Monday, November 14, 2011

Our Reaction to the Penn State Story - Some Thoughts

Today I want to share some of my thoughts related to the Penn State situation, especially what the virtually universal outrage and condemnation tells us about ourselves. Before I begin, let me say that nothing I say here should be construed to mean that molesting and abusing children is ok. Such behavior is a heinous crime against another human being and a sin against a righteous and holy God. Anyone found guilty of such behavior should rightfully be punished to the full extent that the law allows.

It's interesting to me that the actions alleged to have been committed by Mr. Sandusky have been universally condemned. My question is, "Why?". What does this tell us about ourselves as human beings? We live in an age when almost anything is accepted and tolerated. But why is this action condemned so thoroughly and completely? Is it because of the laws of our country? What if there were no laws against molesting children, would it still be wrong and would the outrage still be there? Would it still be evil? I think most people would say these actions would still be evil even if the law allowed them.

Is this the kind of behavior that is wrong in all time periods or is it just wrong at the time we live? Was it wrong when the Romans practiced this kind of behavior 2000 years ago? Or was it ok then because it was acceptable in their society?

Is this kind of behavior wrong in America but acceptable for other cultures in other places in the world? If the culture of some other country accepts this kind of activity as routine, is it ok with us? Is it still wrong and worthy of our condemnation? I think most of us would say it is still wrong.

If these actions are wrong and we all recognize it, is it because there is a "list" either written within our nature or "out there" somewhere that contains this as well as other activities that are always wrong? How do we find out what else is on that list? By consensus? By majority opinion? I don't think that would be true because most of us would say that abuse of children is wrong no matter how many people or what other cultures may contradict our verdict. So then, how do we know?

I maintain that the only rational basis for being able to say that such behavior is morally wrong in all cultures and at all times is if there is a God or moral authority outside of ourselves who has established the "rights" and "wrongs" of living. I know that even most atheists would condemn child molestation, but I don't understand a rational reason for saying such behavior is wrong if there is no reason for our existence other than the result of random processes over millions of years. Maybe it's in our DNA that molesting children doesn't advance the human race evolutionally. However, I think most of us believe that it is more than just the chemical composition of our DNA that makes us think this behavior is wrong. Most of us think this behavior is absolutely wrong in some moral sense.

I believe that the God who created us in His image has laid down principles and rules of conduct which, if followed, produce the kind of individual and societal life that we all can enjoy and in which all members of society can thrive. I believe that the God who laid down those principles has communicated them to us in two ways. First, he has embedded them generally in our nature. Romans 1:19 and following in the Bible says, "For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made."

The second way God has communicated His principles to us is through His Word, the Bible. I know that seems like an old fashioned and narrow point of view, but that is the claim the Bible makes. For example, God has said, "You shall not steal." I think most of us would agree that if everyone followed that principle, the world would be a better place. God has said, "You shall not lie." If you knew that everything everyone said was the absolute truth and could be trusted, wouldn't that make our lives and relationships better? This same God, all throughout the Bible tells us to love and respect others. He tells us not to treat anyone cruelly, especially the weak and defenseless. He tells us to treat others the way we would want to be treated ourselves. The crimes we're discussing are crimes, not because they are preferences of our, but because they violate the very nature and character of God and the image of God that was created in us. All kinds of things can ultimately be excused at some other place and time or under other circumstances if they are not grounded in the character and revelation of God. If there is no God, there is no ultimate lawgiver and judge and we are free to do whatever our culture allows.

There is another thing each one of us needs to think through very carefully. If crimes such as the abuse of children are wrong ultimately because they violate the unchangeable laws of God, given to us out of love for us for our well-being, what about all of the other things that God has also included in that list? Everyone is condemning these crimes, but what about all of the other things that God condemns? Do we have the same outrage about those? Do we know what they are? Do we care? For some examples of other things that are on God's list see Exodus 20:1-17 and Romans 1:28-32 in the Bible. If you don't have a Bible, just Google those references.

Memorization Monday - Expected Fruit - Joy

2 Corinthians 6:10 "As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything." (ESV)

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Excerpt from "Our Lord Prays for His Own"

In this excerpt the author is discussing John 17:20 where Jesus prays, "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word."

[Notice] the Object on whom they were to believe. "I pray for them . . .which shall believe on me"; He does not say, which shall believe in God, but "on me"; He does not say, which believe the Word of God, but "on me";
He does not say, who believe in their salvation, but "on me."

Here we learn the faith that justifies is faith in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Who is there, except a few professed infidels, who do not tell you they believe in God? -- who, tin this country, but a few professed infidels, do not say they believe in the Word of God? We may quite satisfy ourselves that we believe in God, and in the Word of God; and in our own ultimate salvation; and yet we may not be included in our Lord's prayer, because He does not say, "I pray for them which shall believe" -- in God or in the Word of God, or in their own salvation, but --"on me."

Not that to believe in God, or in the Word of God, and in the fact of our own salvation, is not our privilege and duty. Oh, no! But when we believe in Him, we believe in God in a different sense; we believe in the Word of God as a different thing, and for a different object. We believe in God as loving us when we were sinners, and giving His Son to die; we believe in the Word of God as the truth revealing this fact; we believe in our salvation as the end of our faith; but we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as the Saviour who took our place, died in our stead, was wounded for our transgressions, whose blood cleanseth from all sin, and who, in resurrection glory, now stands before the throne as our Representative, Himself the object of alljustifying faith. Alas! how may talk of believing in God, and in His Word, who have never believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, and have never taken refuge in Him for their salvation.

From Our Lord Prays for His Own, by Marcus Rainsford, Moody Press, 1950, Pages 364-365

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Hymn of the Week - For All the Saints

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Friday, November 04, 2011

Biblical Manhood - Part 5 - Vocation

As we continue to consider God’s Pattern for Christian Manhood I would like to think through the idea of vocation as a calling rather than merely a job. As we do that it is important to remember that work was given before the fall. In other words, it did not come as a result of sin, even though it may feel that way sometimes. God has always intended that we should have something profitable to do. Genesis 2:5 and 2:15 speak of tilling, tending and keeping before sin entered the world. After the fall, work as toil and sweat would be the norm as we labor to get enough to eat and support ourselves. Also after the fall, things began to decay and wear out. The new car would eventually be on a junk heap. Our new Iphone will eventually be tossed way as hopelessly outdated. The fence in our yard will rust. All of this means there would be continued work to restore, maintain and rebuild.

God is opposed to laziness and sloth. I was interested to see that Psalm 104:23 speaks of man going out to his work for the day when the sun comes up and returning home when the sun is going down. Where were the unions then? And then in Exodus 20:9 God tells the people that they were to do all their work and labor in six days and rest on the seventh. It is a blessing of grace that God commands that we set aside one day a week for rest and worship. But from His point of view He’s thinking that we will be working and laboring the other six. Obviously we have created many tools to make our work easier, but even so, I think most of us will admit that work tends to be a chore, rather than a delight.

Consider these passages from Proverbs

10:4 He who has a slack hand becomes poor, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.

12:24 The hand of the diligent will rule, but the lazy man will be put to forced labor.

18:9 He who is slothful in his work is a brother to him who is a great destroyer

20:4 The lazy man will not plow because of winter; He will beg during harvest and have nothing.

26:16 The lazy man is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.

It seems obvious to me that God is telling us that work is a good thing and we should be engaged in it regularly and faithfully. In addition, we should see our work as for God. In addressing slaves in Ephesians 6:6, Paul writes, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man.” If this was said to slaves, how much more should we as free workers work as pleasing the Lord.

In the Christian world-view, work is a good thing. It is God-ordained for our good and his glory. It is to be looked at as meaningful as we have the opportunity to support our families and maintain a God-honoring testimony out in the world.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

What's Wrong?

Almost anyone who has any power of observation at all would have to admit that things in the world don't seem to be going the way we think they should. Whether it's a tsunami in Japan or drug wars in Mexico or people starving in Somalia, or arguments and fights within a family, events seem to fall far short of the ideal that we can imagine. Why do we imagine things such as peace, safety and love? Why does virtually everyone idolize the good, and yet there is so much evil? Sometimes when my wife and I are out for a walk on a beautiful day, we wonder why anyone in any of the homes around us would be fighting or arguing on such a beautiful day. Why can't we all just get along?

One answer is, “That's just the way it is. Get used to it.” I don't know about you, but that answer does not satisfy me. If all of this “bad” stuff is just imbedded in nature, why do we have the idea that there is a “better”?

I think the Bible has the best answer that I've seen anywhere. God says that he originally created the world in a state of goodness and harmony. Into that world came sin in the form of selfish rebellion against the creator. A man, made in the image of God, decided that he had found a better way to achieve happiness rather than the way God had given him. In doing so he brought God's curse on us as a race of people. What's more, he brought a curse upon the creation itself.

Someone may say, “You don't really believe that myth, do you?” I must admit that I do. No other explanation I have found explains why we have a sense of good and justice and order at the time that there is so much evil, injustice and chaos both within the human race and in nature.

The Bible says that man knows that there is a God. The fact that he is eternal in power and that he has all the characteristics of deity is known to all, but we suppress it. (Romans 1:18-20) We suppress it by not glorifying or giving the honor to God that he is due. In addition we are not thankful for what he has given us. Paul the Apostle told the Athenians that God give us life and breath and everything else we have. (Acts 17:25) Our basic error is to think that we can provide everything for ourselves. We don't need God. We can do things our way. That is the attitude that brought us the curse in the first place.

Having been created in the image of God, we have amazing capabilities. Look at all of the inventions we have come up with for making life better and our work easier. We have come to believe that we can solve every problem there is if we just trust in ourselves. That philosophy has been around for a long time. How are we doing so far? Have we solved the problem of war, famine, tsunamis, or the common cold?

God says that our core problem is rebellion against him. We do not want to give him glory. We do not want to worship him as God, we do not want to retain God in our knowledge. (Romans 1:20-32) This passage in Romans tells us that because of our defiance, God gives us up to do the things we want to do. He basically says, “Alright, then, do it your way and see what happens!” The results are disastrous.

The Bible tells us that God is in the process of changing people. Jesus told Nicodemus that in order to see the kingdom of God it was necessary to be born again. Jesus told him that everyone who believes in Jesus, that is those who trust him with their souls, will not perish but will have everlasting life. Those who do not believe are still under the judgment of God. (John 3) Eventually even the curse on creation will be removed. At that point, all wrongs will be righted and perfect justice will prevail.

This is not just a pie-in-the-sky hope. This is what God has promised. Some people suggest that such a hope in a future righting of wrongs keeps us from doing what we should be doing now. That may be the case for some people, but Jesus taught that we should put his principles into action in this world here and now. We should love our wife and family, rather than abuse them or forsake them. We should love our neighbor the same way we love ourselves rather than look for ways to cheat them or to allow them to suffer. He told us be content with what we have rather than being greedy to always have more, spending our life complaining about what we don't have that other people may have. He told us not to proudly flaunt our charity, giving or prayers. It sounds to me like if we would trust Jesus with our eternal destiny and put his teaching into practice in our daily lives, the world would be a better place now while we wait for the final reconciliation of all things.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Biblical Manhood - Part 4

Another important spiritual discipline is prayer. Men are not usually as consistent at this as women, and yet Paul told Timothy that he would have men (as distinct from women) pray. It’s a special challenge to us as men to be the leaders in prayer for our families and churches.

Some may ask why God wants us to pray when he seems to do what he wants anyway. I don't know the answer to that question, but I do know that God wants us to pray. He even asks us to come with confidence. Hebrews 4:16 says “Let us then with confidence draw year to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

The verse right before that tells us that in Jesus we have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because in every respect he has been tempted as we are tempted, yet without sin. For this reason we would be fools not to go to him, one who understands us and sympathizes with us. He has walked in our shoes and understands what it is to live a human existence.

While I don’t understand all of the ins and outs of how prayer works and why God answers some the way we want and not others, there are several key passages of Scripture that give us a picture of what the conditions are for answered prayer.

Matthew 7:7 Pray persistently

Matthew 18:19 Pray in agreement with others

Matthew 21:22 Pray believing

John 15:7 Pray while abiding in Christ

John 16:24 Pray in Jesus’ Name

I John 5:14, 15 Pray in the will of God.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Biblical Manhood - Part 3

Besides laying aside things which hinder us as we talked about last time, God has given us several spiritual disciplines on which we should focus so that our lives grow and develop into greater Christ-likeness for His glory. Often in my life I have looked for the secret of victory or the three or four steps to greater spirituality. But it always comes down to the same things. There are no secrets here.

The first area of importance in the Christian life is the Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that all Scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness. If Scripture is profitable for these things then obviously we should be spending time reading and studying it, unless of course we are not interested in being taught or corrected.

Along with the reading and study of Scripture is memorization and meditation. Joshua 1:8 tells us that with constant meditation on the Word of God comes success and prosperity. Now he is not talking about worldly success and financial prosperity. He is speaking of spiritual success and prosperity, the kind that are ultimately more rewarding and satisfying than anything the world can provide. Psalm 1 speaks of the same thing. The man who spends time meditating on Scripture is compared to a tree planted where there is plenty of water. His leaf won’t wither and whatever he does, prospers. This is compared to the ungodly man who is more like chaff that is dry and lifeless and blown away by the wind. Which kind of man do you want to be?