rather than awe, whose divine words of wisdom are bad pop wisdom, whose prophecies which aren't outright false are less impressive than Ed Glosser, Trivial Psychic. Deceivers defaming the name of Christ with their wicked shenanigans.

Why do we put up with it? Why are we so much less discerning than a wicked king of olde? Once he knew they were deceivers, he went to get rid of them, through execution (the same punishment God ordered for false prophets in Israel). Once we know these charlatans for what they are, we should get rid of them through the New Covenant parallel - excommunication. Unless and until they repent, goodbye, and good riddance.

Does that seem too harsh? Suggest for me a more appropriate way to deal with those who say "Thus saith the Lord" when the Lord most certainly has not saith. Name a more suitable punishment for those who claim divine inspiration for advice that is worthless at best and destructive at worst. Tell me how best to handle those who mock the Spirit with wretched shows like this and this, or those who put on displays of 'power' accompanied by rank heresy, or those who claim a stream of divine revelation apart from scripture.

Really, I'm open to suggestions. Because a century or so of playing wait-and-see with a tumor doesn't seem to be slowing its growth.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Anyone Can Say Anything

In Mark 2:1-12 we read:

And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” - he said to the paralytic - “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Anyone can say your sins are forgiven. I mean, the pope can say he's forgiving sins for anyone who retweets him, for cryin' out loud. (Side note - is Tweetzel the saddest Roman episode you can remember? They used to be able to extort money for 'indulgences', now they're reduced to RTs? Pathetic.) Anyone who wants can claim to forgive anyone's sins - who can check it? How would you falsify?

But who would claim to be able to heal the paralyzed? What could be more easily falsifiable? You say you can heal - well, heal! And here, Jesus does exactly that. He tells a paralytic to get up and walk, and he does!

Now, commanding a paralyzed man to walk is beyond amazing. But how does it prove that Jesus can also forgive sins? Jesus says the healing is proof of his authority to forgive (see also here). Is it, and if so, how?

One response is that the visible, unquestionable power on display in healing gives confidence that we can trust him for the invisible power he claims. If he can do this humanly impossible act you can see, why can't he also do the humanly impossible that you can't see?

I think there's something more to it, though. Why was the man paralyzed to begin with? Because of sin. Now I don't mean that in the Job's friends, John 9 kind of way, that he did a specific sin and was paralyzed as punishment. I mean it in the general sense - Adam sinned, and we were cursed, and so life is full of suffering and ends in death. We're sinners living in a broken, cursed world.

When Jesus heals, it isn't just a display of power, generally. When Jesus heals, and raises the dead, he is showing specifically the power to undo the effects of the curse. And if he can overpower the effects of the curse, he can overpower the cause - sin.

In Adam's sin, we were cursed and broken. In the second Adam's righteousness, the curse is broken and we are made new. When Jesus healed, he was pointing to the much greater healing he would perform through his righteous life, death and resurrection. Sin is forgiven, death is conquered, and we are reconciled to God.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Terminology Matters

Warning: adult themes, potentially not safe for homeschoolers.

Thabiti Anyabwile has been catching all kinds of flak for this recent article (warning again - it's a very frank discussion of homosexuality, use discretion). To sum, he recounts a thinktank meeting years ago when he saw the tide turning towards pro-homosexuality, and what he thinks he should have done differently. He suggests that one way to counter the pro-homosexual agenda is to discuss it openly, describing in gory detail what actually occurs, and letting our collective gag reflex work.

Obviously the usual suspects have lined up to denounce him. But there's even been flak from solid quarters, such as Carl Trueman. So I'll try to explain why I think Thabiti has it right, starting by clarifying what he's not saying (if I'm reading him correctly).

Thabiti is not saying that morality is defined by what we find disgusting. He's not saying that our gag reflex always works as it should (sinful creatures that we are). He's not saying that our argument should be primarily or even largely aesthetic. While it is true that we all know sodomy and other homosexual acts are the perverse acting out of idolatry and we generally find them disgusting (see Romans 1), I don't think he's primarily arguing that the disgust makes or proves them to be wrong. He may be suggesting that the sense of disgust at homosex perversion is a residual effect of the imago dei, a warning from the conscience, but that does not seem his main point.

I think his main point is just this: the way we speak of something affects how people view it. That's it. If your opponent controls the terms, he wins the debate.

How many who are now scolding Thabiti use the same reasoning regarding another great evil, the child sacrifice known as abortion? They know full well that evil hides behind euphemisms. So "killing an unborn baby" becomes "aborting a fetus", "removing a blastocyte", or "women's rights". Only the most depraved would vote for a politician who is pro-sucking out a baby's brains before dismembering it and throwing it in the dumpster. But change the term to pro-choice, and suddenly we have a champion of freedom!

Similarly, who could be against 'love' or 'equal rights' or 'marital freedom'? But when you understand that what is really meant by those terms in this context is serial sodomy? It's a little more difficult to support a measure to treat two males violating each other anally as if they're the same as a man and woman in marital covenant. But if you let them hide their disgusting perverse acts behind the banner of 'freedom to love who I want', their evil can gain societal approval much more easily.

Describe evil for what it really is. The deeds of darkness hate the light, and thrive in the shadows. Why let them define the terms?

One more point - a common objection I've seen is that we should be more 'winsome'. The pro-sodomite won people over by being winsome, they say, and we need to outdo him; if we do as Thabiti suggests, we'll lose. Listen - it is impossible to be regarded as the more winsome when you are the one saying "No". Men passionately hate it when God says "No"; do you really think they'll take it well when the message is passed along from a fellow creature? If your idea is to be more kind and loving, absolutely. If you think we will ever be viewed as such, try it a few times and see what happens. Then feel free to join us in speaking the truth plainly.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Should We Follow Gamaliel's Advice?

Acts 5:38-39 reads:

"So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!"

Recently I've been seeing this come up over and over, exhorting us to stop fighting against perceived false teachers, heresies, and unbiblical practices. If it's not true, the reasoning goes, it will die out and go away. And if you're wrong and it actually is true, well, you don't want to oppose God, do you?

Is this an appropriate use of this passage? I think not, for numerous reasons.

First, it's an inference drawn from a narrative which is exactly the opposite of direct commands, such as Titus 1:10-11 and 1 John 4:1-6, as well as descriptions of the church such as Ephesians 4:11-16. In interpretation, the clear always trumps the unclear; clear doctrinal teachings explain the narratives. To subvert clear, unambiguous teaching by making it subordinate to possible inferences drawn from narratives is twisting the Bible on its head. It's a sure-fire recipe for disaster.

But even if that clear teaching wasn't there, would this even be good advice for Christians? True, it's the words of scripture - but it's the words of a blasphemous enemy of the church plotting the best way to eliminate any memory of Jesus Christ*. Well guess what, the words "He has uttered blasphemy" are recorded in scripture about Jesus - should we therefore hold that Jesus is actually a blasphemer? Of course not. Nor should we swallow this utterance unquestioned. At the very least, we need to have the same skepticism we use for the speeches of Job's friends.

And putting that aside, is it even good advice? Really, how often has "just ignore it and it will go away" worked? Maybe with an annoying little sibling you might get lucky occasionally. Maybe. But a health issue, a weed problem, a leaky faucet, Milton, or a subversive movement? Not likely.

No, I don't think this was good advice we should emulate. I think it was providentially terrible advice, just as God providentially made Absalom listen to Hushai's awful advice rather than Ahithophel's counsel. God protected his people by making their enemies act foolishly. By the time they got around to full-on attacks, it was too little, too late.

This advice of Gamaliel's is directly contrary to God's commands, was aimed at destroying the church, and proved to be spectacularly awful. Why, exactly, should the church follow his advice now? Oh that's right - it's those who are promoting unbiblical nonsense and want it to go unchallenged who suggest we should. How about we just obey God instead?

By the way, do you think they actually believe what they're promoting? Here's a test - go to one of their churches and start teaching, say, the full gospel, the sufficiency of scripture, etc. Do you think they'd let you go unopposed or shut you down? Exactly.

*Because he had been mentor of the Apostle Paul, I've often heard people speak of Gamaliel as if he surely must have been a Christian himself. And maybe there's some early-Christian literature describing his conversion, I dunno. But in this story, he's clearly not a Christian. He compares Jesus to some rabble-rousing nobodies and schemes how to make people forget about him, too. Certainly he doesn't speak up affirming Jesus as Lord and Christ! And a few paragraphs later, when we see his great disciple Saul, what is he doing? Assisting in the murder of Stephen, and going on a Christian-killing rampage. So his top man was a persecutor, he rejected Jesus as Messiah and wanted the church to just go away. We think he was a crypto-Christian... why, exactly?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Church Discipline vs Gutless Grace

I've sometimes said that no statement is simultaneously more obvious and controversial than "boys and girls are different". So much of current wickedness - being forced to pretend two boys can marry each other, a 6-year-old boy pretending to be a girl and everyone else being forced to play along - comes from fighting against perhaps the most obvious fact of personhood. If boys and girls are different, these things are reprehensibly wicked. If they're not, then... um... you know, I can't even imagine what to put here. The fact that male and female are different is so blazingly obvious, I can't even think of what to use to illustrate what things would be like if they weren't. Yet that's what we're (very selectively) being forced to pretend. Yeah, that'll end well.

But there's another statement that, within the church is nearly as obvious and nearly as controversial. You ready? "You can judge a tree by its fruit". Aside from pretty much being a tautology, you have Jesus directly teaching it, so you'd think that would settle it. But you'd better have a strong backbone if you try to teach it, or worse yet, act like you believe it. Prepare for the onslaught of "you're confusing law and gospel!" protests, and all manner of assaults from the Gutless Gracers, who seek to exalt grace by insisting that it does nothing but provide fire insurance. I never cease to be amazed at how hard people will work to denounce the thought that a new creation will somehow be new.

I was thinking of this recently as I read some texts on church discipline, Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 5. I seriously wonder how someone who holds to Gutless Grace would handle those passages. That position maintains that there is no necessary connection between your profession of faith and your ensuing life - you can be justified without subsequently ever experiencing even the tiniest bit of sanctification. You can become a good tree while still producing nothing but poisonous fruit and thorns; Jesus is your savior but Satan remains your lord.

Now read those passages, which address how the church is to deal with sin. Notice first, the one being disciplined is one who claims to be a brother - he professes belief in Christ. Second, the discipline is brought on by his actions - in one case sin which he refuses to repent of, in the other case sin which is especially vile. Finally, the last stage of punishment is to put him out of the church, to hand him over to Satan, to have nothing to do with him (such as sharing the Lord's Supper with him), to treat him as an unbeliever.

Put it all together, and here's what you get. Based on his actions, the church is to deny the validity of his profession of faith. The church is to unite and say that he is not one of them, to deny him any form of fellowship, which is only appropriate if he is an unbeliever. Which is to say, because of his conduct, they are to have no confidence that he is a brother in Christ. If a man's belief doesn't affect his actions, the church is to regard it as no belief at all. If he claims Jesus as savior but not as lord, the church is to contradict him and disassociate from him.

So how does the 'Jesus as savior only' position deal with this?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Osteen Thoughts

Lest the title of the post confuse you, this will not be a series of banal idiocies that might someday attain the level of wisdom found in discount fortune cookies. No, this is not the thoughts of Osteen or snippets from any Osteen book or sermon, but thoughts about Smiley Joel. Now I realize that this may be low-hanging fruit; so be it. He's as popular and dangerous as ever.

Most often when I see something about Joely-O, it comes across as if he's a bumbling idiot. He's just shiny-happy and smiley, and his theology is vapid and empty. The problem is thorough incompetence. And I can totally get that. Just listen to him dodge questions any 3rd-grader in Awana can handle easily, and you'll definitely think there's just no there there.

And that is where I think the danger lies. He may come across as a bumbling well-meaning doofus like Verbal Kint, but his Keyser Soze-esque heresy [no spoiler alert because that movie's old enough to vote, oh and Darth Vader is Luke's father] is every bit as deadly as that of any other prosperity non-gospel hawker like Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, TD Jakes, Paula White, Robert Schuller, etc. He's not an innocent incompetent who's in over his head. He's yet another following the was of Balaam son of Beor, actively working for your destruction.

Want an example? Here you go. Listen to Osteen explain his theology, and Chris Rosebrough react appropriately. Just a warning - the Osteen update music is, uh, special. (On a side note, his update musics are great examples of polemical sarcasm. You learn so much about Mark Driscoll, Perry Noble, James MacDonald (2 songs!), Patricia King, William Tapley, or Rick Warren before you even get to the story.) It's about 20 minutes, but it's worth it if you think Osteen is just empty but harmless.

There is no such thing as empty teaching. If the teaching is devoid of God's truth, it will be filled with demonic lies. No exceptions, no matter how big of a smile it hides behind. Osteen's teaching is deadly. Keep yourself and anyone you love far, far away.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Something Worse Than Shame

There is something worse than feeling shame when you do something shameful. As God said through Jeremiah:

How can you say, ‘We are wise,
    and the law of the Lord is with us’?
But behold, the lying pen of the scribes
    has made it into a lie.
The wise men shall be put to shame;
    they shall be dismayed and taken;
behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord,
    so what wisdom is in them?
Therefore I will give their wives to others
    and their fields to conquerors,
because from the least to the greatest
    everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
from prophet to priest,
    everyone deals falsely.
They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
    saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
    when there is no peace.
Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
    No, they were not at all ashamed;
    they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among the fallen;
    when I punish them, they shall be overthrown,
says the Lord. (Jeremiah 8:8-12)

But there's something significantly better than shame, too. So here, from worse to best, are the three typical responses to shameful acts.

Worst: No shame at all, not even knowing how to blush. Being convinced that there's nothing wrong with it - or worse, that it's actually good. Some go so far as to demand the church and society formally bless and honor their shameful sin. We could call this a hard heart or seared conscience. It's really, really bad.

Sorta better-ish: Feeling shame when you do something shameful - but that's all. You know it's wrong, you feel it's wrong, you're convicted about your sinfulness, but you have no idea what to do about it. By the grace of God this may become godly sorrow. But too often it leads the other way. Instead of repentance unto life, worldly sorrow leads to death. Worldly sorrow attacks the symptom, trying to assuage the conscience by self-justification, or killing the conscience by heart hardening. It's better than being incapable of blushing, depending on which way you go from here.

Best: Repentance and faith unto salvation. Confess sin as sin, agree with God's righteous judgment against it, and admit that there is nothing you could ever do to atone for it. Turn to Jesus in faith, trusting in God's great mercy displayed in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus. The sorrow and shame of lawful conviction lead you to repentance and trust in the only one who can save.

The world is constantly trying to eliminate shame by pretending that sin is OK. The saddest thing is when the church joins them in this self-destructive quest. What we have to offer is so much better than deadening the conscience - the actual removal of shame through the forgiveness of sin which comes only through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Brothers, don't hate them by telling them their sin is fine; love them by telling them how their sin can be forgiven.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Epistemologies Have Consequences

The last few weeks, Frank Turk has been re-posting an old series debunking the arrogant, ridiculous idea that old-timey people just had no concept of whether or not historical events actually happened. You know - they told these stories, and they were 'true' because they conveyed true ideas, regardless of whether they described actual events. Those simpletons just had no categories for stories meant to convey truth without having actually happened (words like parable, for instance). So we get these Bible stories that read like historical narratives, but of course they aren't, it's just because those ignoramuses had no idea concept of actual history vs myth. If you'd like to see a Pauline and Petrine sledgehammer wielded against this Ennsian jibba jabba, read here, here, here, and here. Enjoy!

It got me thinking back to a post I never got around to writing in about 2005, back when I was first introduced to Rob Bell and the Emerg*s. Remember this famous/controversial passage from Velvet Elvis?

What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births?

But what if, as you study the origin of the word “virgin” you discover that the word “virgin” in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at that time, the word “virgin” could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being “born of a virgin” also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse?

What if that spring were seriously questioned? Could a person keep on jumping? Could a person still love God? Could you still be a Christian? Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live? Or does the whole thing fall apart?

Now if you remember, the typical conversation between a shocked Christian and a Bell fanboi went something like this.

Bellite: Rob Bell is awexome!!1!one!
Christian: Really? I heard he denied the virgin birth.
Bellite: No, he explicitly affirms it. He was just raising some questions. People r just h8ers.

And that would usually be that. Bell says he affirms it, so everything's OK, right? Not so fast. What he says here is every bit as bad as, if not worse than, outright denial. He's not saying it's untrue; he's saying it doesn't matter whether or not it is. It looks like a step further than Enns - not only do those ancient ignoramuses lack the concept of real history vs myth, to Bell it wouldn't make a difference if they did. True? False? Doesn't matter.

In fact, he's saying that this could be an outright lie intended to deceive pagan cultists, and it wouldn't matter a tiny bit. Think about that again: Rob Bell is claiming that lying Apostles could have made the whole thing up as a means of tricking cultists into "the way of Jesus", and it wouldn't have any effect on his faith. Actually, I kind of agree with him there - his 'faith' is such a mash of lies, deceptions, distortions, and jibba jabba, another lie here or there could hardly make a difference.

This is what made the kerfuffle over his "Love Wins" garbage so ridiculous. People seemed genuinely shocked that Bell was a universalist, as if he had been orthodox before that or something. Really? It was surprising that someone who bragged about his contempt for God's Word from day 1 would show contempt for particular doctrines contained within? Pro tip: if someone doesn't care whether the Bible is full of lies, he's probably not going to be the most faithful expositor.

Listen: when a guy's ministry consists of 'making people think' by asking innocent questions a la the serpent in Genesis 3, when he starts by ridiculing the truthfulness of God's Word and seeking to undermine the foundation of faith, when he is so openly contemptuous of Christianity and the very notion of truth itself, he's a wolf. Protect your flock from him, and move on.

Everything you needed to know that he was a rank heretic was right here (and a bunch of other places - he isn't shy about it!). Those who promoted him as if he were a Christian teacher, and those pastors who knowingly brought his vile teachings into their churches, will have a lot to answer for when the good shepherd demands an account.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Boring Testimonies

For some reason I'm not entirely sure of, I've been seeing a lot of mentions of Ergun Caner lately. Caner, as you may recall, was the president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, a renowned conference speaker, the inventor of Double-Stuf Oreos, once ate a whole wheel of cheese, played Donatello in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live-action movie, didn't surrender after the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, climbed Mount Everest solo in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety-two, fought alongside Lewis and Clark at the Alamo, is the Lindbergh baby, and circumnavigated the globe thrice by riding a dolphin wearing pantaloons.

OK, maybe I didn't get every last syllable. But it's basically right. Basically.

The details of his biography don't seem to matter much to Caner. As Tom Chantry summed it up, "A kid from Ohio went around right after 9-11 telling churches that he was trained as a Jihadist/terrorist while he was growing up in Turkey." A little misstatement here, a tiny bald-faced lie endlessly repeated there, and we have a new 'evangelical' superstar.

I don't really remember this guy much, but the last generation's big testimonial liar was Mike Warnke. Dude rose to prominence by claiming to have been a converted Satanist high priest, only it turns out he was lying. Just lied to people, for God's glory, of course.

Now it's easy to see why these guys would lie - they acquired significant fame and wealth and power on the basis of their amazing testimonies. But even among people who are not aspiring to Christianoid celebrityhood, a similar spirit is alive and kicking. Most often it's well-intentioned (but sorely misguided), but the push to embellish our testimonies is all around us.

We loathe the boring testimony. Raised by Christian parents, never went all prodigal, came to faith at an early age? Boring. Who's going to be impressed by that? If you're at a Bible college and have a testimony-writing project, and that's your story, you will probably get a bad grade (not hypothetical, btw). Might want to throw in some rebellion - maybe a little drunkenness or something - so people will know how much you've repented. How will people know how awesome the life-transforming power of Christ is if they don't know what a hellion you used to be?

Have you ever heard someone tell his story, how he came to faith in Christ and was rescued from [drugs, illicit sex, a cult, liberalism, whatever vile thing you can name and many you shouldn't], and heard someone with a 'boring' testimony say something like "I wish I had done some of that so I'd have an awesome story, too"? Have you ever thought it yourself?

Why do we do that? Why do we even entertain the thought that we wish we had sinned more (so that our testimony to grace would be increased), or worse, that we should lie and claim we did? For one thing, we tend to forget just how horrifying sin is, that sin from which we've been completely forgiven can still have residual effects the rest of our lives. Instead of wishing we had sinned that way for a better conversion story, it would be a good opportunity to thank God for the grace that restrained your wicked, unregenerate heart from heading down that particular evil, self-destructive path.

But the bigger reason, I think, is that we're all Pelagian by (sinful) nature, and we struggle against remnants of it as long as we struggle with the flesh. That is, we can sometimes slip into thinking that the determining power in faith is not God's power, but the will of the listener. They will surely believe, if only our presentation is good enough to convince them. We think that conversion is merely changing sides in a debate rather than divinely-wrought regeneration. And so we fall into thinking that we can cut through their unbelief if only we have a more compelling story, and that would have been the case if only we had been worse sinners before we were saved.

So let's look at the least-dramatic conversion story imaginable, such as the person raised by Christian parents who came to faith early and never had a major period of rebellion. What kind of testimony does he have? Well, like all people, he was a rebel against the sovereign creator of all, and he gladly followed the ways of Satan. God has appointed a day when He will judge the world and punish His enemies, and he was an object of God's wrath. But God sent Jesus Christ to be a propitiatory sacrifice for our sin and raised him to life for our justification - he became sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him - and now all who are united to Christ in faith are forgiven of their sin, counted righteous in Christ, and reconciled to God. By God's grace alone he has been made alive, completely forgiven of all sin, and rather than bearing God's wrath eternally in hell, in the ages to come he will be lavished with the immeasurable riches of God's grace. And so God will save all those - and only those - who call on the name of the Lord Jesus, who repent and believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin, everyone whom God calls to himself.

You know, I'm not sure how that testimony needs embellishing. So I guess maybe what we should do is worry less about ourselves and proclaim Jesus more.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Questions for the Purpose-Driven Vision-Casting Blackabeans

"Now these in Blackabea thought themselves with their God-experiences more noble than those in mere Christendom; they received the extra-Biblical revelation with all eagerness, examining their circumstances, subjective impressions, and liver shivers daily to see if these things were right in their own eyes." (Not-Acts 17:11)

One of the big trends in what we still call evangelicalism over the last couple of decades has been the development of 'vision'. It goes by many names and takes many forms, but it all amounts to roughly the same thing - discovering extra-Biblical revelation of God's specific will, for you individually or for your church/ministry. You need to discover your purpose, and become purpose-driven, completely oriented towards fulfilling that purpose. You need to discern where God is working and how He is inviting you to join Him in that work. You need to identify God's vision for you and cast it to others.

Do this well, and your life will be meaningful and blessed. Your ministry will be more powerful that you can possibly imagine. You will experience God as you drive towards your purpose and fulfill your special calling and probably earn a trophy or something.

Fail to do this, and... oh man. I shudder to think of how horrible and purposeless and worthless your existence is. You'll be sentenced to the worst curse imaginable - being ordinary. Yikes. Just consider the horror of the man who loves his neighbor as himself, but never figures out where exactly he's supposed to be doing this or which particular neighbor he's supposed to particularly love, so he just loves them all indiscriminately. What a pathetic waste of protoplasm!

Clearly nobody would want to be like that, just being sanctified and obeying scripture all willy-nilly wherever he happens to be. No, we need something more. Obviously, we all must find our purposeful vision of God-experience. Like, duh.

But still, I have a few questions for the experts in this field. For instance:

How close to God's vision for my life is close enough? If God is calling me to be a missionary in France, and I get things a little messed up, and serve as a missionary in Belgium, is that OK? Or is my life and ministry doomed to endless frustration and worthlessness because I missed God's specific calling for me? What if it's not that close, like instead of going to France, I go to Pakistan or North Korea? Or maybe I'm not a foreign missionary at all, but instead just pastor a church at home for a couple decades. Is there any good that can come from that, or is it so far off my calling that it's a fate worse than death?

What if I love/evangelize the wrong people? You know - like what if God is working on my coworker Steve and inviting me to join, but I misinterpret the impression I got while praying my vision prayers, and accidentally told Brian about Jesus instead? Is it a sin for me to have proclaimed the gospel to the wrong person?

What if someone doesn't get on board with my vision? Can I make him another dead body in the pile behind my bus, or giving him a catapult ride out of the county? Isn't that more appropriate for, I dunno, prosperity-gospel spewing Sabellian false teachers than for actual Christians who just don't agree with my extra-biblical ideas? But wait - if my vision is from God, for them to disobey or even question it is sin. So even if they don't disobey anything actually in the Bible, I can still excommunicate them for the sin of disagreeing with me, right?

Isn't all the stuff that's actually in the Bible enough? I mean, Jesus gives a decent enough mission statement for his church, and there's a bunch of other stuff about what kind of people we will become and what we should be doing. Isn't that enough for equipping us for every good work, without the need for additional specific revelation? Where in scripture are we told to be looking for this kind of thing, anyway?

Remember when Gnosticism with its secret knowledge only available to a select few mega-apostles was such a threat to the early church? Why, exactly, do we need to re-introduce it and try to mainstream it?

Finally, did I really make it through an entire post about finding your special purpose without making a Navin R Johnson joke?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Don't You Go Putting God In That Box!

The modern evanjellybean lexicon is chock full of worthless jargon, and few phrases approach the utter worthlessness of "don't put God in a box". The easy route is to sneer that it's impossible, that God will do what He wants and we can't stay His hand, etc. True enough. But what is the cliché intended to mean?

It could mean that God does not fit our neat systematic categories. God is transcendent and awesome, and no simple statement or summary can totally describe Him or His works. Which wouldn't be the worst thing you could say, I guess. But it seems that usually it's taken a step further - that we can't say categorically who God is or what He will do. Por example:

Some say salvation is only through Jesus. Don't put God in a box!
Some say miraculous/attestational gifts ceased. Don't put God in a box!
Some people think God is sovereign in election. Don't put God in a box!
People put God in a box and think the Bible is the only way we find God's word.
Some people say God cannot lie. Don't put God... er, wait...

And so on. The cliché is not usually a warning against over-systematizing or reductionism, but a worthless (or anti-worthfull) shot against certainty in what God has revealed.

It's not 'putting God in a box' to believe He will do what He says He will do. It's not 'putting God in a box' to believe God is who He says He is. Interestingly, the Bible is full of commands about and case studies in taking God at His word, and not once does it refer to it as 'putting God in a box'. Do you know what the Bible pert near always calls this nefarious act? FAITH!

So to summarize, if "putting God in a box" means believing God has revealed truth that we can know and believe, then it's the heart of Christianity. By all means, 'put God in a box', if that 'box' is the truth He has made known to us.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Your Treasured 'Private Conversations' are Utterly Insignificant

Stop me if you've heard this before. Some mega-famous celebrity pastor is about to do something colossally stupid and sinful. Many little people - blogger/lepers, pastors of 'small' churches - voice concern over the issue. Mega-pastor publicly blusters and slanders and blasphemes. The little people cry out for help from the Truly Great Champions of the faith. And the response inevitably comes back: "Quiet down, you! You don't know what private conversations are happening behind the scenes!"

I'll admit - I don't know what private conversations are happening. And? Those private conversations are utterly irrelevant. I don't give a rat's lower digestive tract about them, and neither should you. They're about as important to the issue as ... well, they're so insignificant, the language lacks the words to explain just how insignificant they are. They don't matter one tiny bit. So shut up about them, already.

Don't believe me? Let me illustrate. Suppose I somehow get an opportunity to preach. During the sermon, I take ten or fifteen minutes to talk about how much I hate my wife, call her all sorts of horrible things, and actually threaten her a few times. Really ugly, nasty, horrible stuff. Now some people want to confront me about it.

Can you imagine the pastor and a few elders intercepting them and telling them to shut up about it - they've been talking to me privately, and important conversations are taking place? When I'm alone with her, it's all sweet and good, honest! If things are to progress, they can't have rabble like the peons in the pews speaking up! That might just alienate and offend me. No, you silly little people, just be quiet and get back in your place - the experts are handling this, and trust us, everything will be OK. And in the small chance that it isn't, well, tough questions will be asked someday.

Can you picture that? Not likely. The entire concept is utterly stupid, insane, and extremely dangerous. Most likely you'd think that what we're talking about in private doesn't matter at all when I act like that in public. In fact, you might think that if there's such a big disparity - that I'm really nice in one arena but a reprehensible reprobate in another - that the relationship is abusive. And you'd be exactly right.

Nothing that is said in private can justify such sinful, despicable public behavior. It couldn't in my example, and it can't when the Towering Guardians of Christendom tell you to just simmer down and let the Top Men handle it. It's really hard to even get my head around that kind of arrogance.

Ugh. This Again?

It seems this comes up every once in a while, but with the recent Supreme Court arguments on 'gay marriage', it wasn't shocking to see numerous Facebook posts about that famous 'gay' Biblical couple, David and Jonathan. For those unfamiliar with this line of what I'll generously call reasoning, it breaks down like this:

1) David and Jonathan were gay
2) Therefore homosexual perversion must be OK

Now typically the counter is to attack point 1. You'd look at the relevant Biblical texts and show that there's absolutely zero reason to believe they were gay, explain what those 'difficult' texts actually mean, etc. That's a perfectly fine approach, and certainly any reasonable person could undertake it, because let's be honest - based on the Biblical texts, there's exactly zero reason to suspect they were sodomites.

But I get sick of playing defense all the time, so I'd like to suggest mixing it up a bit on this one. Sometimes you can get clarity by assuming the other side's case entirely, and seeing what happens. For example, someone who may have been involved in a crime offers his explanation of events - if his explanation is sleazy, it's safe to conclude he's sleaze. A grand jury uses this same method - they accept everything the prosecution says at face value, with no cross-examination or defense at all. If the case wouldn't be strong enough to merit conviction even under those ideal circumstances, they dismiss without indictment, and suggest the prosecutor find a line of work better suited to his lack of discernible talent.

Let's pretend for a second that there's a shred of evidence for David and Jonathan being sodomites. More than that, let's really use our imaginations and pretend that it's actually true. Now ask yourself - does it follow that homosexuality is not sin? No? OK, let's lower the standard. Does it even move one micron towards showing that homosexuality is not sin? Still no? Well, then, what would it prove?

All it would indicate is that in addition to his other sins recorded in scripture (which are shown in plain, unflattering terms - as well as God's judgment on them), David also committed homosexual sin. That's it. All the posturing and distortion and bluster amounts to nothing but "David was a sinner", something we already know.

So where does that leave this line of argument? It fails spectacularly on at least two counts. There is zero reason to think David and Jonathan were sodomites. And even if there was, so what? It's still a sin, God is still the righteous judge, and His wrath against sin won't be propitiated by such a pitiful excuse as "Well, someone in the Bible did it, so it must be OK." As with every other sin, there is no comfort to be found in excuses and blame-shifting and everyone-else-is-doing-it, but only in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Two Chavezes and a Savior

In case you missed it, Google set off a little tempest this week. Apparently they do a little doodle thing on their front page from time to time, and this time they chose to celebrate Easter by honoring Cesar Chavez. Um, OK, whatever. I'm not sure why anyone's all that upset that an anti-Christian organization like Google failed to feign respect for Jesus. If they're going to foment rebellion against the Creator 364 days a year, might as well be indifferent on day 365. It's incredibly sad that the leadership at Google is so intent on rebellion, but I'm not going to be upset that they didn't fake caring for one day.

But it is worth pondering what they chose to honor instead of the Lord of Lords. Google is pretty solidly lefty, so it's no surprise they celebrated one of the left's icons. Now, I'm not an expert on Chavez - for years I thought people talking about him meant boxer Julio Cesar Chavez - but some research yields the following about this great savior:
1) Like any good leftist, he believed and taught the solution to any problem was organized effort, whether as a union or (ultimately) the all-powerful omnibenevolent State. No matter what the issue, just rally enough people behind it, and you can overcome it. Well, except for...
2) He's dead.

What really got my attention, though, were the tweets and headlines about "Google honors Chavez on Easter". My first thought was not Cesar, but recently-deceased Venezuelan dictator Hugo. For those who have already forgotten, Hugo Chavez was about as rich and powerful a man as the world has ever seen. Within his own nation, nobody could ever tell him "No!", and he was a major player internationally as well. And as he was dying, his desperate last words were:

I don't want to die. Please don't let me die.

Thanks, Google, for unintentionally bringing that contrast to mind on Easter. In the face of death, the all-powerful sovereign Chavez was reduced to desperate begging. All his power and wealth and authority were worthless when death came calling, as it will for all men. But Jesus, enduring a death he did not deserve, faced it triumphantly - It is finished! - and on the third day walked out of the grave, never to face death again.

Both Chavezes died, and all who hope in them, or other 'saviors' like them, have no hope in the face of death. Those of us who hope in Christ are free from slavery through fear of death.

Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Isn't it always the case?

It's hard to be too critical of Rob Portman. Believe me, I've tried, but our language just lacks the words to adequately describe such spineless amoral treacherous cowardly hatred towards one's own son and country.

Recently, Senator Portman (DIABLO - Democrat in all but label only) of OH! IO! became the most prominent Republican to publicly support forcing us to pretend that serial sodomy is marriage. This is not exactly shocking. The GOP's cave on this issue was as predictable as the inevitable failure - yet again, they're pandering for votes with an "us too!" strategy that never works. If people want to vote for amoral juveniles who refuse to say 'No!' to any spending, desire, or behavior (and they apparently do, based on last November), why would they vote for the imitators rather than the real thing? It never works, and this time will be no exception. So that aspect isn't particularly interesting - been there, done that.

What is actually interesting is his story about how he changed his mind on this issue. His son is gay, so he decided to work for his son to get what he wants. That's it. No painstaking research or careful analysis of the arguments (or argument - the other side is nothing more than emotional venting). One day he's opposed, then his son says he's gay, and suddenly it must be OK! It's such weaksauce that even some devoted pro-sodomite liberals have said that while they're glad he came to the wrong conclusion, his reasoning is so dangerously poor it renders him unfit for office (on that part, we can agree). He holds one position until he thinks the other side will benefit his family, then he instantly changes sides? Horrible, regardless of the issue.

And yet, even his story shouldn't come as a surprise to Christians, because we've heard it so many times before. Since I first noticed it, I've looked for it whenever a prominent Christian endorses homosexuality, and so far it's been there every time. The thing that got each of them to re-think their position was knowing someone - a close friend or relative - who 'came out' as gay. The reasoning then goes like this:

1) The Bible is unambiguous - sexual perversity, including homosexuality, is sin.
2) But friend/relative/famous person is such a nice guy!
3) If he's doing it, it can't possibly be sin, right?
4) Therefore, either by some incredible hermeneutical gymnastics, the clear teachings of scripture actually mean the opposite of what they say. Or more directly, God must just be wrong.

And so it goes. God's authoritative word and his opinions collide - and like Adam, he concludes that God just doesn't know as much as his creation. And so rather than corageously loving our friend, we rationalize for him, and make him feel good, accepted, affirmed, proud, about persisting in his sin as it continues to destroy his soul.

And make no mistake - homosexuality is only one sin where we do this. In fact, if we didn't do this for ourselves, we wouldn't sin. Every sin is an occasion when we decide we know better than God. Mercifully, God forgives us in Christ, and grants repentance, often through the means of a friend who loves us enough to tell us the truth. It's hard to imagine worse hatred than affirming someone in his sin. Let us surround ourselves with people who truly love us, and truly love those around us.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Thoughts on the Conquest of Canaan

Reading through Joshua, and commentary on it from here. Commenting on the Israelite conquest of the Promised Land and the total destruction of its inhabitants, Hamilton writes:

"If one follows the inner logic of the theology of the Bible, the destruction of the peoples of the land is not unjust. Because of their wickedness (Deut. 9:5), Yahweh commands Israel to place them under the ban lest their idolatry be contagious (20:16-18). Just as Yahweh making himself known was the most significant thing about the destruction of Egypt, so also the demonstration of Yahweh's holiness is the most significant thing about the ban on the Canaanites. The conquest will be seen as a brutal, uncivilized, merciless atrocity only if we reject what the first five chapters of Joshua proclaim: that Yahweh is glorifying himself in the salvation of Israel wrought through the judgment they visit on the peoples of the land. Yahweh is showing astonishing mercy to Israel, and he is not clearing the guilty of the land (cf. Ex. 34:6-7)." (kindle location 3350; see also this from Fred Butler)

I want to make two comments, and y'all can discuss amongst yourselves.
1) If the Torah is true, then (per the above quote) we shouldn't object to the conquest of Canaan.
2) If it's not true, then we really shouldn't object to the conquest of Canaan.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Amazing Faith - Joshua

Had another post started, struggling to tie it all up. In the meantime, I finished reading the Pentateuch and was struck again by the incredible faith displayed by Joshua. I'm not talking about when he and Caleb were the only two spies who believed God about conquering Canaan, or even about his remaining in the tent of meeting even after Moses had left. No, I'm talking about the ridiculous faith he showed at the end of Deuteronomy, as he prepares to assume the reigns of leadership from Moses.

Israel has been delivered from slavery in Egypt and led to the Promised Land. After disobeying and refusing to take it as God ordered, they were punished by wandering in the desert for 40 years until everyone old enough to have participated in the rebellion was dead. Now they have come back to the banks of the Jordan, and Moses is about to die. The last few days of his life are spent declaring the glory of God, reminding Israel of all God has done on their behalf (and their faithless response), encouraging them to faithfully obey, and reciting the terms of the covenant God has made with them.

At the climax of this presentation (recorded as the book of Deuteronomy), the covenant is renewed between God and this new generation of Israelites. Moses gives a lengthy list of blessings they will receive for faithful obedience, and a more than thrice as long list of curses they will bring on themselves if they disobey. Those curses are incredibly nasty; most of us cannot fathom being so desperate for food that women would hide newborn children and afterbirth so they can eat them and not share with their families. We can't imagine the sheer horror of being in a nation where these curses are being brought to pass.

As we keep reading, we see that these curses are not just theoretical; they will come upon Israel. They do not have hearts to obey; a future generation will see the smoking remains of Israel like Sodom; Moses prophesies about how they will be restored after these curses have driven them from the land. It is beyond doubt that at some unspecified time, Israel will disobey so badly that God will bring these horrifying curses on them, and these Israelites are totally capable of bringing it about.

In the midst of this, Joshua is commissioned to lead these people. The people who are guaranteed to bring about God's wrath as surely as Sodom and Gomorrah. Even in his commissioning, God again declares that Israel will disobey and be punished!

And Joshua took the job. No hesitation. No complaints. No questioning or bargaining or begging for God to choose someone else. God said to do it, and Joshua obeyed.

Joshua had no promise that these curses wouldn't come in his lifetime. God promised success in the conquest of the land, and that's all. He had no guarantee that he would be exempt or that he would not live to see the destruction of his beloved people. For all Joshua knew, they were going to conquer the land, turn to idols, and be cursed and conquered five years later. He knew without a doubt that the people he nation he was about to lead would suffer beyond imagination, the only question was when it would all happen.

And he obeyed God without hesitation, even knowing this was in the future. That is faith.

Contrast his attitude with the purpose-driven voice of God sunstandstillsmallvoice vision casting movement so prevalent today. Obedience always leads to blessing and victory and glorious fulfillment and utopian self-actualization and blah blah blah. The idea that obeying God might lead to suffering - or that we can obey but our loved ones will still suffer - never seems to cross the minds of today's evanjellybean gurus. Much of the popular teaching sounds as if God owes us rewards here and now for good behavior, as though we would not need to obey if the outcome wasn't as good as we desired.

Obeying God is always, by definition, the best thing to do. Even if it means temporary suffering, a better course could not even be imagined. Joshua provides a great example, one we would be wise to follow.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Which is better?

Which do you think is better for the church to have: living apostles, or the complete Bible?

I'm open to hearing the dissenting opinion on this, but seeing as how God has given us one but not the other for the last 1900 years, I'm going to say God thinks it's better if we have complete scripture.

Now, assuming the last post about God's provision is correct:
1) What does that say about the sheer awesomeness of the Bible? How should we regard such a precious gift?
2) What does it say about us if we pine for and (feebly) attempt to recreate the apostles?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Grumbling against God

The book of Numbers tells the story of Israel leaving Mount Sinai, heading to the Promised Land, rebelling, and being punished by wandering around in the desert until everyone old enough to have participated in the rebellion dropped dead. Along the way, they complain about pretty much everything, and several additional rebellions break out. Jim Hamilton comments:

"The point being made in all these episodes is that Israel is in the presence of Yahweh, and they owe him praise and thanks for what he has done and how he has provided. Grumbling about circumstances, the kind of food, or who is in charge directly attacks the one who sovereignly orchestrated the circumstances, chose this food not that, and appointed the leaders who are in place. Grumbling against Yahweh suggests that what he has brought to pass is not good, or that his choices were not wise, or that he will not be able to do what he said, or that he has not been faithful to his promises. Yahweh responds to suggestions that he is not faithful, able, wise, and good - which are at the heart of unbelief - with wrathful indignation. He is a consuming fire - even with Moses." (Kindle location 2305, page # unknown, sorry)

He is exactly right of course, and this is but one of numerous reasons you should read this book. I'd also point out that this description does not just apply to Israel in the wilderness. It also describes very well the very first human sin back in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3. God gave them a literally-perfect environment, and they still found an excuse to complain and rebel. In the midst of God-created perfection, Adam and Eve believed they could do better.

And so it is with us as well. All sin is merely a repetition of Adam's catastrophic error and Israel's folly. When we sin, we dare to judge God and find his provision lacking or his ways foolish. No matter what the sin is, it's this same basic form of rebellion. We think we can do better than God.

So this short paragraph also explains why hell is perfectly just. We look at the sovereign and wise creator of all, declare him to be an incompetent fool, and try to exalt ourselves over him. "Wrathful indignation" is certainly an appropriate response to such insolent rebellion.

Incredibly, this attitude doesn't stop even in the church. We debate whether hell is real or if the punishment would far outweigh the crime, while we really should be marveling at the incredible mercy God continually displays in that we're not there yet. We are not satisfied with the revealed Word and seek after 'fresh' revelation, when we should be blown away that God would even condescend to reveal himself to such despicable creatures as us at all. We scandalously entertain complaints about the exclusivity of Christ, that it somehow isn't fair that there's only one mediator between God and man, instead of being jaw-droppingly amazed that God would so graciously redeem even a single one of us.

God is good. God is wise. God is sovereign. What God has provided is better than anything we could even imagine. Let's be satisfied with what God gives and stop grumbling about what we imagine God has withheld.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Well, That's Curious

This morning, a meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, a city which can generously be described as 'rural'. It's in the Ural mountains, the dividing line between Europe and Asia. over 1100 miles from Moscow. While the area has a population of about a million, it's incredibly remote (sometimes considered part of Siberia); it's where the Soviets made much of their weapons-grade plutonium, so the damage from pollution or accidents would be contained. Despite the complete remoteness of the area, within minutes of the incident, dozens of videos were posted and viewed by millions of people around the world.

Meanwhile, we are told of the constant stream of apostolic-quality miracles happening all around the world. People are being healed - and not just back pain and fevers and the other easily-fakable stuff the obvious sham artists use either. No, cripples are made to walk again, amputees have limbs regenerated from stumps, leprosy is instantly washed away, sometimes even the dead are raised. Most of this happens in remote areas, but some happens in churches right around the corner. Nearly all of it is done at the hands of missionaries who send monthly newsletter updates and flood Facebook with pictures and videos of their kids for the family back home. And yet somehow not a single one of these miracles has ever been caught on camera. Even those miracles performed in American churches with thousands of people (many armed with smartphones), churches who record everything for broadcast and/or review, somehow always seem to escape the cameras.

Seems odd.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Apart from other things...

Towards the end of 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul takes to defending his ministry against the charges of the self-exalting Corinthian "super-apostles". These deceivers boasted of their own greatness, so Paul laid some apostolic smack down. He could boast of everything they could, but he could claim an even greater credential - enduring suffering for the sake of the gospel. The false apostles boasted in their awesomeness and general snazziness. The true apostle regarded that as worthless, and boasted instead in his weaknesses that showed the greatness of Christ.

In the midst of this argument, Paul gave his most extensive list of the sufferings he endured in the name of Christ (and more was still to come!) while the super-apostles demanded to be exalted and live in luxury at the Corinthians' expense. While looking at this passage recently, I was struck like never before by the last item:

Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Cor 11:23-28)

"The daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches". I've always considered that as another thing that separates him from the false apostles - I love you and am terribly concerned for you, but they don't really care. And no doubt that's part of it. But now I don't think that gets the entire picture.

What I am more inclined to think now is that the relentless concern for the churches is the greatest suffering he endured. It's not just another addition to the list, it's the pinnacle. His anxiety over the churches is a greater burden to bear than being beaten, whipped, stoned, shipwrecked, and everything else combined.

I believe Paul is getting at that here. Suppose he was given a choice: (a) Demas apostasizes, or (b) Demas remains faithful, but to bring it about Paul must be scourged again. How long do you think he'd have to debate it? 0.000001 nanoseconds? Or is that too long?

I first thought that as I was considering my daughters, and how agonizing it would be to see them reject Christ. I can't imagine anything more painful - I can't imagine there is anything I would not endure if it would bring about their repentance. Of course I know that nothing I do can guarantee it - but if hypothetically the choice was offered, it would be the easiest choice ever.

We all can have this level of concern for people we know. But church leaders - pastors and elders - bear this burden continually, anxious for the well-being of people in their care who are more stubborn and self-destructive than sheep. Let us honor them well and make their job a blessing as much as we possibly can.