Saturday, August 4, 2018

When God Lies

So, when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. – Hebrews 6:17-18(ESV)

Therefore, God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. – II Thessalonians 2:11-12(ESV)

Does God lie? The writer of Hebrews based the certainty of God’s promise on the unchangeable truth that it is impossible to lie. It’s the sort of thing you expect to see written with needlepoint and hanging on a wall next to a cross. But what about what Paul wrote to the assembly at Thessalonica? “God sends them a strong delusion.” Can they both be true? We certainly can’t write it off as a mistake because the Bible gives us multiple situations in which people were deceived as a result of an act of God. Exodus 7-9 repeatedly tells us that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart. I Kings 22 and II Chronicles 18 tell a story of the Lord sending a “lying spirit” to be in the mouth of the prophets. And that doesn’t even consider the times that God blessed the lies of people like Rahab or Jael. How do we resolve this?

First, consider that we never see God utter a lie, but the deception is carried out by those sent by God. This may be because it is truly impossible for God to lie. God spoke, and the world came into being from nothing. It may be that if God were to speak a lie that the whole Universe would be torn apart trying to deal with the paradox. But that doesn’t keep him from sending messengers who are deceitful at his command or keep him from “hardening” a heart.

Next, consider the situations in which these messengers have been sent. In I Kings 22 and II Chronicles 18 the Lord sent the lying spirit to lure King Ahab out to battle so that he would fall as had be prophesied. Ahab was an evil king who didn’t want to believe the Lord. So, even when Macaiah told him that the Lord had sent a lying spirit Ahab followed the lie. And let’s look again at II Thessalonians 2:11-12. Why did God send strong delusion? Because they didn’t believe the truth and had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Can we summarize this by saying that when God lies it is because people have rejected the truth? The deception that comes from God is used to move people into a position where they will receive justice for their unrighteousness. How many times have we seen people who have done evil things and were caught because they thought they could get away with it. They believed a lie and it exposed their unrighteousness. Could it be that God sent a messenger to persuade them to believe the lie? They preferred the lie over the truth, so God gave them what they wanted.

What you might be asking is whether it is okay for us to lie. Rahab hid the spies and was blessed by God. Jael offered a man protection and then slew him while he slept, but she too was blessed by God. But Ananias and Sapphira lied about how much they were paid for their land and they died at the word of Peter. There seems to be two kinds of lies. One lie is the usual kind in which we tell something that is untrue because we desire unrighteous gain. The other kind is one in which we tell something untrue because it will prevent unrighteousness or bring about justice. An example of this might be that a gunman enters a school and asks someone where others are hiding. To say that there are no others would be a lie, but it would prevent the death of those students. Contrast this with someone telling the police that the gunman ran in the opposite direction of what he did.

It seems that a lie in and of itself may not be sin, but the evilness of the lie is determined by the evilness of the result. We must be extremely careful because it is so easy for us to convince ourselves that we are lying for good reasons and yet the results turn out otherwise. When in doubt, tell the truth, but don’t aid those who do unrighteousness.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Reason for Mass Killings and How to Prevent Mass Shootings

Once more we hear the news of another mass killing. And once more we hear much talk about what we need to do to prevent it from happening again. Though there is much expressed anger on all sides I have yet to see anyone present a solution that would’ve prevented one of the recent mass killings, let alone all of them. Some people have focused on gun control, but the most recent shooting involved guns that the gun control advocates thought were safe. And then there are the killings like the New York truck attack and the Boston Marathon bombing that wouldn’t have been stopped by even the strictest gun ban.

For all the talk of what we need to do about these killings there’s been little talk about why they are taking place. How can we prevent them if we don’t know why they are happening? One person said they knew why they are happening, “It’s Satan.” I don’t disagree, but I also don’t think that answer is helpful. Even if Satan himself is whispering in the ear of each of these killers we still need to understand why they are listening to Satan. Why would they plan their attack with every intention of taking their own lives? If that’s what Satan were telling you to do, don’t you think you would say, “Get thee behind me, Satan?”

Some of these attacks are terrorist attacks and we sort of understand those, though people are still trying to figure out how these guys become radicalized so quickly. It’s quite likely that the terrorists are killing for the same reason the non-terrorists are killing, so the question of radicalization may not matter. But why are the non-terrorists killing?

The shooter in Santa Fe and the left leaning woman who hot up YouTube in San Bruno, California may give us a clearer understanding than the other killers. The kid in Santa Fe made an interesting statement when he said that he shot people he didn’t know because he wanted the people who knew him to be able to tell his story. And the YouTube shoot did what she did because she believed YouTube was preventing people from watching her YouTube channel. Neither had mainline views, and they had views that were dissimilar to each other, but the thing they had in common was that they wanted to be heard.

I’m convinced that all these killers are trying to be heard. This is different from your typical killer who is trying to exercise authority or to get revenge. In a typical killing the killer may act in rage or may plan on getting away. In these mass killings the killer goes in with the expectation that he will not survive. It may seem senseless, but this is the act of someone who believes they are doing something of greater importance than themselves. They are using a gun, a knife, a bomb, or a car to kill but it is their way of yelling their message as loudly as they possibly can. To them, being heard is more important than life itself.

Since that’s the case, one thing we can do to prevent future killings is to do a better job at listening. But that’s not the complete solution. Some of these people are absolute nut jobs and our listening to them isn’t an option. They will confuse even a well-reasoned rebuttal of their position with ignoring them. But that might tell us something about the kind of people we should be leery of. How do they respond when people disagree with them? Do they consider the other side or do they become angry because the person won’t be swayed?

It also might tell us something about what we need to be teaching. People need to learn how to have a reasoned discussion. They also need to learn how to deal with people ignoring them. This is something that is best taught from an early age and yes, I think having a father in the home would help with this. Father’s roughhouse with their children and by doing so they teach them to fight without bringing blood. This carries over into other things. It can be how a person learns to state their case in an argument without escalating to actual harm to the other person. But it may be possible for similar things to be taught in schools. We need to bring back recess, because that’s where students learn part of these. They may also learn it if they are required to defend a point of view in class. There are some who cannot be taught and for those we may need physical prevention methods, but teaching students to deal with the insult of not being heard will only reduce the need for physical prevention measures.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Google Censoring Religious Speech?

It was a post shared by Mike Huckabee that caught my attention. "Google Rejects Christian Publisher's Ads Because They Mention Bible and Jesus" the title read. In the current political climate it's the kind of thing that people are likely to point to as more persecution from the left or to point to as much ado about nothing from the right, depending on what their political leaning might be. So, which is it? While I respect Mike Huckabee a great deal, he isn't always so great about verifying his sources and "The Western Journal" which is were the article is located often gets things wrong. I really began to question it when I noticed that it was talking about "AdWords" and "personalized content."
For those of you who don't know, "AdWords" is the term Google uses to describe advertising that targets a particular audience based on what keywords they search for. For example, if you type "coffee" into the Google search engine you are likely to start seeing ads for Starbucks, or Folgers, or coffee pots. This is because these companies are trying to target their ads at people who drink coffee. A Christian publisher like Concordia Publishing House is likely to try to target their ads at Christians, but this left me wondering why Google would tell them that they would need to remove any mention of Jesus and the Bible from their website. It didn't make sense.
So, I did what anybody should do when faced with information like this. I went to the original press release. While the original press release paints a similar picture and also has things are confusing about it there are things here that indicate that things are not quite what they seem. Here they refer to "remarketing ads." Remarketing ads are ads that pop up when you are trying to leave a website. Most of us find them irritating, but the basic concept is that a user visits a website and doesn't buy anything, so rather than the website getting nothing from the user the website puts an ad in front of the user so that the user will click to go to another website. Google pays a small amount for the privilege of redirecting users to another website.
What many people have assumed is that Google is telling Concordia Publishing House that they can't advertise on their platform because of the content of their website, but when read the advertising policy it appears something else is going on. To paraphrase the policy, Google will not allow advertising that targets people based on a number of hot button issues. One of those is religion, but it includes other things like sexual identity, union membership, political affiliation, etc. If I'm trying to target advertising at Christians then I might want to target the keywords "Jesus" or "Bible" since those are most commonly used by Christians, but Google will reject those ads. If I were writing homosexual erotica then I might want to target "LGBT", but Google policy would reject those ads as well. Why? I suspect it is because it would be possible to use AdWords and the ads people click on for a third party to find out personal information about people. But that's still no reason for Google to suggest that Concordia Publishing House remove Jesus from their website.
But let's go back to this "remarketing ads" concept. Keep in mind that Google is trying to keep third parties from finding out what the religion of the people who click on their ads is. Now, suppose that Concordia Publishing House wants to make money by allowing Google to place ads on their site. Previously, Google would've been willing, but with the concern over Cambridge Analytica they don't want the advertisers knowing that the people who clicked on their ads are coming from a religious website. So they simply say that they won't place ads on religious websites. Likewise, if they are consistent with their policy, they won't place ads on LGBT websites or on a number of other websites.
Is what Google is doing a good idea? No, I don't think it is. I think there are a lot of people who are trying to advertise who won't be able to get their message to their desired audience because of this. But at the same time I'm not convinced that what they are doing with this is religious discrimination. It's more likely that this is an overreaction in an attempt to fill a huge hole in their privacy settings. As for us on the right, I think we need to be careful about jumping to conclusions.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Concerning Discipleship

I woke up this morning with discipleship on the brain. For the past three days our church leadership has been talking discipleship and now I’m trying to figure out where that all fits. Part of my struggle is because we went through DiscipleWay training a few years ago and I can’t help but compare the two. All of the stuff we heard on night one this week seemed awfully familiar. I know we need to be making disciples who make disciples. In spite of the instructor saying that wasn’t what he was taught, I can’t say that. I grew up in a small church and for all the disadvantages of small churches, discipleship comes naturally to them. And then you have DiscipleWay, which is a very practical method of disciple making. Even if I’m not leading people through the material, I find that in teaching situations I am drawing on it to teach people the proper way to study the Bible, to pray, etc. Someone said they felt discouraged by the implication that we’ve been doing it wrong all these years. I don’t think we should be, because even if we aren’t taking people through the whole process ourselves, God can and does use multiple teachers to take people from spiritual babes to full maturity. Is there a better way? Yes. But we haven’t been wasting our time.

The most useful thing I got out of this week is a tool for assessing where people are in their spiritual development.

Things got a bit more practical on the third night, but there were some of us still asking, “But what is it that we would actually need to do?” A curriculum was mentioned and someone made the statement, “That sounds like Awana.” I don’t know what to think about that. I kind of want to fall back to DiscipleWay. That’s my comfort zone. I know how to do that. It’s very good material. I’m not so sure about something someone would describe as “Awana for adults.” But the problem with DiscipleWay is that it isn’t designed for spiritual infants. It is great for leadership development, but it isn’t something that we would plug every member and visitor of our church into. I can see it taking spiritual young adults to spiritual parenthood, but not taking spiritual infants and children to spiritual young adults.

One of the things I’ve struggled with using DiscipleWay is finding those guys to lead through the material. With the stuff we talked about this week, I don’t think we would have the same problem and actually, this new stuff could feed into DiscipleWay. I could see group leaders identifying some of their people as being ideal candidates to DiscipleWay. It was mentioned this week that Jesus had twelve disciples who went everywhere with him, but there were three that he took aside. Perhaps the three are the ones one would take through DiscipleWay, but everyone would go through some other stuff.

The big difference between what the people we talked to this week are doing and DiscipleWay is that these people are making the assumption that everyone will be in one of these groups. When they began, they literally divided their congregation up among their group leaders. They have zones in their auditorium and if someone sits in their zone the group leader in that zone asks them if they are in a group yet. In counseling situations, the pastor asks people who their group leader is and invites that leader in on the conversation. They expect that people will invite lost post to group meetings and that new membership will come through there first.

On that point, this seems to be in direct contrast with the material they taught us. There is a statement, “We can only disciple those who are…Faithful, Available, Teachable.” But if you are bringing lost people into the group and teaching spiritual infants you are including people who don’t meet that requirement. They may be available and teachable, but they aren’t faithful. If we do I job, they will be eventually, but they aren’t faithful yet.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

9 Ways Not to Get Stuck Waiting for Gas

Gasoline shortages is the word of the day. Some stations have shut off their pumps and it is expected to get worse until the refineries that were shut down by Harvey come back online. Recognizing that we are producing about twenty percent less gasoline than we normally use, we ought to drive less so that people who need gasoline the most will have it available. But let’s get real. For most of us the real concern is that we don’t want to get stuck waiting for gas at a gas station or have to go station to station until we find one that has gas. So here are nine ways to not get stuck waiting for gas.

1. Buy Gas Early in the Morning

The reality is that there is gas available, so if you get out before everyone else then you are more likely to find gas. During the night there are truck drivers out refilling tanks and demand for gas is low.

2. Use the Most Fuel Efficient Vehicle

If you have two vehicles and one uses less gas than another then you won’t have to buy as much gas. But there is a limit to that because a smaller vehicle may force you to make multiple trips.

3. Combine Trips

The more things you can combine into one trip the less fuel you are likely to use. For example, if you normally drive to work each weekday and do your shopping on the weekend, you can save fuel by doing your shopping on the way home from work.

4. Use Fewer Vehicles

Many families have a car for each person with a driver’s license. You can save fuel by family members riding together. That way, only one vehicle has to be kept filled up. You can also make use of carpooling to work. This has the added bonus that one of your co-workers ends up being the person stuck waiting for fuel rather than you.

5. Work from Home

If you have the option to stay home then there is no reason you have to use gasoline to get to work.

6. Take Public Transportation

Most people with cars tend to forget that public transportation is available. They may be slow and it may be confusing to figure out how to get to where you need to be, but they will keep you out of the line at the gas station.

7. Walk

This is something that almost everyone does, but they forget that it is a mode of transportation. And if you are within a mile or two of where you need to be, it may be faster to walk than it is to drive. Given that driving may also force you to wait at a gas station, walking may save you even more time.

8. Ride a Bicycle

For some reason this one scares people, but a bicycle can get you anywhere you want to go without gasoline. In some locations the speeds you can travel on a bicycle are higher than the average speed of automobiles on the same road, and that even before you take into account the time people spend refueling or servicing their cars.

9. Go Electric

Most people realize that if they had an electric car then they wouldn’t have to visit the gas station while there is a gas shortage. Not everyone has that option because they are expensive. There is, however, another way you can go electric. These days electric bicycles are becoming more popular. Maybe you aren’t physically fit enough to use a bicycle as transportation, but if you have an eBike then you can make use of an electric motor that will allow you to travel at speeds similar to those of a fit cyclist. It probably won’t save you money over driving a car, but you won’t be waiting to buy gas.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Addressing the Problem of Young Adults Leaving the Church

Why are young adults dropping out of church? It’s a question I’ve been giving thought to lately and I write this not so much to answer the question but to put those thoughts in written form. More specifically, I’m not so interested in why young adults are dropping out as much as I’m interested in why they are missing. Of course, they would be missing if they drop out, but 30% don’t stop attending church and about 75% either don’t stop attending or they return to church. Effectively, that means there is only a 25% dropout rate, but you sure can’t tell it by looking at some churches. We often see churches where they have students and they have senior citizens, but there is a gap between the age groups. If a church is running 25 students in their children and teen ministries, they should expect to see about 35 who are between the ages of 18 and 54. A church that has fewer people between 18 and 54 than they have between 0 and 18 isn’t doing something right, but what?

They Aren’t What We Think

We might be tempted to look at young adults and think that they are just shallow and haven’t grown up. They just didn’t learn to be the Christians that they ought to be. And maybe there is some of that, but isn’t that what is said of every generation? 30% took a firm grasp of the faith and they are in church, even if it isn’t the church they grew up in. And then there are others who will get back into church eventually. So rather than dismiss them as being uninterested, we need to understand that a significant number of young adults want to be in church. They may not want to be in our church, but they want to be in some church. Also, they want to be in a church that teaches the truth. And they want their children involved with church programs that teach the truth.

Preferences Are Important

Most people don’t choose a church just because of the music, or how the auditorium looks, or how big it is. But if a person is looking at two churches that they believe both are sound in doctrine and all the other high priority things are similar, they one they choose to attend may be the one that has the music they like or the one that has more people in their age group or is the size they are looking for. The important stuff must come first, but if we have nothing for people between 18 and 55 then they are going to attend another church that puts the important stuff first and does have something for people between 18 and 55.

Maybe We Should Question Why We Have Youth and Elderly

Rather than trying to figure out what is causing the young and middle age adults to leave, it might be helpful to consider why we have the people that we do. Children are fairly easy to get. Offer them candy and games to play and they show up. Rent a bounce house and they show up. Teens are also pretty easy to get. Pizza works wonders and also long as they have an opportunity to spend time with their friends, they’ll be there. And when it comes to the senior citizens, you can’t bribe them with candy and pizza, but ultimately, they are also looking for an opportunity to spend time with their friends. Yes, they want to serve the Lord, but why serve at this church rather than that one over there? They will serve at the one where they have friends. They get tired of being in an empty house. A church that has activities for senior adults will have senior adults.

The Serious Stuff Is Too Serious

You give children candy and games. You give teens pizza and fun activities. You give senior adults an outing to hear a Southern Gospel quartet or a trip to Branson. But what do we have for young and middle age adults? “Let me tell you about this Bible study we’d like you to attend.” Or, “have you considered working in the nursery? We need some help?” It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Bible study or asking people to help in various ministries, but when you only ask people to give and they receive nothing in return they may begin to feel undervalued. Before you say, “well, it isn’t about what you get,” consider that we don’t say that of the senior adults and we don’t say that of the youth. If the people between 18 and 55 aren’t receiving some of the fun stuff that we have for the other age groups then it shouldn’t surprise us that there is a gap. Anecdotally, as a single adult I have sometimes wanted to be involved in some ministries because it would get me out of the house and around people, and yet I faced the reality that my mental wellbeing wouldn’t allow me to take on yet another serious responsibility.

One of the common problems with small groups, or Bible study, or Sunday school is that people want to sit around and talk rather than get to the lesson. Every leader has asked at some point, “How do I get people to focus on the lesson?” Maybe the problem is that people need that time to visit even more than they need yet another serious activity.

What You Focus on Will Succeed

As I already alluded to, we focus on children. We have special programs for children and they show up. We focus on teens. We have special programs for them and they show up. We focus on senior adults. We have people whose responsibility it is to plan special programs for them. We even have a Wednesday night service that is mostly a senior adult gathering. It is no coincidence that the one age group that doesn’t have someone assigned to it is the one that is struggling.

In church work things don’t become a priority until someone is responsible for it. Take church music, for example. I’ve seen churches where the pastor would call on someone to pick out a few songs to sing. I’ve seen visitors asked to lead the music or to sing a special. You get about what you expect from that situation and it is nothing like what you get when you have someone who knows they are responsible for the music each week. It doesn’t even have to be a paid position.

There are always competing priorities in a church. The principle of the squeaky wheel getting the grease often applies. I’m not sure that the method used by a person assigned responsibility for an age group matters as much as just having someone responsible.

But Method Does Matter

Let’s suppose we did have someone assigned to the 18-54 people, much like we do for other age groups. What would that look like? For one thing, I don’t think this age group is looking for additional activities. The key word here is “additional.” In this age group, they are busy with work. They are feeling guilty about not spending enough time with their children or grandchildren. The last thing we want to do is make the situation worse.

Should we assign someone to the 18-34 age and someone else to 35-54? Perhaps. But it is also possible that the overlap of the life situation between the age groups would make that counterproductive.

We can’t treat it like a senior adult ministry for younger people. If senior adults are less active then we must assume that younger adults are more active. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, but one would expect that younger adults would be more enticed by more physical activities than senior adults are. There is also work to consider. For senior adults, the best bet is to schedule an activity during daylight hours. For people who are working, you have fewer options.

But it’s not just scheduling social activities. One of the major reasons young adults drop out of church is because their work makes it impossible to attend. To be effective, the person responsible for the age group might have to become a proponent of meeting times that are more conducive for church attendance by people in that age group.

Many churches lose young adults when they move to college. If some churches lose college students then why shouldn’t some churches gain college students? The person who is assigned to reach out to young adults should be finding a way to bring some of those college students into the church.


It isn’t enough to ask questions about why young adults are leaving. If we want to solve the problem then we much make it a priority. That involves giving someone responsibility for solving the problem and giving them the opportunity to advocate things that will help solve the problem. Even if the person assigned to the problem doesn’t know how to solve it, having them assigned to the problem causes it to be a priority.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Why Can't We See God?

Atheists aren’t very open minded but they do ask some interesting questions. One atheist asked, “where is your God?” and then he said, “Show me your God without using science or a book that is clearly written by idiots.” Clearly, he doesn’t want me to actually show him God, but hidden behind his vitriol is the question, “Why can’t we see God?” Why do we need the Bible to tell us that God exists? Why do we need science to show us that there are things that simply can’t be done without an intelligent being creating the Universe? For that matter, can science show us that?

I suppose we all have some form of image of God. For some it is that of some big guy on a big thrown with a long white beard. I suppose I saw a picture like that one time. In Sunday School when I was a kid the images of God were a drawing that showed a big bright spot. Interestingly, when the Children of Israel left Egypt the image of God that they created was that of a calf. And just in case you doubted that’s what they thought God looked like, they created idols with that form more than once. But God commanded against forming such images. Any image that we form of God is incomplete. The big guy in the sky image turns in just another filthy old man to atheists. And God as a cow? I don’t get that one at all.

If God were to show himself to us, where would we look? Some talk about flaming crosses in the sky or having all the words of Jesus written in our DNA. But how would we know what these things mean? We have a flaming ball of fire that crosses our sky daily. We see a rainbow after a storm and God even told us that the rainbow is there because of his covenant to not destroy the world by flood again. Instead of seeing God in those things, people see the natural phenomenon by which they appear. Why can’t it be easier? Why can’t we just look up into heaven and see God sitting there looking down at us?

In the Bible there are times when God showed himself, albeit in a hidden form, in various ways. Moses saw him in a burning bush. He went before the Children of Israel as a cloud. His Spirit descended like a dove at Jesus’ baptism. On the day of Pentecost he appeared as fire. Paul experienced him as a bright light. But just by looking at those things you wouldn’t know that was God. Why can’t he just show us that he is here?

The Bible tells us that God is a Spirit. We tend to pass over that because we don’t know what a spirit is. Around Halloween we talk about spirits but we usually visualize them as having arms and legs and even wearing the clothes they were wearing when they died. If that’s what a spirit is then you would think we could go to church and find some ghostly figure wondering around the building that we could point to and say that is God. But I think we can get a better understanding of what a spirit is by looking at apologetics. One of the arguments for the existence of God is that the Universe has a beginning and everything that has a beginning has a cause. Because things can’t cause themselves, the cause can’t be the stuff of the Universe. So the cause must be timeless, spaceless, immaterial, and extremely powerful.

Can you see something that is spaceless and immaterial? If it is immaterial then there is nothing for light to bound off of. If it is spaceless then it doesn’t take up any room. Think of how much room the smallest object takes up. Something that is spaceless takes up even less room than that. Abstract objects fall into that category. You can’t see the number one. You can see the symbols we use to represent it, but you can’t see the number one itself. You can’t see a point or a line because they have width of zero. At best we can see something that God uses to represent himself or we can see his glory, but we can’t see God the way we see each other because God isn’t a physical being.

Jesus, who is God, has a physical body and with it he has physical limitations. Because he has a physical body he can be seen, but he can’t be seen by everyone. This is why it makes sense that the Holy Spirit is the one who is here with us now, because the Holy Spirit can be with all of us at one time.

Getting back to the question, “where is your God?” To answer that we need only answer the question, “Where is the Holy Spirit?” The Holy Spirit was sent to be a comforter to those who have been saved. We should find him living within the hearts of church members. Though we can’t see him because he is a spirit, we should the impact that he has on the lives of Christians. And we do.

But that won’t satisfy an atheist. When they look for God and I fear that when many of us look for God we are looking for a physical sort of god. Sure, God could provide some physical manifestation for us to look at, but then our concept of God would be limited by what we say. We might well begin to think that God’s nature was that of a cow. So, I suspect the reason we can’t see God is because he wants to reveal so much more about himself than what we can grasp from seeing, hearing, or touching.