Death Penalty And The Pope

The Pope has announced the new official position of the Catholic Church on the death penalty.  Calling it an attack on the inherent dignity of all humans, the Catholic Church now teaches that the death penalty is not an acceptable or appropriate punishment for murder. 

The Pope, and now the Catholic Church, see this as a moral issue — that it is a violation of a person’s humanity to take the life of a criminal convicted of a crime, regardless of how heinous the crime is. 

To a Catholic, church authority is God’s authority. When the Pope speaks as the vicar of Christ, it is as if God himself has commanded it. This is because, according to their catechism, the authority of Catholic teaching is not only the Bible, but their sacred church traditions, and their sacred Magisterium, which is the teaching of human leaders. From http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P77.HTM  I quote:

2051 The infallibility of the Magisterium of the Pastors extends to all the elements of doctrine, including moral doctrine, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, expounded, or observed.

Thus, to a proper Catholic, the authority of God is not only seen in God’s word (the Bible) but in their church traditions and in the official declarations of the Pope. This is important to understand, because not all Christians place church tradition or human teaching on equal footing with the authority of Scripture. Some of us believe Matthew 28:18 which tells us, “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” 

We believe the authority of Christ, called the word (logos) in John 1:1, is enshrined in the Bible (the word of God). That is why the Bereans examined the Scriptures to make sure what Paul and Silas taught was true (Acts 17:11). Their authority was the Scriptures, not Paul and Silas. 

So, what troubles me about the Pope’s announcement is that it gives the impression that Christianity, per se, is against capital punishment. To me, the Bible clearly establishes the death penalty as the appropriate punishment in some cases. 

How often have we heard that the Bible says, “Thou shalt not kill”? On the face of it, that would make the death penalty wrong. But is that what the sixth commandment really says? Understanding Scripture from the perspective of giving it authority over our lives requires careful study of word meaning and usage, textual context and cultural and historical settings. Without such considerations, this commandment might be construed to mean we aren’t to kill anyone or anything (including plants) ever, at all. 

But the Hebrew word רָצַח (ratsach) doesn’t mean all forms of killing in general. It specifically refers to murder. So, God’s authoritative command is, “You shall not murder”.  In the Bible, murder is always morally reprehensible, while other forms of killing are not, such as killing in war and in cases of capital punishment. But that is Western Civilization’s old, traditional Biblical view. Now people really don’t care what the Bible says about the death penalty — even some Christians, it would seem. They are either ignorant of it altogether, or they distort the little they do know to fit popular opinion.

Even the crucifixion of Christ has been misrepresented by claims that Jesus was a victim of the death penalty. Missing the whole point that his sacrifice paid for our sins and made our salvation possible, the idea is put forth that the evil of his crucifixion was that he suffered from social injustice — the very thing we must fight to suppress. This is a gross perversion of the gospel.

But not all Americans are swayed either by Catholic dogma or Scriptural authority. Many consider the death penalty issue a matter to be solved by democracy (what policy do most people support?) or by utilitarianism (what would make most people happy?). The question of right or wrong is no longer one of moral absolutes but of moral relativism.

When any culture tries to define what is moral, they must have some authority as their basis. What makes that difficult in our day and age is that multiculturalism has not only given us conflicting authorities, but also an increasing trend towards anarchism and the rejection of authority altogether. 

Historically, the death penalty remained basically unquestioned until modern times. The argument that the death penalty should be abolished because it is as obsolete and irrelevant as the Old Testament is poorly thought through. True, the Old Testament is often used to support arguments in favor of capital punishment. However, the “Thou shalt not kill” argument against the death penalty also comes from the Old Testament — and poor translation at that. 

Bottom line, people in general no longer have the Biblical world view to differentiate between killing and murdering. And this distortion in thinking has even infected the Catholic Church and even evangelical denominations. Increasingly, arguments of morality distort Biblical teaching and appeal to the perceived authority of popular opinion (utilitarianism).   

In the U.S., support for the death penalty has fluctuated, though in general has maintained a majority over those who oppose it. See the Gallup poll data at https://news.gallup.com/poll/1606/Death-Penalty.aspx  

But when it comes to the moral question of whether something is right or wrong, I am not content with popular opinion polls. I believe that truth is absolute, not relative. If you believe that God created us and that we are accountable to his standards, then there can only be one ultimate authority for what is right and what is wrong. To me, that clearly must be scriptural authority. 

If you don’t believe in God or don’t believe he holds us accountable to his standards, then you will be comfortable with taking a vote to determine the morality of a thing. But if you are Catholic, you try to ride a three-way balancing act: Scripture, church tradition and what the Pope says.  Neither way leads to the truth. Only Jesus does.

Natural law, which formed the basis of American jurisprudence, says that the laws of Man should conform to God’s laws. For Catholics or others who are opposed to the death penalty on the basis that it attacks their human dignity, I ask you to examine this Jesus Christ whom you pretend to follow. Does he attack the dignity of unrepentant sinners when he metes out the penalty of death?

Matthew 10:34 — Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

Romans 6:23 — For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Revelation 19:1-16 — Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

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My Steps Or His Steps?

When we think of our Christian “walk”, we might be tempted to focus on how well we see ourselves doing. Are we doing everything we should be doing? Could we be doing more? Could we be doing better? 

While these are good self-assessment questions, consider for a moment what we are focusing on. We are looking at spiritual growth from the perspective of what we can do to foster it. Yet while this seems to make natural sense, let us not forget Paul’s observation: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” ~ 1 Corinthians 3:6 

By focusing on how well we are walking with the Lord, we are likely to see either our own successes or failures. In either case, we are looking at ourselves, when we should be looking at Jesus.  

But Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Thinking about “walking” with the Lord — or even in the Lord — gives some significance to our actual “steps”. Jesus said “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” ~ Matthew 16:24

Two questions come to mind. First, if we are to deny ourselves, how can we defend focusing on our own steps? Second, if we are following Jesus Christ, are we not choosing to walk in his footsteps? 

The answer to both questions is the key to having a humble spirit. The Christian walk is simply a matter of placing our feet where Jesus has already gone. And the only way we can do that is by keeping our focus on Jesus.

Isaiah 48:17 — Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.

Isaiah 58:11 — And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

Jeremiah 10:23 — I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.

Psalm 32:8 — I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

Psalm 37:23-24 — The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.

Psalm 48:14 — … this is God, our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever.

Proverbs 3:5-6 — Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 16:9 — The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.

Lord, help us to take our eyes off ourselves and keep them fixed on you.

 

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Christian Zionism

On page 18 of the June 2018 issue of WORD FROM JERUSALEM,  ICEJ USA Director Susan Michael writes an easy-to-understand explanation of Christian Zionism. You can read the article at https://us.icej.org/word-jerusalem.  It certainly is worth thinking about.

 

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Dove Wars

Doves are gentle things. Their cooing is restful and wistful. No wonder they are symbols of peace and love. But why must they build their nests above the entry-way to my home? Is nature’s housing so deficient that they must intrude on man-made nooks, never intended to be bird residences? Like intrusive condominium neighbors, who enjoy the benefits of their own domicile while neglecting the shared maintenance of common areas, these lovely birds think nothing of where they poop, which I suppose is natural. 

Supposedly, that is because birds don’t think — at least insofar as a bird brain doesn’t quite have the capacity to reason as I do. But does our God-ordained dominion over them mean that I must clean up after them? In addition to forgiving those little trespassers, are we required to clean up their droppings?

Relying on the premise that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, I have tried several methods of trying to prevent the doves from getting started on their nest-building in the first place. I tried hanging up colorful, metallic decorations of an apparent Chinese design. But those didn’t work. I tried putting out fans that twirled in the breeze. Neither did they do the job. The doves seemed to study them for a while before deciding they were simply harmless decorations. I still had to go out and physically shoo them away. They would fly to the building across the way and sit on the roof, watching and waiting for me to go back inside so they could resume their nest-building activities.

I even tried throwing seed pods at them that fell off the trees in the yard. But of course, that never fazed them. I’m a lousy shot but I was desperate. When I calmed down, I did a search on the internet and discovered these electronic devices that produce high-pitched sounds that keep various pests away … including birds. “Ah!”, I thought, “Technology!” So, I ordered one and eagerly awaited its arrival.

When it came, I put the batteries in and mounted it on the wall above our front door. It had knobs for adjusting the pitch and range of the sounds, so when the doves seemed to be ignoring it, like they had everything else, I just readjusted it, trusting that I would eventually find the “sweet spot” that would permanently keep the avian invaders away. But no matter how I adjusted it, it only seemed to work for a short while. Eventually the doves always seemed to get so used to it they just ignored it.

Then one day, in one of those rare moments in which the right synapses create a brilliant connection, I noticed a very furry cat puppet I had given my wife as a gift. It had been lying dormant in the bedroom for who knows how long, and was covered in a fine layer of baby powder. Picking it up and shaking off the powder, I thought to myself, surely this thing looks enough like a real cat to scare off those doves! It was truly an “Ahah!” moment.

The cat puppet was the best deterrent yet. My neighbors got a kick out it when they saw what they thought at first was a real cat sunning itself on our railing. It was quite a conversation piece and seemed to delight everyone. But the thing is, none of my neighbors seemed to be having the same problem I was having with doves nesting in their eaves. I wondered, “Why me?”. Why my eaves but not my neighbors’? I guess it’s just one of those mysteries of life.

For some time now, when I hear the doves out there, I take a look, and if I see the doves trying to settle in, I put the cat out. That usually is a daily routine in the Spring time of year. But this Spring the weather has been inconsistent — sometimes warm, sometimes cool — so there hasn’t been much dove activity and I haven’t been putting the cat out much. I wasn’t really expecting them this morning when I heard the tell-tale sounds of nesting doves. I also wasn’t fully aware. I had just gotten out of bed, sill in my pajamas, blowing my nose and beginning to think I might need to take an antihistamine. 

Thusly disoriented, I opened my front door and observed two doves in the eaves, acting as if they owned the penthouse they had just commandeered and that I was the interloper. As I came out, the larger bird left right away. But the smaller one (the female) held her ground and looked at me with possessive distress as I waved my arms at her, trying to get her to follow her mate’s example. 

When my waving arms came close enough to convince her to leave, she also flew away. But instead of following the male, she took evasive action behind me and flew right through my open door! Oh no! I was stunned.

I quickly followed her in, wondering how in the world I would ever get her out. She immediately tried to fly through the sliding glass doors that open onto the deck. The problem is, they were closed. She fell to the floor and continued to throw herself against the glass pane that blocked her escape to freedom.

We have a vaulted ceiling and had she chosen to fly up I never would have been able to help her, so I walked slowly toward her as she frantically tried to pass through the unseen barrier. I tried speaking to her in the most comforting voice I could manage and told her in English to calm down and I would try to help her. Even though there’s no real way to communicate a concept like that to a bird, it was all I could think of. 

As I got to the door and slowly began to slide it open, and then open the screen, the little bird was still fluttering against the glass in a desperate attempt to flee. I had to gently herd her to the open part and as soon as she was in that open space, she took off like a shot — apparently none the worse off for her experience.

I, on the other hand, was left with the task of cleaning up where she had pooped on the carpet, in front of the sliding glass door. And since I was the one who had scared it out of her, I didn’t feel too put out. I was just glad the bird was safely outside where she belongs.

Like I said, I don’t really have anything against doves. I just don’t like them pooping on my property. 

The moral of this story is that everyone has their own opinion, and sometimes we can’t help bothering each other with our differences. But the most important thing is that when we feel trapped and just can’t see a way out — that’s when we need to stop flailing about and put our trust in the LORD. He’ll always make a way…maybe not a way that we can figure out, but it will be his way.

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Talking “Politics”

There’s a tacit taboo that says, “Never discuss politics or religion in polite society.” I wish I knew who started that. I’d tell them they were wrong. First of all, as a Bible-believing Christian, there’s nothing I’d like to talk about more than my faith. But in order to do so freely, I have to be among Christians. Otherwise, the conversation usually gets very quiet real fast.

I attend a weekly home group of folks from my church. We meet together for Bible study, fellowship and prayer. As usual for such groups, any personal concerns shared in the group are considered confidential and kept in the group. One reason for this is that it creates a safe environment for everyone to be as candid as they wish, creating a relationship of trust among brothers and sisters in Christ.

Recently we were talking about the release of the three hostages who had been held as prisoners in North Korea. As one individual was lamenting the negative attacks on President Trump by the news media, another member of the group smiled uneasily and said, “We shouldn’t be talking politics”. I affirmed what the first individual had said by agreeing it was true. And I wondered why — if we are to have close, meaningful and confidential sharing — why should “politics” be a taboo subject? 

By and large, the media has been more than unfair to President Trump. They have continued to “resist” Trump and have become part of the “dump Trump” movement. This is not a matter of “politics”. It is a concerted effort to destroy the President and his administration and effectively nullify our properly elected government. It’s really an attack on America. 

It isn’t “politics” that drives “fake news”, but a palpable hatred of Trump — hatred that feeds on outright lies and a willing ignorance of the truth. That bears repeating. The media has shown little concern for reporting facts. Instead, they have turned to reporting lies that support their agenda to sway public opinion and go along with a distorted fantasy they are trying to project. 

Unrelenting attacks on Trump and his supporters have not just been coming from “political” enemies. They’ve also been coming from unelected bureaucrats, particularly in the FBI, the Justice Department and the State Department. These are not politicians and are not supposed to be pushing any agenda. They are appointed bureaucrats who are supposedly “public servants” directly under the chief government administrator — none other than the President of the United States. Their job is to work for him, not try to undermine him at the behest of his political opponents. 

And yet, that is exactly what several of them (in leadership roles) have been doing, in violation of ethics, laws and the scope of their authority.  The constitution does not lay out a design in which loyalty to any political party justifies the undermining of the proper functions of government. But in America today, that is precisely what is happening. 

The Democrats funded a dossier on Trump which the FBI convinced a FISA court to use to justify a surveillance warrant on the Trump campaign. This entire process violated every ethical and legal standard of open and constitutional government. Just as an example, from The Federalist:

“5 Things The FBI Never Told The FISA Court About The Trump Dossier”:

1.  The dossier was funded by Hillary Clinton and The Democratic National Committee.

2.  The FBI terminated Steele as a source for “what the FBI defines as the most serious of        violations.”

3.  The dossier had not been independently verified.

4.  A news story purporting to corroborate the dossier actually came directly from the dossier.

5.   Some of the information provided to the court came from a senior DOJ official’s wife, who was getting paid by the Clinton campaign’s opposition research firm.

After more than a year of this “trumped-up” (pun intended) investigation, absolutely no evidence has been found to show any collusion. The accusations were all false — all lies intended to destroy Trump. But it is not over. It’s just the tip of a gigantic iceberg. New lies, accusations and innuendos are coming out of the media every day. This goes far beyond “politics”.

What can I do about it?

At the very least, Christians should be able to talk to one another about this, not just smile, act nice and pretend it will all go away. More importantly, Christians should be praying for those in authority over us, as the Bible instructs. Good or bad, they need our prayers because those in positions of authority have a fiduciary responsibility to God. 

Read Romans 13:1-7. When anyone in authority abuses that authority they are not being God’s servant for our good (verse 4) thus they are not owed honor or respect (verse 7). Those in authority over us only deserve our honor and respect to the degree that they reflect God’s standards as his ministers (verse 6). An excellent book that explains this passage is ROMANS 13, The True Meaning of Submission by Timothy and Chuck Baldwin.

When I see policies and laws being enacted, particularly here in California by our radical, ungodly, unrighteous and anti-Biblical government, I am reminded of the shepherds of ancient Israel who led their people astray and brought judgement upon the whole nation. Jude 1:12 mentions shepherds who are only concerned with feeding themselves, a theme from Ezekiel 34:2-10. God tells the shepherds if they do not properly care for their flocks he will hold them accountable and remove them from their positions of authority. 

We live in a self-governing republic, which means we are responsible for the leaders we elect. And ultimately, even those in appointed positions are accountable to the electorate. They are here to serve us, not lord their authority over us. Jesus said, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors.” (Luke 22:25) But our nation isn’t a kingdom, and we don’t have a king. Instead, we have a people who are constitutionally supposed to be governing themselves. We aren’t supposed to have a ruling class over us as “benefactors”. 

Ultimately, in our country, the people are sovereign. That means we are responsible for what our leaders do. If they are leading us unrighteously, causing us to uphold that which is evil and suppress that which is righteous, then it is our solemn duty before God to vote those leaders out of office and replace them with leaders who at least try to honor God. If those in authority over us are turning our nation into one, huge Sodom and Gomorrah, and we don’t do anything about it, then we deserve the same judgments ancient Israel suffered when their nation’s leaders led them astray.

A right and proper, godly attitude for Christians in America means taking our duties of citizenship seriously. Yes, we need to vote. Yes, we need to tell our representatives how we feel about various issues. Yes, we need to sign petitions, run for offices and serve as public servants. And absolutely we need to pray for those in authority over us. 

But can we do one more thing? Can we actually talk among ourselves about what we see happening in our country? Can we talk about the lying media without feeling embarrassed or shut down for “talking politics”? How can we honestly and openly talk to non-believers about faith in Jesus if we can’t talk among ourselves about what’s going on in our own nation? Do we love our brothers and sisters enough to do this? 

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Will The Elect Be Deceived?

(Mark 13:22; 24:24)

 

Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”.  “My people” refers to God’s people. If you consider yourself one of God’s people, then you certainly don’t want to remain ignorant, because that would lead to your destruction, right? How’s your knowledge of Islam? Is your understanding based on factual evidence or are you satisfied with the politically correct mantra that Islam is the religion of peace, which should be tolerated and venerated as an honorable belief system and accorded every right and privilege within an open community of faith?

I invite you to listen to eight lectures given by Shahram Hadian, a former Muslim who is now a Christian pastor. If you’ve never heard of him, here is a brief bio. These lectures were delivered to the 2018 Chafer Theological Seminary Bible Conference in March. Perhaps his most important lectures are the last three, but to get the full impact of his message on Islam, I strongly urge all believers to watch each video. They are packed with vital information — all factual and documented.

I urge everyone to share this information with friends and family.  Let us not be destroyed for lack of knowledge!

1  An Apologetic Look at the Bible vs. the Quran

(Advance to 12 minutes, 30 seconds to skip past singing and other speakers)

2  Unveiling the True Face of Islam

(Advance to 27 minutes to skip over preceding service)

3  Sabotaging America: Islam’s March Towards Supremacy (Muslim           Brotherhood Strategy) 

Al Hijra: Islamic Migration and the Fraud of Refugee Resettlement

5  Islam’s Assault on the U.S. Constitution

6  The Trojan Horse of Interfaith Dialogue Between Christians & Muslims – Part 1 

7  The Trojan Horse of Interfaith Dialogue Between Christians & Muslims – Part 2

8  Fulfilling the Great Commission: Sharing Christ with Muslims

 

How Do You Reach a Muslim for Jesus Christ?

 

 

 

 

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Do Christians Condemn The LGTBQ Community?

(First published in 2015 under the title, “Why do you condemn us?”)

I’ve heard a lot of people say that Christians condemn others who don’t share their Biblical morals. When issues such as same-sex marriage are debated, a common accusation from homosexuals is that Christians condemn them. This charge has been leveled at us so often and for so long that many Christians opt to dance around Biblical doctrines, rather than actually give voice to them in public forums. Is it a fair or accurate statement to say that Biblical Christians condemn those who characteristically practice sin?

The essence of Christianity is the message of the Gospel, a word that simply means “good news”. This message was called good news by the angel who announced the birth of Christ (Luke 2:10). Announcing the fulfillment of Jewish prophecies concerning the coming of the Jewish Messiah, the angel said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people,” meaning this good news was for everyone, not just the Jews.

But the Jews best understood what this good news meant, because the Hebrew Bible had preserved for them the teachings that our sinfulness separates us from God, making us subject to his judgement, and that without atonement for sin we already stand condemned. For over a thousand years the Jews had tried and failed to live according to God’s commandments. As a people, they had learned the hard way that without God’s supernatural intervention, it is impossible to be saved from the consequences of sin. That is why the angel called the Messiah a “Savior”, because he came to save his people. The name “Jesus” literally means salvation, and that is why Christians say they are “saved”.

Christians are saved from the consequences of sin as a result of “receiving” Christ and his sacrifice (“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” — John 1:12). This is not the result of anything we do. “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy,” (Titus 3:5); “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” (Ephesians 2:8).

What makes this good news is that we were already condemned and dead in our sins, but the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ atoned for those sins, paid the price for those sins and redeemed us from the dead, into eternal life in the presence of the Almighty. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8).

This is all to say that the message of salvation in Christ is good news for everyone. So where does the idea of condemnation enter into the picture? Mark 16:16 says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” A backlash is often heard that goes something like this: “You Christians claim to believe in a loving God and yet you condemn those who disagree with you. You aren’t loving. You are hateful, bigoted and condemning.”

This backlash comes from the basic misconception that is best compared to, “Love me, love my dog”. An onus is being placed on Christians, not unlike being expected to love a bad dog simply because it is owned by someone you love. Homosexuals expect Christians to accept their homosexual behavior, despite the fact that the Bible calls it sin. The expectation being placed on Christians is that if we claim to love homosexuals, we should accept, tolerate, or at least not “judge” their behavior. If we really love them, then it is expected we should stay silent about how they live.

We are told by an increasingly secular society that making absolute moral distinctions based on a Biblical world view is ignorant, narrow-minded and unacceptable, that truth and morality are not absolute or exclusive, but relative and inclusive. This point of view rejects the fact that God himself has drawn a line of demarcation, separating that which is righteous, moral and holy from that which is sinful, immoral and unholy. So, when Christians speak out against homosexuality, those standing on the other side of the line only hear condemnation. “Thus saith the LORD” is taken as code meaning, “I have the right to force my beliefs on you”.

Those who approach reality from a secular world view reject the notion that God exists. And those who are merely influenced by secular world views reject the authority of any God and reject the Bible as an authoritative source for determining society’s moral standards. Nevertheless, the Christian faith stands outside the world of secular values and is not subject to secular world view standards. Our faith is subject only to Biblical world view standards. We cannot try to be “tolerant” by jettisoning our Biblical world view. Our words and our actions must be consistent with what the Bible says, not what the world says.

God has drawn a line between light and darkness, life and death. On one side stands truth and forgiveness. On the other, lies and condemnation. Condemnation doesn’t come from the gospel. It comes from believing lies. And perhaps the biggest lie is that sin isn’t really sin at all. It’ like the lie the serpent whispered in Eve’s ear in Genesis 3:1, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” meaning, did God actually say that is a sin?

Right now there are people thinking that the serpent didn’t lie, he only asked a question. But his question was not designed to elicit an answer, rather to sow doubt and disbelief in Eve’s mind. Of course God said that. The serpent was well aware of that. But he knew how to weaken Eve, so that she would fall into temptation and sin. Today, anti-Biblical apologists are equally sly. They “ask,” “Does the Bible really say that?”, playing on the weaknesses of the uninformed.

To me, the absolute separation of moral from immoral is best pictured as the difference between light and darkness. Here, there are no shades of grey. Even the light of a single candle dispels the darkness. John 1:5 puts it this way, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Equally opposite in polarity are the consequences of morality vs immorality. Light leads to life; darkness leads to death. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” And Jesus is willing to forgive all who turn back from darkness to follow him, as Ephesians 5:8 points out, “…for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”

Just as there is an absolute separation between light and darkness, so also there is an absolute separation of God’s judgement for those who walk in the light from those who walk in darkness. “Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’…Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’…And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:32-33; 42; 46). There is no third option, no situational relativity. It’s either life or death.

Biblical morality looks to no less than the authority of the Creator of the universe. It is not based on popular thought or democratic deliberation. It is based on obedience to God’s standards. Thus Christians and the Bible, following God’s example, condemn sin, not people. Those who feel condemned are those who reject the absolute line between right and wrong, or the authority or existence of God who draws that line. And to those who are condemned, Jesus offers salvation. All they have to do is turn to him and forsake their former sins.

“And Jesus cried out and said, ‘Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge [NIV: condemn] him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.’” — John 12:44-50 (ESV)

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Let’s Have A Conversation

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:6

Billy Graham said, “Our country’s in great need of a spiritual awakening.” It is my conviction that this is the single most important issue of our time. Jesus Christ can redeem anyone. No matter how bad you’ve lived your life so far, he will change you, if you let him. The Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

The yammering we hear on TV (euphemistically called a “conversation”) about preventing future school massacres only focuses on what government can do about controlling guns and improving mental health awareness. Neither of these issues go to the heart of what causes a person to commit murder, which Christians know to be the sinfulness of human nature.

But government cannot prevent sinful behavior. It can only respond to it by meting out appropriate consequences for unlawful behavior. Even the most repressive of human governments will never be able to prevent sin, because governments cannot change the human heart. Only Jesus Christ can do that.

In 1962 the Supreme Court ruled that prayer was not to be conducted in public schools. This decision was based on a perversion of the concept of the “separation of church and state”, and it needs to be overturned. Separation of church and state always meant to protect churches from government intrusion, not to insulate government from the influence of the Christian faith. So, for the Federal government to say Christians may not pray or otherwise express their faith in government-funded settings is a perversion of the doctrine of separation of church and state.

The “conversation” about Jesus Christ has been taken out of our schools, replacing faith with godlessness and producing more mass murders on school campuses. According to American Family Radio, who compiled statistics from a variety of sources, including the FBI and CDC, between 1900 and 1960, when prayer and Bible study were common in public schools, there were 62 deaths from school shootings. Between 1960 and 2017 we had 479 gun-related deaths in our schools.

Before God was removed from our schools, the average yearly death toll from shootings was slightly more than one person. From two years before the Supreme Court’s 1962 decision until last year (2017), the average yearly death toll from school shootings shot up to significantly more than eight persons — an incredible 800+% increase. And 2018 has gotten off to an even more tragic start. Isn’t that significant enough to have a “conversation” about? Isn’t it time we talked openly and boldly about Jesus in our schools?

Don’t you think it’s time for an honest “conversation” about the violence we are seeing in our society, especially in our schools? Can we honestly say we care about innocent victims when all we are willing to do is make a political football of this human tragedy? Does it make sense to focus on the symptoms of our broken society, expecting more government control and additional funding to fix it, without getting to the real cause? Do we honestly believe that throwing money at our problems will make them go away? Or shall we have a “conversation” about Jesus?

It’s time to fight for the restoration of prayer and Bible study in our public schools. It’s time to let Jesus back into our schools. It’s time to have a real “conversation” — one that isn’t framed and dictated by those who want to suppress the truth. America was fashioned with a Christian populace in mind. As a nation we can neither succeed nor survive without first teaching all our students the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And as we enter into this “conversation”, there is no need for us to be rancorous. Think about what Billy Graham did. He won people to Christ because he loved them. His love was genuine. He won people to Christ because he was humble and let the Spirit of the Living God work through him. He spoke the truth in love and grew up into him who is the head, into Christ (Ephesians 4:15).

Is this a radical idea? Not really. If you examine our founding documents, this nation was created to foster religious freedom, not restrict it or control it. The very fabric of the structure of our government was designed for a godly, Bible-based electorate to freely assume the responsibility of governing themselves. Christians have every historical, legal and moral right to publicly share our faith.

If you think it’s right to pray for boldness to proclaim the gospel, then let’s begin by returning prayer to our schools. And if you think this is somehow irrelevant to the safety of students, answer this: If nothing is more precious than life, then could anything be more precious than eternal life? Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Let Jesus back into our schools. He died that the whole world may choose life. He loves everyone that much. He doesn’t make demands or force anyone. He wants to set everyone free. There is no good reason for us to allow a few God-haters to shut down real “conversation”.

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A Spiritual Song And Dance

It’s funny how one thing leads to another. I wasn’t feeling very well, so I turned on the TV and started watching an old Red Skelton movie – a musical comedy from 1942 called Ship Ahoy. Headlining a cast of stars and future stars (including Frank Sinatra) Eleanor Powell played Red Skelton’s romantic interest. Several scenes showcased her tap-dancing brilliance. In one number, drummer Buddy Rich (of the Tommy Dorsey orchestra) is playing a drum held by Eleanor Powell, who coyly moves it around as she dances with it. At one point, Buddy throws one of his drumsticks down on the floor. Eleanor catches it on the bounce, tosses it and the drum back to Buddy, turns and catches two new drumsticks tossed to her from off camera and proceeds to play the drum with Buddy – all this while dancing!

This display of talent made me want to learn more about Eleanor Powell. Her bio on IMDB says she was married to Glenn Ford and divorced him because of “mental cruelty”. The cruelty may have been that her career ended after they married – I don’t know. If so, what a waste. Later in life she became a minister in the Unity Church. Curious, I checked IMDB for Glenn Ford and noticed that he wished to be remembered as, “He did his best and he believed in God.”

I am in no position, nor do I have the right to judge either Glenn Ford or Eleanor Powell. But I wondered what it was about Unity that appealed to the one-time dancing star. So, I checked out the website of a local Unity church to see what they believe. The opening sentence in their “What is Unity?” article reads, “Unity offers a positive, practical approach to spirituality and daily living.” In other words, if you look to incorporate “spirituality” in your lifestyle, Unity is a positive and practical way to do that.

Well, that’s all gobbledygook to genuine truth seekers. Obviously, Unity has nothing to do with truth and doesn’t appeal to someone who wants to know the truth. You can try to add a dimension of “spirituality” to your life to feel more balanced or well-rounded, but that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with truth.

Critical in understanding Unity is how one defines “spirituality”. Whatever is spiritual is of the spirit. So, the question is, what is spirit? Let’s begin by saying what spirit is not. Spirit is not intellect, though intellect loves to delve into its mysteries. Spirit is not emotion, though emotion often gets caught up in its reactions to spiritual experiences. Spirit is not beauty, though beauty can certainly describe some spiritual phenomena. Spirit is not ethics, though we give ethics a spiritual origin, just as to meaning, morality, principle and every other virtue we recognize as giving value to life.

Spirituality is something a whole lot bigger and different from all those things. The spiritual realm is an entire reality that can only be partially understood and expressed within the physical realm. It is a mistake to think of spirituality as something you add to your lifestyle, as if it were simply another ingredient in your recipe for success and happiness. It is also a mistake to think that a religion that offers a “positive and practical approach to spirituality” has any idea of what spiritual reality is.

A so-called “positive” approach to spirituality ignores half of all spiritual reality. Spirituality is not all good. There are good spirits and there are evil spirits. And before I go any further, let me be clear. If you do not believe in spirits, then you cannot believe in “spirituality”. If there are no spirits, nothing can be said to be “spiritual”.

Equally, the concept of a “practical” approach to spirituality reduces spirituality to things we do, what we can accomplish – as we would in the physical realm – sweeping aside the things of the spirit. Unity is a feel-good religion that begins with false assumptions about what it means to be spiritual.

But to a person who wants to know the truth, Unity will be a big disappointment. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). “The Father” is God the Father. He also said, “God is Spirit” (John 4:24). He is our Creator and has ultimate Authority over all things spiritual. The most significant thing any human being can do is “come to the Father”. And the only way to do that is through Jesus. That’s what the Bible says.

It is sin that makes this spiritual journey difficult. Jesus paid the price for our sin, but our pride makes it difficult for us to admit our guilt, confess our sin and accept his forgiveness. It’s not as simple as being positive and practical. There are some negatives that need to be addressed, and there is nothing we can do but humbly receive Jesus Christ in faith, then walk obediently in him.

C. S. Lewis said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

That’s because true Christianity is real spirituality. It faces the negative while seeking the positive. It’s not just a religion. It gives you a relationship to God the Father through Jesus his Son. That relationship is sealed with the Holy Spirit who lives in us (Ephesians 1:13). We become children of God (1 John 3:1), citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20), joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17) and receive eternal life (Romans 6:23).

These are all theological concepts that describe the “spirituality” that Christianity offers. It boils down to God’s solution for lifting us out of the pit of spiritual darkness into his spacious glory and righteousness. You cannot get there by a positive, practical approach. Only faith can take you there – faith in Jesus. He died for everyone – all of us – that we might live in him.

If you don’t care what it says in the Bible, if you think it can mean anything you want it to mean or that it’s all made up anyway, then satisfy your own objections and read it. See for yourself whether or not your presumptions about it are true. The fact is that Scripture is powerful. It has the ability to lead you to the truth and set you free. Paul wrote in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

If you are open to discover what the Bible actually teaches, but you don’t have the time to invest in your own scholarly research, go to https://thebibleproject.com/explore/ which has links to brief, illustrated descriptions of the structure and content of each book of the Bible. Each one has a short video that provides an overview using helpful illustrations. Later, when you actually read each book, you will more easily make sense of it in context with the rest of Scripture.

If you are serious about proving or disproving the truth of the Bible, start at Genesis and go all the way through it. But if you are the impatient type, watch the video of any book to see what’s in it. Most videos are less than 10 minutes long. The larger books use multiple videos, breaking each study into short, easy segments.

If you are dead-set against actually reading what Scripture says, how can you call yourself honest when you say you want to know the truth? There is only one way to know the truth. You have to actually examine it

Please don’t think I am just taking pot shots at the Unity Church. There are no religions that can equal the spirituality of leading a person to God. Religion per se will not bring you to God. Only Jesus can do that. James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” How many of the most religious among us, if we are honest, are unstained from the world?

Perhaps it’s time to put religion on the back burner and think about the spiritual reality of a relationship with God.

[An afterthought] I neglected to mention love. Just as spirituality is often misunderstood, so is love. Love is much more than a feeling, much more than doing the right thing, and doesn’t have its origin in the heart of Man.  Scripture not only tells us that we love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19), but that God himself is love (1 John 4:8). So, if you really want to be loving, you need to get beyond yourself and know God.

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The Shooter, Or The Gun?

For the past couple of days I’ve been emotionally stunned, disrupted by the madness of the Las Vegas massacre. I made the mistake of watching the news this morning while drinking my cup of coffee. Gun control zealots have now jumped on this tragedy, as they always do, as a springboard to dictate their own brand of madness, supposedly to deal with the threat of firearm violence.

It’s madness because legal restrictions to gun access for normal citizens don’t make us safer. They only make it more difficult to protect ourselves and our loved ones, and put us even more at the mercy of those who aren’t law-biding and will obtain whatever weapons they want to, despite the law. It’s madness because as we have seen, when gun ownership is stringently controlled, there are plenty of other options to choose from: knives, home-made bombs, driving vehicles into crowds, the use of toxins and poison gasses, anthrax spores — There is no limit to human creativity, even in the mind of a mass murderer.

The relative effectiveness of gun control can be illustrated by looking at the very first murder. Genesis 4:8 tells us that Cain “rose up against his brother Abel and killed him”. It doesn’t say how. He may have used his bare hands. As they were in “the field”, he may have used a stone or an implement. Applying gun-control mentality to this case, all farm implements and all stones would have to be registered and strictly accounted for. If it was known that Cain’s weapon was his own hand, their solution would be to cut it off.

While such a cruel punishment would certainly prevent future killings by the same means, if Cain really wanted to kill someone else bad enough, he could always train himself to become a lethal kicker and simply use his foot the next time. It is interesting to note that God’s punishment of Cain was protected banishment, marking him so that others would not take vengeance on him (Genesis 4:12-16).

The point is that the murder of innocent people cannot be prevented, reduced or controlled by restricting access to weapons. Murder is a sin that begins in the heart. Once it has taken hold, a murderer will use whatever means and whatever instrumentality he can devise to bring his plans to fruition. Gun control laws will never prevent tragedies like the Las Vegas massacre.

On the other hand, gun control laws do make it more difficult for every-day citizens to protect themselves — a God-given right enshrined in the 2nd amendment of our Constitution.

An informative article that uses statistics to put things in perspective: https://www.facebook.com/tednugent/posts/10154772622887297

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