If My People…

Many of us are familiar with 2 Chronicles 7:14,

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

Solomon had just completed the construction and dedication of the temple. God used the occasion to reaffirm his covenant with Israel, reminding them that there will be consequences for their response to his covenant commands – blessings for their obedience and curses for their disobedience.

A description of these blessings and curses is detailed in chapters 27 and 28 of Deuteronomy. But be forewarned: the curses are very unsettling to read. God fully explained them to Israel through Moses, before they crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy 11:26-28 he said,

See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.

Ancient Israel’s history was characterized by cycles of sin. As long as Israel honored God and did as he commanded, their nation was blessed with abundance, peace and prominence among their neighboring nations. But repeatedly, they would get used to those blessings, take them for granted, forget to teach their children about God as the source of their blessings and begin to live in rebellion to his commands, even accepting the worship of false gods.

When this happened, God removed his blessings from them, and allowed them to suffer from famine, disease, warfare, poverty and all the curses he had told them about through Moses. But whenever they returned to God, changed their ways and began living in righteous obedience to his commands, he again would heal them of their curses and bless them with new blessings.

Sadly, even Solomon’s reign ended in disaster, leaving the once great nation splintered, weakened, and subjected to foreign conquest and the forced relocation of the people. The cycles of sin just wouldn’t stop.

Finally, when the survival of Israel as God’s people was at a low ebb, Christ came. But what did he do? Did he kick the Roman conquerors out of the Land? No. Did he reestablish the Kingdom of David? Not in an earthly sense, but from the throne of David, he established the kingdom of God, with a new covenant.

The Messiah first came to save his people, the Jews. And that was good news. But very soon, he made the same offer of salvation to all people. In John 10:16 Jesus said it this way,

And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Those “other sheep” are the gentiles, and I’m one of those guys. But notice something very important: Jesus says, “there will be one flock, one shepherd.” That means the people of God, the people he refers to when he says, “my people who are called by my name”, consist of all – Jew or gentile – who have received Messiah (the Word) and believe in his name, as stated in John 1:12:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

God’s children are God’s Kingdom. That is why in Matthew 18:3 he said,

Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

That’s what being born again is all about. As a child of God, you are one of God’s people. So when God refers to his people, if he is living in you, he’s talking about you. That means God’s promise of 2 Chronicles 7:14 is not just for ancient Israel. It’s for all Christians today.

God’s People Are To Be Holy

Romans 8:9 tells us,

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

If we who belong to him have the Spirit of Christ, then we are to be a holy people. A consistent principle throughout both the old covenant and the new covenant is that God’s people are called to be holy. Leviticus 11:44 says,

For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.

1 Peter 1:15-16 quotes that very passage, saying,

but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Holy means to be separated and set apart for God. From 2 Corinthians 6:16-17 we read,

…As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord…

Them” refers to idol worshippers, false religions.

America: Founded For The Furtherance Of Christianity

From the outset of the founding of the United States of America – from the first pilgrims, to the colonies, to the adoption of our constitution – this nation began as a haven for Christians, with governments and institutions designed to foster, teach and spread the Christian religion in a free, predominantly Christian society. This fact has been clearly documented in many sources.

Today, secularized attitudes try hard to hide the Christian roots of our history. Nevertheless, the reality of our Christian foundations is very discoverable. Two sources I often cite are: lessons 9 and 10 of The Truth Project, by Focus on the Family, and One Nation Under God, Ten Things Every Christian Should Know About the Founding of America, by Dr. David C. Gibbs, Jr.

Princeton’s founding statement of 1747 included, “Cursed is all learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ.” Noah Webster (1758-1843) said, “In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed.” Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) wrote, “The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and liberty so intimately in their minds that it is impossible to make them conceive one without the other.”

Ignorance abounds on this issue today. America was never designed to be so secular as to exclude the influence of Biblical religions. Equally, America was never designed to be a theocracy. Christians who want to enjoy the God-given right of the free exercise of religion don’t want anyone else to suffer under religious oppression. In the spirit of 2 Corinthians 6:16-17 our founders separated themselves from the oppression of official State religions in Europe because they wanted the freedom to worship as they chose, not as governments told them to. That separation of church and state meant to keep the government out of religious affairs, not to keep religious values out of government.

Accordingly, the Constitution was designed so that non-Christians are equally free to enjoy religious freedom. However, that freedom does not warrant the restructuring of moral norms, as is currently happening in the courts as a result of utilitarianism and positivism (relativistic philosophies of law). By using law to force moral change on society, the original purpose of America’s foundation – to create a safe haven for the free expression of the Christian religion – is thwarted.

Christianity, the Bible and the God of the Bible are being denied as authoritative sources for moral standards. Rather, the government and law is assuming the authority to set moral standards for society. When that happens, we are no longer a free country because Christians, other Bible believers and traditionalists will not be allowed the free exercise of their religion. They will be forced to accede to a State-mandated morality, which is tyranny, pure and simple.

The Free Exercise Of Religion Requires Moral Restraint.

The legal argument for gay marriage is perverted and unholy. There is nothing “equal” about homosexuals “marrying” one another. God has established marriage between a man and a woman. Homosexuals want to throw out God’s definition of marriage and redefine it to include them. In order to accomplish that, they disregard the fact that God calls homosexuality an abomination (Leviticus 18:22). Denying God’s absolute authority to call sin sin, they redefine homosexuality as an acceptable, “alternate” lifestyle.

Since God is holy, to treat his word so cavalierly is an assault on his holiness. And because we too are called to be holy, if the Supreme Court of our nation decides that the Constitution permits a powerful central government to stand in opposition to the will of holy God and force all its citizens to comply with immoral laws, then Christians must make a choice: either quietly go along with everyone else who is ignoring God, or be separate from them and be holy in all our conduct.

And how, exactly, do we do that? Will pastors be forced to perform wedding ceremonies for gays under fear of losing their positions? Will para-church ministries be forced to hire and work with people who do not share their values or beliefs? Will Christian business owners be forced to do business with and even hire individuals who flagrantly disregard Biblical morals?

These questions are not hypothetical. These kinds of situations are already happening. Christians right now are being denied their freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and freedom of association by their own State and federal governments. Here in California, State law illegally requires churches and other religious organizations to pay for abortion coverage in their insurance policies, in violation of the federal Hyde-Weldon Conscience Protection Amendment.

Yet many Christians don’t say anything, for fear of losing their job or being sued. They cower behind the silent witness of “nice” masks. How will God react to this kind of go-along to get-along attitude? Some have said that America will reap God’s judgement and that we will suffer greatly for the sins of our nation. But even prior to God’s total destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he told Abraham that if he found just ten righteous men in Sodom, he would spare the city (Genesis 18:32). So, if there remains only a remnant of righteous persons in America, we may escape total destruction.

Some Christians comfort themselves with the hope of a pre-tribulation rapture. But surely there is something more important than escaping tribulation. There are so many verses that give us hope, not the least of which is, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b). In anticipation of heavenly rewards (Matthew 5:12; Luke 6:23; Philippians 3:14, etc), shouldn’t God’s people be content to abide in Christ, regardless of what happens?

If God finds us not living as he commanded, even if he spares us from destruction, he will withhold his rewards and blessings from us. As in the days of the old covenant, there are blessings for the good that we do and curses for the evil that we do. Even Moses was denied the reward of entering the promised land because he “did not believe in me to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people” (Numbers 20:12).

God is still holy, and he still calls his people to be holy. What reward or blessing will God withhold from us if we, as the people of God allow unholiness to be the law of the land? As you pray for the Supreme Court to do the right thing, remember also to pray for God’s people. We, too, must do the right thing. The issue of what the body of Christ does has far greater implications than the issue of Man-made laws.

As Dr. Laura used to say, “Now go do the right thing”.

Posted in Change, Jurisprudence, Righteousness in government, U.S. Constitution | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Death To America

Got your attention?  Death to America isn’t something I wish.  It’s something I have heard others say and it’s something we see happening before our very eyes.  Just as when any organism dies, we are witnessing the breakdown and failure of life-giving systems and life-sustaining functions.

Replacing the unifying voice of We The People is a cacophony of selfish, nagging groups, each vying for attention to get what they want.  But as a nation, our vigor has been declining and the force of our will is subsiding.  We are tired, discouraged, as if a spirit of apathy has descended onto the hearts of Americans.

At base is the question of what is right and what is wrong.  Relativist world views seem to dominate our culture. We are constantly told we should embrace all cultures (except for the traditions of Western Civilization that gave birth to this nation).  We no longer have one American culture.  And that is part of the death of America.

My church home study group is currently going through Focus on the Family’s video series, The Truth Project http://www.thetruthproject.org. hosted by Dr. Del Tackett.  It identifies six “social spheres” that are part of God’s design: Man’s relationship to God, the family, labor, the community, the church and the state.  Lessons 9 and 10 of the 12 lesson series cover the state (government).  The introduction to Lesson 9 reads,

The government can exert a tremendous power for good in the affairs of mankind.  But it also has the potential to become the most horrendously abusive of all the social spheres.

In this tour, we explore this dual nature of the divinely instituted state.  When and why does something meant for good become so bad?  And how should Christians respond?

It is precisely this question (How should we respond?) that many Americans seem to be dodging.  “What can I do?” they say.  And then they proceed to withdraw, stay silent and do nothing.  But if the truth really matters, the best thing we can do is talk to one another, say what’s on our minds, be confident of our convictions, and thereby impact those around us.

News programs tend to make us think in national terms, but the reality of the state begins at the community level.  Simply put, the community is the people working and living around us.  Each Christian has the ability to impact his community, merely by being a Christian and intentionally interacting with others in his community. The character of America shouldn’t be defined by a ruling class, but by “We The People”.

A vital organ of America’s body politic is our Constitution.  That document enumerates the powers of the federal government, reserving all other powers to the States and to the People (Article X).  This is called self-governance, which places responsibility directly on the shoulders of all citizens.  And it is this responsibility that brings to mind Luke 12:48:

Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

This principle has to do with our responsibility to the LORD as his servants — a concept that has become foreign to a growing number of Americans. The fact that the state is a social sphere of God’s design, in which we are to be under his authority, makes it imperative that we be responsible before God for all our civic duties.

Freedom means ruling ourselves.  Liberty isn’t just doing what you please.  It means you accept the responsibilities of civil rule under the authority of God and in compliance to his precepts.

In the context of American government, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1) takes on a different meaning for its citizens than for the subjects of a monarchy. We are responsible to hold our authorities responsible. See Romans 13: The True Meaning of Submission, by Timothy and Chuck Baldwin http://romans13truth.com.

With that in mind, please watch this 38 minute video of Publius Huldah addressing the issue of Islam and Shariah law: https://vimeo.com/63431881.  The sad fact is that the only reason we face the incursion of Muslim values and Muslim law in America is because we have created a vacuum by denying the God of the Bible, the morality of the Bible and a system of law and government derived from the Bible.

How do you respond to the death of America?  Do you consider it a done deal?  Have you decided it’s better to swim with the current, despite the fact that it’s taking you away from where you know the LORD wants you to go?

Our God is a God of new life and rebirth.  He not only conquered sin by dying on the cross.  He conquered death by rising from the grave.  I don’t believe the LORD wants American Christians to accept Death to America.  Don’t forget his promise:

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. — 2 Chronicles 7:14

 

 

 

 

Posted in American Culture, Christian philosophy, Constitution | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

This Is My Country

After the 2012 elections I wrote a post entitled, “Who Cares?”, lamenting the fact that in California 9 and a half million voters didn’t even care enough to cast a ballot. I ended the article by quoting the lyrics to This Is My Country, written in 1940 by Don Raye and Al Jacobs. I learned this song in elementary school. It was the theme song of a television program my class was allowed to watch in someone’s home near the school. Our school didn’t have its own TV in those days.

This program was my first exposure to how American government was designed to work, the history of the founding of our nation and what rights and responsibilities American citizenship entailed. I was only in the 1st or 2nd grade at the time, but it instilled in me the sure conviction that America isn’t just any old country. It’s my country and I share in both the duties and the benefits of ownership.

Here again is the song that inspired me then, and continues to remind me of both the responsibilities and blessings of being an American:

This Is My Country 

This is my country! Land of my birth!
This is my country! Grandest on earth!
I pledge thee my allegiance, America, the bold,
For this is my country to have and to hold.

What difference if I hail from North or South
Or from the East or West?
My heart is filled with love for all of these.
I only know I swell with pride and deep within my breast
I thrill to see Old Glory Paint the breeze.

With hand upon my heart I thank the Lord
for this, my native land.
For all I love is here within her gates.
My soul is rooted deeply in the soil on which I stand,
For these are mine, my own United States!

This is my country! Land of my choice!
This is my country! Hear my proud voice.
I pledge thee my allegiance, America the bold,
For this is my country to have and to hold.

[I was unable to find the version from the television program.  If you have never heard the song before, you can hear Tennessee Ernie Ford’s rendition at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zqoR3yWu2k or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s rendition at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ruXC9-MdN4.  Please note, I am in no way endorsing the Mormon religion.]

These days this kind of patriotic song might be criticized for being too corny, too saccharine, out-of-date, or limited in appeal to the “bigoted religious right”. But when it was broadcast (I believe it was 1952) it had broad support and was generally received with enthusiasm. Our armed forces were fighting and dying in Korea and the end of World War Two was a recent memory.

America is my country, and I love my country because it is mine. It isn’t simply because I live here. It’s because our founders gave us a nation built on the premise that the people are sovereign. The government consists of the people – of, by and for the people. And I am a part of that people. My county is much more than a “homeland”.

The noble experiment that is known as the United States of America is not like any other nation on Earth. America is unfettered promise, abundant opportunity, inspiration to greatness, overflowing blessings and the liberty to dream, to hope and to try.

But many Americans do not share my feelings of ownership of our country. They have been taught to feel hatred, shame and guilt for ills perceived by secular world views that do not grasp the universal implications of freedom in Christ. Rather than thinking in terms of how the application of Biblical principles can sustain a free people by acknowledging the authority of God, they have turned to the transience of human “wisdom”.

Godless wisdom is not based on principles, but on circumstances. Therefore secular thinking sees equality different from the Christian world view that established America. The equality taught in the Bible is equality “under God”. That not only means each person has the free will to obey or rebel against God, but also it means everyone is equally bound to God’s standards and authority. Under God morals are absolute and sin does not hold equality with righteousness. Yet that is exactly the secular view, which sees moral virtue as relative and circumstantial.

I love America because the freedom given to me in the form of American heritage is the freedom to promulgate Christianity and inculcate the Christian religion in its people, however we choose. Not only were the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, as explained in the Federalist Papers, born of thinkers with a Biblical world view, but “they drew from a tradition that had been in existence for a century and a half, beginning with the Mayflower Compact and continuing with a number of even more highly developed Puritan covenants” (p. 36, One Nation Under God, Ten Things Every Christian Should Know About the Founding of America, Gibbs & Newcombe).

That tradition was carried forward not only in the founding documents of the colonies, but in education.  From the New England Primer to the founding of the earliest major Universities, the purpose of education was to further the cause of Christian professions.  The Professions were seen as ways to develop the profession (affirmation) of the Christian faith through the application of faith into work.

There is so much ignorance today regarding this issue. We may not be a Christian nation now, but that’s because our society and culture has been increasingly turning its back on God. But America was designed with Christian liberty in mind. Separation of church and state meant to keep the government out of the business of religion, not to keep religion out of the business of government. Most people don’t seem to understand that. The primary purpose for freedom of religion (meaning the Christian religion) was to make sure there was no official state religion supported by taxation.

Such was the practice in Europe and in some States early on. But our founders were careful to avoid letting that happen at the national level. Nevertheless, Biblical education and an understanding of the gospel was commonly accepted and encouraged because America’s government was designed by men with a well-developed Christian world view. And that design was intended for a (Biblically) moral citizenry.

Of all the dispositions and habits that lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.George Washington 

Religion and good morals are the only solid foundations of public liberty and happiness. – Samuel Adams

Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.John Adams

Contrary to the rabid criticisms of some atheists, a government designed to afford religious liberty to Christians is not the same as a theocracy. Christians don’t demand that everyone become a Christian. On the contrary, Christian tolerance accepts the fact that faith is a product of the will. Therefore the best setting for Christianity to prosper is one in which the free will of everyone is respected. That means non-Christians are free to practice their faith however they see fit, as long as Christians also remain free to exercise their faith.

Hatred and intolerance of Christianity has become so politically correct and the rewriting of our history has so distorted the underpinnings of our government that any public mention of God is now considered offensive. That is not freedom of religion, nor is it a matter of the separation of church and state. It is godlessness, pure and simple, and is contrary to the values and vision of the founders of this nation.

This is my country. But the godless people who live here are trying to take it from me, aided and abetted by the secular world views which have even been adopted by professing Christians. Also helping in this theft of a nation are all those citizens who do not vote. When only half of registered voters actually vote, it means a minority of the population is electing our representatives.

And that’s been the case for a long time. Gradually, popular understanding of the Constitution has degraded into a twisted mutant of what it was designed to be. Our elected officials take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, but time has proven that to be meaningless lip service. They really don’t represent us at all. They do whatever they want.

They are abusing my country and what it stands for, choosing licentiousness over liberty with restraint. They don’t love my country. They are doing their best to ruin it. Nor do they love the God this nation was founded to honor. They are trying to legislate God out of politics, out of government, out of the public lives of the people. And half the population doesn’t even care enough to vote.

2 Chronicles 7:13-14 records,

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

If the American people were God’s people, wouldn’t we would pray for our country? Wouldn’t we turn from our evil ways? If we did, wouldn’t he answer our prayers? Since this is my country, I’d like to ask God’s people to pray for America. She needs our prayers. Please pray. You know who you are.

And if you’re on the fence, consider Jesus Christ. He died for your sins so that you can be forgiven and be right with him. And he rose from the grave so that you can have eternal life when you accept him as your Lord and Savior. Just pray to receive him and ask his forgiveness. Let him take the lead in your life from here on out. He will make you a new creature, a citizen of heaven.

And when we pray, remember our home in God’s heaven is even better than the blessings of freedom we have in America. Our dual citizenship not only means enjoying the blessings, but requires us to do the right thing.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

This is my country, but it also belongs to you.  Will you vote in 2016?.  

Posted in American Culture, Christian Attitudes, Vote | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Truth, Greatness And Netanyahu

Greatness in statesmanship is a rare commodity. Not every generation is blessed to know a truly great statesman. Those who have never seen greatness in a leader have no idea of how to identify or measure greatness in their own generation without having learned history sufficiently well to see their present leaders in the context of world events.

Having an accurate historical perspective requires stepping away from agendas and partisan tactics. You have to have the big picture in mind. You have to be strong on fundamentals. You have to be focused on the truth. As obvious as that may sound, that perspective and those conditions are almost as rare as greatness itself.

Because great leaders take stands on great issues, where the substance of morality and truth are central to their cause, they have bitter and vociferous enemies who take every opportunity to malign them, mischaracterize them, and obfuscate the cause for which they stand.

On Tuesday May 3, 2015 a truly great statesman spoke before a joint session of the U.S. Congress: Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. As is the case with all great men, his enemies do all they can to oppose him, criticize him and confuse public opinion. But all it takes to recognize his greatness is to listen to what he says. The only people who fail to recognize his honesty and good judgement are those whose petty agendas are threatened by doing what is right.

I am a patriotic American. But I do not trust or believe what my own State Department says. I do not trust or believe anything the Obama administration says. I do not trust them because for the past six years they have proven themselves to be corrosive to constitutional government, destructive to domestic tranquility and have put forth unprincipled, undependable and un-American foreign relations.

Part of this abysmal record stems from the globalist perspective that has metastasized throughout both the Democrat and Republican parties and is destroying our constitutional government and our national sovereignty. But even more telling has been our national departure from the traditional Biblical world view to more secular world views. The historical significance of Israel, as presented in the Bible, has increasingly become lost to a generation that does not revere the God of the Bible, but rather scorns the Biblical world view.

Essentially, the political forces aligned against Israel are godless. It’s not simply a matter of having a political disagreement with Israel or Prime Minister Netanyahu. It’s a matter of deep enmity between those godless geopolitical forces and the national sovereignty of the world’s only Jewish state.

Netanyahu pointedly compared our founding document which, calls for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” with Iran’s founding document, which calls for the world-wide spread of Jihad. Ignorant statements have been made about Jihad. It is not a noble struggle for the betterment of mankind. Jihad is holy war. And holy war is what we see happening in Syria and Iraq today: innocents being slaughtered in the most heinous of ways. Jihad is Islamic terrorism.

I believe Benjamin Netanyahu. I trust him. He stands against the scourge of Jihad and for the freedom not only of Israel but of all the peoples of the world. And judging by the reception his speech received, I would say most of our Congress are willing to stand with him, too. But not Obama. Not Pelosi. Not the other small-minded, godless enemies of truth.

These days Christians often quote Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (ESV)

Who are the “we” of that sentence? It refers to all believers, collectively the church. So, yes, Christians (the church) are not to wage war against people. However, nations do in fact wage wars against people. And you won’t find any Bible passages that prohibit nations from the right and proper use of their military forces. What you do find is Jesus’ instruction to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, which means if our country goes to war, Christians are to support it.

If our federal government was still operating according to the Constitution, the act of going to war would be preceded by Congress making a formal declaration of war. If such a declaration were to be based on our national defense, or in accordance with a legitimate treaty, then there should be no moral dilemma for Christians not to support that war effort.

Let me make this very clear. The Holy War is something being done TO us by religious fanatics. Our fighting to protect freedom is self preservation, self defense, not a “Crusade”. The only Crusade is the Jihad of the militant Islamicists, who do so out of religious conviction, evidenced in what they call themselves: The Islamic State; The Islamic Republic, etc. Theirs is a religious war. Ours is a non-sectarian defense of peaceful and humane civilization. Nations are not defending against the Jihad of Muslims for religious reasons. And Christians who join in this protection of life are not fighting a “holy war”.

During World War Two, Winston Churchill provided great leadership for what we called “the Free World”. Even then, Churchill had many detractors. But his wisdom sustained freedom-loving people and proved true in the end. We now live in a time when we are less free and more dependent on government. Now, instead of seeing nations invading nations, we are seeing multi-national Islamic extremists wiping out civilian populations and wielding power through terror.

Surrounded and threatened by this most barbaric form of war stands the tiny nation of Israel, a nation targeted for destruction by her terrorist-supporting neighbors. By the grace of Almighty God, the nation of Israel has been given a great leader — a leader who is facing and meeting the challenges of our time. Would that the United States of America had such a leader. Every believer needs to be on their knees before the LORD, asking that he raise up godly leaders for our time — leaders who stand for truth and do not fall for lies.

Posted in Israel, Leadership, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Do You Really Believe?

The first thing I want to say is that my purpose in writing this is to reasonably examine and discuss how we look at our Biblical faith. It is always my hope that those who read what I have to say will share that same desire to be reasonable and reasoned in their response. In our present time, too often such reasoned discourse is woefully underrepresented in the “public square”. More often than not, what passes for “discussion” is nothing more than the angry tossing of epithets back and forth, which accomplishes nothing more than choosing up sides and declaring which mob of demonstrators you have joined. If that is your proclivity, don’t bother reading this. It will either bore you or tick you off. If, on the other hand, you are open to examine the ways you think and believe, please read on.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21

Perhaps you’ve heard the term “world view”. Much has been written on the subject. Two excellent books by Nancy Pearcey that are very helpful for Christians seeking to understand the impact of world views are Total Truth and Saving Leonardo. Simply speaking, world views refer to the ways by which we view the world — how we see “reality” and how we personally relate to it. Most people don’t consciously select their world view. We simply “pick it up” from the prevailing influences of our culture. Some of those prevailing influences are what so-called “experts” have to say. Other influences are what loved ones teach us. For many, the greatest influences are whatever is popular — what their “group” says, be it peer pressure or mob rule.

It might surprise some to know that not everyone sees reality the same. But areas of study such as ontology and epistemology are rife with opposing theories. Even a casual examination of philosophy or religion reveals there are many world views, each with its own framework of assumptions, from which we derive our identity and meaning. The kicker is that world views go beyond theoretical assumptions which we posit as reasons for what we do. We actually have to live with the consequences of whatever our world view is. We go where it leads us, and adhere to whatever it provides, in terms of our own peculiar sense of who we are and what is the meaning of our lives.

Those of us who proclaim the Christian faith find ourselves awash in a turbulent cross-current of world views. For millennia the Church has struggled to navigate the mainstream of Biblical Christianity. But now, we have entered a confluence of world views, a muddied mixture of secular and Biblical.

While some say this muddy mixture is a blend with benefits, such as increased knowledge, pragmatic applications and greater inclusiveness, it is really a watering down of the essential focus of our faith. Secular mindsets of today all have one thing in common. They evaluate all reality from humanity’s standpoint, without regard to God. But the Biblical world view evaluates humanity from the standpoint of the almighty Creator God of the Bible. A true “mixture” of these two is impossible. One or the other must win out. And yet, many in the Church today, perhaps without even knowing it, have adopted secular world views, thereby rejecting the Biblical world view of their own faith.

“No one can serve two masters.” – Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13

“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins.” – Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37

Postmodernist voices challenge, “A Biblical world view can be whatever you want it to be. You are arrogant to insist your view is the only correct one.” Do you suppose they have any idea of what they are talking about? The small Bible I take to church with me has 1,042 pages of text, not including the concordance and other miscellaneous information. That’s a lot of Scripture to narrow down to a single world view. Am I just picking and choosing verses I like or agree with? Do I simply look for Bible verses to use as proof texts for whatever my particular opinions are? Absolutely and emphatically, no.

For Christians who have abandoned the Biblical world view or at the very least, doubt the Biblical world view, I suggest there are two reasons you question the authority of Scripture over your personally held world view. The first reason is ignorance. Are you really aware of what is printed on all those 1,042 or so pages? Have you read them? How many times have you reread passages to familiarize yourself with them? Have you struggled through passages, examining them for meaning? Have you memorized verses? Have you meditated on them? Have you questioned and discussed them with others? Have you been persistent in your study? Those who answer yes to such questions know what the Bible actually teaches because they have invested the time to learn what it means. The meaning of the Bible is not hidden. It is the most published, most widely distributed book of all time. Paradoxically, it is also the most criticized, distorted and misunderstood book of all time.

The second reason professing Christians abandon the Biblical world view is that even though they may be familiar with certain Biblical passages, they don’t accept them as “real”. Therefore they do not consider the Bible authoritative, but merely inspirational. Just as sunsets or Shakespearean sonnets can inspire us emotionally or intellectually, the Bible has become a repository of inspiration for them…but by no means the source for authority. They reserve for themselves the authority to declare what is true in the Bible and what is not true. They place their personal authority above Scripture for what they believe. And that is essentially a secular mindset.

In the beginning of a Focus On The Family video series called The Truth Project, host Dr. Del Tackett asks, “Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?” Christians must face this most basic of questions. Do we really believe that God created the universe? Do we really believe that our sin separated us from God and pronounced a death sentence on us? Do we really believe that the death of Jesus Christ paid the price for our sin? Do we really believe that by personally receiving his forgiveness and his Lordship over our lives that we will live for eternity in the presence of God? Do we believe the Bible is true or that truth can even be known? Do we really believe in a supernatural God at all?

One way to answer this question (“Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?”) is by using Scripture as a touchstone. I have chosen Ephesians 3:20-21, but it is by no means the only passage suitable for our purposes. Any passage that embodies our faith will do. And there are many. Let us begin by rereading this passage. Then, consider the meaning and implications of each phrase.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

“Now to him…”

This is a prayer of blessing. Paul is blessing God. It is implied that the Ephesians, to whom Paul is writing, agree with him in making this blessing. And finally, the believer who reads this passage also joins with them in Spirit to bless God. So the question is, do you believe this God is real? Are you really blessing him? Is this an act of true worship on your part? What do you really believe in verses such as:

“Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!” – Psalm 103:22

“…no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” – James 3:8-10

Do you believe that the God you bless is real, or that the blessings that come out of your mouth are real? Or do we just recite “good things” in hopes they will out-weigh those bad things we said yesterday? If God is not real, do the words we say, whether good or bad, have any real consequences? Or are we merely expressing vague and momentary feelings? What is the purpose of having a conscience that judges us for what we say, if the God we bless does not exist in “reality”? What do you really believe?

“who is able…”

This is one descriptive quality of God. Theologians call it omnipotence. God is all powerful. He is able.

• Romans 4:21  He is able to do what he promises.
• Philippians 3:21  He is able to subject all things to himself.
• Hebrews 2:18  He is able to help those being tempted.
• Hebrews 5:2  He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant.
• Hebrews 7:25  He is able to save completely.

And on and on. What about those supernatural events in the Old Testament, such as Numbers 17:8? “On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds.” Ripe almonds? This clearly is a miraculous sign. Do you believe this? Is God able?

“to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think”

This clause reinforces the fact that God’s omnipotence goes far beyond what we are able to ask of him. It even exceeds our ability to think of what things we might ask of him.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12

The fact that God is infinite, while we are finite places him beyond our scope and out of our control. We are subject to the laws of nature, but God has authority over nature. Supernatural means above and beyond nature, therefore God is not bound by the laws of nature. Our appropriate response to his supreme authority is to humble ourselves before him. Do you believe that or have you placed God into a box of your own making?

“according to the power at work within us”

What is this power at work within us, this “immeasurable greatness of his power” (Ephesians 1:19)? It is God’s power, not our own. We cannot take credit for it. It does not give us bragging rights. It does not justify “spiritual” pride. Isaiah 40:29 tells us,”He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.” Accordingly, Jeremiah 9:23 warns, “…let not the mighty man boast in his might…” For as the LORD told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” To which Paul replied, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” – Ephesians 6:10

“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might…” – Colossians 1:11

Scripture encourages us to appropriate God’s power, because our natural human strengths are insufficient for God’s purposes. Walking by faith means, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). But that means I must remain in him, stay connected to him, have my being in him (John 15:4; Acts 17:28).

“for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” – Philippians 2:13

“that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” – Ephesians 3:16-17

God’s power is a mysterious thing, beyond our ability to comprehend. Suffice it to say, we are in him and he is in us. Therefore his power will accomplish his will, and as he wills, he works through us. When he does, we can rely on his strength within us to help us obey him in faith. What do you really believe about your faith and the power of God? Is it real or do you only have the appearance of godliness, while denying the power?  (2 Timothy 3:5)

“to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus”

How do you see glory? Is it just a short-lived thrill, like fireworks, beginning with intensity only to fade away to nothing? Who today cares about or even remembers yesterday’s glories? Is glory just a feeling or event that lasts only for a fleeting moment? If so, then how important is glory in the church and in Christ? Does this phrase mean nothing more than, “Rah for our team!”? What do you believe?

When the angels announced the birth of Christ (Luke 2:14) they said, “Glory to God in the highest”. Though the news of Messiah’s birth was new, the idea of glorifying God was not. A thousand years earlier David had written, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (Psalm 108:5). In the original Hebrew text, the word glory included connotations of honor, splendor, abundance, dignity and reverence, all of which point to an attitude of worship.

“All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.” – Psalm 86:9

And in the Greek language of the New Testament, the meaning of glory stems from the good opinion, judgement, or view that results in honor, praise, thanks and worship. We see that our opinions, judgements and views which direct our relationships among ourselves are ultimately for the purpose of glorifying God, not ourselves.

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” – Romans 15:5-7.

The Biblical directive to glorify God is not about an event of exultation, so much as an ongoing attitude believers are to maintain in their relationship to Almighty God — a relationship that lasts forever.

“Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” – Psalm 57:11

“This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” – John 11:4

“For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” – 2 Corinthians 1:20

“To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” – 1 Timothy 1:17

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” – Revelation 4:11

“throughout all generations, forever and ever”

God’s glory is not the fading glory of a passing season. Forever means for eternity, always. The Biblical world view is about God’s glory, not ours. And that is fundamentally the single, most important question we can ask ourselves. What do we really care about most — our story or His story? One day each of us will be called to answer. What does your “Amen” really mean?

 

Posted in Bible, Christian Faith, World View | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Memories Of Medicine Bow

(Nothing political here; nothing religious.  Just brief moments from life.)

In the Spring of 1967 I turned 22 years old. I was tired of college, so I quit my classes and volunteered for the draft. I figured a two-year stint in the Army was preferable to three, which is what I’d get if I enlisted. While I was waiting to hear from Uncle Sam, I joined my mother on a cross-country trek that took us from California, visiting various families and friends in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Oregon. One of our stops was in Medicine Bow, Wyoming.

We stayed at the home (and cattle ranch) of Frances and Denver Miller, who raised cattle for many years, some distance to the northwest of Medicine Bow. Frances was an old school chum of my mother, who’s name was also Frances. They had been fast friends, either in High School in Denver, Colorado, or before that in the mining town of Black Hawk. I’m not exactly sure.

Frances Miller had an unapologetic, buck-toothed smile that told you in an instant she was friendly and honest and expected the same from you. Denver was a genuine cowboy. He was 50 when I met him, lanky and tough, but only so because he had to be, to do what he did for a living. Once he commented, “I’m getting too old for this.” But I recall it was many more years after that before he and Frances finally “retired”.

We spent close to a week with the Millers. This child of the southern California suburbs soon discovered what ranch work was all about. Our first morning there we got up and ate breakfast long before the sun was anywhere to be seen. I had never eaten eggs so deep gold in color and flavor. Frances said it was because they were from free-range chickens. Whatever it was, it was OK by me.

I went with Denver to help load up “feed cake”, which wasn’t really cake at all, but sacks of feed for the cattle. A semi delivered pallets of these sacks and our job was to load them onto his pick-up and stock them in the various storage sheds, spread out on his property. I don’t know how many acres he had, but it was a big spread. By the time we were done, my back was sore but it was a self-satisfied sore.

Later in the week, while showing us part of their ranch on horseback, they discovered some wild horses had gotten into a section where Denver didn’t want them. There were about 3 mares, one or two colts and a stallion. I don’t remember why he needed to get them out of there, but he made it clear they didn’t belong. Maybe he was concerned for disease or needed that section for some other livestock. I really don’t know. He said he was going to have to “round them up” and I thought I was going to see him do some roping on horse back. But, no, this was 1967. His equipment of choice was a little red Datsun. “You’d be all day trying to do that on a horse,” Denver said. “You can round ’em up easier, drive faster and turn quicker with this little truck.” (or something to that effect)

Well, we got in that little Datsun, drove back where we found the horses and proceeded to “round them up”. I discovered quickly that in order to prevent my head from banging on the inside of the roof every time we went over a rock or a ditch, I had to raise both arms and place my hands against the roof, keeping my butt on the seat and my head safe. This was years before they put seat belts in vehicles. Back then, you were on your own.

I must say that little Datsun performed admirably. Denver was right. He was able several times to out-maneuver the horses and herd them to the gate. The only problem was, they wouldn’t go through the gate, because the stallion would always drop back and stand off to the side a bit, and the mares wouldn’t go through the gate without him. Denver used every trick in his arsenal to try to get that stubborn horse to lead his troupe through the gate. We must have driven over every rise and dip of that section — twice. We were running out of time and gas, not to mention patience. My arms were aching and I started alternating the left one with the right, giving each a chance to rest. Even the horses were exhausted. Things began to look bleak.

It was getting late in the day and Denver was down to his last option — shoot the stallion. He looked at me and said, “Frances isn’t going to like this. Do me a favor and just tell her how it was. There’s nothin’ else I can do.” After taking the time to think through what he was going do, he drove as close as he could to the stallion without making it shy away.

We were quite a distance from the horse, maybe 75 to 100 yards. It just stood there, wary and proud. Denver took his rifle down from the rack over the seat and leaning on the left front fender, steadied his aim over the hood. He took his time, carefully lined up the shot and fired. For a brief second, nothing happened. I was beginning to think he had missed, when suddenly the horse dropped and was motionless. Even then, Denver didn’t move from his position for a few more seconds. It was obvious to me he did not like having to kill the animal.

After that, the mares and colts were submissive to the little red Datsun, and they cooperated by exiting through the gate, into the open range. Back at the ranch house, Denver told Frances what had happened. And he was right about how she reacted. Hurt and outraged, she could not understand why he would kill such a beautiful animal. She didn’t talk to him for the rest of the night and much of the next morning. She probably would have given him even more of the silent treatment, if my mother and I not been house guests there.

Before we had to bring our visit to an end, the Millers made sure they took us to a cattle auction. Apparently cattle auctions were the main social occasions when they had the opportunity to see friends. They all lived miles from each other and most of the time had to stay on their ranches to take care of their animals. But, selling livestock was their livelihood, so a day trip to a cattle auction was a thing to look forward to.

Normally, they would hire trucks to haul the cattle they were selling, but on this occasion they only loaded three head of cattle into the back of their own truck and the four of us piled in, all crammed together in the front seat. I have tried to remember where this cattle auction was, but I’m not sure. To the best of my recollection, we drove south from their ranch on 487 to Medicine Bow, then east on 30/287 toward Laramie.

Denver’s truck bed only had a basic wood framework around the cattle, so he kept his speed down to maybe 35 mph. I seem to recall we drove for a little over an hour, which seemed an awful long time, as we were all jammed together in the cab. Using rough calculation, the auction was probably in Laramie. I don’t remember seeing a big town, so maybe we were on the outskirts.

I’d never been to a livestock auction before, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. There was an entertaining element in how the animals were shown, which contrasted with the underlying serious business of buying and selling. I was captivated by an attractive girl, just about my age, who was doing color commentary. A local girl who had just gotten engaged to be married, she regaled the audience with stories of college pranks, like the time she and her friends got even with a particularly annoying practical joker. They filled his car with shaving cream and he never bothered them again.

An atmosphere of local community permeated the whole auction experience. The Millers kept seeing people they had known for years, introducing us as their special, long-time friends. Each conversation included a reference to getting together afterwards for dinner and drinks. I got to thinking this was just something they said for the sake of saying it. I didn’t see how, realistically, we would have time to visit so many people.

But the solution to this dilemma was that they all got together in one place. What I didn’t know was these ranchers had made a ritual of getting together for dinner and drinks after concluding their livestock business. They had been doing it for years. We were among the first arrivals at this historic bar and restaurant. I don’t remember the name of the place, but as we passed through the entrance, it was as if we’d stepped back in time, into a saloon of the Old West. We bellied up to the long, sprawling bar, and ordered drinks. I wasn’t a big drinker, but figured the occasion called for whiskey, so I ordered a Seven and Seven.

The first thing that caught my eye was an old photograph behind the bar of two cowboys drinking beer at the bar. They had ridden their horses into the building, up to the bar and sat there, atop their mounts, drinking their mugs of beer. I couldn’t tell if that was supposed to be considered outrageous or just the norm. The folks in the picture were smiling. It sort of summed up the wild west ideal, a sort of pendulum swing between exciting extremes — letting civilized restraint tone you down or cutting loose for simple pleasure.

I was thus musing, with the presumption that the folks here and now were somewhat more sophisticated than those cowboys of old, when Denver Miller introduced us to a friend of his, who asked what we were drinking and bought us a round. I enjoyed the idea of having two drinks. It seemed appropriate to the occasion — a way for me to cut loose, in the cowboy tradition.

Then, in quick succession, more of the Miller’s friends were buying us drinks. Each time I tried to politely decline by telling them I already had more than I needed, they simply shrugged it off and said don’t worry about it. It seemed a really important thing to buy someone a drink. But we were not allowed to return the favor, because we were “guests”.

This buying of drinks was being done along the whole length of the bar. Each time someone bought a round, the bartender would pour the drinks and put them in rows in front of each person at the bar. At first, I felt an obligation to try to finish every complementary drink. But that became a losing battle, and I found myself getting further and further behind. Finishing my third drink, I looked to measure my progress and I still had six full glasses in my row. I was already fairly sloshed. It was a wonderment.

We abandoned all our rows of drinks when we were told our table was ready. They had set up one long table for all of us, like they do at large wedding banquets. We walked through the restaurant to the table and I succeeded in walking straight and pretending I wasn’t drunk. The menu boasted of the best beef in the USA, so I of course ordered a steak. But then I was surprised to discover that hardly any of the ranchers ordered beef. For the most part, they all ordered lobster, which, when you think about it, makes sense. I was beginning to realize the stereotypical cowboy in my mind was a bit two-dimensional.

I can still see that steak on the platter before me. It was huge. The baked potato was huge. But it was delicious and I ate the whole thing. You can do that when you’re 22. When the meal was over, there was an atmosphere of delay. No one really wanted to call it quits and say good-bye. But most everyone there had animals that needed to be tended to in the morning, so reluctantly, we bid farewell and best wishes until the next time. I don’t remember the drive back to the ranch much at all.

We had many other memorable experiences on that trip. We visited an old family friend of my mother’s in Butte, Montana who told us miners’ stories from half a century before. We drove up to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and spent some time with the Dolivers, who had been our neighbors when we lived in San Luis Obispo. Bill, a retired civil engineer, had fought in World War I. I’ll never forget the evening we had dinner at their neighbor’s house, who was also a WWI veteran. I sat and listened to these two old guys who had been soldiers talk about their war experiences and it forever made me see that time in our history as something very real — not just something you read about in books.

But to me, the most memorable part by far of our trip that summer was our brief sojourn in Medicine Bow. There, I think I really learned what “down home” means.

Posted in American Culture | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

“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)

Posted in Christian Attitudes, Christian Faith | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Purpose Of The Church

Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California has given us the idea of the purpose driven church and the purpose driven life. His books have made a significant impact not only on how Christian leaders look at church growth, but on how we see church — how we worship and what we believe. But what is the purpose of the church, according to Warren’s popular philosophy? In the synopsis of The Dark Side of the Purpose Driven Church by Noah Hutchings, I read, “As documented in this book, Dr. Warren has said that the five basic fundamentals of the Christian faith are too narrow, that fundamentalists are the biggest enemies we have, and we need to bring the Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, and all religions together to stop wars, heal the sick, and feed the hungry.”

Lets all try to be on the same page. So, what are “the five basic fundamentals” of the Christian faith? Where did they come from? Paul certainly didn’t lay them out when he said, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). As to what specifically are the five basic fundamentals, they vary from source to source. I list two versions below. As a Bible-believing Christian, I am sure I believe in the basic fundamentals. I’m just not sure which ones, if any, are “the five”.

1. The inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture
2. The Deity of Jesus Christ
3. The virgin birth of Jesus
4. The substitutionary, atoning work of Christ on the cross
5. The physical resurrection and the personal, bodily return of Christ to the earth

1. The Trinity: God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit of God
2. The dual nature of Jesus Christ — both human and divine
3. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ
4. Salvation is found in Christ alone
5. The inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture

At best, these are simplistic attempts to boil down and nail down the essence of Biblical faith. However, when an educated pastor refers to Fundamentalism and Fundamentalists, he is referring to a compilation of 90 essays by 64 authors who represented most major Protestant denominations. Originally published between 1910 and 1915, these essays were compiled into a 12 volume set of books called The Fundamentals. This work became the basis for identifying believers in the common faith. If you agreed with The Fundamentals, you were a “fundamentalist”. If not, you were a “liberal”. Rick Warren characterizes the essence of this compilation to be “too narrow” and considers believers in these fundamentals as the church’s greatest enemies.

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Can the narrow gate of Matthew 7:13-14 be “too narrow”? What is Rick Warren’s justification for saying so? And what are his reasons for saying “narrow” fundamentalists are the church’s worst enemies? I recall Jesus had strong words for the hyper-religious Pharisees. He called them white-washed tombs in Matthew 23:27 because they were clean and beautiful on the outside but dead and unclean on the inside. Read the rest of the passage. These men were not fundamentalists. They were cruel, uncaring hypocrites.

The real enemy of the church can be seen in Matthew 16:18. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The gates of hell are opposed to the church. They stand gaping wide, inviting “even the elect” (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22) to join with all who are opposed to God, led by the father of lies, himself. Those who enter the gates of hell are the losers, not those who abide in Christ.

The gates of hell have been marginalized, trivialized and treated as non-existent by much of the modern church. Christians like Rob Bell question whether hell even exists. If hell doesn’t exist, then why did Jesus refer to it? We now have a whole lot of professing Christians doubting the Bible, not considering Scripture to be authoritative for their faith. When this happens, progressive theologians feel free to discount Scriptural apologetics as a feckless enterprise of the church’s biggest enemy, those wretched fundamentalists, thus ignoring the whole basis for Christian faith in the first place.

Authority is at the crux of this issue. Rick Warren says that “purpose” should drive the church, that the basic fundamentals are too narrow and fundamentalists are enemies of the church. I believe fundamentalists would agree with me that Jesus Christ should drive the church — after all, the church is his body (1 Corinthians 12:27) and Christ is the Head (Colossians 2:19). Jesus Christ should be driving the church according to his own purposes. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).  We should let him sit in the driver’s seat.

How do we know his will and his purpose, in order to follow him?  How do we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24)? In John 10:27 Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” A fellow once asked me, “How do we know his voice?” What he was really asking is how do we know we aren’t just imagining God speaking to us? We learn to hear his voice by developing a personal relationship with him. We get to know him in two, complimentary ways: learning about him by becoming familiar with the Bible, and getting to know him more intimately by spending time in prayer. I should add that we also get to know him better by forming relationships with fellow believers. We get to see Jesus in them, and they get to see Jesus in us.

I can say without reservation that the authority of Jesus Christ is revealed to us through the Bible. That authority is absolute. Take that authority away and all you have is human wisdom, human insight, human planning, human organization and human efforts. But in the purest sense, the church is not human. It is spiritual. Christianity is a spiritual thing, operating in the physical realm by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirt. The church is to be Spirit-led. Romans 8:14 says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Later in that chapter, verse 28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The “purpose” of the church is God’s purpose, not ours. How do we know his purpose? By listening to him. He is calling. We need to learn to listen to him. He’s in charge, not us.

And how can we be sure we are listening to the call of God? By trusting the authority of Scripture. Paul wrote Timothy, “…what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). The gospel message (the fundamentals) has been preserved for us by faithful teachers. We can trust them because they were faithful workers subject to the same authority we are.

Finally, Rick Warren’s purpose driven vision includes “we need to bring the Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, and all religions together to stop wars, heal the sick, and feed the hungry.” Essentially, this is an ecumenical statement. He prioritizes three global goals (stopping wars, healing the sick and feeding the hungry) ahead of the Great Commission, making the Great Commission secondary to and subject to those goals.

Prior to his ascension, Jesus reiterated his main purpose for his church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

He did not say to get together with peoples of different faiths in different gods for the purpose of ending wars, healing the sick or feeding the hungry. In fact 2 Corinthians 6:14 specifically says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” The principle of this verse goes well beyond marital relationships, to which it is being applied. That principle  clearly may be applied to all relationships because of what follows: “For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” It is contrary to the authority of Scripture to join together with other religions in order to do good works.

As far as Protestants and Catholics being united in Christ, I agree that is possible. But they can only have unity under the exclusive authority of Christ. Protestants cannot accept the authority given to the traditions of the Catholic church, as taught in the Catholic catechism. But as far as “getting together” with Muslims goes, it cannot be done. The most basic claim of Islam is the Shahada: “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” This is anathema to any Biblical Christian because compared to the nature and character of the God of the Bible, Allah, as described in the Koran is not the same. Nor are the qualities and characteristics of Muhammad anything like the prophets of the Bible. God and Allah are not the same, and their respective religions have different purposes.

Take the ending of wars, for example. The Koran teaches, “And fight with them until there is no more fitna (disorder, unbelief) and religion should be only for Allah” (Sura 8:39). [There are many verses in the Koran and Hadith that urge Muslims to go to war. They call their holy war Jihad. See http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Quran/023-violence.htm]

But for the purpose of the Christian faith, we don’t even need to go there. The BIG issue with the Rick Warren philosophy is the priority of changing the world. He is willing to subjugate the Biblical call to make disciples of all nations under the banner of changing the world, vis-a-vis ending wars, ending disease, ending hunger. This philosophy looks to the outside world and seeks to correct it, rather than looking at the need to deal with the consequences of sin, which separate us from fellowship with our Creator and brings us under his judgement. Rather than teaching the Biblical principle of being born again into God’s kingdom, where each heart learns to be holy because he is holy, Rick Warren’s philosophy teaches us to focus on making the world a better place, thereby, in a sense, sanctifying it.

This ignores the fact that humans cannot change the world. Nothing we can do will change the world. That is God’s job. He will change the world when the end comes (Revelation 21:5). But until then, nothing we do will change the world. We are called to love our neighbors. We are called to serve, have mercy, deal justly and do good works. Will that change the world? No. So why should we do those things if they aren’t going to change the world? Because God commands us to be rich in good deeds (1 Timothy 6:18). Christian charity has been helping the poor, the sick, the hungry, the disenfranchised as long as the church has existed. But even with our best efforts, Jesus told us we would always have the poor with us (Matthew 26:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8). What he was saying is if we will always have the poor with us, then we will always have the opportunity to help them. That means it’s a fool’s errand to think we can end poverty. Or hunger. Or disease. Or war. Of war, Jesus said, “Such things must happen” (Matthew 24:6).

Christians, do you want to be like Peter in Matthew 16:17 when Jesus told him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven”? Or do you want to be like Peter in Matthew 16:23 when Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man”? In the first instance, Peter had heard God and listened to what he was revealing to him. In the second instance, Peter thought in his own wisdom (looking at the “things of man”) that Jesus should not have to suffer at the hands of the elders, priests and teachers of the law, that he should not be mistreated and crucified. Here Jesus had been trying to explain to his disciples what was about to happen, yet Peter thought he knew better. He was not following Jesus, but trying to lead — trying to change his world.

This Christmas season is a good time to re-evaluate how you look at church, the purpose of church and the role we play as believers. Jesus was born — a gift to us, in that he was the substance of God in human form — God the Son. But this God-Man was born to suffer — suffering for our sins that we may enter into his kingdom as children of God the Father. When we are born again, we are no longer of this world. We are citizens of heaven. My fellow believers, this is a spiritual thing, not to be understood as we understand “the things of man”. For we too must suffer, and rejoice in our sufferings, as we read in James 1:2: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds”. Why? Read the following verses (3-4): “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Testing of our faith. Steadfastness. That we may be made perfect. The purpose of the church is to let God change us, not to change the world.

Posted in Christian Faith, Christian philosophy, The Church | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Politically Active Christians

Gina Miller’s article, Should Christians Be Politically Active?, inspired me to comment.  But because of the substantial length of my comment, I decided to post it separately.  You can read Gina Millers article at http://barbwire.com/2014/09/17/christians-politically-active/ and also at RenewAmerica.com and AmericanClarion.com.  In her article, Gina responds to the verbal chastisement of a Christian who feels that speaking out against the  evils done by civil government is morally repugnant and the wrong focus for Christians.

Being a Christian in America should not be perverted to mean we must drop out of politics and let the ungodly rule over us! Being politically active is an effective way Christians can love their neighbors. The goal of Christian involvement in politics is to secure everyone’s God-given rights, for which God ordains government. In a republic, the civic duty of its citizens (the “rendering unto Caesar” if you will) means participating in their representational government. At the very least, that means staying informed and voting. It means using our freedom of speech and freedom of the press to keep the public discussion of issues available to all who are willing to hear it.  It also includes seeking and holding elected offices. We have the duty and responsibility of ruling ourselves. In a republic, there is no king or ruling class. By dropping out of politics, Christians are handing over the governing authority to scoundrels and fools — neither a wise nor spiritual thing to do.

As in so many other cases these days, the reason some Christians believe being politically active is wrong is because of their ignorance. And frankly, many of them are not only content to remain ignorant, but insist on doing so, resisting all opportunities to examine their position. Christians opposed to political involvement love to quote Romans 13:1, while shutting their minds to what it actually means. I challenge them to refute the book, Romans 13, The True Meaning Of Submission, by Timothy and Chuck Baldwin. It is written like a legal argument, so be prepared to use your grey cells.

Another book I highly recommend is One Nation Under God, Ten Things Every Christian Should Know About the Founding of America, by Dr. David C. Gibbs, Jr. Although we are no longer a Christian nation, the United States was essentially established by Christians for Christians. The important role played by the clergy before the Revolutionary War of Independence is described in chapter 7, The Black Regiment. “Because of the color of their robes, these patriotic clergy were known as the black regiment.” (p. 94) One member of the Black Regiment, Rev. Jonathan Hayhew, of Boston preached a sermon in 1765 in response to King George’s Stamp Act. In part, he reasoned,

The king is as much bound by his oath not to infringe the legal rights of the people, as the people are bound to yield subjection to him. From whence it follows that as soon as the prince sets himself above the law, he loses the king in the tyrant. He does, to all intents and purposes, un-king himself. (p. 96)

When work on the Constitution had been completed, Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of a government had been designed. His answer was, “A Republic, if you can keep it”. The sad fact is that we did not keep it. In the past century, we have gone from republic to democracy to socialism as secular influence has increased and Christian influence has decreased. Yet some Christians still argue that the abrogation of our civic duty is good and proper, while being politically active is an “idol”. How much sense does that make to you?

Elections will be held in a couple of months. If past performance is any indication, half of the people won’t even bother to vote. We will continue to be ruled by fools and scoundrels, whether they have a D or an R after their name. Galatians 5:1 says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit to a yoke of slavery”. Freedom means responsibility. If you let others decide for you and tell you what you must do and how things are going to be for you, you are not free. But that’s exactly what Christians are doing when they don’t vote or exercise their freedom of speech. By giving up their responsibility, they are giving up their own freedom, and forcing everyone else to lose theirs.

Christians owe it to their neighbors, to their communities — for the freedom of all their fellow citizens — to participate in politics.

Posted in Christian Attitudes, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Interesting Times

The “Chinese curse”, “May you live in interesting times,” apparently has gained control of our minds. As if drugged or hypnotized, we stared, blinking at television screens as the President of the United States of America told us, “ISIS is not Islamic. No religion condones the killing of innocents.” The fact that it was the President who said this convinces me the lunatic fringe is no longer on the fringe. It’s right there in the heart of the matter, ensconced in the seat of power. Indeed, these are interesting times.

The president’s statement, “ISIS is not Islamic,” ignores the very claims of ISIS, and discounts the significance of their religious motivation. Isolated from any context, the issue of whether or not ISIS is Islamic may be a good topic for polemic argument. But this is not a theoretical question. Yet, by saying, “No religion condones the killing of innocents,” the president confirmed a religious connection, just as if he had prefaced that statement with, “And even if ISIS were Islamic”. If ISIS is indeed not Islamic, there is no need to make the statement that no religion condones the killing of innocents. Such defensive “reasoning” is childish.

But the real kicker in this momentary scene, played out in the pageant of these interesting times, is the complete absence of any historical context, or documentation. Perception is the only thing that matters to the inmates running the asylum. There is only one politically permissible view. Reality be damned.

“No religion condones the killing of innocents.” What about the religion of Molech that required child sacrifice? Perhaps that example doesn’t carry much weight because it comes from the Bible. Alright, what about the human sacrifice practiced by the Aztecs, Mayas and Zapotecs? Ok, maybe that’s just ancient history. But in my lifetime there has been a religion that not only condones the killing of innocents, but incites followers to do just that. That religion is Islam.

“Hold it right there!” I can hear the chorus from the politically correct. Most Muslims are “moderate”. Islam is the “religion of peace”…interesting statements in these interesting times…The fact is that the Muslims I have met have all seemed to be nice people. I don’t doubt that for a minute. But what is it about their religion that these so-called “moderates” are moderating? In order to understand that, you have to turn to the authority of their religion.

First of all, Islam is not the religion of peace. It is the religion of submission. “Peace,” as envisioned by Islam, will be achieved when everyone is Muslim (“all religion is for Allah” — Koran 8:39). That means that pure Islam, as opposed to moderate Islam — the Islam taught by Imams from the Koran — believes that Muslims are to place all infidels (non-Muslims) into submission. Don’t look now, but that means there is no freedom of religion under authentic Islam. In fact there is no freedom at all. Everyone must submit to Islamic authority.

So, how is this vision of “peace” attained? By Jihad. What is Jihad? The politically correct will tell you it is the struggle (often an inner struggle) to bring about a better world, a better life. Such is the “moderate” view. But the meaning of Jihad, taken from the context of the Koran, means “fight”. At the very least, Islam is a religion that uses fighting to gain converts. Historically, (I realize in these interesting times most people consider history meaningless and irrelevant.) Islam has spread through the brutal conquest of nations. That’s what started the Crusades.

Muslim warriors would give innocent people three choices from the Koran: convert to Islam, submit to the humiliation of dhimmitude or die. This “killing of innocents” is exactly what ISIS has been doing in Syria and Iraq. The reason for it is not that these thugs are an aberration, not that they are fanatics going beyond what their religion teaches. But these Muslims are purists. They actually believe the Koran when it says to fight and kill the infidel. And they are willing to put that faith into action. But the president’s fantasy sweeps us into a world like The Emperor’s New Clothes. We all have to pretend, despite what our eyes are telling us.

We have to pretend that Mohammad wasn’t a ruthless warrior, that he didn’t slay anyone who wouldn’t submit to him. We have to pretend that when Mohammad wrote the word “fight” in his Koran that he didn’t really mean fight. He didn’t really mean to take the sword and slash others with it until they could no longer resist. He wasn’t really a murdering conqueror. He was a man of peace. He respected freedom of religion. He didn’t wish any harm to innocents. He was man of virtue, a wise prophet of God.

Should the Lord tarry, and historians of the future are able to look back at this time in history, they will most likely call it the Age of Ignorance or the Age of Deception. Ignorance leads to deception and deception promotes ignorance, so either way, it describes these interesting times in which we live. Recently, I read an article by Kenneth Berding about the declining level of Bible literacy among Christians http://magazine.biola.edu/article/14-spring/the-crisis-of-biblical-illiteracy/ . But we aren’t exclusively ignorant of the Bible. We are equally, if not more ignorant of the Koran. The fact that the President of the United States of America can argue against the reality of religious motivation for ISIS or any other Islamic terrorist group shows a troubling ignorance on the part of Americans.

For anyone who cares to understand the threatening nature of Islam (I realize a lot of people prefer to pretend to admire the Emperor’s new clothes.) I suggest reading Robert Spencer’s book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (And The Crusades). While you’re waiting for the book you can go to http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Quran/023-violence.htm and read many verses taken from the Koran (Quran) and the Hadith extolling violence for the purpose of spreading Islam. The choice is yours, whether you educate yourself or nurse your pet fantasies.

I do not delude myself into thinking that mere factual information will have any impact on how some people think. Everyone is his own authority. Truth is relative. It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe in something. You just have to make up your own mind as to what is true for you. It’s all good. We live in interesting times.

[UPDATE]

See the video and read the article from the Thomas More Law Center, in which British Imam Anjem Choudary justifies the actions of ISIS (or ISIL).

http://www.thomasmore.org/imam-educates-president-islam-law-promote-terrorism-killing-innocents/

Posted in Allah and the Qur'an, Islam, Religion | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments