Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sentenced to Death 

Via The Dunker Journal, a great quote from William F Buckley:

But, in the long view, we all stand sentenced to death, and whether it comes in 1995 or tomorrow makes no difference. That is why the morality of the last days always applies to what is “finally important in human experience.” All our techniques of social welfare, all our science, all our comfort, all our liberty, all our democracy and foreign aid and grandiloquent orations—all that means nothing to me and nothing to you in the moment when we go. At that moment we must put our souls in order, and the way to do that was lighted for us by Jesus, and since then we have had need of no other light. That is what is finally important; it has not changed; and it will not change. It is truth, which shall ever abide in the future. And if it is “reactionary” to hold a truth that will be valid for all future time, then words have lost their meaning, and men their reason.

God Bless Profit 

Proverbs 11:26 The people will curse him who withholds grain, But blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.

I love being a pastor. I also love being a computer repairman. It's a great feeling when people are thanking me profusely while giving me money. The proverb above shows the reason.

I don't have grain. But I do have a pretty good head for computers. And when people take what they can do and share it with others, the others are usually more than happy to compensate the person who has helped them. I've only had about one customer that I can think of that complained about paying my fee.

This is what is great about the free market. You make money in the market by making other people's lives better. This is always the advice I give young people looking to make a living. I tell them, think of how you can make other people's lives better, and do that. You do that, and you'll never have a problem making a living. You might not be able to do it immediately. You probably will need to work toward that goal. But set that goal in mind- using the talents and opportunities that God has given you to serve others. And be sure to charge. Do it for a fair price, but don't do it for free.

Sometimes you hear people talking about "public service." Obama had proposed a plan where you got your student loans forgiven after 20 years, or after 10 years if you went into "public service", by which he meant government. As if government work was somehow more noble and worthwhile than the private sector. And government is, of course, necessary. But when most of the public sector makes a lot more money than the rest of the labor market, it doesn't seem to me to be exactly appropriate to talk about them as if they are sacrificing something for the rest of us. Yes, the policeman improves my life (except when he's giving me a ticket), but does he improve it more than, say, the plumber? If you unthinkingly say that the policeman is more important than the plumber, then I assume your toilet is working right now.

I can fix people's computers. And I'm happy to do it. I don't do it for free, because from one perspective, I need to eat. But from another perspective, I wouldn't be able to fix very many people's computers if I did it for free. I'd have to spend my time making money and just fix computers in my spare time, along with playing with my kids, resting and everything else. But if I charge for it, then I can help a lot more people with my abilities. If the farmer gives his grain away, then he feeds the community for one year. But if he sells it, then he can plant again, and feed them again the next year, year after year. I am blessed to have a church that takes good care of me. But I have debts I'd like to pay faster and savings I'd like to pursue, and so I make a little money on the side fixing computers. If I couldn't charge to do it, then I wouldn't do it much, except for family and friends. Because I charge, I can use my abilities to help a lot more people.

Profit is a dirty word in our culture. I hear people say that the evil insurance companies are only in it for the profit. But profit is the only thing that enables them to do what they do. And the laborer is worthy of his hire. If people cannot make a profit doing something, they will not be able to do it very long, unless they are compelled to do it by force. And then they are slaves.

People all have gifts. People have things they can do that not many other people around them can do quite as well. Figure out how to make other people's lives better with those gifts, and you will make a living. Don't be ashamed or embarrassed to make a profit doing things that make other people's lives better. Don't be afraid to sell your talents. People will not resent you for it. They will bless you, as the proverb says. The one they curse is the one who selfishly hoards what he has for himself only.

We need to recapture the value of work. I read something recently on The Simple Dollar that I really liked- he said, he used to make the mistake of working during his working hours in order to improve his non-working hours. Working for the weekend, the American way. He became much happier and satisfied when he learned to work to improve his working hours, laboring to be able to do things he enjoyed and was satisfied in doing. We spend a great deal of our life working, and it's a shame to spend your life doing something you hate. But if we recapture the value of work, the idea that God created us to work, to take dominion over creation, then we can learn to find satisfaction in our work and work toward job situations that are more satisfying, and make better use of our gifts.

So don't hold yourself back. Don't think profit is a dirty word. Sell yourself, sell your abilities, and the world will bless you. Figure out your gifts, figure out how to use them to better other people's lives, and price those gifts fairly. They will thank you while they give you money. And that really is a great feeling.


I've been an AVG user for a long time, but have had increasing problems with it, and have recently switched to Avast for my antivirus protection. So far, I really like it. It seems like all of these products are good for a while and then stop being good. I don't know if they just get taken over by the marketing departments or if they just become bloatware over time. I've also wondered if AV products in particular become less effective as they get more popular and virus writers therefore tailor their product to avoid the most popular AV packages. Whatever the reason is- Norton, McAfee, AVG- all of them seem like they start out good but after a while aren't so much.

Anyway, Avast so far is a nice clean product without a lot of superfluous features. I haven't analyzed it very closely, but it seems to have a pretty thin memory footprint, which I like. And I'm clean of viruses- but then I was before too.

Also, I'd recommend Malwarebytes as a secondary line of defense.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Famine of the Word 

From Al Mohler:

In many churches, there is almost no public reading of the Word of God. Worship is filled with music, but congregations seem disinterested in listening to the reading of the Bible. We are called to sing in worship, but the congregation cannot live only on the portions of Scripture that are woven into songs and hymns. Christians need the ministry of the Word as the Bible is read before the congregation and God's people -- young and old, rich and poor, married and unmarried, sick and well -- hear it together. The sermon is to consist of the exposition of the Word of God, powerfully and faithfully read, explained, and applied. It is not enough that the sermon take a biblical text as its starting point.

I appreciate Dr. Mohler's thoughts here a great deal. But I'd warn of a temptation that the leadership of churches is always susceptible to, blaming the congregation for disinterest in sermons focused on the word.

The fault belongs in part, obviously, with the congregation. And I can sympathize. I once had a congregation member that would count the number of Bible verses that I read in a service, in order to complain- "He read 52 verses this Sunday!" But what Dr. Mohler doesn't delve in too much is the other part of the problem- pastors who clearly don't believe that the Bible is all that relevant. Nothing is more relevant than knowing who God is, and when the pastor passionately believes and preaches that, then the people can be taught to see the relevance of Scripture. So I think the fault is on both sides, and should be addressed on both sides. I remember asking a certain pastor once how he went about counseling people struggling with addictions or family problems. He said, "Oh, I don't do that. I don't have anything to say to people having those kinds of problems." He just referred them to "professionals." He was clearly a man who did not believe the Bible was terribly relevant to people's actual problems, and it showed in his preaching.

Believers in the pews need to develop a hunger for the word. But pastors are called to preach that word in a lively fashion, showing people how that word is relevant to every aspect of their lives. And that means that the pastors have to believe that themselves.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Patience of the Saints 

All of the benefits and blessings of the Christian life are only accessible to those who have patience. The riches promised to us by God only come after a time of suffering. Anyone can commit to some changed lifestyle or way of thinking for a short period of time. Only with patience can the benefits of a true commitment to the truth of Jesus Christ be experienced.

In Revelation 13 and 14, twice, John says, "Here is the patience of the saints." Once in chapter 13 verse 10, after talking about the destructive and oppressive power of the beast and the fact that those who oppress and destroy will themselves be oppressed and destroyed, and again in chapter 14, verse 12, after the third angel announces the destruction of all of those who worship the beast.

We have patience in the knowledge that God has the victory. All of the things we suffer in this life only work our good and God's glory, and can never rob us of the promised salvation. All we have to do is endure, a lesson Revelation teaches us over and over. Enduring to the end is the unique characteristic of the true saint of God. Anyone can be faithful for a little while, but only by the power of the Spirit of God, with sincere faith in Christ, can a person endure all of the difficulties of this life to reap the promised blessings. Pray sincerely that God grant us that patience.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Dismantling the Scaffolding 

Unbelieving man spends a great deal of effort trying to account for a great many things that can simply be explained by the existence of God. Where did we come from? How did we achieve all of the complexity we see around us? What is the purpose of life?

Man tries to account for all of these questions without reference to God, or without reference to a God uncontrolled by man. Man declares himself the arbiter of what can and cannot be true, and then examines all truth claims to decide whether or not to accept them.

But it is the word of God which declares what is and what is not, what can and cannot be. God calls man to simply accept His truth, and indeed we cannot even function without reference to this truth. We are not independent. In Him we live and move and have our being. Man can only know anything insofar as he accepts the revelation of God.

Unbelieving man is therefore like a man standing on scaffolding claiming he can fly. You point out to him, no, you're standing on scaffolding. And he says, But I am dismantling the scaffolding under my feet, and when I am done, that will prove that I can fly. One of two things must inevitably occur. The man will continue to stand on God's scaffolding, operate on God's truth, and pretend that he is not, and make a show of dismantling the very thing he is standing on. Or, he will succeed, and truly dismantle the structure of his own thought, and fall into nihilism.

The conversation between Jesus and Pilate, recorded in the book of John chapter 18, perfectly reveals this dilemma in the mind of the unbeliever. Pilate is confronted with Jesus, the revelation of the truth of God. Jesus Himself makes this claim to Pilate, telling Pilate that He came into the world for the purpose of bearing witness to the truth. Pilate's response, perhaps his most famous words, is "What is truth?" Pilate then proceeds to declare that Jesus is innocent, and orders him to be crucified.

Pilate is a man caught on the horns of this dilemma. He is trying to judge reality using his own faculties, but comes upon an impossible case, the case of Jesus himself. In Pilate's understanding, a man like Jesus simply cannot exist. He defies all of Pilate's expectations. He does not cower before Pilate. He is not afraid. He does not defend himself, flatter Pilate, or all of the things that Pilate must be accustomed to for a man of his power. Jesus is accused of things by the Jews that He cannot possibly be guilty of. As long as Pilate insists on the independence of his own mind, he has no way at all of dealing with the situation he is in. Jesus is innocent of the charges, but Pilate's own survival will be jeopardized by antagonizing the Jews, who have threatened to accuse him to Caesar of tolerating a rebel. But if he declares Jesus to be guilty, then he is acting contrary to what he knows is the truth and will be giving the Jews, whom he hates, the victory over him. He has the option of simply submitting to the truth, doing the right thing and trusting God to take care of him. But this he cannot do. Instead, he says, "What is truth?" He denies the validity of thought itself, declaring Jesus innocent and then condemns him to death for a crime that Jesus, by Pilate's own admission, could not possibly have committed.

Tradition tells us that Pilate committed suicide some years later. We don't know for sure. But we know that he committed a kind of suicide, right here in John 18. He commits intellectual suicide, declaring that it is impossible to know the truth, or even that truth does not exist, for the alternative is unthinkable, to submit to God. Rather than admit that he cannot fly, he tears up the scaffolding under his feet and falls to his doom. Rather than admit that his mind is not independently capable of understanding the truth, he declares that there is no truth and destroys the validity of his own mind.

This is always the option facing man. In hell, Jesus tells us that there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Sorrow and rage. The unbeliever in hell has completely destroyed his mind, refusing to acknowledge that God is the rightful judge and king, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

So we can continue to insist on our own autonomy, the independence of our own minds. This is a pure assumption. No evidence is even possible for such a claim, since that evidence could only be judged by that very mind in question. It is a pure assertion, and is made because the alternative is unacceptable to man. The alternative is that we think God's thoughts after him, that our minds, to work properly at all, must be subject to the God that made our minds. But this second alternative is the truth, as declared by the Scriptures and revealed by Jesus Christ. In man's desire for freedom, to fly on his own strength, he ends in despair and death. But by embracing the truth of Jesus Christ, we become what God intends for us to be, creatures made in His image.

And this is just what Jesus told us, that the truth will set us free.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Another Essentials Excerpt 

Here's a second excerpt from my book, The Essentials of the Christian Religion, available here:

The second term, sanctification, refers to the process of actually making us righteous. As we said in the last chapter, we are saved from our sins, not merely from the consequences of our sins. Justification saves us from the eternal consequences of our sins, but it does not save us from the sins themselves.

After we are converted, however, we are adopted as sons by God and we are given the power to really be sons, rather than the enemies that we were before. This power comes to us by the Holy Spirit, who works internally in us to teach us and empower us to live more and more like Christians. This is sanctification. Sanctification means the process of setting something apart. The term was used in the Old Testament to describe the ‘setting apart’ of all the firstborn to God. When any sheep or goat or other animal that people had gave birth to its first offspring, that offspring was given to God as thanks for all God had done for His people. The way it was given to God is that it was sacrificed in the temple. Even firstborn children were said to belong to God, though God did not demand that they be killed. Rather, a substitute offering was to be given. A family was required to offer a lamb, or if the family was poor they could offer a pair of pigeons or turtledoves instead. This symbolized that all that people had was ‘set apart’ to God, that is, taken out of the regular, sinful world and dedicated to God.
Many other symbols in the Old Testament point to this same need: the Jews were forbidden to eat many foods and wear certain clothes that were said to be unclean. If they came into contact with things like dead bodies or unclean foods, then they became unclean too. If they were unclean, then they would not be able to enter the temple, and so they had to be cleansed with a ritual that involved the sprinkling of water.

All of this was just symbolic. God doesn’t care about pork or mixed fabrics. But He cares very much that we set our lives apart for His service. What was taught symbolically in the Old Testament is taught directly in the New, and while Christians are free from the Old Testament purification laws, the deeper reality that those laws pointed to—the need to be separate from the world—is every bit as important as it ever was. And so we Christians need to struggle and fight our whole lives to put away our sinful practices and renounce the ways of this world. Sanctification actually begins at the same moment that conversion occurs, since conversion itself is the beginning of putting away sinful ways and renouncing the world.

The Essentials of the Christian Religion is a survey of basic Christian doctrines, including an exposition of the Apostles' Creed. It is written to be accessible to those uneducated in Christianity, and also refreshing and reminding for those more well-versed.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Essentials of the Christian Religion 

I have finished my first book, _The Essentials of the Christian Religion_. It's a survey of the basic doctrines of Christianity along with an exposition of the Apostles' Creed. It's about a hundred pages long and is written in a friendly, accessible tone, meant to be easy to give to someone who is asking questions about what we believe, even someone with very little education in religion. It would also serve as a useful reminder on the basic doctrines of Christianity, and includes an exposition of the Apostles Creed. It's available here, and will also be available through Amazon.com in a couple of weeks. Here is an excerpt, from chapter 3:

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, having taken on a real human nature, came to this earth to die for sinners. When we say that Jesus “died for us,” what we mean is that He died in our place. He was our propitiation. This is what the passage in Romans that I quoted earlier is saying. He died so that we didn’t have to. God’s justice is satisfied in that the penalty that was required is paid. Because Jesus is God, He possessed the power to endure the suffering of hell on the cross for all of His people. It is also necessary that Jesus was a true man, because God cannot die, and only in a human body could death and hell be felt.

God’s justice is seen in the cross in that God did not simply wink at the sins that people had committed. The penalty was paid and justice was satisfied. But God’s mercy is also seen, in that it was God Himself who paid that price, and God who elected to accept this substitute sacrifice instead of requiring the penalty to be paid in the flesh of the guilty. This is the meaning of propitiation, of atonement.
And so the Romans passage tells us that we have “redemption” in Christ Jesus. That is to say, we are bought back. Due to our own sins, we had been lost and were the property of death and hell. We were owned by another and not free, because of our sins. Jesus paid that debt that was owed and bought us for Himself. Now we belong to Him.

The Romans passage also says that we are “justified.” This is a most important word. Justification is the act by which someone is declared to be righteous. It is important to make a distinction here between the fact of righteousness and its declaration. In a court of law, when a jury comes back with its verdict, it declares the defendant either guilty or not guilty. The jury is only making a pronouncement with regard to the defendant’s status before the law. We hope that such a pronouncement is true to the fact, but usually we can’t know for sure. A man may be declared innocent when he is actually guilty.

Our justification in Christ is just that sort of declaration. We are held innocent before God’s law, not because of our own righteousness but because of Christ’s righteousness. Christ’s righteousness becomes our own righteousness in a legal sense. We are still sinners and will continue to be sinners until we die, but God judges us as innocent because of Christ’s sacrifice.

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