"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see".
What wonderful words written centuries ago by an English slave-trader who came to know the error of his ways towards the end of his life! If you haven't already seen the movie "Amazing Grace", I highly recommend it.
In that first verse of possibly the most well-known hymn of all time is the first key to understanding our word of this week - GRACE. You cannot understand grace if you think YOU don't need it. This was the problem of the Pharisees (the self-righteous, holier-than-thou religious people of Jesus' day) the entire time of Christ's earthly ministry. There are many examples of their attitude in the gospels, but one in particular comes to my mind. In Matthew 9, Jesus converts Matthew (aka Levi) by simply inviting him to follow him. This is a huge deal because Matthew was a tax collector, which means he was hated, despised, and rejected by literally everyone. So Jesus' simple and kind invitation moves Matthew's heart. After the conversion, they go together and eat at Matthew's house (because that's what is supposed to happen after a conversion - PARTY TIME). While Jesus was there, the Word tells us that "many tax collectors and 'sinners' came and ate with him and his disciples" (Matthew 9:10 [NIV]). Verse 11 then tells us that the Pharisees saw this and questioned the disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'"? I love how Matthew wrote this. It's almost like by putting quotations around the word "sinners", he is making the point that these foolish hypocrites didn't realize that there really is no difference between them! They didn't understand grace because they saw it as something that is for "other people" who are "less than" them. We must understand that we are indeed wretches, lost, and blind without it.
The second key to understanding grace is to believe that it is transformational. While the biggest act of grace may be that God allows those of us who believe into heaven to spend eternity in His holy presence, that's not all there is. It changes us from the inside out. It affects every area of our lives. I think of the second verse of the hymn: "Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed". Grace, or undeserved favor, not only relieves any fear of condemnation for our faults, it also teaches us to appropriately fear God (Proverbs 1:7) by reminding us that we are doomed without this free gift. That reminder transforms our desires from either of the two extremes of living to please ourselves or living to earn God's love through works to striving to obey Him with the FREEDOM of knowing that falling short will not equal condemnation. By grace, we enter into relationship with God. Just like with any other committed, loving relationship we have as humans, God does not kick us to the curb because of our failures. He loves us through them. And our knowledge that He loves us anyway ought to spur us on to do better. Think of a marriage. If you're married, you know that when your spouse loves you even through your faults, that makes you want to correct your faults. If your spouse condemns you for your mistakes, you tend to want to give up more easily because you feel unworthy. It's the same thing with God and His grace. If you think that His grace simply gives you more opportunities to "get away" with all the sins you cherish anyway, then you don't really understand grace (Romans 6:1-2).
Finally, the third key to understand grace is that it is FOR EVERYONE. It is not apportioned out according to our works. No matter what you have or have not done in your life, God's grace is available all the same. This should change not only how you view your own worth, but also how you view the worth of others even when they disgust you, anger you, or drive you nuts! This makes me think of one of my favorite points of the Apostle Paul. "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life" (1 Timothy 1:15-16 [NIV]). I'd encourage you to read from verse 12 on. Even though Paul was once a Pharisee (Philippians 3:5), he learned that he needed grace, allowed it to transform him, and now viewed it as something available to anyone who would choose to believe in Christ Jesus - no exceptions. Those of us who know we have received grace must look at every human being as one who Christ desperately wants to pour out his grace upon. That starts with our own humility. Paul was not literally "the worst of sinners" of his day. Sure, he was pretty bad, but there were worse sinners, much worse. The point was that in his own view of self, he was the worst of sinners. He didn't look for ways to compare himself favorably to others as many of us do today. He took the attitude that enabled him to view everyone as recipients of grace if they believe. If we TRULY understand grace, our view of self and our view of others should be no different than Paul's.
We humans are all about getting what we deserve. That may entail giving someone else what we feel they deserve as an act of revenge, or it may be feeling entitled to get something that we feel we deserve because of what we’ve done. For me especially with my engineering brain, it’s so easy to see things in such a logical way; this action merits that consequence, and that action merits this consequence.
But that’s not how God sees it. When we follow Him, all of that logic driven by our human nature flies out the window! And this, my friends, is a very good thing.
Because of when the first humans sinned so many centuries ago, we are not perfect - not a single one of us! “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:22b-23, NIV) We can never measure up to God. Period. We all mess up and do things (many things!) that disobey His commands and honor ourselves instead of honoring God.
But that’s where grace comes in. Romans 3 continues with verse 24: “And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” In Ephesians 2:8-9, we read, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” There is nothing that we do, no way we can work in our lives, that can merit God’s favor toward us. Yes, we can try our best to live in obedience to Him, but no one of us will ever achieve perfection. Jesus was the only person to walk this earth who did live a perfect live, and it is because of His sacrifice that we can receive the gift of grace from God, simply by having faith.
Grace is getting what we do not deserve from God. We deserve death, and he gives us life! Praise God that His logic is far beyond that of us humans.
"As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God's work - which is by faith" (1 Timothy 1:3-4 [NIV]).
These words were the FIRST words written after the greeting in the FIRST letter from Paul to his faithful apprentice, Timothy. I'd say that makes them pretty important for Timothy and for the church. I find it interesting that Paul writes about both myths and endless genealogies. A myth is a story that is false, so it obviously should be avoided. But genealogies have to do with fact-checking and the tracing of actual history. Yet, Paul tells Timothy and the church not to be devoted to these things. Why is Paul so firm about this so early in his letter to Timothy? The answer is given right away - because he knows that such pursuits lead to controversies which ultimately cannot be resolved when God's work is a matter of faith.
The phrase for this week is "circular reasoning". For those of you who love to evaluate things using logic, circular reasoning can either trick you or drive you completely insane! The basic meaning of this phrase has to do with attempting to prove a theory to be true and even claiming you have proof when the reality is that your proof is dependent upon a piece of evidence that only exists if your theory is true. That may be difficult to wrap our brains around, so let me share two examples that typically oppose each other. Science often uses circular reasoning to claim they have figured out the dates of a rock and a fossil (for example) that were found near each other. Their reasoning is circular because they use their own determined date of the fossil to calculate the date of the rock; and the date of the rock to calculate the date of the fossil. In the end, nothing is really proved; but their theories can't be disproven either. They simply convince people that they have proof when in fact they have nothing. It's like the classic question: "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"
On the other hand, many opponents of the Bible claim that Christians use circular reasoning to defend the position that Scripture is inerrant (a fancy word for "without error). When asked how we know this, most Christians would probably respond, "Because it says so in the Bible!" We cannot prove our position to be true, but it can't be disproven either. Thus, people with opposing views find themselves wrapped in controversies and disagreements that have no end. In my opinion, this is exactly what Paul was getting at with our opening Scripture. There's no point in using circular reasoning for matters of faith because we wind up pretending we have proven something which we cannot prove.
This is not an excuse to be lazy in our pursuit of understanding. Because we cannot get caught up in trying to prove a matter of belief, we should be all the more devoted to growing and strengthening the faith. You might ask how this is even possible. Well, the beginning of the Gospel of John gives us our answer. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:1,14a [NIV]). The Creator of the whole universe came to this earth and dwelt among us so that we could have a personal and intimate relationship with him. Our faith is strengthened not by circular reasoning, but by personal experience and relationship with a LIVING God. That relationship is not possible in science. You cannot have an experiential relationship with a rock or fossil. While science would never admit this, its theories require just as much faith (and maybe more) as Christian theories do. I don't know about you, but I'm very thankful that my beliefs about God and His Word, which cannot be proven beyond all doubt to all skeptics, are proven to me through my experience and relationship with him. I can assure you, if you're still waiting and looking for proof, you WILL NOT FIND IT until you enter the relationship based on faith and experience the proof for yourself.
For some reason, as soon as I heard the phrase "straw man", I thought about a scene from a movie. No, I'm not talking about the Scarecrow from "The Wizard of Oz", which is probably what most people would think of. The scene that immediately came to my mind is a rather comical one from the war drama "The Patriot". Mel Gibson's character is in the office of one of the British generals negotiating the release of colonial prisoners. His main bargaining chip is that his men have taken British soldiers, many of them highly-ranked, captive and are holding them at gunpoint on top of a ridge quite a distance from the office. The British leader looks from afar to receive apparent confirmation of their capture and subsequently agrees to release his prisoners. However, we learn within mere moments what the British leader did not know - the colonials had created straw men and dressed them up in British uniforms! The plan of the colonials worked as the Brits had been deceived!
And that, friends, is the main goal of the "straw man" tactic - to deceive. As you might guess, the name of this tactic comes from the use of actual straw men. They are easier to fight and defeat because they obviously cannot retaliate. In the same way, turning someone's argument into a "straw man" makes it easier for you to shoot it down because it is NOT the real argument the person was making. It doesn't necessarily mean you are completely misrepresenting them, lying, or changing their argument altogether. What is more likely and more deceptive is exaggerating someone's argument to a point they were not making.
Biblically speaking, this tactic brought to my mind the book of Acts. It seems that in the early church and even before that, followers of God were subject to ridiculous and exaggerated accusations because their accusers could not find fault in them otherwise. One specific example is in Acts 16:16-40. Paul, Silas, and some of their fellow believers were traveling throughout Syria, which was almost entirely pagan at that point. A slave girl who made money by fortune-telling was following them. While this sort of thing would've been very common in a pagan society, it was completely deplorable to the believers. So Paul commanded the evil spirit to leave her and it did. Her owners were enraged because she could no longer make them money, so they brought Paul and Silas into the marketplace to face the authorities in front of crowds of people. It was at this point that they used a "straw man" tactic. Since they couldn't find any realistic charges to bring against these men, they simply declared, "These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar" (v. 20b). Since Paul and Silas were in fact Jews in an anti-Semitic region, all the owners of the slave girl had to do was play to the emotions of the crowds and magistrates. Paul and Silas' goal was to simply command an evil spirit to leave one girl, but her owners exaggerated the situation by calling them troublemakers who are affecting the whole city.
Because they were Jews and it was assumed they were not Roman citizens (even though we later find out that they were), Paul and Silas had no defense. As a result of the accusations, they were stripped (humiliated), severely flogged, and thrown in jail. Should we expect that the world will do the same to us the more we speak out against evil and for Jesus Christ? You better believe it. Fortunately, very few if any of us have suffered such consequences to this point. But we should not assume that we never will. Even if we never face it to this extent, those who oppose the Christian faith will most certainly use any tactics they can, including straw man arguments, to try to defeat us. The important thing for us to remember and the challenging thing for us to live out is that we need not defend ourselves. We must check our motives by the Holy Spirit, and if He approves of us, then the accusations of others are irrelevant. I once heard megachurch pastor Matt Chandler at a conference and he labeled Paul as "the most free man ever". The authorities could do what they wanted to Paul, but they still couldn't get to him. He lived in freedom as a workman approved by God.
You and I can live this way too. In the Acts story, it ends with the authorities being "astonished" to find they are Roman citizens and were treated unfairly. They then escort Paul and Silas from the prison and out of the city. If you resist the temptation to defend yourself against straw man arguments or anything else that misrepresents you, God will be your Defender.
Warning: This post contains math! I know not everyone loves math like I do, so consider yourself warned. But, you ask, this post is titled “Straw Man,” right? What does that have to do with math? Bear with me and you’ll see.
In 1 Kings 7, the furnishings King Solomon’s temple are being described. In verses 23, there is a detailed description of an item called the Sea. The Sea is a large basin used as a bath to purify the priests. This verse states: “He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it.” A cubit is the length of the forearm, from the elbow to the wrist. Here’s where the math comes in.
The formula for the circumference of a circle (the distance around the outside) is the constant pi times the diameter (how far straight across), so c=(pi)x(d). If we put the numbers given in the passage in for the circumference (30 cubits) and the diameter (10 cubits), we would find out that pi is 3. What’s the problem here? Well, the constant pi has been mathematically determined to be about 3.14. That may not seem like a huge discrepancy, but it is in the world of mathematics.
Some people could take this discrepancy and say that because the math doesn’t work out exactly right, the Bible cannot be true or cannot be inspired by God. That is an example of a straw man argument - misrepresenting your opponent’s position.
I do believe the Bible is Truth and is fully inspired by God, so I would account for the discrepancy with rounding, and the fact that a cubit is not an exact unit of measure, like an inch or a centimeter, since it depends on the person’s forearm who is doing the measuring. They didn’t exactly have tape measures or laser measurement tools back in 587 B.C.!
The reason this is a straw man argument is because when discussing the legitimacy of the Bible, this is not a valid point and it misrepresents that position. Saying that the entire Bible is not true because this one verse calculates pi as 3 instead of 3.14 is a distorted argument. This discrepancy is not one of the main points that the Bible is making, thus using this misrepresents the Bible as an entire book and it’s message.
Be aware of straw man arguments that can come up, because they have a tendency to blow a minute detail out of proportion, or distort the facts in some way. Especially when discussing the Bible, remember to look at the big picture of the message of the Scriptures and don’t get hung up on the value of pi.
I have to admit that my initial thought when I heard the term “red herring” for the first time was the Dr. Seuss book “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.” After all, a red herring is a red fish, right?
Well, not exactly. In the literary or discussion sense, it refers to diverting attention away from what is significant. To use this in practice, I could be writing a blog to describe various discussion tactics, and then suddenly say, “Squirrel!” That would divert your attention away from learning about the concept of a red herring - and be a red herring itself at the same time.
The process of using a red herring tactic is to create a diversion or distraction away from the topic at hand. While this is commonly used among human discussions, I find this to be most prevalent in my spiritual life. The devil is constantly seeking to distract me from focusing on God by distracting me with all sorts of things. The devil’s red herring could be my mind wandering when I’m trying to pray, or wanting the “shiny” things of this world, or any number of other things.
We as humans are easily distracted, especially in this age of the Internet where a million distractions are at our fingertips, whether it be videos on YouTube or Farmville on Facebook. Even just checking constantly for our friends’ Twitter and Facebook updates can be a huge distraction. All of these things serve as red herrings in our life - they distract us from what is most important, which is living our lives for Jesus Christ and working to bring glory to God.
Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, December 7, 2011 0 comments
I was hanging out with my friend Dwight Allen of the radio program, "A Second Look At Sports" on Friday night at a high school basketball game and he asked me if I pray for Tim Tebow. I said, "Yes" but that really got me thinking. Do I really?
If you are a follower of Christ or not and you are a fan of Tim Tebow or not you have to admit one thing. He is a sold out follower of Jesus Christ. He knows what he believes and why he believes it. Think about it. He's asked about the football game he just played in and he's pointing people to Christ or talking about the hospital that's being built in the Philippines. He is all about Christ all the time. I will admit that I wasn't sure if he would continue being outspoken about his faith in Jesus Christ when he hit the NFL but he has stayed true to the Lord.
I am still amazed that even though he keeps winning a good amount of the "experts" say he is no good and not an NFL quarterback. Yet, all he is doing right now is winning. If you compare the careers of the great Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway and Tim Tebow up to this point in both of their careers you could easily win the argument that Tebow is better than Elway was at the same point in his career. Here's one link of their stats through 8 games. It's pretty wild. So, what is the point of this entry??
Let's all pray for Tim Tebow. Win or lose pray for him to continue to be the light for Christ that he is called to be to the world. Also, let's not forget to pray for other Christian atheltes too. Athletes like Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford and even Matt Hasselbeck and others the Lord brings to your mind. Then do a check on yourself. Are you doing all you can for the Kingdom of God with excellence and to the best of your God-given ability or are you just skatin' by?
Read James 1 and let it sink in what James is writing about here. Then live it.
I know that many of you are old enough to remember the famous O.J. Simpson murder trial. (By the way, I realize that I must be officially included in that "old enough" crowd when I'm using the phrase to refer to something that occurred when I was a freshman in high school). O.J. was on trial for two counts of first-degree murder for the slayings of his wife, Nicole, and another man, Ronald Goldman. You might recall that what made the trial such a huge national story that dominated the headlines (other than the fact that O.J. was a star football player) was the ability of the defense team to make racial issues a point of focus. Regardless of where you stand on the outcome of the case, it is inarguable that Johnny Cochran and the other members of O.J.'s defense team succeeded in this tactic. It started in the jury selection process. Out of 12 jurors, 8 were black, 1 was white, 1 was Hispanic, and 2 were mixed race. Then, during witness testimony, Detective Mark Fuhrman, a white man, was questioned about his PAST uses of racist language. Excerpts of tape recordings with his voice were played and Cochran used them to try to convince the jury that Fuhrman was racist, thus making his investigation of the crimes biased. When the trial concluded in 1995, Simpson was found not guilty in criminal court despite the evidence against him. Many believe that Cochran and the rest of the defense team were successful in making the trial more about Fuhrman's apparent racism than O.J.'s involvement in the crimes.
This tactic is known by the phrase "red herring". A herring is a type of fish and it is "red" when it is smoked. The phrase is used more in a tactical sense to refer to something that is introduced into an argument or setting to draw attention away from the central issue. In the old days in Great Britain, the fish was used to train hunting dogs to follow the faint odor of a fox or other animal. The trainer would drag a red herring, which has a much stronger odor, perpendicularly across the trail of the hunted animal to distract the dog. Eventually, the dog would learn that it was a mere distraction and would learn to follow the correct scent rather than the strongest one. You can also think of a mystery fiction movie or even TV shows such as Law & Order or CSI. Often, the writers of the plot will intentionally mislead the viewer by making an individual who is truly innocent appear to be guilty, only to later reveal the one truly responsible for the crime.
When I think of distractions, I think of temptation. And when I think of temptation, I think of Matthew 4 when Jesus was tempted by the devil in the desert after fasting for forty days and forty nights. In the devil's first attempt, his argument was relevant. Jesus was incredibly hungry and Satan told him to turn the stones into bread (v. 3). Once that didn't work, his next attempt was completely irrelevant! He told Jesus to throw himself down from the highest point of the temple to prove he is the Son of God (v. 6). The devil even introduced Scripture, something we know is inspired by God himself (2 Timothy 3:16), to try to distract Jesus! It's not that the Scripture he used is invalid; it's that it was completely irrelevant to Jesus' present goal of submitting to his Father during the trying times. Just as Johnny Cochran was able to steer the jury's focus away from O.J.'s involvement in the murders and toward Mark Fuhrman's apparent racism, Satan tries to distract us (as he did Jesus) with things that seem good and noble but are in actuality irrelevant and not what God wants for us.
Are you going through trying times right now in your life? Do you know how God wants you to respond even while you sense the distractions (which are likely "good" things) that the enemy is putting in your way? Heed the instructions of the Apostle Paul: "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ" (Colossians 2:8 [NIV]).
Have you ever felt like someone just didn't like you for reasons completely unknown to you? You never had any problems with them, yet they seemed to work hard to point out your faults and celebrate your failures. Maybe they even sought ways to trip you up. On the flip side of this equation, have you ever disliked someone so much that you rooted for them to fail even though they really hadn't done anything to make you feel that way? This could be caused by envy, jealousy, or an inferiority complex.
Both of the hypothetical scenarios mentioned above are driven much more by emotion than by logic or clear thinking. Both are examples of the "ad hominem" way of relating to others. The Word of the Week for this week is the Latin phrase "ad hominem". Webster defines the phrase as "appealing to people's emotions and prejudices rather than their ability to think". When translated into English, the phrase literally means "to the person". The phrase is often referred to as the type of argument where one party attacks the other on a basis that is completely irrelevant to the actual argument. All you have to do today is turn on any political talk show and you will likely see some candidate attempting to discount the other's leadership ability by bringing up any negative information he can find even if it is not directly related to his opponent's ability to lead.
In the Bible, a good example of this very thing is the story of Daniel in the Old Testament. In Daniel 6:3, it says, "Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom". This obviously didn't make the other administrators too happy, so they "tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so" (v. 4). As the story goes on, we see that they resorted to an "ad hominem" plan since they couldn't find fault in him regarding anything relevant to his ability to govern. They appealed to his commitment to pray to God alone while also appealing to King Darius' desire to be the only one that men are allowed to pray to over a thirty-day period. These administrators tricked King Darius, who thought highly of Daniel, into putting a decree in writing that would likely lead to Daniel's end. You know the story from your childhood as "Daniel in the Den of Lions", because that was the penalty spelled out in the decree for praying to any god or man aside from King Darius. Daniel kept his commitment to prayer because it was a matter of faith, not human logic. King Darius allowed himself to be manipulated because his desire for authority and decision to write the decree was about his emotions, not sound thinking. Daniel had clearly proven himself worthy of the authority he was about to receive, but he and the king were had by the administrators' "ad hominem" method.
I believe there are two takeaways for us from this story as we consider how we are affected by "ad hominem" plans. First, many of you know the end of the story of Daniel in the Den of Lions. The latter part of Daniel 6 tells us that King Darius was greatly distressed after realizing what he had to do according to his decree. It also tells us that God sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions. So Daniel basically hung out with them (I like to think he played with their manes the same way we pet dogs) all night long! To prove to us that it was indeed God's divine protection and not "faulty" lions, the men who used the "ad hominem" argument against Daniel are thrown into the den and immediately destroyed. From this, we see that we have no reason to fret when others attack our character, faith, or feelings in ways that are totally irrelevant to the actual argument. What really matters is that we check our own motives, attitudes, and actions. If we are innocent in God's sight, He will handle it. Daniel did nothing except trust in his God. As 1 Peter 5:6 reminds us, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time". People will attack us as the spiritual battle over souls rages on and some of those attacks will be completely unfair, but we need only to remain humble and let God be our Defender.
The second and less obvious takeaway for us is that we are all susceptible to being had the way King Darius was. Frankly, every time we give into the temptation by Satan to make sinful choices even though we CLEARLY KNOW that such choices are inconsistent with our relationship with Christ, we fall victim to his "ad hominem" scheme. For us as Christians, sin appeals to our feelings and emotions, but rarely to our clear logic. Count me as one who believes there isn't much we can do to change our feelings. However, what we CAN and MUST do is recognize that sometimes our feelings lead us astray and pray that the Holy Spirit be the only guide for our emotions.
As you reflect on the story of Daniel and this phrase, understand that you have no control over how others attack you or appeal to your feelings. You do have control over how you respond to it. Putting your faith in God and letting His Spirit lead you makes all the difference in the world!