A Kingdom of Gentleness and Respect


With another history post coming up, I set out this week to write about this blog’s approach to history and politics, knowing that with these topics, the hardest part can be how to say what you want to say.  Imitating David in Psalm 3, I write to testify that “salvation belongs to the LORD,[1] to some an inherently political statement, in a way that obeys God in approach and tone.  What does that mean?  1 Peter 4:15-16 says:  “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”  This means it is not as simple as just yelling the right story from the rooftops, or in my case, from an unfiltered blog.  “Gentleness and respect” matter.

Last time, I wrote that “Jesus isn’t on the ballot this fall, but flawed candidates of many types will be.  Some more like David, and some more like Absalom.”  David, even as God’s appointed king of Israel, knew that not every problem was in his power to solve.  However, David was at peace with his limits in an imperfect world, knowing that his salvation came from God alone.  But Absalom hated David’s inability, or unwillingness, to solve all his problems.  Absalom harbored angry resentment against David for years before violently overthrowing him.  During this rebellion, David was calm and able to sleep because the kingdom of God was real to him, even when it didn’t look like it.  Then he wrote Psalm 3 to let us know about it.

This conflict between David and Absalom echoes in broad narratives or stories told throughout history: 1) we can and should perfect ourselves, or 2) we are dependent on God to save us.[2]

In the 1 Peter quote above, he says that we defend our eternal hope with “gentleness and respect.,” meaning that those who trust God’s salvation should use not only their words, but also their attitudes and very lives.  The story must be real to us to be convincing to others, and those who hope in God’s kingdom should show obedience to that kingdom.  Easier said than done.

Fortunately, when we truly believe, experience, and stand for God’s salvation, our brokenness and failure is part of the testimony.  When we know God’s salvation is the only solution, we can approach people with different worldviews with our common need for salvation, in “gentleness and respect,” instead of fighting over solutions we know are imperfect.  David was able to sleep at night even when chased out of Jerusalem by his own son, because he had “a good conscience,” showing gentleness and respect toward Absalom.  The kingdom of God was real in his heart, and he believed God would prevail no matter what.  Circumstances could not shake his faith, and God ultimately delivered and restored him.

If, on the other hand, our brokenness and God’s solution for it is not part of our story, we may be left defending an imperfect political solution to those who demand perfection.  In David’s case, he may have insisted that God was unjust in allowing Absalom to succeed.  After all, he could argue, he was a humble king after God’s own heart, while Absalom was bitter and unreasonable.  If David had done this, it may have ironically helped Absalom’s case for tyranny.  In addition, David would not have been able to find peace and sleep at night until Absalom was overthrown.  However, if the starting point is that weakness is common to all of mankind, then the imperfection of the system is both part of the “reason for the hope” and a reason for even the unbeliever to resist tyranny.  In this case, imperfection is not hypocrisy, but a condition common to mankind.

Declaring “salvation belongs to the LORD” with actions, along with words, gives evidence that worldly utopia is not the answer.  But when words or actions fall short, we can still point to the One who is perfect since we aren’t trying to prove worldly utopia is possible.  The two lessons from Absalom’s rebellion are reconciled in a life lived with “gentleness and respect.”  Because God does not rely on political systems to work His salvation, tyranny is just another “temporary and provincial authority” subject to the greater authority of God.  We can have a clear conscience based on the sacrifice of Christ and not on worldly success.

A life lived in hope for the eternal kingdom of God is one lived in love for those left behind by every imperfect system of this world, but also one that testifies that all systems, including our own individual wills, are not perfectible by human effort.  Peter wrote that those who hope in God will be slandered, but also that those who live humble lives based on hope in God and not themselves will ultimately be proved right.  Until then, by their example as they follow Christ, they can show the futility of tyranny.  By God’s grace, His people will inherit a real utopia by learning to love those who hope in a false one with gentleness and respect.

Our failure is part of our testimony as we drive toward morning, but “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” – Matthew 6:33


This post is part of a lead-in to the next “History Bits” post planned for April 9th, and hopefully I can get one more in tomorrow out of the four I had planned…


[1] Psalm 3:8
[2] There’s also a third common story: “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’” (1 Corinthians 15:32) Today, we focus on the other two.

Your Family is More Important Than Your Furniture – Psalms of Ascent #4


A prominent feature of the culture I live in is the demand that everyone must respect the “individualism” of everyone else.  Pressure to affirm whatever anyone else wants affirmed about them has ballooned all over the news, social media, corporate policy, and even in churches.  There’s an assumption built into this, which is that the sincere ability to love someone can be the result of someone else threatening us to do it.  Exert enough legal, social, cultural, or even physical pressure and someone’s fundamental nature can be changed by coercion.  The coal turns into a diamond.

Tomorrow is Sunday, so today we return to the Psalms of Ascent, a liturgy used in ancient Israel to prepare for worship at the annual festivals in Jerusalem.  What does this have to do with the last paragraph?  In Psalm 120, the first Psalm of Ascent, we read (post here) that no matter where we live, or where we come from, no matter our genealogy, we live among people with “lying lips” who can’t get along with each other.  In Psalm 121, we are encouraged to find the answer outside of our current place:

A Song of Ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
            From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
            who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
            he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
            will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper;
            the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
            nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil;
            he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
            your going out and your coming in
            from this time forth and forevermore.

The Psalm asks us to take our eyes off of the world around us and look upward for our hope.  Not just talk about the idea of it, but to actually do it.  To turn off the outside world and its circumstances and seek God’s help.  It takes effort because the idea that we can solve our own problems is so powerful.  The fall of Adam and Eve was driven by a curiosity that there may be a better system than the one they already had.  In a literally perfect society, they wanted something else.  If we aren’t intentional about avoiding this trap, it’s easy to not realize we are in it.

We’re All Messed Up
I’ve written much about Tyler Joseph, the songwriter of the band twenty øne piløts, and his campaign to create music and stories that help people deal with mental illness.  In an interview years ago, the interviewer criticized Tyler for calling himself “messed up.”  Was Tyler being too hard on himself?  This was Tyler’s response:

“I know I’m messed up. I think to myself I should be able to control myself.  I look at a lamp and I decide that I’m going to stand up and not hit that lamp. Why can’t I make decisions like that about everything in life. I’m not going to get angry at my brother. I want to be the best brother. Why can’t I do what I want to do? That’s messed up. Something is broken in the way we live. It’s proof that something is not right.”

Tyler is explaining Romans 7:13-21, especially verses 15 and 21, but in a way that’s as plain as day to anyone being honest with themselves.  Romans 7:15 and 21 say: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  And “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.”

What if the problem with every person individually is that they are unable, no matter how much external pressure is put on them, to treat other individuals the way they should be treated? If true, it puts the first paragraph into an entirely different light.

In this exact moment as I write this, I’m being very careful not to spill my drink on my laptop.  I have no desire to do anything violent to the couch I’m sitting on but just to enjoy having a place to sit.  If I stop writing to check something on my phone, I make sure I put it down gently in a spot where it won’t fall off and hit the floor.  But at the same time, I know I don’t always treat people with the same respect.  I know if I’m interrupted in the middle of what I think is a great thought or phrase I could get irritated and rude.  Not always, but I could.  I know I could be a better son, husband, father, employee, and friend.  So why don’t I?

Why do we treat our furniture better than our family, even in a culture that increasingly demands with all its strength that we prioritize every individual?  Because we are broken in a way that no political or economic system, no culture or tradition, can fix.  One may be better or worse than another, but none of them has the power to solve the real problem that we can’t consistently love people more than we love our furniture.  We have to go somewhere else to find the answer.

Therefore,
“I lift up my eyes to the hills.
            From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
            who made heaven and earth.”

As pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem, the Israelites were telling a story by making the effort to move.  A story that the towns they leave behind – no matter where they are coming from – don’t have the answer to their most important problems.  On the long journey, they travelled in large groups and slowly, sometimes by foot.  They probably had constant reminders of their own inability to treat the family they traveled with better than whatever furniture or baggage they brought along for the trip. While togetherness is sometimes uncomfortable, together we must lift up our eyes and look for the answer outside of everything we know.

We’re broken and can’t fix ourselves, but “The LORD will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life.”  Take some time out of your week and each day to look up to the hills and seek Him.  To set aside everything else.  To focus on the LORD, because He alone loves us in the way we need to be loved and can help us love others the way they need to be loved.  He won’t seek to break you to make you do it, but He Himself was broken to provide us a way.


This post continues a series on the Psalms of Ascent. To start at the beginning, click here, and for the next post click here

What If Nature Shows Purpose, Rather Than Randomness?


Headline I just saw in the Facebook news feed: “What if Math Is a Fundamental Part of Nature, Not Something Humans Came Up With?” Reading the article I found that patterns in nature are “staggering”, but no conclusion is made. (Article linked below)

Yeah – What If?

Says CS Lewis, in the book Miracles: “Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator”

Science Alert Article

Compel Them to Come In, But How?


[Note to readers: Other than this note and minor edits this is the third post from a short-lived, now-defunct blog from 2011.  The first two are here and here, and this one builds from those.  I’m considering adding in some similar work to the new site – let me know what you think!]


Luke 14:23 “Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”

This verse is part of a larger parable about how the master invited many, but many of those declined the invitation.  So, the master, wanting a full house, asks the servant to go outside the original invitation list and bring in whoever will come.  However, the use of the word “compel” has led members of the church over the centuries to use the verse as justification for the use of violence to bring people into the church.

Observing the methods of the state and other Christian sects of his day, even Saint Augustine – one of the most influential writers in all of Christian history – used this verse and other “proof texts” to justify force.  Augustine argued that Christ used force to compel Saul (who became the Apostle Paul) to believe in and follow Him and therefore provided a precedent (text here).  Augustine’s arguments were copied in defense of the Spanish Inquisition and other blemishes on the historical record of the church.  Essentially, this verse has been used to justify the means toward an end.

Critics of Christianity have, of course, jumped on the opportunity.  Christopher Hitchens, one of the “New Atheists”, makes statements like “The real axis of evil is Christianity, Judaism, and Islam”, and that religion is “the main source of hatred in the world”.  The evidence comes from well-known historical events, and incidentally these arguments have helped sell a lot of books.

However, is “Christianity” the culprit, or are people the problem?  Did some followers of Christ get the wrong message?  Could Augustine have been wrong?  Are all those who claim to act for Christ really being faithful to Him?  Is it logical, or even responsible, to blame the actions of a group of people on a person they claim to follow, even if the one would clearly disapprove of them?

Isn’t lumping all Christians, Muslims, and Jews in with the most violent examples of people who claim those faiths like lumping all atheists in with Stalin or Mao?  Because some practice a perverse form of the original philosophy, does that make the whole philosophy rotten?  Is the philosophy at fault?

The Bible is very clear that there is a distinction between those who call themselves Christian and those who actually are – a distinction that many who criticize “the church” ignore.  Matthew 7:21-23 says: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  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!’”

The Bible is also very clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Nobody’s perfect, or even close.  Most of the Bible is the story of the failures of people who can’t follow the will of God, but that God loves and accepts them anyway.  More failures should not be a surprise, and the church would be wrong to ignore them – but instead these are evidence that man needs help, and that God’s capacity for forgiveness is vast.

Apparently the “New Atheists” find themselves in an interesting position.  They are actually in agreement with Jesus, who saved his harshest words for those who used the church for its own purposes and twisted His commands.  He hated hypocrisy, and called out hypocrites in public quite often, calling them a “den of thieves”, and a “brood of vipers”, among other names.  From this perspective, “Christianity” is not the culprit of these crimes, but some people calling themselves “Christian” are the culprit.  Or, another perspective: Christopher Hitchens’ “hypocrite” or “demon” is Martin Luther’s doctrine of “Simul justus et peccator” (simultaneously righteous yet still a sinner).

So, what does all this mean for the modern church?

A better interpretation (unless you are an Inquisitor or a New Atheist) of “compel them to come in” is found in Matthew Henry’s commentary on Luke 14:23, which says “compel them to come in, not by force of arms, but by force of arguments.  Be earnest with them; for in this case, it will be necessary to convince them that the invitation is sincere and not a banter; they will be shy and modest and will hardly believe that they shall be welcome.”

In Jesus’ day, a Gentile would have been shocked to be invited into a Jewish community, and likely would have been apprehensive or suspicious.  As I wrote earlier, the people who were not on the original guest list might need some convincing.  After all, Jehovah had always been the God of the Jews, and there was a good degree of history between the two groups.  Would an outsider need a compelling reason to come in, or would a simple hello suffice?

Exactly what these compelling reasons are is too large an issue for this post, but I’ll say that if force or reason (alone) is the method of compulsion, the church will likely be full of people like the man who follows Jesus because his neighbor was struck by lightning (see my last post).  Their brain is convinced, or they are afraid to say no, but they aren’t really committed.  A church full of these people is not likely to be “compelling” to the next generation of churchgoers.

The larger issue is the pressure the church has always faced to increase membership, and if the results don’t come, there’s a big temptation to find a way.  After all, if hell is a terrible place, and we don’t want people to go there, don’t the ends justify the means?  However, God supplies the means, and ignoring them shows a lack of faith, not a strength of conviction.  The Inquisitor is not a hero of the church, but a villain.  God tells us how He wants the church to witness to the world, and it does not involve violence.

In our desire for “results”, we often become like the disciples in Mark 9:14-29.  Unable to drive out a spirit, the disciples became agitated.  The problem?  Jesus reminds them: “This kind can come out only by prayer”.   Disciples of God are supposed to accomplish God’s ends by God’s means.

God’s chosen means do not depend on reasoned arguments and force of strength, “But God chose what the world considers nonsense to put wise people to shame. God chose what the world considers weak to put what is strong to shame.”  (1 Cor 1:27) When preaching to the Corinthians, Paul “didn’t use intellectual arguments. That would have made the cross of Christ lose its meaning.” (1 Cor 1:17) This is, of course, the same Paul that Augustine says is the precedent for conversion by force.

The church has sometimes pursued an end by force cannot be achieved by reason or forceful compulsion, but must be catalyzed by God Himself.  As I pointed out in my first post, if being witness to incredible supernatural events cannot compel belief, why would so many believe that logic or force could compel belief?

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”  (1 Cor 1:25)

Supernatural Claims of Natural Men


[Note to readers: Other than this note and minor edits this is the second post from a short-lived, now-defunct blog from 2011.  The first post is here.  While working on the next set of new long form posts, I will re-post what ended up being only 3 apologetics-focused posts from 2011 each Saturday.  I’m considering adding in some similar work to the new site – let me know what you think!]


John 12:28 – [Jesus said] “Father, glorify Your name.  Then a voice came from heaven, saying “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”

Have you ever heard a voice from heaven?  If you did, how would you know to believe it?

When this voice spoke, the hearers still had to decide whether or not to believe it.  In John 12, not everyone on the scene had faith that this voice was actually God.  Not everyone who heard it decided that this God deserved their obedience.  As in my last post, these people were eyewitnesses to a supernatural event that many today would be thrilled to see, to “prove” God’s existence.

Suppose someone on the scene looked up at the sky and said: “Who do you think you are?  I don’t know who this ‘Jesus’ guy is, and I sure don’t know who you are – why should I follow you?”  The voice from heaven responds with a bolt of thunder, and this poor man is now a dead smoldering heap.

Now, the man next to this one could be thinking: “I really should follow this Jesus person, because if I don’t, the next bolt could be for me.”  Perfectly rational, a solid example of reason.  But, this reason is not the same as faith.  This man’s other response could be: “Jesus really is the Son of God, and deserves my loyalty.  I’m grateful that He is willing to accept me as I am.”  Did the lightning really provide convincing evidence of this?  Are there still other alternatives?  Could the voice have been some other deity trying to gain followers?  Perhaps, so therefore this second response is more like faith than reason.

Even faced with overwhelming evidence, “reason” does not power a decision to truly make a decision, “faith” does.  Reason can lead a horse to water, but it can’t make him drink.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8)  (Not to have a predestination argument here, but I think most Christians would agree that faith would be meaningless without grace, and vice versa – and that either or both come from God to one who does not deserve or earn it)

Claims contrary to Christianity also require a supernatural faith (albeit one without a source), and here are two examples:

1) “There is no God” – Some say that if he exists, he should show himself.  Of course, as we have seen, even those who claimed to know Jesus Himself and witness his miracles say this would not convince a skeptic who decided not to believe.  Also, how does one prove God does not exist?  Europeans used to believe there was no such thing as a black swan because they had never seen one – until they traveled more of the world.  They could never prove that black swans did not exist, but they could (and did) believe it.   To prove it, they would have to be personally present in all parts of the universe at all times simultaneously – in essence, they would need to be God to prove that all swans were white.  “There is no God” cannot be proven by reason, but a skeptic can claim that they have not witnessed God in their experience, and that they have faith that God does not exist outside their experience.

2) “Man is the result of purely natural processes” – If “natural” is that which science has explained, and “supernatural” is everything else, it turns out that this is a claim about the supernatural, not a claim that there is no supernatural.  If you change “observed” to “observable” in Merriam-Webster’s definition of “supernatural” (“of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe”), you see this distinction.  Merriam-Webster takes for granted that all things “supernatural” will become “natural” through scientific advancement in the way the current majority thinks they will.  The consensus in Galileo’s day was that everything revolved around the earth – but the consensus was proved wrong.  Proving that man is purely natural requires that the current thinking on evolution is correct, and that nothing outside of current knowledge could ever possibly over-turn it.

However, in the words of GK Chesterton, “Science knows nothing whatever about pre-historic man; for the excellent reason that he is pre-historic.”  The “evidence” for one species changing into another is based on deductions from historical fossils, not on eyewitness accounts.  In modern labs, we have seen species mutate and acquire new traits, but we have not yet seen lab results of a monkey (or anything else) mutating into a man.    The theory of human evolution makes a lot of claims about the history of mutations across species.  It takes the observed changes within a species, and assumes that over millennia these mutations lead to one species changing into another, then another…  It claims that future evidence will inevitably support current evidence, in spite of the fact that evidence for evolution has been overturned repeatedly in history.  What I was taught in middle school was different than what I was taught in college.  If the historical track record is not that good, why have faith that the future track record will be perfect?  Evolutionists refer to the process of discovery by trial and error consistently as “progress”, but is it always?  Unless you already know beyond any shadow of doubt what you are progressing toward, how do you know you are progressing?

I’m not claiming to have dis-proved evolution here, but only to show that to prove it beyond a shadow of any possible doubt is beyond the power of reason.  It’s another black swan.

So, the claim that there is no supernatural, is a claim about the supernatural.  These are claims that would require supernatural means to prove.  They require seeing the future and the past.  To believe a supernatural claim without supernatural evidence requires faith.  It is beyond reason and proof.  To me, the evidence and the logic do not live up to the claims they want to support.

Some may say I’m stretching here, and providing a no-win situation for the materialist, but even if scientific advancement somehow demonstrates in a lab everything that evolution claims, evolution still falls short because it is not really a theory of origins.  It is a theory about how the current inhabitants on Earth grew from previous ones.  But where did the original ones come from?  Why does the universe follow certain patterns and laws?  Where did those come from?  Scientists would simply have moved from taking evolution on faith to taking these answers on faith, and making assumptions about the future evidence.

There will always be such a thing as the “supernatural”.  Although science will continue to advance, the amount of total knowledge in the universe will always be larger than the quantity of human understanding.  All people speculate about what’s out there in that realm we can’t reproduce in a lab.  Many people have dogmas about what’s in that space – evolutionists believe that everything they do not understand yet will confirm that there is no God; religious people of all types believe that there is enough evidence in the world we’ve already observed to warrant the possibility of a God.

All people have faith – just in different things.  Materialists fail to explain how man, as a mere complex set of materials and chemical reactions, consciously and intentionally goes about his life pondering deep thoughts about the origin of himself, while an earthworm does not bother.  Christians – even the authors of the Bible – fail to explain how some consciously and intentionally choose faith when in the presence of miracles, while others do not (other than to say that “God did it”).

On the one hand, you have the supernatural claims of natural men.  They claim two things: 1) that they (and you) are the accidental result of millennia of chemical mutations, and that these chemicals follow rules that they do not know the origins of (yet); and 2) that the chemicals in their brain “believe” without a doubt that they can predict that what they do not know will confirm what they currently know and believe.  This future evidence will prove their current belief, which was itself the result of a chain of accidental chemical reactions (but apparently under the purposeful control of some unknown thing that seeks to convince you of your mere natural chemicalness).

On the other hand, there is a written record of a man who claimed to be from that supernatural realm, who sees the future and the past, who knew there were black swans.  How many there were.  Where they were.  And that the Europeans would eventually find them.  This man asked for your belief – which set of claims is more reasonable?

“Come near to God and he will come near to you”
– James 4:8

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