Saturday, July 23, 2016

Wait A Second, Which Woman Is Trump Again?

I posted about this on Facebook and I am surprised that very few people know about it. Maybe we are so numb to foolishness coming from Christian public figures that we stopped paying attention a long time ago. Anyway, on Thursday morning last week I was driving around and had NPR on. That in itself is noteworthy. I used to always listen to Morning Edition on my way to work and All Things Considered on my way home. It was clearly deeply liberal but if you knew that ahead of time you could still get some edification out of their in-depth stories. Not anymore. You really are pressed to find a story that is not a) claiming "climate change" is the root cause of every problem in the world, b) breathlessly praising homosexuality or c) some iteration of "Black Lives Matter" propaganda. A really good NOT story includes all three. But I was out in the middle of nowhere Kentucky so I was listening to Morning Edition and the story that stuck with me was: Ted Cruz Delegate Will Loyally Favor Trump; Falwell On Why He Backs Trump. The second half was an interview with Jerry Falwell, Jr. who is President of Liberty University. Liberty is, according to their webpage, the largest Christian university in the world and the largest private, not for profit university in America. They boast 14,500 residential students and a whopping 95,000 online students. Their seminary is huge especially their online presence. I took several semesters of classes from the seminary, the Rawlings School of Divinity (it wasn't called that at the time) and they were pretty good. I am setting the table here to make the point that Jerry Falwell, Jr. is the head of a major center of influence for the church, especially the conservative Evangelical wing of the church in America. He is also an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump. What he said during the interview was so obviously wrong that my jaw literally dropped.

During his interview with Steve Inskeep from NPR, after accusing Russell Moore of being a closet liberal because he doesn't support Trump which is funny because Trump holds essentially no classically conservative political position except for a couple that he put on for the election like he put on his dorky "Make America Great Again" hats, Inskeep asked the obvious question about Trump's well documented and often flaunted immoral behavior, behavior which would have presumably gotten him kicked out of Falwell's school on multiple occasions. Here is the exchange:
INSKEEP: Is his personal life or any candidate's personal life relevant to you? 
FALWELL, JR.: Well, I think Jesus said we're all sinners. When they ask that question, I always talk about the story of the woman at the well who had had five husbands and she was living with somebody she wasn't married to, and they wanted to stone her. And Jesus said he's - he who is without sin cast the first stone. I just see how Donald Trump treats other people, and I'm impressed by that.
Anyone with even a basic level of familiarity with the Gospels knows something is wrong here. Falwell is talking about two different events in the Gospel as if they were the same event. He uses enough detail to conclude that he is drawing from both but he doesn't seem to realize they are different accounts. I imagine he had this response to the inevitable question from Inskeep ready and still he totally confused the two. As a refresher, the woman at the well with five husbands comes from John, chapter 4, specifically John 4:7-30. This is a Samaritan woman Jesus is speaking to. Four chapters later, in John 8:1-11, Jesus brings him a woman, I assume a Jew, who was caught in the act of adultery and the Pharisees wanted to trap Him in how to deal with her. This account is pretty controversial in terms of whether it should be included in John's Gospel or not. Regardless, we have two events with two very different sets of circumstances. The only commonality was that both stories dealt with women engaged in sin. It is also instructive to note that with the woman about to be stoned, Jesus said to her to go and sin no more, not go and sin some more and then run for President.

I might expect and excuse someone who was a young Christian and had not had the chance to study the Bible like he should that made this mistake. The President of a Seminary, a 54 year old man who grew up in the household of Jerry Falwell and undoubtedly was at church multiple times a week for more than half a century, a man who oversees the education of over 100,000 students who trust that Liberty is an evangelical school? Please. This was more than just a slip on a small detail, this is the statement of someone who apparently doesn't know that what he described as one event is what the Bible records as two distinct and very different events in the ministry of Jesus. You might think I am nitpicking or being overly harsh but if anything I am being too soft on this.

It is bad enough that someone with the public platform and influence over not just the tens of thousands of students at Liberty but potentially millions more who are taught by clergy and missionaries trained at Liberty, not to mention getting on national news broadcasts on a regular basis, is using his influence to shill for a deplorable individual that is the antithesis of every quality the Bible tells us to emulate. To do that while butchering a Biblical example that makes little sense anyway and making a fool of himself while he is at it is inexcusable. Mr. Falwell might be better served and might serve the student body of Liberty better if he spent less time singing the praises of Donald Trump and more time reading the Bible.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Repost: Headcovering: Now More Than Ever

About a year ago I posted this little essay on the topic of headcovering. Given the absolute trainwreck that is happening in our culture, headcovering seems like a pretty minor topic. Don't we have bigger fish to fry? I would argue that we will never be truly faithful in the big stuff if we neglect the "small" stuff. I say "small" because nothing recorded in Scripture is small or minor. As we observe our cultural crashing down around us, it is more important than ever that we stand firmly on Scripture. It will increasingly set us apart as peculiar and "out of step" but that is how we should have been all along. So here is my post from last year, maybe you will find it interesting.

As an aside here are a couple of fairly recent posts from others on the topic of headcovering:

Should Single Women Wear Head Coverings?

Why I Love To Wear A Head Covering
Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11:2-16)
This is a weird passage for a lot of Christians, one that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. It deals with a couple of awkward issues, like submission and a command to wear something on your head. You can see this awkwardness in the general way that it is treated in most sermons when the pastor comes to this passage and generally skips past it as fast as he can, The typical treatment of these verses is to dismiss them based on an alleged, unspoken cultural question that really has no bearing on the church today in our enlightened age. In general it is dismissed as a quaint, kind of confusing cultural relic that has no place in our modern church.

I would argue just the opposite. My wife has covered for many years, even when she was the only person in a gathering who did so. The practice kind of was in vogue in some circles a few years back and I blogged a bit about it but seems to have cooled off. Here in 2015 I am hoping to revive this conversation because if ever there was a time when the church needed it, it is now. I am not going to go back through and review the arguments for an actual covering versus long hair or a covering being replaced by a wedding ring, I have posts on those topics already if you are interested.

A covering is more than just an external sign of a submissive heart, although it is not less than that, The covering is also a quiet act of subversion against the culture that tells us that gender, like race, is whatever you want it to be, whatever you feel like at that moment. The covering reminds us that God intentionally made man and He intentionally made woman, He made them in a specific way and order and He made them to be distinct, interdependent and complementary. The two genders and how God designed them to relate with one another is integral to God's design for humanity and even for His plan of salvation. When we read the opening of the Gospel according to Matthew we see the genealogy of Jesus Christ, generation after generation. When we see the curse in Genesis 3 we also see the promise that would be fulfilled in Christ Jesus through the seed of the woman. When we see the promise to Abraham we know that it is fulfilled in the children of the union between man and woman. The covering is a critical, external symbol of recognition of the pivotal place of gender. Absolutely the heart is even more critical in this equation but you simply cannot negate the external sign commanded in Scripture, just as Christians are called to actually be baptized in water as an external sign of an inward reality.

As I said, the covering is a subversive statement today, a counter-cultural act that quietly witnesses to and stands in defiance of the prevailing culture. The culture says "be whatever you want to be, feel free to mutilate the canvas of your flesh". The cover says "I am a daughter of the Most High, made as a woman in His image and by His design and for His glory". The culture says "Men and women are indistinguishable and interchangeable" , the covering says "I am unique and irreplaceable as a woman and I have no desire to be a man". A woman with a covered head leaves no doubt as to the nature of men and women and her embrace of how God has made her. A husband blessed to have a wife at his side with a covering is a witness to the complementary nature of the genders and a recognition of his own incompleteness apart from his spouse. I don't want a woman who looks and acts like a man, I want a woman who is "a helper fit for him" (Gen 2:18).

The culture wars are over and the religious right lost. The casual immorality and confusion we see all around us speaks this truth loud and clear. Now is the time for the quiet way of the cross, a way that does not shout or seek power but also does not seek to hide or accommodate. Rather than seeking to blend in through capitulation or fighting for the last vestiges of political coercive power, we instead can follow a third way of quiet subversion via witness. The covering is an ancient symbol but one that carries with it powerful ramifications and a similarly powerful witness without saying a word. It says to the world that no matter what the nonsensical, ignorant chattering heads on The View or the writers of People magazine have to say, God has already spoken definitively on the question of men and women.

Sometimes the ancient practices are the best response to the modern errors.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

So THAT is who Mark Burns is

In my prior post I mentioned I had no idea who Mark Burns, excuse me, Pastor Mark Burns was. As an aside, there are few things I find more revolting and indicative of someone who is probably not called to be an elder than constantly referring to yourself as "Pastor So and So". Anyway, Mr. Burns gave the benediction last night at the opening night of the GOP convention....

Beg your pardon "pastor". Hillary Clinton is not the enemy of the church. She is an unbeliever and her policy proposals are consistently, 100% the exact opposite of what we should be doing as a nation but she is not our enemy. The Bible tells us over and over that Satan is the enemy of the church. Certainly Hillary Clinton may be influenced by our enemy when she advocates so enthusiastically for infanticide but even if she is, she is but a tool. She might be the political enemy of the Republican Party but this guy who gets up and crows about his title as "pastor" and talks about Donald Trump believing in Jesus Christ in spite of all of the evidence to the contrary seems to think that enemies of the Republican Party are of course also enemies of the church. If you are speaking with the presumed authority of being an elder in the church and people can't be sure if you are speaking as a Christian or as a Republican, something is wrong.

As Paul writes, we have a real enemy to fight:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12)

The mission of the church is not to make more Republicans or to win secular elections. Our mission is to preach the Gospel and proclaim the Kingdom of God. We are in far more danger from those within the church who are false teachers and wolves among the sheep than we are from unbelieving politicians, even unbelieving politicians like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The outcome of this election does matter because it will have a huge impact on the everyday lives of regular people but let's not turn this into a holy war because there isn't anyone running from the two major parties that is a Christian or represents Christian values.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Someone Who Is Neither Christian Nor Conservative Can't Really Be The Christian Conservative Candidate

Somebody named Mark Burns, oh excuse me Pastor Mark Burns, was on Fox and Friends yesterday and declared one Donald J. Trump to be the "Christian conservative candidate"...

"He is the Christian conservative candidate. America, if you're a Christian, if you're a conservative, this is the party you need to be voting for."

I don't have a clue who this Mark Burns fellow is but he must be relatively famous and be willing to use his credentials as a "pastor" to speak at the Republican National Convention in favor of Donald Trump. Since many Christians automatically place a great deal of trust in the credibility of what someone says if they are identified as a "pastor" or "minister" or "reverend", it makes sense for the RNC to drum up someone who will say the right things on stage. It will make it easier for rank-and-file Christians to vote for Trump if someone who is a "pastor" tells them it is OK. In a society where many people give immediate credibility to something said by someone in a position of authority, it is incredibly dangerous to have people who are allegedly supposed to be shepherding the sheep using that influence to promote secular political candidates.

If you want to support and vote for Trump, be my guest. I get why you would do so but what I really wish Christians would do is to state that while Trump is not a Christian in any sense of the word, he is a better pragmatic choice than Hillary Clinton. My view is that while Trump might accidentally do some stuff right if he is elected, we can be sure that Mrs. William Clinton will make the wrong decision 100 times out of 100. For what it is worth, I am not voting for either of them.

We have a problem though when Mr. Burns (no relation to the owner of the nuclear power plant in Springfield) uses the term "Christian conservative candidate" to describe Trump. The problem is that he apparently doesn't understand what 2 of those 3 words mean. He is correct that Donald Trump is a candidate for President. But a conservative? Unless you actually believe that Trump has had a complete change of heart on every single issue, most notably abortion, you have to recognize that he is not a conservative as it is understood by anyone who has thought it through. A pragmatist, sure. A sort of nativist/populist demagogue for certain. But a conservative? Please. The claim he is a Christian is even worse. Being a Christian means being born-again, being a new creature in Christ. Saying "Imma 'strong' Christian" and waving an obviously unopened Bible around doesn't make you a Christian, nor does having the term applied to you by James Dobson. We are told that we will know Christians by their fruit but Trump is the more or less exact opposite of every single fruit of the Spirit. I wish Christian "leaders" would quit trying to turn Trump into a Christian to make it our obligation to vote for him and just be honest, Trump is the less awful choice in what is traditionally a strictly two party contest and it says a lot about Mrs. Clinton that she can make Trump look like the better choice. I am hoping that Gary Johnson gets on the debate stage, he is not exactly a dynamo and is wrong on some issues but at least he would be honest about who he is, a marked contrast to the two serial liars representing the two major parties.

"Conservative". "Christian". Mr Burns keeps using those words but they don't mean what he thinks they mean.

Of course I might add that someone who uses his ecclesiastical title to try to influence members of the church to vote for Donald Trump might add another word to the list of words he doesn't understand, "pastor".

Saturday, July 16, 2016

And This

"Exciting News" for the children of California, a new program of indoctrination education curriculum that is going to emphasize "the contributions of people and groups who may not have received the appropriate recognition in the past", Superintendent Torlakson Announces Approval of History–Social Science Framework.
"This is a big win for our students," said Torlakson. "This document will improve the teaching and learning of history and social science. It will give our students access to the latest historical research and help them learn about the diversity of our state and the contributions of people and groups who may not have received the appropriate recognition in the past."
The Framework provides guidance to teachers, administrators, and publishers for the teaching of history and social science. It includes more than 20 detailed classroom examples that show teachers how they can integrate their instruction to build students' history–social science knowledge and skills, literacy skills, and English language development.
"The adoption of this Framework today is an important part of our instructional program, said President Michael Kirst of the California State Board of Education. "Hundreds of people representing broad perspectives contributed to the development of this important tool for teachers and classrooms. The new Framework will help guide classroom instruction at each grade level and will be used with other instructional resources to ensure all students have a broad understanding of history."
The Framework adds considerable information on civic learning, consistent with the work of Torlakson's California Task Force on K–12 Civic Learning. In addition, information was added about financial literacy; voter education; genocide; and the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans and people with disabilities to the history of California and the United States.

So kids in California public schools probably won't be able to tell you within half a century when the American Revolution or World War II happened but they will be well versed in what a heroic "martyr" Harvey Milk was. The news release reads like a parody but unfortunately for the kids of California it is not. I am guessing that "civic learning" is a code for "leftist indoctrination to achieve a political outcome and a predictable population".

I am not totally joking when I suggest that sending your kids to a public school in California is tantamount to child abuse. California is the leading edge of what all public schools are going to become, little incubators to create a leftist, entitled population of drones who will passively accept the leftist narrative they are being force fed through the "education" system. With the constant push to get more and more kids into government run pre-"school" and keeping them in that system via "free" year round college for everyone, the end result are an annual entry of 22 year old serfs who will never question the state because they have never been taught, and are actually discouraged, from engaging in critical thought for more than two decades, separated as much as possible from any influence from their family.

No one in the "education" establishment seems concerned that we spend more and more to push a kid through public K-12 and yet the kids coming out are less educated, less able to think independently and less prepared for work and family in the real world. It seems as if that might be the intent all along.

Then There Is This

A lesbian woman as a bishop. Well there you go. It is almost like having the second leads inexorably to the first.

As a side note to Ms. Oliveto. What you are glimpsing is not the realm of God but the lies of man. Looks great now but it doesn't end well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Stuff That Sounds Really Deep But Really Is Not

Another Facebook inspired post. I saw this posted on a webpage dedicated to T. Austin Sparks...

OK, that sounds great. What is my problem now?

Just this little quibble. How do we know Jesus in the first place if we don't know the Bible? Notice the quote:

We first know the Lord Jesus, and then we take Him back into the Bible, and He is the interpretation of the Bible. Therefore, we cannot really understand the Bible until we know the Lord Jesus.

We know Jesus first. How do we know Jesus first? Imagine this fictional conversation with someone who doesn't know Jesus but wants to:

Hey there friend, I hear you want to know Jesus?

Yep, I hear lots of great things about Him! Can you tell me about Him?

Sure, what do you want to know?

Ok, great! So what do we know about Jesus?

Well, we know that God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that's Jesus, into the world so that anyone who believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

That is awesome, how do we know that?

Well, it is in the Bible.

What else do we know about Jesus?

We know that He was born to a virgin and that this fulfilled Old Testament prophecies.

Amazing! How do we know that?

Well, it is in the Bible.

Go on, tell me more!

OK, while Jesus was on earth He fed a multitude with a little bread and a couple of fishes, He healed the lame and cause the blind to see.

What a great guy Jesus was! How do you know He did all that?

Well, it is in the Bible. And He was more than a man, He was actually God who took on flesh.

Incredible! Where did you learn that?

Well, it is in the Bible.

What ever happened to Jesus, this God who became man?

He was unjustly arrested by the Jewish religious leaders, condemned by a Roman named Pontius Pilate, tortured and crucified on a cross where He died. He was buried in a tomb but on the third day rose again and in doing so He atoned for the sins of His people.

Wow! How do...

Well, it is in the Bible.

Then what did He do?!?!?

He appeared to His apostles, told them to spread the Good News of His Gospel, calling men to repent and be baptized and that He would return one day in glory for His church.

Let me guess how you know that...

Well, it is in the Bible.

So it sounds to me that if I want to get to know Jesus I need to get to know the Bible?

Yeah, I guess it does sound that way.

You see where I am going with this. It is easy to get so caught up in studying the Bible as a textbook that we lose sight of Jesus as the ultimate subject of and reason for the Bible in the first place so I understand the caution. However I am concerned when people seemingly pit knowing Jesus against knowing the Bible. The Bible is all about Jesus and what we know about Jesus is found in the Bible. Someone can tell you about Jesus but if they don't point you to the Bible to learn who Jesus is directly from the authoritative source, something is squirrelly.

While the intent of the quote is probably noble, the words and the way they are used can make it seem as if the Bible is a secondary source. I am all for people knowing Jesus better. I am all for people knowing their Bible better. The second will help the first.

If you want to know the living Son of God, you need to know the revelations preserved for that very purpose. Know the Bible, know Jesus.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Doctorate of Ministry in Queer Theology. No, Really.

Take a gander at this video, ostensibly of a "pastor" who called on God to damn "white America" shortly before the shooting of those Dallas police officers who were there to protect him while he was making such asinine and anti-Christian statements and then going on TV to talk about "one America" and coming together in "love":

You heard that correctly. Here is a "pastor" (more on that in a second) who is calling for God's damnation on every person in this country that is white. That is not what he meant? Well then he shouldn't have said it. The video shows the guy with a hokey fake accent very slowly and deliberately calling for God to damn white America. Twice. I am white. I live in America. So this guy is calling on God to damn me because of my skin color. This wasn't an off the cuff remark, he clearly had thought this through and even invoked the name of another well known racist "preacher", Jeremiah Wright. Mr. Wright is a racist cut from the same racist cloth as David Duke.  Look at Mr. Hood (or as he styles himself "The Reverend Doctor Jeff Hood") as he invokes Jeremiah Wright with that smirk on his face as he gets the applause he is craving from the crowd. He looks like he is desperately wanting someone in the crowd to pat him on the head. He says it twice so it isn't exactly like he didn't think about what he was saying, when you repeat yourself it is for the purpose of emphasizing and reinforcing what you are saying.

Also watch later in the clip when he is talking to Megyn Kelly. Notice that his fake accent has mostly disappeared. Like Hillary Clinton he turns on what I guess he thinks is an appealing accent when speaking in front of a black crowd and then turns it off when speaking to a white reporter. If I were black I would be deeply insulted that this is what Mr. Hood thinks black people talk like and that if he uses a fake accent he can seem like a more authentic guy. When someone has a hokey accent for black audiences and then a more educated and articulate accent for white audiences, who is the racist here?

He also states: " We have to come together as one America". Huh. How do you think that is going to happen when you go on TV with a dorky smirk on your face and deliver "God damn White America" to curry favor? As part of "White America", whatever that means, I sure don't feel like linking arms with a racist like Jeremiah Wright or a self-loathing white leftist who fawns over Wright to become "one America".

Mr. Hood calls the police "the enemy" and then goes on TV (minus his "black" accent) to talk about coming together as one America and loving each other. I am assuming he only regrets what he was saying because of what happened that night. He shows little remorse for his racist attacks and his hypocritical statements, statements that have more in common with Westboro Baptist than the Biblical Church. That begs the question:

If inflammatory rhetoric from Donald Trump is directly to blame for violence at his rallies, why is inflammatory rhetoric from Black Lives Matter  and from a "pastor" who is clearly inflaming the crowd not to blame for the shooting of police?

Speaking of Mr. Hood as a "pastor". He goes to great lengths to brag about his accomplishments which is kinda ironic since he benefited educationally from institutions (Auburn, Alabama, South Seminary, etc.) which epitomize the "white America" that he wants damned. Of course he does have the super prestigious  "Doctorate of Ministry in Queer Theology at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University", which is actually a thing. There is actually a degree granting program at TCU's seminary that gives out "Doctorate of Ministry" degrees focused on "Queer Theology". According to Brite Seminary the cost of getting that nonsense is $13,200. I could have saved Mr. Hood thirteen grand and summed up what the Bible teaches about "Queer Theology": Don't do it. I am sure that Addison and Randolph Clark, the brothers that co-founded what is now Brite Seminary, must be delighted to see how far afield this seminary has gone. Read the rest of his humble intro:

The author of ten books (The Queer: An Interaction with The Gospel of John, The Queering of an American Evangelical, The Sociopathic Jesus, The Year of the Queer, Jesus on Death Row, Frances, Last Words from Texas: Meditations from the Execution Chamber, The Rearing of an American Evangelical, The Courage to Be Queer and The Basilica of the Swinging Dicks), Dr. Hood also serves in the governing leadership of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and Fellowship of Reconciliation USA. In 2013, Dr. Hood was awarded PFLAG Fort Worth’s Equality Award for Activism. In 2015, Hood was named Hope for Peace and Justice’s Ambassador of Justice for his theological activism and also the Next Generation Action Network’s Person of the Year for his work against police brutality. In addition to being the husband of Emily and father of Jeff III, Phillip, Quinley Mandela, Lucas & Madeleine, Dr. Hood also maintains a close friendship with Texas Death Row prisoner Will Speer.

Well I have to admit none of those books is on my reading list although I am sure that "The Basilica of the Swinging Dicks" is a deep and profound theological work. Some of his other stuff claims that "God is queer" which is so incredibly nonsensical that it boggles the mind. He closes his bio with this:

With deep soul and a belief that God is “calling us to something queerer,” Dr. Hood is a radical mystic and prophetic voice to a closed society.

Well. I guess "deep soul" means "putting on a fake accent to appease a crowd".

It takes some doing to make Donald Trump seem humble but Mr. Hood has pulled it off. Lest you think I am being unfair, I would also point out that Mr. Hood is a poet. Here is a sampling, the first one I clicked on, of his "poetics", Chickens After Dark:

Chickens after dark

I hear you call

You know my name

I long for God

Tell me your secrets

Your eye leans in





That was it

Everything’s not dead after all

I seriously had to check to make sure this wasn't The Onion or the Babylon Bee. Bawk. Bawk. Bawk. Bawk. Dude, that is some deep stuff worthy of a radical mystic and prophetic voice. 

It is bad enough in this country with all of the inflammatory rhetoric. We don't need false teachers like Mr. Hood making it worse while styling himself as a "pastor". Lest anyone be confused: Mr. Hood doesn't speak for the church, doesn't have a clue who God is and has no idea what Christ came to earth to do.

Sometimes it seems like we would be better off without the internet so that people like Mr. Hood don't have a platform for their nonsense.

If He Didn't Say It Then Don't Say He Said It

So there was this on Facebook posted from Instagram:

That is great except Jesus didn't actually say that. Any of it. Nor anything vaguely like it.

Here is a good rule of thumb. Jesus said lots of stuff that was not recorded (John 21:25) but what was recorded was preserved for a good reason. We have a pretty tough time comprehending what Jesus did say without trying to make Him say stuff He didn't say. So to say that "...saying "Black Lives Matter" is one of the most Christ-like things we can do" is the statement of someone who doesn't apparently know anything about Christ, at least not the real Christ. Jesus wasn't a "social justice" warrior in the contemporary sense of "social justice". He wasn't driven by identity politics. His Gospel was universal. The asinine picture above is an attempt to co-opt the King of creation as a tool for a political agenda that has nothing to do with the Kingdom. I have no doubt that Jesus thinks that  the lives of image bearers with black skin are precious, as much so and not less or more than image bearers with white skin or any other skin color. Jesus came to die to save an elect people from every tribe and nation and people, not to divide people up by skin color to pander to one over another or to become a form of slogan to push an agenda.

Too many people use the name of Jesus as a talisman to give credence to their secular cause. They never let Jesus speak for Himself or to even be silent. They simply say whatever it is they think and then invoke the name of Christ without so much as asking if He was on board or not. Saying that parroting "black lives matter" is one of the most Christ-like things we can do is to demonstrate that one has no idea what Christ is like.

The question of race, of excessive force by police, etc. is complicated and fraught with enough confusion, mistrust and misunderstanding as it is. It is completely counter-productive to try to force Jesus into a particular political fringe movement and claim that He has endorsed it. If your argument can't stand on its own without a clumsy and exegetically ludicrous attempt to enlist Jesus as your spokesperson, it probably is not a very good argument.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Words Matter

One of the major problems we have in America in communicating with one another is that we seem to have forgotten that the words we use have meaning. In a day of twitter and social media not only have we lost the ability to write by hand and to spell without assistance, we also have forgotten that that words have meaning. The words we use, how we use them, what order we put them in and what words we don't use, all deeply impact what people hear when we speak or write and yet this generation is so incredibly careless with our words. Many people just assume that you know what they mean even when what they mean is directly at odds with what they say and just as often get offended when we can't successfully guess their cryptic message.

I harp on about this all the time but it really is important. Sloppy language in cultural discourse leads to inflamed conversations because no one really agrees on what a topic is even defined as. Sloppy language, especially intentionally misleading language, in the church leads to people thinking they are justified when they are not and unbelievers being unequally yoked to believers because no one seems to know who is part of the church and who is not.

This is not intended as a deep, thought provoking post (obviously!) but it was something on my mind today in our current climate. If you say something but then say that we shouldn't embellish what you say but that we should add onto what you say to create a completely different definition, it seems a little silly to get mad when people take what you say at face value. I regularly check the established definition of words to make sure that what I think something means is what it actually means. I am almost always correct in my use but every now and again I realize that what I meant to say should be said a different way and revise my comments.

Let me implore us all to be more precise in the language we use, to use words as carefully as we use sharp objects or flammable liquids because in a lot of ways an imprecise word can be more deadly than a match near a gas can or a toddler running with scissors. Mean what you say and say what you mean. An old chestnut to be sure but one that still applicable today, in fact even more so in a day when our words can go instantly from a passing thought to our hands to every corner of the world in a matter of seconds. If there was ever a time that cried out for precision it is now.

Monday, July 04, 2016

One Last Independence Day Note

I am often critical of the U.S. of A. around these holidays. Critical of the state of our people, of  the freedoms squandered and lost, of the triumph of envy and resentment, of our history filled with foolish wars, of the entanglement of the church with civil religious and unequal yoking with unbelievers and rank heretics for political power. I have lots of negative stuff to say. After all America is the worst nation that has ever existed...

...except for all of the others out there now and that have ever been.

You see I love this country, far more than I probably should. I love the diverse people who throughout most of our history have come from near and far, maintaining their culture and heritage but also eagerly making their Americanization their most important goal. There was once a time when being an American was far more important than being an Asian-American or an African-American. For hundreds of years America has held a promise, an imperfect one in so many ways, but a promise nevertheless that if you came to our shores, learned our language, followed our laws and worked your hardest you could make a better life for yourself, and even more importantly for your children. Millions of people came here to sacrifice their own comfort for the sake of their children and for hundreds of years that promise was fulfilled in generation after generation. The "New Colossus" sonnet that is found at the Statue of Liberty contains the immortal words that have drawn people from around the world:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

The promise of America is why so many have come here and so many still seek to come here, once largely from Europe but now from all over the world, Mexico and South Korea and India and Burma. They come for the same reason that my forefathers came from Poland and Ireland, for the promise of freedom and opportunity.

I love how diverse our landscape is, from the teeming cities that sit on oceans and lakes to the tiny burghs that barely show up on a map. No other country can boast our diverse landscape, from the lush sub-tropics of the southeast to the forests and lakes of the north, the deserts of the southwest and two incredible mountain ranges that bisect the country from north to south, the Appalachians in the east and the Rockies in the west. In this country you can fly around in a day and go from skiing in the mountains to sitting on a sunny beach all in the same day.

There is to me no country quite like America, a land of deep faults and scars but the land that beckons the downtrodden, the poor, the hopeless. I am critical because I know that in spite of our warts and national shame's this land offers to the world something no other nation does. We can be better. We have been better. For the sake of our children and indeed of the world we must be better.

No one sings it better than Neil Diamond. Happy birthday America!

Happy Violation Of Romans 13 Day!

My annual repost of A nation born of rebellion against God ....

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

With these words, the Declaration of Independence begins to list the grievances suffered under the despotic rule of King George over the English colonies in America. After a lengthy list of grievances, the Declaration declares that the colonies are no longer under the rule of England but are instead free and independent.

Powerful words. Solemn words. Words that, at least until recently, were taught to all schoolchildren and words that are part of our American lore. I am in awe of the power and eloquence of the Declaration and the subsequent Constitution that at one time was the law of the land in America. So that is great, we all agree that America is swell. So what is the point? Here is where I am going with this: Are these statements in the Declaration of Independence the founding words of a Christian nation, a country founded on "Judeo-Christian" values?

Simply put: No.

Why in the world would I say that?

Because America was birthed by an ungodly act of rebellion against authority.

Yikes! Stay with me here. This is a long one but I think it is important and thought provoking.

This post is not intended to bash America. I would not choose to live anywhere else in the world unless I was led to do so in God's providence. I love my country, in fact I love my country more than may be healthy as a Christian. I am also not saying that the founding fathers were wrong or that the end result is bad. Clearly America has been a force for more good than ill in the world. This statement is intended as a wake-up call to the church. Evangelicals must remember that being an evangelical Christian must of necessity take priority over being an American. I hear lots of lip-service to that effect but practically speaking our American upbringing impacts our doctrine and practice in some troubling ways. There are no special secular nations, even ones where the founding is full of religious overtones. I think this is important because there is such a blurring of the distinction between the church and America that it sometimes seems as if we are evangelists for American culture more than witnesses of the risen Christ. So if you will, please indulge me for a few minutes to explain why I would make that assertion.

The core issue here is one of submission. Submission gets a bad rap in the church in America because it is either tip-toed around or it is used as a club. Americans don't like to submit to anyone for any reason. The Founding Fathers decided that at some point they no longer wished to submit to King George, to pay his taxes without representation. I think most historians would agree that King George was a poor ruler. So it is little wonder that the colonies eventually revolted. The question we are pondering here is a dramatically different one: Is our submission to authority based on the worthiness of the one in authority? That is an important question because we are called on to submit all over the place in the Bible, a subject we looked at yesterday when the church gathered.

Let's take a look at what the Bible says about submission to authorities and it says a lot.

The first place I want to look is at the third chapter of Paul’s letter to Titus.

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (Titus 3:1)

Paul is somewhat vague here. He exhorts Titus to remind Christians to be submissive to authorities. Who these rulers and authorities are doesn’t get much clarification but I certainly think that Paul is at least implying governing officials. The following sections of Scripture reinforce this idea quite powerfully.

Next we have a powerful statement from the lips of Christ Himself. Pay careful attention here.

He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:10-11)

Here is Christ, mere hours away from His death on the cross, telling Pontius Pilate that he has no authority (including the authority to condemn Christ to die) except that which he has received “from above”, i.e. from God. Stop and think about what Christ is saying here. Pontius Pilate received his authority from Caesar. So by proxy Caesar has been granted the authority by God to put Jesus Christ to death. I can’t overemphasize this point that the most unjust and tyrannical government ever faced by Christians was given its authority directly from God and it used that authority to crucify Christ and persecute the church for the next three centuries. Roman Emperors like Nero and Caligula make King George look like Mr. Rogers in comparison. Ponder that as we move forward.

Next, a look at what Peter wrote regarding this issue. I think this is important as well because this is not a “Paul-only” doctrine. It is something found in the words of Christ and Peter as well as Paul. Just once in Scripture should be sufficient but for purposes of staking a position I think it adds even more weight when there are multiple sources.

Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

Please note a few things here. Be subject to every human institution, emperor and governors. Not to be subject to only the just rulers or those you voted for. Remember again as a frame of reference that when Peter says “emperor” he must be referring to Caesar and when he refers to “governor” that likely refers to men like Pilate. Verse 17 is especially telling; we are to honor everyone, love the brotherhood, fear God and honor the emperor. Honor Caesar? Absolutely.

Next up is Romans 13, the seminal passage on human governing authorities.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13: 1-7)

There is no authority other than those God has instituted. That would obviously include the Roman empire and of course the good ole United States of America. Wouldn’t it similarly include Nazi Germany? The Stalinist Soviet Union? Castro’s Cuba? North Korea? England under the reign of King George? Lichtenstein! All of the above. So Paul is saying that by resisting the authorities placed over us, we resist God and bring judgment upon ourselves. We are to submit and pay taxes, whether we consider them just or not.

Look at what precedes Romans 13, keeping in mind that the chapter breaks are not in the original. What Paul wrote right before this passage is vital to understanding Romans 13: 1-7.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12: 14-21)

That is important to remember. Christians in Rome would be facing persecution just as Paul himself, a frequent guest in prison cells, was subjected to. In the face of such injustice, the natural response as an American is to overthrow the scoundrels, the whole refresh the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants and patriots thing. Paul is saying just the opposite and we must consider the end of chapter 12 and the beginning of chapter 13 as one continuous thought. Is the government unjust? God will judge that nation. Are the rulers despotic? God is the one who will avenge their injustice, either immediately (see the death of Herod in Acts 12: 20-23) or at the Judgment seat. “Don’t tread on me” is not a concept that would be understood by Paul.

What is the overarching message here? It strikes me that God is sovereign over all nations, not just Western democracies but all nations, and that God will judge those nations. We all understand this and accept this, at least in theory. Submission is an easy topic to talk about but when you apply it as a practical matter, it gets messy and sometimes flies in the face of certain ideals that we hold dear. This issue is one that is easily turned from “Scripture says” to “Well, I think”.

So that brings me back to my original point. Was the founding of America a “Christian” action? I have to say “No”. No matter that the lofty ideals espoused by the Founders sound pleasing to our ears or that we can argue that no secular nation on earth is a better one. The notion that America was once a “Christian nation” and needs to return to that state is demonstrably false because the very founding of America was done as an act of rebellion against the very authorities that God had ordained.

Am I missing something here? Is there anything in the New Testament that would lead a follower of Jesus Christ to think that we are called to overthrow unjust rulers? Should we pray for our leaders? Well certainly we should and that is perfectly Biblical. Should we take up arms to overthrow them? Absolutely not, not even if they force high taxes on us or unjust laws. Not even if they persecute the church and not even if they put Christians to death. God will avenge, not us and we are never called to return evil for evil, even when we are sure that our cause is right. We shouldn’t turn to George Washington and Patrick Henry to form our beliefs regarding human government. Our model for how we should relate to the government is found in Scripture, in Paul and Peter and most especially in Jesus Christ.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Piper On Patriotism

It is the weekend of July 4th, here in America known as Independence Day (or more commonly just called the Fourth of July by people who don't seem to know what the date signifies) and it falls on a Monday giving us one of those delightful three day weekends, unless you are self-employed like us and have to get to work most of the weekend.

Anyway, Independence Day usually brings out the same stuff that Memorial Day and Veterans Day do, lots of conflating American patriotism with Christianity. Some is intentional, most is not but as I look over my social media feeds I see a lot of stuff that is troubling. A couple of days ago John Piper posted something on this topic, Should Christians Be Patriotic? , and I was hopeful that it would be a useful corrective to the patriotic/religious fervor that surrounds the 4th but I was kind of disappointed. Part of the issue is defining what "patriotism" even means and what it looks like.

Here is part of what Piper said:

However, I think God means for us to be enmeshed in the world in various ways. We are not to go out of the world. We are in the world. We are not supposed to be of the world (John 17:15–19). We are in a city. We are in a state. We are in a county or a country and a continent. There are all kinds of these geographical and cultural allegiances or identifications that we have. And if I ask, now, what is patriotism in this kind of paradoxical enmeshment, my answer is that patriotism is a special love or affection, endearment for fatherland. It could be a city. It could be a state, a neighborhood. It could be a tribe. It could be an ethnicity. And that love is different from the general love that Christians have for everybody or for the whole world. And the reason I think that is true, and there are several reasons, but one is that there are these special affections indicated in the Bible in various ways.

If that is what we are talking about, a love for the place God has placed us, an affinity for it, that is one thing. For my wife and I, even after living all over the country as a family, our home is Ohio. When we are in Toledo, we are home, we know it, it speaks to us differently from other places even though we haven't lived there for decades. I am also half Polish in ancestry so when I am home in Toledo I like to go to the old Polish market, Stanley's, and get their incredible kielbasa. I have a special love and affinity for that as part of my heritage. That sort of love and affinity is one thing. I think most Christians in most places have something like that.

But when we are talking about patriotism in the contemporary American sense, it is not just an affinity for this nation, it is a feeling of superiority, that this nation is special in a way no other nation is, and in a uniquely "Christian" sense, and more specifically American patriotism is almost always accompanied by an implied willingness to kill others to preserve our American identity and protect our "way of life". This is where I think Piper dances around and seems unwilling to call it out. Here is part of what I mean:

So, I think, yes, there is such a thing, a good thing, as patriotism. And with regard to nations, it seems like Romans 13:1, in calling us to be subject to the powers that wield the sword, implies that in some sense a country identity or a nation state identity has the right to use that sword to defend itself against aggression and, thus, in some sense preserve its right to exist and exist as it exists. And so, I think that implies that there is a proper place for patriotism at the national level. 

Maybe we should wrap it up by saying: Whatever form your patriotism takes, let it be a deep sense that we are more closely bound to brothers and sisters in Christ in other countries, other cultures than we are to our closest unbelieving compatriot or family member in the fatherland or in the neighborhood. That is really crucial to feel that, I think. Otherwise, I think our patriotism is drifting over into idolatry.

He is right on in the second paragraph. I ought to be far closer to a Christian in Kenya or South Korea than to a pagan in America but that is rarely the reality. We see many Christians in this country forming unequally yoked alliances with unbelievers here to win political victories with very little thought given to how we can use our talent and treasure to bless our brothers and sisters who don't live in America. As far as the first, as far as America goes, very few of the occasions where America has wielded the sword have been in self-defense. The War of 1812 for sure and at least the Japanese side of World War II but otherwise most of the uses of the sword have been in foolish wars or worse wars of naked aggression. I am sure Piper understands the difference between American exceptionalistic patriotism and more general affinity of where one is placed but he doesn't really address it and as such leaves it misused.

What does the Bible say about this issue? One of the best treatments is in 1 Peter.....

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.   
- 1 Peter 2:9-17

The church is at her most basic a called out nation of people who have been born-again and are part of the new people of God under the New Covenant. We are found throughout the ages in nations around the world and our nationality a God's people transcends and trumps every form of human nationality. Nations rise and nations fall, they change and they merge and they disappear but the one nation of God's people is eternal. We are called to honor the emperor and submit to Caesar where we live in those places where Caesar is to be rendered unto. When Peter says to "abstain from the passions of the flesh", he is not just speaking of obvious stuff like sexual temptation. The temptations of the church in a land like America are far greater than what we would usually think. Our temptations take form in the call to violence on behalf of the state, in making unequally yoked alliances for political power, in taking on the trappings of world success in the church. I am far more concerned with the temptations of power and violence we face as the church in America than I am with other, more obvious temptations.

Patriotism can be a harmless thing but more often than not it is accompanied by an implicit threat to use violence or to subsume the Kingdom in favor of earthly power. I think Piper was way to soft and vague here because for Christians living in America, the lure of patriotism is one of the greatest, most dangerous anti-Kingdom temptations we face, all the more so because it is a culturally accepted and encouraged temptation. The flag and the cross belong to completely different kingdoms. When we forget that, we forget the entire reason for the Kingdom of God.

Horse Progress Days 2016

I spent most of yesterday at the 2016 Horse Progress Days in Howe, Indiana. As the name suggests, the event is driven around (pun intended) progress made in animal powered farming. Their mission statement:
To encourage and promote the combination of animal power and the latest equipment innovations in an effort to support sustainable small scale farming and land stewardship.To show draft animal power is possible, practical and profitable.
As you can imagine, an event about animal (i.e. horse for the most part) powered farming draws lots of Amish but this is not an exhibition of rusty old obsolete stuff you would see rotting behind a barn. The show featured some incredible technology on display and I can tell you from first hand knowledge that many Amish are far more profitable in their enterprises than the most modern "English" farms with their fancy and expensive tractors and combines. I took some pictures, some include Amish which they don't like but as I was taking a picture of something else they ended up in I guess it is OK.

Below are some of the new hay equipment on display, mowers, rakes, balers, etc. Hay making is critical for the Amish as they require a steady supply to feed their horses and other livestock throughout the year whenever pasture is not available. Raising hay for Amish would be like an "English" farmer pumping his own oil and refining it right at his farm to run his machinery with.

As you might expect there were a handful of buggies on the lot although a lot of people came from all over the country and even some from overseas. Lots and lots and lots of 15 passenger vans, mine included, filled the parking area. One thing that sets "Northern Indiana" Amish apart from our local Amish, other than the manner of dressing, is that they ride bikes everywhere so there were probably as many bikes parked as buggies. Coming and going down the main road leading to the exhibition there were far more bikes on the road than buggies.

My favorite team of draft animals were this duo of  Mammoth donkeys. Note the sign on the harness, "Not A Mule", which cracked me up for some reason. This mower is ground driven, so rather than a horse drawn implement that runs on hydraulics and gears driven by a gas powered engine, the action of pulling the implement causes the mower bar to run. It is very quiet compared to the gas powered mowers and does a pretty good job. It is probably more "traditional" than the gas powered mowers so it is kinda ironic that an "English" guy is driving it with mules instead of an Amish guy with horses.  

Another couple of teams I liked were a team of Norwegian Fjord horses (the cream colored team) and a team of spotted draft horses (the spotted team of course). While there were a ton of Belgian and Percheron teams which are of course beautiful and powerful, I see those up close all the time but these breeds are rather rare and I think more aesthetically appealing than the plain brown or black drafts. Draft horses are utilitarian so power trumps beauty but for those who don't make a living with them I like some of the more unusual breeds:

Of course there was the random team of oxen....

So all and all a pretty good time. This event is in Pennsylvania next year, it moves around the country although usually near the Amish, so I doubt we will make it but it was a fascinating look at a way of farming that is both very, very old and traditional while at the same time very modern and efficient.