Convenient Mystery

A person should consider us in this way: as servants of Christ and managers of God’s mysteries. 1 Corinthians 4:1 (HCSB)

This passage refers to mysteries. I agree that there are going to be things about God that are over our heads. Things too wonderful for the human mind to comprehend. These things we rather easily dismiss as God’s mysteries.

A long while back I was listening to a person present a theological viewpoint, which I happened to disagree with. He proceeded to try and force me to spiritually say uncle and admit he was smarter than I, by showing me verse after verse that he said backed up his point of view. I don’t know if they did or didn’t since he wouldn’t slow down enough to let me think about each. People who are sure they are right and intelligent apparently don’t need to slow down to think.

When he finally come up for air I put a verse in front of him, just one, which I took the time to explain. This verse didn’t back up my perspective so much as it contradicted his. I asked him to reconcile his belief with this verse. He replied the gospel will always contain some things that are mysteries to us.

That was when it occurred to me, we tend to define ourselves by what we believe. We use terms like evangelical, Christological, Biblical, fundamental, and reformed to categorize and characterize what we think. But you might sometimes learn as much if we could define what we are satisfied leaving as mysteries.

Perhaps not always, but at least sometimes what we choose to call mysteries are those things we simply don’t want to deal with. Perhaps they interfere with our favorite doctrinal stands. Perhaps they scare us in their implications. Or perhaps they make us feel stupid.

I conjecture that one day in eternity, when we have had millions of years to figure out the truth, theology will all fit together in one coherent and cohesive system. There may still be mysteries, but if there are it will be because those ideas elude us by being more than our minds can hold. Those mysteries will not be hiding places where we huddle up to protect ourselves, emotionally and spiritually, from unwanted truth.

Did you notice the verse quoted above is spoken in the context that Paul and his co-workers were managers of revealing God’s mysteries? They were teachers of truth, not protectors hiding truth safely away somewhere.

Abortion Industry Priorities

One of the battles taking place in the courts is whether or not abortion clinics need to be held to the same standards of medical cooperation, safety and cleanliness as other surgical centers. It boggles my imagination that the industry which successfully portrays itself as the protectors of women and women’s rights would not always be in favor of the highest level of protection for their clients.

How many of us remember that one of the arguments commonly quoted in the old days, in favor of legalizing abortion, was to avoid having women visit illegal and unsanitary back alley clinics? Why is this industry that is supposed to save women from dirty back alleys now campaigning for the right to practice their medicine in the same unregulated ways?

The answer is that the abortion industry is more about profit than about women, their rights or their safety. If this were not true than the laws currently being challenged would never have been necessary. Instead every abortion provider would have been in cooperation so as to allow them to admit any patients that had complications in a nearby hospital. If they really cared more for women than for their dollars, they would not be advocating saving money, and profits, by operating in less safe and less sterile conditions.

Priorities are seldom revealed by words. Words can be twisted. Priorities are revealed by actions.

Thinking about Work

 

Today I found myself thinking about works. What really constitutes works? At what point does our responding to God become works? Ephesians 2:8-10 makes some strong statements about works.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10 KJV)

The first use of the word works is in verse 9. It is there to tell us that we are not saved by works. I know people who are busy trying to balance a cosmic scale, scrambling furiously to do good works, hoping their good works will outweigh their bad works in the final judgement. This passage makes it clear that trying to balance the scales is working the wrong plan. Our positive actions do not weigh against our negative actions so the plan is doomed.

We are saved by grace, rather than by positive works. God has offered us a gift of salvation. Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty we owed for our own sins, and has offered this salvation to us if we are willing to receive it, by faith, as a gift.

But here is where theologians muddy the water. Many define receiving a gift as work. Furthermore, they would say, since humanity without Christ is described as dead in the previous context of Ephesians 2, dead men cannot do anything to bring themselves back to life. Therefore they believe God gives the gift to whomever He chooses and without any involvement by the receiver.

Let me step through some of the reasons why I agree with so much of this logic and yet arrive at different conclusions. First let me address the argument, dead men cannot bring themselves back to life. I would say amen. They cannot, and they do not. Jesus brings us back to life when we are declared forgiven, and not only forgiven, but also righteous in God’s sight. God does the work of redemption inside of the believer, we do not do it ourselves.

Being spiritually dead is a Biblical word picture. It is like being physically alive, but spiritually useless. The lost person is useless to God because of their sinful condition. It is not that they are incapable of doing anything, they spend every day doing something, but these things are of no importance, eternally speaking.

Jesus is offering to replace this useless, perpetual death with a very useful, eternal life. It is His gift offered to us, and like all gifts, one doesn’t have it, until they receive it. A gift we refuse or ignore, we do not get. As mentioned above, many people argue, if we actively cooperate in receiving the gift, such would constitute a work.

I disagree. If a man is to be given a wonderful gift, one they could never acquire on their own, he is not given credit for some brilliant accomplishment upon receiving the gift. All praise for the accomplishment goes to the giver. God gets all the praise for our redemption. Our willingness to receive what He sacrificed so dearly to provide is also to His credit. The receiver neither deserves nor gets any glory. The work of the accomplishment is not in accepting it as a gift, but in the sacrifice that secured it and the grace in desiring to give it.

Thinking, making mental choices, is not work. Following through on the choice might be work, but in this case it is Jesus who followed through, humanity is simply the recipients of the offer. Those who are willing to receive the gift are the redeemed, but not by any merit or work of their own, but by the activity, grace and glory of Christ.

I believe this moment of decision on our part is necessary for many reasons.

Without it there is no relationship in our relationship with Christ, we are only puppets doing whatever God chose for us to do. At least, up to the moment where He gives us Salvation.

Without this moment of decision humanity is essentially given enough free will to do wrong, but not to do right, meaning God is holding them accountable for actions they had no ability to avoid.

Without this freedom to choose, humanities love or God is never freely given and love is only possible when it is freely given.

Without this choice to receive on our part, 1 Timothy 2:4 as well as every other verses referring to God’s desire to reach the whole world, don’t make sense.

Homosexuality in the Bible

I am a white, male, evangelical Christian; no one cares if I am offended. Yet I want to address one of the most offensive things I have seen lately, the publicity for the Queen James Bible. It is touted on Facebook right now as a new attack by liberals on Christianity.

That is not exactly true, looking on Amazon you can see that this corruption of Scripture was released back in 2012, so it’s not new. Nor does it appear to be an organized attack. It is nothing more than one person’s attempt to promulgate their lifestyle and to profiteer from other people’s foolishness.

I wish Christians wouldn’t fall for misinformation so easily. But more so, I wish the lost world would not fall for the lies that lead to whitewashing sin and to eternal separation from God.

What I referred to as highly offensive was not the exaggerations about the book presented on Facebook, the most offensive thing was the lies told in the sound bites promoting the book. Here is an exact quote.

Homosexuality was first mentioned in the Bible in 1946, in the Revised Standard Version. There is no mention of or reference to homosexuality in any Bible prior to this – only interpretations have been made.

So they would have us to believe that up until then the Bible was either silent on homosexuality or in favor of it. This is a blatant lie, empowered by the fact that his intended audience would not take the time to check the details.

Let me tell you the truth, with some easily verifiable facts. The King James Bible was produced in 1611. This of course means it was written in old English. It is generally sold with updated language, so that the 1611 spellings are highly unlikely to be what you find in a local library or bookstore.

In the original wording, without any updates Romans 1:24 ff is very clear, even if it is in old English. Homosexuality is a sin, and it is a sin that grows out of rejecting God and which brings about appropriate consequences. (Here is a link that will allow you to search any passage in the 1611 King James.) Here is the exact copy.

24Wherefore God also gaue them vp to vncleannesse, through the lusts of their owne hearts, to dishonour their owne bodies betweene themselues:
25 Who changed the trueth of God into a lye, and worshipped and serued the creature more then the Creatour, who is blessed for euer. Amen.
26 For this cause God gaue them vp vnto vile affections: for euen their women did change the naturall vse into that which is against nature:
27 And likewise also the men, leauing the naturall vse of the woman, burned in their lust one towards another, men with men working that which is vnseemely, and receiuing in themselues that recompense of their errour which was meet.
28 And euen as they did not like to retaine God in their knowledge, God gaue them ouer to a reprobate minde, to doe those things which are not conuenient:

 

The passage doesn’t use the word homosexuality, but it describes homosexual behavior clearly, and there is no honest way to say this passage does not condemn the behavior. People who are justifying their sin do not mind lying about what the Bible says. In essence they are described here as the ones who “changed the truth of God into a lie.” In this case they went so far as to rewrite the Bible.

God created humanity in such a way that we all make our own choices, and pay the price for our choices. One of the most offensive things I can imagine is lying to people about the consequences of their actions.

Absolute Truth and the Constitution

Our world is changing, and I believe it is changing faster than ever. Social ideas are shifting quicker than at any time in history. The rate of change is not just because technology is moving forward and accelerating our progress. In this case, it also connects to world view changes. Let me explain.

If you looked at society a hundred years ago, the predominant world views included the concept of absolute truth. Perhaps as a part of a Biblical ideology, or by those who rejected Christianity the absolute truth was couched in what they called higher law. In both cases, it was a perspective that right was right all the time and was unchanging. In the time frame since, absolute truth has been replaced by relativism.

Back when absolute truth was accepted by the majority, people were morally anchored to their idea of truth. In theology, this meant they looked to the Bible for answers and accepted it as authoritative. In politics, absolute truth affected how they utilized the constitution. Ideas were brought before the Supreme Court to be argued based upon their constitutionality. At the time, the decisions of the court were evaluated based upon the assumed intent of the original authors of the document.

When people began to reject the idea of absolute truth, they also began looking at the Bible and the constitution differently. Instead of asking what the document says, they now looked for what the documents allow. It is no longer a question of what the authors intended, but instead whether the document could be interpreted to allow the desired outcomes.

This change in how decisions are made by the Supreme Court, fundamentally changes the court’s role, and makes it by far the most powerful branch of government. Formerly the court was severely limited in what it could do, because its decisions had to be visibly based on the founding document. Now the court is able to make decisions based on interpretations of the constitution rather than its original intent. This ultimately gives them power to do anything they want, including actions previously limited to other branches of government. And don’t forget the justices are appointed to a life long term.

With the increased power the court now has, stacking the court with judges of a certain perspective is far more important than who is elected to the legislative branch or who sits in the executive office. It doesn’t take a whole lot of thought to know that this tyrannical power given to the court was not originally intended by the Constitution, nor is it what the average American wants in terms of how our nation is governed, but it is the logical outcome of rejecting absolute truth.

Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren

This is a cactus wren, the state bird in Arizona. This bird knows how to exist in the desert. It doesn’t need any freestanding water to survive, being able to get all the moisture it needs from its food. It also has learned to take good advantage of the prickly nature of cactus.

Perhaps the most menacing of the cacti is the jumping cholla, a plant that will have sections break off and lodge itself in unwary passersby. These sections then will work their way deeper into the victim as they attempt to get free, unless they know exactly how to remove them. Cactus wren will commonly nest in these plants though, skillfully building down in the middle of the cacti’s natural defenses.

This does not stop all possible predators, but attempting to raid a nest is unlikely to succeed because not only is the location highly defensible, but the birds are known to aggressively defend their homes. When a predator attempts to access it, the birds will knock them off balance amid the deadly spines.

One story of such an event is on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. They mention a Yuma antelope squirrel that was knocked into the spines and then to the ground. The cactus wren is able to successfully defend its nest because of the combination of a defensible position and aggressive defensive behavior.

Believers should take note of this combination.

The first step to success is to find a defensible position. The easiest way for a Christian to remain in a defensible position is to carefully and closely align yourself with God. Being in agreement with Biblical morality and strong in your personal relationship with God through Christ will allow you to miss the attacks that come from being unprepared and practicing immorality. Much of the warfare believers face is because they are living morally compromised and spiritually distant.

The second step is to know when and how to fight back for the remaining attacks. This can be tricky because our warfare is not like the battles of this world, so our defensive behavior needs to be different. Very often it is a Spirit led word of witness for the Lord. There may be times when the appropriate defense is to simply to explain a misunderstanding, socially or theologically. Increasingly in our world, the defensive component includes political involvement such as voting, campaigning, and political action campaigns. In all cases, our defense includes speaking out, not rudely, but gently and truthfully.

Consider Ephesians 6:11-13 (HCSB)

Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.

 

 

A Doctrine of Marriage

Marriage seems to be the topic of the day, so perhaps it’s time to examine what we believe about marriage.

First, marriage is the oldest institution. It is older than the existence of countries, older than the existence of law, and it is the foundation of family. Since it is the first building block of family, marriage is essential for the continuation of humanity. For this reason it is a bedrock piece of the foundations of civilization.

Another word about the continuation of civilized society through marriage: I believe children born in healthy marriages have the best chance for success. Children raised without an example of both a father and a mother in the home are more likely to have certain struggles in life, including an unhealthy view of marriage, sexuality, and family. In this manner, unhealthy views of marriage and family can grow worse with each generation if not given boundaries.

God has a right to give us input on marriage and did so. There are Old Testament passages which address marriage as being between one man and one woman. There are examples of marriage between one man and multiple women, but I don’t believe these are examples to follow. I also believe the New Testament reaffirms marriage as being between one man and one woman. In Romans 1:24 and following is a very clear statement that same sex relationships are wrong, therefore I do not believe in homosexual marriage.

I personally am not surprised by the actions of government recently to legally redefine marriage. What I am more concerned about is the likelihood that what comes next will be the government mandating to the citizens of the country and to churches actions of acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage.

I do not believe it best for our country to have gay marriage, but I believe it is absolutely disastrous for our country to begin dictating religious belief or behavior to the citizenry. Nevertheless, Christians were warned by Jesus to expect the world to conflict with us. Marriage is the current battleground in these conflicts.

But, let me be as clear as I can. If Christians had been diligent in resisting the multitude of sinful attacks on healthy Biblical sexuality, the sanctity of marriage, and the importance of family, then the battle lines would never have progressed this far.