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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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Happiness, The Christian Faith, and Why We Insist on Hurting Ourselves

Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.

Would you say that purpose of the Christian life to ultimately achieve happiness?  Is God ultimately concerned with making us happy?  Think about it like this:  Many Christians will say, “I was unhappy, but when I came to Jesus He brought me joy.” Or, “I have found happiness because I have found Christ.”  I have even heard, “Come to Jesus if you want to find happiness.”  These statements aren’t bad in and of themselves, but, the purpose of following Jesus isn’t to make ourselves happy.  They are means to an end, not an end in and of themselves.  C.S. Lewis, the English writer once quipped that a man can be made happy by alcoholic beverage; he doesn’t need God for this.  If our only reason for coming to God is to find happiness, this is a worship that is based in hedonism.  If we are fixed ultimately on serving ourselves, this is a form of idolatry.

Could you imagine this situation?

Let’s supposing, I have been away for a while on a trip, and when I come home, I stop at a local floral store.  I buy my wife her favorite arrangement of flowers, a card, and chocolates.  On my way home I call a babysitter unbeknownst to my wife and arrange for them to watch our child so that we can go out to dinner upon my return home.  When I arrive home, I knock on the door—and when my wife opens the door, I say nothing.  Instead, I just present the flowers to her.  Her response will be something like, “John, you shouldn’t have!”  She will respond immediately out of happiness.  My reply to this would be, “I know I didn’t have to, but I love seeing you happy. I know how happy flowers make you, so I wanted to get them for you.”  Guys, if you are single—and you haven’t employed this level of gesture, this could be a clue as to your singleness!

Now, let’s consider it this way:

What if I stopped at the floral shop—arranged for dinner—came home—presented the flowers—but this time, I added this:  “I got you these flowers because I know it makes you happy.  I am happy when I see you happy.  In fact, I have arranged for a babysitter so that you and I can go out to eat tonight and spend an evening alone.  There is no one else I would rather be with tonight than you.”

What if her response to my proposal was: “No one you would rather be with?!  Why are you always thinking about yourself?  You are so selfish!”

This is absurd.  I could almost guarantee you that if you employed the same rhetoric and action that we saw in the second example, you would not get that response.

Why?

It is the nature of love to delight one’s self in the joy of the other.  My gleaning of happiness out of the happiness of my wife is not an act of selfishness.  This is the nature of love.  There is a distinction between loving to do something and loving to have something done for you.  If our service to God is done because we delight ourselves in God, we will truly be happy.  If we only find happiness in what He will do for us, the moment His will doesn’t match up with our plan, we will feel estranged.  If our entire faith is based on our own happiness, it will not weather any storms.

So if our happiness doesn’t come from gratification through God serving us, it must come from us serving God—willingly.

Serving is a key theme of Jesus’ own ministry.  The Bible says in Mark 10 that

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

He delighted himself in the joy of the Father.  Look at this:  The Son served the Father.  In the Son serving the Father, He delighted Himself in the joy of the Father.  What was the joy of the father?  That his creation could be freed from sin.

Happiness is an elusive thing when it is an end in itself.  You may be aware of the current state of global financial markets and all that have surrounded economic collapses in the West.  Do you know at the root level why this has happened?  Simply, because people are making myopic choices—or they make choices that are only based on short-term fulfillment.

Think about it—people do what they do because they think it will make them happy.  If someone does what they do because they think it will make them miserable, I think you should seek help for them.  Look—happiness is superficial and temporary at best when it is based on finding things in this world that are meaningful.

Are you familiar with Joseph Stalin?  A story is told by his daughter about when he was the Russian dictator.  Someone asked him once, how he could ensure people would follow him once he had employed all his cruelness on them.  To this, he replied with calling for a chicken.  He took the chicken and plucked out all of its feathers and then returned it to the ground.  He then threw bread crumbs on the ground and the chicken came to his feet and began to eat.  Stalin told the questioner that if you are the source of food for those whom you torture, they will never leave your feet, despite the mistreatment.  Are we any different today?  Now, granted we don’t have Joseph Stalin, but we do have a tormentor.  Sin is anything that we do that deviates from God’s purpose in our lives.  The word sin in the Bible doesn’t only refer to evil things we do, but it also describes a power that can control us and take us captive.  Satan torments us, yet, because we desire our idea of happiness, we are willing to follow him.  How is this analysis incorrect?  It’s not.

Our idea of happiness is completely wrong.  When we desire happiness, at the expense of doing God’s will, we are not seeking happiness.  Instead, we are seeking misery.  Who knowingly does this?  This is myopic choice.  You know, if you look at a modern economy textbook today, it doesn’t seem to say that the idea of a rational consumer exists.  On the contrary, it will say that all consumers today are myopic in nature.  This says a lot.

I was at a hair salon once, and the lady cutting my hair was the owner—I knew this because at one point, she turned to the lady next to her and said, “business is good, but there has to be more to life than that.”  Now—I am a sort of evangelist, and I love apologetics.  This doesn’t mean that I evangelize people and then apologize to them for doing it.  On the contrary it means, I give evidences or reasons for my faith.  This was a golden moment.  I caught her eye in the mirror and said, “If you ask me, we aren’t made happy in life by what we acquire, but instead, by what we appreciate.”  She put down her scissors and walked off.  She came back and produced a notepad and a pen and said, “You couldn’t say that again could you?”  So I repeated myself.  She wrote it down frantically.  As she was writing I went on—I said, “The problem that most people have is not that they have nothing to be grateful for, but instead they live their lives as if they have no one to be grateful to.”  She put down the scissors again and asked me to repeat it.  Now—this turned into an hour-long haircut!  I don’t have an hour-long hairstyle, I just have hair.  This was very interesting.

I then asked her if she had every loved someone but wasn’t able to express it.  She replied in the affirmative and told me how trapped that made her feel.  I went on to share with her what C.S. Lewis says about that very thing.  I told her once we are able to share that love with the other, it liberates us from our own monotony.  She agreed.  We then talked about sin and how it consumes us.  She asked me an interesting question—she said, “Im pregnant.  The problem I have is, how do I bring a baby into such an evil world?”  I told her that she had raised a great question—but then stealing a line from Ravi Zacharias, I said, “You are right when you point out the evil outside, but what about the evil inside you?”  She again affirmed that she was aware of this but didn’t know what to do about it.  She said to me, “Its like I know what I do is wrong, but I do it anyways.  I want to do right, but I can’t.  I just seem trapped in myself.  I need someone else to help me.”  I looked at her in the mirror and exclaimed, “You are saying you need a—savior?”  No lie—she looked at me and said, “oooh that’s a good one.  Savior.  I like that.”  I mean, face it—we don’t go around saying words like savior a lot.  unless you have grown up in the church, when will you use this word?

I then went on to talk to her about God and how he hates sin.  I told her that there will be a time when God will judge the world—and that the ultimate question is what have we done with our sin.  She seemed perplexed.  She asked how we could be rid of sin, if we are trapped by it.  I then told her about Jesus and how God was fully merciful but yet fully just.  I told her about how Jesus paid the penalty of death that we deserved—and has provided a way for us to be free from sin.  Our conversation ended with me saying, “You cant sit on the fence forever.  You have to decide, what are you doing to do with Jesus?”

Now—I went back 2 weeks later.  I have never had hair this short in my life.  As soon as I walked in, she said, “John, I will cut your hair!”  So she sat me down, and put an apron on me.  She asked me, “Do you remember our conversation?”  I told her that I could vaguely remember it.  She then said something interesting:  She said, “I went straight home and told my husband everything you said.”  I thought to myself, “Oh this is interesting—yikes.”  I asked her what he said in reply.  At this, her face dropped.  She said, “He told me I was preaching at him!”

Of course she was.  He gets home from a long day at work and sits down at the table.  She produces a notepad and proceeds to say:

“You know that in life you aren’t made happy by what you acquire, but what you appreciate.  It isn’t that you have nothing to be grateful for, but you live your life as if you have no one to be grateful to.  The reason you feel trapped is because you are incapable of expressing love.  You are both enslaved to and engaged in evil.  The only way that you can get out of this evil existence is to find Jesus.  If you don’t find him, there will be a judgment and you will have to pay for your sin.  I ask you, what will you do with Jesus?”  

Why did she respond graciously, but he responded closed off?  Simply put, because she was asking questions.  He wasn’t.

A fish doesn’t know it is wet, but it is.  You and I don’t realize we are dry, but we are.  People who are apart from God do not understand the concept of happiness in a Christian sense.  It is an idea that is totally alien to them.  They are engaged in sin, and they do not know it.

It is interesting—I read a book a while back by this guy who is the Chichele Professor of Economic History at the University of Oxford. To be honest with you, the reason I read it was because I wanted to be able to say, “I read a book by the Chichele Professor of Economic History at Oxford.” That title alone was worth reading the book!

The book is called The Challenge of Affluence. In it, he basically says that the perpetual flow of new rewards in our Western affluent economy undermines our capacities to actually enjoy them.

In other words, when you don’t have a lot of money, you are limited by scarcity. You can’t do everything you want. You can’t buy everything you want. You can’t do it. Scarcity is a natural regulator.  However, in affluence, scarcity becomes scarce. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want to.  The rub is, no matter what psychometric study you use—and they are all uniform—it doesn’t seem to matter—they all agree: In the presence of affluence, Happiness seems to decrease.

In affluence, the things that naturally limit us, disciple us, and train us, are taken away. The danger is we indulge in everything, we take pleasure in nothing—and we get caught running on a hedonic treadmill.  It seems as if we are running faster and faster to get the same amount of pleasure, and every amount of pleasure that we get must become more extreme just to meet our need for our increased tolerance for pleasure. This pattern becomes self-destructive and some individuals at the top actually lose it altogether from time to time as a result.

In the face of plenty, the well-off increase their satisfaction, not by increasing their consumption but by limiting it—not by increasing the pace, but by slowing it down.

The kind of moral command God has given us for life, provides that very framework.

Now, the thing to realize is this: breaking that framework doesn’t make us happy. There may be a short-term lift, but a long-term problem is bound to follow.  We may experience what seems to be a short-term feeling of happiness, but in the long run—we will eventually lose out.

Now—economists talk about a principle called Myopic Choice. If you look at economics—most models rest upon the ‘premise’ that basically says that the study of economics could be modeled in terms of rational consumers. Milton Friedman, the brilliant economist, said that a rational consumer is someone who is ‘aware of their motives, options, goods before then, and the consequences.’  You could call this being bilaterally and voluntarily informed. The problem is–if you pick up an economy text today in a university, it will basically imply that there is no such thing as a rational consumer. It will say we make only myopic choices.  A myopic choice means we know our choices are bad, but we make them anyways.  We know that printing money is not wise, but we do it regardless.  We know raising a debt limit is fatuous, but we do it.  The short-term gain outweighs the price of the long-term reward.

Why do you think we sin? We are convinced that the short-term pleasure outweighs the price of the long-term reward. “Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.” It isn’t our pain that lets us down. It is our constant drive toward pleasure that destroys us.

When we break God’s moral law–we get hurt.  We hurt ourselves while proving His law in the process.

Do you know why many people are so unhappy and experience so much hurt in their lives rather than happiness?  Simply ,because they are trying to do the impossible.  They are trying to break God’s moral law.  It  is impossible.

If I asked you to put a cape on, draw a red ‘S’ on you chest and go to the top of a tall building and jump off—would you break the law of gravity?  No.  You would break something else while proving the law of gravity in the process.  It is in this same way we are unable to break God’s moral law.  When we try—we get hurt—and we hurt those around us.  Do you remember what happened to Jonah when he tried to run from God?  Not only did he get hurt, but the innocent sailors around him got hurt as well.  God has warned us—if you continue to live like this, you will break yourself—yet we do it anyways.  Myopic choice.

So, where does happiness come in?  We have to understand that happiness isn’t about us.  Happiness comes from God—and it is a derivative of our willingness to serve Him.  When we learn to disconnect ourselves and our desires from our definition of happiness, happiness will take on an entirely new definition.  It isn’t about us anymore—but it becomes about God.  When we delight ourselves in God, there is no greater measure of happiness available.

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