Friday, August 27, 2010

Self-Awareness and Growth

Most of us consider self-awareness as essential to the life well-lived. Just consider the wisdom of the Hebrew Proverbs:

“The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out” (Proverbs 20:5).

Similarly, Heidi Patalano writes, “Want to improve your life? You can start by taking a long look at the person in the mirror!” ( According to the God of the Bible, that’s good advice. This is the conclusion to which the Psalmist came:

• “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place”
(Psalm 51:6).

To this effect, Patalano quotes Dr. Roya Rad, “an expert in self-actualization and author of ‘Where Is My Place In This World’”…

• “Spend five to ten minutes every day going through the questions: the baggage of anxiety you carry, the fear…When you see the weaknesses, you open the door to the unconscious. You go toward a ‘shadow place.’ Whatever we don’t like about ourselves, we put in this shadow place and close the door to it. When you open that door and start processing it, you will gain more control.”

Whatever we manage well, we must first understand, and we will fail to understand ourselves if we fail to perceive and accept that “shadow place” and the putrid garbage we’ve quarantined therein. How can we even think of doing problem-solving, if we refuse to see the deep-seated problems? Besides, keeping our garbage segregated in the “shadow place” requires a lot of energy and internal strife. How much better to simply accept ourselves the way we are – warts and manure – and to be at peace!

However, I see two serious problems with Rad’s prescription. The reason that we have hidden away our ugliness in the “shadow place” is because we can’t bear to see it. Spending “five to ten minutes every day going through various questions” is not going to make us less reticent about confronting ourselves. We might gain some insight about our triggers – the situations that make us angry or fearful – and learn to avoid them. However, this doesn’t go deep enough. We remain unwilling to see our utterly self-centered script that beckons our angry reaction when we are “wronged.”

Let me try to give an example of our scripts – “If my wife truly loves me, she will not criticize me.” Meanwhile, she has her own script – “If my husband loves me, he will appreciate the wisdom of my words.”

Regarding these scripts or rules, Aaron Beck, MD, writes:

“Such marriage rules are unrepealable, non-negotiable obligations that are often imposed without the spouse’s knowledge of their existence—and certainly without his or her ever having agreed to them. These rules are seen as rights, and then easily evolve into demands.” (“Love is Never Enough,” 76)

Indeed, it goes deeper than rules or scripts. These are undergirded by demands! “I must be respected” or “I must be loved, and you must love me.” And when our demands and requirements are violated, we respond with hatred, bitterness and jealousy. “I’m going to hurt or reject you if you don’t give me the love and respect I deserve!”

It’s not easy to see these things. We don’t want to see them. They’re too infantile, nasty and self-centered. They don’t affirm the image we’ve created for ourselves as generous, giving, and caring people.

Rad claims that “When you open that door and start processing it, you will gain more control.” However, I think that this is a product of wishful thinking. Seeing ourselves as we truly are is strongly associated with depression. It’s just too painful! Yes, there are reams of evidence that depressed people see themselves more accurately than do “normal” people, but a strong dose of self-reality is more than we can handle.

We humans want to build our self-esteem and not see ourselves as we truly are. I think that this is why I’ve never seen a psychologist advertise his/her services by promising, “I will help you to see yourself as you truly are.” Instead, they largely make their money by catering to the demands of the marketplace by building self-esteem and promising reduction of symptomology.

Although I had always thought that I was honest with myself, I now see that I had the same powerful self-righteous denial mechanisms as the rest of humanity. I refused to see myself as I truly was, and I always had to be right. It was always the other person’s fault! When I was criticized, I was sure that I was being victimized, and this was after seeing five highly recommended psychologists and psychiatrists.

It was only the love of Christ over time that enabled me to confront myself. His love finally convinced me that I was safe enough to let down my guard and see the unseeable – my culpability! What a blessing it now is that Anita and I can now freely confess our sins to one another and find hope and restoration! It’s as Jesus promised:

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32).

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Importance of Knowing that God Loves You

Some Christians have experienced painful disappointments and want to abandon the faith. Meanwhile, a pastor friend and his wife have been enduring horrible trials for the past few years and have been delighting in God and praising Him to almost everyone they meet. None can really say why these things are happening to them. So what makes the difference in their attitudes? The pastor and his wife are assured that, however painful their circumstances, it will all work out for good, whether they see the good or not. They know our Lord and know that He loves them!

This is the ultimate response to our trials. We all need to know our Savior – to truly know that He loves us. It’s this certainty that produces endurance. In fact, knowing God is the doorway to all spiritual blessings:

• “Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness”
(2 Peter 1:2-3).

Paul reasons that by knowing God we can really be assured of His love:

• “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
(Romans 5:8-10).

His logic is impeccable. If we accept the premise that God loved us while we were His enemies – so much so that He endured the Cross – then it makes all the logical sense in the world that, now that we have become His friends, reconciled to Him, He will not spare any expense to protect His investment. In other words, now that He has paid for us and remodeled us, He is not going to allow anything to jeopardize His treasures – us!

I find the logic of the Cross very compelling. In the midst of life-controlling depression, I had envisioned God as robotic – a detached spectator of the freak show unraveling below His uncaring gaze. At least that’s what it felt like. I prayed to Him, but with little enthusiasm or confidence.

I remember the agonizing night, when the reality of the Cross grabbed me. I suddenly realized that it wasn’t some created being who had died on the Cross – the death of such a being could never convince me of God’s love, since He could make 50,000 Christs with one word, at no expense to Himself! Instead, I realized that God Himself had died for me! He wasn’t robotic but an intimately involved Person who suffered along with me (Hebrews 4:15). He actually and intimately loved me, and I knew I was safe.

This didn’t end all my doubts about God’s love, but it gave me a crutch upon which I could rest some of my weight. Maybe I was saved, but I was still convinced that God really didn’t like me that much. How could He, if I continued to suffer so much! However, over the next several years, He wooed me through His Word to a vibrant vision of His love. I began to see things that I had never seen before. For example, King David had received everything he wanted, or at least needed, from God. However, that wasn’t enough for him. Although he already had numerous wives, he saw another woman from a distance and convinced himself that he had to have her. He therefore implicated others by having them bring her to him. She later informed David that she was pregnant. No problem! He would cover up his misdeed by bringing her husband Uriah home from the front line, where his troops were fighting David’s battles. However, Uriah refused to sleep with his wife as long as his fellow soldiers were still sacrificing their lives in David’s army. So David had Uriah killed, implicating yet others in his bloody plot.

He then married the widow Bathsheba, but God took their child as He had promised David. Although God forgave David, He also informed him that there would be painful consequences, because of his horrible betrayal.

Afterwards, Bathsheba gave birth to a son, whom David named “Solomon,” “Shlomo” in the Hebrew, from the word “shalom,” meaning “peace.” It seems that David had been hoping against hope itself that there would now be peace between him and his God. However, the prophet Nathan informed David that God had His own name for the child:

• “Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and lay with her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The LORD loved him; and because the LORD loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah”
(2 Samuel 12:24-25).

I was startled to learn that “Jedidiah” meant “beloved of God.” It seemed that God was telling David that He would do better than just peace. He would cherish this child who had been brought forth into this world through the most sinful circumstances – adultery and murder!

Jedidiah preached an entire sermon to me. It didn’t matter at all what our circumstances had been – how well we had been respected or liked, whether we had been a failure or not, or even the extent of our sins. If God was for us, who could be against us (Romans 8:31-32)! He was able to take the worst circumstances and turn them around (Ezekiel 33:10-16). He could take the ugly and find in it beauty, but did He find beauty in me? I felt so keenly that there was something repulsive about me, something that was repugnant to God.

If anyone had been repugnant to God, it was the Apostle Paul. He not only killed Christians but even forced them to renounce their faith! Paul correctly understood that, before God, he was the pits:

• “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:15-16).

Paul explained that God’s love and forgiveness of him should be able to convince any doubter that if God would forgive Paul, He was willing to forgive anyone! However, God didn’t just forgive Paul. He loved him and fashioned him into the greatest missionary that the church has ever known.

Paul wasn’t the only example of God’s incredible love. King Manasseh of Judah had been the worst of the worst. He lived his life in utter contradiction to every thing that God was about. He even killed His prophets. Consequently, God declared,

• "Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle’” (2 Kings 21:11-12).

However, Manasseh’s story doesn’t end here:

• “In his distress he sought the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the LORD was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is God” (2 Chron. 33:12-13).

If God could act so lovingly to David and Manasseh, perhaps there was hope for me. Indeed, there is this hope for all of us:

• “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).

Nevertheless, I continued to struggle against feelings that, although God had promised to forgive me, He did so reluctantly and without any passion for me. However, I was learning that everything in Scripture cried out against such a notion. I learned that when a sinner – any sinner – repented, even the angels in heaven rejoiced heartily (Luke 15:7, 10). I saw how the Father waited expectantly for the Prodigal Son to return. I was explicitly assured that He loves us with a love that goes far beyond anything that we can imagine (Ephesians 3:19).

It’s impossible for me to catalogue all of the Biblical expressions of His profound love. Some of them are quite cryptic, like the reference to “righteous Lot” (2 Peter 2:7) who wanted to cast his innocent daughters before a sexually ravenous mob or to a pathetic Abraham who confessed,

• “And when God had me wander from my father's household, I said to her [Sarah], 'This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, He is my brother.'" (Genesis 20:13).

Abraham had his wife engage in this deception so that when someone would take his beautiful wife for sexual purposes, they wouldn’t kill him, but would reward him for his “sister.” It shocked me to find that even after Abraham turned from God, God didn’t turn from him, but still called him “a prophet” (Gen. 20:7)! More and more, I began to see that if there was hope for Abraham and Lot, there was hope for me. In fact, God has always been in the business of taking society’s rejects and surprising them with His steadfast love (Psalm 34:17-18; Isaiah 57:15; 1 Cor. 1:26-29).

I have found that as I have grown in the assurance of His love and acceptance, I’ve also learned to accept myself. Consequently, the opinions of others have taken a back seat (Proverbs 29:25). Now, when the trials come, my reaction isn’t, “You must despise me for having me go through this!” Instead, I think, “What gracious rainbow will illuminate my life after these storms have passed?”

We need to be reassured that He truly loves us, and there is no better way than to meditate on His Word (Psalm 1). Only with this understanding can we stand against adversity.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Chalk Another Up for the Bible

(On further examination, there have been some serious doubts that have been raised about the claims made by the Egyptian team. Please see this reference:

Many archeologists have attested to how their evidence lines up so well with Biblical revelation. In an interview with Lee Strobel, archeologist John McRay asserted that,

• “Archeology has not produced anything that is unequivocally a contradiction to the Bible. On the contrary, as we’ve seen, there have been many opinions of skeptical scholars that have become codified into ‘fact’ over the years, but that archeology has shown to be wrong.” (The Case for Christ)

However, many have claimed that archeology has failed to produce any hard, extra-biblical evidence that Israel was ever in Egypt. However, this has changed. Cairo’s Al Ahram newspaper recently reported that coins had been discovered among artifacts at the Museum of Egypt bearing the name and image of the Biblical Joseph:

• “A thorough examination revealed that the coins bore the year in which they were minted and their value, or the effigies of the pharaohs at the time of their minting. Some of the coins are from the time when Joseph lived in Egypt, and bear his name and portrait.”
(Reported by

This finding is not only remarkable because it appears to confirm the Biblical account. It also confirms what seems so extraordinary or perhaps supernatural – that a Jew had risen to the prominence of an Egyptian Pharaoh – something that skeptical historians would have discounted from the get-go.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Loving God?

How do we love God? Jesus puts it very simply: “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15; also 14:21-24; 15:10-14; 1 John 2:3; 5:3). It’s so simple that this teaching would hardly seem to require a defense. No so!

So often, after I have quoted a verse or two in order to make a point, a “Christian” will protest, “We’re required to love the Lord, not His Word. While you worship a Book, I’ll worship God.”

This is amazing! How do we worship God in “Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), as He has commanded us, apart from the truth that He has revealed to us? How can loving God be separated from honoring His Word?

God has always made the equation that loving Him was a matter of loving what He has revealed through His Word. Rejecting God has always been a matter of rejecting His Word. God and His Word are inseparable, as Mosaic legislation has uniformly suggested:

· "But anyone who sins defiantly…blasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the Lord's word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him" (Numbers 15:30-31).

Moses claims that when we sin against the Lord, we “despise the Lord’s Word.” The two concepts are utterly inseparable! When David committed adultery and had Bathsheba’s husband Uriah murdered, he not only rejected Scripture, he also rejected the One who gave the Scripture. The prophet Nathan pronounced the Lord’s indictment against King David:

· “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own”
(2 Samuel 12:9-10).

When we “despise the word of the Lord,” we are actually despising the Author of that Word. When we love and obey what God says, we love God. Jesus can no more be separated from what He said (John 1:1; Hebrews 4:12-13) than can water be separated from ice. When we do this, we imperil ourselves:

· “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him…” (1 John 2:3-5).

It’s impossible to love God and to disregard His Word. How then do those who accuse us of worshiping the Bible honor God? I haven’t a clue.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Judging Others: Is It a Christian Thing?

I recently wrote that even Christians need to repent of their sexual sins, and if we are going to be faithful Christians, we need to convey this. One angry blogger responded this way:

“By judging humans you are judging God's work. He is the creator, He is the almighty. Things only take place in His time, by His hand, in judging humans you are judging His work. Period…Christ is the only one who can correct, fix, put back together, anyone or anything. Once saved, someone is under grace not law. Or are you unfamiliar with what it is to be under God's grace?”

God has always been in the business of judging and correcting. This is so obvious, that it hardly needs pointing-out. Therefore, I won’t go into the lengthy list of Old Testament judgments and denunciations. Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus didn’t back away from the judgments of the Father. In fact He talked more about final consequences than anyone else in the Bible. Here’s one example:

• "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Of course, the “evildoer” – and we’re all evildoers – can find mercy whenever s/he repents, trusting in the free gift of God. However, telling people that they need to repent has now become taboo. However, my respondent acknowledged that God can and does judge/correct, but it’s an entirely different thing when we do this. According to him, if we judge others, we “are judging His work. Period!”

However, right before this, Jesus warns us: "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)

Because God judges and hates sin, we too must judge (“watch out”), and there’s a lot in the Bible about judging and correcting. In fact, we can even argue that the Bible is entirely about judging and correcting beliefs and actions. Can you think of anything that Jesus said that wasn’t about this? Even in our favorite parables, He judges. He favorably judges the repentant attitude of the Prodigal Son and condemns the attitude of His legalistic older brother. He commends the Good Samaritan and judges those religious leaders who failed to live up to this standard. And then He instructs us to “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). Clearly, His judgments and corrections need to become ours, if we are to call Him “Master” and “Savior.”

Instead of forbidding us to judge and discern as He did, He invites us to partake of His teachings and judgments. He tells us to follow His example and to teach all the things that He has commanded us (Matthew 28:19-20). He even laid out a methodology for confronting others with their sins (Matthew 18:15-18) and gave us the authority to proclaim the retaining or releasing from sins (Mat. 18:19).

The NT letters are filled with judgments and teachings regarding how to handle sin in the midst of the church. Paul refers approvingly to intra-church punishment (2 Cor. 2:6), but also argues that the one in sin should be embraced upon his confession and repentance. He talks about “passing judgment” against one who was un-repentantly engaged in sexual sin and instructed the Corinthian church to do likewise (1 Cor. 5:1-9). Clearly, by judging, we are not “judging God’s work.” Rather, we are walking in obedience to it! In many instances, Paul also judged doctrinal aberrations:

“As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:9)

If we love, we will judge and correct. Paul insisted that one of the qualifications of the elder was that he should have enough command over Scripture so that,

“…he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach--and that for the sake of dishonest gain.” (Titus 1:9-11)

If we are concerned about the “ruining [of] whole households,” we will not withhold judgment. Why? Because believing the wrong things can have disastrous consequences! We therefore are judging all the time – when we choose elders, teachers and pastors, when we raise our children, and even when relating to friends or co-workers. Judging is a part of life. When I post this essay, you will be judging what I write. However, judging must be in accordance with truth.

James argues that when a brother “wanders from the truth,” we need to correct him (James 5:19-20). Not doing this is unloving. Even excommunication is a loving thing when practiced in a Biblical manner (1 Tim. 1:19-20; Rom. 16:17; Titus 3:10)!

Judging/correcting is not an option, although those who are spiritually blind shouldn’t attempt it:

“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)

The churches were castigated by our Lord when they failed to judge:

• The Church of Pergamus: “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.” (Rev. 2:14)

• The Church of Thyatira: “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.” (Rev. 2:20)

Although there are many things that we are instructed to tolerate, there are some things that the church must not tolerate. The Church at Ephesus was commended for their unwillingness to tolerate false teachers:

“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.” (Rev. 2:2)

Some will cite Matthew 7:1, “Judge not that you not be judged.” However, they fail to read further to find that Jesus does tell us to judge, but we first have to do some spiritual work on our lives before we can do this.

This list of verses instructing us to judge can go on almost endlessly. My respondent insists that “Christ is the only one who can correct, fix, put back together, anyone or anything.” Of course, without Christ in the equation, we can do nothing at all (John 15:4-5). However, He calls us to the honor of participating alongside of Him, speaking His Words of healing and correction to a deluded world. We should regard this as a great privilege!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Doctrine of Inerrancy: The Details Also?

One dear Christian Brother responded to my last essay on the doctrine of “Inerrancy of Scripture” by asserting, “I do think the term inerrancy is quibbling over details that don't matter. I'm willing to be a bit more fluid in my approach and stand back a bit, confident that the miracle of Scripture will stand up under any scrutiny. It's the overall truth that matters.”

Embodied in this essay is my response to him:

In as far as the details aren't inspired, my confidence in Biblical revelation can't be very inspired. Even more importantly, I fail to take Jesus at His word. He often argued from the details:

“But about the resurrection of the dead--have you not read what God said to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? [Exodus 3:6] He is not the God of the dead but of the living." (Matthew 22:31-32)

Arguing against the Sadducees, Jesus quotes Exodus to prove that the Patriarchs still live, but notice how He does this – He points to the fact that Scripture says "am" and not "was." This detail proved that Abraham is still living!

Jesus isn’t alone in placing emphasis on the details to make global points. Paul also resorted to small details to make his weighty points:

“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds [plural!], meaning many people, but "and to your seed [Gen. 12:7]," meaning one person, who is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16)

Paul built his case on something smaller than even a word – singular usage vs. plural – to demonstrate that Christ was in view in the Genesis prophecy. By ignoring the details in favor of the big picture, we fail to even appreciate this panorama that the details join hands to produce. A message is crafted by its composite details. A change in one detail in a mathematical equation can seriously distort the end product. Of course, not all details carry the same weight, but this is a matter for careful Biblical interpretation and not a general denial of “inerrancy.” The Bible gives us no license to pick-and-choose among the details. Paul guides us away from such a stance:

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

When we deny the doctrine of “inerrancy,” we deny ourselves of the hope and confidence that’s made possible by knowing that we are indeed reading the Word of God. We also fail to remain faithful to Jesus’ teaching about Scripture:

“I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18)

When we fail to take the entire set of Scriptures as God-breathed, we fail to abide in Christ’s Word as we aught. The consequences of this are truly tragic. We condemn ourselves to dull, uninspired Christian lives, at least less robust than it might have been.

What’s the alternative to believing that the Bible is without error in its original? Believing that the Bible does have errors! Well then, how do we know what parts of the Bible we can truly trust and live by? Ultimately, it becomes a matter of human decision-making, and we thereby have placed another authority above Scripture – ourselves!

The Biblical faith was never intended to degenerate into this. However, although we don't mean to place ourselves as masters above Scripture, our philosophical commitment to disdain the doctrine of “inerrancy” has forced us onto this throne – a dubious and costly honor.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Battles for the Bible

The Bible is a virtual battleground – an Armageddon – and always has been. One common attack is upon the doctrine of “inerrancy” – that the Scriptures had been without error in their original writing. The challengers claim that the Bible never mentions the word “inerrancy” and that the Bible never teaches this doctrine. In this regard, let’s just consider a small number of verses:

• JESUS: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18). If there were errors in the originals, then Jesus couldn’t have been confident that everything would be “accomplished.”

• JESUS: "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God'" (Matthew 4:4-6). To claim that we need “every word” is to claim that it all comes from above, and that we are in no position to pick-and-choose according to our own “wisdom.”

• PAUL: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Paul is not suggesting, as some allege, that it was merely the writers of Scripture who were inspired, but then screwed things up when attempting to put their inspiration into words, all types of human errors crept in. Instead, Paul claims that the Scriptures themselves that were inspired.

• PETER: “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19-21).

These verses do not allow much wiggle-room for those who wish to claim that the NT wasn’t about inerrancy. However, the CEs aren’t alone in disparaging that the Bible, at least in its original, had been fully God-breathed and consequently, without error. Emergent Church leader and pastor, Doug Pagett, buries this doctrine with a different shovel:

“The inerrancy debate is based on the belief that the Bible is the word of God, that the Bible is true because God made it and gave it to us as a guide to truth. But that’s not what the Bible says.” (“A Christianity Worth Believing,” 65)

How then does he get around Paul’s assertion that “All Scripture is God-breathed?” Pagett claims,

• “For Paul, the Holy Scriptures were alive; God was creating and re-creating through them. The Bible wasn’t a removed ‘truth text.’ It was a fully integrated piece of the Christian life, one that held authority because it was a living, breathing symbol of God’s continual activity.”

I certainly agree with Pagett that Scripture is not a dead letter, but a living truth. In conjunction with this, he claims that Paul and Timothy would have understood “God-breathed” as “God as creator and life-giver.” (65)

This may be true, but none of his argumentation throws a stone against the concept of inerrancy. Yes, Scripture is fully living, but it’s also without error! Why can’t it be both? As far as “truth-texting” – quoting individual verses to make a point – Jesus seemed to have no problem with this. He quoted numerous verses as the ultimate proof for His teachings.

The context of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 screams out for “inerrancy” -- “…so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” We can hardly imagine Paul saying this about a set of Scriptures that had errors. How could the presence of undetectable errors make us “thoroughly equipped for every good work?” We must contend with an entirely different reality if Scripture leaves out the word “no” and therefore reads, “There is darkness in Him?” Only the fact that Scripture is fully the product of our God – “God-breathed” – can we truly expect the Spirit to use it to produce in us “every good work.”

Pagett ascribes evil motives to those who insist that Scripture is without error – that we want a tool with which to bash others:

“I think there are people who argue for an ‘inerrant’ authoritative understanding of the Bible to support their prejudiced feelings about homosexuals.” (63)

We can also engage in this type of speculation about Pagett’s motives, but this would not be right. Instead, let’s just let the Scriptural evidence speak for itself.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Rabbis and the Messiah

A Rabbi took issue with my use of the great Messianic passage of Isaiah 53 in applying it to Jesus. Here’s my response:

I’m glad to see that you are bringing Scripture—something we both respect—into the discussion. You wrote:

“Isaiah 53 says that the ‘suffering servant’ will live to see his biological offspring and have a long life. It also says that the Suffering Servant is not physically attractive, suffered from illness, and is despised and rejected by man. That this could be a prophecy about Jesus is absolutely contradicted by the New Testament which says that Jesus died relatively young, with no children. He's described as physically beautiful, in great health, and that he had thousands of followers from all walks of life in Judea.”

The text doesn’t say “biological offspring” but rather “offspring”:

Isaiah 53:10 “Yet it was the LORD'S will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his OFFSPRING and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.”

Furthermore, from the context, we understand “offspring” to mean spiritual offspring. Consistent with the life of Jesus, the text actually says that the Messiah will have no physical offspring,:

Isaiah 53:8 “By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his DESCENDANTS? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.”

Of course, you will argue, as do other rabbis, that the Hebrew word for “offspring” (“zarah”) never refers to spiritual offspring. However, this argument is contradicted by:

Isaiah 57:3-4 "But you--come here, you sons of a sorceress, you OFFSPRING of adulterers and prostitutes! Whom are you mocking? At whom do you sneer and stick out your tongue? Are you not a brood of rebels, the OFFSPRING of liars?

It was understood that the offspring resembled their parents. Therefore, to say “you OFFSPRING of adulterers,” is to accuse someone of having the same spiritual character as an adulterer. The text also argues in favor of spiritual offspring by the fact that He will “justify (‘make righteous’) many”:

Isaiah 53:11 “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will JUSTIFY MANY, and he will bear their iniquities.”

All of this sounds like our Messiah Jesus! About His being “physically beautiful,” the NT is silent in this regard. About Him being popular, He was as long as He healed and fed the multitudes. But in the end, these multitudes cried out to the hated Pilate, “Crucify Him!” This hardly seems like popularity!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Change or Get Out: Free Speech on Trial

Enjoy sharing your ideas while you can. Freedom of speech is becoming an endangered species. reports that,

• “A graduate student [Jennifer Keeton] in Georgia is suing her university after she was told she must undergo a remediation program due to her beliefs on homosexuality and transgendered persons…Keeton's lawsuit alleges that the university's remediation plan noted Keeton's ‘disagreement in several [counseling] class discussions and in written assignments with the gay and lesbian lifestyle,' as well as Keeton's belief that those ‘lifestyles’ are cases of identity confusion…Her lawyer informed Fox News that, ‘The university has told Jennifer Keeton that if she doesn't change her beliefs, she can't stay in the [counseling] program.’”

Submitting to “a remediation program” is not enough for the university. Keeton must actually change her beliefs! Why insist upon a uniformity of belief? Doesn’t even the term “university” connote that diversity of viewpoints is a strength and not a problem? If sexual diversity is to be enthroned without challenge, shouldn’t it include all sexual lifestyles? Shouldn’t adultery, incest, and polygamy also be included in this medley? Why not? Don’t these matters need to be discussed? Or should the politically correct view and the threats of being labeled “homophobe” silence all other views?

Usually, such free speech restrictions are imposed to not offend others. That’s generally the rationale. However, this rationale is highly hypocritical. While institutions are becoming trigger-happy in their use of threats so as not to offend, Keeton’s university shows little restraint about not offending Keeton or the many others who will now be intimidated and silenced by these rulings. While the university demands tolerance, it is intolerant of those who believe otherwise.

OK, this is a secular nation. However, there are two types of secularism. There is the benign form which our Founding Fathers wisely established for the benefit of our many dissenting factions. They understood that peaceful co-existence depended upon everyone having equal access to the democratic process. This form of secularism guaranteed our freedoms of speech and religion. The second form is recent, virulent and highly repressive. It is replacing our 1st amendment guarantees of freedom of religion and speech with the secular “State” religion of political correctness, dictating what can be expressed and what can’t be, even in violation of sincerely held and legally protected religious convictions.

We tend to forget that our legal climate wasn’t always this way. Up until now, it has been characterized by the understanding that living together required tolerance and the respect for the conscience and free expression of others, even for those with whom we disagreed. For example, in 1940, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case involving Jehovah Witness children who refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Justice Felix Frankfurter argued for the majority that our common national interests for patriotic cohesiveness required the Pledge. In response, Justice Harlan Stone retorted that religious liberty argued for,

• “The freedom of the individual from compulsion as to what he shall think and what he shall say, at least where the compulsion is to bear false witness to his religion.”

According to Stone, our freedom of religion and expression should even take precedence over certain national interests. In contrast, now even the passing fads of political correctness have been elevated over our religious freedoms.

Thankfully, Frankfurter’s decision did not stand. In 1943, in a very similar case, Justice Robert Jackson wrote for the majority and affirmed:

• “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Sadly, this is the very thing that Keeton’s university has resorted to. She not only has been required to submit to a remediation program, but she must also change her beliefs under threat of expulsion.

In 1965, the Court heard a case that directly impacted national security but ruled to grant qualified U.S. citizens the status of “conscientious objector.” However, this designation could only be given to “those persons who by reason of their religious training and belief are conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form.”

This was a ruling that would clearly be divisive and could actually compromise national security. However, there was still enough respect for religion and the sanctity of the conscience of the individual that the court overruled other weighty concerns. Even the liberal Justice Stephen O. Douglas concurred with the majority:

• “…any person opposed to war on the basis of a sincere belief, which in his life fills the same place as a belief in God fills in the life of the orthodox religionist, is entitled to exemption under the statute.”

This decision and a similar one five years later affirming the conscientious objector status were difficult cases. Many were concerned that by giving conscientious objectors what might look like a free ride, others might be deeply offended and bitter. Nevertheless, respect for the expression of sincerely held faith was deemed more important than the probable offense that the decision would cause.

Keeton now faces a different problem and a different kind of secularism – one that refuses to tolerate differing viewpoints. Even though there is no national security issue at stake or even the infringement of others’ lifestyles, her university is coercing her to change her beliefs. And why? Do her beliefs infringe upon the welfare of others? No! But rather, because some regard her beliefs as offensive! And so, the university has reacted offensively towards Keeton!

In defense, Keeton’s university would only declare that it is bound by its “code of ethics” which states,

• "Counselors do not discriminate against clients, students, employees, supervisees, or research participants in a manner that has a negative impact on these persons…"

However, some mental health programs have a more tolerant stance. They allow their counselors to opt out of counseling those clients whose lifestyles they find objectionable. And shouldn’t it be that way? Should the university coerce a counselor, who had been the victim of sexual abuse, to counsel a proud and practicing pedophile? Should the counselor be coerced to affirm the defiant adulterer or child-pornographer? Aren’t these legitimate concerns? Is it more professional to coerce the counselor to change her beliefs regarding these behaviors and then force her to half-heartedly counsel these individuals?

The “code” mentions “a negative impact on these persons." However, what is a negative impact? A failure to affirm the client in all he does? Perhaps the real negative impact is affirming and enabling the client to continue in a self-destructive lifestyle? Should the counselor affirm heroin addiction if that’s the counselee’s chosen lifestyle?

Interestingly, this “code” represents a statement of religion, no less than any other creed or Bible. But this “code” is coercive and punitive! If it is violated, out you go!

Shouldn’t there be a discussion about what might constitute “negative impact”? Indeed, but there is none! Conversation about alternative sexual lifestyles has increasingly been silenced by threat of reprisals.

We have battled many legal issues in this country – abolition, child labor, segregation. The battles have sometimes been contentious. Laws have been passed, and laws have been repealed. Nevertheless, the issues have been discussed openly and freely. As contentious as the struggles have sometimes been, no one’s right to express themselves is generally contested. Freedom of speech has always been the centerpiece of our democratic society. No so anymore! Expressing one’s conscience is now accompanied by threats of intimidation and even violence. Perhaps even more egregiously, the media and the universities have fallen silent before the new State religion of political correctness.

Keeton’s case is not unusual. According to

• “EMU (East Michigan University) dismissed [Julea] Ward from its graduate counseling program in March 2009 for not affirming homosexual behavior as morally acceptable. Ward would not agree to change her religious beliefs about homosexual behavior or express a message contrary to them during counseling sessions as a condition to receiving a degree.”

How did this happen? Ward did the appropriate and professional thing. When she was assigned a case, she immediately informed her supervisor of her conflict and requested the case be reassigned. Is that so terrible? It is ironic that we should find such intolerance in a helping professional, which so strenuously insists on tolerance for other lifestyles.

(See similar recent instances in which certain viewpoints are no longer tolerated:

Monday, August 2, 2010

Thought Manipulation

Do you really think that you are not the subject of thought-control? And that the networks are presenting a balanced portrait of reality? Please take another look. The networks are as subject to cultural biases and personal pressures as anyone else. They are not above the manipulations of sponsors and special-interest groups, and concerns about their ratings. For example, on July 30, 2010 reported that,

CBS President Nina Tassler has apologized for the network's low rating on the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation's (GLAAD) recent "Network Responsibility Index," which ranked broadcast and cable networks by the percentage of "LGBT-inclusive" hours in their original prime time programming. "We're very disappointed in our track record so far," said Tassler at the Television Critics Association fall previews. "We'll try to do better."

What does, "We'll try to do better," mean? It means that CBS is caving into to the pressure to manipulate images and minds according to a special interest group. Why should we be concerned about this? For one thing, it often entails the denigration of those – along with their views – who oppose alternative sexual lifestyles.

Yesterday, my nephews innocently asked, “Why do Christians hate homosexuals?” This was the message that the media has been ritualistically server up to an unsuspecting public. I answered that the vast majority of Christians that I know (perhaps all) recognize that we have a Biblical responsibility to love gays, along with everyone else. However, I could tell that all of my words were mere pebbles ricocheting off the edifice of misinformation already in place in their hearts.

Many Christians respond, “Well, that doesn’t concern me. I can continue to live for Christ despite what the media might say.” Although this is true, I’d rather live for Christ as a free man than behind bars because I spoke out against what the Bible calls sin.

However, I think that there are more important factors at stake. According to many surveys, our beliefs are rapidly undergoing modification, especially within the church. And they are not changing because we just happen to come to new Biblical insights. The younger believers – those who are educated and closely tied into the prevailing culture – are increasingly questioning the Biblical faith. Why? It seems to them that the church has utterly failed and that we have become objects of contempt, especially of the educated elites.

In one survey of non-evangelical college professors, it was found that 53% “hold cool or unfavorable views of Evangelicals,” while “only 3% of the faculty holds cool/unfavorable feelings towards Jews, and only 4% towards Buddhists.” This same survey also found that 71% agreed that: “This country would be better off if Christian fundamentalists kept their religious beliefs out of politics,” while "38% of the faculty disagreed that the country would be better off if Muslims became more politically organized.”

The contempt for Evangelicals is palpable, and it’s also highly influential. The result is this – that through an invisible process of cultural osmosis, we begin to experience self-contempt and try desperately and hastily to change whatever it is that has caused this almost ubiquitous contempt. The resulting self-loathing has prompted attitudes of church-loathing.

Yes, I trust that some good will come out of this – perhaps a renewed determination to truly follow Jesus. However, all the bad press seems to be driving people away from both church and commitment to the Biblical faith. I find this tragic.

I think we need to keep an eye to the greater context – the Biblical context. Jesus warned that we’d be hated:

"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also." (John 15:18-20; also John 16:14)

Persecution comes with the turf, and we have to remember this. Indeed, we’re far from perfect, but this doesn’t justify Christo-phobia. After all, no one is perfect. Jesus explained that there was a purpose that He was revealing the depressing reality of persecution to His disciples:

• “I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you.”
(John 16:4)

We need to remember this so that when social contempt smacks across the face, we will not reflexively attempt to abandon the church or to re-configure it according to what the surrounding culture might find acceptable.