Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rush To Judgment

This morning I received an e-mail from someone with the subject "Stand Strong Against Rush Limbaugh." Of course, this caught my attention, since I'm a regular listener to Rush's show and have been since 1992. In the body of the message was the following:

Last week, Rush Limbaugh said that he "hopes" President Obama fails to meet America’s challenges.

Watch the video (here) and tell Rush what you think about his comments.

Since I am a long-time listener to the show, I'm familiar with past attempts by people in the media to discredit Rush Limbaugh, and this latest episode is no different.

As is usually the case with these endeavors, there is some context missing. The other day, while driving down to my aquatics class and listening to the program, I heard Rush using very similar language, all clearly in the context of the socialist agenda that Obama would like to implement, and I remember thinking something along the lines of "Boy… the detractors are gonna pull this one out of context and have a field day with it." Well, turns out that's just what's happened.

To an honest and objective person listening to the broad context of Rush's show that day, Rush's point was clear: To the extent that Obama wants to use socialism to solve Americas problems (as if socialism could) Rush wants him to fail. And frankly, so do I. In fact, it's not even a matter of me (or Rush) wanting it to fail. Socialism doesn't work. It will fail regardless of what anyone wants. None of that means that Rush and I want America to fail, nor does it mean that we want the Obama administration to fail in the broader sense. But America will fail if we continue to try to solve our problems with socialist policies and so it is in the interest of the preservation of this country that I (and Rush Limbaugh) would hope for the catastrophic failure of any attempt to implement socialism, under any administration. It's quite clear here that the Democrats are not being honest about what Rush said and why he said it.

In the final analysis, I think it' is President Obama who wants America to fail. Historically speaking, America has not been a socialist democracy… it has been a capitalist representative republic. Therefore, to whatever extent Obama wants to change America from capitalist to socialist, he wants the America which has been to be no longer. In other words, he wants it to fail.

At any rate, if we examine the larger context of what Rush was talking about, his intent becomes very clear and isn't well represented by the detractors. But if we take four words in isolation and ignore the context, we may be able to make people believe something about Rush Limbaugh which is not true. Is that right? Is that fair? Is that honest?

No, it's not.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Gifts: Costly to the Recipient?

I've been hearing a phrase over recent years… the phrase is "cheap grace." It's an odd phrase, given the meaning of the word "grace" and so it's not obvious just what the phrase means. "Grace", you see, is undeserved, unearned, unmerited favor. Grace carries the idea of something that costs the recipient nothing, though it may well cost the giver quite a lot. That's clear enough, I think. But is the concept of "grace" compatible at all with an adjective like "cheap"? The two don't seem to go together at all.

The word "cheap" has a couple of connotations, of course… it can simply refer to something that doesn't cost much… even if the object in question is of acceptable quality. You might say "inexpensive." But note that even something that's inexpensive does cost something… something that costs just one dollar is not free.

Perhaps more frequently, "cheap" is a pejorative term that says something about the quality of an object, possibly considered together with the price of the object, which is usually relatively low. But even under this connotation, "cheap" costs something. A cheap pair of tennis shoes is not free.

So it strikes me that the terms "cheap" and "grace" don't really fit together all that well. But another term that keeps popping up makes even less sense than that. The term is "costly grace." Again we have the idea of a gift that's costly. Clearly, it's an oxy-moron unless the context makes clear that the cost has been borne by the giver and not the recipient. If the high cost is borne by the recipient of the gift, I think we all can understand that it's no gift at all. It's earned. It's purchased. It's deserved. And it's not compatible with the idea of "grace" in the least.

These strange terms pop up in Christian circles today and they are offered up in the context God's gift of salvation. But the question is, "How, exactly, are these terms applicable?"

Well, that depends on who you ask. But it might be more useful to ask the Apostle Paul, as he had some things to say about the matter.

Romans 4:4-5 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.

If a man is paid wages for work that he does, Paul says, that is not grace… those wages are owed him. And notice verse 5 in which Paul clearly separates believing from working. "Believing" here is the Greek verb "pisteuo" which means "to trust" or "to rely on". So to the man who does not work, but relies on Him who justifies the unGodly, (Jesus Christ) his faith is counted as righteousness. He is saved. So, relying on someone else to do work is not doing any work of your own. This is Paul's point.

Romans 11:6 And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.

In this verse we see shades of the same idea. Paul is essentially saying that you cannot earn something that is a grace gift. A gift cannot cost you something if it is truly a gift. If you didn't earn it, then it is grace; a gift. But if you must do something to earn it, then it cannot be grace. It is of works. It is earned. In other words, you can't add works to grace. You can't pollute grace with works and still call grace "grace." Paul says these two concepts are mutually exclusive. You cannot add them together.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

Here Paul is talking about our salvation. He says we are saved by grace through faith. The salvation is a gift from God and is not of works (there's that idea of mutual exclusivity again) so that no one can boast about their salvation. Since it wasn't gained or secured through your own efforts, you can't boast about it. It's a grace gift. No work of your own.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Again, eternal life (salvation) is a gift of God.

Well, that all seems clear enough, right? Well, yes, it does. But it seems folks aren't willing to bank what Paul says here. It seems they are loathe to believe it, rest on it. Folks are unwilling to see that God's grace is free. It costs us (the recipients) nothing. (though it certainly cost God quite a bit) It depends NOT on our works, our obedience, etc. We are to rely on Christ for our salvation and if we think we must also rely on ourselves, then we are by definition not relying on Christ!

I found an article at written by a man named John Clark called "The High Cost of Cheap Grace." In it, I found some very interesting thoughts. But before I go there, it might do us good to look at how the cult of Jehovah's Witnesses view salvation and grace. The JWs at my door have told me that God's grace gift to us is that we have the opportunity of salvation, for resurrection. The salvation itself we have to work for, the Watchtower says… but the fact that this is even possible is God's grace. So, the JW's concept of salvation (resurrection for them… they don't believe in Hell, so to them there's nothing to be saved from) is the sum of God's grace gift of opportunity plus your works and obedience. You see, they've done precisely what Paul said not to do… they've added works to grace.

Now let's look at the BelieversWeb article, where John J. Clark says the following:

…the concept of grace must be understood as a sum. The only man who has a right to say he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ. Such a one knows the cost of the call to discipleship and that it is only by grace that he can sustain it.

So, a man can only be saved (justified) by "grace alone" if he has left all to follow Christ. Now, I'm sorry to sound flippant, but this is essentially saying that the only way to experience grace all by itself is to add your works to it. Add your obedience, your discipline, your effort, your sacrifice. There's basically no difference here between Clark's understanding and the JW's understanding. We have to add our works to God's grace. Here's more:

We have come to hunger more for His forgiveness than His Lordship and Leadership because we see the first as making less demands upon our personal lives. Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without demanding repentance, baptism without discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, the cross, Jesus Christ living and incarnate.

Well, the truth is that Paul made it quite clear (and so did Jesus, by the way) that there is only ONE demand on our personal lives when it comes to God's gift of eternal life… that is that we rely on Jesus Christ. If you'd like to slap a label on that, the term "free grace" would fit quite well and would be consistent with what Jesus and the apostles actually taught. Repentence, which simply means to change your mind about something, is necessary in that at one time you may have relied on your own merit to earn the approval of God (or perhaps you didn't even believe in God to begin with). But you must change your mind about that and rely on Christ's merit instead, realizing you have none of your own. This is repentance. There isn't a Christian alive, regardless of how sincere, who has successfully "turned from their sin" (the popular--and incorrect--understanding of "repentance.") Yes, a change of mind is required. But if it's required that we literally stop sinning, then folks, no one is saved.

We also see that Clark is mistakenly equating discipleship with salvation. Jesus called His disciples to leave their lives behind and follow Him. And He meant that literally and figuratively. He actually wanted those men to come with Him and learn from Him. But note that in order to follow Jesus, either literally or figuratively, these men had to put their trust in Jesus. What I'm saying is that these men were saved independently of becoming disciples. The discipleship came later, and yes, it carried a cost. It took effort, it took sacrifice, it carried a cost. But the disciples' salvation happened the moment they put their faith in Christ. At that moment, they possessed eternal life whether or not they became successful as disciples. The idea here is that not every believer becomes a disciple. But every believer is saved by God's grace, no two ways about it. If discipleship is required for salvation, then salvation is by works and not grace, salvation depends on us and not Christ. Here's more from Clark:

Costly Grace, on the other hand, is the treasure hidden in a field. For the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is a pearl of great price to buy which will cost us everything. It's the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble. It is the call of Jesus at which a disciple leaves his nets and follows. It is grace which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

For the sake of grace, a man will gladly sell all he has? Sounds like grace must be earned, doesn't it? Earn God's grace by selling all you have? It will cost us everything? Is that what Paul says? If grace is costly to us, then it seems to me that it's something we could boast about… but that's not what Ephesians 2:8-9 says, is it? Paul says God's gift of salvation is free! That's why Paul calls it a 'gift.'

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. Costly because it costs a man his life, it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. Costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, costly because it cost God the life of His Son.

Okay, now the last sentence I can agree with. God's grace was costly to Him. But if it's a gift to us, it can cost us nothing. If it costs us anything, then it's not a gift. God's plan for salvation by grace calls us to do nothing whatsoever apart from believing in Christ; relying on Christ to do all the work. And Paul takes care to explain that relying on Christ for your salvation is not work. What did Paul tell the jailer in Acts 16:31 when the jailer asked "What must I do to be saved?"

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved"

Paul didn't say "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, sell all you have, leave everything behind, become a disciple, turn from your sin and you will be saved", did he?

Should we follow Christ? Should we attempt to clean up our sinful lives? Should we perform 'good works'? Of course we should. And the extent to which we accomplish these things is the extent to which we earn rewards in Heaven. That is a progressive, incremental process… experiential sanctification. It requires work, effort, sacrifice. It's costly. But that takes place only AFTER we're saved and even if we fail to do these things, we remain saved. Our salvation doesn't depend on us, after all.

1 Corinthians 3:11-15 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

Here Paul makes it very clear that Christ is the foundation, and the ONLY foundation. Upon that foundation we add our works and this will earn for us reward, but even those who are left with no work, no reward, he will still be saved based on the foundation of Christ.

Note that the reward here is not salvation itself, for salvation is a gift and not a reward. A reward is something that is earned; a gift is something that is not earned.

What it comes down to is that we are incredibly adept at finding clever ways to sneak our own works, our own merit, back into the salvation equation. Clark's view of salvation, "costly grace", is a works-based salvation. It is a salvation which depends on the individual and their effort, and not on Christ. The Bible teaches "free grace", not "cheap grace". Free grace is the idea that our salvation is just as Paul describes it… a gift from God that we neither earn nor deserve. From there, we are expected to perform good works, learn more and more about God and Christ, try to emulate Christ in our lives. But this does not impact whether we are saved or not. Our failures cannot revoke our salvation, for if they could, then our salvation would depend on us and not Christ.

Why is this a big deal? Look at Matthew 7:22-23:

Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

Now ask yourself a question: Who or what were these people trusting for their salvation? Sure… they believed that Christ was Lord, they even called Him "Lord". But their trust isn't in Jesus, is it? Their trust is in their works! They're making their case, pointing out to Jesus all the wonderful things they did in His name. They prophesied. They cast out demons. They did wonderful works. Their trust is in themselves! They're trusting their works! And what is the result? Jesus sends them away. "I never knew you" he tells them.

Just a few verses earlier, Jesus says this:

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because[a] narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

We are warned that the way to eternal life is extremely narrow, specific. That doesn't mean it requires a lot of work, per se, it just means that the requirements are very particular. What are those requirements? Rely on Christ alone for your salvation. Let Him deal with it. Give Him the credit. And yes, go and learn. Go do good stuff. That's great. Just don't think that the things you do in any way secure your salvation. Christ has already done that.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Swirling Gas and Dust Forms Perfect Hexagon?

I remember back in high school being taught about how the solar system was formed, and I remember thinking what little sense it made. A big cloud of gas and dust, (the origin of which was never explained) swirling around our sun, eventually gathering itself into 9 distinct spherical bodies. I always thought it odd that a cloud of gas and dust--the same material throughout--could consolidate into 9 planets, each made of different materials. That made no sense. I rolled my eyes in much the same way as I did in 9th grade biology class when Mrs. Foxley would teach biology from an evolutionary perspective.

Well, I'm feeling somewhat vindicated today because astronomers have discovered something very unusual on the planet Saturn. Consider these quotes from an article at Discovery Channel's website here.

"Something downright weird has been sighted twirling over the north pole of Saturn: A long-lived double hexagon formed in the clouds."

Now we're told that science is all about predictions. Scientific theories need to be able to "predict" a particular outcome and that scientific theories are falsified (proven false) when those predictions fail, or perhaps when other things happen that were not predicted.

Well what does the above quote say about astronomers' theory about how the solar system was formed? They say something "weird" has been discovered. Does that sound like something anyone predicted? Would you use the word "weird" to describe something that you expected to happen? What about this quote:

"We haven't seen a (geometric) feature like this anywhere else on any other planet," said Cassini scientist Kevin Baines of the NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "It's unbelievable."

I love that last part… "It's unbelievable." And how about this one:

"It's perplexing," said Baines. "It's a bizarre pattern."

And here's a quote from a Science Daily article that's strange for two reasons:

[Saturn's polar cyclone] is surrounded by an odd, honeycombed-shaped hexagon, which itself does not seem to move while the clouds within it whip around at high speeds, also greater than 500 kilometers per hour (300 miles per hour). Oddly, neither the fast-moving clouds inside the hexagon nor this new cyclone seem to disrupt the six-sided hexagon.

Excuse me, but I have to pick on the journalism here for a minute. A honeycomb-shaped hexagon? What, is a normal hexagon shaped like a burrito or something? And again, at the end of the quote… a "six-sided hexagon". I mean come on… is there any other kind of hexagon? Alright, alright, enough of that…

So the hexagon appears to rotate with the planet, but wind-whipped clouds and weather patterns are unable to disrupt the hexagon. And don't forget that Saturn is a gas giant… there's nothing solid up there. Saturn is not a solid, rocky planet like Earth. This makes this hexagonal shaft even more difficult to imagine. At least rock has some structure to it such that it could hold a shape like that. But Saturn is nothin' but swirling gas. And this hexagon, by the way, has six sides and is shaped like a honeycomb. And did I mention it has six sides?

Sorry!! I just couldn't resist!

So, does this sound like something that astronomers predicted in their theory about how the solar system was formed? This came completely out of the blue, didn't it? But if you read further, you discover something else interesting… it may have come out of the blue, but it did so more than twenty years ago, and we're just finding out about it now!

"One of the unexplained hexagons was glimpsed obliquely before, by the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts more than 20 years ago, which is how scientists know it's a durable feature."

Translation: We saw this thing more than two decades ago, but we were hoping it would turn out to be some sort of fluke… a figment of our imagination, perhaps. That way we wouldn't have to try to come up with an explanation for it. But now that we see it in the images from Cassini in 2006, we are forced to deal with it. We didn't want to deal with in the early 80s because revealing to the public how truly clueless we are might have shaken the public's faith in science. We just hoped it would go away.

Well, look… I'm sorry to be so cynical, but can you really blame me? Is there any good reason why I never learned anything about this when I was in high school? Are astronomers now abandoning their idiotic naturalist explanations for the formation of the solar system in light of this bizarre phenomenon which their previous theory could not have predicted? I'm sure they will do no such thing. They are committed to the naturalist view. Rather than abandon their theory, they will do exactly what Darwinists have done in the face of recent discoveries which challenge their theory… they will simply shoehorn the phenomenon into their theory and claim that all is well. The global warming folks do this as well… we see weather patterns that run contrary to their predictions of warming, and so they invent ways to claim that these weather patterns are actually consistent with their theory. Is it any wonder why I'm cynical?

This brings to mind Proverbs 25:2 which says:

"It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter."

From a Biblical perspective, it's clear that God reveals his creation to us in increments. It appears that He has designed nature in such a way that scientific discoveries are possible, but require certain efforts. In Romans 1:20, we're told:

"For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse"

God's existence is obvious, Paul says. So obvious that men who reject it are without excuse. However, God is gracious… and even though it was obvious way back when Paul wrote Romans and relatively little was known about biology and astronomy, God allows us to discover more and more and history marches on. In a sense, he's cranking up the heat on those who disbelieve. He's making his existence even more obvious, allowing us to peel back layer after layer and discover more and more about His marvelous creation. And as He does so, the pressure increases on those who insist on denying Him.

Apparently they're going to have another look in another year or so. It'll be fun to see what comes of that. I wonder if we'll have to wait another 20 years to find out.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Doctrine Divides?

We live in a very strange world. It's a world in which, apparently, you are free to believe anything you want as long as you don't actually think it's true. Think about that for minute. In other words, you can believe that what you believe is right, but if you take it so far as to then conclude that people who believe differently are actually wrong, then you have crossed the line. We're told that is arrogant. We're told that is divisive. We're told that is bigoted.

I'm not at all sure how a person can believe a thing is true and at the same time believe that people who disagree on that issue can be correct also. This is the law of non-contradiction: Two contradictory propositions cannot be true in the same sense at the same time. This is a standard rule of logic. It's true that there are those people who claim to reject the law of non-contradiction. But they cannot reject it without affirming it. If the law of non-contradiction was invalid, then there would be no difference between saying "I accept the law of non-contradiction" and "I reject the law of non-contradiction."

Unfortunately, it seems this kind of thinking has crept into Christianity as well. You see, there are certain issues within Christianity about which people have disagreements. Disagreements over doctrine, some essential, some peripheral. Heck, there's even disagreement about what doctrines are essential or peripheral. In the face of these unfortunate conflicts, some Christians, in what may be a noble attempt to smooth things out, have adopted a mantra that says "doctrine divides" and they seek to avoid conflict by avoiding these sorts of controversies, perhaps never taking sides themselves, trying to stay above the fray.

It might be useful at this point to understand what the word "doctrine" means. Doctrine is quite a broad term, actually, it means little more than a body of knowledge that is taught and understood. That's pretty much it. If I teach that 5+5=10, that is doctrine. If I teach that the Earth is round, that is doctrine. For that matter, if I teach that the Earth is flat, that too, is doctrine. It's false doctrine, but because it is something I'm teaching, we can still call it "doctrine." Note that just because we refer to a body of knowledge as "doctrine" doesn't mean that body of knowledge is true. If someone teaches that Jesus Christ is one of many ways to get to Heaven, that is doctrine just as mush as if someone teaches that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life. One of those is false and one of those is true. But both are examples of "doctrine."

So the question is, "Does doctrine divide?" And the answer is a resounding "Yes!" But there's another question that comes along with that: "Is that a good thing?" And again, the answer is a resounding "Yes!"

Now, see, some folks are squirming in their seat after reading that. This is uncomfortable. But notice something about this "doctrine divides" mantra: it is doctrine; that which is taught. So right away, and though they may not realize it, the person who is trying to unite Christians by ignoring doctrine is actually using doctrine to divide. Of course, it's not possible to use doctrine to insulate people from doctrine and/or doctrinal disagreements. It's self-refuting.

Why is division over doctrine a good thing? The entire Bible is built on the idea that truth needs to be divided from falsehood. That is why the Bible was necessary. Doctrinal differences is what separates Christians from, say, Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons. It's what separates Christians from Catholicism. It's what separates Christianity from Islam and every other world religion. Doctrine is important. It is worth discussing, debating, and otherwise making a heartfelt effort to come to a conclusion about. Now granted, some doctrines are more important than others. And I'll also grant that differences in doctrinal understandings should not result in people being hostile to each other. But the Bible is there to provide answers. It's not just a cute story that can be interpreted any way we like.

Is there support for the idea that doctrine (what which is taught) is emphasized in the Bible? Of course. Consider the following verses:

Mark 1:22 And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.

Whose doctrine? Jesus' doctrine. Jesus taught, and what He taught was doctrine. And the Jewish leaders were astonished at the content of His teaching. Jesus didn't avoid teaching what apparently were controversial doctrines (the Jews didn't like what He taught!!) under this "doctrine divides" template, did He? No. He taught, and what He taught was important.

John 7:16 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.

Did Jesus think doctrine was important? Yes! Did He avoid teaching doctrine for the sake of unity? No!!

John 7:17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

Here we get into discerning between good doctrine and bad doctrine. Doctrine that is "of God" or doctrine that just represents man's own opinion. There seems to be some emphasis here on making discernments between false doctrine and true doctrine.

Acts 2:42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

Once again, the apostles were not avoiding teaching doctrine for the sake of unity.

Rom. 16:17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

Here Paul is telling us again to be discerning; to learn to spot doctrine which is contrary to the doctrines he and the apostles had taught, and to point out those who are creating divisions with these false doctrines!

Eph. 4:14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

Hmmmm. Another passage emphasizing discernment. Don't be naive like children, believing every doctrine that comes along. Men lie in wait to deceive with false doctrines, so be discerning. Yes, doctrine divides, alright.

1Tim. 1:10 For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;

Contrary to sound doctrine? Another allusion to the distinction between doctrine that is sound and doctrine that is unsound. Division. Discernment.

1Tim. 4:6 If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.

Once again. Good doctrine. Not bad doctrine. There's a difference, a division, between the two.

1Tim. 4:13 Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.

Study doctrine!! Know it!! Don't avoid it!!

2Tim. 3:16 All scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

Doctrine is profitable. That merely means it serves you well. It is valuable, it is important. And all scripture contains doctrine.

2Tim. 4:2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.

Teach doctrine, Paul says to Timothy.

2Tim. 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears

Interesting… Paul is warning Timothy that at some point people will flee doctrine. They will abhor it. They will not endure it!! And Paul is saying this is bad!! Doctrine divides!!

Titus 1:9 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

Sound doctrine (good doctrine) enables you to exhort and persuade those who would teach incorrect doctrines!!

2John 1:10 If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed

Another verse insisting that we be discerning! John tells his audience not to let a man into your house if he teaches another doctrine! If we don't know what good doctrine is, then how will we know when someone's bringing bad doctrine? How could we follow John's advice here if discerning between good and bad doctrine were not imperative? Yes, doctrine divides. John says it should divide.

I think it's clear by these passages that there is much emphasis in the Bible on correct doctrine. Doctrine is essential. It's unfortunate that there are differences out there. That certainly makes it more difficult. But as I've encountered this controversy or that controversy, I've found that the controversies tend to drive you deeper into the text--particularly if you understand the importance of discerning doctrine and having the correct understanding--and as I've dug into the issues and sought the truth, being willing to re-examine the doctrines I've been taught my whole life, I have found answers. I have found resolution. And while I have had to abandon my previous understandings of certain issues, on other issues I have found my understanding to be correct. In both cases, my understanding is increased and my faith is reinforced.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bumper Stickers

Today I left my aquatic rehab class and while walking (limping?) to the car I noticed a car parked near mine whose rear-end was plastered with left-leaning bumper stickers, including an Obama '08 sticker.

One bumper sticker read "Evolution is just a theory. Kind of like gravity."

And then immediately below that, another sticker read "As long as people believe in absurdities, they will continue to commit atrocities" …a quote by French philosopher Francois Marie Arouet Voltaire.

Interesting that these stickers were paired together on the car… I wonder if this person realizes that Hitler believed in evolution. He carried evolution to its logical conclusion… He wanted to weed out what he deemed to be the weakest humans in order to breed a superior race and drive the evolution of humans forward. This was his motivation. 6,000,000 people slaughtered.

Voltaire was right.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What's My Sign?

Okay, I admit, this bugs me. But before I go any further, I must first apologize to those I'm about to offend. I'm going to make some comments that folks who believe in astrology won't appreciate too much. To those folks, I'm sorry that you will be offended. That is not my intent, though I will admit freely that I certainly do intend to make people think and examine their own beliefs critically. And please understand that examining your own beliefs critically doesn't necessarily mean ultimately abandoning those beliefs, although it MIGHT. But if you find yourself offended by my comments, please try not to be. Instead, consider my comments carefully and test my comments against reason. If it turns out I'm wrong, tell me and tell me why. If it turns out I'm not wrong, then ask yourself why it is you believe what you believe.

So what bugs me? Well, I was editing my profile on this blog and I was curious about something. Some folks' blog profiles list their astrological sign. Well, understand I tend to be a bit of a smartalek at times, and I thought it'd be fun to edit my profile such that under "astrological sign" it said "No Astrology!" Well, come to find out, I can't do that. When I input my birthday, the blog software automatically fills in my astrological sign. Now, to be fair, they do provide a check box to hide your astrological sign… probably for sticks-in-the-mud like me who reject such notions.

So why does this bug me? I guess what bugs me most is that astrology is widely accepted enough that anyone cares or thinks someone's astrological sign is at all relevant. I guess I'd say that the horoscope feature in the daily newspaper bothers me just as much and for precisely the same reason.

Actually, astrology is kind of interesting in a particular way. It turns out to have some interesting connections with things Biblical, believe it or not… and I don't JUST mean that in the Mosaic Law, practicing astrology was a capital crime. That's true, but it's not the connection I'm talking about.

What's interesting is that the Israelites had their own name for what astrologers might call "The Zodiac"… that string of constellations that follows the path of the sun through the sky. The word was "mazzeroth." And even more interesting is the fact that the twelve tribes of Israel had an animal symbol which corresponded with the signs of the zodiac. Now isn't that ODD? I mean maybe it wouldn't be so strange if astrology was, like, encouraged in the Bible. But it's not! Astrology was a capital crime for the Jews under the Mosaic Law!! Why would that BE?

Here are some other interesting tidbits: What each constellation represents is UNIVERSAL to all cultures. That is, all cultures recognize this particular constellation as "Virgo", a virgin woman. Virgin woman? Now that's odd. I seem to recall something about a virgin in the Bible.

And have you ever found it strange that these arrangements of stars really look NOTHING like what they're supposed to represent? Look at the constellation called "Taurus" for example. Do they really expect me to believe that anyone in history looked up, saw this collection of several stars arranged in a triangular fashion, and immediately thought that it resembled a bull? BULL!

Well, it turns out there's an explanation for this. The Mazzeroth had a purpose at one point in history, and its purpose was God-ordained. The Bible says that God named the stars and put each one in its place and that no star is out-of-place. This implies that each star HAS a place by some over-arching design. (pardon the pun) So if God could have named each star, He certainly could have named GROUPS of stars just as easily, correct? Of course. Well that makes a lot more sense, doesn't it? Men didn't name those constellations based on what they looked like. Rather, God told man what the groups represented and gave the groups names and this was for a PURPOSE. And it had nothing to do with foretelling the future, at least not in the way astrologers use it.

What was the purpose? Well, before the flood there was no written Bible… in fact, the book of Job, which is widely regarded as the earliest book written, came along quite a while after the flood. But it appears that around 2000 years elapsed on Earth from the time of Adam up to the flood. Well, the idea is that God used the Mazzeroth to teach Adam and his descendants (all pre-flood) about His plan of salvation for mankind. A giant mnemonic. Sound outlandish? Not so fast… 'cuz it turns out that each 'sign' and its decans contain symbology that relates to just that. Virgin included.

So here's a quick run-down of these relationships. There is more symbology to be found in the 'decans' for each of these signs. This information is gleaned from "The Gospel In The Stars" by Joseph A. Seiss, published in 1882 and also from from E.W. Bullinger's "The Witness of the Stars". There is much more detailed information available, but I'm just trying to hit the major points here.

Virgo: A virgin. Do I really need to explain this?

Libra: A pair of balances… a scale. A symbol of trade, depicting a purchase or a redemption. Hmmm. Interesting, no?

Scorpio: Scorpion, portrays the enemy of the deliverer, poised to strike.

Sagittarious, the bowman. A centaur, half-horse and half-man. Depicts a man with two natures. Think Christ and the hypostatic union. The centaur's bow is drawn and aimed at the scorpion. Hmmmm.

Capricornus. A half-goat half-fish creature that symbolizes the death and new life of the Savior.

Aquarius: A man with a large vase of water which he is pouring out. Depicts the giving of the Holy Spirit, whose influence Jesus likened to streams of flowing water. The early Church chose the sign of a fish to symbolize their faith.

Pisces: Two fish. A representation of the Church.

Ares: The Ram. Depicts Christ in Heaven, ascended and victorious.

Taurus: The bull. An angry, rushing animal. Depicts God delivering his wrath during the tribulation.

Gemini: The twins. To human figures seated together. Portrays the marriage of the lamb, the uniting of Christ with His Church.

Cancer: A crab holding on tight with his pincers. Depicts Christ upon His return.

Leo: The lion pictures Christ (the "lion of the tribe of Judah") in His final victory over Satan.

So, consider the idea that the Mazzeroth told a story about God's plan of salvation for mankind during a time when the written word was not yet practical. Then, consider that Noah and his family brought this same system down off the ark with them and taught it to their descendants, and so on. Then several hundred years later, perhaps near the time of the great dispersion at the Tower of Babel, the whole system fell to the corruption of rebellious man. The different people groups with their different languages scattered and took it with them to different parts of the Earth.

So astrology, it appears, is a corrupt, hi-jacked version of what once was a storybook written in the stars to teach God's plan of salvation. It told the future in the sense that it described the yet-future Messiah and His ultimate victory over evil, but it was never intended for anything else.

But apart from that, there are, of course, serious questions that need to be answered by anyone who seriously believes in astrology. What, is the empirical basis for astrology? Exactly how and why does when you are born dictate anything about who you are going to be? Astrology has failed various empirical tests:

1. Psychologist Bernard Silverman at Michigan State analyzed the birthdates of 2978 couples who were getting married and 478 who were getting divorced. There were NO correlations.

2. Physicist John McGurvy analyzed the biographies of 6000 politicians and 17000 scientists and the distribution of dates of birth was completely random.

3. Nature Magazine, Dec 5 1985, Sean Carlson of Lawrence Berkely Laboratory provided horoscope information to 28 professional astrologers from which they were to match each horoscope with 1 of 3 profiles submitted. The results? Completely random. No correlation.

4. A French statistician named Michael Coughlin sent the horoscope for one of the worst mass-murderers in French history to 150 people and asked them how well it fit them and 94% recognized themselves in the description.

5. An Australian researcher named Jeffery Dean reversed the astrological readings of 22 subjects and 95% identified themselves in the reversed readings.

Here are some questions every astrology buff should ask themselves:

1. What is the likelihood that 1/12th of the world's population is having the same kind of day today?

2. Why is the moment of birth, and not conception, crucial in astrology?

3. Since the time that astrology was first conceived, new planets have been discovered. Doesn't that mean that every horoscope prior to those discoveries is wrong? (And what happens if, even today, we discover MORE planets?)

I'm reminded of a woman I worked with during my lengthy (2 week) career at Central Graphic and Art Supply in Medford back in 1986… she was an energetic astrology enthusiast and a very nice woman. Every day that I worked, (probably 10 days) she tried to guess my sign. She never did get it right.

So the big question is, why is does astrology hold such an attraction to people? I understand, being a Bible-believing Christian, that in the Church Age we are not under the Mosaic Law. But shouldn't it give us pause to realize that practicing astrology was punishable by death under the Mosaic Law? Doesn't that give you general idea that maybe God, well, isn't real fond of astrology?