Tag Archives: Freedom

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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The Morality of Greed

If you were to be completely honest, one of the prevailing themes you have grown accustomed to hearing is the idea that greed is inherently evil.  Now, I have to be honest:  As a Christian, I personally believe that it is my duty to seek first the Lord and His kingdom.  If I do this, all these things (my needs being met) will be added unto me.  So, for me, the byproduct of work is not primarily money.  The byproduct of work is, first and foremost, glorifying God through excellence.

That being said—if I seek Christ’s Kingdom first, there is nothing wrong with me also desiring to earn compensation for my work.  I cannot find any instance in the Bible in which desiring to be paid an adequate wage for ones efforts is wrong.  You might say, “But those greedy Wall Street guys are surely engaging in immoral behavior,” or “Greed is the root of all evil.”  Some of them probably are.  In fact, the very college academics that make that claim teach moral relativism, but when a banking executive actually exercises moral relativism in his work, he is suddenly immoral?  But Greed being inherently immoral?

The problem with this type of reasoning is that to make this case, one has to read social grievances into the Biblical text itself.  Jesus Christ did not come to give us a perfect economic system or to be a social agitator.  He came to cure man’s sin problem.  I do agree that Jesus talked about the impact of money, but I feel it comes from a different angle than just “wealth disparity.”  I think Jesus’ commands about money and not loving money have to do with what a person places ultimate value in.  Is your ultimate value your money?  If so, you are a slave to your money.  Is your ultimate value your body?  If so, you are a slave to your health.  Do you find your ultimate value in your financial success?  If so, you are a slave to work.

Our ultimate value should be found in Jesus Christ.  The Bible even says, “for they did not love their lives when faced with death.”  Our lives are not our ultimate value.  Neither is our money.

But is ‘greed’ necessarily evil?  Let’s look at it.  While we do so, let us remember that passionate issues require dispassionate analysis.

If you look objectively at definitions of greed, you will see that greed is very different from envy, jealousy, or covetousness.  It is different than materialism.  It is even different than greediness.  Greed is nothing more than seeing the furthering of one’s own interests as his primary motivation for work.  This goes against the conventional wisdom, without question.

So how can greed drive a person’s work?

Let us think about a few examples of this in real life:  Picture for a moment, a farmer in Idaho.  Can you imagine his days’ work?   Picture him getting up well before daylight, venturing out into a field—facing sleet, snow, and bitterly cold wind.  All this is done in order to harvest potatoes.  Because of his hard work, New Yorkers can have potatoes for dinner.

Now picture a Colorado cattle rancher.  He gets up well before dawn as well.  He feeds the cattle.  He breeds them.  He moves them from location to location so that they can eat greener grass.  His entire life is circumscribed by taking care of cattle.  He faces the dead of night, winter and snow, cold rainy mornings, and even the dry heat of the summer—all to make sure New Yorkers can have a steak next to that potato.

Here is the question:  What if New Yorkers—in their desire to have a steak and potato for dinner—had to rely on the inherent charity and willingness of ranchers and farmers to care enough about New Yorkers to send them steak and potatoes—rather than their desire to make a living for themselves?

I would be grieving for New Yorkers.

You see, in serving the interest of themselves, the rancher and farmer necessarily serve their fellow man.  Their desire to earn a living (greed) demands that they produce what other people want.

Our free market is driven by an imperative:  It is more profitable to serve your fellow man than not to serve him.  Adam Smith talked about these principles in his book, Wealth of Nations.  The free market system is essentially a moral one.  It depends upon supplying people with what they desire at a price that they are willing to pay for it.

This of course comes with risk.  What if the New Yorker doesn’t want to eat a steak or order a potato?  What if instead, he desires to eat bacon and eggs?  No one forces him to buy what the rancher has to offer.  Then again, no one forces the rancher to plant potatoes.  It is all about individual choice.

Similar to this is the idea that the free market works only because of trust.  When is the last time you bought beef at the supermarket and actually weighed it yourself to see if it weighed what the packaging said?  When was the last time you measured a 2-liter of soda to see if it really contained 2 liters?  In fact, we rely on trust all the time.  You dont carry around scales and measuring devices in your pockets.  It would cost too much.  It would take up too much room.  It would cost you convenience.  Trust is an important concept here.

Still yet, is an even more moral situation:  If I cut a person’s grass, and at the end of my work, he pays me 30 dollars; that is essentially a certificate showing that I served my fellow man.  When I take my thirty dollars and walk into the supermarket and buy steaks, potatoes, and sodas for my family and I to eat for dinner—the cashier of the supermarket basically says to me:  You want the rancher in Colorado and the farmer in Idaho to serve you?  How have you served your fellow man?  I then produce the certificate of achievement (30 bucks).

Wealth itself is nothing more than scarce information.  I have 30 dollars in my pocket.  If you just compare the cost of goods, you could say that my 30 dollars is worth much less than the food I eat at Applebees.  In fact, if I were to buy the same products that I will consume at Applebees, it might be half as much.  The problem is, I cannot consume 30 dollars.  It is only a piece of paper.  So, I exchange it gladly for something that is worth more to me than the money itself:  namely, food.  Because I am not in the restaurant industry, I do not have the skills, infrastructure, or the resources to make quality dinners.  I don’t have the extra time either!   So—for that scarcity of information, I gladly pay more than it is worth.

A thing derives its value by how much a person is willing to pay for it.

Consider this:  I walk into a supermarket and tell the manager I want a gallon of milk.  He charges me 3 dollars.  If that milk is worth to me more than my three dollars, and my three dollars is worth more to the manager of the store than the milk, we engage in a voluntary contract.  We voluntarily engage in a transaction of trust.  I trust he gives me a gallon of milk, and he trusts that my three dollars are worth three dollars.  I make him feel good and in return, he makes me feel good.  This is called a positive sum gain.  On the flip-side, if I were to walk into that same supermarket and hold a gun to the manager’s head and say, “Give me the milk or I will kill you,” I have just said, “If you do not make me feel good, I am going to make you feel bad.”  This is a zero sum gain.

In all of human history, there has never been an economic system prior to the free market that did not function without zero sum gains.  Most of recorded history notes looting, plundering, theft, and coercion as the norm.  The exception has been the free market system.  It is a system based on trust and reciprocity.

The rule among fallen men is theft.  The exception is voluntary trade.

These are all moral concepts.

Greed isn’t inherently evil.  It drives our transactions.  After all, what is wrong with wanting to better the lives of you and your family?  Even the most ardent socialists I know send their child to piano lessons.  Why?  They want the best for their child.

The contrast of greed is the idea of envy.  Picture this:  You work a 60-hour per week job sweeping floors at a Fortune 500 company.  One night while walking home, you see a large group of people who work at the company eating in the restaurant.  You pause and watch through the window.  The person driven by greed will think to himself, “What must I do to be where they are at?  What have they done that I haven’t?”  This might prompt your working so hard that everyone notices, taking night classes, reading more books so that you can pass a promotion test, or finding a new job at which advancement is possible.  Either way, these are healthy questions to ask.  The other view would say, “It is inherently unfair that they have what I do not.  How can I have some of what they have?”

Now, the political left is well aware of these two differing types of thinking. The conservative would usually reply to this man, “I am going to work to get you equality of opportunity; you are going to have to work to ensure an equality of outcome.”  The progressive, on the other hand would declare, “I agree with you.  It is unfair.  He only has his stuff because he stole it from you.  You deserve to be in there too.  In fact, if you vote for me, I will promise to take some of what he has and give it to you.  I cannot ensure equal opportunity, but I can ensure equal outcome.”

This is zero sum economics.

If you pick the pockets of Peter to pay Paul, you will always have Paul’s vote.

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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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Do Christians really claim victimhood in order to gain sympathy? Is Candida Moss right?: Martyrdom and its relationship to Witness.

I saw a post on Al Jazeera that reads: “The Bitter Tears of the American Christian Supermajority.”

In the article, the author says—you (secularists) may think that the most persecuted group is the Muslims, or the African Americans, or perhaps the immigrants. On the other hand Christians think they are the most persecuted and oppressed. He gives three anecdotal accounts of how the Christian people have pushed forth their message of undue persecution. In the first he says,

“On March 2, three Baptist ministers in Akron, Ohio, arranged for the local police to mock-arrest them in their churches and haul them away in handcuffs for the simple act of preaching their faith. A video was posted on YouTube to drum up buzz for an upcoming revival show. A few atheist blogs object to uniformed police taking part in a church publicity stunt, but far more people who saw the YouTube video (24,082 views), in Ohio and elsewhere, took this media stunt as reality — confirmation of their wildest fears about a government clampdown on Christianity.”

In his second piece of evidence he cites the controversial Arizona “anti gay” bill:

“On Feb. 26, Arizona’s conservative Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have allowed businesses to refuse services to people who violate their sincerely held religious beliefs — for example, gays and lesbians. Fox News pundit Todd Starnes tweeted that Christians have been demoted to second-class citizenship in Arizona, an opinion widely shared on the right-wing Christian blogosphere, which sees Brewer’s veto as a harbinger of even greater persecution to come.”

Finally, he gives this:

“And the feature film “Persecuted,” a political thriller about a federal government plan to censor Christianity in the name of liberalism, is due out in May. Featuring former Sen. Fred Thompson and Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, the movie received a rapturous reception at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on March 10 and is of a piece with other Christian films such as “God’s Not Dead,” about a freshman believer bullied into proving the existence of god by an atheist professor.”

 

He goes on to dispute that these anecdotes indicate any real persecution. He says unequivocally that

“More than 75 percent of the United States identifies as Christian; 57 percent believe in the devil, and nearly 8 in 10 Americans believe the Bible to be either the “inspired word” or literal word of God. Despite the constitutional separation of church and state, the government began under President George W. Bush to outsource social welfare programs to faith-based organizations (more than 98 percent, according to one 2006 study, of them Christian churches), and schools with religious ties (mostly Christian) in several states are now well fed by direct public subsidies. But then, American places of worship (again, most of them Christian) have long enjoyed a de facto public subsidy as tax-exempt 501(c)3 organizations funded by tax-deductible contributions. Last month President Barack Obama himself held forth at National Prayer Breakfast about the importance of Jesus in his life.”

He is basically saying, this persecution of Christians is a myth. It doesn’t exist! There may be some persecution of Christians in Egypt or perhaps Nigeria—but in America they are coddled.

The writer tries to get at the orgins of this “orgy of self pity.” He cites Candida Moss in saying that self-pity is “hard wired into Christianity.” In her book, “The Myth of Christian Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom,” Moss pontificates on this theme. Moss says that claiming that Christians have suffered persecution is an admittance of amnesia.  According to Moss,

“Early Christians were persecuted by Rome only sporadically, less for religious heterodoxy than for political insubordination in an empire that was draconian across the board. Early Christian writers Irenaeus, Justin Martyr and Tertullian chronicled such incidents as proof of the faith’s righteousness, laying a scriptural basis for a self-image of eternal persecution.”

She goes on to say that it was Eusebius who “encoded the understanding of the church as persecuted into the history of Christianity itself.”  She goes on to point out that his martyrdom stories were conjured up in an effort to motivate the base. Moss goes on to say, “These tales of persecution — full of blood, cruelty and dodgy “facts” — were enjoyed at the time, much in the way that modern audiences take in horror movies, and the lowbrow gore has long been justified by embarrassed exegetes as a response to the strain of persecution.” Then the dagger—Moss argues, “the textual evidence indicates all these tales of persecution were composed after, not before, Christianity had become the favored religion of the Roman Empire in the early fourth century. In short, they belong to an invented tradition of victimization.” What scholarly evidence does she give to support this claim? None.  She says that for Christian historians, “martyrdom is easily adapted by the powerful to cast themselves as victims and justifying their polemical and vitriolic attacks on others.”

Then the author of the article praises Moss’ study, and goes on to point out that the book

“Has earned favorable reviews for its scrupulous scholarship; it has also aroused much nastiness from Christian critics. Even before the book was released, she told me via email, it was denounced by conservative Christian commentators and she has since received hundreds of angry messages, letters and phone calls.”

Here is what Moss said about the criticism of her book. She wrote:

“Most of these people appear not to have actually read the book but, rather, have heard about it and see it as a further example of persecution. Many of them write to the university and ask it to fire me. An alarming number think that I deserve to be beaten, raped or killed (although blessedly very few of them threaten me directly). Many of the comments are about my character and appearance, but I hear that’s very common for female writers. I’ve been called a “female Judas Iscariot”, a “demon,” possessed by Satan, evil, the Antichrist and a Holocaust denier. “

 

Does this anecdotal account confirm that Christians are belligerent and acerbic in their confrontation of dissent?

 

A first argument would be that for every “ignorant Christian” who claims to be the victim of unwarranted persecution, I can draw attention to the very same thing on the side of the secularist. I do wonder—why is it if I were to propose the positioning of a monument to honor Voltaire in Washington DC, this would go through a proper debate process and would be judged by its merits as an idea. Yet, if I suggested a statue of Moses or Jesus—it would instantly be struck down as an idea that violates the separation of Church and state? Arguably, Jesus and Moses have done much more to shape the understanding we have of freedom and individual liberty in this country than has Voltaire. Even through another perspective we see the bias. Why is it that among faculty members on the secular campus, which is made up of let’s say, 12% homosexuals—is the homosexual faculty member more likely to outwardly portray his/her sexuality in the tenure process than is the 2% of the faculty made up by Evangelical Christians? What about this minority group? It as if we are allowed to have our beliefs in private, but they must be stricken from the public square. If we put up a statue of Moses, is that the same thing as the government endorsing Moses as the only way?  Political Scientiest Dinesh D’Souza asserts,

“But you have no problem with government removing all religious symbols from the public square and you don’t see that as government endorsing atheism or secularism?…I want the public square open to both Moses and the 10 Commandments and to Voltaire.”

I agree with Dinesh D’Souza, when asked by Bill Ayers to give a “full-throated support for queer rights,” asserts:

“I believe in the United States we are all a minority of one and we are each entitled to the full rights made available to us in the Bill of Rights.”

I wonder if many on the left would give a full throated support for the rights of evangelical Christians to be recognized, and to be protected from “derogatory comments from other citizens.”

I also agree with D’Souza who says,

“I submit that if you were a professor here (Dartmouth) before the tenure committee, the defender of queer theory would have every reason to expect to be promoted, while the evangelical Christian would have to hide his true views.”

We are a minority of one. Persecution is inevitable at some point for all people.

I don’t know that I would agree at all with the author’s (Mrs. Moss) premise (and I have read her book). I think she has a fundamental misunderstanding of what Christianity is all about—as do many people.  Are Christians persecuted? Yes. Should we expect it? Yes. Consider:

 

“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets – who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”—1 Hebrews 11:32-12:2

Love is costly by definition. Do you think that even though something may be offered to someone for nothing—that means that it didn’t cost the giver anything? It may indeed cost all. The trouble is that I think many in the church—when it comes to the issue of witnessing to people of other worldviews seem to be looking for methods and means that will cost nothing. I think that the only way this could be achieved would be to separate love from our method. Perhaps this is why some of Christianity comes across as abrasive or crude. If one only employs methodology, they will have no love in their action. If the only employ love, they will have no method. They must be coexistent.

Do you not think it is interesting that nearly every action by Jesus in the New Testament is an example of a “costly demonstration of unexpected love?”  Consider, the father leaving the house to run to the prodigal, the Samaritan carrying the man into the Jewish village, the Shepherd leaving the 99 to find the one–or the woman who must get down on her hands and knees to search for one coin.  It doesn’t stop there!  What about Jesus who has no time for the crowd in Jericho (the oppressed), but has time for Zacchaeus (the oppressor)? You notice in that story, the moment that Jesus shows love for Zacchaeus, the anger of the crowed moves from Zacchaeus to Jesus.  A costly demonstration of unexpected love.

Now, we must understand—Rejected love is painful—without question. In fact, Jesus Christ expressed pain and hurt in the face of rejection. There is a mandate for us to give our lives to the lost in the same way that he reached to us through the incarnation and the Cross. Wasn’t it E.M Bounds who remarked,

“The world is looking for better methods, God is looking for better men.”

I think that as Christians we should concentrate more on changing hearts than changing our methods.

Well, what about persecution more specifically?

Do you know what Jesus said about persecution? He said it was part of the job. You can understand that as—“expect it.” Jesus, in preparing his disciples for the trials of this world, told them that difficulty would come. They might have thought that, with God on their side, no suffering would ever befall them. Jesus however told them:

“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think that he is offering service to God…”

Right before he said that—he said this,

“And you also will bear witness…”

More than mere persecution—What do you know about the word witness? It comes from the Greek word “martys.” Do you know what that means? “Martys” was translated to Latin as “martir,” and it developed through history to become the word “martyr.” If you are interested in this, Michael Jensen from Oxford has a wonderfully erudite dissertation on the matter. He says that without question, our word martyr can be traced without any question—to the word that we read in the Bible as “witness.” Don’t take Michael or my word for it though. Even in the New Testament—there is a clear connection between being a witness and suffering. We are told that being called to be a witness means that suffering will come for Christians. Christ said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” He goes on to say, “The world hated me.” Should we be surprised at the hatred we attract because of His name?

Take the earlier Hebrews passage: Faith and faithfulness to God lead to great victories in His name. What happened? Well—kingdoms were conquered, justice enforced, promises were obtained, the moths of lions were frozen, fire was quenched, people escaped the sword, enemy armies were put to retreat, and women received back their dead! It also shows that this came at great cost! Some were tortured, mocked, flogged, put in chains and imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, and impaled and killed with the sword. I would say that they were the ones whom the world was not worthy.

Any thought about witnessing without cost is fraudulent. There were miracles and there were martyrdoms. This is no contradiction—but rather, the knowledge that we are called to serve—and to give our lives in His name—and one day we will be called home.

We must remember that we follow in the footsteps of “martyrs,” or the witnesses who went before us. These were not spectators who watched what went on. They have come before us and finished the race. The Bible doesn’t say they were a small group—in fact, it calls them, “A cloud of witnesses.” They are now spectators seated in stands that are not lightly filled. The stands are packed—with many who gave their lives for Him. Christians shouldn’t lose heart, or their way—but rather fix their eyes on Christ. We should run after Him—who was despised with the shame of the Cross—and is now seated at the right hand of God!

Now to deal directly with what she says in the book. This is actually not a unique time in history. There has always been a cost to reaching people with the Gospel. Many Christians are unwilling to pay it, however. The truth is though; this is the context in which the Gospel took root in the world and spread. To preach a sermon of repentance and faith has and will always be a challenge. A good friend of mine shares the gospel in Islamic countries. He noted to me that,

“I have had the privilege of speaking in some parts of the world in which personal safety cannot be guaranteed. It is always disappointing to hear some people’s concerns that maybe I shouldn’t go to a particular place because the risks are too great. “

 

Our goal as Christians isn’t to conserve our lives, but rather to give it. We are not called to ignore risk or employ reckless abandon. We believe in prayerful consideration. But my friend is right when he says, “But to refuse God’s call to go because of hardship is to demand something that the first Apostles would struggle to recognize as genuine Christian obedience.”

I am struck that the Hebrews passage contains numerous inferences to the hope of the resurrection. We don’t follow the3 dead—but rather those who have new life in Christ—this is a resurrected life that Christ has already won. We don’t fear death—for if we lose our life for Him, we end up keeping it!

This passage in Hebrews is riddled through from beginning to end with the hope of the resurrection. We follow in the footsteps, not of the dead, but of those who have the hope of new life in Christ, a resurrected life that Christ has already won for us. Let us not fear death; if we lose our life for Christ we end up keeping it.

Here are two final thoughts. In the early church, everyone was by definition “of another faith.” We learn a great deal just by looking at the NT. Have you seen what A.A. Trites has written on the Gospel of John? He says,

“The Fourth Gospel provides the setting for the most sustained controversy in the NT. Here Jesus has a lawsuit with the world. His witnesses include John the Baptist, the Scriptures, the words and works of Christ, and later the witness of the apostles and the Holy Spirit. [I would add that we too are being called as witnesses.] They are opposed by the world… John has a case to present, and for this reason he advances arguments, ask juridical questions and presents witnesses after the fashion of the OT assembly. The same observation is true of the Book of Acts, though Luke develops his case somewhat differently from John.  All of this material is suggestive for twentieth-century apologists. The person and place of Jesus… is still very much a contested issue. The claims of Christ as the Son of God are currently widely disputed. In such an environment a brief must be presented, arguments advanced and defending witnesses brought forward, if the Christian case is to be given a proper hearing. To fail to present the evidence for the Christian position would be tantamount to conceding defeat to its opponents. That is to say, the controversy theme, so evident in the NT, appears to be highly pertinent to the missionary task of the Church today… it is noteworthy that faithful witness often entails suffering and persecution.”

 

There are three marks of these Biblical witnesses.

 

1.  They are passionately involved in the material they present.  They have been apprehended by it, and they have a compulsory drive to share it with others.  We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.

 

3.  We must be true to the bare facts of the Gospel, but also be responsible for sharing their meaning.  Thirdly, witnesses must be faithful not only to the bare facts of the Christ-event, but also to their meaning. As John Piper quips,

“If we cannot explain the good news of the gospel, it is neither news nor is it good.”

 

 

We must also give thought to our credibility. If a person is an eye-witness to something, but there are a known drunk—their credibility will be in question. We are told to be known by our fruit (singular fruit with plural taste). Titus says that the, “purpose of Christ’s death was to purify for himself a people enthusiastic for good works.” This is not the foundation of our salvation, but it is the evidence of it. By our evidence, the Gospel message is, “adorned and commended to others.”

 

 

Where I would focus my polemic on the church is not that they incessantly whine about being persecuted, but rather that they have wrestled perpetually with the balance between good works, having people eager to do good works, and the preached word of the Gospel. The Gospel and evidence must go together. Even the writers of the Lausanne Covenant said it this way: “The church may evangelize (preach the Gospel); but will the world hear and heed its message? Not unless the church retains its own integrity. If we hope to be listened to, we must practice what we preach… In particular, the Cross must be as central to our lives as it is to our message. Do we preach Christ crucified (I Cor. 1:23)? Then let us remember that a church which preaches the Cross must itself be marked by the Cross.”

 

 There must be evidence of the Cross in our lives. If not, we will only be seen as giving theories. The world doesn’t want theories, it wants real people who have truly been transformed.  Without being willing to accept being willing to lay down our lives, we have all theory and no action. On the flip side, to spring into action with no Gospel would be just as absurd. I wonder if we as Christians are prepared for the cost.

 

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The collapse of the Western Financial System–A Moral Failure

G.K. Chesterton once said, “Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.” I think he was quite right.

The reason we sin is because we believe our choices will make us happy. There are very few people who do something knowing that it will make them miserable. Once you go down that path of self-destruction, you have abandoned happiness completely. We sin because we think it will make us happy. Do you know the phrase, “miserable as sin?” It is not an accident of the English language. Has anyone ever lied to you, cheated you, or have you ever been stabbed in the back by a friend? Did it hurt?

Of course it did.  In a way–you could say that it is impossible to break God’s moral law.  What do I mean by this?  Simply–that when you attempt to break God’s moral law, we ending breaking something else.  Consider:

If you were to put a cape around your neck, draw a big “S” on your chest, and put underwear on outside of your pants–and climb to the top of a tall building–what would happen if you were to jump?  Would you break that law of gravity?  No.  You would break something else–namely yourself–WHILE proving the law of gravity in the process.  It is in this same way that it is impossible for us to break God’s moral law.  We end up breaking ourselves and hurting others–all while proving God’s law in the process.

Consider Isaiah 1.  Now–when we read from the Old Testament–many times we do so with a presupposition that God is angry.  Read Isaiah 1:

“Ah, sinful nation,
a people laden with iniquity,
offspring of evildoers,
children who deal corruptly!
They have forsaken the Lord,
they have despised the Holy One of Israel,
they are utterly estranged.

5 Why will you still be struck down?
Why will you continue to rebel?
The whole head is sick,
and the whole heart faint.
6 From the sole of the foot even to the head,
there is no soundness in it,
but bruises and sores
and raw wounds;
they are not pressed out or bound up
or softened with oil.

7 Your country lies desolate;
your cities are burned with fire;
in your very presence
foreigners devour your land;
it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.
8 And the daughter of Zion is left
like a booth in a vineyard,
like a lodge in a cucumber field,
like a besieged city.

9 If the Lord of hosts
had not left us a few survivors,
we should have been like Sodom,
and become like Gomorrah.

10 Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the teaching[b] of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
11 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.

12 “When you come to appear before me,
who has required of you
this trampling of my courts?
13 Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17 learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.

18 “Come now, let us reason[c] together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.”

What do you hear?  Do you hear anger?  Do you hear a malevolent egotistical dictator?  Do you hear a God who is agasint freedom?

THE PURSUIT OF PLEASURE

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 cant do everything you want. You cant buy everything you want. You cant 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.

Now—how about some practical examples of how our desire for short-term gain has led us to the brink of disaster?  I don’t mean to scare you—BUT–It may just about be possible that we witness the collapse of Western Civilization as we know it.  We are on the brink of collapse.  These are not statements of hyperbole.  These are statements of great concern.  You know that if you take the word debt and change it to the word credit, debt doesn’t go away; however, many of our leaders seem to think they can operate under that very assumption.

There is no free lunch—and there is no way that you can live beyond your means as an individual or as a nation and hope to stay afloat.  Anyone who says otherwise is engaging in idiocy.  We are very keen to blame politicians and bankers for this failure—and they are to blame for a great deal of it.  I am very critical of politicians, and rightly so.  We should be.  They especially need prayer when they fail to lead….wisely.  Let me just say that our current leadership needs fervent prayer.

Be this as it may—I never thought anyone could ever take the place in the blame game for politicians…but bankers have pulled it off.  But this is wrong.  We should blame ourselves.

What do you know about derivatives?  You have heard of hedge funds, investments, trading—but what do you know about the derivatives market?  To put it plainly—Derivatives are something that derives it value from something else.  It has no value in itself, but its function gives it value.

They have their history in trade—and they were originally good.  Let’s supposing that you are a wheat farmer in colonial America.  Now—you want to sell your product—so— you send it across the ocean to England.  You sold your wheat for $4.00/bushel.  When it gets to England, it sells for £1.00/bushel.  This would mean that the exchange rate is $4.00 to £1.00.

Now—lets suppose, you are in the same situation.  You send your wheat to England at the same rate—but there is a problem. While it is on the ship, the exchange rate changes.  When it gets to England, instead of the wheat going at the $4.00/bushel-£1.00/bushel exchange rate—things have shifted.  Now one pound is equal to three dollars.  So—your bushel of wheat only makes you $3.00—not $4.00—though it still sold for £1.00/bushel.  Simply put—you are bankrupt.

So—they started signing papers called futures—they would say, give us a small amount of money down now, and regardless the exchange rate, we will exchange at $4.00 to £1.00.  This gave certainty.  As long as he could sell his wheat for what he expected to sell for in England, he would be ok.

Now—let me complicate it.  What if you go on holiday from England to the United States.  Lets supposing that £1.00is equal to $1.50—and you need pocket-money.  Lets say you are a lavish spender, and you decide to take £1,000,000 and convert it to $1,000,500.  This is an equal trade.  So—you get your U.S. money, and you go to the United States.  Lets say that while in America, you spend nothing.  You eat the free ice in the hotel room, you wait for people to leave in the restaurant and eat their leftovers—and you buy nothing.  You spend nothing on your trip.  You even get your hotel room free because of loyalty reward points.

SO—you return to England and you get ready to re-convert your money back into pounds.  The problem is the exchange rate has moved.   £1.00 is now equal to $1.00.  You have $1,000,000.  So when you make the conversion, you get back £1,000,500!  You just had a free holiday and now you are richer.  Now what if you had gone and you returned in the same situation, and the exchange rate moved against you—now $1.00 is equal to £.6.  When you convert your $1,000,500, you get £623,016.00.  You have taken a serious hit.

Now—imagine, what if you bought a contract—it allows you convert pounds to dollars at 1 to 1.5.—and you take your £1,000,000 and you put it down as a deposit on this piece of paper.  This contract allows you to convert £100,000,000 to $150,000,000.  Now, of course—You don’t have 100 million pounds, you’ve got 1 million—but you use it as a deposit to buy a piece of paper that allows you do it.  So, you go to America—you spend no money and you come back—same situation as before.  Again—The exchange rate has moved from 1-1.  The difference is, now you have a contract that allows you to sell £100,000,000 and get $150,000,000..

BUT the present exchange rate (1-1) would allow you sell £1,000,000 and get $1,000,000.

That paper now has a value.  It derives its value from what it allows you to do.  You have traded something that doesn’t exist in order to realize a real profit.

Now—lets talk about money—I like money even though it doesn’t seem to like me—

Money used to be made out of precious metal—copper, silver, gold.  If you get an old coin—it has ridges—you even see this on modern coins…..why?  The temptation with gold coins before ridges was to take a sharp razor blade and remove small portions from each coin and make new ones!

Ridges stopped this.

There was a problem with this precious metals system though.  Gold is heavy.

Imagine a bag of gold coins—if you put them in your jacket—it will destroy the lining of your coat.  This is why you should never cut the thread that guards the pockets in your suit.  Why?  Because once you do, you will be tempted to put your wallet or cell-phone in there and it will distort the way your suit hangs.  My basic philosophy on buying suits is this:  Don’t mess up the lining—keep it long enough and eventually, even though I bought it on clearance, if I keep it long enough, it will come back into style.

The weight of carrying gold around was inconvenient.  They did away with this.

They developed promissory notes.  Promissory notes—you would take gold to bank—and you get a receipt—“we promise to pay the bearer of this note—x pounds”—x pounds of what?  Gold, silver…etc.  So, on the note, they would write your name.  When you went back to the bank and turned it in, they would scratch out your name.  The next guy that brought gold in, they would write his name on it.  This is how the system worked.  Eventually they made them universal and printed them en mass.  No longer did you trade gold for them, and no longer was your name on it.   They weren’t convertible.  The question is:  what did they now represent?

What if you decided after reading this blog today that your money was better off in a casino than a bank?  There you are playing—you can use your chips to play games, pay for food, hotel room, etc…But then the casino announces it is suspending the convertibility of chips into money.

The problem is—Everybody sits at the table and keeps playing.  What do those chips now represent?  What does the dollar in your pocket represent?

Combine those two facts together—derivatives and our system of money—with the fact that we are addicted to credit and you have the makings of a disaster on your hands.

Lets complicate it further.

Let us say that a guy came to me and asked for a loan.  If I were a banker, I would try to figure out what type of risk he was.  I would categorize him.  Lets say 1/21 people like him WONT pay me back.  But that’s not a problem—cause if I charge him 5% interest, on what I lend him, I will get back everything I lent out plus 5% on everyone—and even if he pays me nothing—I am still ahead of the game.  That’s why you get different interest rates for different people—in case you are trying to apply for a mortgage…if you are—good luck.

Lets complicate—lets say I lend him money, and I charge him an arrangement fee—plus interest.  I made money off the bat… and lets say I break it up into two lots.  Lets say I sell one of the lots to a guy with a fee—and the other lot to another guy with a fee.  Now the credit risk is his…and I get more money…  I made money from person A from arranging the loan, I sold the actual risk to person B, and the interest I could have collected and the risk I have sold to person C—and I am collecting from him.

IN other words—the moral constraints and the normal concerns of lending money have gone out the window.   What is the most profitable way to lend money?   To lend it to as many people as I can!

We fool ourselves by thinking we can live without consequence for our actions.

You might say, “But John, We live in a free market…!”

That is correct—BUT–Freedom isnt doing whatever you want to whenever you want to however you want to—that is anarchy.  When you remove the moral framework in a system you don’t get more freedom, you get a loss of it.  Freedom only works within a moral framework. This is exactly what is happening in Isaiah.

God has blessed them—he has given them a framework to live by—

Instead of living by this, they have broken his law.

GOD’S MORAL LAW

BUT–In a way–you could say that it is impossible to break God’s moral law. What do I mean by this?  Simply–that when you attempt to break God’s moral law, we ending breaking something else.  Consider:

Let’s supposing–that you were to put a cape around your neck, draw a big “S” on your chest, and put underwear on outside of your pants–and climb to the top of a tall building–what would happen if you were to jump?  Would you break that law of gravity?  No.  You would break something else–namely yourself–WHILE proving the law of gravity in the process.  It is in this same way that it is impossible for us to break God’s moral law.  We end up breaking ourselves and hurting others–all while proving God’s law in the process.

IS GOD ANGRY?

Now–I have spent a great deal of time trying to answer the question of skeptics.  It is a good thing to do.  One of the questions I get asked is this:  “Look, John, the God of the OT is a God of wrath, but then in the NT, he seems to have a character change, and he is all good and sweet.  How on earth do you explain this change in divine character?”  It is as if God has had a 360 degree job review meeting with his boss and has decided that in the OT he is being too mean to the customers.  In the NT, he engages on a Public Relations campaign.

The truth is–God is unchanging.  He is the same in the OT as He is in the NT, and as He is now.

Here is the thing:  We filter and interpret what we hear to fit with our pre-conceived notion of who is saying it. Now, the God of the OT is much maligned today.  I want to challenge that by reading something from the book of Jonah.  You all know the story of Jonah—a sinful people are on their way to destruction, and God has pity on them and decides to send Jonah to evangelize them.  So Jonah, through a set of disobedient circumstances does go to Nineveh and he ministers to the people and they turn to God.  Now–this doesnt make Jonah happy.  Listen to what he says to God in Jonah 4:

“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly,[a] and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord,   is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are   a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,   and relenting from disaster.   3 Therefore   now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to   die than to live.”

Now–Jonah is one of the earliest pieces of literature we have.  It is perhaps the first written.  Does this picture of God seem malevolent?  Does it seem like a God who hates creation?  Consider Isaiah 1.  Now–when we read from the Old Testament–many times we do so with a presupposition that God is angry.  We read it with a specific tone that makes God seem like a power-hungry dictator who is bent toward our destruction.  What did you hear when I read Isaiah 1?:   What do you hear?  Do you hear anger?  Do you hear a malevolent egotistical dictator?  Do you remember this line?

 “Why will you still be struck down?
Why will you continue to rebel?”

Have you ever asked your child–“Do you want a spanking?” What kind of question is that?  Why would we ask such a silly question.  The answer is–it is a warning.  We dont really want to know whether or not they want a spanking.  In reality, we are warning them what will happen if they continue down the path they are on.  In essence we are telling them what will happen if they break the moral law.  If I were on stage speaking and I had my eyes closed in a deep moment of creative rapture, and I began to come toward the end of the stage–would you let me walk off and hurt myself?  No.  You would say, “John, you are going to fall!”  Now–this isnt a threat.  This is a warning based on my actions in context to the reality around me.

God is telling the people exactly what their sins are going to do if they do not turn away.  He isnt sitting on a cloud someplace rubbing his hands together devising a way to be cruel to humans–on the contrary–he is warning them about what will happen.

We live in a broken world.  We are broken.  We need someone who is not broken to help us fix our situation.

The question is:  What side of the law are you on?

We all yearn for justice. We cry out for it. When justice collapses—hope also collapses. Many people have experienced a breakdown of justice in their lives, and it breeds despair. A breakdown of law and justice breeds despair in a nation, and when it breaks down in your life, the despair runs deep and it runs strong.  It will destroy. This is why every victim cries out for justice, and everyone wants to see it done when they have been wronged.

Now, Its different if we have done the wronging. Consider a story: Lets supposing you go out to dinner, and when you are done eating, you walk out to your car to go home. Before you stick your key in the door, you notice that your car has been keyed. How would you feel? You would want justice. You have been wronged. Now, lets suppose that there were security cameras on the premises. You go back inside and the manager agrees to give you a DVD of the surveillance footage. You take the DVD and you go to the car and head home. You get the recording of the footage, and you watch it. To your surprise–Not only do you see who did it—but, shockingly, you know them.

Its your next door neighbor. For as long as they have lived next to you, the relationship has been strained—but, on this night, they saw your car in a random parking lot and pulled off the road and keyed it.  Imagine how you would react.  Justice.

Could you imagine going home and the next day, inviting the neighbor over for coffee? The conversation might go—“Hey, by the way—I have a video I want to show you…” Now your neighbor is sitting there thinking he has gotten away with keying your car—little does he know what you possess.  You see where I am going with this?

Now—lets pretend that YOU are the person that keyed the car.  The roles are reversed. You are sitting there drinking coffee thinking—“Wow, this sucker has invited me into his house after I have keyed up his car. Not only does he not know I am the one who did it—he’s serving me coffee!” –But then all of a sudden, the screen comes up, and you are watching the DVD implicating you of the crime. Now how do you feel?

Have you ever noticed that when we get caught doing something wrong, we get angry? Angry that we’ve been caught. How we respond emotionally to the prospect of justice and judgment tells you unequivocally what side of the law you stand on.

So if I were to tell you—“There will come a time that God will judge the world,” and you felt angry at that, what does that tell you about what side of the law you are standing on when it comes to God? Every victim cries out for justice. It is sweet when it is served, but it is heartbreaking when it is denied.

When we break God’s moral law–we get hurt.  We hurt ourselves while proving His law in the process.  We must respond with a heart of humility before him.  You want to know why those who have led us into our financial collapse are not trusted?  Simple–when is the last time you ever heard one of them say “sorry?”

What I love is God’s solution.  Lets suppose someone killed your friend.  The perpetrator is caught, and all the evidence shows him to be guilty.  He has perhaps even confessed to the crime.  What would you seek?  Justice.  Now–what would happen if the judge was all merciful?  Simple–he would let the perpetrator go.  What would be done in the process?  In the presence of pure mercy, justice would be done away with.  You see, with humans, the more justice we demand, the less mercy there is.  The more mercy we show, the less justice is exercised.  If the judge let him go, would justice be served?  No.  This would be gross injustice.

Now, many Christians sadly think this is how salvation works.  They think that when God forgives them of their sin–that he is purely merciful and that is it.  This is heresy.  Anyone who separates the attribute of justice away from God doesn’t understand His character.

The truth is–God is fully just and fully merciful.  In granting mercy to us, justice must still be exacted.  God cannot contradict Himself.  He is perfect.   Our sin has been against Him.  He must get justice.  This justice is found through the substitution of Jesus for us.  Jesus essentially bore our condemnation and God exacted His justice against us through Christ.   When the song says, “On the cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied,” this is accurate.  To remove this from hymnals as some denominations have done is to strip the Gospel story entirely.

I am reminded of Billy Graham.  Someone once asked him why he preached about the Cross– he replied that without the Cross of Christ, there would be no Gospel left to preach.  I agree.

I also agree with John Piper, that to remove the substitutionary atonement of sin from our “Good News” would render it to be neither good nor news.

We have broken God’s law.  We live in a broken world.  Without God’s provision, all we are left with is hopelessness.  I pray that you will consider the One who can put back together what is broken.

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