Monday, July 04, 2016

A Challenging Time of Life

I hardly know how to begin this post - intended to explain to my very patient, long-time (and possibly by now, former) readers why this blog has been so inactive in the past couple of years. From the time I started it back in 2005 or so, you can see how the number of posts has grown less and less over time. Not because I don't love to write or have nothing to say.

Pictured right are me, my two sisters, and my 93-year-old mother. It was taken June 13, 2016, at a regional hospital on my Mom's birthday. On May 30, she fell getting out of bed and broke her hip. This was after an extended period of declining health since 2011, and a February hospitalization due to dehydration. Before she began getting ill, my late stepfather began his final illness, passing in 2010. (Both moved in with me in 2001, and eventually I became their caregivers. Not an easy thing to do as a single bachelor with family far away, but God provided in His time.

Mom is now home as of Saturday, and that is a miracle from the Lord in and of itself. Many elderly people never make it back home after a hip break. The mortality rate is very high. But by God's grace, Mom survived and made it back home. We're not over the challenges yet - she must have a lengthy period of rehab and therapy with visiting nurses and in-home caregivers when I have to be at my office. At her age with severe arthritis and just being old and tired, it's a tough row to hoe. Getting up and walking is sheer agony, but she has to try. If that hip joint or her knees lock up, she'll be bedridden and taking care of her at home will be near impossible. But we're not there yet, and I'll do everything God grants me to do to keep her here where she's loved, happy and cared for.

The main purpose of this in-depth explanation is to illustrate a few things that have been roiling in my mind since these challenges began. First, the Lord's commandment to honor your father and mother never came with an expiration date. To me, Mom is not a burden but a joy. Yes, there are difficulties and frustrations. But she took care of me in my infancy and childhood, so now it's my chance to take care of her. For those with aging parents - count every moment and make it count. Every day is precious.

Second, family. The four of us have not been photographed together in eons. (My father died in 1980). We've aged a bit. We all have differing views on a host of subjects. We're rarely together anymore. But when we are - it's precious. The love for one another is unconditional. I am thankful to God for my family and loved ones. I'm a loner by nature and will always be, but I love my family. May God continue His work in their lives for His glory.

Third. The government—state AND federal—and their tender ministrations. They have really, thoroughly ripped the guts out of our health care system. The rules, regulations, bureaucracy, and I suspect more than a little corruption, are like a living, breathing Gordian knot with an attitude. I have learned a lot over the last year, and it's awful what they put people through. Especially the elderly. We need reform and like yesterday. The government needs to get out of our business, especially health care. I'll stop there. Too tired to rant.

Between a very heavy workload at my office and the health issues in the family, it leaves me little time for blogging and writing. I often find that when I get home from running all over the region or dealing with another health crisis, my mind and body are both so tired I just have to sit and vegetate mindlessly. There's a bit of a mental block. Experience has shown me that I can sit in my chair for a day and not be bothered at all, but let me pick up the computer to write, and that's when the phone calls start, Mom will need help, urgent emails needing immediate replies, text messages, visitors etc. all hit at once. My life at present is a little bit like the Kurt Vonnegut short story "Harrison Bergeron." You can't think too long before your "Handicapper General" earphones shriek in your ear. This has given me such a fear of being interrupted that I don't want to begin any task, especially writing. How I could write this much and get away with it amazes me.

I'm really not complaining, although there have been tears and frank talks with the Lord. He is allowing these things in our lives for a purpose, to teach us things, and to build up our endurance. That's all in Scripture if you look. Easy? Bwahahahaha! No, it's not. But God is faithful, even when it seems like He's nowhere to be found. He IS present and sovereign in our suffering. I am not experiencing anything that He did not experience during His earthly sojourn to be my Savior. I have a Creator God who understands and cares. We cling to that, and eagerly await the outcome of His divine, sovereign work in our lives. For His glory and our good.

So there it is. I do not know when my next post will be, or whether I will be able to resume this blog as it was originally conceived. One day at a time. Your ongoing prayers will be appreciated.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

When the Ignorant Discuss and Judge God's Will

Apologies in advance for those who don't like reading novelettes. But in light of some issues regarding my "share" yesterday about God's will, this commentary had to be written and posted. I think the MAIN POINT of that post got missed entirely: Christians are not guaranteed a bed of roses in this life and under this sun. If interested, read on. If not, hide the post. I understand not everyone on my friends' list is an evangelical Christian believer, nor is everyone a theologian. But I hope even those who do not share my faith will read it. At least it might help explain a few things. This only scratches the surface. Volumes COULD be written.

First, a mea culpa: I should know better by now than to post things to make a spiritual point that are either badly worded, not thoroughly fleshed out for the sake of understanding, or theologically imprecise. So - here's the clarification for those who are interested. If not, hide this one from your feed, or read one of my humorous posts, scenery shots, or music shares.

The original post was about God's will. Among the things said in the poster I shared - "God's will was for the Apostle John to be exiled, the Apostle Paul to be jailed, and for Jesus to be executed." This ignited a kerfuffle in the comments, and in my view, it's because the subject of the will of God gets grossly misunderstood by non-believers and even believers at times. Here's some basic Christian theology that has been orthodox doctrine for 2,000 years.

God is sovereign in His creation. He has a divine, eternal, GOOD purpose that will be realized in its entirety. We have to get this straight first of all:

God, as Creator, has the ABSOLUTE RIGHT to do what He wants with His creation. He also has the absolute right to DEFINE right and wrong, good and evil. His creation has NO right to alter what He has determined. What "rights" we have - we only have by His divine grace and gifting. We have no right to sit in judgment on God. You can try, but it will be futile.

We as finite human beings can only understand what He has chosen to reveal. "We see through a glass darkly." Many things in this fallen world (including our own fallenness) get in the way of understanding His will, His Word, and His revelation. Scripture says even faith is a divine gift. We understand truth only through His enabling and revelation. Since we are finite and NOT omniscient, omnipresent, or omnipotent - all divine attributes - we take what He has revealed and wrestle with it in our lives.

So, what does this mean? The statements made in that poster ARE true, although taken alone by themselves without any illumination, it's easy to see why some balk. Per Scripture, it was the eternal purpose of God to redeem a people for Himself. His purpose included the first advent of Christ when he came to earth as a man, walked among His creation, and eventually died on the cross for the sins of His people, and rose again from the dead for their justification. This was Gods' purpose BEFORE He even created the universe. That means God knew precisely what would happen in this world before He created it, including the fall of man, human sin, and the need to deal with it.

His solution was realized in His Son - who came to earth and bore God's wrath for sin, to rise again from the dead, and to redeem His people. So in that sense, it WAS God's will for Jesus to undergo what He did. Jesus did not do it because He was forced. He did it willingly, although in His humanity, He said, "Let this cup pass from Me, yet not My will, but Yours, be done." Regarding Jesus' life, He said in John 10: “No one has taken it (my life) away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again." But in accordance with the divine purpose, He humbled Himself and obeyed the Father's purpose. And He ACCOMPLISHED His Father's purpose. Which, by the way, leaves us quite an example. The servants are not greater than Our Master.

Nothing happens in the lives of God's redeemed people that He does not allow. He takes things that happen and uses them to work toward His eternal purpose. Before anyone points to all the terrible things that have happened throughout human history and tries to use that as ammunition to disparage Him, Christian believers and Christian theology, it would be well to remember that God Himself suffered what we suffer in this life. Pain, illness, temptation, sorrow, grief, joy, laughter, etc. Yet without sin. Our Creator gets it. He understands it, and us. He lived it and walked it. He is our example of a life well lived in love and service of others, as well as righteous living. A life of complete faith and trust in the goodness, holiness, righteousness, and sovereignty of the Father, and complete obedience to Him.

This is tough sledding. There is a mystery between the sovereignty of God and the "free will" of man. Tension is there between the two, and I will not pretend to be able to understand it entirely. Somehow He fulfills His absolute sovereignty and His GOOD purpose, and does so through fallen human beings - redeemed and unredeemed alike. In the course of history on this earth, horrible things have happened. Sin (beginning in pride) is the root cause. Yet His purpose in allowing it is a good purpose in His perspective and determination. In the end, evil people who did evil things in their lives will stand before Him and give account. They are responsible for their evil actions and choices and will be held accountable. Those of us who have been redeemed by Him are accountable too as His ambassadors. In the end, in eternity, it will all become clear to us. We will see His goodness, why things happened the way they did, what eternal good He brought out of it, why it matters, and there will be no disagreement with His divine decrees. "Every mouth will be stopped."

All this is in the pages of the Bible if you care to study it out. If you choose to do so, I pray that the Holy Spirit will walk with you in it, and open your understanding. I'm still studying, still praying, still trying to understand with His help - and still believing.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Worship and the Performance Spirit

Greetings, all. Wow. I haven't posted since February. Illness in the family and work has pretty much consumed me the last several months if not longer, so there has not been much time for blogging. It figures something would have to nettle me so much to spur me to write.

Have a look at this video taken from what I am guessing is a worship service. (Edited to add: I have since come to see that it's a practice session, not actually worship in front of the congregation. That makes me feel better, but the general commentary stands). I guess it blessed the person who posted it, but it bothers me as a Bible teacher. Here is the video in question. Watch it, then come on back.

Now, what bugs me? We have a fundamental, growing misunderstanding of what biblical worship is supposed to be. Why we do it, and how. We're not under the Law of Moses. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and our church buildings are places to gather for worship and fellowship, not temples. So why does this video of a kid messing around on stage during worship bug me?

When you are leading worship, the whole intent of it is to point people to God. Focus their attention on Him - who He is, what He did, and why He did it. As a worship leader (and this includes those on the platform providing instrumental accompaniment), you are not to draw attention to yourself. It's not a time for goofing around, putting on a show, getting laughs, etc. Anything you do that distracts people from being focused on the Lord is a performance spirit, not a worship spirit.

Now, I'm sure the accusations of legalism, judgmentalism, etc. will follow. I make no judgment of the kid's heart at all. If anything, it's bad teaching. I wouldn't for a minute rob anyone of their joy. However, the joy comes from knowing that the Lord Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and rose again from the dead for our justification. Our joy comes from giving Him the praise and glory He is due. It's not a silly, goofy, giddy joy, especially in leading people in WORSHIP.

A couple points to ponder. God struck people dead for not treating Him as holy in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, He struck people dead for lying to the Holy Spirit and for mishandling communion, or the Lord's Supper. When you look at those who encountered the Lord after His resurrection, and consider what the Apostle John saw in Revelation, our God is a consuming fire. He is not to be approached casually or lightly, but with reverence.

This is not a buzzkill. This is not dousing the embers of someone's joy. This is teaching and showing the reason for biblical joy in the Lord. If this was a band concert, or an informal songfest, I would have no problem with it at all. But a worship service is an entirely different matter. We also need to think of unbelievers who might be present. What example are we setting when they come to observe?

Think about it.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Trump and the Pope: What's Really Christian?

What a dustup today between Donald Trump and Pope Francis. My view? They're both wrong. 

There are several levels here, and the media doesn't help much in separating these levels and articulating the differences. It doesn't help that a good chunk of the professed church is biblically and doctrinally illiterate. But we'll try anyway. One level is theological. One level is political. As a Bible teacher, my MAIN concern is theological, and for a true Christian, your theology has bearing on everything else including your politics. I draw the "true" distinction because I must. Jesus Himself said that not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" is really His disciple. There are false teachers and false brethren who cause untold division in the body of Christ. 

The pope was wrong to say (provided he is being quoted accurately) that building a wall to stem the tide of illegal immigration is not Christian, or being a proponent of this makes someone not Christian. What defines a true Christian is something else entirely. True, saved Christians can and do disagree on how to handle illegal immigration. It would have been closer to accuracy if the pope had said, "I do not judge Mr. Trump's heart, but in my view as the head of the Catholic Church, I believe the ACTIONS he proposes are not Christian actions." There, you separate the act from the heart. But he did not do this. 

There are many errors mixed in this subject, and it's not just the pope making the errors. I don't have time to list them all. Many Protestant churches are seriously confused. Many do not divide Scripture rightly. They take things out of the Law of Moses - intended for national Israel AT THAT TIME in biblical history - and try to apply them to the church. The church is NOT under the Law of Moses. 

In addition, they take instructions intended for us as individual believers and try to use them to create coercive government policy. That's not to say government should be immoral or operate in an ungodly way. But when Scripture tells me to be charitable and to be a generous giver, that is a command for me as a believer to be generous with what He has given me, NOT a command to allow a government to forcibly take as much as it pleases from individuals' paychecks to achieve its Utopian ideals. 

I add to this that neither the pope or anyone else can look into the HEARTS of people and judge their motivations. We're commanded by the Lord not to do that. However, IN THE CHURCH, we can judge BEHAVIOR (including speech) and whether it measures up to what the Lord commands and expects in Scripture. When brothers and sisters in Christ fall into sin, they are to be confronted with it, and if they refuse to repent, that is where church discipline enters in, and possible removal from fellowship until proper repentance is shown. In Trump's case, he can certainly be called out on his behavior by Christian leaders, but responsibility for discipline lies in his church fellowship, assuming it's not apostate and still believes the Bible. There is a branch of Presbyterianism that has pretty much chucked biblical doctrine out the window. My friend Dr. Ron Gleason will bear me out here - he is a Presbyterian pastor with multiple earned degrees. 

Donald Trump is wrong when he says that a Christian leader/pastor/elder/theologian/teacher has "no right" to judge someone else's faith. Oh, yes they do. They have not only the right, but the DUTY to do so to protect the flock. They're not judging motivations, but are judging with "righteous judgment" as Jesus Himself commanded. They're evaluating whether the fruit of the professed believer matches what comes out of their mouths. The yardstick of measure is Scripture. When Donald Trump vociferously identifies himself as Christian and proud of it, well, words mean things. Ideas have consequences. If you identify as a Christian, certain things (including behavior) follow from that profession. Donald neither speaks or acts in Christian ways, and in fact, approaches near blasphemy at times. Speaking of the Lord's Supper as "eating my little cracker" is a flippant reference to a very serious event, and his statements on theology reveal that he really has little clue about even core Christian doctrine. His profane, at times obscene mouth and his ugly abusiveness of others who disagree with him does not reflect Christian behavior. There are grounds to ask questions about this, especially when Trump is USING Christianity to appeal for votes. Discernment, folks, DISCERNMENT!! 

it should go without saying, but the above is not intended to suggest that true Christians never sin, or never say things they shouldn't, or harbor attitudes they shouldn't harbor. As long as we are under this sun, in this body of flesh, we will wrestle with the "old man," or the "old nature." We can and do stumble in many ways (James). But a true Christian, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, will not be able to consistently LIVE this way - to live HABITUALLY like an unbeliever. When a true Christian sins, the conviction of the Holy Spirit sets in, and He is relentless. A true Christian is not going to sluff off the Christian life, dismiss God's Word, call evil good and call good evil, live in sin, and stay there like nothing's wrong. The Bible says PLAINLY that there are false brothers and sisters, and when they prove to be or if they will not repent of their sin, we are to "remove the wicked from among ourselves." (1 Cor 5) A true Christian from the heart seeks to love the Lord and love one another, and seeks to obey the Lord in all things for His glory. 

A bit more on the "right" of Christians to insist on truth in labeling. The church reserves the right to define itself, and that definition is clearly set forth in the Word of God. If someone from a pseudo-Christian cult (and there are many out there) comes out and identifies themselves as Christian, orthodox true Christians have EVERY right to call them out and warn others against them. Sun Myung Moon is not the second Christ. Jesus Christ is not the spirit brother of Lucifer or Michael the Archangel. The Apostle John describes the spirit of Antichrist and how to identify it. "Indeed, there are many antichrists now." Word of God said it. Not me. 

Now, will any of this be discussed in the media and on the talk shows? Not likely. They'll be sure to stay as superficial as possible and talk from as much ignorance as they can muster. And we will continue to be ill served as an electorate.

Friday, January 15, 2016

"Debates" - Media Misses the Point Again

First, a confession. I skipped last night's Republican debate. I watched all the other ones, and my long-standing complaint remains. These are not debates. They are glorified press conferences governed and controlled by the media. The media ask the questions THEY want to ask, and after it's all over, in their reporting they usually focus on the stupidest, most irrelevant moment of the night and make that the story for days if not weeks.

Case in point: The exchange between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz over New York City. Ted got asked a question about what he meant by saying "New York values." The questioner (Maria Bartilomo of Fox Business) is from New York, so she had a personal interest in the question. Anyone with a brain knows precisely what Ted was talking about, and even Maria herself this morning in a separate interview acknowledged that Ted meant the liberal social values of the "coasts" are far different than what gets derisively called "fly-over country" by the coastal elites. But they made it sound like Ted was attacking all New Yorkers when his intent was to talk about the difference between conservatism and liberalism. Ted should probably have not specifically said "New York" because that left an opening for attack, and you KNEW Trump would counter it with an emotional appeal to the events of 9/11.

September 11 had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH THE HEART OF THE ISSUE—CONSERVATISM VS. LIBERALISM. But it was an emotional appeal, and logical fallacy though it is, it tends to work. Naturally, the media loves this stupid stuff over substance, so this is all they'll talk about now for weeks and make it sound like conservatives hate New Yorkers. Sheer idiocy.

From what I have read and the clips I've seen, I've heard that the actual course of the debate did have some substance being discussed. I'm glad. It's too bad that most people won't hear about that. They'll just hear that Ted Cruz "attacked New York" and that Trump "handled it brilliantly."

I'll say it again and keep saying it. Get the media out of the debate business, and get a few college/university debate teachers to moderate all debates. Hold several of them, and have each one focus on one or two specific issues. Hold them according to classic debate rules, and let the candidates actually DEBATE ISSUES. Air them on C-SPAN, with C-SPAN holding all the rights to the audio and video. Release soundbite clips where they're exchanging on issues, and refuse to release the moments where one of them says a gaffe or makes a statement that everyone knows was not articulated well or conveys a meaning that the candidate did not intend. Because I guarantee you. The media will not play the substance. They'll always go for the flash point because it makes good TV and boosts ratings. Even worse, those moments make most people angry to the point that they can't hear the most important things being said by the candidates, and the media makes sure they'll hear them over and over again.

We get the leaders we deserve, I'm afraid. Perhaps its time that the American people begin doing due diligence and demanding better. Perhaps its time the American people convey a message to the media, especially business owners who have advertising accounts. Demand better. Demand a debate where we can hear detail and substance.

Probably won't happen. We're used to "bread and circuses" now, and too preoccupied with our own lives to really pay attention until it's too late.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Conservatives Beware of Trump

Taking my personal political hat off for the moment and putting on the objective analytical. And I'll probably shock my fellow conservatives for being critical of Fox News Channel, but I call it like I see it.
I find it curious that FNC head Roger Ailes and several FNC commentators have expressed alarm over Donald Trump. Why do I find it curious? I'm glad you asked!
In my humble opinion, Trump's candidacy is nearly entirely a Fox News promoted creation. I have a memory, folks. For several years - before this political silly season ever started - Donald Trump was a guest every Monday morning on Fox & Friends to opine on the deep things of the universe. He was also a frequent guest on Greta Van Susteren's show at night (Greta is or was a registered Democrat, BTW). The Donald has gotten A LOT of airtime through the years.
When the political season got closer, the talking heads interviewing him began asking him about the presidency and eventually the question, "Donald, are you going to run? Donald, why don't you run?" Yada yada. So he finally tosses his hat in the ring and if you believe the polls, he's running away with the ship. And now the FNC folks find it alarming? Come on. Seriously?
I know many of my friends - people I love and respect - are on board with Donald and are backing him. That does not change my love and respect for you. You have the right to back whomever you like. But I spent years in the media watching and covering this stuff. I've been a news and politics junkie for decades. Donald is running himself as the savior of the Republican Party and the conservative movement. I do not believe that he is. He is a chameleon. A very gifted chameleon who knows how to play the media game, but a chameleon nonetheless. His "conversion" to conservative principles has come all too recent for my comfort level. I honestly believe that A: if he wins the GOP primary, Hillary Clinton will be the next president, and B: if he wins the presidency, he will deeply disappoint the conservatives who trusted him and voted for him. He is NOT a movement conservative.
One other thought - for those thinking Hillary Clinton might be forced out of the race over her emails, Benghazi, or any other skeletons? Forget it. Not happening. Attorney General Loretta Lynch will never indict Hillary, even if the FBI steps forward and says she ought to be indicted. Remember the Clinton machine has long tentacles, and they are very adept at collecting compromising material on their opponents/would-be opponents.
I do hope and pray Election 2016 has a better outcome than the grim one I expect. That can happen if we as a nation obey Chronicles and repent.