Tag Archives: gospel

An Election That I’d Rather Not Have To Be A Part Of.

My daughter is old enough to understand at least peripherally, what the Presidential election in our country is about. She has noticed the candidates on television. She has heard my wife and I talk back and forth about what is happening, the candidates themselves, and the policies that are and aren’t being put forth. Unfortunately, she has also heard some of the negative things that this campaign has brought about.
She is smart, perceptive, and asks honest questions.
How does one explain what is happening right before our very eyes to a child who is still developing a worldview? When she asks me point blank, “Daddy, which one do you want to win?” what do I say in reply? It isn’t easy.
We are truly faced with a dismal choice.
What I want to do with this space is not endorse a candidate. I do not want to persuade you to vote this way or that. I want to just note a few things that I think have been overshadowed by the shrill voices that unfortunately exist on both sides of the debate—and even exist in the camp that has distanced themselves from this election altogether.
The first thing I want to note is that when you really think about it, there is really nothing new going on here. Sure, the stakes may seem higher, and the controversies may be over different things, but really—are we experiencing something new here? Is this really the first time that real questions about candidates moral well-being have been brought into question?  Surely the choice between Douglas and Lincoln was just as stress inducing.
Contrary to the opinion of the Clinton apologists in the 90’s, elections of presidents do concern the character of candidates. Character is quite important. As the right sees it, the left always has a questionable character because of the policies they put forth. On the left, the right always are failures of moral character because they are unevolved Neanderthals. Think about that for just a second: You may hear a conservative criticize his or her opponent in strong terms. They may even call them immoral. But be honest, how many times have you heard a conservative Presidential candidate call a liberal candidate evil or suggest that they are influenced by evil? Hardly ever. What you hear more times than not is a serious condemnation of their ideology and their ideas.
On the left however, you often hear something altogether different. Instead of actual discussions of policy, you hear allegations of the candidate wanting children to starve, blacks to become slaves, killing dogs by putting them on the roof of their car, or pushing someone’s grandmother over a cliff. There is often a criticism of the person—not the issues.  I mean, what presidential candidate from the Republican party hasn’t been called a sexist, a rapist, a homophobe, or a war monger?  Do you remember what the left was able to do to Mitt Romney?  He is a stand up guy.  They were able to plant into peoples minds that he killed his dog by placing it on the suitcase rack of his car.  They were able to paint him as a guy who cancelled an employees health insurance because they got cancer.
Our current situation may be different from others in that we find ourselves in a situation in which the character of both candidates are not desirable. Leave the issues aside. The candidate from the Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the candidate from the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, both have questionable characters. Now, I myself, would love to vote for someone else. I could vote for Gary Johnson or Ted Cruz. Or better yet, I could vote for Calvin Coolidge or George Washington. Unfortunately, however, neither of them are on the ballot this November.
What is one to do in a situation like this? I clearly can’t vote for candidate A because of his character. I can’t vote for candidate B because or her character. I cannot vote for Calvin Coolidge—who has great character—because he isn’t on the ballot. What do I do?
For starters, I don’t go trying to make excuses for the candidate of the party I typically align with.  No Christian should make excuses for Trump or Clinton’s behavior.  Donald Trump from the Republican Party has been a playboy his entire adult life. Recently however, it has been revealed through a video that he has made lewd (read: unequivocally despicable) comments about specific women. In this video, which was recorded without his knowing, he boasted in a Don Giovanni-like way about his sexual exploits—some seemingly edging toward being descriptions of sexual assault.
I cannot excuse, explain away, endorse, look past, or be complacent to those facts. They are horrific and I denounce them as I would denounce my son for saying them.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has engaged in her own nefarious activity. We’ve got her treatment of women who claimed to be raped by Bill Clinton, we have her email scandal, and we have her inability to act when it came to Benghazi—resulting in the death of 4 Americans. I am not going to go into the complete sordid history of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, so let’s do this to be fair:
Both candidates have lived lives and said and done things that are completely and unequivocally reprehensible. Both should resign in disgrace.
For me to support Donald Trump at this point just because he is a Republican would be an act of obsequious docility. For me to give my vote to Clinton would be just as bad.
We are at an impasse it seems. What do I do?
In my view, and perhaps I am wrong, in a situation like this, we vote on proposed policy. Granted, in this election, neither have overwhelmingly great policies. One has horrific policies while the other has some policies I like, and some that I don’t like. The one that is least despotic, least statist, least globalist, least tyrannical, more likely to uphold the Constitution—and the one who could potentially save the lives of the unborn— is the one that I would choose. This has been my way of thinking since I began voting.
As a side note: My activity as a voter began in the 2000 election. I voted for George W. Bush. Now, I want to put this out there because I think it is necessary to say: I was not a product of the religious right. In fact, I was not aware of Jerry Falwell until after 9-11. I only knew who Pat Robertson was because I would see him on television and ask my grandmother who he was. I did not associate them with politics.
Even in the Baptist churches I grew up in, I do not remember being shaped politically. I do remember being shaped to have a certain interpretation of the scripture, end times, and a view toward certain theological issues (which I may hold different views on now). The only political issue I can remember being harped on constantly in the churches I grew up in was abortion. But to be fair, I don’t remember any candidate’s names being attached to this issue. I say that to say, I do not align with the Republican Party because conservative Christians have typically done that. Not at all.
If I were to be honest, I would say that both of my parents and my grandmother who lived with us were staunch conservatives. My dad was an Air Force pilot and as such, I grew up in a particular culture, that emphasized the greatness of America, while at the same time pointing out the truths of mistakes and errors in human judgment.  I was never taught that America was perfect.  I was taught that our of all the world systems of government, the one we have in the United States is the best. When it came to politics and elections, my parents never told me who to vote for. They never described my Christian faith as being something indissolubly linked to a political party. To be fair, I think I may have heard a few questions like, “How can a Christian support abortion,” or “We believe marriage is between man and a woman,” but that was the extent of it.
What I was more likely to hear was a critique from my dad about immoral taxation through threats, coercion, and intimidation for the purposes of benevolence, or a discussion about the legitimate role of government in a free society.  These are ideas that hail from a classically liberal view.
I say that to say: We did not sit at the dinner table discussing why it was my duty as a human being to be a conservative Republican. My political formation happened much later.
I believe that all people are designed by God to be free. I also believe that we have the right as human beings—and certainly as Americans— to have private property. Our most basic piece of private property is ourselves. Now, I do not want to get into a theological dialogue here. I understand that all things ultimately belong to God—even me. But as a human being, I am responsible for myself. I am the one responsible for my most basic property. Because of this, I cannot support abortion in any way. Why? Because it denies the right of another person their private property. I support a mothers right to choose. What I cannot support is a mothers right to do away with the private property of another person; namely, the unborn baby. I believe we are a minority of one.  For that reason, I am a one issue voter when it comes to abortion.
So, with an issue like that, I can look at proposed issues. Hillary Clinton on the one hand, wants to increase access to abortion. Trump on the other, is a bit of a mystery. For much of his life he has been pro-choice. Lately however, and many conservatives feel he is only doing it to get votes, he has shown a contrition for those views and now considers himself pro-life. He has gone so far as to chosing a Vice Presidential candidate who is one of the more highly regarded pro-life legislators, and he has released a list of 20 judges who he would nominate for a vacant Supreme Court seat. This list is a who’s who of pro-life people.  That is certainly a major issue for me.
If faced with a decision to have a president who would add one more abortion each year to our yearly total, or have a president who would reduce it each year by one, I would choose the latter.
Even just one life means that much to me. One life.
Another reason I will choose from the two major party candidates is because of duty. As an American citizen who has the right and the duty to vote, not voting—or protest voting— is not an option. Too many men and women have died for my right to vote. A man in my church went to Normandy in his late teen years so that I would not be governed by a German superpower. I will not disrespect him by not voting. I would never desecrate the honorable sacrifice our soldiers have given by not voting. On the other hand, voting third party isn’t an option either. One of the two major party candidates will be our President. I could never look a serviceman or woman in the eye again knowing that from the two candidates, I did not give serious consideration and choose the one who would be a more effective commander in chief. After all, a man or woman might live or die based on who holds that office—regardless how I feel about the candidates on the ballot. For that reason alone, I will choose.
I know my argument isn’t complicated and it doesn’t invoke any of our very popular and often published public theologians. The thing is, the United States existed for quite a while before they arrived on the scene. No disrespect intended (I think highly of the men I am thinking of), but I do not need their blessing or their input into how I should vote or not vote, or their historically dubious (at times) understanding of how our Republic should choose a president. In their hand-wringing and chastising about the lamentable and indissoluble link between the religious right and the Republican party, they are guilty of that which they decry: Pairing politics with the gospel.
If I think that using the gospel to justify alliance with a political party is wrong, isn’t it wrong to use the gospel to decry alliance with a political party?
To me, and I am not intending to lay this at the feet of the aforementioned men, I see an effort by many in the evangelical community to want to seem relevant to the secular culture. I see a desire to be printed in the New York Times. I see a desire to be interviewed on CNN. I see a desire to not be thought of as a bigot. What I see in an even larger sense is to make the world look like the church. The problem I think is that the church in doing so, begins to look like the world. In this sense. They are using politics to justify the gospel.
Whether I am relevant in the culture does nothing to the veracity of the Bible. Nothing.
Hear me on this, nothing short of a full-throated endorsement of secular humanism, Marxism, abortion, gay marriage, transgender whatever, or euthanasia will be enough to be considered relevant. Nothing.
I have heard the word sin used a lot this election cycle. Often it is invoked when an evangelical is a Trump supporter—or at the very least would consider voting for him given the circumstances. I have even heard it described as being opposite Jesus. When it does come to sin, I am more offended by statism, immoral taxation through threats, intimidation, and coercion, the engaging of our country in offensive immoral wars, and the murder of the unborn than I am by lewd comments made in every Marine Corps barracks every day of the week.
We hold our heroes in high esteem, but not all are squeaky clean. Not all talk like you or I. Many are rough around the edges. To deny that Patton could be a leader of men because of his mouth would be both insane and ignorant. To assume that President Eisenhower never engaged in loose filthy talk when among other officers is naïve. Winston Churchill was a great leader, but we all know he was vulgar in his personal life.  Yet, that will not stop pastors from using him as a sermon example this Sunday.
When it comes to Trump,  to overlook the off-duty conduct of the men I just mentioned, and allow for their veneration because they faced enemy fire in a foreign war, but not extend to another man the same grace is inconsistent.
But it is even more troubling for me. When it comes to Christians and the American political process: Why does decency and honor matter now? There have been great candidates for president who were solid Christian men of high virtue and character, and they were rejected as a laughing stock by many evangelicals for the likes of secular men, nominal Christians, and even a Mormon.
Whatever your views on some of the particular issues they embraced (remember I do argue on voting based on issues), the day that Bob Dole was chosen over Patrick Buchanan, or John McCain over Ron Paul, has in part, led us to our current predicament. From my perspective, Buchanan and Paul didn’t endorse immoral wars—and for that, they were rejected. Their character didn’t matter. Their positions on abortion didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that Ron Paul had an orthodox statement of faith on his campaign website. What does that say? We will take our medicine and vote for the lesser of two evils as long as he has an R by his name and holds to neoconservative foreign policy.
I want to say one more thing about Trump and his heinous and sickening talk about women (of which I am sure there will be more secret audio released). If some of my words or behavior from my life showed up on video, I would never show my face again in public. I have said and done horrible things that I am not proud of. Someone may have video or audio of me in a point in my life in which I was not living for God. I would shudder at the prospect of it being released on the internet. I don’t know Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton’s heart. Both have said and done things that are heinous. What I do know is that MY sin put Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary. For that, I should be disqualified from being a child of God. Despite the justice I deserved, Jesus took the wrath of God on himself—he waived my punishment. So when you get down to it, whether it be Trump or someone else: There but for the grace of God go I. Does that mean they should be president? No. What it means is that I can look at issues.
I am not in the position at this point in my life for me to stand here and point out the sin of another person, to call for the tearing down of Satan’s strongholds. How can I call for the vanquishing of Satan and his evil while I refuse to cancel my own television subscription?
Just a rhetorical question: I wonder if those who are quick to condemn another person’s sin would be willing to have their internet search history made public—or to have their life story shown on camera?
We should certainly hold these candidates to a high standard. The problem comes when we hold them to one that we aren’t held to. It costs something to hold ourselves to a high standard. It costs less to hold others to it. While I denounce Trump’s words from 11 years ago and demand differently, it doesn’t cost me to say it. It does cost me to turn the camera around and look at myself. I voluntarily pay taxes to a government that uses my tax dollars for immoral things. Among them is abortion. By paying taxes, I have blood on my hands. Then again, so does every evangelical leader who has never led a movement that said, “Stop the killing, stop the crime, we won’t pay another dime!” Not another dime until abortion mills are defunded. You might say, they couldn’t ever do that? Sure they could. Sure we could.
It might cost something. It might cost everything, but you could do it.
I think if nothing else, this election is putting a microscope on the Church as never before. We are impotent in the West to be an authoritative voice in the culture. Jesus said that the gates of Hell would never prevail against his Church. There is a church on every corner in America. There are seminaries all over the place. There are tons of pastors, deacons, elders, Sunday school teachers, and members. Why does it look like Hell is winning? Answer: Most of the aforementioned aren’t working for or living for the Lord.
Perhaps we need to hit rock bottom. After all, for many, it isn’t until they hit rock bottom that they learn that Jesus is THE Rock at the bottom. Maybe we as Christians need to live in a society in which it costs something to claim the name of Christ.
Right now it costs nothing. Our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East put us to shame. They are tortured and killed for the name of Christ, but they keep on living for Him.
I wonder—how would it look to the world if it cost everything to be a Christian? How would Christians look to the world? How many of our current Christian brothers and sisters would refuse to pay that cost? How many of our churches would become office buildings or community centers?
Whoever you vote for, remember, there is a much at stake. You can look at issues. You can look at character. You can look at both and see who would be more trustworthy. What you cannot do, in my opinion, is call another Christian “opposite Jesus” for doing what he feels is his responsibility as an American.
I leave you with this quote from John Lennox:
Christians in the New Testament lived under oppressive regimes guided by such figures as Augustus Caesar, Herod the Great, Nero, Caligula, Pontius Pilate, and others. Christians were persecuted, had few rights, no vote, could not run for public office, and were even killed for their faith—and yet Christianity flourished, eventually concerting the emperor himself. God has dealt with bigger problems before.
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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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God’s Character

Have you ever known you were called to do something, and you were good at it?  As assured as you can be that you are right for this particular thing, we cannot escape our human instinct that manifests itself in a performance mentality—which is usually judged by numbers.   I remember Michael Ramsden, who is the European director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, once admitted that he had lived by this rubric, and then at some point had retreated from it.  Though his ministry was based around this numbers system, he says a turning point came when he was preaching in South Africa, at a golf club.   A prominent member of the club had arranged an evening meal. Hoping for 60 people to come, it turned out that 137 came. There were more non-Christians than Christians. The group was comprised predominantly high class business types.  Michael says that he was extremely excited about the meeting, but then minutes before it was time for him to speak, a colleague approached him and said that the meeting was a mistake—that this audience would not be receptive.

He said that he went on to give the worst sermon he has ever preached.  None of his points seemed to connect—no one seemed to be moved at all by what he had to say.  At the end, Ramsden gave an invitation—and he also handed out cards for people to critique what they just heard. 

He asked them to mark their card, on each respective question:  A to E. These people would essentially grade his sermon. 

Grade it:

 A = one of the best sermons you have ever heard

E = The worst.

The card also had a place for them to circle a statement.  From “I became a Christian tonight” to “Never invite me again.”  Ramsden says that after the meeting he couldn’t sleep.  He was intently concerned about what had just happened. 

The next morning at 7:30, the organizer called him.  Michael said his wife answered the phone and told him who was on the line.  He was hesitant when he put the phone up to his ear:

46 people ticked box A – ‘I gave my life to Jesus.’

48 people ticked box B – ‘I want to go to the Bible study.’

4 ticked box E.

Weeks later, most of the people from box B became Christians.   2 from box E did too.

Ramsden said he learned valuable lesson.  He decided that from that day forth,  to always give people the opportunity, no matter how I feel. He said, “My feelings are not a strong basis to operate this ministry from!”

He’s right you know.  It’s about trust—Trusting God.

 

There is a problem though.  Many Christians are not sure if they can morally trust God.  Non-Christians like Richard Dawkins, the Oxford biologist, would say our God is morally abhorrent.  He even goes on to say that the theology of the cross is abusive and sickening. Here is the thing—and I am not trying to exculpate Dawkins—but—if you don’t know God is trustworthy – you can’t trust him.

 

Well, is God trustworthy?  What is his true character?

In the book of Jonah, which is arguably one of the oldest pieces of Biblical literature we have, we see a remarkable story about God’s compassion. The whole city of Nineveh was saved.  Who was Nineveh?  Just know that they were considered an enemy nation to the Israelites—if for no other reason than they enjoyed using the skin of Israelites for lampshades.  Isn’t this remarkable that God would have mercy on them—and use an Israelite to bring the message to them?  You’d think that was encouraging.  Mass salvation of an enemy nation. So, just how does Jonah the preacher feel about it?

Chapter 4:1 – it displeased Jonah greatly – (literally gut wrenchingly exceedingly upset) and he was angry.

As Christians, we get displeased that revival doesn’t come.  Here is Jonah made that it has come.  He hated the people he was preaching to, but he knew God was gracious and compassionate.  In fact, you could say it this way:  The kind of God he was, is Jonah’s problem.

Often we can get angry and upset when we see the people who are our enemies forgiven and restored.  Doesn’t it sometimes seem like God is schizophrenic?  One the one hand he is loving and nice, and on the other, there is fierce wrath.  We need to not set them in opposition to each other, but see them in the light of each other.

In Jane Austin’s novel, Pride and Prejudice, there is a scene where Mr. Darcy says he loves her (Elizabeth) against his will, his better judgment, and his character. (Unsurprisingly she rejects him!)  If there are some people who know you (everything- the real thing), YET they love you – those are the most valuable relationships. To be known warts and all – and loved.  What could be better?

Here is the truth of the matter:  True love does not exist in the absence of judgment – but in the presence of it.  Think of a marriage where as you get to know each other and in the face of flaws etc., you healthily grow in depth.  As they get to know you and your faults better, the love gets stronger.

God really knows you. Do you have emotional stability that comes from knowing that God loves you despite your flaws? (Tis doesn’t mean God is happy with them or that we should excuse them). He knows it. God is not interested in covering things up. That’s not the path to true relationship.

 Have you ever said something stupid to a friend and made them upset or hurt them?  Lets supposing the next day you go to them to apologize.  It’s great when they forgive you.  All is well in the world, right?  But, consider if they say, “It’s nothing” – and walk away, and you know – it’s something! And now there is something between you. It’s not the same.  Things are estranged.  Or suppose we try to make up for it. We make a fuss. We try to serve them in some way to earn the forgiveness rather than look at the problem. We no longer have real relationship. Covering up wrongdoing (in that sense) becomes a barrier to relationship.

Isn’t that what we are after?  Restored relationship?

The word Compassion – comes from ecclesiastical Latin. It literally means ‘With Passion.’ It means to make a moral judgment and be moved from the depth of your being to do something about it. You have compassion when you say, “That’s wrong – we have to DO something!”

 

God is compassionate in this way.  He looks at the world and all its sin, and he is deeply moved to step in.  He goes to a cross, NOT to cover our sings—but to justify us by publically dealing with it.  He has to deal with the wrath of God.  God is fully merciful but also fully just.  He cannot extend mercy while at the same time undermining justice.  Justice isn’t served despite merry, it is served through it. 

Through Christ on the Cross.

The message is nothing other than that while we were still sinners, he found us! He had already paid the price, he has moved! He knows exactly what we are like, and what was required. And he’s with us.

We hear the phrase, “God loves you” so much, it becomes meaningless.  The truth is, God loves you and me because he knows exactly who we are—and what we have done.  He isn’t deluded.

We don’t have to pretend to be someone we aren’t with God.  He is already fully aware.  It isnt any help to myself or God to refuse to be transparent with him.  It also gives me transparency with others. I know I have been forgiven – because he forgave me.

There is only one basis for me to be forgiven:

If I have done wrong to someone – I should not be able to say ‘I’m forgiven’ – except and unless the other party is willing to forgive, and offers it – and through repentance I have received that forgiveness.

If that’s the case, it is not arrogant for me to say, “I am forgiven.”

We are dependent on him, his promise. God has said it! It’s dealt with. So I can be secure, whatever other insecurities I might wrestle with.  Are you totally assured as to the character of God? Are you utterly sure of him?  Are you utterly sure he really means his words of love and assurance? That he has chosen, called and loved you? That’s the reality!

Are you prepared to fail on that basis?

The basis on which I know I can fail, is that I know it’s not about me. I do and can blow it. When preaching or leading worship, it’s not about how many respond etc. I am okay of others reject me on the basis that God has accepted me.

We need confidence – to trust the God who transforms lives.

In all other worldviews God can be merciful, by passing over his justice. For us, it’s not at the expense of his justice, BOTH operate together.

 

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Yeah you know that whole Tony Dungy thing?

With just a few words, the great coach and football analyst Tony Dungy has literally found himself in a red hot imbroglio.  It’s really a shame too.  Let’s look at his comments:

Dungy noted in an interview, that if he were still coaching today, that he wouldn’t have drafted Sam “(n)ot because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it. It’s not going to be totally smooth…things will happen.”

I cannot for the life of me see any problems with this statement.  Let’s take something a bit less controversial.

What if a player was drafted in the 7th round who actively campaigns for the KKK?  What if he had made numerous comments in interviews that included the “n word,” referred to blacks and other minorities as less than human, and was regularly on the cover of white supremacy literature?

What if a player was drafted in the 7th round who was an ardent supporter of the 9-11 terrorists?  What if he said that he was going to use his platform in the NFL to bring attention and provide support to al Qaeda terrorists?  What if numerous interviews found him denouncing Americans and calling for jihad on our soil?

If either of those were the case, would you have a problem with Tony Dungy saying, “I do not believe ________’s (white supremacy) (Islamic faith) will be a distraction to his teammates or his organization,” like he said in a statement on Pro Football Talk.com? What if he went on to say about the two cases, “I do; however, believe that the media attention that comes with it will be a distraction? Unfortunately we are all seeing this play out now, and I feel badly that my remarks played a role in the distraction. I wish __________ nothing but the best in his quest to become a star in the NFL and I am confident he will get the opportunity to show what he can do on the field.”

You have to admit, considering those two egregious hypothetical situations, that is an extremely benign statement! In this case, we have a known racist or supporter of terrorism and Dungy still wants the guy to get a “shot” and to “show what he can do on the field.” I think people would argue for a more vociferous critique by Dungy! “This isn’t enough…he is a Christian, and a man of character. He must stand against racism against blacks.” “How can he support the 9-11 attackers? He must not allow this to be swept under the rug!”

So, now—let’s look at the situation as it really is. We have an openly homosexual Defensive player named Michael Sam drafted in the…7th round by the St. Louis Rams. Upon his draft, leading up to it and following it, he has been the recipient of lavish media praise. In fact, Oprah was in talks to make a television show about him, but it was subsequently nixed because it was decided by his drafting team to be a distraction!

Dungy was asked if he would have drafted Sam. I think a succinct, “No” would have sufficed, but the interviewer wanted more. So, we have Dungy’s comments.

Notice in his comments, he didn’t condemn Sam for his lifestyle choice. He didn’t say, “eww gross.” He didn’t say that Sam was less than human. On the contrary, he said that HE wouldn’t have drafted Sam, but that he felt he deserved a chance to prove himself on the field. What is the problem?

Here is the problem:  On Tuesday, Pardon the Interruption’s Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon were discussing former NFL coach Tony Dungy’s recent comments that media attention would have pushed him away from drafting Sam. Kornheiser said he was optimistic that NFL players would be personally tolerant of Sam, though.

And then this was said:

“I’m more skeptical,” Wilbon countered. “I think there is a component, a subculture of the religious Right, that is very influential in football — maybe not the other sports, but football — and I don’t see this going as smoothly as you see it.”​

Now, what does Wilbon mean when he talks about the subculture of the religious Right?  Well, he is talking about Dungy!  He is talking about the players who circle up and pray after games.  He is talking about Tebow.  He is talking about Christians.

Christianity makes liberals nervous.

You have to remember, Christianity makes some exclusive truth claims.  First of all, it claims that Jesus Christ is The way.  It claims that all men are sinners and in need of redemption that humans are not in a position to secure for themselves.  It claims that who we are is defined by our identity…in Christ—rather than the things we do, or our biological DNA.

The above is highly controversial to the Left.  The Bible even tells us that it will be controversial.

The first statement, that Christ is THE way—that runs right into the oncoming traffic of the leftist ideology.  The liberal believes that all ways are THE way—well, with a caveat:  They believe they are the most tolerant people on the planet—they say that all ideas are equal—but then comes the clincher:  All ideas are equal, until you disagree with the idea that all ideas are equal (which if you really think about it, necessarily follows. If all ideas are equal, then it would also affirm the view that says “no ideas are equal.”  This contradicts.  It cannot be tenable).  At that point, they become the most intolerant group of people on the planet.  They aren’t interested in debate, dialogue, or Obama’s favorite word, “bipartisanship.”  They are only interested in destroying the opposing view.

Christians on the other hand, believe that all people are equal, but all ideas are not.  It is wrong to embrace Nazi ideology.  It is wrong to embrace ideology that affirms pedophilia.  Liberals believe that all ideas are equal but all people are not.  My evidence:  Read Wilbon’s quote.  They are not attacking Dungy’s ideas—or engaging with the arguments:  They are attacking HIM and this fringe element called the religious right.  Notice, they aren’t saying, “I philosophically oppose the view that all men need redemption from God.”  They are instead saying, “Tony Dungy just admitted that Tony Dungy isn’t a skilled enough coach to deal with the distractions of doing the right thing…”  You even have people saying, “Dungy is entitled to his opinion, he just cannot say it aloud.”  Wow—so now, Dungy, who is a black man…is now a second class citizen who is unable to speak his mind?  My how times have changed.

The second statement:  All men are sinners and in need of redemption.  Well, aside from the obvious objections to masculine pronouns that feminists will bring up, this goes against the entire humanist doctrine.  In their view, all people are good; it is society that lets them down.  It is the culture who is to blame for bad behavior, not the person themselves.  They take away all need for personal responsibility.

Why is it that when crime happens, instead of punishing criminals, they always want to find the root cause of it (by root cause, I mean…the societal cause)?  They are not interested in dealing with the personal responsibility of certain actions.  The person CHOSE to commit a crime.  It doesn’t matter what society has or hasn’t done.  They are only interested in how the crime came to happen.  They don’t care to ask, “Are people flawed,” but rather; “why was he born into socioeconomic conditions that produced this type of behavior?”  It is a very different view of human nature.

The other side of this matter is that the left believes that we are all the product of time plus matter plus chance—and as a result, our DNA dictates to us what we will do.  We cannot be responsible for things that happen at the microbiological level.  We are compelled to behave in this way without any choice.  It is determined.  If that were true though—and everything was predetermined, then does the statement, “He should keep his opinion to himself” have any meaning?  On the naturalistic view, which the left overwhelmingly affirms, I haven’t weighed any arguments, or looked at the pros and cons of that statement.  I am just wired to believe it is true.  Why should that hold any weight?

The Christian believes otherwise.  The Christian believes that man is born flawed—as Kant said:  “From the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was made.”  We cannot resist sin, or doing wrong on our own.  We are drawn to it and consumed by it.  In the Christian view, sin doesn’t just describe something we do; it describes a power that controls us.  Until this problem is dealt with, we cannot escape it.  We will continue to be owned by it.  As a result, we need redemption—and it is a redemption that we, because of our sinful nature, are not in a position to secure for ourselves.

 

Finally, the idea of ontological being.  The humanist or liberal believes that we are defined by what we do. The Christian believes we are defined, by our being—and specifically the being of Christ in us.  If we don’t have Christ in us, we are ontologically dead.  The liberal would say that “I am a homosexual,” or “I am a heterosexual.” Even the liberal Christian will say, “I am a body who has a soul,” or, “I am a social activist—and I believe in God.” It is enough to be those things.

The Christian on the other hand says, “I am a Child of God…and I DO things.”  Being is always before action to the Christian.  Being a homosexual or heterosexual is something that we DO.  Being a social activist is something I do.  What I do flows from my being.  My being doesn’t flow from what I do.  I cannot truly be in a relationship until I decide to ACT.  I have to talk to my spouse.  I have to engage with her.  If I lived in a vacuum, I would not be in relationship.  It requires action.  It requires doing.  Saying, “I am a heterosexual” really has no meaning at all without action.  Likewise, you will not hear any denunciation of homosexuality in the Bible as long as it is contained in the person.  It is the act of doing homosexual activity that is condemned.  After all, the Bible clearly says that Jesus WAS tempted.  It isn’t that he was tempted that is important.  What is important is that he DIDN’T do what he was tempted to do.  His being informed what he did—and he didn’t sin.

Being on the other hand only requires…well, life.  In the Christian view, it is the fact that Christ enters us and gives us life, that our ontological being is changed.  We are no longer only a lump of flesh and DNA.  We are more:  We are no longer a body who has a soul; we are a soul who has a body.  Another way to say it—Ravi Zacharias routinely says, “Jesus didn’t come into the world to make bad people good.  He came to make dead men live.”  Being.

With those things being said, I think it is clear why there is such a negative reaction by the secular journalists when someone like Dungy says what he says.  It isn’t so much his comments, as they were fairly benign.  No—the problem is that his Christianity is seen as his prevailing ideology.  It is the fact that his being (Christ) informs all that he does.  He doesn’t believe it is his DNA or societal conditions that inform it.  He believes in Christ as the only way, he believes in original sin, and he believes that he IS a Child of God—not a football coach or a heterosexual.

Do you see the problem?  It is a matter of truth claim.  Dungy and all Christians are making an exclusive claim to truth when they identify as a Child of God.  They are saying that ALL men are flawed, that Jesus is the greatest who exists, and that it is ONLY through Jesus that ALL men can become, unflawed.

Let me put it into the lens of a personal story—and see two reactions to truth:

I once went to get a haircut, and in the middle of my cut, the lady cutting my hair said to the other lady working, “Business is good, but there must be more to life than this.”  I caught her eye in the mirror and said, “You know, in life, we aren’t made happy by what we acquire, but by what we appreciate.”  She was clearly interested, so I went on:  “The trouble as I see it is, that we often think we have nothing to be grateful for, but I think the real problem is, many times we think we have no one to be grateful to.”  She began to engage with me, and told me that she was very fearful about the future; and specifically, about bringing a baby into such an evil world.  I asked her then, “What is more troubling, the evil out there, or the evil inside?”  She agreed that the evil inside was more troubling, and she said, that it often felt like there was a power that controlled her—and that no matter what she did, she always feel prisoner to it.  I told her, “that power is what we call sin—and it doesn’t describe only actions that we do…but like you say, it describes a power that controls us.”  She nodded, and said, “I sometimes wish there was a way to be free from it…its almost like I need a……..”  I interrupted…”A savior?”  She lit up and said, “Yeah!  A Savior.  That is what I need.  What a great word.” 

A couple of weeks later I went back to check up on her…and she immediately sat me and began cutting my hair.  She told me that after our talk, she went home and told everything to her husband.  I thought to myself, “This will be interesting.”  So, I said to her, “what did he say?”   She said, “he said I was preaching at him!?”

Well of course she was.  Can you imagine coming home for dinner and hearing this:  “Hey honey… I need to tell you something….”  First, “You aren’t made happy by what you acquire, but by what you appreciate.”  “It isn’t that you have nothing to be thankful for, but that you have no one to be grateful to.”  “You aren’t held captive by what you do, but instead by a sin that controls you.”  “The only hope you have of getting rid of this sin is a Savior…and that savior is Jesus Christ.”

Was he ready to hear this?  No.  Why was she?  She had stated a cry of the heart when she told her coworker, “There has to be more to life than this.”  That was my way into the game.  The husband on the other hand was just trying to eat.  We need to be very mindful when we talk to people—and actually listen to what they say—to know when to engage them with the Gospel.

Now, I bring that up to show you how the gospel can be effectively communicated without causing a media imbroglio.  I think the left and seculars in general could take note from such a conversation. I don’t know that what Dungy said is any more offensive than the conversation I had with the woman.  He was asked a question and he responded.  Had he refused to respond, he would have been accused of not lending his moral authority to such an important issue in the NFL.

It brings up the issue of tolerance.  Tolerance as properly defined means existing in peace with those who you disagree with.  It has nothing to do with condoning, celebrating, or affirming.  Instead, what it is about is:  People are equal, ideas aren’t.  Because I see all people as equal, and ideas on a merit based plane, I am able to coexist with those whom I disagree.  I engage with their ideas—I do not engage them as people.  A good understanding of tolerance is:  “Gross.  You actually engage in that?  That is disgusting.  I cannot support such egregious behavior, BUT, I am not going to infringe on your rights to do that as long as you don’t infringe on mine.”  That is a textbook understanding of tolerance.

The problem is, tolerance has been redefined to mean, “You cannot disagree with anyone.”  There is a problem.  In saying, “You cannot disagree with anyone,” you are disagreeing with those who say, “You can disagree with anyone.”  It is a self-defeating proposition—it is meaningless.

Can we live in a fully tolerant, free, and just society?  Can those three coexist IF tolerance is defined in this new way?  No.  For justice to occur there will be disagreement.  For disagreement to occur there must be freedom.  For freedom to occur there must be the right to disagree and justice must exist.  If disagreement exists, then the new tolerance cannot exist in a free society.  Or to say it more poignantly, if the new tolerance exists, then there can be no true freedom.

I may disagree with you, but support your right to state your beliefs—that doesn’t mean I support your beliefs.  That doesn’t mean I celebrate them.  That doesn’t mean I would draft you.

 

What may be the most troubling is this:  “Thank God he wasn’t the coach of the St. Louis Rams…And like everyone in America, everyone is entitled to their own opinions.”  Michael Sam is right.  The problem is, there is a priestly class in America who do not really live by that philosophy.

What the media is really saying is, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but we do not agree that all people are equal—and some people should keep their mouths shut.”

Dan Graziano from ESPN said this:  “I’m not here to call Tony Dungy a bigot or to dispute his right to say what he wants to say. My point here is that Dungy has a platform and that his words matter to those who work in and follow the NFL. And on an issue such as this, it’s important for a person in Dungy’s position to understand that and to think about the impact his words have on the world at large. Again, he’s welcome to his opinion. He just needs to remember how many people are listening to it.”

He isn’t disputing his right to say it, but he NEEDS to remember how many people are listening.  Where does this moral objectivity come from?  Dungy NEEDS to…?  I have seen other articles that say, Dungy SHOULD refrain…or Dungy SHOULD have kept his mouth shut…

What gives them the right to stand on this moral platform?  If the fringe religious right and their claim to truth is absurd and dubious—then from what entity do we (read ‘they’) draw objective moral truths and duties?  Those are the questions we should be asking—before it is too late.

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Michael Sam, Equality, Justice–and the Gospel

If you have never read the remarkable letter Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from a Birmingham jail, I urge you to read it. He wrote this letter from memory, with no resources to use. It is incredibly profound. One of the most emotional moments of the letter to me is when he says toward the end of the letter:

 “There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.”

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.”

The church is failing in the culture—indeed. We expect the culture to live a certain way—and measure up to a certain standard (God’s standard)—but how can they? They don’t know him. Why would we expect them to be good, if they are incapable of being good? You and I are incapable of it apart from Christ.


 

On Saturday night, the St. Louis Rams selected Michal Sam, a defensive player from The University of Missouri, in the 7th round of the NFL Draft. Not since the Los Angeles Raiders selected Bo Jackson in the 7th round in 1987, has there been as much media hoopla over a late round pick. The selection of Sam had all the pomp and circumstance of Jadeveon Clowney being picked first overall—yet in terms of real football worth, the comparison between Clowney and Sam is light years apart. In fact, you could say that Michael Sam was the most celebrated 7th round pick in all NFL history. Why?

Michael Sam announced to the world February 9th, 2014 that he was a homosexual. Let that sink in. He announced it to the world.

My purpose here isn’t to bash Michael Sam—in fact, I wish him all the best in his football career. My purpose isn’t to bash homosexuals—I truly want to see them be happy. My purpose here is to call out what I see to be a highly partisan effort by the media to enforce their idea of political correctness, virtue, and morality on everyone else. Now don’t think for a minute that they actually care—it’s all about money and ratings.

I was watching a debate between Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless and heard something quite interesting. Stephen A. Smith, who identifies as a social liberal made the statement that just because a person may not be against homosexuality, does that mean that they can’t say, “Whoa, I wasn’t expecting to see that on television!” or, “That was a little much?” Does it make a person intolerant if they say, “That was gross!”?

No, No, and No. I agree with Smith.

Bayless, however, went on to pontificate:

“NFL players are going to have to learn to be tolerant. Even if you don’t condone something, you cannot condemn.”

 

Does that strike you as ridiculous? First of all he didn’t make clear if he meant you can’t condemn the person or the action. Tolerance—basically means, “Gross, but I can exist alongside you.” It means, “I find what you are doing DISGUSTING and IMMORAL, but I think you should be able to do that in your bedroom if you want without fear of anyone causing you physical harm for it.” Tolerance always has a negative connotation. If I tolerate something, that means that by definition, there is something about it that I don’t approve of. If I agreed with it, I wouldn’t have to tolerate it!

Consider this: If you invited me to your house for dinner, and your wife slaved in the kitchen and made a meal for us—would it offend you if after the meal I said, “Well now—that food was tolerable?” How about if I told someone at the office, “Spending time with his family was tolerable. I can tolerate them.” This is absurd. We only tolerate things if we disagree with them.

Now, clearly—the word tolerance has been hijacked and made to mean something else. If tolerance is being used here to say, “I wouldn’t do that and even though I disagree with that behavior, I openly celebrate it with you,” I think we are venturing into the absurd. How can I openly celebrate and applaud something that I disagree with? This is not tolerance, in the sense of the actual definition. This new branding of tolerance means that you cannot disagree with anyone.

If I talk to homosexual friends of mine and say, “Short of fully condoning your behavior, what would you accept from me?” Their answer, “There is no position we would accept.” Isn’t this a condemning statement?

This is not my view—but, if someone were to say, “I support marriage for homosexuals, but I would rather their physical showcases of affection stay off ESPN television,” is that intolerant? To me, this is an extremely fair position to take. My position would be, “I don’t support homosexuality, and I don’t support homosexual marriage; but, I do not want the government to infringe on the basic rights of anyone—homosexual or heterosexual.” That is a textbook example of a tolerant position. Crudely, you could say: “I disagree with you violently, but I would never engage you with violence.”

Now—back to the statement, “You may condone, but you can’t condemn.” This is a condemnation itself. If you are told that you can’t condemn, then how can the person saying this make the statement, “You can’t condemn?” Even my precious three year old would say, “Daddy, they aren’t making sense.” In what world is condemning, discerning, judging, or evaluating ideas wrong? To me, it is the framework of freedom of speech. When someone says, “You can’t condemn;” what they are really saying is—“Look, I know you don’t like that behavior, but you aren’t properly enlightened on the subject. Only we who support the ever shifting surface of morality understand what is virtuous and what isn’t. Because you aren’t among this priestly intellectual class, you needed to receive constant reminding and education about what is and isn’t virtuous. You cannot condemn homosexual behavior—precisely because it is virtuous. What isn’t virtuous is your dislike of it.”

It is as if they are saying, “Your ideas are worthless.” We know this cannot be the case though, right? I mean, isn’t everything about ‘equality?’—Look: the liberal man sees all ideas as equal, but views people existing on a system of elitism. Wait, you haven’t heard this? Some people, despite what you have been led to believe, ARE better than others, even though all ideas are the same. Because all ideas are the same—something must be done to ensure that things work out. Solution: demote some people to a lower status level—therefore making necessary a perpetual education by those in the priestly class.


Do you remember when Galileo sent that letter to the Benedictine Benedetto Castelli? He said that the Book of God was inerrant and infallible. He also said that the Book of God’s works (nature) was also inerrant and infallible. He said that while we could all adjudicate the scriptures, only a certain type of intellect could adjudicate the book of God’s works—therefore—placing the scientist and mathematician in a role of priest. It is as if he was saying to the religious population, “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.” Simply put, you aren’t intellectual enough to enter this conversation—you must defer to us.

This is precisely what has happened here. If you view homosexual behavior as immoral, “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.” What does this imply? It implies a standard to which something is compared (weight), and an intelligent being to adjudicate the data (judge). Today, the left has become both the one who adjudicates the data, and the dictator of the particular epistemological method by which to weigh the ‘rightness’ of any particular issue. They know how the scale works, how to read it, and what the acceptable limits for weight are! They only demand that you fund it.

If you aren’t in the priestly class, you have no say. You are labeled as part of the underclass—not even able to participate in the discussion.

Isn’t it interesting that—to justify their arguments they have to appeal to the very thing they reject? It is as if secular man says, “You are wrong because you hold to an Either/Or position when it comes to moral theory. You hold to a Right/Wrong system.”   They go on to say, “We believe that in adjudicating moral theory, we must use a Both/And system. You can be both this and that—and be virtuous.” Do you see what has been done here? They are saying, “EITHER you use the BOTH/AND…….OR nothing else.” They exercise the Either/Or logic to support their Both/And system. Trust me, even existentially, they use the Either/Or. When they cross the street, it is either the bus or them—not both.


 

On a more serious note, I think it is sad that we find ourselves in the position we are in. It is as if we as a culture have our feet planted in mid-air. Many who hold to this view would also affirm Darwinian Theory as unequivocal fact. Species have developed through a random process of natural selection. Life has emerged because of natural selection and variation. The question I have is, “If we are determined biologically to think the way we do and act the way we do (as Darwinian theory demands),” how can you judge me for holding to a position that I am biologically determined to hold?” If free will is in fact an illusion (as Darwinism points out as well as modern scholars like Professor John Gray), how can you criticize me for holding to my view since I didn’t come to hold it based on any arguments, evidence, or data—but purely because of biological programming?

Do you see what I mean when I say secular man sees all ideas as equal, but people as elite? Ideas, say the Darwinists, enter us through our biological development—we have no choice. If we have no choice, then we have no rational way to adjudicate what is right—because after all, we just hold to them without choosing to hold to them. The way the left gets around this is to say, “Ah…but there is a certain class of people who are elite. Because of this, we will subscribe as a society to their ideas. They determine “right” for the rest of us.”

This is precisely what has happened here.

I think the way we need to deal with this as Christians is very delicate, and difficult.

We need to insist on our view being heard—and do so in a spirit of love. Secondly, we need to show the secular man that there is a difference between who we are and what we do. I am who I am. I am not what I do. Why would anyone want their identity to be framed around their particular sexual proclivity? How much more animalistic can you get. And trust me—none of these folks on the left want to believe that they are no different than a coyote. We are human beings. There is more to us than our sexuality.

I think we also need to understand that it takes time. Do you know that there have been studies done on the deceased brains of homosexual men? Do you know what they found? They found that a certain part of the brain was more developed than is found in heterosexual men. Do you know the same is true for people addicted to pornography? A certain part of the brain is more developed. What does this tell us? It says that if someone has this part of the brain developed, it could take a minimum of 7 years to reverse the growth to that part of the brain. Why do you think pornography is made free on the internet? Once they get young males to look at the pornographic images, the brain begins to grow—soon enough, they will be neurologically addicted to this. Just like any other muscle, it must be stimulated constantly or it will atrophy—in which case they will feel the effects. I say that to say this: Short of God performing a miracle like turning a withered hand to healthy—even if someone who is homosexual comes to know Christ—we CANNOT expect this to change overnight. They have had a change in brain. We must be mindful here.

That being said, I think we need to be mindful that judgment in itself isn’t wrong. First of all, Paul urges us in Galatians to live a life that looks and tastes a certain way. He tells us to have a singular fruit with plural taste. The fruits of the spirit. We should live a life that basically says, “Bite me–see what I taste like–you will be hooked.” Now, if someone claims to be a Christian but doesn’t look or taste like this fruit, we are to challenge them. For the sinner, we are to judge them as well.

 


 

 

The question we need to ask ourselves is: Do we love other people?  If we do, we must understand that true love only exists in the presence of judgment, not without.

For example, in Pride and Prejudice, the affluent Mr Darcy fell in love with Elizabeth Bennet. Not able to hold his emotions any longer, Mr Darcy confessed to Elizabeth with these honest and befuddling words:

 “Miss Elizabeth. I have struggled in vain and I can bear it not longer… I came to Rosings with the single object of seeing you… I had to see you. I have fought against my better judgment, my family’s expectations, the inferiority of your birth by rank and circumstance. All these things I am willing to put aside and ask you to end my agony.”

After Mr. Darcy made his confession, Elizabeth responded in perplex, “I don’t understand.” How could she since Mr Darcy said that he has ‘fought against his better judgment’? Should not Mr. Darcy proclaim her beauty and goodness instead?

And to answer Elizabeth’s perplexity, Mr. Darcy mouthed the simple words of, “I love you” because that is what true love means! True love only exists when we are fully aware of the person’s weaknesses, yet we choose to love them. That is why two persons grow deeper in love with each other in marriage because both sides knew the inferiorities of both sides, yet they still love each other. “True love only exists in the presence of judgment.”


 

I think we must also urge that instead of tolerance, we will give people respect. I can respect someone greatly and still vehemently disagree with them. I cannot do this with tolerance. If I tolerate someone, I am really not respecting them.


 

Finally, I think we need to be insistent on what the qualifications for salvation are. They have nothing to do with our actions, sexuality, merit, or how much good we do in society. It is solely based upon our acceptance of grace. If you ask a person of the left, “What must a person do to go to heaven?” Many will say—“well—be good.” In fact I know many secular people who put Christians to shame in being good. Here is the problem—if only the good are going to heaven, and God alone is good—then who is going to heaven? God and no one else. Your and my application to join the trinity has been rejected. We fail to meet minimum entry requirements!

Our going to heaven has nothing to do with our goodness, but with the goodness of Christ. We are all sinful—regardless of sexual proclivity. We are all fallen, depraved and unworthy. Malcolm Muggeridge said, “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable fact, and at the same time the most intellectually resisted reality.” We are fallen. We have no hope. Consider this quote from Oliver Sack’s Awakenings:

“For all of us have a basic, intuitive feeling that once we were whole and well; at ease, at peace, at home in the world; totally united with the grounds of our being; and that then we lost this primal, happy, innocent state, and fell into our present sickness and suffering. We had something of infinite beauty and preciousness- and we lost it; we spend our lives searching for what we have lost.”

Now, that is from an agnostic medical doctor. After billions and billions of dollars of research and numerous psychological and scientific findings—we are stuck at Genesis 3.

 

Remember what I said about Mr. Darcy? “True love only exists in the presence of judgment?”  Likewise, that is how God loves us too. Despite His full awareness of our downfall, weaknesses, ugliness, and failures that lie bare before Him, God still choose to love us unconditionally.


BUT:  In love, judgment must still be served

The solution comes by way of Christ. We are guilty—we have indeed sinned. We are separated from God, and we are guilty. God is completely just, yet he is completely merciful. Now—if you think about it—this is a challenge for God: To be completely just and also completely merciful. As humans we extend mercy at the expense of justice, and we extend justice at the expense of mercy. We cannot have it both ways. We are guilty before a just God. What does he do? Well, he exercises both his mercy and justice. How? Through His son Jesus on the cross. He inflicts justice through Christ, therefore, giving us mercy. The debt must be paid. When justice is removed from a civilization, all hope is lost. God is fully just. He is fully merciful. God does not extend mercy to you and me at the expense of justice—but rather—through it—on the cross—through his son Jesus Christ.

As I think about the voluminous cry for equality—I can’t help but notice that we are already equal. We are sinful—and we need saving.

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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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