Friday, July 31, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Lewis

The very word membership is of Christian origin, but it has been taken over by the world and emptied of all meaning. In any book on logic you may see the expression "members of a class." It must be most emphatically stated that the items or particulars included in a homogeneous class are almost the reverse of what St Paul meant by members. By members he meant what we should call organs, things essentially different from, and  complementary to, one another, things differing not only in structure and function but also in dignity.

C. S. Lewis, 1898-1963, Membership, The Weight of Glory (Harper Collins, 1980, pp. 163-164)

How can we introduce this idea of membership into the modern church? What would the result look like?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Was Jesus' Message Corrupted?

Many think the message of Jesus was somehow corrupted. It is commonly thought he was just a human moral philosopher, though there are other options. The most common suspect is Constantine the Great, though there other possibilities. But does this really stand up to examination?

There are a great number of New Testament manuscripts, with a wide geographic distribution. A number of these date before the time of Constantine and contain the majority of the New Testament. These, when compiled, consist of preserved passages alternating with gaps. (Imagine a book that has been left out in the weather for a long period of time, and some pages are torn or stained and some pages are missing, and you get the idea.) One would not expect the parts missing to be of a substantially different quality than the parts that are there, because what is preserved is preserved by accident. Copies of the entire New Testament are found from soon after Constantine. It is difficult to see how Constantine could have changed the New Testament. Nor is clear why the Christians, who very shortly before had been willing to die for their faith and to preserve the Scriptures (which previous emperors had threatened to destroy), would have let him do it, without a preserved word of protest. Nor does it seem probable that anyone before Constantine would have been in a position to have the ability to change the Scripture, given the number of copies and their geographical distribution. There are, of course, textual variations in the preserved manuscripts, but they are minor and do not affect the substance of the text.

It may also be asked whether the books in the New Testament were chosen to distort the message. Christians from very early quoted and copied the books of the New Testament. Ireneaus says there are clearly only four gospels, and gives a detailed description of them and Acts and Romans. The Muratorian Fragment about the same time lists the books of the New Testament, though a few of them are not clearly included. Tertullian gives a detailed description of Luke and most of the Pauline epistles and mentions the other gospels, Acts, and the rest of Paul's epistles as Scripture. Athanasius and Eusebius, at the time of Constantine, both give lists. There were some doubts as to whether a few books should be included or others added, but the substance is the same. There was a later church council that made the list official and took a stand on the dubious books. But the idea that the Christian church went about 400 years without having a general idea of what belonged in Scripture is incredible.

Scripture, as well as all the earliest other sources, presents Jesus as God, who came in the flesh to pay the price for sin and conquer death. The idea that the original message was majorly distorted at some point does not hold water.
 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Battlefield

Scripture pictures this world as a battlefield. It says Christians are to stand strong against demonic forces (Ephesians 6:10-20; 2 Corinthians 10:3-6; 1 Peter 5:8-10). Now we are told that Christ has already won the victory (Colossians 2:13-15;1 John 4:4; Hebrews 2:14,15). But from our perspective we are still in the midst of the battle. We are told that in Christ we will ultimately conquer (1 John 5:4; Romans 8:37; 2 Corinthians 2:14). But we are also told to stand firm and be on the alert. Though we will ultimately be victorious, we are not to let our guard down and be comfortable in this world. But we also do not despair, knowing God will bring us through. And we must avoid too simple answers and quick fixes that get us to expect easy solutions. For we are in a battle.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sacrifice for Sins

The cross is the centerpiece of Christianity. And it is what sets it apart from other belief systems. It is there that the price for sin was paid. The basic approach of most faiths is that we work to make ourselves acceptable to God. There may be some provision for forgiveness, but it is generally limited and provisional. But the Christian position is that Jesus paid the full price (1 Peter 2:24,26; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

The problem is that we are sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6, Jeremiah 17:9) and cannot keep God's commands (Romans 7:14-18; 3:19,20; Galatians 3:10-12). Now we can try to convince ourselves we are really acceptable to God based on our behavior. One way is to become nominally moral people, avoiding blatant sins and maybe showing up at religious services. But God is really not impressed by this (Malachi 1:10; Isaiah 65:2-5; John 4:24). This is watering down God's commands so we can keep them. Or we can become extremely  self-righteous and attempt to follow strict standards. But even that does not measure up before God (Matthew 23:23-28; 15:1-14; Romans 2:1). God's requirements are stricter than our human attempts (Matthew 5:21-48; Luke 10:25-37; James 2:10). And their self-righteousness is completely contrary to what God requires (Luke 18:9-14; 7:36-50; 19:1-10). Or we can admit to ourselves we cannot live up to God's demands and give in to discouragement. We may keep going through the motions of some set of religious practices hoping that it will one day become fully real. Or we may just dump the whole thing and decide there is no God. Now some discouragement may be a good thing and may bring us to the point of realizing we need God (Isaiah 6:5; 2 Corinthians 7:10; Proverbs 1:7). But if left unchecked can, be highly destructive in our lives.

But God became a man to accomplish what we could not (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-16). He had to become human to identify with us and take our place. He had to be perfectly righteous to not have His own sins to pay for (1 Peter 1:19; Hebrews 10:26;27; Romans 8:3). And only God could make a sacrifice sufficient to cover the sin of all who would come. We can therefore accept this salvation simply by faith (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9), and we can do good works not to earn something from God, but out of love to God for a salvation already received (Titus 2:11-14; 1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15). We therefore are not discouraged, but have confidence and assurance, based not on what we have done, but on what Christ has done (1 John 5:11-13; Romans 8:31-39; Galatians 4:4-7). But we are also required to have humility, recognizing it is not based on us, but on what Christ has done (Romans 3:27,28; Philippians 2:11-16; 1 John 1:8-10). And this is made possible because what matters is what Christ has done, not what we do.    

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Touch of Humor - Current Status

Do the things in this earth often fail of their promise? How can we put this in right perspective?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Old Erich Proverb - Behind the Scenes

God is at work behind the scenes to carry out His purposes even when things seem at their worst.

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Voice for the Past - Spurgeon

Pray, for prayer holds the chain that binds the old dragon. Prayer can hold fast and restrain even Satan himself.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 1834-1892, (The Power of Prayer in a Believer's Life, edited by Robert Hall, Emerald Books, 1993, p. 192)

Is prayer the proper way to deal with Satan? How should we deal with him?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Sensitivity to Seekers

One of the major movements in the Christian church is Seeker Sensitivity. It is hard to pin down exactly how it is to be defined, as different people have various ideas of what it is. But I would like to look at principles, good and bad, that are found in the movement.

Seeker Sensitivity has noted that we now live in a culture where the familiar Christian language and Christian practice are no longer understood by the public at large. However, we need to make a positive effort to reach out to the people around us who need to know Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 3:15). And we need to reach out to meet people where they are, rather than hiding in our Christian ghetto (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Matthew 9:9-13; Luke 19:1-10). Also, we cannot let our own self-righteousness get in the way because we think we are better than others (Luke 7:36-50; 18:9-14; Titus 3:1-7). Therefore, it may be asked whether the things we do as Christian congregations could be unnecessary barriers that keep people from hearing our message. However, we cannot do away with all Christian terminology and Christian practice. Some do not have an easy cultural equivalent. It may be honestly debated what things are or are not necessary. But we need to explain ourselves so people will understand us. And we should avoid meaningless cliches that communicate nothing helpful

An assumption common in the Seeker Sensitive approach is that people do not understand us, and if they did, they would accept our message. There is a real here danger of believing we can please everyone. We are commanded as Christians not to be conformed to the world (1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4; Romans 12:1,2). To avoid that, our ultimate motivation cannot be to please men (Galatians 1:10; Proverbs 29:25; Matthew 23:5-7). There are undoubtedly those who have misunderstandings and stereotypes of what Christianity is, and it is worthwhile to try to correct them. But others reject Christianity because it conflicts with their own beliefs and outlooks, and they need to be convinced. Further, we are warned that the message of the cross is a stumbling block to those who will not accept it (1 Corinthians 18-25; 2:14; 2 Corinthians 4:3-5) and that those who follow Christ will be opposed by those in the world (John 15:18-21; 16:1-4; Matthew 10:16-20). Ultimately Christianity involves a real choice and cannot be eased into. And if we have nothing to say that goes against the grain of our culture we become meaningless.  In the end we can be perceived as pandering, fast-talking salesmen who will promise anything, which can drive people away.

Therefore, we must work to be in the world and not of the world. This is a difficult balance to maintain. And it is easy to go to extremes in reaction to those who go too far the other way. But we must be aware of the danger in both directions to find the way between.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

No Easy Answers

I remember once discussing the problem of evil with an atheist. He claimed his answer to why evil existed was the best one because it was the simplest, based on Occam's razor. (I am not so sure of Occam's razor, at least as the only test. What would it make of quantum mechanics?) His answer to the presence of evil was, "It just is." But "It just is" is not an answer. The real answer we want to the problem of evil and suffering is that it does not exist. But it does.

We can can try to minimize evil and pretend it does not exist. That people are basically good and the world is basically nice. But though there are good things in the world because God created it and good traits still in people because they are made in God's image, it is very hard to believe the evil in the world is superficial. Or we can believe things are getting better and better and evil will vanish. But two world  wars, the cold war, and global terrorism have made this seem fantastic. Or we can claim that evil is not really evil but is just the way things are. But then we have to ask how we have come to so totally reject it. Why is it almost everyone has a hard time embracing this idea?

Why is there evil in the world? There are no easy answers here for anyone, but I believe the Christian answer makes the most sense: that we are in a world in rebellion against its Maker. But removing God does not answer the question.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Coming Together

In an earlier post I spoke of the value of small groups in the church, even if they are not a panacea. But the opposite question has to be asked, why not do away with larger meetings and just stick to small groups? One of the problems in the modern church is division into factions (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:21,22; Philippians 2:1,2). These often are not about real issues, but personalities, methods, and particular spiritual gifts. To do away with the larger assembly and have only small groups would increase this tendency. But God calls us to be people who build each other up based on our differences (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:11-16). People tend to gather into small groups based on shared interests and perspectives, and if they do not have them, they tend to develop them. This is not necessarily a bad thing and seems be inevitable But it needs to be continually balanced by the perspectives of the larger body to be put into focus.

I am convinced that one of the problems even of full congregations is a very limited view of their identity. They tend to see themselves as being no more then their own congregation or denomination. But we are part of the body of Christ, which transcends space and time (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-10; Colossians 2:19). There is something about coming together to worship that reminds us that we are part of a larger entity. It also allows us the benefit of all the spiritual gifts present in the congregation and not just our little group. Also, I am convinced that one of the benefits of being in a larger body is it forces us to learn to get along with those we may not easily get along with (Philippians 2:3,4; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12-14). Further, Christians are to do God's work in the world, spread His word (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; Luke 24:46-48), and help those in need (Matthew 25:31-46; James 2:16; 1 John 3:16-18). To do this efficiently requires some degree of larger organization. 

But there is a danger in the larger assemblies. It is possible there to think it pleases God if we just go through the motions of worship, when it does not (John 4:24; Matthew 6:1-18; Malachi 1:10). It also makes it possible to believe everything is to be done by leaders, which is contrary to the teaching that each member of Christ's body has gifts and functions. To avoid this we must remember that leaders are leaders, not mediators, and we do not go through them to get to God (1 Timothy 1:5; Matthew 18:18-20; John 1:12). Further, we must see coming together as a active thing where we are involved in people's lives (Hebrews 10:24,25; 12:12,13; 1 Corinthians 14:26). In this the small groups can leaven the larger group and support it rather than supplant it.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Touch of Humor - The Idol

What other things can we put in the place of God? How do we avoid this?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Old Erich Proverb - Determination

Ultimately it is not our determination and gritting our teeth but our God that makes the difference.

Friday, July 17, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Gregory the Great

Now I confidently say that whoever calls himself, or desires to be called Universal Priest, is in his elation the precursor of Antichrist, because he proudly puts himself above all others, Nor is it by dissimilar pride that he is led into error; for, as that perverse one wishes to appear as God above all men, so whoever this one is who covets being called sole priest, he extols himself above all other priests.

Gregory the Great, 540-604 AD, Epistles of St Gregory the Great, Epistle XXXIII, To Mauricius Augustus, (translated by Rev. James Barmby, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, Second Series, Vol. XII, p. 226)

What constitutes appropriate authority for leadership in the Christian church? What are the boundaries it should not go beyond?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Gregory - The Humble Pope

Between Pope Leo I and Pope Gregory I there was a huge chasm. That chasm was the fall of the Roman Empire. In Leo's time the empire was beginning to fall, and he faced off against those who were coming to sack Rome. In Gregory's time it had already fallen, and the process of coming back together after the chaos had begun. Gregory did not want to be pope, but was greatly used by God in the post.

What Gregory would have preferred was a quiet life of contemplation, but  he was thrust into a position where he was distracted by continually attending to worldly things. When the government collapsed, the organizational church became the glue holding society together, and it became powerful. It also became corrupted and worldly. Though hating feeling trapped worldly affairs, Gregory proved a competent and honest administrator. He reined in those among his minions who were using questionable means to increase his land and property. He also wrote a useful book explaining to Christian leaders how to be in the world and not of it.

One of the results of the empire's collapse was a conquest by peoples who were generally pagans or Arians (who denied the deity of Christ). Now Patrick had already converted the Irish, and these in turn had began to reach out to other people. Clovis king of the Franks had converted to Christianity from paganism and had used conquest to spread it among his neighbors.(Clovis, based on the description we have of him, does not seem to be a deep or sincere Christian, but he may have produced good in spite of it.) But Gregory was a major contributor. He sent missionaries to the Anglo-Saxons, pagans who had conquered the original romanized inhabitants of Britain. They were converted with some help from the spiritual descendants of the Irish, and together they sent missionaries back to Germany, where the Anglo-Saxons had come from. Gregory also reached out to those nearby in Italy who were Arians to convince them Jesus was God. He worked hard to give the message of Christ to those who needed it,

Also, when the patriarch of Constantinople declared himself universal bishop, Gregory objected violently. Further, he vehemently denied the title or any similar one for himself. He not only opposed the idea, but gave detailed Scriptural and logical reasoning for opposing it. He denied that anyone other than Christ can be the absolute and unquestionable authority in the church. The Protestant reformers obtained many of their arguments on this issue from Gregory. Gregory may have increased the prestige of the papacy by being a competent, honest leader who worked to spread God's truth. But he also laid the foundation for questioning it when it became so powerful as to become a tyrant. In spite of great temptations produced by the power vacuum that Gregory found himself in, he preserved his integrity. And demonstrated that humble people who are not seeking power can do great things.    

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

I'm as Good as You

(Note: I am going through the descriptions of love given in 1 Corinthians 13. I have previously dealt with patience and kindness under my treatment of the fruit of the spirit.)

Love does not envy. It does not try to keep up with the Joneses. But in many ways our whole culture is built around this impulse. I need to show that I can be as good as or better than the person next door. Something that has been condemned in the past and by Scripture has become an acceptable way of behavior (James 3:14-16; Galatians 5:26; Romans 13:13). How has this come about?

One underlying influence is commercialism.  In order to get us to buy things, we are encouraged to feel we have to have them just because other people have them. An attitude of competition is fostered, and the real winners are the people who get us to buy things we do not need or maybe even want just because our neighbors own them.

Another influence here is a distortion of the idea of democracy. C. S. Lewis in his story Screwtape  Proposes a Toast calls it the spirit of "I'm as good as you." The idea is to say, not that we are all equal in value even if we are different, but that we all are equal and no one should be allowed to be different. This does not result in people trying to excel to be like others, but in pulling others down to their own level. This is a worse form of envy than the competitive kind.

To avoid this we need to realize we are all made in the image of God and are valuable even if we are different (Genesis 1:26,27; 9:6; James 3:9,10). And those who come to Christ become part of His body, and each has their own place and function and is given honor for that, whatever it is (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 2:10). Also, we need to trust God for His provision and to be content with what we have (1 Timothy 6:6-10; Matthew 6:25-34; Philippians 4:19). This does not mean we cannot ask what reasonable steps we might take to improve. But it does we should not make it our goal to keep up with other people. And certainly not to tear them down to our level.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Will Worship

One of the dangers in the Christian church is will-worship (Colossians 2:23). This is trying to please God by coming up with the strictest and largest number of rules. It includes more than just what rules you have, but is an attitude. Some hold questionable rules inherited  from whatever tradition they belong to. But there are those who delight in the fact of having a stricter set of rules. They see themselves as better than other people for having more rules. They make self-control the most fundamental of all virtues. Scripture says that love is the basis of God's commands (Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13,14). And while self-control is clearly one of the things God commands, it does not top the list (Galatians 5:22,23; 2 Peter 1:5-7; Acts 24:25).

Underlying this is an important issue. From a Christian perspective we are sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9) saved by the grace of God. Therefore, Scripture rebukes those who think in their self-righteousness that they are pleasing to God by their own works and can look down on others (Luke 18:9-14; 7:36-50; Matthew 9:10-13). Love, therefore, is seen as God's primary motivation (1 John 4:7-10; John 3:16-18; Romans 5:6-8). But when self-control is made the chief motivation, pride and trying to impress others is the result (Matthew 23:23-28; 6:1-18; Luke 20:46-47). It produces an ethic which is hard and impervious and makes no allowances for oneself or others.

The results of this approach  on a community level can be devastating. It produces people who must always have their barriers up lest others see their failings. It produces people who will never open up or admit they need help or support. It produces people whose chief goal is to be self-contained and independent of other people. It produces people who are severe and willing to judge others at the slightest opportunity. It is as dangerous as trusting in our intellect or emotions. Rather, we need to trust God (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 37:3-6; Isaiah 40:31). It does not matter who has the most rules or the strictest rules, but the right rules. The ones God really commands (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:6; Matthew 15:8,9).

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Touch of Humor - Checks and Balances

What are the best ways to insure accountability in handling money? Can this be taken too far?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Old Erich Proverb - Enemy

Christ has taken the last enemy, death, and used it to save us.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Tyndale

Dearly beloved brother Jacob, mine heart's desire in our Savior Jesus is, that you arm yourself with patience, and be cold, sober, wise, and circumspect: and that you keep a-low by the ground, avoiding high questions that pass the common capacity. But expound the law truly, and open the vail of Moses, to condemn all flesh, and prove all men sinners, and all deeds under the law, before mercy have taken away the condemnation thereof, to be sin and damnable: and then, as a faithful minister, set abroach the mercy of our Lord Jesus, and let the wounded consciences drink pf the water of him.

William Tyndale, First Letter to John Frith, (from Tyndale, David Teems, Thomas Nelson, 2012, Appendix C, p. 273)

Is it important when preaching Christ to stick to the basics? How should we go about this?

Eternal Existence

(The following is a fable written to make a point. It in no way reflects what I consider possible, let alone likely.)

James was bored. He had worked at several lucrative professions and had retired with enough money to meet not only his needs but even his wants. He was not motivated to take up another profession. He had purchased a variety of toys and gadgets, but they had ceased to amuse him.  He had been with many women and tried many diverse sexual experiments, but they were unfulfilling. He had tried all matter of psychoactive substances, but none had any lasting positive effect. He had often skirted the edge of legality, but that not longer had any thrill to it. He was 165 years old, and he was tired of living. But he had no choice.

When James had volunteered for the Longevity  Project, not to have to face death had seemed the greatest gift possible. And he now was wondering if he had made a big mistake. He was going to live forever. And he was not sure the point of it.

Then he heard a big explosion outside. He ran to his window and he saw a woman across the way planting something under an unoccupied hovercar.  After she left, the hovercar went up in flames. James rushed to the comset to call the police.

They brought her up to his living space for him to identify her and press charges.

"Now, what did you think you were doing?" asked the policeman.

"Blowing up things," she replied.

"Why?"

"Because it's fun."

"That's people's property you are destroying."

"Why should I care? They have as long as they want to purchase a new one, if they want one."

"And why do you consider it fun to go around exploding other people's stuff?" said the policeman starting to lose his temper.

"Because life is absurd and I am looking for a distraction," the woman said acidly.

"If you feel like, that why not just do away with yourself?"

"You don't understand. The Longevity Project did a better job than you think. Cut off a limb and a new one grows back. Jump off the top of a tall building, and you will eventually heal up again. I know; I have tried. There may be some way to kill ourselves, chop off our head or starve ourselves to death, but I lack the courage to try. I do not know what will succeed, and I can still feel pain."

The policeman turned to James and said, "If you identify this crazy woman, we will take her down and lock her up where she belongs.

"I am not really sure," said James hesitantly. "She looks kind of like her, but I'm not sure. It was a long way away. And it looked like she might have put something under the hovercar, but I did not have a clear view."

"Are you admitting to anything?" the other policeman asked the woman. But she stood mute, her jaw clamped shut. "It looks like we really don't have a case."

The first policeman was red and had his fists clinched like he wanted to paste someone. But he left with his partner.

"Do you have any more of those bombs?" James asked when they were gone. "I want to see what they look like close up."

"I think I can come up with some," returned the woman.

"And to think we thought it would be paradise if we just did away with death."

"I call it hell." 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Fear of Death

One of the great fears of all human beings is the fear of death. But we need to ask why. If human being are just animals and death is really natural, why do we fear it so? Should we not accept it as a natural part of life? Scripture says it is an invader, the result of sin in the world (Genesis 3:14-19; Romans 5:12-14; Ecclesiastes 3:11). But Christ in His resurrection overcame death (1 Corinthians 15:45-58; Romans 5:15-17; Hebrews 2:9-16). Therefore, we who put our faith in Him will conquer death with Him (John 14:1-19;  11:25,26; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26). But death is still a matter for fear. This was vividly brought clear to me in my wife's recent operation for cancer. But death is a conquered foe, and we do not have to face it as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Romans 8:18-25; Revelation 21:4).

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

God in Human Flesh

God can be seen as an abstraction; how can we understand what He was really like? And does He really understand us and sympathize with our blight? And how are God's commands to be lived out in a real human life? God answered these questions by becoming a man. Now God became a man not just to reveal Himself but also to save us (Romans 5:8; 3:24-32; Hebrews 2:9-16). But to do that He needs to show what He really is like and what he really requires.

Christ reveals to us of what God is like (John 1:18; 14:9,10; Hebrews 1:3). He is loving and compassionate (Luke 13:10-17; John 11:30-44; Matthew 19:13-15) and reaches out to those regarded as undeserving (John 4:9-26; 8:1-11; Luke 19:1-10). But He holds up a strong standard against all wrong-doing (Matthew 5:21-48; 6:1-24; Luke 10:25-37) and rebuked those who mistakenly thought they were upright (Matthew 23:1-15; 15:1-14; John 2:13-22). He states we are all sinners (Matthew 7:11; John 3:19-21; 15:5) and He has come to save us (John 3:14-18; Matthew 9:10-13; Mark 10:45). And it is those who humble themselves and admit their sin who will be saved (Luke 18:9-14; 7:36-50; Matthew 20:1-16). We see here the gospel that God saves sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9) by grace  (Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:5,6; Galatians 2:21). But He is a person and not a formula. He does not always do what we would predict or act as we expect.

We are commanded as His people to be like Him (Philippians 2:5-11; Ephesians 5:1,2; 2 Corinthians 8:9). And God's goal is to produce that in us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 8:28-30; 1 John 3:2). But the example of Christ only condemns us apart from His forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13,14; 1 Peter 2:24,25) and His power to change us (2 Peter 1:3; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). But if God is at work in us Christ's character becomes the blueprint for who we are becoming (Philippians 3:12-16; Hebrews 12:1,2; Romans 12:1,2).

But does God really know what we are going through to sympathize and help us (Hebrews 2:17,18; 4:14-16; Luke 4:1-13).  It is easy to see God as someone who sits off in an ivory tower somewhere and does not really understand us. But here is one who was born into a poor family (Luke 2:24). Was accused of being conceived outside of wedlock (John 8:41). Who probably lost His foster father at an early age. Became a wandering preacher with no permanent  place to lay His head (Mathew 8:20). Was betrayed by a friend (John 13:21,22). And ended up dying a criminal's death (Matthew 20:17,18). And this while remaining unmoved by the constant temptations to which human flesh is prone.

Now these things where all the groundwork for the work of redemption. But unless you know who God is you cannot understand that work.

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Touch of Humor - Vicious Cycle

How can the desire for material things become a distorting influence in Christian ministry? How can we avoid this? 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Old Erich Proverb - Real Love

Real love and real patriotism must desire the best for that which is loved, not just whitewash failings.

Friday, July 3, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Chesterton

As long as empires go about urging their ideas on others, I always have a notion that the ideas are no good. If they were really so splendid, they would make the country preaching them a wonder of the world. That is the true ideal; a great nation ought not to be a hammer, but a magnet.

G. K Chesterton, 1874-1936, Alarms and Discursions, The Sentimentalist, ( Project Gutenburg, 2006)

Is there truth in this? How should it be put into practice?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Accountability of Government

One key thing about good government is it should be accountable. The idea that any individual or group of individuals should have absolute and unquestioned power is very dangerous. Human beings are, with One notable exception, imperfect and need to be held accountable for their decisions. Also there is truth to the old saying of Lord Acton that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Where should this accountability come from. One place is from the other branches of government, hence the idea of separation of powers. But more importantly from the people.

But even this can be a problem. The will of the people can become a tyranny of the majority. But the majority is not always right. It is my clear impression that the majority of the people in this country once believed it was perfectly okay for people with a different color of skin to be expected to ride in the back of the bus. There needs to be some kind of check even on the will of the majority. The basic answer is there needs to be a rule of law. But where does this law come from? Is it merely the will of the majority. Is it whatever the society (which means who ultimately?) finds convenient?

There needs to be something beyond mere personal opinion to base this on. There needs to be an absolute morality. From the Christian viewpoint this must ultimately come for God. But wherever it comes from it must be above human whims and desires. C. S. Lewis wrote of what he called the tau. And he saw it as a common possession of all mankind. I am convinced it was a deposit originally given by God which was passed down and to a certain degree distorted by all people. There has been a tendency in modern times to emphasize the variations, which of course there are. And ignore that general similarities which are more obvious. Does this mean I deny Christianity has the correct moral position. No, but I while I believe Christianity has the correct moral position because it comes from God, but I do not believe it is a radically different moral position. What is radically different is God becoming a man to save us from our sin (Romans 5:6-8; Philippians 2:5-11; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Also there is God coming to dwell inside us to change us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). Now there does need to be a correction of the distorted parts of the moral standard that was passed down. Also there is still need for a number of people involved in the accountability to avoid actions based of a distorted conscience. But without the standard there is nothing for the conscience to based on.  And we need a standard to genuinely hold government accountable.      

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Benefit of Variety

The Scriptural picture of the body of Christ is one of unit in diversity (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:11-16). Now there are basic principles that Christians should agree on (Jude 3; Galatians 1:8,9; 1 John 4:1-3). But within those broad principles there is the idea that God wants different people with different gifts and different perspectives, to build each other up. But in the modern Evangelical church we have worked very hard to avoid this. In fact we seem to have divided into factions based on spiritual gifts and personality traits. We have teaching congregations, evangelistic congregations. fellowship -minded  congregations, serving congregations. We have emotional congregations, stoical congregations and intellectual congregations. And where these people should be all in one congregation tempering  one another, broadening each other's perspective, they separate from each other and carry their particular emphasis to extremes. I do not see an easy cure for this problem, but I think it helps to realize it is a problem. And we need to reach out to Christian of different characters and ask if there are serious differences or we have simply taken one aspect of the body and made it to be the standard, And maybe if we do we can learn from each other. And that is a good thing.