One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

How Hillary Could Have Won

It's been a couple of days since Election Day 2016. Personally I am not disappointed Hillary lost, but I think she lost for one particular reason: she failed to make the campaign about issues. Had Hillary focused her speeches, her debates and advertising war chest on the contrasts (or, more importantly, the lack thereof) between herself and Trump, she would have driven a wedge between Donald Trump and his conservative base and won easily. Instead she relentlessly attacked Trump's personality, which only fueled his base to get out and vote.

If you had your TV on at any time in the last three months, chances are you saw it: the ad with the children sitting in front of the TV watching as Donald Trump made one extreme remark after another. It probably won't go down in history alongside other memorable TV ads from past campaigns (mostly because Hillary lost and most people remember winners' ads), but it is definitely the most memorable of this campaign. This ad, for better and for worse, exemplifies Clinton's entire campaign strategy: pointing out what a nasty scoundrel Donald Trump is.

Hillary's campaign staff and her supporters in the press and popular media followed this strategy to the letter. Late night comedians constantly pointed out Trump's flubs and erratic behavior every night of the week. Democratic panelists on various news shows focused on the seedy characters Trump seemed to attract, from Milo Yiannopoulos to David Duke. Some went on to imply (and in some cases declare outright) that all or most of Trump's support came from extremists like them.

This was the wrong strategy to take because it only served to fuel Trump's base's rage against the political, media and entertainment elite. They knew Trump was and is a sorry human being. A large portion of his base (at least many from all over the country that I talked to personally and on social media) was reluctant in their support. Hillary failed to turn that reluctance into a decision to stay home.

Most conservatives (I say this as a conservative-leaning libertarian who grew up around conservatives and who lives in a very red state - Alabama) have a persecution complex. They are used to being marginalized, ignored and villainized by the movers and shakers of society, and they tend to identify with people who are the targets of attacks from the left. If you want an example, look no further than Sarah Palin. The more liberals made fun of her, the more conservatives loved her, bought her books and tuned in to her TV shows.

Trump understood this. He was willing to take the abuse and dish out some of his own, which only further stirred his base, many of whom felt that both Romney and McCain failed to attack Barack Obama. Romney in particular further alienated the Republican base by failing to take a strong stand on issues dear to conservatives.

Had Hillary commended Trump for his stance on LGBT issues,
how many conservative votes would Trump have lost?
Photo Credit: Colorado Log Cabin Republicans
Here's where 2016 was different from 2012: in the debates and with his stump speeches President Obama made Romney speak to these divisive issues. And when he did, millions of conservatives stayed home. Clinton by and large did not attack Trump on any specific issues. And she had wide-open opportunities to do so. Trump is not a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. Many of his positions, especially on social issues, are similar to Clinton's. In particular, look at Trump's embrace of LGBT rights. Many conservatives, particularly conservative Christians, would balk at such positions. They are the type who would stay home rather than vote for the "lesser of two evils." Clinton did not need to attack Trump in this regard. She could have praised him for having an openly gay man speak right before his acceptance speech at the GOP Convention. She could have made a big deal out of finding common ground with Trump.

But Clinton never brought this up. Maybe she was afraid if she found common ground with Trump that some of her support might go away. Maybe she was afraid of humanizing someone she was determined to treat with disdain. Whatever the reason, the ceaseless personal attacks continued, and with each one she dug herself into a deeper hole she ultimately could not climb out of.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Double (switch) or Nothing: How Baseball can Improve Mid-inning Pitching Changes

Pitching changes like this one that disrupt the flow of the game are one of the sources of frustration for fans who wish MLB games wouldn't last so late into the night. Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Most fans agree Major League Baseball needs to speed up its games, postseason and regular season. Part of the solution might be to require a double switch to change pitchers in the middle of an inning. Even if it doesn't shorten the game, it will make it more interesting.

This week will mark the conclusion of this year's World Series. It has been the most exciting, the most talked-about and the most watched Series in recent memory. But once again baseball fans are complaining about a topic that seems to come up every postseason: the games are too long, and go too late at night. Lots of people have said the late games are why baseball's national ratings have trended down over the last few years. The facts seem to say otherwise though. Ratings tend to go up the later the games go, according to the networks and the ratings services.

Nevertheless, I agree that the games go too long. The longer commercial breaks are a part of it, and that honestly can't be helped. You can't expect FOX (or any other network in their position) not to take advantage of a large national audience, especially given the large fees they pay the league to broadcast the games.

But another factor is constant pitching changes. It's not uncommon to see five or six pitchers pitch the last four innings of a game. The other night the FOX announcers quoted Cleveland manager Terry Francona as saying that posteason baseball is different: there is more pressure to do everything exactly right and that leads to more pitching changes based on matchups with batters. You do see this to some extent during the regular season as well, but it certainly seems worse in October. When teams carry four, sometimes only three, starters in the postseason and as many as eight or nine relievers on the roster, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: more relievers are available, therefore more get used.

Here is how my double-switch solution works: the starter can be taken out at any time with no penalty. If he runs out of gas with two outs in the sixth, is getting blown out in the third, or whatever the situation, the manager should be able to replace him at any time. However after the first reliever comes in, he can only be removed at the end (or beginning, depending on how you want to look at it) of an inning without a penalty. If the reliever comes off the mound with less than three outs, someone else has to come off the field as well. In American League play, a manager would have a choice of replacing the designated hitter instead of taking out a fielder. Either way though, someone else has to come out of the lineup. There would be a few obvious exceptions: injury to the pitcher, weather delays, etc. The umpires would have discretion in these scenarios.

What about extra innings? To that I ask how many times do you see mid-inning pitching changes in extra innings? They are rare, and even more rare the deeper the game goes into extras. So this will kind of take care of itself. There is no need to waive the rule for situations in which such pitching changes are not usually made.

Will this change bring back games of less than two hours? No, of course not. But it could make managers think twice about bringing in a pitcher to face one batter, resulting in two additional commercial breaks in one half-inning. It will bring a new layer of strategy to the game. If a team doesn't have any players on the bench, then the pitcher has to stay out there. It might make a team decide to add a sixth utility player instead of a ninth reliever to the roster.

Most importantly, it would be a fun change and give people something to talk about in the stands and at home. Instead of, "Oh no, a pitching change," it would be, "Ooh, who's coming out of the field? Or will he switch DH's?" Baseball fans love the intrigue, the way the lineup works. This would give them a reason to stay tuned during a pitching change instead of switching channels or going to the bathroom or shutting off the TV and going to bed. And fan engagement is why we love the games we love, isn't it?

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The New F-Word?

This will be the first in a series of articles about verses that I think have been misapplied down through the years.

Misunderstood Verses #1

Matthew 5:22: And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.

For most of my life, I've heard this verse explained to mean that Jesus does not want us to use the word "fool" to describe someone. I suppose that's not the best thing to say to a person, but I believe Jesus had a much deeper and more profound message than just that. If you think Jesus was adding another four-letter word to the list that nice people don't say, then you are missing the point.

I'm told the Aramaic (the dialect of Hebrew spoken in Palestine during Jesus' time) word "raca" means "empty-headed." Seems to me that's not much different than "fool." But you could be brought to the council for saying one and not the other. Why bring someone who uses one insult before the council and not another? The logical assumption is that "raca" was a profanity in Jesus' day.

Photo Credit
Every society has profanities - words, gestures, etc. They vary from culture to culture. My dad served a tour of duty in Vietnam with the Marines. He never did and still doesn't talk about very much of what he experienced there, but one thing I remember him talking about was the fact that an innocent-looking (to Americans) "come here" gesture was a vile profanity in Vietnam. One of the things they trained foreign soldiers before they arrived in Vietnam was to not use that particular gesture.

Profanities are a part of the human experience. Whether that's a good or bad thing, I'm not quite sure, but the fact remains every society has them. In Jesus' day, one of the worst things you could say was "raca." It was apparently so bad that even saying it in public would get you sent before the religious authorities. The religious authorities in Jesus' day had limited but real power. They couldn't criminally punish, but they could embarrass people in front of the community in a way that kept most people in line with Jewish customs.

What kind of words are so bad that Jesus would say they are worse than cuss words? Very simple: words that hurt and leave a lasting impression on their victims. It might not be pleasant, but think back: every one of us can remember something someone said that cut us to the core like a knife. Maybe it was a classmate or group of classmates at school. Maybe a coworker or a boss. Sadly for some folks it might be something a teacher or even their parents said. I could be wrong, but I'd be willing to guess the person who said memorably hurtful things to you didn't use a string of four-letter words. Even if they did, it wasn't the cuss words that hurt you nearly as much as what they were saying beyond those words.

This, I believe, is the point Jesus was making here. The religious authorities of Jesus' day (and lots of people today) thought saying swear words was the worst sin you could commit with your mouth. As long as they didn't say those words, they thought they were doing pretty good. But Jesus said real sin goes a lot deeper than that. Words spoken in anger, pride and condescension can do lasting damage to people, regardless of whether there are cuss words thrown in or not.

I'm not saying you ought to go around cussing a blue streak. Jesus didn't say the council was wrong for punishing people who swore. What Jesus was warning against was the attitude that says as long as I'm not saying the words on somebody's naughty list then whatever I want to say is fine. It's not fine. Paul said that our words should "impart grace" to those who hear them. That should be the ideal that you and I should strive for: to be the kind of people whose words bring encouragement and grace to others.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Super Self-Congratulation Sunday?

Photo Credit
This Sunday is the Super Bowl. I don’t need to tell you that it will be one of the biggest events of the year. It’s a part of the fabric of the American culture.

Unlike most of my fellow Americans, I have only seen one Super Bowl live from beginning to end. In the majority of those instances, I have missed the Super Bowl because of Sunday evening church. I'm not writing to complain that I'm deprived or anything like that. I’m also not going to say it’s stupid to have church on a night when most of the people there would rather be home or at a party. I wouldn’t waste your time with such topics.

What I am writing about is the often-unstated assumptions that go with church on Super Sunday night. These assumptions center around the idea that we are somehow more pleasing to God because we are at church on a particular night of the year. In many churches I have been a part of or a visitor in, Super Bowl Sunday becomes “Prove How Much We Love Jesus” Sunday.

Here’s the first problem as I see it: Sunday night church in the fundamental/conservative evangelical circles I grew up in (and am still a part of) is hardly sacrosanct. We'll cancel church for anything: holidays like Memorial Day or July 4th, Christmas and Easter (the fact that many F/CE’s go to church less often during the seasons of Christmas and Easter is certainly full of irony, but that is another topic for another time), bad weather and more. But come blizzard or flood, we're going to have church on Super Bowl Sunday night. Why? Because that's the way it's always been done, and it feels good to be doing something so “spiritual.” 

And that leads me to a second, more insidious problem: the faulty belief that we are proving something to God or to the world by being at church. I know this is real because I have experienced it. Super Bowl Sunday night services are never normal. There is a charge in the air. 

In the worst cases, I have seen the whole service be about how wonderful it is that we are better than the church down the road that canceled services or, even worse, is showing the game and invited the community to a watch party. Other times the message may be about how shameful it is that some of the members are here but would rather be watching the game. I’ve seen the song leader make sure to sing all 5 verses of each song (to an audible chorus of groans), and the pastor making jokes about preaching an extra long sermon. I haven’t yet been to a service where the prayer went, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men,” but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

The fact is that God can’t love us any more. He sent His only Son to die and pay the penalty for our sins because He wanted to have a relationship with us. How much more love do you need? Our acts of piety don’t bring us any closer to God. We draw closer to God through obedience. Samuel told Saul, “To obey is better than sacrifice,” and Jesus quotes Hosea when He says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” 

Does that obedience include church attendance? Yes it does. But if we are meeting to congratulate ourselves or to lay a guilt trip on people who are there but would rather be watching the game, we are not fulfilling the purpose of the church. 

Am I telling you not to go to church this Sunday evening? No, I’m not. Maybe you don’t like pro football, or maybe you don’t really care about either team in the game. There could be as many legitimate reasons to go to church as there are believers in whatever churches are having services. My plea to my fellow believers is not to be pharisaical about it. Don’t judge others who aren’t there. Don’t be proud of yourself because you are there. Don’t think going to church will give God opportunity to favor your team. And, if I may say so, if you really want to see the game, do it. And don’t lie to your pastor next week about the kids being sick or something. 

A picture of the game-saving tackle on the last play of Super
Bowl 34. Photo Credit
Sixteen years ago I skipped church to watch St. Louis in the Super Bowl. As football fans know, it was one of the best Super Bowl games ever. It was a thrilling victory, and given how extremely unlikely it will be for St. Louis to ever be in the Super Bowl again, it is a memory I will cherish forever. Makes me wish I had skipped church two years later. Maybe St. Louis would have won again. I’m joking, of course, but I am serious about not regretting not going to church. This principle applies in many areas where others might condemn us for a personal choice. Paul tells us, “Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.” In other words, if you have a clear conscience before God about your decision, don’t let others' judgmental attitudes keep you away from doing what you want to do.

Friday, January 29, 2016

TOMS: Jude

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 28, 2008

Jude was a younger half-brother of the Lord Jesus. He introduces himself in his short epistle as the brother of James, but the Gospels mention several of Jesus' brothers, and one of them is Judas or Jude. Obviously this is not the same Judas who betrayed Jesus. Judas (or Judah) was quite a common name in 1st century Israel, particularly since most of the Jews living there were from the tribe of Judah.

Jude's book is quite short, but it is a very powerful condemnation of false teachers. This epistle was written late in the first century, certainly at a much later time than his brother James' epistle. Jude does not mention much specific doctrinal error like John does, but he does attack the motives of the false teachers. If you are around someone for very long, you know what motivates them, whether it is money or power or something more positive.

"Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire." (vs. 3-7)

Jude jumps right in to this book with a warning about tolerating false teachers. Jude reminds his readers about the fact that people practicing wickedness throughout history have been judged by God and that they need to separate themselves from that wickedness, if for no other reason than to get out of the way of the coming judgment. God judged the angels who fell, He judged the people of Sodom for their wickedness and He judged the people of Israel who rejected Him, even after He saved them from Egypt.

"Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you.' But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam's error and perished in Korah's rebellion. These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever." (vs. 8-13)

These are dangerous people Jude's readers are dealing with. Don't get the wrong idea by the term "love feasts." This is just a reference to a meal shared by all the people in a church. Jude says that these people are a reef. A reef is, among other things, a hidden danger to ships as they sail through what looks like safe waters. These people were right in the midst of the church, and they were wicked men, unsaved and creating problems. Apparently some of them were leaders in the church, since Jude says they were like shepherds feeding themselves instead of feeding the flock. We need to be very careful of the people we put in leadership positions in the church. The Lord takes His church very seriously, and we should be very careful to make sure that those in authority take the church seriously as well.

Apparently, among their many other errors, they were preoccupied with demons. They were obsessed with casting them out and blaming all of people's problems on demons. I have met a couple of people like that. I knew one man, who later abandoned his wife and left the ministry, whose whole ministry seemed to change after he became preoccupied with the idea of demons. When I was very young, he came and preached several times at my church and was very good. He had a profitable ministry. But then things took a bizarre turn and his sermons started being all about demons and he had stories about all the demons he cast out of people and that sort of thing. Of course demons are real, but honestly it is not our job to try to confront them directly. Jude says here that not even Michael, the most powerful of the angels, came against Satan in his own power, but came in the power of the Lord Himself. As a general rule, don't trust someone who is preoccupied with demons as the source of evil in the world.

The story about Michael and Satan is actually an old Jewish legend that Jude records as fact in Scripture. In the next passage Jude quotes from another apocryphal source, the prophecy of Enoch. These days, people are obsessed with the apocryphal writings, particularly of the New Testament period. The "Da Vinci Code" book and movie, along with hundreds of other books touting "new evidence" about the origins of Christianity, is based on these writings. The church thoroughly studied and proved these writings to be false more than 1,800 years ago, but today these "brilliant" writers have dredged them back up pretending they have found something new. The moral of Jude's use of such material here is that they often can have accurate historical information in them, but if what they say goes against the plain teaching of Scripture, it is imperative that we leave that stuff alone and stick with the Bible. I have actually read some of the Apocrypha, the books that are included in the Catholic Bible. Most of what I have read is interesting historical information, but neither the Jews nor most orthodox Christians recognize it as scripture. Not even the Catholic church places it on the same level as the traditional Old and New Testaments.

"It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, 'Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.' These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage." (vs. 14-16)

Jude continues here with his theme of judgment on wicked men, and what these believers need to do to get out of the way of the coming judgment. He quotes Enoch, who prophesied thousands of years ago that the Lord was coming to bring about judgment.

"But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, 'In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.' It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit." (vs. 17-19)

This passage is certainly a clue that this epistle was written late in the Apostolic Age. Jude mentions that the Apostles had already written about the fact that there will be mockers in the last days. This quote sounds an awful lot like II Peter 3, but Paul also wrote something similar in II Timothy 3, and there are other passages as well that warn about apostasy in the last days. Certainly things have only gotten progressively worse as the centuries have passed. 

"But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen." (vs. 20-25, ESV)

This is Jude's conclusion. He reminds his readers to remain faithful to the Lord through whatever comes and to be faithful witnesses. They were to be witnesses both to those outside the church and those inside the church who were led astray by the false teachers. Lots of people like to quote verse 22 in the King James: "And of some have compassion, making a difference." The preacher in church yesterday said, "The Bible says, 'Compassion makes a difference.'" Well of course compassion does make a difference, but looking at it in context, what it is saying here is that Jude's readers (and that would include us) need to have compassion on those who have been led astray by the false teachers. When he tells us to "make a difference," it means to make a difference between the false teachers, who should be shunned, and those led astray by the false teachers - “those who doubt” - who can still be led to true Biblical faith. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

TOMS: 3 John

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 25, 2008

John addresses this short epistle to Gaius, a man about whom we know very little other than the fact that John wrote an epistle to him. Gaius was a common Roman name, and there are a few men by the name of Gaius mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament.

"The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." (vs. 1-4)

Perhaps John wrote this about wishing Gaius' physical health would prosper as his soul because Gaius was a sickly individual or had a medical condition. Or it may have been a more general greeting. Either way, John is obviously pleased with Gaius and his ministry on the whole, although there are a couple of issues John wants to address. John calls Gaius one of his children in verse 4. Most likely this means that Gaius was a spiritual son of John. It is unlikely a Jew like John would give his son such an obviously Roman name.

"Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth." (vs. 5-8)

In 2 John, the Apostle addresses problems that arise when well-meaning Christians help false teachers. In 3 John, he addresses the problems that arise when Christians do not do enough to support genuine servants of the Lord. These traveling teachers probably were similar to what we would consider evangelists now. They traveled from church to church, teaching sound doctrine directly from the Apostles and further encouraging the churches. Gaius and his congregation were apparently not doing their part to further these men's ministries. What a shame it is that, even today, false teachers rake in donations by the millions while those who are really doing a good work for the Lord seem to struggle to get by. Now I know that there are a lot of issues involved, but the fact remains that those of us who know the Lord and are trying to live by the Word of God should be giving more to help brothers and sisters who are honorably doing the Lord's work. I know the Lord tells us to give as we see fit, but the fact still remains (at least for me) that I need to see fit to give more.

As a passing note, when John says these men accepted nothing from the Gentiles, John is most likely using that term to describe the lost world. The word Gentiles is used in that context several times in the epistles. Basically it means that the church was the only means of support for these teachers.

"I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. We also add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true." (vs. 9-12, ESV)

People like Diotrephes are a detriment to the church. Doubtless Diotrephes was well-respected in the community and the church. Many may have called him a natural leader. But unfortunately he was using his God-given abilities (and probably wealth and other influences) to stir up trouble in the church. He was very critical of these teachers that John mentions earlier as honorable servants of God. He personally did not like them, and tried to run off or even discipline those who did. Diotrephes was probably a big reason Gaius' church was not doing enough to meet the needs of the evangelists. 

Church leaders need to be very careful whom they put in leadership. Someone like Diotrephes can wreak so much havoc in the church it is scary. Not only in the church, but his stubbornness and hatefulness even reached outside the church, affecting these evangelists and causing the Apostle John enough grief that he felt compelled to write this letter. The church has to be bigger than any one man.

Later John mentions an example of a man who deserved more esteem in the church, namely Demetrius. Perhaps Gaius needed his eyes opened to see the problems that were right in front of his face. It seems that he and the church as a whole were relying too much on Diotrephes for leadership, a critical, narrow-minded man, and were overlooking the gifts of Demetrius, a humble, generous man who was doing the Lord's work without drawing much attention to himself. Lord give us more Demetriuses and fewer Diotrepheses in our day!

Monday, January 25, 2016

TOMS: 2 John

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 24, 2008

This little letter (the shortest book in the Bible) was written by John to the "elect lady," whoever that may have been. If you have read the rest of John's writings, the themes here are quite similar.

"The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever: Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father's Son, in truth and love." (vs. 1-3)

Whoever this lady was, she was probably well-known at the time among the first-century church. Other than that, this is a pretty standard opening for an epistle.

"I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. And now I ask you, dear lady— not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning— that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward." (vs. 4-8)

Once again we find John reminding his readers to love one another. Love is a vital element for the Christian life. You notice that John also points out that true Christian love involves more than a feeling: it requires walking in God's commandments.

We also find John warning against the error of gnosticism. The gnostics denied the humanity of Christ and taught that He was merely a spirit being. John made a point of pointing out that it is false doctrine to deny that Jesus came in the flesh.

John includes another serious warning as well: we can lose rewards in heaven if we are unfaithful to the Lord. As Christians we have the privilege of earning rewards in heaven. But those rewards are conditional upon our faithfulness. 

"Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works." (vs. 9-11, ESV)

God takes doctrinal purity seriously. There are minor things that no Christians will ever agree completely on. To divide over these things is foolish and unnecessary. But there are a number of things in Scripture that are non-negotiable. John goes so far as to say that we should have nothing to do with these false teachers, not even a greeting. That is serious. In our society, we are told to be tolerant of everyone, even those with whom we disagree (those who use the word "tolerance" the most are often some of the least tolerant people out there, but that is another topic for another time). Instead of trying to win them back, we need to just have nothing to do with them until they show signs of repentance. Now of course this goes for teachers, leaders in the Christian community. I don't think John is telling us not to have anything to do with relatives, friends or neighbors who hold unorthodox doctrine; I think he is talking about teachers and about how the church should deal with them.

Friday, January 22, 2016

TOMS: 1 John 5

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 22, 2008

John wraps up his epistle with a summary of a lot of the things he has already written.
"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (5:1-5)

There is no great secret to a victorious Christian life. The two things we must do are to love God and keep His commandments. By these two things we will gain victory over the world and have confidence in the Lord.

"This is he who came by water and blood— Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life." (5:6-12)

John here points out the baptism of Christ: "water" - the physical death of Christ: "blood" - and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to prove that Christ came in the flesh and was and is the Son of God. These three never change and speak to all people at all times of the work of Christ. In addition, we as believers have the confirmation of the Spirit in our own lives, and as we tell others, that makes a fourth witness. The reference to the blood is very important, since a spirit cannot shed blood. John was once again seeking to refute the false teaching of gnosticism by proving that the Lord Jesus was 100% fleshly man, yet without sin.

No discussion of this passage is complete without discussing the Johanine Comma. Here is how the King James Version renders verses 7-8: "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one." Now of course the added statement is true. The doctrine of the Trinity is firmly established in Scripture. The question is, is that what John originally wrote? Now of course I am not an expert in this subject, but the nearly unanimous agreement among all scholars is that John never wrote that. I did a little bit of research on it, and apparently it was first found in copies of the Latin Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible that was the standard for the Catholic Church for nearly 1,000 years. The Catholic Church also worked to preserve the Greek text (of course they were not the only organization to do so, but they had the most resources and were the most systematic). The verse started showing up in copies of the Greek New Testament about the year 900, apparently as someone decided to add in Greek what was there in some Latin copies. Again, I don't know how they date them, but there are ways to read a manuscript and tell about what time and what place the manuscript was written. Even though it is a true statement, it is best to look at the evidence and conclude that it is probably not what John originally wrote and discard it. The Comma interrupts John's argument. He is arguing that there are three witnesses that testify about Christ, and then all of a sudden you have that other verse thrown in. I know there are other disjointed arguments in Scripture, but it is a consideration.

"If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life— to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols." (5:16-21, ESV)

John concludes his epistle with a strange warning. He says that we should pray for our brothers who sin, but he adds that there is a sin unto death, that we should not pray for. That really seems odd. Clearly, the only sin for which man cannot be forgiven is the sin of rejecting Christ. All other sins can be forgiven and have been forgiven by the Lord. I guess what John is trying to say here - and I could be completely wrong - is that God will work on our behalf in the life of a brother who is sinning when we pray for him. But God cannot help those who are constantly rejecting the Gospel of Christ. At least not in the same way.

John concludes his book by reminding his readers of the simplicity of Scripture. He says that they have been given understanding from the Lord, and they know the truth. The problems come when we are seduced by false teachers and we forget to weigh their teaching against what we already know to be true. All of the error and falsehood that is in Christianity today is directly traceable to that fact: people heard something that sounded good and they did not review it against the Scripture.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

TOMS: 1 John 4

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 21, 2008

John goes directly at the heart of gnosticism at the beginning of this chapter.

"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error." (4:1-6)

Gnosticism, among other things, taught that the material world and everything in it is evil. The Gnostics began from that premise and taught that Jesus did not come in a fleshly body, but instead was only a spirit form. Not only did John know better than this because he witnessed Jesus' ministry, but he also recognized the serious doctrinal error involved. These teachers were denying the humanity of Jesus. John attacks this directly. He tells his readers that they need to listen carefully to all their teachers and make sure they are teaching the truth. And one sure sign that they are teaching error is that they deny the humanity of the Lord Jesus. 

Another sign of a false teacher is that they put down or disregard the teaching of the Apostles. This is what John means when he says that a true teacher "listens to us." Of course the Apostles are no longer with us, but any teacher who tries to explain away or deny the plain truth of the Word of God is a false teacher.

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." (4:7-11)

Once again, John returns to the theme of love. He states in this passage that God is love. Since love is an essential attribute of God, it follows naturally that those to whom He gives His Spirit will display love in their lives. There could be no clearer statement than "anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." 

John explains this concept even further in the rest of the chapter:
"By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother." (4:13-21, ESV)

Love is not an outward action. True love will certainly produce loving actions, but it begins in the heart. And a heart of love comes from God. And that love from God will spill over and display itself in all sorts of visible ways in love for each other. John is merely stating a fact here, and it is an important fact.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

TOMS: 1 John 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 18, 2008

"See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure." (3:1-3)

This is a great passage. Who we are in the Lord Jesus is a wonderful privilege. And what we get in the future is even better. It is so good even John admits he does not understand what all will be involved, he just knows it will be good. That's really all we need to know.

"Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.  Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God." (3:4-9)

This is an important passage that needs to be read very carefully. John has already stated earlier in his epistle that no one, not even the best Christian in the world, lives without sin. So John cannot be saying that Christians do not sin. When you come to two passages or statements that seem to contradict each other, go back and check your premises. One or possibly both of them is wrong. That is the logical law of non-contradiction. What John is saying here is that someone who habitually indulges in sin cannot be a believer. A person who has no compunction about sinning is not born again.

"By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." (3:10-15)

The ultimate act of hatred is murder, which is what Cain did to Abel. Hatred of a fellow human being is not an attribute of a truly born again person. Love, however, is an attribute of a Christian. You all know people that demonstrate this fact, in both ways. People who love everyone they meet, and people who seem to hate everyone they meet. Which of those two kinds of people do you like to be around?

"By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything." (3:16-20, ESV)

There is more to love than just a positive feeling. Genuine love is demonstrated by actions. You can say you love someone all day long, but if you never do anything for them, they will not believe it. True love will give to the person or thing loved, whether it is meeting a physical need or just being with the person and spending time with them.

Notice John also allows for doubts on our part from time to time. As fallen creatures, there will always be times (or at least there are for me) when I doubt my salvation or even if God is there or just a figment of someone's imagination that I happen to be following. But then the Lord always comes through with confirmation. It is wonderful to see and be a part of. I am truly blessed.

Monday, January 18, 2016

TOMS: 1 John 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 16, 2008

John's writings are focused on certainties: things that we can know for sure from God. Apparently, among their errors of gnosticism and perfectionism, the recipients of this letter (and probably John's gospel as well) suffered from doubt. Maybe they thought there was no way we can know a lot of things about our faith. John is here to remind these people that Christianity is all about knowing for sure.

"My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says 'I know him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked." (2:1-6)

Notice here once again that John does not say that we have to repeat every one of our sins to God. He just reminds them that as believers Christ our propitiation pleads our case before the Father. There is no need to wallow in guilt over past sin. That is simply giving in to the attack of Satan. Instead we can be confident that God still loves us and wants to use us, because He chose us in the first place. 

John tells us that the way we know we are born again is that we follow God's commandments. This is important for us to realize. As believers we have the Holy Spirit indwelling us. He leads us to follow God's Word. Obviously we will not always follow it perfectly, but if we do not have a desire to follow God, then we are not born again.

"Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes." (2:9-11)

Here is another proof of our salvation. No one who is born again can absolutely hate anyone. Certainly there will be people we choose not to be around, and there will be people we dislike and distrust. Paul even mentions that there will be believers from whom at some point we will need to separate from because of sin or false doctrine. But hating people is not something a Christian does. But there is something we need to hate:

"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions— is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever." (2:15-17)

Here is another different use of the word "world" than we found in verse 2. Obviously this is not talking about the world of people, but instead the world system. The world, in this sense, is always going to be opposed to God. A lot of people make a big deal of the three things John lists as being in the world. It seems to me there are more bad things in the world than just those, although you can certainly boil a lot of things down to something similar to those three things. The clincher here is verse 17: the whole point is that the world is passing away. Therefore to waste our time loving it (the word used in verse 15 is a derivative of "agape") and spending all our resources on advancement in it is shameful and wrong.

"Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also." (2:18-23)

Remember that this was probably written before John wrote Revelation. So the term "Antichrist" was not charged with eschatological meaning like it is now. Anyway, the spirit of Antichrist is always with us, and it is trying to lead everyone, including believers, astray. Thankfully, as believers, we have a defense against this spirit. We have spiritual insight from the Lord to test every new idea that comes along.

"I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie— just as it has taught you, abide in him. And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him." (2:26-29, ESV)

Here John restates this idea. There are people trying to deceive us all the time, and we need to be on guard. Now when John says we do not need anyone to teach us, don't take that too literally. What he means is that we do not need to follow every new spiritual fad that comes along. There is no "big secret" to the Christian life. God has revealed to us all that we need in His word and through His Spirit. That is all we need.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

TOMS: 1 John 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 15, 2008

This epistle is from John the Apostle, who also wrote the Gospel of John and the Revelation. This first epistle is quite complementary to John's Gospel. It is probable that they were originally sent to the same recipient, whether that was a church or an individual.

John's writing is much later than the other apostles, at least 50 years, likely closer to 60 years, after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The church was more mature, but it also faced new and dangerous problems. Thirty years earlier, it was enough for Paul to set forth the basic doctrines of the church in his epistles. But there were new false doctrines to be addressed by the time John took up his pen. 

The most pressing issue was the cult of gnosticism had crept into vogue with many in the church. This is the idea that the flesh is sinful and the spiritual part of man is good. Now that kind of makes sense in a very general way, and I am sure the gnostic teachers found verses in Paul's writings to back up their teachings. The fact is though (and Jesus clearly taught this, see Matthew 15:16-20), that it is man's sinful soul that is the problem. God created man with a desire for friendship and for procreation, it is the evil of man's heart that abuses this desire in adultery and other sexual sins. God gave man a need and desire for food and drink; it is man's soul that decides to indulge in gluttony and drunkenness.

Anyway, beyond that, the gnostics went even farther and taught that Jesus did not inhabit a fleshly body while on earth. They taught He was a purely spiritual being. Of course if He were only a spiritual being and not a physical man, He could not be a substitute for our sins, but they didn't bring that up. We will see this theme of Jesus coming in the flesh over and over again throughout this epistle, beginning in the first verse:

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—" (1:1-2)

Notice in the very first verse that John says, among other things, that he touched Jesus with his hands. This is a direct affront to the gnostic teaching that Jesus was a spirit. John is clearly stating his position as an Apostle, which among other qualifications includes being a witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, to attack this false teaching.

"This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." (1:3-7)

This is one of my favorite passages in all the Bible: it gives us the purpose of the church in particular and of Christian fellowship in general. Notice the vertical and horizontal pattern here. We are all to grow in our fellowship with God and in our fellowship with each other. John teaches here that these two relationships complement each other. As we grow in fellowship with God, we will also grow in fellowship with our fellow believers. Imagine a triangle with you on one point, God on another point and fellow believers on the third point (this works a lot better on a chalkboard). As you move closer to God, you are automatically moving closer to the other point, that being fellow believers. And hopefully as you grow in fellowship with God you will encourage your brother in the Lord to draw closer to God, and that will bring the two of you even closer together.

"If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." (1:8-10, ESV)

Another popular but false teaching of this time was that a Christian could live above sin in this life. Of course there are people who still believe this today, so little has changed in 1,900 years. John is not excusing sin here: he just wants us to recognize that we do still have sin in our lives, as much as we may not like to admit it. 

In context, I think verse 9 is not saying as much as some people think it does. I have heard lots of preachers tell stories about people who could never live a victorious Christian life until they claimed I John 1:9 and got forgiveness for a sin they committed years ago. I could be wrong, but I think in context John is saying we simply need to acknowledge our sinfulness and our need for God's grace instead of arrogantly claiming perfection. I think it is taking that scripture too far to say that if we don't name every sin we commit each day, that somehow God will hold that against us. God already has forgiven us of all our sin and made us righteous before Him. The problem may not be unconfessed sin as much as it is a guilt trip laid on us - and unfortunately encouraged and fomented by well-meaning preachers and teachers - for things we have done for which we have already received forgiveness.

Friday, January 15, 2016

TOMS: 2 Peter 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 14, 2008

The major theme of this chapter is the return of Christ and the coming judgment. This passage is an exception to the "rule" of the skeptics that Christ's return is only mentioned briefly by Paul. Peter's focus is almost entirely on the Second Coming as opposed to the Rapture.

"Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, 'Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.' For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished." (3:3-6)

From Peter's time until now, skeptics have debated and mocked the coming of the Lord. Peter says these people are "deliberately ignorant" of two things: the creation and the Flood. The first thing they deliberately ignore is the fact that God created this world and that He is therefore sovereign over all of it. The second thing they are deliberately ignorant of is God's judgment on sin. Basically these people ignore God.

"But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." (3:7-9)

The former world passed away by water, but this world will be destroyed by fire, as Peter explains in great detail in the next section. Peter comforts his readers by reminding them that God is not limited by time like we are. Whether we are aware of it or not, God is at work, and He will perform his purpose. Our job is not to try to understand it all; our job is to remain faithful to Him.

Verse 9 is often misquoted and ripped from its context. The "promise" Peter is talking about is Christ's coming and the ensuing judgment, not salvation. Basically what Peter is saying is that God is delaying His judgment so that more people can be saved. This one verse is often used as a trump card by those who dispute the doctrine of election. They often do not even quote the entire verse, they just say, "God is not willing that any should perish." This does not do justice to the context, nor is it honest with the preponderance of scripture that teaches election.

"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." (3:10-13)

This is an important point that should not be missed. God is going to destroy this earth and everything in it. And yet too many of us, myself included, spend all of our time worrying about our lives here and how we are going to make it and what our future here on earth is going to be like. What a shame. We have the opportunity to lay up treasure in heaven, and yet we waste our time with stuff down here on earth.

"Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. knowing this beforehand,You therefore, beloved, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen." (3:14-18, ESV)

This is an important fact that too many people ignore. When God gave us the Bible, He did not give us a systematic theology book. He gave us a book of stories, poetry, letters and other literary forms that form a cohesive whole. God chose to preserve His word this way. One of the problems sinful man has is that often he brings his own ideas to the scriptures. When he does, he can find something in the Bible that seems to confirm his erroneous beliefs. Not everyone who does this is intentionally trying to twist the scripture. Often they are well-meaning people who sincerely believe something. But they do not seek God's wisdom to help them understand the Bible. Instead they rely on their own intellect or the ideas of others they trust.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

TOMS: 2 Peter 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 12, 2008

Peter continues the thought about the sufficiency of scripture, but takes it in a new and very important direction.

"But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep." (2:1-3)

We always need to keep a sharp eye out for false teachers, even among those we consider good people. We always need to base our beliefs on the Word of God, not some man's teaching. When Peter says that these teachers deny the Master who bought them, there are two possibilities: one is that they are genuinely saved but have been carried away by false doctrine, or that they claim to be bought by the Master, but they are not truly born again. I think there are probably false teachers characterized by both, but I would say the vast majority would be the latter- those who claim to know the Lord but they have deceived themselves and are now deceiving others through their homespun teachings.

"For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment." (2:4-9)

Peter here gives examples both of the mercy and judgment of God. God must deal with sin, as he did with the demons who fell, the world during the flood and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the last two cases, God preserved righteous men from destruction, Noah and Lot. These two men were far from perfect, but they believed God, and He saved them.

"Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, trained in greed. insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet's madness." (2:10-16)

Man may be the most unaware of God of any of His creatures. Peter says even the demons do not curse God to His face, but men do all the time. I hope you don't know too many people like the ones Peter describes here, but I do know a few. Mankind can become so absorbed by sin that he gets the warped idea that life is not worth living unless he is indulging in drink or sex or some other kind of sin. Notice that Peter says that some of these people are eating with the church. Apparently the recipients of this letter were not doing right by removing some members who had shown themselves not to have any spiritual desires whatsoever.

"These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: 'The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.'" (2:17-22, ESV)

These people proclaim themselves liberated, but they are enslaved by their own lusts. Peter says to be especially careful of those who have professed to know the Lord but return to their sin. Peter says here that it is impossible for someone to be genuinely born again and live an utterly wicked lifestyle. Something has to happen in their life. When it doesn't, they are truly worse off than they ever were, because they think they have religion and therefore they are fine. It is a dreadful responsibility to proclaim the Gospel. It is our responsibility, but it is not our responsibility to save them or even to pronounce them saved. God and the confirmation of the Spirit have to do that. Too many Christians motivated by a misguided zeal for numbers or not having a deep enough understanding of what salvation really is, have unfortunately shipwrecked many lives of people, telling them now they are saved and going to heaven because they went through a ritual. This in no way takes away our responsibility to witness, but we should be more careful not to try to fast-talk people into making a profession or leading people to think that parroting a ritual makes them a Christian. God gives the increase; our job is to faithfully proclaim the entire gospel, including the parts that may offend some people. If you offend someone with the truth, at least they see where they are and could respond positively the next time. Sugar-coating the Gospel does more harm than good.