Category Archives: Truth

Free Will

Free will is a topic over which there has been much debate both in Christian and non-Christian spheres. The one side claims free will means we are free to choose any or all options. If I want to be saved (in Christian terms), I choose to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. If I am male but want to be female (or any of the other genders), I choose it. Reasonably speaking, this is at the heart of many cultural debates today. I have read and heard many times that because I am white, I am racist. This argument speaks against free will or the choice to be racist. If I have no choice but to be racist, then how can I be culpable for racism? This kind of argument is used by the gender issue. “I am a female in a male body. I did not choose this. It is who I am.” Thus, we are expected to accept the argument and those who claim to be some other gender. They can’t help it. They cannot, therefore, be culpable on a moral level.

Such reasoning is self-contradictory. If it is true in one case, then it must be true in every case. And in that case, why are people losing jobs and, moreover, apparently racist comments (this is a wholly different topic)? Obviously, they can’t help it. To hold someone culpable, the activity they become involved with must be a free choice. The extreme application of the argument against free choice is fatalism. Think of Doris Day singing, “Que sera, sera.” The argument against fatalism is that no one can truly live that way. There are no choices, only the illusion of choices. There is no right or wrong because what will be will be. The consequence? There is no culpability. In that case, we might as well disband the police (and military, border patrol, etc.).

We know this cannot be reasonable because we all make choices, and there are predictable consequences to our choices. If I choose to skip school, I will not be able to use my intelligence. Some might say this is where about half of our country is. If I don’t have such a choice, then welfare programs make sense because I can’t get a job. But do they? Why would we choose to give our money away when there is no choice. Even to choose to create such programs. This becomes survival of the fittest, which makes many scientists and teachers very happy. They would have evidence of evolution.

No. To make me accountable for racism, you must identify the action that is racist and demonstrate that I had a choice in my action. I may not be thoughtful or reflective about my choice. I still have the power to not do racist things. Thoughts don’t count unless they are acted upon. No one can read my mind, and only I can judge my thoughts. Unfortunately, humankind wants it both ways. You can judge my thoughts, but I cannot judge yours. And now, the real punch to free will. There is nothing that scientifically explains gender beyond two: male and female. If I say I am a homosexual, it can only be a choice of my free will. The choice may have been influenced by many things, but in the end, it is still a choice. Let me be clear. I believe that those who claim to be other genders or homosexual still deserve respect due to every human being. However, I do not need to approve of forced programs telling me that this is morally good. This especially goes for our children.

Free will is something we all have and human beings. Yet, how free is our free will? If I am offered a slice of cherry pie or a slice of apple pie, I will always choose cherry. Why? I don’t know. The choice is free, but at the same time not absolutely free. The choice I make is freely made. I can choose the apple. However, my choice is influenced by something within me that prefers cherry over apple (or anything over pumpkin). What is that thing? I believe it is something tied to my personality, which, together with many of such things, makes me a unique human being. I also believe that my personality, my personhood has a source which is the Creator.

Free will has limitations because we are created beings, finite in all aspects of our being. We cannot have unlimited choices because we are not unlimited. This brings me to a man named Pelagius. Pelagius lived during the fourth and fifth centuries when the church had developed significantly but was still young. Pelagius was a diligent scholar and committed to the Christian faith. As such, he soon realized that many Christians were not living as the Bible told us to live. Faithful as he was, he sought the reason for this and concluded that people were choosing to live the way they did. The reasonable answer to his conclusion is to teach people that they had the ability to live holy lives if only they would choose to do so. Pelagius became know for his asceticism when he lived in Rome. No one is a true teacher if they do not live the life.

There was another devout Christian man who lived in North Africa. His name is Augustine. You may have heard him called Saint Augustine, though you have never heard of Saint Pelagius. Through the efforts of Augustine, Pelagius, and his teaching called Pelagianism, were declared heretical by the church in 418 A.D. (B.C.E.) and excommunicated. The fundamental disagreement was over the nature of free will and went all the way back to the Garden of Eden and the first sin (original sin). I will save you from what I consider to be a thrilling debate. But the conclusion is foundational to all debate over free will.

I remember that Jesus claimed that he did nothing of his own will but by the will of the Father. “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.’” (John 4:34, ESV) “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38, ESV) A part of that work is the call of the gospel.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16, ESV

The gospel is offered to everyone. Anyone who believes shall have eternal life. The offer, though, does not imply that I can choose to believe. So, John also wrote that the belief is not of our will.

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

John 1:12-13

So, we are all bound to the death of sin from our birth. There is no such thing as an innocent newborn child in terms of original sin. All human beings wrestle their entire lives with sin. We all do wrong, and we are culpable for the wrong that we do. Anyone who does not think racism is evil is a fool. Likewise, everyone who sees racism where there are no acts of racism is a fool. The name has changed over the years. Systemic racism. Institutional racism. Sadly, when one focuses on others’ perceived racism, they are blinded to their own racism. When we use epithets like homo or homophobe, we are focused on others. And to be honest, I’ve got too many of my own problems to get all tangled up in yours.

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-5

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Filed under Faith, Gospel, Truth

Welcome Home

Sunday I returned home from a vacation to California. It’s good to be home, so much so that I drove 15 hours with only two stops for gas. When I go away from family and church, even for the best reasons, I get to a point when I can’t wait to get home. “Home is where the heart is.” This is a common saying that sounds good. There is truth to that. However, getting to see my granddaughter’s first steps captured my heart. So did seeing long missed family and friends. Yet, I still was not home. I missed my wife and son. I missed my own bed and shower. I missed being able to go to the fridge for a midnight snack. I missed everything about being home.

There is a pull deep down inside that draws me toward home. It is the place we can be ourselves, let our hair down, so to speak. Home is a place where we feel secure, safe, and warm. When anything disrupts the home, we are cast into a sea of chaos and confusion. If anyone has experienced a burglary in their home, there is a sense of violation. Something is not right and it takes a long time to readjust equilibrium.

Once, early in our marriage, my wife and I came home after dark and found the front door open. We called the police to enter the house first. Yes, we were scared! Everything was fine and I gained a new appreciation for the women and men who serve and protect. The best I could guess is that I did not close the door completely. I went from afraid to the fool quickly. I also decided I would rather be the fool than afraid.

In most of our cities today, you can barely drive anywhere without encountering many who are homeless. I know there are many reasons for this situation and I don’t want to try to analyze them now. Instead, I feel the sense of fear that comes over me when I try to put myself in their place. Longing for home can lead to methods of dulling the senses. I can understand the pain one would want to cover over with alcohol or drugs. The cycle that begins often tends toward death, unless there is some form of intervention. This is the nature of sin.

Our culture tosses around words without consideration of their meaning. Sin is a desert item on a menu or a quart of Rocky Road ice cream in the freezer. Evil is saved for people who see things differently or for political parties. These words deserve more than that.

Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man? The steadfast love of God endures all the day. Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.

Psalm 52:1–4, ESV

There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin.

Psalm 38:3, ESV

We all make mistakes in our lives. Errors are common, but evil and sin are not in the same category. Neil Plantinga was one of my theology professors when I was in Seminary. He wrote an excellent book called Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin. The explanation for the book on Amazon reads, “This timely book retrieves an old awareness that has slipped and changed in recent decades. The awareness of sin used to be our shadow. Christians hated sin, feared it, fled from it–and grieved over it. But the shadow of sin has now dimmed in our consciousness. Even preachers, who once got visibly angry over a congregation’s sin, now speak of sin in a mumble.”

There is evil in this world and it wants to remain hidden or obscured. With every good lie there is some truth. Our sin is the result of the lies we believe. Deception rests within our hearts and it has since Eve and Adam ate from the forbidden tree in Eden. All of us are affected and sadly, all of us fail to fight for the Truth. The Truth is that Eden was created to be our home. Ever since we were banished from the garden, we have longed to return. It is our home. It is “the way it’s supposed to be.”

So, what do we do? We attempt to rationalize the evil we do because we know it is evil. We build lies upon the lie. And we fall farther from home, farther from the Truth. The Hebrew King David became our example. He saw the beautiful Bathsheba bathing on a roof top and lust rose up within him. Evil lied to him saying that as King, he could have anyone he pleased, so he had her brought to him and he laid with her in sin. Bathsheba’s husband was an important warrior in the palace and a confidant of David’s. The King’s righteousness stripped away the lie and made David aware of his sin. But this was not in a good way. David deceived himself again thinking he could cover things up so no one would ever know.

King David had Uriah assigned to the front lines in a military campaign hoping he would not return. When Uriah did not return, David had committed a worse sin: murder. David had fallen far from home. He added lie upon lie and fell farther. Most of the time, our compounding sins are more subtle even though just as evil. We continue to freefall until something or someone intervenes. (Please, I am NOT equating homelessness with sin. I am suggesting that the angst felt being far from home or hope is what we feel when we are far from God.)

Our home, our life is connected to God our Creator. Out side of Eden is being apart from God, or better, in the state of death, bound to our sin. There is an answer! There is a solution! There is hope!

A MASKIL OF DAVID. 

      Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, 
                whose sin is covered. 
      Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, 
                 and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 

      For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away 
                through my groaning all day long. 
      For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; 
                my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah 

      I acknowledged my sin to you, 
                and I did not cover my iniquity; 
      I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” 
                and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah 

      Therefore let everyone who is godly 
                offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; 
      surely in the rush of great waters, 
                they shall not reach him. 
      You are a hiding place for me; 
                you preserve me from trouble; 
                you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah 

      I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; 
                I will counsel you with my eye upon you. 
      Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, 
                which must be curbed with bit and bridle, 
                or it will not stay near you. 

      Many are the sorrows of the wicked, 
                but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD. 
      Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, 
                and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! 

Psalm 32, ESV

Glory to God in the Highest! Peace on earth, good will to those who please him. (My loose translation of Luke 2:14.) In other words, all of our desires, all of our longings drive us toward home. No human can be fulfilled with anything short of God, for whose glory we are created. Home is with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and there is only one way to get there. The path home is humble repentance. When we are at home with Christ, we can be anywhere. Yet home is our security, our protection, our salvation. That is because home is truth, righteousness, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and more. No matter our location, we can all come home.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:1–6, ESV

Hear these words. Heed these words. And, welcome home.

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Filed under Comfort, Faith, Gospel, Truth

A Church?

I confess. I did not watch the Superbowl. I was not tempted to watch the Superbowl. Generally speaking, I do not share the sentiments of the NFL , or most professional athletes, for that matter. I like the sports, but I do not like the pettiness of multimillionaires whining that they don’t get enough play time, make enough money, fail to fulfill their contractual obligations, and the quarterback doesn’t throw me the ball often enough. Its all a little bit phoney to me.

For instance, in football, a human being spots where the ball should be placed, sometimes from some distance away. Yet to determine if it is a first down, sometimes they have to measure to a pole connected to a ten yard chain which was also placed by a human eyeing it to where the ball actually is. Moreover, if the nose of the football comes short of the pole by the smallest of margins, it is not a first down. For me, if your going to eyeball it, then do it, but don’t bring in some kind of measuring system that gives it some kind of objectivity.

This blog post is not about football or professional sports, per se. It is about something that happens because of the Superbowl. The increased importance given to the Superbowl over the past fifty-five years has given us another tradition, Superbowl commercials.

CBS opened the bidding for 30-second commercial spots for Super Bowl 55 at $5.6 million, which was the average cost of the same length advertisement for last year’s game.

https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nfl/news/super-bowl-commercials-cost-2021/o496m61j4lkn19kxoygv9690a

These commercials are often humorous. They try to be more catchy than normal ones. However, there is a trend that became more the norm than not beginning just a couple of months ago. Commercials right now try to awaken our senses to the need for social justice. Some people have made a joke out of this tendency trying to guess what product is being sold by what is going on in the commercial. Yes, you guessed it, they often fail.

Social justice is an emphasis that will be with us for a long time. My personal problem with those trying to convince me that being white male makes me among the lowest lifeforms on the planet is that by doing so, they perpetuate the same kind of social injustice they are complaining about. All of this is grossly unbiblical. Then again, what does contemporary social justice have to do with the Bible? For instance, Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1, ESV) What does this look and feel like?

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

John 8:3–7, ESV

I am not suggesting that any and all judgments are not to be made. What I do think is that we have no right to judge a human’s soul. Nor do we have the right to harm or kill another human outside of the government acting in accordance with true justice.

Therefore, I submit that modern cries for social justice are from those who should not cast stones because of their own sins. If everyone would observe this principle, there would be room to openly discuss the wrongs and injustices in society and find just answers to deal with them. Our tact now is that those who scream the loudest and the longest get laws passed in their favor. Such laws are often of themselves unjust.

With all of that said, here is my complaint about one Superbowl ad that aired Sunday that baffled me. It is the one where Bruce Springsteen talks about a small church in the center of America (the lower 48). The commercial is a play on our Americanism in an attempt to draw us together. It even ends with the word Re-united States. Why a call for unity? Why now? The clear implication is that now the evil Trump has been ousted, we can re-united and move forward as one nation (under God?). I cry foul. Hypocrisy. Manipulation. And I say that this ad, along with many of the pleas we hear today are not for unity but for uniformity.

Start with this. Why has there been such turmoil for the past four years? Because the Democratic Party acted like a spoiled brat and blocked anything the President tried to accomplish. They tried to void the first amendment right of free speech. They whined that when Trump was elected, the votes were in accurate and the election was stolen. They created a phoney scandal to impeach the President. They supported rioting, violence, and twisted facts into damnable falsehoods. Now that we have a new President, Trumps similar claims are ridiculed and discounted. One news reported did everything he could, badgering his guest Rand Paul into saying there was no fraud in the election.

Paul neither confirmed not denied whether or not there was actual fraud. What he did seek was the right for investigations to take place. The news caster was incensed. Even the courts have ruled there was no fraud he claimed. Paul again tried to bring rationality to the discussion pointing out that the courts refused to hear the cases stating those who brought the suits had no standing. That is far different that proving there was no fraud.

Do I think there was fraud? I personally believe that there is a good chance of fraud in every election since they are conducted by sinners on both sides of the aisle. But again, this is not my point. I want to know how people who saw no problem with defacing church properties, pulling down statues of Christ, and as a mob objecting to everything Christian as racist, can all of a sudden turn to the church as an icon for unifying the currently diametrically opposed sides? Bruce Springsteen can use the most calm and quiet tone in reading his script, but how many times has he been to church in his life? Better yet, has he tried to live a life guided by Jesus Christ and his commands? And what about the others?

How many members of our Federal government regularly attend church? How many take guidance from the Bible? How many seek to have a relationship with godly pastors? I’ll let you answer. As for me, I have a hard time accepting anyone who claims to be a Christian as just and devout who murders unborn babies, who let men play in women’s sports because they feel feminine, or who unjustly enrich themselves. Pastor, church member, non-church member, social justice warrior, whoever, look to the log in your own eye before you try to take the spec out of someone else’s.

The principles of the Constitution of the United States lie squarely upon that which is proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. Free speech is expected to be reasoned speech. Free exercise of religion is expected to be respectful of others who practice a different religion. Freedom of the Press expects that those who report the news report all of the significant facts truthfully without bias. America rests on law that protects everyone’s rights as bestowed by their Creator.

None of what I have written makes any difference for my decision to show the office of President with respect. It makes no difference whether I agree or disagree. I am legally allowed to publish both. However, those who govern are God’s appointed minister’s, and rebelling there (apart from biblical exceptions) is counted as rebellion against God. (Romans 13) But, please do not use the name of Christ or the image of his church as an icon for unity when you are not interested in true unity under Christ Jesus. After all, the commercial (for Jeep, by the way) discounts Catholic, Orthodox, Judaism, Islam, and any other religion not old country church. How unifying is that?

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Filed under Gospel, Love, Racism, Truth, World View

Who Are You?

But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?”” (Acts 19:15, ESV)

The answer to the question is of great importance today. Why? Because we are being told that we can be anyone we want to be. We can choose who we are. Unless, that is, we want to defend our choice. Then we can claim we were “born” that way. Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born again, but I don’t think he meant that we can choose to be reborn as whatever we want.

Genetic testing has become very popular. You send off a sample and a chunk of change to some lab that will send back to you how much of what area of the world you are from. I have loved watching the You Tube videos of people trembling as they open their results and their sudden dejection in discovering they are primarily European. People want to be African, Hispanic, Asian, anything other than white. White is the new group against which Americans hate. After all, it was whites who enslaved blacks. It was whites who formed America as a racist nation. It is whites who have all the advantages today.

I am white. I am not ashamed of being white. I don’t need a genetic test to prove it. My mother’s parents were born of Norwegian immigrants. After taking a trip to Norway in 2000, I have become rather pleased at this part of my heritage. My father’s parents were born of a long line of English that arrived in America before it was America. I’m happy about that too because my family participated in the American Revolution fighting for liberty. Whether or not any of my relations were involved in the purchase or use of slaves may be a part of my history, but it is not a part of who I am. It is the same about those whose name I bear who courageously fought to form an Independent nation. If I have any courage, it is not something genetically passed to me.

However, because I am white, I am naturally the object of racist oppression. I doubt I need to offer evidence for this because it is freely accessible on the internet, in universities, in news reporting, on television, in professional sports; this prejudicial mantra is everywhere in America. Why, even our Vice President, who is Jamaican/white and Indian claims she is black. One of the candidates for President claimed to be Native American when she was nothing of the sort. And recently, on her AppleTV program, Oprah demonstratively said that if you have any white blood at all, you have an advantage over everyone else. I guess Kamala had an advantage?

Race is not the only place people try to claim what they are not because they are ashamed of who they are. Gender is another. Bruce Jenner decided he was Katlin because he felt that way. He took the ultimate rout undergoing surgery to make his dreams come true. Yet they didn’t. Why is it that genetics matter so much with race but not at all with gender? My education taught me that science was objectively based on controlled experiments consistently producing the same results. Science could be trusted. Weeeelllll – not really. The scientific method can only confirm male and female genders. It cannot confirm any deviation from these two options. That is because there is not other option. Everything passed off today as LGBTQ+ falls under the realm of behavior, not identity. (I know that this is not popular to say, but facts can’t be manipulated in a universe of Truth).

Same sex (meaning gender) marriage is a cultural acceptance of a deviant lifestyle. To make such things culturally good has only two purposes. First, it allows people to do whatever they want and second, it allows them to feel good about it. I have laughed and cried over those who call others who oppose this behavior as haters, Nazis, and Fascists. Then they apply fascist tactics to force them to comply with the new morality. Just ask the baker who was not allowed to practice free enterprise and choice when baking wedding cakes.

Fascism (/ˈfæʃɪzəm/) is a form of far-rightauthoritarianultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition and strong regimentation of society and of the economy which came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe.

https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Fascism

…a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fascism

The point in all of this is that who you are is not who you choose to be. It is who you are, and no one can claim superiority or inferiority because of it. However, who you are has become confused with what you believe and what you do.

Acts 19 presents the truth. Imposters attempted to advance their reputations and their pockets by attempting an exorcism in the name of “Jesus who Paul proclaims”. There is irony in the fact that it is an evil spirit who calls them out on their charade. “But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?”” The exorcists wanted to be something they weren’t. What they missed is that not even Paul claimed any special power. “And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul,” (Acts 19:11, ESV). Paul was not performing miracles, God was. Paul knew who he was, a vessel used by God for the establishment and furtherance of the Kingdom of Christ.

What you do comes from what you believe. Despite what the world says, there are only two possible belief systems, faith in Jesus Christ or faith in yourself. The latter, by the way, is what John called anti-Christ. Right now, there are those who object to any white legitimacy and every effort is to gain advantage, power, and control over them. This is racism. And it is the same way many deny Christ. They will do anything to present Christianity as illegitimate, a false religion needing to be expunged from society.

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.

1 John 2:18, ESV

Many antichrists had already come in St. John’s lifetime. Many exist today. What a shame when so many people are looking for one individual to call antichrist as a prelude to the end of the world. The end of the world has come. The world that passed away was the world of the Old Covenant. It was replaced with the New Covenant (see Jerimiah 31). The new world is the Kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem. “He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”” (Matthew 13:33, ESV) The Kingdom is being worked by God throughout the world.

Who are you? An enemy of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? or a child of the most high who is blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1)? Remember, even the demons and evil spirits know.

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,  
     the world and those who dwell therein,  
for he has founded it upon the seas  
     and established it upon the rivers.  
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?  
     And who shall stand in his holy place?  
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,  
     who does not lift up his soul to what is false  
     and does not swear deceitfully.  
He will receive blessing from the Lord  
     and righteousness from the God of his salvation.  
Such is the generation of those who seek him,  
     who seek the face of the God of Jacob. 
                                                                         (Psalm 24:1–6, ESV) 
 

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Filed under Faith, Hate, Humanism, Racism, Truth

Narrative

The idea of narrative has become a central focus in politics, social justice, education, and opponents to changing the narrative. What exactly is narrative all about?

NAR´RATIVE, a. [Fr. narratif.] Relating the particulars of an event or transaction; giving a particular or continued account.

Noah Webster, Noah Webster’s first edition of An American dictionary of the English language., 2006.

Narrative relates to story telling. There is a fairly recent school of theology called Narrative Theology. In essence, narrative theologians want to focus on the meaning of the story and not on the particulars. Another way of putting it is, narrative theology does not believe that propositions, principles, or laws should not be deduced from the text. The story of Scripture is to teach us how to have a relationship with God.

Now, there some consequences to changing to a narrative hermeneutic. First is the loss of propositional reasoning and logic, especially in terms of God. It is not so much that God planned to create and then spoke creation. The story of creation is to teach us about living within the creation, living with one another, and living with God. Second, narrative theology has opened the door to individual interpretations of biblical material. There is no absolute truth, only what this means to me. Traditional Bible studies have shifted from discerning what the Word says and how I feel about the text. Much of what is called Spirituality today is a result of this approach. Third, the Word of God ceases to be positive Truth, but all metaphor. If the Bible is narrative, then so is theology, church, and basically traditional Christianity.

The kingdom is explained in metaphors, similes, images, and pictures. It is impossible to put all the images into one simple, rational definition for a dictionary. You can’s codify these descriptions or contain them in a neat box. Jesus’s words point, open, and suggest rather than conclude and define. This idea of the kingdom of God is filled with imprecision that can’t be pinned down; it invites us to risk entering a world we may not be able to control or manipulate for our own needs (like going through the wardrobe into Narnia). This may be frustrating; it may create consternation in those demanding precision; but it invites us to risk having our imaginations invaded by the God who is endlessly elusive. … Scripture does not so much define reality as invite us onto a journey in which we discover the world God is creating. … Entering the missional waters is not about strategies or models; it is about working with the currents that shape our imagination of what God is doing in the world.

Roxburgh, Alan, and Boren, Scott; Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One; Baker Books, Grand Rapids,, 2009; pp. 38-39.

The above quote is typical of the movement in theology in the 21st century. Traditional interpretation is characterized as simple, uninviting, pinning down God, and manipulative for our own needs. The narrative has already changed because every theologian from antiquity forward has been wrong. In 2015, Tod Bolsinger published a book titled, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territories. Here is how Amazon describes the book (mostly taken from the back cover):

Explorers Lewis and Clark had to adapt. While they had prepared to find a waterway to the Pacific Ocean, instead they found themselves in the Rocky Mountains. You too may feel that you are leading in a cultural context you were not expecting. You may even feel that your training holds you back more often than it carries you along. Drawing from his extensive experience as a pastor and consultant, Tod Bolsinger brings decades of expertise in guiding churches and organizations through uncharted territory. He offers a combination of illuminating insights and practical tools to help you reimagine what effective leadership looks like in our rapidly changing world. If you’re going to scale the mountains of ministry, you need to leave behind canoes and find new navigational tools. Reading this book will set you on the right course to lead with confidence and courage.

https://www.amazon.com/Canoeing-Mountains-Christian-Leadership-Uncharted/dp/0830841261

I can barely take missional church language anymore. Narrative has destroyed Truth and reason. How many Presbyterian Churches or Denominations still hold the Westminster standards in high regard. They are in our Constitutional Book of Confessions, but few members have studied them or read them. They aren’t narrative. Of what use is the Heidelberg Catechism or the Belgic Confession if no one teaches them or preaches them any more? It’s ok, though. We don’t need such old, dusty books because we are climbing the mountains without a map and we don’t really know what we get where we are going because we don’t know!

Changing the narrative is how the church has been able to change historic church doctrine. God didn’t really mean homosexuality is an abomination. God loves everyone, and don’t even try to define what that means. God didn’t really become human and the death and resurrection of Christ are just stories. When narrative theology dominates, there is no longer any real meaning to anything. Just go with the flow. It’s ok because we’ll get wherever it is we are going.

When God fails to be the ground of all meaning, there is no ground for any meaning. Lack of meaning in the world results in humans creating their own meaning and where has that gotten us? The world needs a specific, identifiable God. Without him, all we have left are millions of people trying to be god. Are we surprised that our national history is being erased? We can no longer rejoice in the wisdom of the Declaration of Independence because some “god” wrote the “1619 Project,” and it is no longer about facts. It is about the trajectory of America according to “The Fight Over the 1619 Project Is Not About the Facts.”

I remember when the comment, “Don’t confuse me with the facts,” was part of a comedy routine. No longer. We must forget the past and look to the future. And because we are existentialists (actually little gods), we can make it into anything we want it to be. Since there is no absolute God with absolute morality, we can lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, force whoever we want to come out on top and get our way. Don’t worry about some judgment of God after you die; it is only a metaphorical narrative.

So, what do we do? Jump into the river and flow? How can we possibly fight the current political power that is not based upon any facts? The only way Christians are called to respond and called to live. Die loving our enemy. However, the love we are called to is not the romantic ethereal love that makes everyone feel good. We are called to the kind of love any of us would naturally display when we see our three-year-old going into a busy street. Grab them and bring them back.

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

Jude 20–23, ESV

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…

Ephesians 6:10–18, ESV

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The Law of Laws, part 10 of 10

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Exodus 20:17, ESV

Webster defines the word covet:

1: to wish for earnestly 〈covet an award〉

2: to desire (what belongs to another) inordinately or culpably verb intransitive: to feel inordinate desire for what belongs to another

Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary., 2003.

So, the first thing to note concerning the word covet is that it can be a good sense or it can be in an evil sense. In the Creation story we see it in both uses. When Man is placed in the garden, God’s work is described, “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:9, ESV) The Hebrew word translated covet in the tenth commandment is here translated “pleasant.” The addition of “good for food” makes us aware that the “pleasant” creation of vegetation is to be desired, even strongly desired.

However, once the first couple are in the garden, they are instructed not to eat of a certain tree. Yet, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6, ESV) Here, the Hebrew word is translated “to be desired.” The problem is, how did Eve know that the tree would make one wise? Only by listening to the chief of liars, the serpent. And here is the conflict. Eve was told she should desire every other plant and tree. But God said not to eat of this one. Who was right, God or the serpent?

Before we answer too quickly, I present this dilemma to illustrate the difference between good coveting and evil coveting. By listening to the devil, Eve began to desire the forbidden fruit. This desire became so powerful that it drove her into action. She ate the fruit ignoring what God had said. If anyone thinks choosing to listen to any voice opposed to God is good, then they are in serious trouble. Someone may say, “But just listening is not really bad.” It is, though, because listening to falsehood plants a seed of desire in one’s heart that will eventually grow into action. So, God commands us to not covet, and he lists a number of things to not desire: anything that belongs to your neighbor.

We may first note that the forbidden fruit of coveting is property. Everyone has a right to their own property. (Do not be confused in regard to a man’s wife. It is not the woman per se that is property but the love and devotion which was vowed to him in marriage.) Unfortunately, the American culture is deeply rooted in coveting. You may not end up actually stealing from your neighbor, but to “keep up with the Jones'” is to covet a lifestyle based not in what is good, but what is mere appearance. The result is often serious indebtedness from which many cannot recover. Yet we approve of this behavior by giving the person in debt and easy out with bankruptcy.

Now, some may think that this is the fault of Capitalism. I think the fault lies within our sin nature, thanks to Adam and Eve. Socialism is the system based on covetousness and envy. No matter how it is presented, the root of socialism is that it is wrong for people to have too much property because then those who are poor will have less. This, then, is second. The desire to have because others have is erroneous thinking. That some people are extremely wealthy and others are not is not the economic system, but only he envious desire to be like the rich. However, it is far more than that because the desire mutates into thinking that says, “If I can’t have what you have, they you can’t have it either.” This results in theft and harm done to your neighbor.

This is exactly the same as our representative parents faced in the garden. If God has it, so should I. A Socialist economy has failed wherever it has been implemented. So why do politicians play the envy card so often? Because if they say it long enough and loud enough, people will begin to believe it. When people believe enough, they elect and re-elect people to office. These elected officials work hard to gain control over you and me. An example? Under the guise of helping the poor, they decide to redefine healthcare. Now, in principle, no one should be turned away from the care they need because they don’t have the money to pay the bill. Everyone must have the same access to healthcare. So now, the government controls what healthcare costs and who can receive what care.

Third is that Socialism is founded on a wrong view of wealth in the world. The presupposition is that there is only so much wealth in the world and everyone deserves equal access to that wealth. On the face of it, such an idea seems wrong. How can it be that there is more wealth in America today than there was 100 years ago? In contrast, a free market allows anyone access to wealth and the world will not run out of it. The issue comes when the conditions to gaining wealth in a free market are more stringent than in Socialism. To get rich takes diligence over sloth, work over sitting around in a city park spending the free money that is handed out on liquor, Cigarettes, and drugs.

I do not deny that there are people who have become trapped in the endless cycle of addiction, mental illness, physical limitations, and more. All of these people and more need help, but that is where charity (not charities) comes in. How can real charity be done when one third or more of your income is taken by the government and redistributed to the “needy” without accountability? Giving money is not charity. Giving life is, and that can only be accomplished through building authentic relationships with others. The good Samaritan knew that there was no government program that would take care of the wounded stranger. He knew that he had to act. Nobody forced him into it. And the money the Samaritan used to care for the man was not watered down by government administrative costs, corruption, or just plain waste. All that he gave was useful and effective.

As I mentioned earlier, power and control are the name of the game. The government forces control over you by claiming your property for “the common good.” The government wants control over how much you earn and how much they take from what you earn. The government lays claim to all of your property, all in the name of “the common good.” How does the government create a populace willing to accept this illegitimate right of theirs? Covetousness.

Covet that which is good. What is good? There is only One, Jesus Christ, the Word of God. Covet a righteous relationship with him.

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The Law of laws, part 8 of 10

“You shall not steal.

(Exodus 20:15, ESV)

If you think about it, theft of some sort is involved in each of the other nine commandments.

  • You shall have no other gods before me. – Theft of God’s place as the only God.
  • You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God… – Theft of God’s rightful worship.
  • You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. – Theft of God’s name (identity, character, nature).
  • Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. – Theft of God’s creation and his rule over it.
  • Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. – Theft of the respect due to those whom God has given authority over you.
  • You shall not murder. – Theft of life.
  • You shall not commit adultery. – Theft of one’s present or future spouse.
  • You shall not steal. – Theft.
  • You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. – Theft of one’s reputation.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s. – Theft in the heart.

Granted, this is a broad stroke. Yet it does place theft as greater than simply not swiping pencils from work. Stealing is for everyone a difficult sin to break. At work, without even realizing it, we steal our employer’s time with irrelevant conversations that do not enhance our productivity. Maybe you think that is not theft. Instead, it is enhancing the work environement so production may improve with improved moral. Rationalizations like this infect every sphere of our lives. Moral is not about feeling good about where you are and who you are with. Moral in the workforce resutls from “six days you shall labor.” It comes from “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:17.)

Small rationalizations lead to larger ones. In our country we rationalize killing human beings because the “right to choose” is greater than the gift of God in procreation. We rationalize free and uncommitted sex because our fleshly desires are greater than God’s created order. We irrationally rationalize at the end of our public prayer when we say, “May the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon us and give us peace, peace in our families, peace across this land, and dare I ask, o Lord, peace even in this chamber. We ask it in the name of the monotheistic God, Brahma, and ‘God’ known by many names by many different faiths. Amen and awoman.” (see here)

Sorry to characterize this prayer with words I normally don’t like to use, but, it was foolish and stupid. The government of the House of Representatives allowed this man to publicly denounce God and blaspheme his name calling him the “monotheistic God, Brahma, and ‘God’ known by many names and many different faiths.” Yes, the is one God. No, he is not Brahma. No, he is not known by many names and many different faiths. The one true God is YHWH. He gave Moses his name to use so that being sent, he was sent with the authority of YHWH. The battle between Moses and Pharaoh was not about the two of them. It was all out war whereby God ridiculed and humiliated the many gods of Egypt, because there is only ONE GOD, the maker of heaven and earth, and ruler of all that is.

Sorry for shouting. I became aware of the prayer’s ending from news outlets criticizing Representative Cleaver’s prayer ending with “Amen, and Awomen.” Ok, that was stupid too. As has been pointed out, the word Amen comes from the Latin? No. It comes from Hebrew:

אָמֵן (ʾāmēn). adv. verily, truly, amen. Used in statements of affirmation in which the speaker accepts the truth of a statement.

Aaron C. Fenlason, Lexham Theological Wordbook, 2014.

It was transliterated in other languages later. Latin came later in history than Hebrew. The issue, though, is not about making a word that has nothing to do with gender into a word that only has to do with gender. Words now do not have meaning. Words mean what we want them to mean when we want them to mean whatever we want them to mean. And if you found that last sentence to be confusing and hard to follow, welcome to America in 2021. You may also reconsider leaving your children in public school.

Theft of a word is embarrassing. Theft of the knowledge of God is damning. I do not really blame our politicians for this hubris. As a pastor, I have lay the blame at the doorstep of the Church. In our culture it is impossible not to hurt someone’s feelings. So we let people believe whatever makes them feel good, and Calling God “Brahma” must feel good. However, no one with any sense or education should be able to see that the God of the Hebrews would have nothing to do with some mythical creature who created Hinduism. I have been to a Hindu Temple and out of respect, I asked the doorkeeper if he objected to a Christian entering the temple. He told me that Hinduism accepts Christianity and that the two are not that different from each other. I wasn’t there to proselytize but to learn, so I let that one go.

Hindus may accept Christians, but only those Christians who are willing to deny their faith and the teaching of Scripture for the sake of getting along and having fellowship. Why has the Church stolen the authority of God’s Word? Words, sentences, paragraphs have been twisted and manipulated the very meaning of God. Culture may change but God does not. He created two genders designed for marriage and procreation. Why is this all of a sudden bad doctrine? Because we don’t want people to leave the church. Parents with openly homosexual children place their need to be loved over and above their call to love.

Many years ago, Keith Green was recorded preaching a sermon. He wanted to illustrate the calling of the Church to evangelize so he asked if anyone present would not stop their child from running onto a busy highway. His point has been lost over the decades. Today, we are telling our children to have fun playing and ignoring the danger to life. If we don’t care, who will?

We are sinners who love to steal. We are sinners who need to repent. There is only one God who is in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You cannot serve him and play with the devil too. The hope our world needs is not feeling better but turning to Christ Jesus. He is not Brahma, and he is not a god known by many names. He is God known to those who bow before his majesty, repent, and seek forgiveness offered through his sacrifice. He may have various names in the Scriptures, but none of them embrace the foolishness we have seen lately.

God, forgive us for trying to steal from you rather than to receive freely what you offer. Amen.

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God Help Us

Several events in the past week or so have brought these three words to my prayers more often than usual. Don’t get me wrong, when I don’t pray this, I am failing in my praying. It was Jesus who taught us to pray saying, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Sadly, Christians often say this prayer but refuse to go the next step.

Faith without works is dead. At least according to James. You might rightfully extend that to prayer without action is a waste of time. Yet we need the biblical action of the church in obedience to God’s Law more than ever. Our Constitution was grounded in it. The preachers in the pulpit preached it before and after the Revolution. The Church of Jesus Christ has an obligation to be politically involved and active.

Without apology, I believe that our obedience to Christ and the moral law God gave us, does not allow us to blindly speak of conscience over righteousness. The time to allow anyone, especially those in power and those who shape the thinking of the rest of us, to lie, cheat, steal, and kill in order to gain what they want must end. And the Church is the leaven in society that was designed to stand against such immorality. Unfortunately, the church seems perfectly willing to act the three monkeys neither seeing, speaking, nor hearing as long as they are left alone.

The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (my own denomination) chose to “remember Breonna Taylor with a vigil for justice.” Every human being should be saddened when another human loses her life. But to claim she was an innocent victim of over-zealous police use of force denies the facts and truth of the incident. Taylor’s boyfriend shot at the police first and in running away to hide used Breaonna as a shield. This is only one example of how the church in this age has bought the lie and thus brought darkness into the world.

I have served five churches during my ministry. In all but one I have received rebuke for becoming “political” in the pulpit. Why, then, is it acceptable to join the modern Social Justice movement and support such political activity? Moreover, what political positions are non-moral issues? Abortion? Same gender marriage? Homosexual behaviors? Denying God’s determined gender to claim another?

How about publishing “fake news” by either the left or the right. Or violating one’s oath to uphold the Constitution all the while violating it. One of the things that has become an interesting twist in the events of late has been the revelation of the principle “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone.” It is true that our sins will eventually find us out, but not to worry, we can simply deny them or ignore them.

The Church is the institution that has allowed the creation of today’s America. I say shame on us. Shame on me for not being a bolder pastor. Shame on our denominations for allowing the humanism of the world mold and shape us. Shame on us for not listening to our founding fathers and those of the past who warned of such apostasy. And shame on us for allowing politics become free of Christian oversight. It is not true what we are told, that there is an absolute separation of church and state.

The state exists by God’s grant. The state exists to keep order and make society free for the Church to manifest the Kingdom of God. The state is responsible to God. But how does God speak to the state? By those who proclaim the Word of God and those who obey it. We the people are the judge of the government and we should always be skeptical of the motives and manipulations of those who deny our right to do so.

…confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

James 5:16 (ESV)

Our first job as the Church is to pray. Prayer begins with confession. It seems to be that when we pray for one another in the humility of confession, we can no longer treat one another poorly. However, this speaks about relationships in Christ and not relationships outside of Christ. The world hates us because the world hates Christ. And anyone who thinks such hatred can be appeased simply by helping the poor, the oppressed, and the down-trodden, does not yet understand the world’s hatred of Christ. Are we to help the people living like the description above? ABSOLUTELY! But such help alone will not redeem them. Only Christ redeems, and who can believe if they do not hear, and who can hear if Christ is not preached?

James continues, though, for it is not enough to pray for forgiveness and for the spiritual health, growth, and relationship to Christ. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” I believe this is the prayer we must make for our world, our rulers, our nation, our enemies. Why? Because it is the prayer of a righteous person. Righteousness is obedience to God’s Law. Righteousness is obedience to the commands of Christ. And he commanded a lot more than handouts to the down and out.

Jesus told his disciples that their job was to make disciples. Discipleship in this context was to teach them to obey the commands of Christ. The Great Commandment extends to all Christians. Christian parents are to teach obedience to their children. Allowing children to grow up and make their own decision for Christ is like waiting children to grow up before they choose what food they want to eat. They will starve first.

The same holds true for Shepherds of Congregations. It is our job to teach the sheep to obey Christ. How can the sheep know what they need to know about Christ unless the Word is consistently preached? Saying that the Holy Spirit will lead you to the knowledge and obedience without the need of communal worship which includes the sacraments and the Word. God’s method is to use the Holy Spirit in conjunction with preaching in communal worship.

The key is confession and restoration to righteousness, then righteousness praying for the world, then the prayers of the righteous working by the power of the Holy Spirit through the arms, legs, bodies, and minds of the ones praying. Faith without works is dead. Prayer without action is useless. God can perform miracles and make wide-spread changes in the world. But looking at history, at least the history we have left, God usually does his work through human work.

God help us. Help us from ourselves. Help us from anti-Christianity. Help us to pray, stand, and work for the Kingdom that it may reign on this earth even as it does in heaven. If not, then let’s just go watch sports and movies on TV. God won’t help us do that.

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Three Goats

It has been reported that John Wayne once said life is hard, it’s even harder when you’re stupid. I can’t cite the quotation, so maybe he didn’t really say it, but he should have. Our entire system of education is based upon this general principle. I remember when I was young, everyone was supposed to go to college to get an education. Success in life was supposedly based on this ideal.

When I grew up and had children, the big push was to get your children into a good preschool because preschool was the first step toward educational success which meant going to college. I began to doubt things though, for I did go to college and graduated. I also credit the Christian college I attended as God’s way of directing me away from my career path toward his (it took many years beyond college to figure this out).

However, I did not go to an educationally intense preschool. In fact, I distinctly remember kindergarten was more about playing, painting, sometimes eating paste, and having a snack and a nap every day. All of this took place in half day trips to school. Kindergarten was when I was first introduced into the world of socialization with others my own age and entering those many painful years to follow of making and losing friends, trying to make it in the circle of “cool,” and being fairly consistently chosen last for sports.

With all of that as my rite of passage into education, I made it to college. In truth, I made it beyond college to graduate school, twice (or was it three times?). Looking back on it all, I would much rather go to institutions of upper education that work as there is much less pressure there. Nevertheless, I survived. And I learned one very important thing: most people who graduate with a college degree do not end up working in their original field of study.

In my day, computers were just becoming a thing. I college I had to pay someone to type my papers for a dollar a page. Within a few years, young women and men were attending college to train for fields in computer sciences that passed them by long before they graduated. In the end, though, I discovered that there are basically three principles by which anyone could get a job, keep the job, and succeed in the job. I taught them to my children as best as I could. They are:

  • Be willing to work hard no matter what you do.
  • Be honest in all that you do.
  • Expect to start at the bottom and work your way up.

Not to difficult and I have never seen anyone fail who followed these three rules. My grandfather taught me another which is to avoid the water cooler. For those who don’t understand real socialization beyond emails and texts, the water cooler was the place employees would gather to complain about their work, their boss, and their co-workers instead of honestly working hard. I confess that this last rule was probably one of the most difficult, but that is because my generation grew up without all of the modern conveniences that replace actual human contact. (I still can’t get over how easy it has been for people to buy into the oxymoron of “social distancing” as if that is even possible.)

My wife and I never required our children to go to college. We did not try to prevent them from doing so, but we pointed out that there are many honest and honorable professions in which one can serve God, his Kingdom, and the world without a college degree. I am thankful that all of my children are good, honest, hardworking citizens with or without college degrees.

Today, I am even more convinced that college is not necessary for success in the world. I am also convinced that the system of Universities in America which were very good at one time, are often a hindrance to those who seek a real education. I know that many of you will say, “Oh, that’s just your opinion.” Yes it is. Yet it is not why I believe it to be true. Here is my evidence:

  1. The Bible does not deny the potential value of any education. However, the highest priority placed on education in the Scriptures is the requirement of fathers teaching their children to know what God commands and to obey him in all things. When it comes to his Law, we are to know it well enough that it is “bound to our foreheads.” I consider this to mean what David wrote, “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee,” and “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light upon my path.”
  2. If the knowledge of the Scriptures is the primary focus of education, then I believe it follows that all education is subject to the Word of God. This has implications for those who suggest that the Bible has no place in public education and accreditation tends to force the removal of Biblical education. Maybe it is right that the Bible has no place in public schools, but then that becomes an argument that “public” education is no real education and should be abolished.
  3. If it is true that God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, then any education relating to anything must in someway reveal the true nature, sovereignty, and love of God. When we study mathematics we enter the organized reason of God. When we study the arts, we enter the creativity of God. When we study the sciences we enter the vast incomprehensibility of God. When we study history, we enter the providence of God. Furthermore, anytime we study any subject outside of the person of the Creator, Sustainor, and Redeemer of all things, we do violence to him and to his creation.
  4. Finally, can we really fail to take notice that much of the social upheaval today and the irrational fight against reason is being done by liberal college students who have not learned any real truth about the world, not given the tools to discover truth. Education should not be about what to think, it should be about how to think, how to listen, process, discern.

So what does any of this have to do with three goats. Well, they are not just any goats. They are the Three Billy Goats Gruff of the famous Norwegian tale ( yes, the story appears in many of the norther European countries but since I am Norwegian, I will blindly lay claim to the story.)

If you have not heard the story, or forgotten it, there are three Billy Goats Gruff: little BGG, middle BGG, and great big BGG. Crisis befalls them when they realize that they have eaten all the grass on the hillside upon which they live. The only grass left is in a meadow across a river. There is only one bridge across the river and that bridge is guarded by a troll. Bottom line is that the three BGG come up with a plan to get across the river with each one, beginning with the smallest, crossing the bridge by deceiving the troll that the next goat is bigger, fatter, and a better potential meal. When the biggest goat crosses the bridge, he simply butts the troll into the river, who we are told is never seen again.

Life is hard, and it’s even harder if you are stupid. I have searched the internet and asked the question of many, but no one has offered any real answer to my conundrum. Why didn’t the big goat just go first and solve the problem right away? By sending the other two expecting the troll to be more stupid than they are seems to me to be a huge risk. I have concluded that this is not really a good children’s story, though it is a fun one. But the point of the story appears to demonstrate that greed and gluttony are disastrous attitudes in the end, whereas I can’t get beyond an equally valid point that the goats did not use much in the way of reason to evaluate their plan.

Before you say that I am making much about nothing, the goats’ plan was one motivated by the same greed and gluttony we condemn in the troll. Granted that it is easier to judge the troll because he is ugly, smelly, boisterous, and mean. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that the goats are sneaky, deceitful, and willing to take unnecessary risks. None of the characteristics are laudable. The three goats made life harder only to demonstrate quite clearly their stupidity.

My point is that just because someone has a college or higher degree, they are not necessarily smarter than many in our world who do not have the same “proof” of education. My opinion now is ( and you can judge met now) that our country, states, cities, etc. are in a real mess, and part of this mess is because we have blindly accepted the principle that highly educated people know better than the rest of us. They may. I go to a doctor trusting that her education has prepared her to care for me. Yet there are plenty of dishonest, lazy doctors in the world with low morals and high self-interest. This can be said of every profession. What a shame that so many of us work so hard to live harder.

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Take Up Your Cross, part two

Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them. But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Acts 14:8-23 (ESV)

Paul and Barnabas travel from Iconium to Lystra. They are on a missionary journey preaching the good new of salvation in Jesus Christ. Up to this point, the opposition they have encountered has come from those Jews who are loyal to the teachings from Jerusalem. In Iconium, their difficulty from like Jews came to a point when Paul heard they were to be stoned. Wisdom sent them on their way before this could happen. Nevertheless, many other Jews believed along with many Hellenists.

When the two came to Lystra, they had the same kind of success proclaiming the gospel. The people of Lystra included many Greeks who had their own religions. At the end of this record by Luke, we find Paul was stoned by the manipulation of the traditional Jews and was left for dead. He an Barnabas moved on then made a reverse trip back to Antioch. We are told that during this journey, they re-entered each city and established the churches their by ordaining elders. Luke never forgets to keep his theme in mind: the growth of the Church of Christ.

Here in Lystra, Paul and Barnabas face a very different kind of problem which begins with the healing of a man born crippled. Paul sees the man, tells him to get up, and he does. That’s enough for the Greeks who became excited. To understand what is going on I must take you to the Roman poet Ovid who wrote Metamorphoses. It it he tells the story of Baucis and Philemon, an poor elderly couple living in a town in Phrygia (which was the region just west of Lycaonia in which Lystra sat.

The story goes that Zeus and his messenger Hermes descended Mount Olympus and disguised themselves as common peasants. (Ovid tells it better!) They come to a town and began inquiring for a place to stay and to eat. The townspeople were so wicked that every one turned these two peasants away. Everyone, that is, except this poor elderly couple who invited them into their humble cottage and fed them what they had. During the meal Baucis would repeatedly pour wine for the guests. When she noticed that the level of the wine in the pitcher never decreased, she and Philemon recognized they were in the presence of gods.

Zeus invites them to climb a mountain with he and Hermes but the couple are told that they cannot turn and look back until they reach the top. When they do, they discover the whole town had been destroyed with a flood. But their little cottage had become a golden palace.

This well-known story was surely hovering in the minds of the Greeks in Lystra when they saw a miracle that could only have been done by a god. They were right, of course, but they though of the wrong God. They cry out, “The gods have comedown to us in the likeness of men,” calling Paul Hermes and Barnabas Zeus. Their excitement was that they believed Zeus and Hermes had come down just like they had in their neighboring Phrygia. They were determined not to make the same dreadful mistake made there.

So, the priest in the temple of Zeus gathered bulls and garlands that the people might make sacrifices to these two magnificent gods. Now comes the “cross” part. How easy would it have been to get caught up in their popularity? They could live out their lives in luxury. On the other hand, what kind of fear might they have felt knowing they had to put a stop to the situation at probably get stoned by a disappointed and angry mob? How easy might it have been to simply sneak out a back way and never return?

Paul and Barnabas do not hesitate. No matter what the consequences, they will continue to preach the gospel of truth. Paul says to the crown gathered at the temple, “What in the world are you doing!? We are humans just like you. All we have done is proclaimed the good news that you can and should turn away from these vain things and turn to a living God. This God made you and in the past he allowed the nations to wander in darkness. Even then he left a witness in granting rain and good harvests.”

Paul is not having to think too mach about what to say for he knows the Scriptures intimately, “What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it.” (Habakkuk 2:18–19, ESV) Instead of these dead idols Paul brings them the living God, the one and only God. Even his reference to the rain comes from the prophets: “Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Are you not he, O Lord our God? We set our hope on you, for you do all these things.” (Jeremiah 14:22, ESV)

Now is when I turn from teaching to meddlin’, as a friend in Chicago used to say. How are we like the Lyaconians? Or putting the question another way, what are the gods in your life that prevent you from living in the presence of the Father through the Spirit? You see, to take up your cross is to abandon all that is vain and has no substance or value. Replace those things with Christ Jesus. As I have said, this is hard. No one can accomplish this on their own.

What it takes is the Word of God, the Bible, the Spirit of God, our teacher and guide, and the community of Christ known as the Church. God does not speak in dreams and visions because he has spoken once and then very clearly. “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Reading the Bible is good. Memorizing the Bible is better. Studying the Bible is best. If you do the latter, I can guarantee you will accomplish the former two.

However, study must be guided by the Spirit of God. And the the community of the Saints includes all who have gone before, led by the Spirit and preaching and writing what they have learned. The more you submit to Christ, the more you will be able to identify your idols. Don’t be surprised! Idols come in many forms. But there is only one Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Savior of the world.

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