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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Apparently, I’m a Masochist: Lifting the Comment Ban for Older Posts

It had been a fairly long-standing policy that comments closed on posts older than 30 days.

After giving that some thought, I have decided to lift that ban.  Much of my traffic is on older posts, so I shouldn’t preclude the possibility of intelligent discussion opening up on an old post.

So now comments are enabled site-wide, on both new and old posts.

Please read my updated commenting policy, and use this new freedom wisely.  Enjoy.

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Salt and Light to the World

After we see God celebrate virtues that our secular counterparts would hardly consider virtuous, we have to ask:  If God intends for me to suffer, why?

The answer is in the next passage:

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.  (Mt 5:13)

Salt is a preservative.  Jesus is calling on Christians to preserve the virtues that God finds honorable and good.  To that end, when we become a new creation in Christ, God then molds us into the image of his Son (Rom 8:3-4, 12-14, 29-30) — not for our sake, but for the world’s sake:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Mt 5:14-16)

In other words, don’t just be a Christian on Sunday in church.  Be one at work, at rest, at play, in your marriage, on a plane, on a boat, on a train, in your house, when you’re here, or there, and everywhere (1 Cor 10:31).

James, brother of our Lord, echoes the sentiment: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (Jms 1:27).

Do what God has commanded, and do it boldly.  And in the process, do not become like the rest of the world.  It’s a simple message, a simple prospect, and it has a powerful world-renewing effect for those who live it out.

Chritians Respond to the Extreme Claims of the Reason Rally

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Authors of new book highlight irrationality of atheists' claim to be defenders of reason

Leading atheist Richard Dawkins has said, “The time has come for people of reason to say: Enough is enough!  Religious faith discourages independent thought, it’s divisive and it’s dangerous.” Today, Christian thinkers from around the world announce the publication of the Patheos Press ebook “True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism.

Featuring chapters by Dr. William Lane Craig, Sean McDowell, and eleven other Christian scholars and thinkers, “True Reason” presents a well-reasoned rejoinder to the arrogance of the New Atheists and their upcoming “Reason Rally.” The book:

  • Demonstrates New Atheist leaders’ consistent failure in the use of reasoning.
  • Explains how the Christian faith and good reasoning work well together.
  • Clarifies the reasonability of Christian practice now and throughout history.

“This is a book to encourage, inform, and equip Christian believers. It’s also bound to raise controversy,” said general editor Tom Gilson. “The careful reasoning of this book will deliver a tremendous challenge to the New Atheists as they prepare for their ‘Reason’ Rally in Washington. And it will benefit Christians long after that, by equipping them for challenges to the faith that are bound to keep on coming,” added Gilson.

“True Reason” is co-edited by Gilson, a ministry strategist and author working jointly with Campus Crusade for Christ and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and Carson Weitnauer, director of Telos Ministries, a campus ministry that reaches the intellectual elite at Boston area universities including Harvard.

The book is being released in conjunction with an initiative to bring dozens of thoughtful Christians to the Reason Rally, to create an obvious contrast between the Reason Rally and True Reason. The Reason Rally takes place on the National Mall in Washington D.C. on March 24, 2012, with headline speakers including Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, and Adam Savage of Mythbusters, and the rock band Bad Religion.

The united Christian outreach to the Reason Rally is being led by: Ratio Christi, ThinkingChristian.net, Reasons for God, The Apologetics Bloggers Alliance, and The Christian Apologetics Alliance.

Beatitues, part 8: Blessed are Those Persecuted for Righteousness

Ultimately, what do the Beatitudes celebrate as virtues?

Poor in spirit.  MourningMeeknessHunger and thirst for righteousness.  Showing mercyPureness of heart.  Making peace.  Things not seen by our secular world as virtuous.

But the final Beatitude is the kicker.

I don’t know how the prosperity gospel ever came to be.  Nor do I know how asinine arguments like this one from God is Imaginary could ever capture the imaginations of serious Bible readers.

Why?

Because Jesus said:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  (Mt 5:10-12)

This one of many times the theme of persecution is introduced into the Bible.  In fact, one Bible teacher insists that there is at least one reference in all sixty-six books of the Bible to suffering for the sake of God’s kingdom.

Wow.

Sorry, Marshall Brain.  That means that we aren’t going to end suffering and death with prayer.  Your argument fails.

Sorry, Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes and Ed Young and Kenneth Copeland and others who have bought your lie.  God’s plan includes suffering.

In fact, to suffer is the ultimate virtue.  Suffering imitates all of the great Old Testament prophets.  When we are ridiculed for preaching God’s word, the word of God through Christ is confirmed to us.  Christ said we’d suffer on his account.

We do.  Look at the issues that set conservative Christians apart from the secular world. Read the rest of this entry

Beatitudes, part 7: Blessed are the Peacemakers

The Beatitudes exemplify virtues that God deems worthwhile.  As can be expected, these are not virtues that the world would identify as virtuous.

The first four Beatitudes are felt needs:  poor in spirit, mourning, meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

The next three are states of being:  merciful, pure in heart, and the peacemakers.  The merciful are granted mercy, the pure in heart see God, but the peacemakers are called sons of God.

Paul wrote to the Romans that the kingdom of God isn’t about rules and trifles.  It’s about peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  “Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.  So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom 14:18-19).  In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul instructs believers to “[a]im for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor 13:11).

God will be with you if you live in peace and comfort one another.  Paul instructs us “with humility of mind [to] regard one another as more important than yourselves . . .” (Phil 2:3).  Being a peacemaker is about living an others-centered existence.

The peacemaker draws closer to God with each step, and James tells us that if we draw near to God he will also draw nearer to us (Jms 4:8).

This isn’t to say that we should let ourselves get stepped on, kicked and beaten.  Christian nations shouldn’t disarm themselves unilaterally.  After all, the apostle Paul qualifies that we should live at peace as much as it depends on us (Rom 12:18).  Let’s not go looking for fights, and let’s forgive as often as we are wronged (Mt 18:22).  Then we will truly be children of God.

Beatitudes, part 6: Blessed are the Pure in Heart

Examining the Beatitudes, we see a stark contrast with what God deems a virtue and what society deems a virtue.  To God, the poor, the mourning, the meek, the hungry, and the merciful are blessed.  Each will receive a portion that makes up for the deficiency: the poor inherit the kingdom of heaven, the mourning are comforted, the meek inherit the earth, the hungry are satisfied, and the merciful are shown mercy.

Compare with Western society, where people should be happy and wealthy, while the meek and merciful don’t climb the corporate ladder.

But the pure of heart (Mt 5:8) have it the worst.  Try standing for the Christian value of your choice and see how far it gets you.  Stand for traditional marriage, be called a homophobe.  Stand for pro-life and watch as someone starts a blog where your head is photoshopped onto a porn star in the midst of some humiliating sex act.  Stand for Jesus as the only way to God and be called an arrogant SOB who thinks people of all other religions are scum, fit only to be eliminated.  Watch as people point and laugh at a father-daughter prom where the daughter makes a promise to stay a virgin until marriage.

Why are traditional Christian values so maligned in pop culture?

Paul answered that for us when he wrote that “to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled” (Tts 1:15).  He told the Ephesians, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph 4:18).

The cure?  See life united in faith to God:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.  And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ez 36:25-27)

How can we be “pure of heart?”

It’s actually simple.  First, accept Christ and become a new creation (2 Cor 5:17).  Then, with his Spirit inside you, live true to your new self.  Psalm 51:6 says that God desires “truth in the innermost being.”  That’s as good as any description I’ve ever heard of integrity — that the show you put on to everyone actually reflects what is inside.  Those who act in a way that doesn’t jive with their inner selves receive some very strong condemnations from Christ in Matthew 23:25-28.

Expect persecution when living by God’s standards.  If you uphold that which God holds dear, the world deems you a fundamentalist wacko; a homophobic, misogynistic bigot who beats his children before using time-outs.

Let them think all of those untrue things.  Our reward is great:  the pure of heart will see God.

Beatitudes, part 5: Blessed are the Merciful

The first four Beatitudes identify felt needs as virtues:  the poor, the mourning, the meek, and the hungry.  The next three identify states of character as virtues.

The first is mercy; the merciful will receive mercy.

Some people think that mercy is not meting out a deserved punishment.  Not so.  Mercy is more akin to gratitude.  “Lord, have mercy,” is better understood as “Lord, continue to be gracious with us.”  That’s why the KJV renders “mercy” as “loving-kindness.”

This has to do with the honor-shame society of the Bible and the satisfaction of personal debts.  Taking the high road with people who owe you something is a virtue that God loves (see Mt 6:15-15; Mk 11:25; Lk 6:35; Eph 4:32).

Jesus told the story of a wealthy landowner who demanded payment of a huge debt from one of his servants (see Mt 18:23-35).  The servant didn’t have it, so the landowner forgave the debt completely.  Later, that same servant demanded payment of a far smaller debt from a fellow servant.  When the second servant couldn’t comply, the first had him thrown into prison.  The landowner then ordered the first service imprisoned.  Jesus said that if we do not forgive the debts of others, then God will not forgive the one we have with him.

Forgiving others, having mercy on the undeserving are all rooted in God’s character.  The real idea of Christianity is to transform us, no to leave us to enjoy the pleasures of this world.  We are adopted as sons of God, and he does so to mold us into the image of his Son.  Therefore, having mercy on others as God has had mercy on us is a sign of that transformation.

Beatitudes, part 4: Blessed are Those Who Hunger & Thirst

The virtues celebrated in the Beatitudes are foreign to the culture of the United States, which is typically one of excess and materialism.  It is strange to think that the poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom of heaven, the mourning will be comforted, and the meek shall inherit the earth.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled (Mt 5:6).

Look to the Old Testament prophet Amos for a precursor:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.  They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.

“In that day the lovely virgins and the young men shall faint for thirst.  Those who swear by the Guilt of Samaria, and say, ‘As your god lives, O Dan,’ and, ‘As the Way of Beersheba lives,’ they shall fall, and never rise again.” (Amos 8:11-14)

God is promising to send a time when his word is going to be scarce.  People will want to hear a word from him, but nothing will be found.  And people who live by false gods (or false versions of God) will be destroyed never to rise again.

People try to find fulfillment in the false gods they make for themselves all the time.  Whether that god be money or fame or power, or searching for all of the answers to the Big Questions in nature itself (atheism), these gods ultimately never satisfy the thirst.

Looking at Psalm 63, we can see what happens to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness from the One True God:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.  Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.  So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.  My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.  (Ps 63:1-8)

Those who seek after God in earnest always find him, and always find fulfillment in him.  C.S. Lewis once wisely stated that God cannot grant joy apart from himself, as there is no such thing.

Beatitudes, part 3: Blessed are the Meek

The Beatitudes celebrate as virtues that which we would not necessarily consider virtues.  The poor in spirit inherit heaven.  The mourning will be comforted.

The meek shall inherit the earth (Mt 5:5).

What is “meek?”  It is the Greek word πραυσ, which gives us a sense of humility, teachability, and gentleness.  According to the NET Bible:

Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting. In the OT, the meek are those wholly relying on God rather than their own strength to defend them against injustice. Thus, meekness toward evil people means knowing God is permitting the injuries they inflict, that He is using them to purify His elect, and that He will deliver His elect in His time. (Isa 41:17, Lu 18:1-8)

The NET Bible tells us what πραυσ is not:

Gentleness or meekness is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest. It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation. The gentle person is not occupied with self at all. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the human will. (Ga 5:23)

Some may consider this uncritical obedience to a tyrant, but that isn’t it at all.  It’s better to think of this as surrender to a perfectly good higher power — and the one who so surrenders already accepts that God is perfectly good.

The existence of God is self-evident from nature (see Rom 1), but the goodness of God is not.  God’s eternal power and divine nature are clearly perceived in that which is made; however, it takes a special revelation (the Bible) to reveal the perfect goodness of God.  This means that the meek person that has surrendered his will to God’s own has already done the investigation necessary to conclude that God is worth surrendering to.

This Beatitude also calls to mind many verses of inheritance (Ps 37:9, 11, 22, 29, 34; Is 60:21), but none are as obviously tied to this verse as Psalm 25.  Let’s take a snip:

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.  He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.  All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.  Who is the man who fears the Lord?  Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.  His soul shall abide in well-being, and his offspring shall inherit the land. (Ps 25:8-13)

Notice the theme of surrendering, in humility, to one who is perfectly good and will unerringly guide the sinner on the correct path.  This is the sort of person who will inherit the earth, the one who recognizes his separation from God and then depends on God for his righteousness rather than his own empty works.