The Deadliness of Sin

I have been thinking a great deal over the past couple days about Hugh Freeze.  He was asked to resign as Ole Miss’ head coach after it was discovered that he was engaged in unprofessional conduct.  While the details are still not clear, it has been assumed that his fall from grace was due to sexual indiscretion.

While I am not here to judge or to prosecute Hugh Freeze, what I am here to do is judge and prosecute myself.  Sin seeks to destroy.  It seeks to take out fathers.  It seeks to take out husbands.  It seeks to take out pastors.  It seeks to take out head coaches.  It is a deadly assassin.

I am reminded of some wise advice I once heard:  Sin committed in the dark, will eventually be seen in the light.

The book of Ephesians notes:

“But everything exposed by the light becomes visible–and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.

This is true.  We delude ourselves by thinking that we can hide sin.  We cannot.  It will become visible.  It is especially true of Christians.  The Light within us will NOT allow sin to remain unseen.  It WILL be illuminated.

It doesn’t even take a massive sin, like Coach Freeze.  It can be something so small that no one knows about it.  No one but us.  Perhaps, if we erase our search engines enough, clear our phones often enough, create “anonymous” social media profiles, and even get a second cell phone, no one will know.

Yeah right.

I once heard about a doctor who received a call in the middle of the night.  It was a parishioner of his who was a doctor.  The doctor was in tears.  Over the phone, he told the pastor that a woman had been brought in who had been raped and beaten and left in an alleyway.  All she had was a purse.  In her purse were medications that indicated that she had a deadly disease.

The doctor tried to resuscitate her on the operating table and all efforts failed.  His next course of action was to give her a heart massage.  They cracked the chest and he put his hands into her torso in an effort to save her life.

She died on the table.

He noted to the pastor that he noticed soon after that he had a minute cut on his hand.  He had cut his hand on her ribs as he put his hands into her chest.

This doctor was crying because he was newly married and had a newborn.  He felt that he had been potentially infected by this deadly disease spread by blood.

The pastor asked him:  “You want me to believe that you— a 6 foot tall, strapping and healthy doctor, could be brought down due to a paper cut?”

The doctor replied, “when it comes to spreading disease, that’s all it takes.”

Sin only needs a tiny “in.”  The smallest weakness in our armor is all it takes.

We must feed our spirit and starve our flesh.

It is a life or death situation.

My Supernatural Experience with the Homebound

A church member came to me over a year ago and asked if I would join him in doing weekly visits to homebound members in our church.  He wanted me to go with him, bring my guitar—sing a few songs—and (being the minister) administer Holy Communion.  His vision was to “take the church to them.”  I was delighted he asked me to be a part of this endeavor, but if I am being perfectly honest with you, I didn’t know why he asked me, and to be frank with you, I didn’t know if it would be the best use of my time.

Surely, I thought, there are better people than me to do this, and there are other things I could do that would be a more effective use of my time.  Right?  I could plan the music for an upcoming Sunday!  I could order new music for the choir!  I could recruit someone to play in our praise band!  Perhaps I could read a book!

I was immeasurably wrong for such a nearsighted and fatuously selfish line of thought.

Jesus Christ tells us in the Bible that what we do to the least of our brethren, we do to Him.  I have often thought of this verse as referring only to the poor.  No.  This refers to anyone in need.

Being completely honest, when it comes to the homebound, most of the people I have had the honor to engage with would be seen by our world as “the least of these.”

Not to me.   Not now.

I have subsequently been rebuked by the Lord over my initial thoughts toward visiting the homebound on a regular basis.  I was wrong for this.  I have learned an eternal lesson.  I only wish I had learned it earlier.  I have begun to wonder, in my previous places of ministry, what if I had been more engaged?  What if I had visited the homebound more often?  Could I have made an impact for the Kingdom of God?

I am a staunch advocate for life.  I am 100% anti-abortion and unashamedly pro-life.  Why haven’t I been consistent?  Why have I not, up to this point in my life, had the same passion for the elderly that I have had for the unborn?  I have been that which I despise:  I have been inconsistent.

God has a way of knocking sense into us.

What I can tell you is that I have been infinitely blessed through visiting these precious souls.  I have learned (so I am told) that I have a knack for meeting people and getting to know them.   I am a quiet person by nature, and I must work at opening up to people; but it is as if I have some sort of an innate gift when it comes to visiting with people who aren’t able to get out much.  I honestly feel that I have been equipped in this area.

It is as if God takes control of my personality, and He guides me to engage the person at the specific point that is most effective.

I have watched folks that haven’t smiled in a long time smile because of a conversation.  I have seen a mute person try to sing along with me.  I have seen a person who, until I arrived hadn’t said a word all day, talk my ear off.  I have seen God use me in ways I could not have dreamed.

This often comes by way of a song.  When I began studying music in 2000, I would have never dreamed that one day I would be able to walk into a room and just begin to play the piano and sing songs that would move people to tears.  I never even took piano lessons!   I would have never imagined I could ever take “requests!”  I never would have imagined that I could play songs on the guitar that would prompt a person (the shell of themselves after a debilitating stroke) to sing along with me.

I never imagined that I could have that effect.  I’m just a regular guy.  I am nothing special.

Despite my skepticism, God has a plan for me.  Me and my accountability partners, Scott, John, and Jay, have been reading through the Old Testament together.  We have studied Abraham, Moses, Noah, Joseph, and David.  You know what I have learned?

God can do more with LESS, when LESS if fully reliant on Him, than he can do with MORE when MORE is fully reliant on self.

Just today, I went to visit a church member who had a debilitating stroke a few years ago.  He is the shell of the man he once was.  When I arrived at the nursing home, I was told that he was not up to receiving visitors.  I began to leave….but then…

The chaplain  (who I have never seen before in my life) saw me and my guitar and said,  as if he was waiting for me, “Young sir, please follow me.”  I did.  He led me to a small chapel with an out of tune piano and said, “Please, if you would, wait here.”  Within a few moments there was a room full of people wanting to hear ME play music.  The chaplain looked at me, gestured toward them and said to me, “do your thang.”

I sang and played and took requests for over an hour.  I couldn’t have been more fulfilled were I playing at a Gaither Homecoming Concert (and truth be told…that is all I ever wanted to do… sing on the Gaither stage).  Today, I saw tears, heard laughter, heard singing–and truly heard God minister to people–through……Me?

God used…. ME.  It is hard to fathom and hard to describe; yet I know that it happened.  I am aware that God used me today.  I am truly humbled.

But truth be told, I received the greater end of the blessing.  God witnessed to me more in that hour than I have experienced Him in the past couple years.

Why do I write this post?  Please do not interpret this as a boast.  It isn’t.  For years, I have not been willing to visit shut ins.  They have not been at the top of my priority list.  For that, I have been wrong.  I confess this.

Thankfully, God gives second chances.

I am not special.  I have a skill or two that I am willing to use.  It just happens to be a skill (music) that leads directly to the heart.  I honestly believe that God equipped me with music, not for the big stage, but for ministry.

A few years ago, when I sensed that God was not calling me to be a performer, but a minister, I found myself asking, “Why?  How can I be a singer, but not be on the stage?  How could God possibly use me without a platform?”

I underestimated God.  He can use me however He sees fit.  Whether it is on a stage singing to thousands or in a nursing home singing to the “least of these,” He can use those who are willing for His glory.

Here is just one little evidence that blew my mind:  The gentleman that I go visit with once noted that “John doesn’t know these people.  Many of them have been ill since before he arrived in Pascagoula; yet, he often locates something in the room that has importance or may even be insignificant—yet important, and brings it into the conversation.  He asks questions about something important to them.  Immediately, they know that he is genuinely interested in their personal history.”

I wish I could tell you that this was a tactic that I employed on purpose.  I wish I could tell you that I learned this in seminary or college.  I cant do that.

I didn’t even realize that I did this until he told me.

My greatest joy now is sharing this with my children.  I routinely take my 6-year old daughter with me to visit people in the hospital or in the nursing homes.  I want her to develop what I have come to find as a treasure.

To God be the Glory.

 

About those Facebook posts making the rounds lamenting that congregations aren’t singing anymore

Recently, I came across an unfortunate article—and despite my disappointment at its message—I kept quiet.  In all honesty, the truth is, I get a bounty of emails from church members and friends like this one that carry the same message:  “John have you seen this?  Is this happening in our churches?  What are you going to do about it?!  Aren’t you interested in quality church music?  How can you stand by while Starbucks mount kiosks in our vestibules and the barbaric sounds of contemporary music take over our sanctuaries?”

The obvious answer is:  Compared to what?

However, such a question is often not readily answered.  So, further discussion is often necessary.

The article I reference is no different from the others–all unified by a singular characteristic:  They are poor arguments, and usually even more poorly written.  When it comes to the debate over music in the Church, I respect well written, thoughtful criticisms; like this one from the great Chuck Colson.  If you want to see an erudite argument against what passes today as “worship music,” see what Colson has to say:   http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/april/15.116.html

Whatever you do, I beg you: Do not form your view based on personal feelings, how things “used to be,” or articles on patheos.com.

If you want to read a real critique, look at Colson.  What you will notice is that the Colson article and the ones making the rounds on Facebook are superficially similar but fundamentally different.  While it seems at first glance that Colson’s main gripe is the new music itself, his real point of tension is that Christianity is being dumbed down today; or in other words, young people and Millenials are expected by many in church leadership roles to only be capable of responding to popular level entertainment–and in a larger sense–popular level Biblical study.

As a result, serious preaching and teaching are being removed from radio and replaced with the Christian equivalent to U2.  In some churches, dynamic expositional preaching has been replaced with self help narratives.  In others, a focus on doctrine and theology have been replaced with a focus on “feelings.”  As a worship pastor, I emphatically agree with Colson.  I even agree with this comment:

When church music directors lead congregations in singing contemporary Christian music, I often listen stoically with teeth clenched. But one Sunday morning, I cracked. We’d been led through endless repetitions of a meaningless ditty called “Draw Me Close to You,” which has zero theological content and could just as easily be sung in any nightclub. When I thought it was finally and mercifully over, the music leader beamed. “Let’s sing that again, shall we?” he asked. “No!” I shouted, loudly enough to send heads all around me spinning while my wife, Patty, cringed.

I agree with him one hundred percent here.  I must admit, I have programmed this song before (as mere mortals, we all make mistakes), and while singing it, even my teeth were clinched.  It is a half way decent musical tune—but that’s about it.  If we based what was appropriate to be sung in worship on tune alone, I’d assume we used more Gershwin or Verdi–and less of Tomlin and McKinney.

Now, that being said, let me admit my assumptions and presuppositions before I make any further comment.  I am 36, and I grew up in the church–the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church and the traditional Southern Baptist Church, for that matter.  My mother played the piano and my dad was a part time “song leader” for much of my formative years.  I was exposed to traditional Baptist hymnody, praise choruses (in my later teen years), southern gospel music, and choral literature from a young age.  I have a bachelor degree in church music from a Baptist institution and a master’s degree in vocal performance from a major university.  I am currently finishing my doctorate in vocal performance and pedagogy.

When it comes to singing, I am comfortable with and have a passion for classical music (opera, oratorio, and art song), traditional Evangelical hymnody, newly written “praise music,” and even, drum roll—my personal favorite:  southern gospel music.

Until about 10 years ago, I would have probably written an article like the one in question: criticizing the church writ large for its “slouching toward Gomorrah” via praise teams, drums, and electric guitars.  I regularly joined in the after church conversations at Sunday lunch saying things like “that music minister has lost his mind—I can’t stand signing those stupid praise songs,” or “how dare he put a praise team in front of the choir.  We are the real singers.  I am more faithful than them,” or “Why does that girl always have her hands up in the worship service?  I can’t stand it. Does she want to ask a question or something?”

Notice something if you will: Each of those criticisms contain an appeal to authority.  Who is that authority?  Quite simply: the word “I.”  The entire argument, frame of reference, and objective system for adjudicating what is good or bad, stems from “I.”

This is a problem.

Now—in the article which prompted this blog, the basic premise didn’t deal with whether or not the use of “new” music or “new” methodology in the church is right or wrong.  The article specifically addressed how comfortable the author felt as a congregational singer in this “new” atmosphere in “his” church.  He effectively perpetuates the “I” motif here–and it quickly becomes tiresome.

My wife and I actually talked about this the other day:  My daughter, Ava, is six.  She has a beautiful singing voice.  I want her to sing—and sing well.  I look forward to singing duets with her when she gets older.  I admitted to my wife that it was sad to me that she, at age 6, does not have the same repertoire of hymnody that I had at her age.  By 6, I could hum the melody of every hymn in the Baptist Hymnal by heart, read music reasonably well (at least whether the melodic line goes up or down), and because I sat by my mother in church, I could distinguish between the melody, alto, and tenor parts equally well.  My daughter?  Not even close.

She sings Disney songs (and—I must admit—so do I).  She knows the things they sing in Children’s Choir, and she knows the Christian music we play in the car (Gaithers, etc) but she doesn’t have the vast repertory of hymnody at 6 that I did at 4.  This bummed me out.  As I sat there and thought about it, something dawned on me:

So what?  Perhaps there are things she knows at 6 that I didn’t at 4.  What significance does that have?

If I ask my daughter today, “Does God have a body?”  She will say, “Uhh, Daddy…no.”  So, I will press her and say “Why not?  Isn’t he a person?  How can he not have a body?” To this, she will reply, “God is spirit.  He is everywhere.”  If I ask her who Jesus Christ is, she will reply, “The Son of God.”  If I ask her detailed questions about the stories of Moses, Joseph, or Ruth—she can chat with me intelligently about them.

In fact, we celebrated Reformation Day this year, and she has a working understanding of what the Protestant Reformation is all about.

Spoiler alert:  For a 6-year old, I would take Biblical literacy and a cogent understanding of Church History over musical proficiency or hymn repertory–any day of the week.

How has that happened?  Quite simply, I have spent countless hours teaching her the Bible, The Westminster Catechism, and basic theological, and philosophical concepts.  Worldview is important.  Doctrine matters–and it matters more than knowing the melody to a fluid collection of songs.

I know adults who know a lot of hymns, but couldn’t answer the questions I posed to my daughter above.  I value the fact that the “contemporary praise chorus,” How Great is Our God, proclaims that God “wraps himself in light.”  Unless you know that God does not have a body to clothe with physical garments, this line doesn’t even make sense.  I cannot think of a hymn that says as much about this particular characteristic of God in so few words.

For that, I commend Chris Tomlin.

But what about Biblical literacy?  It says something when you hear someone criticize the music used in worship as being “wrong,” but at the same time, they cannot give you a two or three sentence summary of…Ezekiel or Daniel.

If the extent of a serious Christians’ understanding of the book of Daniel is that he went in a lions den, they are woefully illiterate, Biblically speaking.

Music in itself has no salvific power.  It does not save anyone.  It does not leave Heaven and come to earth and die for the sins of all men.  All it does is carry a message.  It is a medium.  What term would you use to describe the praising of something with no salvific power above that which alone can save?

Idolatry.

Now—the point of all the preceding is merely to say:  My personal preference is for my daughter to be a terrific music reader, and to know all the hymns in the hymnal by heart.  Unfortunately she isn’t and she doesn’t. Heck, I would love for her to want to sing duets with me.  She doesn’t–except in the car.  My gripe about this reality could be, “That music minister at the church—he isn’t doing hymns exclusively anymore—they project the words on a screen and we arent singing out of hymnals—No one reads music anymore—choral music isn’t appreciated—that is why she can’t sing!”

Absurd.  I was exposed to all that in the church, and I had AT BEST, a loose understanding of music.

The truth is, the reason she doesn’t know the hymns is because I have spent more time at home with her—learning the Bible than I have spent teaching her the great hymns of McKinney and Crosby.  Had I spent this time teaching her hymns, she would know them—but the cost would have been too great.

As a church musician, I understand that the primary role of the church is not to be a music education conservatory.  This is a departure from the past.  However, it is a necessary one.  Music training can and should be found in the church, but it is not the mission.  There is nothing inherently more Godly about music than say, the art of sculpting, writing, or watercolor painting.  But interestingly enough, I have never heard anyone gripe about the lack of quality writing and painting instruction in the church.

“We aren’t using quills and parchment anymore!  The kids aren’t learning how to write in calligraphy!”  Gasp!

The article that I have referred to lamented ad-nauseum that in churches today, “the majority of congregations are not singing.”  He noted that those who do sing, barely moved their lips.  He further noted that the only voices he could hear were those with microphones.  I find this to be an interesting complaint.  He assumes that the statement, “I don’t sing because I REFUSE TO TRY” is not relevant here.  He would entertain a variety of reasons, from volume, to song selection, to the way the church is set up as a “spectator event;” but in none of those does he even consider the fact that can not sing and will not sing are not necessarily the same.

His conclusion is that what used to be congregational singing has now become “congregational staring.”  He notes that when “chipper ‘worship leaders’ in contemporary churches bound on stage and predictably beckon everyone to ‘stand and worship,’” that people obey out of politeness, but do not sing.  My question would be, is this a refusal to sing (or try to sing), or an inability to sing?  By the way, I know many people that are unable to do things because of circumstances:  I have never seen those who truly desire to do that thing—quit.  There is a difference between can not and will not.

I notice that the deaf congregation in my church sign the lyrics of every song, whether contemporary or traditional.  They don’t care.  All they know is that the words are true.

If you want to worship God, you will.  What is happening on a stage or around you will not inhibit you from worshiping God.  If it does, I would argue that this isn’t worship.

He asks a few questions:  First, he says, “What’s behind this phenomenon?”  He then adds, “What happened to the bygone sounds of sanctuaries overflowing with fervent, harmonizing voices from the pews, singing out with a passion that could be heard down the street?”  I have to ask here, what phenomenon?  The phenomenon of the fact that some people are bothered by new methodology?  That isn’t new.  It is called human nature and the conservation principle.

When it comes to “What happened to singing out with a passion that could be heard down the street,” I want to reply in three ways.  First is to say, do we always equate volume with passion?  I know singers who cannot produce the frequencies needed to perform in demanding Verismo operatic roles like Puccini and Mascagni.  The fact that I can makes me no more passionate than them.  How could it?

Secondly, he is asking the wrong question.  The right question to ask is:  What happened to living with such a passion for Christ that the entire world was affected by it?”  That is the question.  How dare we elevate music above first things.

Finally, and even more obvious is the fact that if you really could hear a choir singing a couple blocks away, do you have any idea how loud it would be in that church sanctuary?

I guess volume really isn’t an issue.  There goes that complaint.

He goes to lament that “churches today” are constructed so that “The worship service is a spectator event.”  He notes that, “Everyone expects the people on stage to perform while the pew-sitters fulfill the expectation of any good audience–file in, be still, be quiet, don’t question, don’t contribute (except to the offering plate), and watch the spotlighted musicians deliver their well-rehearsed concerts.”  This is interesting.  The first question I have is, where are these churches, and where is the data?  I would like to see an empirical study showing a legitimate analysis of what is actually happening in “churches today.”  It seems hard for me to allow myself to be persuaded by someone who makes a grandiose claim but presents no data.  Why would you trust this?  He says that “Everyone” expects the stage people to perform and the pew sitters to watch.  Really?  Does he have any quotes or philosophical statements written by any worship pastors that convey such a abhorrent root level philosophy of worship leadership?

I will provide mine.  Ask yourself if you see anything here that sounds like his criticism:

Philosophy of Worship and Music Ministry

 

I believe that William Temple was right when he noted,

 “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.  All this is gathered up in that emotion which most cleanses us from selfishness because it is the most selfless of all emotions – adoration.”

 Worship, evangelism, and the leading of worship and evangelism are at the heart and core of what I believe Worship and Music Ministry should be. It IS what we are about.

We are a ministry that will lead all of His people in worship—young or old—men or women—boys or girls.  I believe that music ministry should be designed to meet the needs of a broad, culturally diverse, congregation.  I seek to train men and women, and boys and girls to be worshipers.

You can find that on our church website.

Another complaint is that he feels that church music is now intended to be more professional than participatory. He goes on to say that, “The people in the pews know they pale in comparison to the loud voices at the microphones. Quality is worshipped.”  This is a non sequitor.  Just because musical proficiency (which I know he values) is part of what the worship team strives to attain, it doesn’t logically follow that quality is worshiped.  Does he similarly assert that because pastors use highly technical methodology for exegeting scripture, that this scholarly process is what is worshiped?  No!  How can a thinking person come to such a conclusion?

It is because of this “elitism” on the stage that he feels a victim now.  Because he doesn’t have the skills that they have, he claims to be disenfranchised from participating.  His prescription?  It is “better to just fake it with a little lip syncing.”

He then addresses what he terms “Blare,” or the fact that the musicians’ volume “is cranked up so high that congregants can’t hear their own voices, or the voices of those around them, even if they would sing. So they don’t sing.”  I don’t need to remind you that he has been lip syncing for some time, so it is hard for me to understand how he would know how difficult it is to sing along.  He notes that the reason they don’t sing is because their unamplified voices wouldn’t add anything.  Just a moment ago he lamented that church worship services  couldn’t be heard a block away.  Now he despises it.  Go figure.

A moment ago, his argument had to do with musical proficiency.  Now it has to do with his inability to “add something.”  Is what we “give” in worship measurable by decibel level?  If so, wouldn’t that mean that those who were the loudest were the better worshipers? This is absurd. “The overwhelming, amplified sound blares from big speakers, obliterating any chance for the sound of robust congregational singing.”  I love robust congregational singing.  I just don’t see any good argument here for why—in most situations—this cannot take place.

He then criticizes music choice. He diagnoses this issue by saying, “Sometimes people refrain from singing because the songs are unfamiliar, hard to sing, or just cheesy.”  Sheesh.  If it isn’t the proficiency level, or the volume, it is the choice of literature.  Do people likewise refrain from listening to the preaching when the pastor exegetes sections of scripture that are “new” to them?  This is an egregious argument and one that I don’t really know how to counter, other than to say:  Unfamiliar?  Compared to what?  Hard to sing?  Compared to what?  Cheesy?  Compared to what?  It would be nice to have some tangible things to compare.  He cleverly left this out—and I don’t blame him!

So, he ends his article with this:  “I admit. I’ve joined the majority. I’ve stopped singing. I’m not happy about it. I know I should overcome these barriers and just praise the Lord with my very unprofessional vocalizations. But I long for an environment that evokes my real heartfelt vocal participation.”

He asserts here that his opinion is the “majority.”  He has provided no evidence of this.  He notes, “I have stopped singing.  I’m not happy about it.”

Less controversial analogy: I have trouble hitting a draw.  I have stopped playing golf.  I’m not happy about it.  Solution:  Go play more golf.

He notes that he should overcome these issues and just “Praise the Lord with my very unprofessional vocalizations.”  I will not argue with that.  Yes, he should.  Do it.  Now.

His most poignant quote, as often does in blogs, comes at the end:  “I long for an environment that evokes my real heartfelt vocal participation.”  Does it really take an environment to do that?  Solzhenitsyn worshipped in the gulag, after all.

Volume, songs, or praise teams aside; I would think all it takes for finding an environment in which one could worship is knowing the reality that Christ died for you.

Can We Find God in Terrible Acts?

There is an argument made by a moral philosopher long ago.  He pondered, “Suppose there was a button, and pressing that button would bring untold riches, peace, and prosperity to the entire world.”  Sounds great, right?  The only cost, says the philosopher is that one “Chinese peasant would drop dead.” He then asked, “Who among us would press that button?  And who among us would want that button in wide currency?”

For the sake of argument, take that question and apply it to the issue of rape.  If I could press a magic button that would miraculously erase all rapes, past, present, and future, should I press the button?   At the face of it, the answer would seem to be an overwhelming, “Yes!” However, once one lets emotion subside, and begins to think rationally, it is clear that pressing this button, despite having good reasons for pressing it, would have unintended consequences.

I would NOT press the button–nor would I want such a button in wide currency. Yes, I know that sounds incredibly heartless. After all, why wouldn’t I want to erase all the evil and tragedy caused by rapes?  Quite simply, If I could erase ALL rape, hundreds of thousands of human beings would drop dead.   They would cease to exist. Many human beings owe their existence to being the result of a horrific rape.

This includes my son.  My precious 2-year old son is the product of a horrific rape.  While I mourn the reality of the rape that took place, I am indescribably thankful that he exists!  He is my son and he is of immeasurable value.  I love him.  God created him, and made a plan for his life.  Part of this plan included being conceived in iniquity.

Let me state this for the record, when it comes to the button:  I would not press that button.  Let me repeat that again:  I would NOT press that button.

Simply put:  in a fallen world, there are NO solutions.  At best, all that exist are trade offs.  A solution here, causes unintended consequences there.  What one person considers a solution, another man considers a negative.   It is unwise to act as if solutions do exist.  They don’t.  If we have learned anything in human history, we have learned that.

But, in terms of  pressing the button to erase all rapes, I couldn’t do it.  The death of a human being is too great a cost to me.  It is an unintended consequence that I am not willing to inflict.  While I find rape to be equal to slavery in the lecherousness and horribleness of what it entails, I find murder–the ending of a life created in God’s image–to be worse.

Remember this point:  Humans cannot create human beings.  They cannot do this.  Humans are created by God.  If human beings are created by God alone, and God allows a child to be the product of a rape (the product of two human beings with free will), does this in any way negate the fact that this child is created by God?   Of course not.

Let us see it another way:  f I could press a button right now, as many would like to do, and make Down Syndrome disappear, I would NOT.  Since magic doesn’t exist, eliminating Down Syndrome would necessarily mean eliminating people with Down Syndrome.  It would entail murder.  It would mean genocide.

How about another example:   If I could press a button right now, and make all racism, past, present, and future disappear, would I do it?  Well, since magic doesn’t exist; to remove all racism would mean to remove all racists.  This would involve the murder of human beings.  This cost is too great. As much as I despise racism, I despise the murder of human beings more.

A last example:  I find Islam to be a horrific religion.  I hold to the position that an accurate reading of Islam does neccesarily lead one to embrace jihad.  Be this as it may, I would not press a button that would erase Islam, past, present, and future from the face of the earth.  Since magic doesn’t exist, this endeavor would mean removing those who practice Islam.

Though I disagree with Muslims and hold many of them in contempt, I value their lives.  While the prospect of eliminating all traces of Islam may be intriguing, the cost is too great.

For the Christians among us,there is something incredible about these words: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…”

It is sobering and hard to accept this at the face of it, but God can even use something as despicable as a rape to bring Himself glory. God is in the world, using its successes and its failures for His glory.

Think about that.  God’s sovereignty is such that your past is not a direct indicator of what your future will be.  God decides your path.  Our lives are in His hands.  He can take an unmitigated disaster and make a symphony out of it.

The rape of a woman should never end in the murder of the child. God can use that child for great things.  History provides much evidence to support this.  The testimony  of a child of rape can change the lives of millions.

I believe my son, the product of a horrific rape, will be a great man of God.

I wouldn’t press the button. I would destroy the buttons.

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Pro Choice Vs. Pro Life Logic

 

Disclaimer: This isn’t a comprehensive rebuke of the pro-choice position:

I got into a conversation this evening with someone taking up the dubious “pro-choice but personally opposed position.”  I thought I would share with you a bit of my reply.

The person I was dialoguing with said, “I don’t think you can label abortion right or wrong—it is merely unfortunate.”

It isn’t often that you get a softball when dialoging with abortion apologists, but this was a hanging curve.   Why would abortion be unfortunate?  Why exactly?  There must be a reason—and that must be a reason that the person thinks to be worthwhile, or they would have just said, “I wouldn’t have one, but I don’t care what others do.”  Notice, the person said it IS unfortunate.

I replied, “Your first point is noted; however, I could easily say, Eichmann and Goebbels didn’t enjoy killing Jews—that isn’t why they did it. They just worked for Hitler.”  Its not like it was their fault. They were just “following orders.”  How unfortunate for them!  I went on to say, “You would rightly note that such thinking is reckless and irrelevant.  They were guilty of actual crimes against humanity.”  But, what If I replied, “What crimes?  Nah, it was just unfortunate that they did that.”  How would they reply to that?  To what absolute would they point?  How do they know what is right or wrong?  By preference? By feeling?  In some countries, they love their neighbors.  In others, they eat them.  Do you have a preference?  Or is the latter just unfortunate?  This coincides with my friends previous statement that “Abortion is unfortunate.”  This is nothing more than relativism.

If things are just fortunate or unfortunate, there is no right, no wrong…No evil. Things just are.  Things are just unfortunate or not.

But here is the rub:  Why would a thing be unfortunate in the first place? In calling someont unfortunate, isn’t a person making a truth claim or a judgement by saying this? Why is abortion unfortunate, rather than just something that happens—arbitrarily in nature? I can think of no other reason to call it unfortunate except for the fact that the developing fetus might just in fact be a person—and we know that killing persons is wrong—whether on purpose or by accident. Can you think of another reason why an abortion would be unfortunate?  This is the problem with the “I’m pro-choice but personally opposed” fallacy.  Why would a person be personally opposed?  For what reason?  I can only think of one.

I noted that, “You go on to state that an abortion is between a woman and God.”  That is a VERY interesting line. In fact, I haven’t heard that phrase uttered by anyone on the pro-abortion side…EVER.  I commended them for it. What I often hear is, “It’s between a woman and her doctor.”

The truth is, when we bring God into the equation, we subject ourselves the world of absolutes. “It’s unfortunate” goes out the window when it comes to moral questions.  Therefore, the apologists for abortion cleverly remove the word God from the decision process.  When we enter this paradigm, what we personally believe about the morality of an issue doesn’t matter. Under a theistic paradigm, things are either right or wrong, regardless our relationship toward them.  Right exists whether we acknowledge it or not.  The same goes for wrong.  They are ontological categories.  If a thing is right, it is right even if we do not acknowledge that it is right.

But back, to the initial issue,  my friend was basically saying, “Just because you have a religious qualm with abortion, that doesn’t mean that the federal government should be able to legislate.” So, I applied the same logic to another issue: “Just because you have a religious qualm with slavery doesn’t mean that the federal government should legislate against it.” Do you see the problem? If our religious convictions can be pushed aside, then what are we left with?  If God is taken away, all we have left is man and the State.  That is a precarious position to be in.

And even at that, the use of the word “shouldn’t” invokes the absolue.  Why?  Is slavery wrong or is it just something that we “shouldn’t” do?  Why “should” the federal government legislate against slavery?  Who says?

In a relativistic framework, one could say, “I’d personally rather they didn’t keep slaves,” but they cannot say “shouldn’t.” Why?

Could it be because we know that things are either good or evil?  If that is so, how long will we continue to call abortion unfortunate?

Here are the basic questions of abortion:

Does abortion take a life?  I’d argue, yes.  Some might reply, “But we don’t know that a fetus is a life.”

In this case, there are only have 4 possibilities:

  1. The fetus is a life and you know it
  2. The fetus is not a life and you know it.
  3. The fetus is a life and you do not know it.
  4. The fetus is not a life and you do not know it.

Only one of those justifies an abortion.  The problem is, no embryology text supports #2.  So you are left with 1, 3, and 4.

How many potential babies will we allow to be murdered based on an agnostic (1, 3, or 4) position?

If a baby might just be under a haystack/or not—would you feel comfortable jabbing a pitchfork into it to find out?

Not a chance.

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Philosophy and Apologetics with a 6-year Old

Have you ever wondered why words carry meaning?  Why is it when we see a word printed on the page, we instantly know the message it carries?  Is this the result of an intelligent mind or is it merely the result of nature, time, and randomness?

One of the more intriguing arguments used in the defense of the Christian faith is the Teleological Argument.  This is basically the argument from design.  The argument in its simplest form posits that a designer must exist since the universe and living things exhibit marks of design in their order, consistency, unity, and pattern.

William Paley made an analogy that communicates this argument well.  It is called the Watchmaker Argument.  Suppose that you found a watch in an empty field-you would logically conclude that it was designed and not the product of a mindless unguided process of chemicals over time. Likewise, when we look at life and the universe, it is natural to conclude there is a designer since we see how perfectly the universe and life forms operate. The eye is typically used as an example of design. It is a marvelous development. In order for it to work, there must be many different convergent parts that individually have no function but have value only in a designed whole. It is only in the combined total that they exhibit their total function. This function is by design.

Another example is the bacterial flagellum.  This tiny propeller driven craft has all the things you would expect of a boat; a hull, a drive shaft, a rotor, an engine, and a propeller.  None of its individual parts are viable or useful on their own.  Therefore, they are not Darwinian.  It is difficult to look at this amazing machine and conclude that it came about from randomness.

I want to look at this argument in a more basic way.  As my 6-year old daughter, Ava and I were discussing God, I posed a question to her:  I said, “Ava, if you walked onto a beach and saw the letters AVA IS BEAUTIFUL written there-in huge letters constructed from rocks and seaweed-what would you think?”  Her reply was intriguing.  She said, “That someone wrote it for me.”  I asked her, “What if you looked up and down the beach and saw no people?  What if the island was completely empty?”  She reiterated, “I’d think that someone wrote it.”  I pressed further:  “Ava, how could words appear on a beach if no person was there?”

She said, and I quote:  “Someone was there.  Someone wrote it.”

someonewrote it.  someonewroteit.

s o m e o n e w r o t e i t

 

Why is it I could go into a cave and see a scratch on the wall and conclude, erosion; yet a trained archaeologist would assume an ancient Chinese marking? Intelligence is assumed when we see the evidence of intelligence.

I love the story that John Lennox tells about having dinner at Oxford, and finding himself sitting across from one of the more eminent biochemistry academics in the world.  John expressed that he was looking forward to the evening, to which the other man asked what he did for a living.  John replied that he was a mathematician and a Christian, the other man replied that it would not be a fun night and that they had nothing to talk about.  Lennox, being the engaging type didn’t let this ruin his evening.  He engaged the man, and their conversation had its apex when they began talking about words. Lennox asked the man if he was a reductionist (a person who reduces everything down to natural events), to which the man answered in the affirmative.  Lennox began to ask him about the menu he was holding.  The words “roast chicken” were among many that were found on the menu.  Lennox honed in on that.  He asked the man if he could explain the power that the words

R O A S T C H I C K E N carried in terms of material forces:

“You can’t explain the semiotics of the words “roast chicken” in terms of paper and ink.  You need intelligence. The explanatory power of chemistry and physics doesn’t extend to semiotics.”

The man conceded:  I have spent years trying to figure out how semiotic power exists, materially speaking.  I can find no way.

Lennox noted, “Whenever you see language you infer intelligence.” ‘You see “roast” in English and you infer intelligence. Then you see the 3.7 billion letters of DNA and you don’t? What’s wrong there?’

“Information itself is not material. Information is not reducible to physics and chemistry.”

Lennox even goes on to say that matter is derivative of mind.  The Bible says “In the beginning was the Word.”  From a Christian perspective this is accurate.  Mind came before matter.  In fact, it was Mind that spoke matter into existence.

We see the evidence of design every day.  We govern our lives to look for it.  Why should we  pause that intuition when it comes to DNA?

In the beginning was the Word.  From that Word came everything else.

 

Theology with a 6-Year old!

Every night after dinner, my family and I read a passage of Scripture and then go through a devotion that is based on the Westminster Confession of Faith. Tonight, our passage was from Exodus 34 and the topic of discussion was the character of God.  Let me just say that there is nothing more fulfilling, even amidst your 2-year old son wreaking havoc and being a perpetual source of sound effects and noise, than being a part of your 6-year old daughter engaging with real theological concepts.  Each lesson ends with a series of questions.  Ava, my 6-year old looks forward to this portion.  It warms my heart.

Exodus 34 picks up with Moses getting the second copy of the 10 Commandments.  He was on the mountain for the second time, you remember, because he smashed the original copy at the sight of the idolatrous outrage that was taking place at the feet of a golden calf.

The devotion very quickly moved to its main point:  Moses prayed that God would have mercy on them.  God is fully merciful yet fully just.  We often read that with little regard for what it actually means.  This is a difficult concept to comprehend.  Imagine for a moment,  Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump being found guilty of something horrific:  In Hillary’s case, exposing top secret info that was shown to have directly caused the death of 4 Americans in Benghazi.  In Trump’s case, evidence showing his willful colluding with the Russians in order to help them hack the DNC so he could win the election.  Imagine they went to court and were found guilty.  Instead of imposing a sentence, the judge says, “You are free to go.  Forget it even happened”  How would you feel about that?

When justice collapses in a society, hope collapses with it.

Total mercy comes as the expense of total justice.  Total justice comes at the expense of total mercy.  If someone was fully just they could not be fully merciful.  If one were fully merciful they could not be fully just.  Unless…well, we will get there in a moment.

Surpassingly enough, my 6-year old daughter, Ava, was able to grasp this paradox.  I believe I put to her a hypothetical situation in which she did something wrong, and rather than punishing her, I told her it was ok–that she could forget that it even happened.  Initially, she was ok with that.  Who wouldn’t be?  You could take something that isn’t yours, and then get no punishment.  But then it became more real:  I asked her, “What if someone did something very wrong to you; perhaps they stole your favorite toy, and I told their parents, ‘its ok, don’t worry about it–let your kid keep the toy?'”  She understood that my being overly kind would mean that she would not be getting a fair shake.

For her, justice would have been denied.  Complete mercy necessarily denies complete justice.

On the other hand, if I were fully just–If I called the police and reported the child for theft–what would that teach my daughter?  My lack of mercy would in the long run damage not only the kid who stole Ava’s stuff, but also Ava!  Would that be right?

No.  At times, justice must be bore by someone not involved.

This concept was strange to her.  It is strange to all of us.

One of the things we have been talking about lately in our home is the nature of sin.  Many Christians wrongly believe sin to be merely the wrong things that we do.  I remember hearing this as a child.  I was more concerned with whether I was doing the right or wrong things, that I defined sin as some sort of barometer for bad behavior.  There is perhaps nothing more absurd in all of Christendom than to believe that.  It took me a long time to be delivered from that way of thinking!  Heck, I am still being delivered from it.   While behavior is a part of sin, it is not sin in its fullest and most sordid sense.  Sin is more than just bad behavior.  Bad behavior is a symptom of something else–something more sinister.

In fact, if Jesus’ death on the cross only cured our sinful behavior, we would still go to hell. Yeah, read that again:

“If Jesus’ death on the cross only cured our sinful behavior, we would still go to hell.”

As I described to Ava, sin is like a perpetual cancer.  When we get the sniffles or the couch, it isn’t the sniffles or the cough that is making us sick. As Ava described it to me, “Its the germs that make us sick.”  Absolutely right.  Sin is like a disease that controls our being and dictates how we live. It is our moral compass.  Unfortunately, the byproducts of sin run the gamut from speeding to lying to rape to murder.   The New Testament refers to sin as a power that controls us.  Paul talks about knowing what he ought to do, but instead doing the opposite. If Paul had to struggle with sin, what does that say about you or me?  It is a power that influences us.  It can enslave us.

I asked Ava, “If sin separates us from God, and our sinful behavior was instantly cured, would we still go to hell?”  She thought about this for a few moments, and answered “Yes.”  I think she understood that sin is more than just bad behavior. If Jesus death on the cross was simply done in order to make us do good deeds, would that really be worth His death on the cross?  Isn’t that just some sort of moralism?

Jesus has brought us something more wonderful than just some sort of pragmatism.

I agree with Ravi Zacharias, “Jesus did not come into the world to make bad men good.  He came into the world to make dead men live.”  That, my friend, is worth shouting about.

We talked about that cosmic courtroom that is in session not because of our bad deeds, but because of our cancer–our sinful nature–the nature that caused human beings to crucify the Son of God.  The cancer that caused human beings to wonder, “Did God really say…?”

Because of our cancer–our sin–we deserve to go to hell.

Fortunately, God is fully just.  He is also fully merciful.  What is He to do with us?  We deserve death, but His character grants mercy, right?

This is where I was able to share with Ava the most incredible news of all:  Yes, we deserve hell, but instead of God banging down the gavel and sentencing us to death, Jesus entered the courtroom and volunteered to pay the price for our sin.   He intermediated on our behalf.  He had a direct influence on God’s wrath.

He went to hell in our place.

God was fully merciful:  he let us go free.  Yet, he was fully just:  Our sin was punished.  Jesus took our punishment.  He lived so that He could die.  He died so we could live.

Without Jesus Christ, none of us could escape hell.  We would all be there eventually.

God’s being fully just and fully merciful would be a paradox…unless…Jesus hadn’t come to be our propitiation.

I pray my sweet 6-year old can grasp that.  Full disclaimer:

I pray I can grasp that.

 

 

 

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The Marine Corps Birthday and my Testimony for Christ

It is late on Wednesday night (Thursday Morning).  This will not be one of my better written posts.  Oh well.

Many people find their callings in the strangest of places. I found mine in 1999 while going through Marine Corps boot camp.

I was a recruit in the 2nd Battalion, Hotel Company—Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina.  I entered the Marine Corps on a whim (literally), with virtually no regard for the implications of what I was actually doing. I knew I wanted to serve my country—I identified with the military, but I really did not know what I wanted to do with my life. It became a purely emotional decision:

I felt drawn to the Espirt de Corps—the pride and loyalty shared by Marines—past and present—the eternal brotherhood shared by those who have earned the privilege of wearing the same uniform, namely the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. I wanted to be part of something greater than myself.  I was drawn to the themes of honor, courage, and commitment.  Plus, it didn’t hurt that the Marine Corps had those impeccable dress blues (is there a more awe inspiring sight in the world than a fully decorated marine in his dress blues?).

When I called my parents one summer afternoon to tell them I had just enlisted, I remember hearing silence on the other end of the line! My parents were proud and supportive, no doubt, but the Marine Corps? They don’t even have air conditioning!

I enlisted in the Corps in 1999—just a short while removed from graduating high school. I worked a few jobs, and I even tried a little college–it just wasn’t for me. I wasn’t ready for that.

Bring on the Corps! So I went: July 4th weekend, 1999.

I remember the events fairly specifically: I was transported to the Military Entrance Processing Station—which for me was in Montgomery, Alabama. From there, we were screened for physical defects, sworn in, and put up in a hotel for the night. The next day, several Marine recruits and I were transported in the night to “The Island.”  Yeah, that’s what they call it.

A few of the “recruits” I travelled with in that van still keep in touch with me on Facebook (Shawn, Chris). Some of them even saw combat—heroes.

I remember upon arrival, and the yelling and screaming that took place (all to simulate the stresses of combat)—I found a smidgen of solace standing upon the yellow footprints that ALL Marines stand on before entering boot camp. There is something about tradition and doing what others have done before that sends a chill up my spine.  **I Wonder Who Else Stood Here**

Honest Thought:  “I may have stood in the VERY spot that a Medal of Honor recipient stood.”

To be completely transparent, I wonder about that today.  Who else stood on the same footprints as me!?

We entered a forming platoon, did the initial physical testing (that a few failed because of overzealous recruiters or because they went on an eating spree the week before boot camp), and then awaited our transport to our new squad bay (barracks for you non Marines in Rio Linda). Forming wasn’t just administrative nonsense. It was intense. The orchestrated spectacle was as intense as they could make it. Yelling, pushups, Yelling, Pushups, spittle flying, no sleep.  At that point in my life, I had been yelled at more and been more sleep deprived than at any other point in my life.  Little did I know this was the NORMAL life of infantry and recon Marines.

To watch videos of it now is almost laughable. To be there is as stressful an event as you can imagine.

The question you are faced with immediately is: Could I REALLY ever function under enemy fire? Could I willingly follow orders when I know I might die?

When we were transferred to our permanent training platoon, all hell broke loose. We were introduced to our Drill Instructors and our Senior Drill Instructor. Now to be clear, by “introduced to”, I mean dropped into a den of lions. If I heard their voices today, I would immediately snap to attention—no doubt about it.

Until meeting them, my concept of God had not been challenged! I was in a new world, and I did not know how to negotiate it!  I remember the first few days of boot camp. I was lost. I felt as if I had made a mistake by joining up.

But then it happened.

Marine recruits are afforded the opportunity to attend chapel on Sundays. I went. I didn’t go because I was actively seeking God. I went to get some reprieve (if only a few moments) from the constant wrath of the drill instructors.

Hey it was better than spit polishing my boots!

I firmly believe that God has our phone numbers. He knows where we are and what will reach us. He put me in Marine Corps boot camp—in 2nd Battalion Hotel Company—in protestant chapel—FOR A PURPOSE.  There is no chance.  There is no random.  It is called the sovereignty of God.

It was in this sacred place that God spoke to me.

I was “saved” at age 5. I was baptized soon after. Despite that, it never seemed completely real. I cannot say that I fully understood what sin was at age 5. I only knew that I wanted to go to Heaven, and that my Mom and Dad were a part of something that I wasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I believed in God at age 5. The thing is, I did not understand that I was infected by a disease called sin and the only way to be cured was Jesus Christ. I could not fully understand the cross because I didn’t understand that it was my sin that caused the cross.

So I went to chapel and something amazing happened. God spoke to me. I submitted to him—being found depraved and recalcitrant. I submitted to the Lord in a repentant and penitent spirit.

The Chaplain at the service I attended did both the music and the preaching. I was drawn to him. He had the ability to reduce a room full of hardened US Marine recruits to putty. I was in a room with guys who would go on to fight in some horrific wars—real hardened guys— and he was able to touch their hearts. I was reminded of Christ reaching salty fishermen.

I will never forget his leading worship songs from the keyboard and his preaching about being a soldier for Christ and facing the Goliaths in our lives. I will never forget him talking about spiritual warfare the fact that we must be marines, not only for our country, but marines in the spiritual battle against evil. I will never forget him tying the challenges of Marine Corps boot camp tangibly to the challenges we will face as followers of Jesus Christ.

I finished boot camp. I did the rifle range, I did the Crucible. I went on to the School of Infantry. I passed the indoc for Force Reconnaissance school (BRC and ARS). I ended up at 3rd Force Recon Co., a Marine Reserve unit in Mobile, Alabama—which has been subsequently disbanded.

I was not a poster boy for the Marine Corps. I was in for a short time.

I learned a lot about myself. I gained confidence. I learned about combat and about service. I learned that Marines have a knack for being selfless (see Kyle Carpenter, MOH recipient). I learned that I did have the DNA to be a Marine. I was proud to be in the Corps.

But to be fair–the Corps?  I also learned that it wasn’t for me. It would not be a career. I knew God had called me—through the Corps—to something else.     

That day in July, standing on those yellow footprints, I had a plan. I wanted to finish boot camp and then get into an officers program that might land me a slot at pilot or helicopter school.

It’s funny how God changes the desires of our hearts.

One Sunday morning, a few weeks into the hell of boot camp, amidst the sun peering in through the famous stained glass windows of the Parris Island recruit chapel, I that I wanted to serve the Lord. I wanted to sing. I wanted to preach.

I wanted to be a special forces Marine for Christ.

Call it corny if you want, but I am sentimental:  My cousins are all war heroes. All of them. Charles, Stephen, and Andrew—I am in their shadow.  I look up to them. I respect them immensely. Also, many Marine brothers who I went to boot camp with are heroes—they know who they are. Several even paid the ultimate sacrifice on foreign fields of battle.

But I want to tell you this as plain as I can: God changed me through the Corps. He lit a fire in my heart that would grow larger the more I submitted myself to His will.

I sometimes wish I had the stories to share. I wish I was decorated. I wish I was a hero. I am not.

You know what I do value? I value the short time I was a Marine, the fact that I went through some of the toughest schools in the Corps, the elite fraternity that being a Marines grants me, and…

I value the fact that God spoke to me.

 

The Bible says “Submit yourself to the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” I used to question that verse. It sounded like Santa Claus—but then it happened to me.

He doesn’t just give you what is on your wish list. He REWRITES your wish list—For His glory.

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What Then Shall We Do?

Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom

The American founders recognized that man, by nature is flawed and capable of great evil.  This is why they distrusted rulers.  But they also recognized that for a society to be free, its citizens must be virtuous. James Madison noted, “a republic once equally poised, must either preserve its virtue or lose its liberty.”  Similarly, Patrick Henry declared, “Bad men cannot make good citizens. It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.”  John Adams, who would go on to be our second president, noted, “The only foundation of a free Constitution, is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People, in a great Measure, than they have it now, they may change their Rulers, and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty.”

Without virtue, there is no hope.  Without God, there is no virtue.

Even the skeptical Benjamin Franklin recognized that, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” But even more directly, Proverbs 14:34 states, “Righteousness exalteth a nation.”  It would seem that our framers were speaking of a government whose aim was to govern those who were already engaged in private, self-governance.  It seems that they were speaking less of a freedom to do what we want, but rather, a freedom to do what we ought.

America is truly a beautiful place.  It isn’t made beautiful because of our inherent goodness, however.  It is beautiful because God has blessed our land with His divine providence, allowed us to flourish, and given us His blessing. She is only beautiful because, for America, God shed His grace on Thee. And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea.

The framers all have a common theme in their words:  Virtue is required for freedom.  They also acknowledge that Faith is required for Virtue.  It is with this truth that we have what Os Guinness calls the Golden Triangle of Freedom:

Freedom requires virtue.  Virtue requires faith.  Faith requires freedom.

In 2016, I would argue that virtue is a relic of a long forgotten and provincially simple past.  It is an afterthought—condemned to oblivion in the hearts and minds of most Americans.  On the other hand, faith has been so pushed to the periphery of the public square, systematically attacked through government and culture, that, for the majority of Americans is not a part of their lives.

When faith and virtue become scarce, freedom becomes extinct.

Freedom is not doing whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want.  That is anarchy.  Freedom is the power to do what one ought.  You can see how the other necessary intangibles are important.  Without virtue, we cannot be free.  We are not capable of doing that which we ought.  Without faith, we can have no virtue.  We must have faith to believe that God’s precepts and His moral law is right.  And without freedom, we cannot practice our faiths in the public square.

Some say, “We have the right to have faith. Even in China they have the freedom to worship.”  No, my friend.  The Constitution guarantees us the right to exercise our faith.  No family owned business should be forced by the government to provide contraception if it violates their Christian faith.  Exercising our faith is a command.  We must exercise our faith.  In fact, the Bible declares that faith without works is dead.  It is not enough to just know truth. We have to act on it.

We live in a culture that wants to do away with consequences.  We want relationships without commitment.  We want sex without babies.  We want money without earning it.  We want results without discipline. We want freedom without the responsibility of virtue, and without the challenge of faith.

Where am I going with all this?  I think this election is a referendum on whether or not we want faith to be completely pushed out of the public square altogether.  I am not saying that Hillary Clinton is Nero.  What I am saying is that this election is clearly about going in a specific direction.

The direction of more state or less state.

The problem is, we want more state.  We aren’t governing ourselves!  Because our citizenry by and large has rejected virtue and faith, we are not capable of freedom; and as a result, we are in danger of losing our Republic.  Only a virtuous citizenry can govern themselves.  What happens virtue is gone?  I think we end up with an election that offers the choices we see before us.

The Bible talks about this.  In 2 Chronicles 15:3-6 we read:

For a long time, Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach and without the law. But in their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, and he was found by them.  In those days it was not safe to travel about, for all the inhabitants of the lands were in great turmoil.  One nation was being crushed by another and one city by another, because God was troubling them with every kind of distress.

As Tony Evans notes, “When God is your problem, only God is your solution.”

So what do we do?  Well, it isn’t as simple as just electing the right president.  Revival never starts at the White House.  It starts in your house.  We must be people of the Book.  We must be people of prayer.  We must be people who fast, discipline ourselves, teach our children the way of the Lord, and make disciples.  We must be people who engage the Bible more than just Sunday morning at Church.  We need to be in regular deep, critical, Bible study.

Can you defend your faith?  Can you give good arguments to destroy evil arguments?

Doing our Christian and civic duty is a responsibility.  It isn’t enough to attend church on Sunday and vote every four years.  That is a recipe for pretty churches, but dead souls.  It is a recipe for candidates who lie, cheat, and steal—and then tell you what you want to hear at election time.

Hint:  They know this about the culture.  They know we are docile.  They know we cannot govern ourselves.  They know they can lie without accountability.

Unfortunately, that mindset in both the church and the culture is why we see what we see.

You see, many of us want a McDonalds type of faith.  We want to drive up and take the things we want off of the value menu, but leave the expensive stuff alone.  It costs too much.  No, my friend.  We are called to take it all.  We are called to become like Christ.

  Too many of us want to work part time for God but get full time benefits.  We want love without sacrifice.  We want meaning without truth.  We want design without a designer.  We want good without the prospect of evil.  We want law but no lawmaker.  We want god but no God.

Likewise, as citizens, many of us know virtually nothing about our country.  We know where to locate it on a map but that’s about it. We are more likely to know the characters of the Kardashians or Chrisley Knows Best than we are to know how many members of Congress there are.

That being said, we are at a critical point, but we aren’t a people who are capable of governing ourselves!  We aren’t prepared.  We have given that away.  We want full control over our 1,000 cable TV channels, but when it comes to things that matter—like health care—we have given that decision away! We have abdicated it elsewhere.  So what do we do?

I argue that for Christians, the first responsibility is to actually commit to the Lord.  We must change.  We must take Him seriously.  We must turn from our current lackadaisical ways and make Him our priority and source of strength.  We must realize that we as Christians are the blame.  We are a barometer for the culture.  A cold in the Church is pneumonia in the culture.  Think about that.  As the Church goes, so goes the culture.

Meanwhile, if we are interested in preserving a culture that is at least not violently hostile to our living our faith in the public square, we should choose the best candidate with a chance of winning who does not show an open animus toward us. Notice that I didn’t say that person has to be a believer himself.  There have been numerous examples in history where non-Christians have governed in a way that was not dangerous to Christians.  Can one choose between Constantine and Diocletian?

What I am not saying:  I am not saying that a government must be tolerant of Christianity for Christianity to survive.  I am not saying that.  Christianity has outlived all of its pallbearers.  Chesterton notes that the Church has gone to the dogs at least five times.  Each time it was the dog that died.

Can an immoral man be fit to lead?  Could a Christian possibly vote for Donald Trump?  I cannot answer that for you.  All I can say is our country is not at the point where it could elect a Godly leader.  Aristotle in his book Politics talks about a righteous man amongst a sea of immorality.  He says the righteous man would be cast out.

We are an unrighteous people today.  There is no righteous candidate.  Any candidate who was close to being one was cast out.

I have said it before, elsewhere; I am a one issue voter.  The choices before me are bad on the one hand and catastrophically horrible on the other.  I will also consider which candidate, aside from his personal exploits, will be less hostile to the Christian faith.  It is something to think about.

But regardless of the election, let me just say this:  We as the Church have much work to do, and it might be extremely uncomfortable.

I leave you with a quote from one of GK Chesterton’s political novels.  Chesterton firmly believed in a fallen human nature. Because of this, he thought society would eventually give up on the difficult task of democracy. Look at this prophetic quote from the story:

We are, in a sense, the purest democracy. We have become a despotism. Have you not noticed how continually in history democracy becomes despotism? People call it the decay of democracy. It is simply its fulfilment. … The old idealistic republicans used to found democracy on the idea that all men were equally intelligent. Believe me, the sane and enduring democracy is founded on the fact that all men are equally idiotic. Why should we not choose out of them one as much as another. All that we want for Government is a man not criminal and insane, who can rapidly look over some petitions and sign some proclamations.

 

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What Alex Haley’s Roots taught me about real Freedom

When I was a teenager, my Dad introduced me to a book that has had tremendous impact on my thinking.  I am referring to Roots by Alex Haley.  Despite the numerous historical inaccuracies presented in both the book and film adaptation, the overarching message is quite important.  It follows the plight of a 15-year old African taken to America.  In America, this character, Kunta Kinte, refuses to accept his condition as a slave.  Not even when the slave catchers removed half of his foot after an escape attempt did his desire to be free diminish.  At one point, his daughter is caught aiding another slave in an escape and is literally ripped from his arms and sold away.  Several years later, her son George gains his own freedom.  However, because the law in that state dictated that a freed slave who stayed put for more than 60 days would lose his freedom, George is faced with an incredible dilemma.  Does he become a slave again and stay with his wife and children, or keep his freedom but leave?  He asks his wife for guidance.  She levels an incredibly potent and powerful line:  “I am married to a free man.  I will never be married to a slave.  Never.”

The ultimate freedom that exists is the freedom from sin and from death.  If we are in Christ—we have that freedom now!  Being free however, doesn’t come without sacrifices.  We must give up our lives in order to live in the glory and freedom of our Lord.  The thing that frustrates me is that even though I enjoy freedom, I continually flirt with a return to slavery!  Paul talks about this as well!

Each week as I worship Him though, I am constantly reminded of the image of chains falling off my hands and feet.  It happened! I have the scars to prove it!  The song says, “I once was blind but now I see.” It’s an amazing line.  But, in my personal experience, I can tell you that I once was bound—but now I’m free.

Jesus truly is the great emancipator.  It’s hard to keep a message like that to a whisper.

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