Not Shocked

Is man basically good? This question seems to come up a lot, particularly on job applications. The expected answer is undoubtedly “yes”. But is he really? Despite all the evidence to the contrary, why do so many people want to cling to this idea of man’s inherent goodness?

One of the most telling signs that people believe that humans are basically good is that they’re shocked when people do bad things. A lot of people seemed surprised when they hear stories on the news of people doing horrific things. They seem to think that people would never do such a thing.

I feel immune to this response because I don’t believe man is basically good. It’s totally reasonable to expect people to do horrible things. Man is totally depraved. Man is capable of doing any sort of evil imaginable.

I’m never shocked when I hear that someone did something awful. Whether it’s murder, sex trafficking, child abuse, rape, or other heinous crimes, none of it is shocking to me.

Honestly, I’m not shocked, I’m saddened. I’m saddened for the victims and their families foremost, but I’m also saddened for the perpetrator himself. I’m saddened (and frankly terrified) for the soul of the person who fell so far. I’m also well aware that I myself am capable of doing such things but for the grace of God.

Does this mean that I think that man is utterly deprived and we must live in fear of all people?

No, men are not as bad as they could be. There are even some good men on a human level. But compared to a holy God man is far from good. In fact, even the “good” things that men do are often tainted by selfish motivations. Men on their own do not do things to please God, men do things to please themselves and others. Men do things to make themselves look better, not necessarily to bring glory to God.

Even with the help of the Holy Spirit some temptations are just too hard for a man to resist. This is a terrible thought. Even I might fall into those sins. I would hate to stand before God knowing that I had done those things. This is one reason why I say that I feel sadness for the perpetrator. How scary must it be knowing that one has done something so terrible and that he will have to answer to God for it!

But with Christ all things are possible. Resistance is possible. Repentance is possible. No one is irredeemable, no matter how significant their sin. It is to Him that I cling, praying that I do not fall to temptations that others have. It is to Him that I cling, knowing that he forgives me even when I do fall to temptation, however bad they may be.

This is the hope of the Christian. Not the false hope that men can be good on their own, but the hope that they can be redeemed, repentant, and revived to a new life in which they can pursue true goodness.

Check, Arminians

As I mentioned the other day, Calvinism is one of the managery of topics that has been pinballing around my head the past few days or so. This is probably the shortest stream of thought, so it’s going to be the first topic I cover.

Now, if you aren’t familiar with a lot of theology this will probably not make much sense, I’m writing to an audience that I assume knows the subject matter. If that isn’t the case I would recommend you do some research before boring yourself with me.

I was going to post a screenshot of the conversations I had over the weekend with some very angry anti-Calvinists that sparked the whole thing, but for some reason the guy with the original post has disappeared. Kinda suspicious methinks.

Anyway, the post was basically something along the lines of “Calvinism makes God into a monster!”

I of course took exception to this. The Doctrines of Grace do not make God a monster. Quite the contrary, they put particular emphasis on the grace of God. The fact that God saves anyone should humble us.

What really got my blood boiling though was the accusation that Calvinists are preaching a false gospel. We are, I was told, “demonic” and “leading millions to Hell.”

There is a temptation in rhetoric to tell people that they simply don’t understand your position. I see it all the time and I have definitely been guilty of it. But I see it as a cop out. If your opponent doesn’t understand you, it’s probably because you (or your compatriots) have not adequately stated your position. So I avoided that strategy and instead inquired about what the true Gospel is.

For his credit he did state the answer correctly. But when pressed to tell me how Calvinism is preaching a false gospel he throws down the John 3:16 trump card.

It’s always funny to me when Arminians throw down John 3:16. Like Calvinists disagree with it or something. Apparently because we believe salvation is limited to the Elect, we must think that Jesus was lying when he said “whosoever believes will have eternal life.”

I do believe that “whosoever believes” will be saved. I just believe that only the Elect will be that “whosoever”.

“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”

Is not incongruous with:

“whosoever believes in Him shall be saved.”

Those who He foreknew and predestined are precisely the same people who believe. Check, Arminians.

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Stabbing Anxiety In the Face With a Soldering Iron, Part 2

Last week I discussed some of the things I do to conquer the physical aspects of anxiety. But what about the thoughts?

In order to kill bad thoughts it helps to understand the motives behind one’s thoughts. Most of my anxious thoughts stem from my severe need to be in control of all things. I am a control freak. When things are out of my control I panic. I begin to think the worst. I lose all faith and go into the selfish cocoon of anxiety.

Knowing what motivates my wrong thoughts helps in creating a strategy to defeat them.

So what do I do?

Well, I take control of the things I actually have control of. Despite my negativity, there are things I actually have some power over. Like my time, my children, and my personal space.

I make a schedule and try to stick with it, understanding that sometimes things happen that make that schedule obsolete for the moment. At the very least I follow a routine and make habits.

I work on establishing healthy boundaries with my children. Kids can be chaos incarnate, but usually only because we don’t put a foot down and make it clear what is allowed and not allowed. Discipline goes a long way towards helping calm that storm. Boundaries are important to all relationships, if there are other relationships in your life that create stress and anxiety it is likely that you need to establish some basic rules regarding it.

By personal space, I mean my house. I have control over the cleanliness and clutter of my home. Part of a good schedule and routine is taking time to organize and clean up. Visual clutter and messes are huge triggers for anxious thoughts. It took me years to figure this out, but it has made a huge difference since.

As for the things I can’t control… (which are far fewer in number than my mind will let me believe) those things get put into my prayers. Only God can control those things.

That may seem like a cop out answer, but I assure you that faith is harder than any scheduling, disciplining, or cleaning. Having faith requires catching my thoughts and correcting them. Taking every thought captive requires constantly telling myself truths to correct the lies that my mind wants to tell me. In order to do this I have to know truths, I have to study and think about truths, and I have to believe truths.

Anxiety is ultimately the antithesis of faith. Faith is ultimately the solution to anxiety.

Why Join a Cult?

21 JUMP STREET
From Texas Monthly

One of the Facebook groups I am a part of was invaded last week by two cult members. At first it seemed like a troll, since the posts were almost too ridiculous to be believed. But as the posts piled up it became apparent that these people were serious. They sincerely believed what they said.

The question came up, “Why would anyone want to join a cult?”

Well, my answer was this: “Anxiety and depression mostly. Some of us are prone to believing that our horribleness requires penance in the form of self depreciation and asceticism. The Gospel is sweet, but the bitterness of the law is strong and guilt can be hard to shake. By doing something, like fleeing alcohol or anything pleasant, it feels like we are actually doing something towards our salvation. Being confirmed in our thinking is a comfort, and our ability to deny ourselves gives us assurance. It can be pretty ugly. I have to stop talking to people like that because it can be quite alluring. I have to flee and preach the true Gospel to myself.”

Basically, people join cults because they doubt the promises of the Gospel. They deny that the Mercy of God is a free gift, not something they have worked to earn. The want to have their salvation based on their works because it gives them a sense of assurance. And they frequently have a very negative view of the world.

Interestingly enough, the same week my wife sent me this video and asked “why don’t I like these people? You would figure it would be right up our alley.”

It is a great question. We are very much a part of the “unconventional” crowd. Why are these people so offensive? Why are cults so offensive?

Immediately I thought what makes these people so unfriendly is their attitudes of judgment and anger.

Conservatives and liberals have this in common: everyone should be like them. They want a homogeneous culture. The consistent ones go and cloister themselves into little communities in the woods or small towns.

They aren’t really living happy lives, despite their claims. They want to claim that they are untangled with the culture, however, they are completely engaged with it. But instead of helping it or changing it, they vomit all over it. They throw all their judgement at it and yell at it.

They are not making the world a better place with their opposition. They are just making it uglier. Those that sequester themselves into enclaves out in the boonies focus entirely on the bad of the world, never on the good things. They are pessimists. They constantly talk about “when the shit hits the fan”. They make plans to completely cut out of the world when it does. Frequently, they are already living in cardboard huts anticipating it.

I don’t care if you want to have the situational awareness that tells you it might hit the fan. There is always the possibility things in society could go south. But to live with the assumption that it will? Why does it have to? Why assume that the world will ultimately collapse and leave you as the lone group of nutcase survivors?

Why not take an optimistic view that the world will at least be a neutral place?

There is evil in the world, but there is also Common Grace. And if we are Christians, we should definitely be optimistic.

I’m not saying we all adopt a PostMil worldview and assume the world gets better and better and when we finally have a Christian State, Jesus will come rule it. Nor should we take the negative approach and assume it all just goes bad and worse before Christ finally returns and makes it all better again.

A neutral view is far more Biblical. In the end days there will certainly be wars and rumors of wars (bad stuff) but people will be marrying and giving in marriage (good stuff).

“Post”-apocalyptic is a funny term. Christians should understand that after the apocalypse comes the new heaven and the new earth. Why be pessimistic about that?

We are put into a box in this world. God drops us in to a specific place and time in the universe, we have to engage with what we are given, not wish that we were somewhere or sometime else. Many have tried the ascetic way of pulling completely out of the world, and all of them have failed at bringing about any positive change on the world.

Instead of denying Christ’s promise of deliverance from the Law, and hiding in fear from the world, let’s be in the world but not of it like Christ described us.

Why join a cult? I have no idea. Enjoy the world that God has placed you in. Engage it and make it a better place.

Modesty: An Unconventional Take

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Appearance can be accurate in its description, or it can be a lie. One of the most obvious and immediate aspects of our appearance is our clothing. What we wear or do not wear says a lot about us to those we meet. Clothing, makeup, and hygiene can accentuate one’s character, or they can grossly distort it.

In 1Timothy 2:9-10 Paul says,

“I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”

There are innumerable blogs out there telling women what they can and cannot wear “biblically” . Nearly all of these blogs are concerned primarily with the sexual signals a woman’s clothing conveys. If she uncovers too much, or shows too much shape, or uncovers the wrong part, it is assumed she is giving notice to men about her sexual availability.

The dress-code writers often use the word “modest” to describe a woman “properly” covered up. However, “modesty” in these verses has little if anything to do with sexuality.

“Modesty” in these verses is concerned with the outward expression of the inward condition of the heart. That is a mouthful but it essentially means one can be modest wearing anything or nothing or anything in between. Despite what the Christian sub-culture in the West has decided to call “modest”, there is not a spelled out dress code in scripture. The closest we can find are explicit dress requirements given to OT priests, but those are commonly understood to be ceremonial in nature and applied to the priests, not necessarily to the lay people and most certainly not to those in the New Testament.

Christians should be willing to dress according to who we are reaching. Christians should be “all things to all people” meaning that we should dress down for the poor, dress up for the rich, and overall dress according to the culture one is preaching to. If we adopt the clothing (and manners for that matter) of the culture we are evangelizing, it projects a loving attitude towards those we are hoping to reach with the Gospel. If we choose to ignore their culture it can display to them a lack of charity and love. We should not change our character or violate our personal consciences or Scriptural commands, but we are allowed to conform to the acceptable outward appearance and customs of other cultures to reach them (Timothy and circumcision).

Modesty and decency differs according to culture, where nudity or near-nudity is the norm both are “modest”. In a culture where it would be considered improper to expose a head or a thigh, it would be immodest and indecent to do so.

Does that mean we go naked to reach the naked? Isaiah went naked to make his point. Other prophets did so as well. It would not necessarily be wrong to do so. Is it required or recommended? No. We should only expose what our conscience allows.

In a less dressed culture, one should be willing to dress down as far as they feel comfortable in their own conscience, and in a more dressed culture one should be willing to dress up as much as they need to in order to prevent offense. If the culture you are reaching insists on head coverings and long sleeves, we should have no reservations about adopting both, no matter what our personal liberty allows.

What about make-up, jewelry, and shaving for women? In the 1 Timothy passage above, Paul specifically mentions hair and jewelry and seems to imply that women should have none of it.

Right or wrong, our culture values the appearance of “put togetherness”. Many women shave and wear makeup to feel “put together”. Many women will not leave the house without doing either. Culture has convinced them that to neglect either one is at worst a sign of rebellion against the good order of society,  or at best an overt expression of slovenliness.

In our culture, when one neglects certain hygiene practices, such as shaving, it conveys a message of looseness and slobbishness. There is no doubt a double standard in this for males and females. Culture requires women to put a lot more thought into their appearance than men. I believe this has much to do with our over-sexualization of the (primarily female) body. Much of the “modesty” subculture actually increases the objectification of women by hyper-focusing on the sexual and nearly ignoring any other application of the word.

The male body is not nearly as critiqued as the female body. Men can get away with athletic wear or pajama pants where women are critiqued for it. Men can gain a beer belly and it is barely noticed. Men can also uncover more of their bodies and be socially acceptable.

Is it a lie for a woman to wear make-up or jewelry or to shave her body hair? Does it promote a false witness to others about who we really are? Again, as I said before, our outward appearance is an expression of the inward heart. If a woman feels beautiful inside I see nothing wrong with her expressing that beauty on the outside with the use of nice clothes, jewelry, or make up. The outward expression of her inward self can take many forms.

What does this say about the woman who does not do such things? It can tell us any number of things. Either she feels ugly and unkempt on the inside, or she feels that the normal cultural expressions of outward “beauty” are contrived and she can better demonstrate her inward condition through her smile or through her words or acts of kindness.

Sadly, because of feminism, many Christians would try to label her as a rebel against God. They assume she’s trying to push back against gender norms and trying to be male.

Maybe she is just a rebel against a godless culture which objectifies and over-emphasizes youth and sexuality in the female appearance.

Am I saying that all women who do such things are objectifying and over-emphasizing youth and sexuality in the female appearance? Not at all. They just value and prefer the culture’s preference for “put-togetherness” and do not want to give a false impression to others who may think by their appearance that they are internally wretched. They are presenting themselves externally to the world according to what they believe they are internally.

Many of us cover and hide our natural appearance with clothing and our scent with deodorant or perfume. Is this a lie? Or is it simply deference to culture? The culture should hate us for the Gospel, not for what we do or do not wear.

In 1 Timothy,  Paul was writing to culture filled with pagan practice. Hairstyles and jewelry worn by the temple priestesses had no place in the Christian church. We ought to be careful to make sure our church clothing honors God and does not cause others to stumble back into their pagan roots. We ought also to project an appearance of humility in church. We do not want to offend the poor by showing off our wealth, nor do we want to draw attention to ourselves at the expense of the Worship of God.

We ought to be modest in more than simply clothing or adornment, we ought to be modest in our attitudes and treatment of others. Our clothing should reflect our inward person and project a love towards others that cannot be rightly opposed. Our appearance can be accurate in its description, or it can be a lie.

Be careful not to distort reality with your appearance.

Appearance and False Witness

143. Which is the ninth commandment?

The ninth commandment is, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

144. What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?

The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbour, as well as our own; ….love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.

 

I was called out on my appearance a few months before I left my last job. I had worn torn pants (just around the cuffs) to an important political engagement. It was one of my lesser damaged pairs and I thought nothing of it. But my boss noticed.

I was incredulous at first. I thought, “All you care about is appearance? What about my work? What about results?” I had prided myself in not caring about appearance for appearance sake. My work should have been enough.

But then I cried.

I cried a lot. I realized that those torn pants represented the bad year I had been having. I was angry she had not questioned my home life. She had only assumed that I was a slob. She had assumed I was aloof and unkempt. It took me a month and a recitation on a Sunday morning to realize that she was somewhat correct.

According to the Westminster Larger Catechism, the ninth commandment requires the keeping of one’s good name. Further, among the sins forbidden are “all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbours, as well as our own… concealing the truth, ….and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves… such things as procure an ill name.”

We spend a lot of time telling our children not to “judge a book by its cover” and out the other side of our mouth telling them they must meet certain appearance standards to be acceptable in public.

Which is it?

The short answer is both. One of the other requirements of the ninth commandment is that we be unwilling to hear false or slanderous reports about others. When judged alone, apart from the whole person, one’s appearance can become a false report on his character or person.

But what about appearance standards? What was it about my torn pants that was giving a false report of my character?

One of the reasons I cried was that I realized that I had pridefully assumed I was not a slob. I had assumed that I was perfect in my work and that my clothing need not reflect that. But I had become a slob. With the distractions of life and my own vanity I had allowed myself to slip into slovenly appearance. I was not always a slob, but I had allowed myself to become one. At that time I was more upset that she didn’t question my descent and only questioned the symptom. As they say though, for every finger you point, there are three pointed back at you. My finger pointing at her faults revealed more of mine.

When I read that catechism question that one Sunday morning, I realized that I had both given a false report about myself (I am really not a slob, really) and had tried to cover up my new slobbishness with pride (just look at my results!).

Then I realized just how much of my appearance was lying about me. When I got home from church I was smacked in the face by a messy front yard, a leaf covered front porch, and a disgustingly dirty front door. This was the image of my family projected into the world. Immediately I set about remedying the front porch and the door (yes, I know, work on a Sunday, but I saw it as correcting a sin).

Appearance is not everything, and we should not be judging others for theirs. We should, however, be concerned about what our appearance says about us and about the God we serve. Our dress, our housekeeping, our demeanor, our speech, our habits, all of these things project our inward condition to the world. We are a reflection of God, having been made in His image. All of these things tell the world our opinions about our Image Maker.

Deeper still, I realized that what I was displaying was painfully accurate. I am a wretch. I am dirty. I am a slob and a wreck. The outward appearance is not completely inaccurate. I sometimes feel worthless and I project that in my image. Sometimes I am lazy, and it is easier to seek forgiveness from others than to put the right foot forward to begin with.

But I know that I am being sanctified. I know that I am being cleansed. And I need to work out my salvation with trembling and reflect that work in my appearance. I need to reflect the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification in my life. I need to display a love for God and for His image. I need to better steward my home and my possessions and not make a mess out of them.

I am grateful for the stinging words of a boss and the equally hard words of the Law.

My Chief End

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Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

That is the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This, I believe, is the Bible’s answer to the commonly asked question “What is the meaning of life?” If I was asked about the meaning of life, that would be my answer. How that answer is applied is a bit more nuanced.

As seen on my definitions page I define truth as “that which corresponds to reality” and economy as “household management”. If I had to apply the first catechism question to my life I would say my chief way of glorifying God is to learn true truth and apply it the best I can to my personal economy.

“True” truth is objective. In our post-postmodern world, most would say there is no truth. To most in our world truth is as subjective as one’s feelings about a subject. As feelings change, so also does truth. This has led to a myriad of confusion on a number of topics, gender and sexuality being two of the more recent hot buttons. Confusion about reality used to be called “psychosis” where now it is often labeled as just another version of reality. Raised in a world where truth is subjective, we are quickly becoming a generation of psychotics.

My biggest earthly goal is to gain the proper perspective of the truth and not rely on my subjective viewpoint of it. This can be tricky of course, as my mind is finite, flawed, and my perceptions are skewed my own sinful nature. As a created being, I will never know the full extent of all truth in the universe, only God can know that. But it doesn’t mean I should stop trying.

Where does one find truth? This is a hotly debated question among Christians. Some insist that truth can only be found in the Bible while others feel truth can be observed in other places. I tend to be of the latter camp.

The Bible contains the only necessary truth for saving the human soul from damnation, but it does not contain every truth or the only truth that man can know. There are some in the Reformed camp who believe that man can know nothing outside of scripture, but I think a basic reading of Romans 18-22 makes this argument mute.

“18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”

Man observes nature and self and understands the existence of God, as well as His attributes and nature. He knows God and understands Gods attributes just by virtue of being created in the image of God and in being able to observe creation itself. Man knows before he suppresses, he is perfectly able to discern, he just chooses out of his depravity to suppress the knowledge (this is normally where I point out to Presuppositional apologists that man is “without excuse”, but that’s another topic for another day).

It’s not just the nature and attributes of God that man can observe and understand in nature, it’s anything which God chooses in His sovereignty to allow man to know. For instance: we can know truths about nature, about economics, about physics, about math, and about our physical bodies, all without consulting the Bible. Sinful man may never get a full view of every subject, and our imperfect views may lead us to false beliefs about a topic, but with enough observation it is possible for us to get a workable grasp on reality.

Some would say that our finite minds and flawed thinking prevent us from having real knowledge, but I think it’s close enough that we shouldn’t squabble with semantics. We can know well enough to put our knowledge to good use.  We can understand our physical reality enough to manipulate it for our needs, otherwise we would have never survived life outside the Garden.

Should we rely solely on our observations to comprehend reality? No! Scripture contains enough truth about other matters (besides Salvation) that we can make comparative analysis. When we make an observation about the physical universe Christians can and should consult scripture to see if our observation matches with scripture. If it does not match scripture, either our interpretation of scripture is wrong or our interpretation of what we observe is wrong. In many matters it is impossible to discern which is which (thankfully those matters have little to nothing to do with our salvation, it is quite clear in scripture what man must do to be saved).

For example: the question of creation. Folks will argue endlessly about young earth vs old earth creationism, one side finding irrefutable evidence in the Bible, the other finding irrefutable evidence in nature. While the Bible states that God created everything, it is not specific on the actual process by which creation took its shape. This is a topic for another day, but let’s just leave it with this: either the young earth interpretation of Genesis is incorrect or the old earth observations of nature are incorrect.

My chief desire in life is to find the truth about as many things as I can and live my life as consistently with the truth as I can. This means all matters of my personal economy must be consistent with reality, even if that reality is not observed by the world at large. This has created some conflict in my life. This should create conflict in all Christian’s lives. All Christians are going to live a life that is in conflict with the fallen world.

But what if the conflict comes within the church? What if what I think is the “truth” about a topic is disliked or even condemned in the church? Obviously as a Reformed Christian I have only the Bible to turn to. On many topics it seems the church at large is hasty to adopt the larger cultural perspective. Whatever the prevailing attitude of the world is, so too is the prevailing attitude of the church. In other topics, the church often seeks to distance itself so far from the world that it misses whatever truth the world may actually be promoting.

The truth about any subject will only be found when the church bases its moral attitudes in scripture. I often stop Christians who are railing about a certain topic to cite me chapter and verse. It is truly depressing the number of believers who simply can’t come up with anything more than quotes from church patriarchs. No disrespect to the patriarchs, but they may have been wrong. And until one has at least a tentative grasp of what scripture actually says, he should probably avoid quoting flawed men. If there is a question about a matter, one should first consult scripture, then consult a multitude of sources to explain what he does not understand.

What is my point in all of this?

Seek truth, seek it in the Bible, seek it in nature, and seek it in the wisdom of church patriarchs. Then seek to live your life in accordance with your findings.