My Least Favorite Book of the Bible


I don’t like admitting I have a least favorite book of the Bible. I mean, all Scripture is profitable, given for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, so I feel like I shouldn’t have dis-favorites.

It’s OK, I guess, to have favorites. People have life verses, for instance, and particular passages they turn to in times of great need. But somehow, admitting there’s a book I don’t like very much just seems wrong. But it’s a fact.

What makes this worse is that a good number of people I “met” in my first online writing community, Faith in Fiction, declared this book their favorite. Yikes! I thought, how can this be?

I thought the same thing again recently as I plowed thro read a portion of Ecclesiastes. Yep, Solomon’s angst-filled, nihilistic, existential treatise is my least favorite book.

And why shouldn’t it be? After all, like the violent, anarchic, everyone-did-what-was-right-in-his-own-eyes book of Judges, Ecclesiastes shows life without God in control—until the very end. (With maybe a glimpse or two of Him along the way).

Somehow, Ecclesiastes seems worse to me than Judges. After all, I know Solomon. Of course, some people don’t think he was the writer, and honestly, I’d feel better if I believed that. Then the wrong decisions and fallacious thinking would belong to someone other than David’s son. God’s chosen ruler. His beloved. The wisest man who ever lived.

How, I keep wondering, could a wise man, beloved by God, come to some of the conclusions Solomon came up with in Ecclesiastes? Things like, wisdom and foolishness don’t really matter because we all die. Or, there is one fate for the righteous and the wicked. Or, whatever you decide to do, do it with all your might because there’s nothing after you die. (Ironic that the first half of 9:10 is often quoted as a verse to inspire industry when it’s actually the beginning of a statement of existential fatalism).

In the end, I guess I can be glad for Ecclesiastes because it helps me understand how people without God may think. But Solomon? With all his advantages? I mean, he met with God, had an “ask Me for anything” moment, and was rewarded four-fold for answering selflessly.

His destiny was set. His father had been collecting the materials he would need for his life’s work—building God’s temple. Solomon didn’t ever have to figure out what his purpose was. In addition, he had admirers, success, influence, wealth.

And from it all, he concluded life was all vanity.

Poor guy. First he relied on himself, not God when he made decisions: “I said to myself, “Come now . . . (Ecc 2:1a)

Then he went through a wisdom phase in which he tried to make sense of life from the standpoint of wisdom. He reasoned out what was generally true about the wise and what was generally true about the foolish. The conclusion he came up with? They both die in the end, no matter what.

He also went through a pleasure phase during which he enjoyed all the pleasures a man could want: sex, wine, all the foods that pleased his palate. But again, the end of this phase met with the same nihilistic conclusion: after all the merriment, we die.

His third phase was a work phase: build, and they will come, or something similar. He poured himself into doing, building, acquiring. And as his desire for more and still more faded, he concluded, all this labor is for nothing because when I die, whoever inherits may or may not take care of what I’ve build.

Yikes! I really don’t like Ecclesiastes. I want to shake Solomon and say, Don’t you realize you’re studying life without factoring God into the equation? He changes everything!

And of course, Solomon came to that realization in the end:

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil. (Ecc 12:13-14)

Well, I suppose that statement puts Solomon ahead of a good number of professing Christians today who deny that God will in fact bring every act to judgment. I just wish it hadn’t taken him twelve chapters (thankfully, short ones) to get there. 😕

But I also wish he had seen the joy of the LORD in the legitimate pleasure God give us to enjoy; that he would have offered his work as a sacrifice to God; that he had seen his wisdom as a means by which he could glorify his Creator.

There are hard, important lessons in Ecclesiastes, as there are in all books of the Bible. I just don’t look forward to climbing into the bleak outlook on life that Solomon had when he wrote the book. All the same, I’m not going to stop reading it.

Not everything we eat can be chocolate or cake, and not everything that nourishes our soul can be happily-ever-after. Sometimes it’s good to look at what life is like “under the sun,” without God’s counsel and guidance.

Honestly, it makes me happily run back to a passage like the end of Romans 8—“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Now that’s the kind of passage I’d put on a list of favorites.

A portion of this post is a revised and edited version of one that first appeared here in Mar. 2010.

You Reap What You Sow


My church is doing this cool thing—have been for more than a year now. We as a congregation are invited to read a passage of Scripture together. One person from our body has been asked to write a meditation on the passage, so we read that too.

Why I think it’s so cool is that so many in the church are reading the same verses or chapter every day. We can also leave comments so if we want to pass along what impacted us the most, we can.

I had the April 2 mediation. Currently we are reading a Psalm Monday through Friday, and a portion of a chapter in Proverbs on Saturday and Sunday. So the section of Scripture I had was Proverbs 11:20-31.

I have to say, I find the Proverbs difficult to write about because the topic from verse to verse can change. It’s not easy to write in a cohesive way about verses that don’t necessarily hang together.

All that to say, I put more prayer into this meditation than just about anything else I’ve written. Praise God that He hears and answers prayer.

First the verses I was writing about (in the NASB), followed by my meditation.

20 The perverse in heart are an abomination to the LORD,
But the blameless in their walk are His delight.
21 Assuredly, the evil man will not go unpunished,
But the descendants of the righteous will be delivered.
22 As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout
So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.
23 The desire of the righteous is only good,
But the expectation of the wicked is wrath.
24 There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more,
And there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want.
25 The generous man will be prosperous,
And he who waters will himself be watered.
26 He who withholds grain, the people will curse him,
But blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.
27 He who diligently seeks good seeks favor,
But he who seeks evil, evil will come to him.
28 He who trusts in his riches will fall,
But the righteous will flourish like the green leaf.
29 He who troubles his own house will inherit wind,
And the foolish will be servant to the wisehearted.
30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
And he who is wise wins souls.
31 If the righteous will be rewarded in the earth,
How much more the wicked and the sinner! (Proverbs 11:20-31)

Much of Proverbs 11:20-31 could be summed up with the adage, “You reap what you sow.” When I was young, I wanted to reap good things, so I thought the natural course of action was to sow good things.

Consequently, when I was in fifth grade, I decided I should befriend a new student who other kids treated badly. Except, I hadn’t counted on the scorn and derision that would be heaped on me as a result.

That experience was my introduction to the idea that Biblical principles didn’t always “work.”

Of course, I was thinking short term, for the here and now. And I was trying to work the system. I was trying to make good things happen in my life by being “a good Christian.” When the outcome wasn’t what I expected, I bailed. To my shame, I turned from friend to one of the tormentors of that poor, lonely boy.

In reality, I was ignorant of the first verse of this passage—the part that tells us “the LORD abhors those who are perverse in heart.” In the original, “perverse” has the idea of “twisted,” the way I twisted the “reap what you sow” idea into “sow to get what you want.”

We are not to sow in order to get what we want. That’s manipulation. We are not to be generous, as a number of these verses say, because we want to get back more in return.

True generosity isn’t about getting. That’s twisted thinking. Perverse. The thing the LORD abhors.

Published in: on April 4, 2017 at 6:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Lovingkindness And Truth


Psalm 115 opens in verse one by ascribing glory to God because of His lovingkindness, because of His truth. I’ll admit, I was a little caught off guard by the marriage of those two nouns. Lovingkindness and compassion appear together quite often in the Bible. So do truth and righteousness.

But lovingkindness and truth? Not so very common. Or so I thought until I searched a little more.

It seems a number of Psalms couple these two qualities of God. Here’s a sampling:

All the paths of the LORD are lovingkindness and truth
To those who keep His covenant and His testimonies. (25:10)

You, O LORD, will not withhold Your compassion from me;
Your lovingkindness and Your truth will continually preserve me. (40:11)

I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to You among the nations.
For Your lovingkindness is great to the heavens
And Your truth to the clouds. (57:9-10)

But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth. (86:15)

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
Lovingkindness and truth go before You. (89:14)

Clearly lovingkindness and truth are not, as I first thought, an unusual combination when describing God.

What caught my attention, however, was the way these two traits reflect God’s role as a judge.

So many people, including some believers, don’t want to talk about God judging anyone. He’s loving and kind and good.

All true. All. True. ALL. TRUE.

Nothing can take away or diminish God’s love or His kindness or His goodness. Nothing.

Not even His wrath. Not even His justice which requires punishment for sin.

In God is the perfect marriage of truth and mercy, or as the NASB states it, lovingkindness. God is Truth; His works are true and His ways just (Daniel 4:37). But God is also love, and His mercy endures forever.

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. (107:1)

For the LORD is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations. (100:5)

Because God is Truth and there is no lie in Him, He is the perfect judge. No one can sway His understanding of the truth. There’s no slanting actions or thoughts so that they can be seen in a more favorable light. There are no excuses that will satisfy. There’s no bribe that would change His mind.

With God as the judge, all the facts will come out. The guilty will be condemned; the oppressed will find satisfaction and relief from the misdeeds of those who oppressed them.

But God is also merciful: “He Himself knows our frame. / He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14). So He does what we cannot do for ourselves. He doesn’t ignore our sin. He doesn’t dismiss the charges. He pays for our sins.

Romans 8 says it so beautifully:

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (vv 3-4; emphasis mine)

So here’s the way things are, in a nutshell:
We humans are sinful and have no way to get out of our sin or escape punishment for it.
God sent His Son to pay what we owed.

That’s it. We needed to be rescued and God sent us a Rescuer. We needed to pay our debt, and God paid it for us.

Some people get hung up on several points of this simple plan of salvation.

  • Some do not admit they sin or are sinful.
  • Some think God is cruel to judge according to laws He established.
  • Some think God doesn’t have the right to judge.

Essentially the argument against salvation takes one of two angles: Either humankind is fine just as it is, thank you very much. We can either do for ourselves or we’re good as is and don’t need any doing on our behalf, from God or from any one else. Or God can’t judge because He’s either cruel or He doesn’t have the right to rule over humankind.

In other words, humans are better than God says we are, or God is not in a position to rule as He says He is.

Both positions question God’s word. God says, but a person with a rebellious heart refuses to take God at His Word.

So God tells us straight up: He is truth and He is lovingkindness. Then He demonstrates those qualities over and over, finally culminating by giving us His Son.

Like a good teacher, He presents the truth, then illustrates it over and over, then demonstrates it, and finally reinforces it. In this case, God sent His Holy Spirit as evidence of the new life His followers have.

Atheists would have us believe that humankind is good and God is cruel.

They would have us believe that humankind is capable of rescuing ourselves from the mess of our own making; and that God is why things are so bad.

The problem is, we humans can’t even agree about the nature of truth, let alone what is true and what is deception. Why would anyone want to believe that humans and truth are in sync?

Then there is lovingkindness. Should I list off the wars in just the last fifty years? I mean, Man’s inhumanity to Man is clearly documented. We as a group of people care more for revenge and getting our own way and power and greed than we do for justice and mercy. If that weren’t true, we, the so enlightened twenty-first century humans would not allow a single incident of slavery—child slavery, sex slavery, whatever. We know it’s wrong. We admit it and have signed laws to prevent it. And yet . . . we toss truth and mercy out the window when they don’t serve our purposes.

Not so with God. He is constant. He is trustworthy. He does what He says. “God is not a man that He should lie, / Or the son of man that He should repent. / Has He said and will He not do it? / Or has He spoken and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19)

Published in: on March 27, 2017 at 6:34 pm  Comments (6)  
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Is Sin Original? A look at history


It seems fitting that after writing about God’s judgment here and here, I look once more at why God needs to judge and discipline us human beings.

The general belief in Western culture today seems to tip toward the idea that man is fine, thank you very much. In fact we’re better than fine. We’re good. Or we will be as soon as we learn enough, as soon as we develop our empathy gene. Or have our selfishness instructed out of us.

The Bible gives us the accurate picture—of what we once were and what we’ve become.

– – –

This post subtitle probably chased away about half the regular visitors. 😉 Of course I could change it, but I like history and I think it’s important to learn from history. So today, a look at history.

The evangelical, Bible-believing Christians I know ascribe to the doctrine of original sin. The idea is that Humankind was created in God’s image, for communion with Him, but sin changed our condition permanently.

No longer does humans bear the untarnished image of God because we are now born in the likeness of Adam. Consequently, all our righteousness is like filthy rags. Our best effort at goodness falls far short of God’s holy standard. We are born in this condition, in need of a Savior, without the internal wherewithal to please God.

Not only does this doctrine square with Scripture, it squares with Humankind’s experience. There’s a reason we have as an idiom we all know to be true, Nobody’s perfect.

But even if that weren’t the case, the reliable, authoritative Word of God demonstrates the concept of original sin starting in the book of Genesis.

In chapter one:

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;

Then the command in chapter two:

The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.

Recorded in chapter 3 is Adam’s disobedience and the consequence he would face. But then this line:

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil;

In other words, whatever else that line means, we see that there was a fundamental shift. Humanity was no longer the way God created us when He declared all He had made to be good. Genesis 4 records the first effects of this fundamental shift—Cain’s jealousy and ultimate murder of his brother, among other things.

But chapter 5 records perhaps the clearest declaration of this shift:

This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. (emphasis mine)

The clear implication is that Adam’s likeness and God’s likeness are no longer the same.

So what’s the point? Our culture does not believe in original sin. Ask the average man on the street and he’ll tell you Man is good, though he’ll just as likely turn right around and tell you nobody’s perfect.

Some time ago as I reread an old college textbook, Religion in America by Winthrop S. Hudson, I discovered that the roots of this cultural change (because the depravity of Man was universally understood and accepted in western civilization from some time during the 2nd century AD until the 19th century) stem from American Protestantism. Not exclusively, but in a large part.

America was a New World, with possibilities untold. Some years before independence, the colonial settlers experienced a Great Awakening that established Christianity as a way of life.

After independence the Second Great Awakening spurred believers on to hold camp revivals and send out missionaries and build more churches and colleges and schools all with the intent to bring the lost to salvation and teach the young to live godly lives.

But there began to be an added incentive. With all this hopefulness and push toward moral purity came a belief that God’s kingdom was being established physically right then and there.

And so, the shift began. Could it not be that Humanity, if given the right circumstances, could choose to live a holy and pure life in obedience to God? Could it not be that a community of such men and women would lead to a godly society? And wasn’t that the idea found in the Bible concerning God’s kingdom, when God’s law would be written on people’s hearts?

Consequently, what started as a work of God seems to have become a work of men, built upon their good works (which Scripture says are but filthy rags), to the point that men came to believe, not only in the goodness of their works but in the goodness of their being.

This is obviously a simplified, stripped down version of that period of history, but here’s the thing. Even when the two world wars in the 20th century shot to pieces the notion that the world was getting better and better, the idea that Humankind was good had become a best-loved belief. And humanism spread. Even into the church.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in October 2010.

Guilt/Innocence Or Shame/Honor


Just last week, a man here in the LA area who served 32 years in prison was released from custody because of a wrongful conviction. How will this man be perceived in society? The answer to that question can be easily determined by the kind of society from which he comes.

Anthropologists study humankind, including the way culture works. One such scientist, Franz Boas, and his student Ruth Benedict, first identified differences in cultural patterns, claiming that Eastern cultures follow an honor/shame arrangement and Western cultures, a guilt/innocence mode.

Benedict endorsed and popularized what some called “Boasian conceptual kernel” of US anthropology:

Human behavior is patterned. There exist within historically specific populations recurrences in both thought and behavior that are not contingent but structurally conditioned and that are, in turn, structuring.

Those patterns are learned. Recurrences cannot be tied to a natural world within or outside the human body, but rather to constant interaction within specific populations. Structuration occurs through social transmission and symbolic coding with some degree of human consciousness.

If I understand the first point correctly, the idea is that people groups behave and think in identifiably similar ways, because the people have been conditioned to do so. In turn they teach others to also be structured in the same way.

The structure of those in Eastern cultures is based on honor/shame, which largely identifies the way a culture “manages” its citizens. Individuals care a great deal about their standing in the community, so they don’t want to do something that would cost them respect or high standing.

What the community deems deplorable, then, takes presidency over individual desires or beliefs of right and wrong. I assume the community values are also somewhat fluid. If a society softens its position against a certain behavior, presumably an individual would no longer bear shame for engaging in it.

A guilt/innocence society follows a different paradigm. Rather than conforming to the community based on their praise or condemnation, a guilt/innocence outlook is more concerned about the individual’s adherence to law. The idea of innocent until proven guilty emphasizes the difference in the two approaches.

In the shame/honor culture, an accusation brings shame. In a guilt/innocence culture, an accusation needs to be proved.

A third cultural outlook is the fear/power model. Tribal cultures and totalitarian regimes and perhaps gangs operate on the fear of a group and their desire for power to counter it.

The general knowledge about these ways of grouping cultures, has simplified them as Eastern or Western. Little mention is made of fear/power, and Eastern cultures are believed to be shame/honor driven, while Western societies operate according to the guilt/innocence model.

One aspect of cultures adhering to the guilt/innocence model is that they are more concerned with the individual, whereas shame/honor groups care more for the community. As a result, some clear differences have emerged:

Individualistic cultures, primarily located in the West, appeal more to legal notions of right and wrong to govern social behavior. Morality is internalized, so people experience guilt for misdeeds. Guilty persons become innocent when they are forgiven or justice is served. (“Honor and Shame Societies,” the Zwemer Center)

Consequently, the man I mentioned at the outset, who was wrongly convicted of murder, has no shame because he spent half his life in prison. He was innocent.

What I find fascinating about the study of these cultural differences, is that I can see elements of both in the Bible. The Old Testament deals primarily with Hebrew culture, and there is much of the shame/honor culture apparent in the story of the Jewish nation, but at the same time God is the one who departs from the norm and tells the people that a man’s family is no longer to be considered guilty just because the man is guilty. In other words, no more guilt by association. A guilty person was to die for his own crimes, but his sons were to go free.

The New Testament with its teaching about sin and the forgiveness bought by the blood of Christ further built the guilt/innocence culture that took hold in the Greek and Roman societies where Paul ministered.

As I view Christianity, I see the perfect marriage of both shame/honor and guilt/innocence. What I don’t see is fear/power, unless it involves Satan and what he wants to accomplish.

All this to say, I wonder if through globalization and perhaps through the devaluation of Christianity, Western culture is sliding more and more into the shame/honor camp. I mean, all the politically correct approach to life is little more than putting pressure on an individual by the group to get people to conform to a societal norm, regardless of Law.

What’s particularly interesting is that bullying is taboo, but group bullying is the means by which we attempt to put an end to individual bullying.

In this climate, everyone is easily offended, every position expresses hate or abuse, no one is innocent any more as long as they hold beliefs that contradict the “group.” As yet, the “group” is not society at large, but certainly it’s growing in numbers.

As I see it, this kind of shame/honor approach is divorced from reality. Someone who gets away with a crime has no shame because he has not reflected badly on his community. Never mind that he might be hurting the less fortunate. Never mind that he makes his money on the backs of the weak.

The real problem with the shame/honor approach is the loss of the sense of personal sin. In light of the fact that Christianity alone offers mercy and forgiveness, I wonder if the concept of a Savior might be lost if our culture slides more and more toward shame/honor.

Of course, there is great emphasis in the Old Testament about God’s people upholding the honor of His name. One reason that God didn’t do away with the complaining people of Israel after the Exodus was precisely because of what the people around them would think about God. In fact, the point of a nation entering into a covenant relationship with God was to show the other nations the blessings God wanted to shower upon them as well.

Israel as a community was to be God’s ambassador to the world. Today we believers have that role. Individually, but collectively as the Church. We are to love one another in such a way that the world notices.

But we receive forgiveness for sins, not as a collective community, but as individuals, foreknown, predestined, called, justified, glorified by God because we as individuals believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world, that He was raised on the third day, that He is now at God’s right hand interceding for us.

Shame. Guilt. Fear. Jesus Christ dealt with all of it. He is the most cross-cultural person who ever lived. But that is what I’d expect from the Savior of the world. No wonder the gospel penetrates the Amazon jungle and the Russian steppes equally.

Discernment And Culture


In a week or so Disney is set to release the movie Beauty And The Beast. Recently the news broke that one of the characters is gay and that a scene occurs in the movie that makes this fact clear. Talk has begun among some Christians that it’s time to “give up on Disney.”

In response, I wrote a post today at Speculative Faith that said, in essence, we need to realize that sinful acts take place in most, if not all, secular entertainment. We need to stop putting one sin on the top as if it’s the unpardonable sin, we need to open our eyes and see the sin in all the stories we read or watch, and we need to think about how those stories agree or disagree with what the Bible says.

On one hand people can take what I wrote about Beauty And The Beast and think I am being charitable toward a movie made by a secular company for a secular audience with a decidedly secular agenda as part of the story. In contrast, I raised more questions about The Shack, a movie written from a book by a professing Christian about a man who finds relationship with God, despite the great tragedy in his life.

So what’s with that? Are my expectations higher for a movie about God?

Maybe. But my cry is and has been for us to read and view stories with discernment. Discernment is even one of the topics under which I file my posts. In one older article I defined discernment and took great pains to explain what I believe about it and its importance.

I can summarize all that more succinctly here: discernment is the ability to spot truth and error. As a Christian I believe the only way to spot truth and error is by holding up God’s word, which is Truth, and using it as the standard.

So when discussing the two movies in question, I have to know first if the Bible says anything about the issues that the movies raise. In regard to Beauty And The Beast, the central issue is the nature of love. Does the Bible deal with the nature of love? It does in deed: parental love, God’s love, love between friends, love for an enemy, love for a spouse, love for a neighbor. Yes, the Bible speaks to the nature of love, so it certainly would provide a standard by which Beauty And The Beast can be compared.

And what if the movie agrees with the Bible’s standard for the most part but has errors in one minor relationship? This is where discernment comes in. My contention is that Beauty And The Beast deserves the same treatment as other books or stories or movies: we Christians recognize what is sinful, call it sin, expose it as behavior that is not desirable or godly, and weigh that fact along with the rest of the story. In some cases and for some people, the sin revealed outweighs any benefit. For others, it may not.

I’ll give a for instance. When I was in college I had to read Emile Zola’s Germinal for a history class. It was not a pretty story, but I learned more about how someone who is hopeless thinks and feels and looks at life than I could have ever learned apart from going through such an experience myself. For me, I could identify the sin and grieve over it for those poor lost people—fictional characters who nevertheless represented real people. Would I recommend that book to everyone? No. It’s sort of like staring at a head on collision on the freeway. Some of us look away because the images will stay with us in an unhealthy way. (I saw enough of those crashes in Driver’s Ed to last my lifetime).

But back to the two movies in question. The second, The Shack, deals with the relationship of man with God. That’s the whole story really. In the midst of pain and suffering, where is God and does He matter?

Clearly the Bible has a LOT to say about a relationship with God. We have examples (Adam and Eve, Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, Daniel, and more). We have prayers and answers to prayer. We have prophets reporting what God says, what His judgments are, and why. We have Jesus, God in the flesh, the image of the invisible God, the one who told His disciples they knew the Father because they knew the Son.

So, yes, we can hold the Bible up as the standard by which we can measure a story about a relationship with God.

Again, discernment is in order. First, we need some working knowledge of the Bible if it is to be our standard. Just because something touches us on the emotional level does not make it true! I was so happy for Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she fell in love with . . . the John she’s spent a week with! It was a true Prince Charming story because he rescued her out of prostitution. After he used her as a prostitute for a week! I mean, really? Is that true love? But it was heart warming and had such a happy ending. Didn’t that make it all an example of what true love looks like? NO!

So one of the important things, maybe one of the hardest things, in discernment is to recognize that an emotional response does not validate the truth or the error depicted in the story. What validates truth is the solid rock of God’s word. So how does The Shack measure up to the truth about God revealed in Scripture. And I don’t mean the peripheral things—the metaphorical representation of the trinity, for instance. I’m thinking more about what the movie says about Jesus Christ and His payment of the debt each of us owes because of our sin.

I haven’t seen the movie yet (and may or may not see it), but the book seemed to be more about God’s acceptance rather than about reconciliation with Him because of what Jesus did at the cross. That’s the key I’d look for. Does the story tell the truth about the means to our relationship with God. Is Jesus central to the story of grace?

Can the movie get most of it right but miss on a few points and still be worthwhile? Again, that’s an issue for each person to decide. What I hope is that when either movie misses, Christians will speak up and point out the ways the movie achieves something true and the ways in which it falls into error.

If we close our minds and go with our heart, we’ll potentially fall for all kinds of deception. Better if we watch with eyes wide open and our minds filled with the truth of Scripture.

Published in: on March 6, 2017 at 6:15 pm  Comments (15)  
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Education And The Bible


student-peter-hersheyFor weeks a number of people have picketed and posted against President Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. People have mocked her, belittled her, and cast insinuations that she’s corrupt. Take, for example, the meme that found its way on Facebook, comparing Ms. DeVos to the fictitious Dolores Umbridge who abused her students and her power in one of J. K. Rawling’s Harry Potter books.

The great cry from those who actually say something intelligent on the subject is that Ms. DeVos will be bad for public education here in the US. First she has no experience in the field of education, and second, she’s been a supporter of charter schools—also funded publicly and therefore, also part of the public education system.

There are reasons for the friction between traditionally public and public charter schools. Generally those can be broken down into two categories: who gets the money and who has the power? Some chafe at the idea that “school factories” run by corporations might get their hands on education. I get that. I’m not particularly happy about it either, especially when I watch some of the self-serving twaddle that passes as “news” or “pre-game coverage” (here’s looking at you, Fox).

Will our kids’ schools start selling naming rights for their mascot? Wearing advertisement slogans on the sports jerseys? Ugh. The possibilities are a bit frightening.

But, the schools here in California are a mess as it is. We may not get the corporate party line, but we do get the welfare state party line. Meanwhile, kids in the inner cities fall further and further behind. Further, they’re exposed to gang violence and threats, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, and all kinds of other activities that anywhere else would be labeled, Not age appropriate.

But they can’t get out. Their parents don’t have the money to send them to a private school or the wherewithal to get them to a charter school or the time and expertise to homeschool them. So in the public school system they stay.

What, if anything, does the Bible say about education?

Not a lot. Some mention is made of groups of prophets—the New English Translation (NET) calls them prophetic guilds—which might be thought of as training grounds for prophets.

Although no specific mention is made of education, we know that Moses was schooled in the courts of Pharaoh because Pharaoh’s daughter took him to be her son. He would therefore have received whatever training any of the other royal children received.

In various passages in the Old Testament, God commanded His people to instruct their children in the way of the Lord. Here are a few:

“what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?

“Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons. (Deut. 5:8-9; emphasis added here and in the following verses).

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deut. 6:6-7)

Psalm 78 is a little more specific:

We will not conceal them [the things “we have heard and known”] from their children,
But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD,
And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done.
For He established a testimony in Jacob
And appointed a law in Israel,
Which He commanded our fathers
That they should teach them to their children,
That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born,
That they may arise and tell them to their children,
That they should put their confidence in God
And not forget the works of God,
But keep His commandments, (vv 4-7a)

In short, God’s instruction was for the parents to teach their children the Law and the history of Israel—God’s work of redemption that brought them to the Promised Land.

Other references to education in the Bible include Daniel and his friends who were taken into the Babylonian court. The king instructed his chief of officials “to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.” Which he did, though Scripture credits God for their accomplishments: “As for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom” (see Daniel 1 for this and the previous quote).

In summary, a few individuals had the opportunity for what we might consider a formal education, but God put parents in charge of the spiritual education of every child.

I say, spiritual education, but God’s work in the history of Israel was foundational, and it was their history that parents were to pass on to their children, along with the Law and the commandments.

This parental instruction is reinforced in many verses in Proverbs. Parents are instructed to train up a child in the way he should go, and children are admonished to heed the instruction of their fathers.

In the New Testament, we see this idea continued. Paul commends Timothy’s mother and grandmother, for instance, for their example of faith which Timothy shared. Timothy, who had a Greek dad, saw the faith of his mom and his grandma, and Paul saw this same faith in this young man. Paul doesn’t come right and say these women taught him spiritual things, but the implication is plain.

Paul also instructed the dads in the church in Ephesus to “not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

Discipline and instruction. The two go hand in hand. So in Hebrews 12:4ff the writer compares God’s disciple of His people with a father’s discipline of his son. Though it may seem sorrowful for a moment, the end game is “the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

In some ways homeschooling seems to more closely mirror the kind of instruction people in the Bible received, but God did not endorse a particular educational style. He did put parents in charge of what their children were to learn. Whether that means they are to take a hands on approach in all matters or only in spiritual matters, they are to be a part of the process.

But does this involvement in education extend beyond the things of God? Again, Scripture doesn’t prescribe what or how the rest of their education was to take place.

We know that Paul, a strict, traditional Jew, sat under the instruction of Gamaliel. In fact scribes likely had places of learning where they penned the many copies of the Torah. On the other hand, the Pharisees referred to Peter as an unlearned man. He clearly did learn, but not in a formal setting. He learned largely at the feet of Jesus.

Not a bad place to start. Scripture tells us the fear of the Lord is the beginning both of wisdom and knowledge. And Scripture tells us parents are to instruct, train, discipline, all with the goal to bring up children in the way of the Lord.

In the end we can argue about the different educational programs and systems, but if parents neglect their responsibility, the programs and systems won’t matter. First the parents must own their responsibility and take whatever role they need to take to give oversight to their child’s learning.

There’s more I can say on the subject, but I’ll leave it here for now: Parents, part of parenting is doing the “passing down to your sons and daughters the things they need to know” work—that’s a long way of saying, teach your kids what is right. 😉

Feminism And The Bible


march_for_womens_lives_1One of the subjects that divides America today is feminism. In fact feminism may divide some Christian denominations.

To be clear, by feminism, I mean “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men” (Oxford American Dictionary).

The question then centers on the last phrase: “equality to men.” Are women “equal to men”?

As much as feminists would like this to be other than what it is, women’s bodies are different from men’s, and therefore men can do some things better than women can. Of course, women can do something men can’t do at all—give birth to children. So on the purely physical plain, women and men aren’t “equal” in strength or speed. Or stamina.

The fastest male runners are swifter than the fastest female runners due to innate factors including muscle mass, higher oxygen intake and lower resting heart rates. That said, some studies have indicated that in ultradistance running — beyond 30 miles (48 kilometers) — the fattier female body can keep moving more efficiently than the muscular male frame since the fat represents more lasting, slower-burning energy stores [source: Maharam]. Estrogen may also offer an advantage of protecting against muscle fatigue, although its effects can vary by athlete and running conditions [source: Crowther]. Those biological benefits may help explain women’s sudden surge in Iditarod races, the grueling Alaskan dog sledding competition, bringing home championships four years straight from 1985 through 1988 [source: Library of Congress]. (Health: How Stuff Works)

Despite the differences, feminism has lobbied for women’s inclusion in the military and in jobs that seem more suited for the male body type.

All this is “extra-curricular,” however, since feminism is supposedly concerned with equal rights in the political, social, and economic realms. By application, women should have the right to vote, to run for the same offices men can run for, and be involved in the political process at every level, with no discrimination or prejudice because of their gender.

Economically, women should receive equal pay for equal work, and we should have the same opportunities for advancement, including promotion to the highest level of leadership.

When it comes to social equality, I suppose women are to be treated with the same respect a man receives, but I have to admit, I’m a little confused here. Women now can be sexually aggressive while at the same time holding the line against unwanted sexual advances. So men can’t be as sexually aggressive as women? Be that as it may, women no longer have to wait for men to open their car doors or any door for that matter. Men can enter in front of a woman rather than stand aside and let her go first. Because we’re socially equal. In the office, men can make the coffee, not just the women.

And in church, in a marriage women are . . . what?

Here’s where the Bible speaks directly to the interplay between men and women.

Up to this point, despite what many people think, the Bible paints a picture of women in society doing things that men do. Not in large numbers, but certainly not forbidden from the roles of military leader, city elder, prophetess, merchant, shepherdess, ruling queen, gatherer, tent maker, converts to Christianity, evangelists. Women were first to the empty tomb Jesus had occupied. Women were filled by the Holy Spirit. In short, women held significant place in Jewish history and in the development of the early church.

Then why this perception that the Bible looks down on women?

Two things come to mind. In the Law detailed in Leviticus, women slaves were not worth as much money as were male slaves. Of course children weren’t worth as much either, so it would seem that the amount of money reflected the amount of physical labor the slave could produce. (Slavery in the Bible is a topic for another day).

Second, Paul taught through his letters that husbands were the head of the home and that women were not to speak in the church. In other words, women and men don’t have the same roles.

Paul never said women couldn’t teach. He worked with Priscilla and Aquila on his third missionary journey, and it was this couple that taught the evangelist Apollos “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). Paul also included two women in his Philippians letter. Though he corrected them for their lack of harmony, he nevertheless identified them as those who had shared his struggles in the cause of the gospel and as “fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life” (Phil. 4:3).

Paul also commended women, such as Timothy’s grandmother Lois, and greeted them in his letters by name, particularly those who opened their home for a church gathering. In addition, he specifically said there was no difference between male and female:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28)

The Apostle Peter agreed with this point when he instructed husbands to “show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life.”

In discussing a different matter, Paul brought home the truth of the equality of women in God’s eyes when he said that an unbelieving husband would be “sanctified” by his believing wife, and conversely that an unbelieving wife would be “sanctified” by her believing husband. (See 1 Cor. 7:14). This sanctifying work needs explanation, to be sure, but for the sake of this discussion, it’s clear there is no difference between what a believing wife and a believing husband can accomplish for their family.

A good understanding of the Bible’s instructions to husbands also helps. Paul says husbands are to love their wives the way Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:25). There’s no power trip in this instruction, no abuse or bullying or king of the castle. He’s to be the leader, the first one in the trenches, the guy who lays down his life so that his wife can make it.

There’s much more to say about the Bible and women. How did Jesus interact with them, for instance? He healed them, witnessed to them, forgave them, comforted them, commended them, counseled them. But He never belittled them or ignored them or treated them like second class citizens.

There’s one other troublesome discussion about women, though—what Paul said about women not having authority in the church. I’ve looked at that at some length already in an earlier post.

When all is said and studied, it’s clear that the gender issues of Bible times and the ones we experience now are a result of sin—the original sin and the sin nature we now must deal with. The Bible, as opposed to the counsel of our culture, gives us God’s perspective which shows us how to navigate the differences and avoid the clash between men and women.

Published in: on January 27, 2017 at 6:47 pm  Comments (1)  
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Abortion And The Bible


human_fetus_10_weeks_-_therapeutic_abortionI’m not quite sure why some people think abortion is so different from killing babies. The claim is that a baby, to be recognized as human, must be “viable,” meaning that it can live outside the womb. But “live” by what means? A newborn is still helpless. He can’t feed himself. She can’t tell anyone what she wants. She can’t acquire covering or run from danger. He is as helpless and dependent as a newly formed life in his mother’s womb. And science has left no doubt that the fertilized egg is a life.

For hundreds of years, perhaps thousands, killing babies was the culturally accepted way of dealing with unwanted children. Take China for instance. [China has] “a history of female infanticide spanning 2000 years.”

During the 19th century the practice was widespread, readings from Qing texts show a prevalence of the term ni nü (to drown girls), and drowning was the most common method used to kill female children. Other methods used were suffocation and starvation. Leaving a child exposed to the elements was another method of killing an infant, the child would be placed in a basket which was then placed in a tree. Buddhist nunneries created “baby towers” for people to leave a child. In 1845 in the province of Jiangxi, a missionary wrote that these children survived for up to two days while exposed to the elements, and that those passing by, would ignore the screaming child.[13] Missionary David Abeel reported in 1844 that between one third and one fourth of all female children were killed at birth or soon after. (this and the previous quote from “Female Infanticide In China”)

With the one child per family rule instituted in 1980, infanticide is once again on the rise in China, though many babies—girls or ones with birth defects—are also aborted.

So what does the Bible have to say about abortion? Some professing Christians have taken a stand that the Bible is silent on the subject. But that’s not true. The Bible actually says a great deal about life in the womb. For instance, God speaking to the prophet Jeremiah, said

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
And before you were born, I consecrated you. (Jer. 1:5)

So God not only made Jeremiah, He also set him apart to be a prophet “to the nations” before he was viable.

Other Bible writers call attention to the fact that God creates life in the mother’s womb: Job (31:15), David (Psalm 22:10), Isaiah (45:24; 49:5).

Others also mention God’s call on their life before they were born. Isaiah, speaking prophetically said this, likely about the Messiah:

The LORD called Me from the womb;
From the body of My mother He named Me. (Is. 49:1b)

The writer of Judges recounted Samson’s prophesied birth. The angel who met with his mother before his conception, told her to follow certain guidelines because “the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb.” The Nazrite was someone set apart and dedicated to God, but usually this was to fulfill a vow and was for a short period of time. Samson was different. He was to be a Nazirite from the womb throughout his life.

The Apostle Paul was similarly aware of God’s call on his life before he was ever born:

But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles . . . (Galatians 1:15-16a)

Perhaps the most dramatic example of life and spiritual activity in the womb is John the Baptist who was filled by “the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). Not only did he have the Spirit in his little life, but his spirit responded to the presence of the life of the Messiah in Mary’s womb, and as a result the baby “leaped for joy” in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:44).

Just as compelling, for me is the statement David made, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in Psalm 58. This is one of those imprecatory psalms, “those psalms that contain curses or prayers for the punishment of the psalmist’s enemies” (from Theopedia). They can be hard to read for those of us used to an emphasis on God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. But the significance here is that God identifies the spiritual life of individuals before they are born:

The wicked are estranged from the womb;
These who speak lies go astray from birth.
They have venom like the venom of a serpent;
Like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear,
So that it does not hear the voice of charmers,
Or a skillful caster of spells. (vv 3-5)

The point seems clear: not just certain special individuals are alive and fully formed spiritually as they grow physically, but even the wicked have their spiritual direction set in the womb.

Of course, man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7)—and apparently He does so from the womb on, throughout a person’s life.

What does all this mean for abortion?

Throughout Scripture, God informs us of the value of human life. In particular He came down hard on people groups, including Israel, which incorporated child sacrifice as part of their worship of false gods.

[Jerusalem] should be removed from before My face, because of all the evil of the sons of Israel and the sons of Judah which they have done to provoke Me to anger—they, their kings, their leaders, their priests, their prophets, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They have turned their back to Me and not their face; though I taught them, teaching again and again, they would not listen and receive instruction. But they put their detestable things in the house which is called by My name, to defile it. They built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of Ben-hinnom to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them nor had it entered My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.

Abortion is today’s version of child sacrifice. We don’t offer children on an altar; we don’t make it a ritual incorporated into worship, but we certainly take the lives of helpless humans for the benefit of the mature adult making the decision. Those we should protect, we destroy for our own purposes.

What’s more, we violate God’s first command: Be fruitful and multiply.

Ah, some will say, it’s the multiplying that is the problem. We need to curb human reproduction because the planet can’t sustain us all.

But now we come to the real issue: humans think we know better than God. We don’t know how He could possibly have dealt with overpopulation if we didn’t step in, violate His command to be fruitful and multiply, and solve the problem ourselves.

That’s been the issue from the beginning. Man doesn’t think God is capable of dealing with the problems. God, in His infinite wisdom, says, OK, we’ll try it your way for a while, and when you’re ready, you can come back to me and we’ll get things straightened out.

I don’t see the problems of our times reversing themselves, but who knows? We can only walk in the light of the knowledge we have, and that knowledge points to babies, alive both physically and spiritually in the womb, and God who wants us to protect the vulnerable and to preserve life. To me that’s a pretty clear case against abortion.

Published in: on January 26, 2017 at 6:12 pm  Comments (17)  
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Immigration And The Bible


border_mexico_usaSome people may think that immigration is a problem of contemporary times and that the Bible has nothing to say about the matter, but that’s not so. Scripture gives us principles we can follow in all kinds of situations though the details differ from those described in the pages of Holy Writ. When it comes to immigration, though, the people who lived in Bible times dealt with immigration much as we know it today.

True, a national identity wasn’t as defined as it has become. No one carried passports and there were no border crossings, no visas to procure, no inspections or laws about what you could and could not bring with you into the new country where you planned to settle down. Still, people left one city or people group and migrated to another.

Abraham, for example, left Ur of the Chaldeans and traveled to Haran where they settled for a time. God then directed Abram, as he was called at the time, to go to the land of Canaan:

Now the LORD said to Abram,
Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1-3)

Abraham lived a fairly nomadic life, but eventually his descendants more or less settled down—until a famine spurred them to seek a place where they could find food and water. Consequently, when his grandson, Jacob and all 75 of his clan made their way to Egypt during the seven year famine, the trip was not unheard of.

Staying for four hundred years—now that was the anomaly.

Of course, Moses himself was an immigrant even before he led the Israelite exodus. He had fled Egypt where he’d been born and raised, and lived in the land of Midian.

But even after the people of Israel escaped from Egypt and returned to their homeland, drove out the inhabitants, and settled in to build a national existence, people still immigrated.

Ruth, for instance, came from the country of Moab with her mother-in-law Naomi. Why? Because Naomi, her husband, and two sons had gone to Moab during another famine. One of the sons married Ruth, but died some years later. So Ruth immigrated to Israel.

She, a “foreigner,” ended up marrying Boaz, then gave birth to Obed, who was King David’s grandfather.

David himself did some immigrating. While he was on the run from King Saul, he spent time with the Moabites, more than once with the Philistines, and perhaps with others.

The question isn’t, did people immigrate in Bible times as much as it is, what did God say about immigrants?

In Abraham’s case, He directed him to migrate. Circumstances played a big part in others leaving home and going elsewhere, but regardless of the reasons for leaving, for going, God identified those who were separated from their homeland in order to follow Him just like He did orphans and widows, the poor and the needy. They were vulnerable and therefore God expected His people to protect them and care for them.

In fact when Ezekiel prophesied regarding God’s judgment of His people, the ill treatment of immigrants—sojourners—is one of Israel’s sins:

The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice. I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before me for the land, but I found no one. (Ezekiel 22:29-30; emphasis added)

Sojourners, then, were not to be oppressed.

But the Law spelled out in Leviticus indicates there was more than just not mistreating them:

‘Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. (Lev. 25:35; emphasis added)

Putting aside the point of this passage, which was to instruct how a poor person was to be treated, it’s clear that the sojourner was to be taken care of, at least until they were in a place to take care of themselves (see Lev. 25:47).

One last point: Scripture seems to make a distinction between the sojourner and the stranger who was living as an alien among them. This latter individual was not to be granted access to the temple. On the other hand sojourners were expected to keep the Sabbath and had access to the cities of refuge just like the people of Israel.

What can we conclude about immigration today, based on what the Bible says?
1. Sometimes immigration is necessary; sometimes it’s God directed.
2. Immigrants who want to leave their culture and be included with the people of God are welcome.
3. Immigrants are to obey the laws of the land.
4. The citizens of the land to which immigrants come, are not to oppress them
5. The citizens of the land to which immigrants come, should do what they can to help them with their transition.

Of course the US is not synonymous with “the people of God.” But I think we can extrapolate from the second principle that people who want to make their home in a new country, are welcome. They demonstrate their intention by learning and living according to the values of the country to which they’ve come. That’s what Ruth did.

We could wait a long time for our US Congress to reach an agreement on immigration policy. I personally think Christians who love God’s word should not wait. We should take it upon ourselves to follow God’s direction. We should be welcoming to those who have come to the US legally due to circumstances that necessitated their leaving home. We should help them to learn our laws and culture. We should do what we can to help them while they’re trying to get on their feet. We should do all we can to see that they aren’t oppressed.

In short, Christians shouldn’t ignore immigrants or assume the worst about a person who is new to our country. We should actually thank God for the opportunity to be a missionary without leaving home!

Published in: on January 25, 2017 at 6:03 pm  Comments (4)  
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