Monday, December 31, 2012

Another Year Is Over - Are You Ready for the Harvest?

It's New Year's Eve.

I don't know about you, but for me and my family, a lot changed in 2012. Some of the changes that actually took place were things that seemed within the realm of possibility a year ago, and other changes never even crossed my mind.

Realizing the limits of human ability to see the future might cause us to be apprehensive of what may await us in 2013. Even though we Christians know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, there are no guarantees that our path through this world will be easy or pleasurable. Indeed, for many of our Christian brothers and sisters in different parts of the world the path to heaven is marked with deep pain and suffering.

But, no matter how dark the world around us becomes, no matter what we are called to face for the sake of the testimony of Jesus, we can have confidence that because we Christians have been saved, these things will work out for our joy and for the greater glory of God.

But for those who have not been saved, there is no future of blessing to look forward to. There are many for whom the year 2013 will be their last. None of us knows when our life will end. The transition of years is a good time to take stock of where we stand with the Lord and commit our souls to His care.

Spurgeon says it well:

"The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved." Jeremiah 8:20
   Not saved! Dear reader, is this your sorry condition? Warned of the judgment to come, invited to escape for your life, and yet at this moment, not saved! You know the way of salvation, you read it in the Bible, you hear it from the pulpit, it is explained to you by friends, and still you neglect it, and therefore you are not saved! You will be without excuse when the Lord shall execute judgment. The Holy Spirit has blessed the Word that has been preached in your hearing, and times of refreshing have come from the divine presence, and yet you are still without Christ. All these hopeful seasons have come and gone - your summer and your harvest have passed - and still you are not saved! Years have followed one another into eternity, and your last year will soon be here: Youth has gone, manhood is going, and still you are not saved. Let me ask you - will you ever be saved? Is there any likelihood of it? Already the most favorable seasons have left you unsaved. Will other occasions alter your condition? Every means has failed with you - the best of means, used perseveringly, and with the utmost affection. What more can be done for you? Affliction and prosperity have equally failed to impress you; tears and prayers and sermons have been wasted on your barren heart. Are not the probabilities dead against your ever being saved? Is it not more than likely that you will forever stay as you are till death forever bars the door of hope? Do you recoil from this idea? Yet it is a most reasonable one: He who is not washed in so many waters will in all probability go filthy to his end. The convenient time has never come - why should it ever come? It is logical to fear that it will never arrive and that like Felix you will find no convenient occasion until you are in hell. Think carefully about hell and of the dreadful probability that you will soon be there!
   Reader, suppose you should die unsaved - no words can picture your doom. Write out your dreadful predicament in tears and blood; talk of it with groans and gnashing of teeth. You will be punished with everlasting destruction and banished from the glory of the Lord and from the glory of His power. Allow my words to startle you into serious thought. Be wise, be wise in time, and before another year begins, believe in Jesus, who is able to save you completely. Consecrate these last hours to lonely thought, and if you are brought to deep repentance, it will be well; and if it leads to a humble faith in Jesus, it will be best of all. See to it that this year does not pass away with you still unforgiven. Do not let the new year's midnight bells sound  upon a joyless spirit! Now, now, NOW believe and live.


(Spurgeon selection above from Morning and Evening, by C.H. Spurgeon, revised and edited by Alistair Begg, Crossway Books, 2003, p. 351.)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

All the World Will Be Blessed

I've been thinking today about a number of passages that describe God's joining the Gentiles to the descendants of Israel in order to gather "a people for his Name" (Acts 15:14) from all nations. Thought I'd share the passages here.

God to Abraham: "... and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed ..."

God to Jacob: "Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed."

Messianic prophecy through Isaiah: "And now the Lord says,
he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
He says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

"Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel."

Jesus: "I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven."

"The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. ... But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

'Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands - remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.'

"When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel."

' And they [the elders and living creatures around God's throne] sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” '

' "Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!"
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
whom he has redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.'

(Genesis 22:18; Genesis 28:14; Isaiah 49:5-6; Luke 2:25-32; Matthew 8:11; Acts 15:11; Ephesians 2:11-13; Ephesians 3:4-6; Revelation 5:9-10, Psalm 107:1-3 ESV)

I'm so thankful to have been grafted into the olive tree of those who are Abraham's descendants by faith ...

Friday, May 25, 2012

Diabolical Want Ads ...

I ran across the funny photo at left recently. At first I just laughed, but then, me being me, I got to thinking about it.

I mean, if the evil one posted job ads, couldn't this be pretty close to one that he would write? He is, after all, seeking world domination. And he does enslave people to work 24-7 for his objectives (2 Timothy 2:26). Messy death is indeed inevitable but he does allow his minions to have pointless, glitzy toys in the interim.

And yet, when he gives his sales pitch, somehow so many people find it to be compelling and logical.

So much so that even God's people can occasionally ask themselves whether they're really right when so many other people are going a different way.

So what are the key beliefs on which the deception depends?

Here's my first take on a few of the things that the evil one gets people to accept without question because once they're accepted his form of slavery seems quite logical:

(1) This physical world really is all that there is. There's nothing beyond it.
(2) All truth should be evaluated by means which are really only appropriate for understanding physical reality. That is, if you can't find it physically it doesn't exist. This is really a variant of point 1.
(3) Once you're dead, you're dead.
(4) The pleasure you experience in this life is really all the good that you're ever going to see before you die, so you should pursue that above everything else.
(5) There really isn't any such thing as absolute standard of "good" or "evil" to which anyone's accountable. All there really is is what different people like or don't like. So you should pursue whatever you think is good.

Contrast this with the biblical worldview:

(1) God is the ultimate reality and He is the reason for the existence of everything exists. Everything exists to bring Him glory.
(2) Truth is what agrees with God's self-validating revelation. Physical science is only good for understanding physical law.
(3) Men are spiritual. There is an eternal life after death, and our destiny there is determined in this life.
(4) The reward is in eternity. Any good we see here is only a presentiment of what God has for those that love Him. The ultimate Reward is knowing God.
(5) We are all evaluated by our response to God. Do we fall at His feet in worship? Or try to hide? Do we give Him glory and derive all of our pleasure from Him? Or try to find those things in false substitutes. We are morally obligated and designed to pursue God.

Stark difference, no?

It is true, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:19 that if we trust in Christ in this life only then we Christians are of all people most to be pitied. Because if that's true, then all the things we believe in are a lie and we really should be doing as the world does: "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die."

But we aren't wrong.

So  "Choose this day whom you will serve .. but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." (Joshua 24:15).

"O Lord our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us, but your name alone we bring to remembrance." Isaiah 26:13

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Did Jesus really descend into hell?

The above, known as "The Apostle's Creed" is one of the oldest statements of faith of the Christian church. For any of you who can read Latin, here is the creed in Latin:

Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem;
Creatorem coeli et terrae.
Et in Jesum Christum, Filium eius unicum, Dominum nostrum;
qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto,
natus ex Maria virgine;
passus sub Pontio Pilato,
crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus;
descendit ad inferna;
tertia die resurrexit a mortuis;
ascendit ad coelos;
sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis;
inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos.
Credo in Spiritum Sanctum;
sanctam ecclesiam catholicam;
sanctorum communionem;
remissionem peccatorum;
carnis resurrectionem;
vitam oeternam.

And here it is in Greek:

Πιστεύω εἰς θεòν πατέρα, παντοκράτορα,
ποιητὴν οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς.Καὶ εἰς Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν, υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ, τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν,
τὸν συλληφθέντα ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου,
γεννηθέντα ἐκ Μαρίας τῆς παρθένου,
παθόντα ἐπὶ Ποντίου Πιλάτου,
σταυρωθέντα, θανόντα, καὶ ταφέντα,
κατελθόντα εἰς τὰ κατώτατα,
τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ ἀναστάντα ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν,
ἀνελθόντα εἰς τοὺς οὐρανούς,
καθεζόμενον ἐν δεξιᾷ θεοῦ πατρὸς παντοδυνάμου,
ἐκαῖθεν ἐρχόμενον κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς.
Πιστεύω εἰς πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον,
ἁγίαν καθολικὴν ἐκκλησίαν,
ἁγίων κοινωνίαν,
ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν,
σαρκὸς ἀνάστασιν,
ζωὴν αἰώνιον.
And finally, in English:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.
Most of the creed is accepted as a standard of orthodoxy by almost every major tradition of Christianity. But there is an exception: the phrase "descended into hell". With respect to that phrase there is variation. Some modern versions of the creed (e.g., the United Methodists) excise the phrase.

So, it being the Saturday of the Paschal weekend, I thought it would be appropriate to post briefly on how this phrase came to be in the creed and, more importantly, whether it's really true that Jesus descended into hell. Please forgive the fact that I haven't properly footnoted and referenced everything below. I'll do that later as I'm trying to get this post out in answer to a friend's question.

The Latin text of the Apostle's Creed is a conglomerate from a number of Latin (and maybe Greek) versions, themselves based on texts assembled from various written sources, dating from second to the third centuries (e.g., Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Novatian). The early Roman creed was as follows:
I believe in God the Father almighty;
and in Christ Jesus His only Son, our Lord,
Who was born from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
Who under Pontius Pilate was crucified and buried,
on the third day rose again from the dead,
ascended to heaven,
sits at the right hand of the Father,
whence He will come to judge the living and the dead;
and in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Church,
the remission of sins,
the resurrection of the flesh.
The first version of the creed to incorporate the phrase "descendit in inferna" is the Aquileian version of the creed recorded by Rufinus ca. 390 A.D. Other versions of the creed that existed prior to and contemporaneously with the Aquileian version (e.g., versions from Rome, Milan, Hippo) do not include the phrase. Moreover, no Latin versions of the creed from that time until approximately 650 A.D. contain the phrase.

Interestingly, a number of the Eastern (Greek) versions of the creed use the phrase (as above) "κατελθόντα εἰς τὰ κατώτατα" ("descended to the lowest [parts]") instead of "descended into Hades". This is interesting, because this phrase in Greek is reminiscent of a phrase in Ephesians 4:9 "κατέβη εἰς τὰ κατώτερα μέρη τῆς γῆς" ("descended to the lower regions of the earth"). Which would mean that the creed originally may have been doing nothing more than describing Jesus burial by echoing Paul's description of Jesus' "descent".

Moreover, it's sometimes the case that the Greek texts that use these phrases (i.e., "descended into Hades", "descended to the lowest") don't mention the burial of Christ, and the ones that mention His burial don't mention a descent.

Indeed, Rufinus himself says in his commentary on the creed that he believes "descendit in inferna" to be synonymous with being buried.

Well, that's the history of the text of the Creed, such as it is.

More important than any of this, what does the Bible say on the subject?

First, I should say that having Jesus go to the literal hell (called Gehenna, and described as the lake of fire by Jesus and in Revelation 20:10 - which seems to be a different place than the abyss or bottomless pit in Revelation 20:1) creates some problems. One of those is that it isn't clear that hell is even populated yet. It seems from the latter part of Revelation 20 that people are only thrown there after the final judgment. Moreover, the texts used to support the idea of the descent into hell (see below) talk about Jesus going to Hades (the underworld, the place of the dead), not to Gehenna (the place of eternal punishment).

Texts which are used to support the idea of "the harrowing of hell" are Psalm 16:8-10, Ephesians 4:8-9, 1 Peter 3:18-20, 1 Peter 4:4-6. Sometimes the resurrection of departed saints described in Matthew 27:52-53 is also put forward in combination with the above passages as evidence of Jesus' descent into the underworld and taking saints to heaven.

The Psalm 16 text "you will not abandon my soul to Sheol" was quoted by Peter in his sermon on the day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2. He quotes the same text from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures that was in use at the time of Jesus and the apostles) as "you will not abandon my soul to Hades." This is all fine, since both the Hebrew Sheol and Hades generally mean "the grave" or "the place of the dead". Unfortunately, though, the King James Version translated Hades in Acts 2:27 as "hell", which has led many to use this verse as support for Jesus' descent into hell.

The Ephesians 4:8-9 text (already mentioned above) doesn't say that Jesus went to hell, but rather that he descended to the lower parts of the earth. In the context it probably makes more sense to understand this as being about Jesus' incarnation and subsequent ascension, rather than being about the events between His death and resurrection.

The 1 Peter texts are notoriously difficult to interpret. The major options for interpreting these texts are to understand the "spirits in prison" as being one of:
(1) people from prior to the flood who were preached to by Noah (1 Peter 3:19-20)
(2) evil angels
(3) the spirits of the just from the times prior to Jesus' death who were in "Abraham's bosom" or "Paradise" in Sheol (in contrast to the evil who, as in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 were in the "bad" part of Sheol)

All of these options present some problems. In option 1, we would have to account for why the people to whom Noah preached prior to the flood should be in a special category of people that get a second chance for repentance after death. It seems more likely to me that in referring to Jesus preaching to the "spirits [presently] in prison", what is meant is that it was the Spirit of Jesus preaching through Noah during the time that he preached to those people who were ultimately judged in the flood.

As for the evil angels theory, it's based on not only on the reference to "spirits" in 1 Peter 3, but also on passages such as the situation in which Jesus threw the legion of demons from the Gadarene demoniacs into the herd of pigs. The demons begged Jesus not to torture them "before the time". They also asked Him not to send them to the abyss (Luke 8). This seems to show that there was a place called "the abyss" (also mentioned in Revelation, e.g. 9:1 and 20:1) which is a place of imprisonment and punishment for demons. And, the theory goes, Jesus went to this place to announce His victory to the evil spirits imprisoned there. The problem with this theory is that it is hard to reconcile with what seems to be going on in 1 Peter 3. Why would only evil spirits from the time of Noah be imprisoned there? There's nothing else in Scripture or Jewish tradition about evil spirits from the time of Noah being imprisoned in the abyss, so this one verse seems like a bit of a dubious foundation for a doctrine. Moreover, there seems to be a distinction in scripture between "the abyss" and Hades and Gehenna and there's no explicit support for the idea that Jesus went to the abyss.

The third theory, that Jesus went to preach to the righteous in "Abraham's bosom" seems at first to make some sense, especially when considered in light of the parable of Lazarus in Luke 16 and in light of the events described in Matthew 27:52-53. But this theory also runs into problems, in that it's not the righteous that are being preached to according to 1 Peter 3, but the ones who did not obey in the time of Noah.

In short, none of these theories seem especially strong - certainly not strong enough to make their way into a major confession of faith of the church.

So, in light of this background, how has the church interpreted this passage in the creed over the centuries?

Well, as already mentioned, up until the 7th century or so there doesn't seem to be any strong evidence of the presence of the phrase "descent into hell" in the creed.  From that point forward to the present, though, the Roman Catholic church interprets the phrase "descent into hell" as referring to Jesus preaching to Old Testament saints in limbo. The Anglican church teaches that Jesus preached to the Old Testament saints, but that they were in the "Paradise" part of the underworld instead of in limbo. Lutherans teach that "descent into hell" means that  Jesus proclaimed his victory to evil spirits (i.e., as the first phase of His exaltation). The Reformed/Presbyterian branch of the church teaches that the descent into hell refers to the fact that God poured out His full wrath on human body and soul of Jesus during the entire time of His suffering and death and that it is this suffering and death that is referred to. Other non-Lutheran, non-Reformed, non-Episcopal protestant churches either excise the doctrine from the creed or treat it as something of a mystery about which they are not dogmatic.

So what do I think? I probably pretty closely follow the Reformed view.

The view that makes the most sense to me is to say that Jesus experienced my punishment in place and that that punishment was not only the physical judgment of the body, but also the judgment of the human nature by experiencing the full measure of the anger of God -- which I would call hell. And I think He experienced this during His Passion. I'm inclined to think that when Jesus said "Tetelestai!" (It is finished!) on the Cross and gave up the ghost, that He really meant that it was finished. Moreover, I think that the promise He made to the repentant criminal on the cross next to him that that day he would be with Him in Paradise was fulfilled ... and that idea is not really compatible with Jesus going to hell for a whole day first.

But yes, I also think that it's somewhat of a mystery what was happening during the time that Jesus was in the tomb so I'm not too dogmatic about it.

So I can still say the words of the creed, interpreting the "descended into hell" as undergoing in my place all of the wrath of God that, had it been poured out on me, would have resulted in my being thrown into hell. He delivered me and every other Christian from the hell that we were condemned to by taking the hell of God's righteous anger onto Himself.

Hope that helps in clarifying what I think about it. As always, your views are welcomed!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hidden in Plain Sight

It's pretty amazing what some artists are doing in 3D pavement art nowadays. Here's an example by Edgar Mueller.

In order for you to experience the effects of this art, though, you have to be standing in the right place. If you stand in the wrong place, it doesn't look anything like what it's supposed to look like. For example, here are two images of another piece of pavement art, one taken from the "correct" perspective, and the second from an "incorrect" one:

You see, the picture only makes sense when looked at the "right" way.

It occurs to me that in some cases, truth can be like that too. You can have the same collection of data, but if you don't look at it in the right way or from the right perspective, you can completely miss the point.

In fact, sometimes what we see or don't see can be a very accurate barometer of the state of our hearts.

I've been reading the book of Matthew this week. One thing that comes through over and over in the book of Matthew is the fact that when Jesus was physically here, he was not recognized because people had completely the wrong idea about the kind of Messiah that they were expecting.

When Jesus showed up, people had available to them the same books (of the Old Testament) that we read. They had the same data we have, but they were only seeing the parts about the conquering King. They generally overlooked the passages that talked about how Messiah was also a suffering Servant who would take away the sins of the people (as in Isaiah 53).

And the fact that they overlooked the complete picture of Jesus was not at all an accident. The reason that the people overlooked the prophecies of the suffering Servant was because they didn't want that kind of Messiah.

Even more than that, the complete concept of salvation that many had at the time that Jesus walked the earth was mistaken. People conceived of salvation as being primarily a matter of physical descent from Abraham combined with the doing of good deeds. And many thought of the blessings of salvation primarily in "this-worldly" terms - as being a matter of experiencing national sovereignty and freedom. In short, they had missed the entire point of the story of the Hebrew Bible: that God had promised to make Abraham the "father of many goyim; that Israel would be a light to the nations and that through her he would raise up a Deliverer for all of mankind; that the goal was ultimately to restore the right relationship between man and God.

Of this all the Law and the Prophets spoke. But no-one could see it. Because, although they had the same text, they were looking at it all wrong.

We see this even among Jesus' own followers. For example, in Matthew 11, John the Baptist, who had been thrown in prison by Herod sends his disciples to ask Jesus whether He was the expected One or whether they should await another. It seems likely from this that even the Baptist was confused about what was going on. Jesus tells John's disciples to tell John the messianic signs that He was doing and to have faith. As John's disciples were leaving, Jesus turned to the crowd and asked them metaphorically whether they thought that John was a soft man, or one who was likely to be of weak opinions. The answer was a decided no. In fact, says Jesus, John is the greatest of all of the prophets up to that time. But, Jesus said, even the  least of the Kingdom would be greater than John.

A lot of people have different opinions about what Jesus meant by that. My own feeling, though, is that Jesus meant that the citizens of the Kingdom are greater than John in that they have a clearer revelation of the truth about God and about His Kingdom and His Messiah.

In contrast, Jesus shows that the people rejected both John and Jesus for opposite reasons, thus showing that they were not really open to the truth at all. They would reject the truth no matter what form it came in. Jesus then finishes the discourse by praising God that He has hidden Himself from the wise and learned but revealed Himself to children.

The same theme is there a couple of chapters later when Jesus tells a bunch of parables of the Kingdom, one of the common themes of which is the "hiddenness" of the Kingdom. He even says explicitly, quoting Isaiah, that He taught all things in parables so that

dYou will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.
15 For this people's heart has grown dull,
and with their ears ethey can barely hear,
and ftheir eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and gunderstand with their heart
and hturn, and I would heal them.

That is, he veiled the truth in such a way that only those who had been given hearts able to receive the truth would be able to receive it.

Today is Palm Sunday.

On Palm Sunday Jesus rode down from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem as King. The crowds surrounding Him were shouting hosanna, but Jesus, when He drew near the city said the following (recorded in Luke 19):

41 rAnd when he drew near and saw the city, she wept over it, 42 saying, tWould that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now uthey are hidden from your eyes. 43 For vthe days will come upon you, when your enemies wwill set up a barricade around you and xsurround you and hem you in on every side 44 yand tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And zthey will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know athe time of your bvisitation.

Ultimately, the people of that time were held accountable not only for the truth that they did know, but for the truth that they should have known but didn't want to see.

It wasn't like it was easy to see and that we're all so much smarter and better than those who missed it. Even after Jesus had been raised, we read in Luke 24,of how, on the road to Emmaus, the risen Jesus chides the men He's walking with for being "foolish of heart and slow to believe" all that the Scripture said about Him. It wasn't until the Holy Spirit was poured out that people began to really understand Jesus, because the Holy Spirit is the One who enlightens our hearts to reveal the truth.

In short, the truth about Jesus is always there, "hidden in plain sight". But only those who have been given "eyes to see"will actually be able to perceive it.

As it says in 2 Cor 4:6:
For God, who said, mLet light shine out of darkness, nhas shone in our hearts to give othe light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is still the the hidden King. Hidden in plain sight.

Hebrews 4:7

tToday, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.

Don't be mistaken about who Jesus is. Keep seeking to understand Him more. Don't miss Him on this your day because you did not know the time of your visitation.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

True Religion


I ask not to be enrolled amongst the earthly great and rich,
but to be numbered with the spiritually blessed,.
Make it my present, supreme, persevering concern
to obtain those blessings which are
spiritual in their nature,
eternal in their continuance,
satisfying in their possession.

Preserve me from a false estimate of the whole
or a part of my character;
May I pay regard to
my principles as well as my conduct,
my motives as well as my actions,

Help me
never to mistake the excitement of my passions
for the renewing of the Holy Spirit,
never to judge my religion by occasional
impressions and impulses, but by my
constant and prevailing disposition.

May my heart be right with thee,
and my life as becometh the gospel.

May I maintain a supreme regard to another
and better world,
and feel and confess myself a stranger
and a pilgrim here.

Afford me all the direction, defense, support,
and consolation my journey hence requires,
and grant me a mind stayed upon thee.

Give me large abundance of the supply of
the Spirit of Jesus,
that I may be prepared for every duty,
love thee in all my mercies,
submit to thee in every trial,
trust thee when walking in darkness,
have peace in thee amidst life's changes.

Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief
and uncertainties.

- from The Valley of Vision, A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

Life, Life, Eternal Life!

So I saw in my dream that the Man began to run: Now he had not run far from his own door, but his Wife and Children perceiving it, began to cry after him to return; but the Man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on crying, Life! Life! Eternal Life!

(John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Who Should I Support (cont.) - more on 2012 Republican nomination

A few weeks ago I wrote a long post on the Republican nomination process. In that post I concluded that, although I thought Rick Santorum came the closest to representing my views, I would probably support Mitt Romney because I thought he was the only candidate that had a chance of winning the national election. My reasoning was that it would be much better to have a watered-down, liberal Republican than another term of President Obama. I also said that I wanted Santorum to stay in the race long enough to pull Mitt clearly to the right and pin him down there.

In light of recent events my views have changed a little.

First, what hasn't changed:

I still think that *any* of the Republican candidates (with the possible exception of Ron Paul, who I think is dangerously naive in foreign policy - potentially disastrously so) would be hugely preferable to a second term of Barack Obama.  A second term would see him running even further to the left, possibly ensconcing a couple of liberal Supreme Court justices to continue to provide favorable votes for the destruction of most of what makes the United States distinctive and great.

I'm still a little worried that nomination of a Republican candidate who is a true conservative may condemn us nationally to what we've been experiencing here in California for the past 30 years or so, viz., that we put up candidates that the base likes but that can't be elected state-wide, and so end up ceding the government to the other party and end up living under their horrible policies.

But, ...

I'm feeling a little more confident about Rick Santorum.

Maybe it's just the momentum generated by his trouncing of Romney in three contests last night (Minnesota, Missouri, Colorado), but I listened to excerpts from some of his recent speeches and he is quite effective in articulating a political philosophy that I think many still hold: a political philosophy of freedom, limited government, and constitutionalism. Moreover, when he speaks of that philosophy I get the sense that he holds these beliefs genuinely and passionately, in contrast to the sense I get from Mitt Romney, who seems prone to changes in what should be core political convictions.

It may also be that some of the actions taken by the Obama administration in recent days (notably the announcement by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that Christian institutions would be required to provide abortion coverage in their health insurance plans) have increased the likelihood that a number of Catholic voters who might otherwise vote as union Democrats might be induced to vote for a Republican alternative.

It may also be that during the Republican debates it's become clear just how much the nomination of Romney would play right into the Democrat's hands in that it would be hard for him to use the unpopular Obamacare legislation against him in that he enacted something very similar in Massachusetts with Romneycare. Moreover, he plays right into the "99%" class warfare rhetoric that they seem to want to run on.

And, perhaps most importantly, it may be that Santorum seems to have performed well in midwestern states that have been the battleground States (along with Florida) in the last few elections. If Santorum continues to dominate the more moderate Romney in states like Michigan, that might be a strong signal that he's able to draw enough voters from the center of the spectrum to prevail over President Obama in the general election.

In any case, I'm feeling more confident about Rick Santorum.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Who Should I Support? On the 2012 Elections ...

I don't do too many political posts, but given that there's been a lot of discussion over the past few months about the candidates for the Republican nomination for the U.S. 2012 presidential election, I thought I'd put in my two cents.

First, the background:

There are at least four major, somewhat overlapping segments within today's Republican party:

(1) the so-called "social conservatives" (some like to call them the "religious right"),
(2) the "fiscal and foreign-policy conservatives"
(3) the Establishment, country-club Republicans (sometimes derisively called RINOs)
(4) the libertarians. 

The Tea Party tends to overlap the first two groups, but I'd guess that about 70% of the Tea Party movement falls in the fiscal/foreign-policy conservative group.

These groups differ on which issues are most important to them:

The most important issues to the social conservatives at this point tend to be abortion and the defense of marriage.  Generally speaking, however, social conservatives are also very concerned about irresponsible spending and the debilitating effects that it will have on the country in the future. They have had a working alliance with the fiscal and foreign-policy conservatives since Reagan's '80's, but they deeply distrust Establishment Republicans (and they generally perceive Romney as belonging to this latter group).

The most important issues to the fiscal and foreign-policy conservatives tend to be restoring sanity to the budgeting and spending process, protecting our allies (especially Israel), and projecting military strength (particularly toward terrorism, and more generally toward ideological opponents in the Middle East, Russia/Central Asia, and the Far East). 

No-one wants to admit to being an Establishment, country-club (sometimes derisively called RINO) Republican nowadays. Indeed, to be labeled as one can send a candidate into fits of high dudgeon. But this group is somewhat philosophically similar to the neocon fiscal/foreign-policy conservatives in their diagnoses. It's just that they're much less aggressive in their prescriptions.  Indeed, they have proven to be not so very different Democrats in their tolerance for a growing national debt. They are also generally socially liberal.

The libertarians share the commitment to fiscal rectitude of the fiscal/foreign policy conservatives, but generally are not energized by either social issues or playing policeman to the world.

Of the major candidates:

Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachman, Rick Perry, and now Rick Santorum have successively been the candidates of the social conservatives. (Social conservatives were always uneasy with Herman Cain). They deeply distrust Romney and don't really like Gingrich. They also would never vote for Ron Paul based on his libertarian views on social issues. Moreover, many of the social conservatives are also strong supporters of Israel and don't trust Ron Paul to support Israel.

The fiscal/foreign policy conservatives don't really have a horse in the race. They liked Pawlenty till he dropped out. Lately they've been waffling between their own Gingrich (who's seen as unreliable) and Establishment candidate Mitt Romney. The favorite candidates of the fiscal/foreign policy conservatives (like Chris Christie or Mitch Daniels) didn't run this time. Santorum is generally acceptable to the fiscal/foreign policy conservatives, although they see him as not having been firm enough on budgetary issues during his time as a Senator.

Establishment Republicans prefer Huntsman and Romney. Romney has always governed as an Establishment Republican but is perceived to be masquerading as a fiscal/foreign policy conservative.

The libertarians, obviously, prefer Ron Paul. Their top issue at the moment is fiscal and budgetary discipline.

In terms of the calculus of winning (which is not necessarily the only or right way of choosing a candidate - see below), the Republicans must choose a candidate who can create sufficient consensus and excitement across all of these groups. In my opinion, the only one of the above factions of the party that can reasonably expect to field such a candidate is the fiscal/foreign policy conservatives. But a successful candidate would have to be seen as a true fiscal conservative in order to be accepted by the libertarians in sufficient numbers to prevent a quixotic 3rd party run by Ron Paul in the general election that would doom us to four more years of Barack Obama. Secondly, a successful candidate needs to be someone who will be accepted by the social conservatives as being a likely defender of their issues while still being perceived as sufficiently "mainstream" to prevail in the general election.

With respect to this profile of a winning candidate, the choice seems to fall (barring a last minute entry or re-entry into the race of someone like Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Chris Christie, or Bobbie Jindal) between Santorum, Gingrich, and Romney. Romney, of course, has the weaknesses that he is not perceived to be a real fiscal conservative and hasn't really been seen as much of a culture warrior either. Gingrich is a good debater but won't draw well from the social conservatives (as shown in the Iowa outcome). Santorum, on the other hand, is probably perceived as being somewhat more trustworthy than Romney and less trustworthy than Gingrich on fiscal issues, but much more so on social ones. The downside to a Santorum general election candidacy is that he's much more likely than Romney or Gingrich to be so tarred as a theocrat that it compromises his ability to draw votes from blue-dog Democrats and libertarians in the general election.

As I said above, though, winning isn't everything. That is, it's good to win if winning doesn't cause you to make unacceptable compromises. So which compromises are unacceptable?

Well, it's probably best to begin with an explicitly stated priority list of what I think's most important and then support a candidate in terms of their likely impact relative to others when assessed against the priority list.

At the top of the list I'd have to put issues bearing on the freedom to worship God and bear witness to Him publicly.  In the second place I'd put the responsibility of civil government to recognize and uphold (i.e., reward/punish) a non-relativistic code of moral behavior in its citizens - i.e., to ensure that persons (meaning person as the Bible defines it) are protected in their lives, persons, property, and contracts, as generally defined in the second tablet of the Ten Commandments). In the third place I'd put caring for the weak among us and creating opportunity for people to provide for themselves and others.

Contrary to some theonomists, I don't believe it is the charter of the church to impose theocracies over non-believers or believers of different stripes. The church has tried to play that game at too many points in its long history and it always results in corruption and tyranny. That will have to wait until Jesus Christ returns.

With regard to these principles, the best leader would be one who recognizes their own responsibility before God to uphold justice, and who recognizes that justice is a transcendent standard that they don't get to define but instead are responsible to uphold. More specifically, the list of things I seek in such a leader who seeks to uphold justice:

First, I would prefer a leader who shares my belief that the most urgent moral issue facing our nation today is the issue of abortion. Second, I think that it is a very pressing matter to find a leader who will seek to defend the foundational institutions of marriage and family, personally embodying a high regard for those institutions and using every reasonable means to encourage the citizenry to honor them as well. Third, we need to come up with long term solutions to the profligate spending and growth of the federal government. This growth in government spending compromises long-term stability and productivity of the nation and will ensure a poorer future for everyone.  We must shrink government, though, by recognizing the need to care for the most vulnerable among us while still creating incentive and opportunity for people to work. Fourth, we must find leaders who are likely to be wise in defending our nation against threats from enemies to our values and way of life (the most critical issues in this area are international terrorism and rogue states such as Iran and North Korea).

All this is to say that I fall in the category of a social conservative who believes that fiscal rectitude is also a moral issue. This is not to say that I don't believe that our government has a role in caring for the poor among us. I believe it does. But income/wealth equality is not the outcome that we ought to seek - rather we should seek to make the United States continue to be the land of opportunity, while ensuring that those of our citizens who are unable to care for themselves have adequate food, shelter, and clothing.

So, generally speaking, I want the candidate who is most likely to uphold these views. Where does this leave me personally?  Santorum's views are closest to mine, but I think he's less likely to prevail in the national election than are Romney or Gingrich.  Given Obama's abysmal approval ratings, I give Mitt Romney a 60-70% chance of beating Obama in the general election, Gingrich about the same, and Santorum only about a 40-50% chance to beat him.

If Romney or Gingrich win, their impact will be marginal on social issues, somewhat better on fiscal ones, but much better than the disaster that would ensue under a second term of Obama if Republicans voted for Santorum and that caused Obama to win. Moreover, even if Santorum won, it's quite unclear whether he'd actually have much more impact on the issue of abortion (via Supreme Court appointments) than Newt or Mitt would. All would probably be roughly the same in terms of their likely actions with respect to other marriage/family issues. So the risk of supporting Santorum (as against the other two candidates) seems to be high while the likely relative gain (again, relative to them) quite low.

So do I do what we tend to do in California and vote for a candidate in the primaries that's too conservative to win in the general election and then end up worse off than I would have been if I'd held my nose and voted in the primaries for a candidate who is likely to win but who isn't too obnoxious to what's important to me?

Tough questions.

I guess net-net, based on the admittedly somewhat defensive and defeatist calculus above, and despite the fact that Santorum is actually closer to my views, I come down on the side of supporting Romney, but I'd feel better if a bruising primary fight did its bit to ensure that he feels constrained to govern as a conservative and not as a RINO.

As always, I'm interested in your comments ...