Biblical Direction

My wife and I recently attended a funeral. An uncle had passed away. My wife’s mother is one of ten siblings, which means she belongs to a large family. The family is very close and funerals are in one respect a family reunion. It provides a setting to reconnect and catch up with others we may not get to see often.

I had the opportunity to speak with one of my wife’s cousins and she mentioned she had enjoyed some of my articles. She told me she was surprised that a paper would print articles that were so “bold.” She quickly added she did not mean that in a negative way, though I hadn’t taken what she said as being negative.

But as I thought on it later driving home I remember thinking that she did not seem to know how to articulate what she felt reading the column. “Bold” was simply what had come to mind at the time.

As I pondered her comment my mind settled on what I thought she recognized but did not know how to put it into words. Since I use biblical truth to interpret my commentary on current events the articles have a directness that seems very bold.

Over fifty years ago American psychologist Carl Rogers developed a humanistic theory on psychology that was termed non-directive therapy. This Rogerian method enjoyed a degree of popularity among a number of psychotherapists and their clients.

A typical therapy session would have the client lie on a couch and talk about their problems and concerns while the therapist listened and took notes. If the client asked at some point, “What should I do?” the therapist would ask something like, “What do you think you should do?”

The beauty of this method is it takes the burden off the counselor to come up with a solution to the client’s problem, and the client gains a certain amount of satisfaction and self-confidence in discovering an answer to what plagues him. Our uniquely American individuality and sense of independence prefers such a method.

In contradistinction, the Bible declares man’s problems stem from sinful actions that flow from an innately flawed nature, and offers direct counseling to correct our behavior that leads to a resolution of relational issues.

We might think it “bold” for God to tell us how we should live and interact with others. But the Creator is intimately aware of our physical, emotional and spiritual makeup and able to cut through the non-essential and tell us exactly what we should do.

If we want to live together safely and securely, then God tells us not to murder one another and not to take what belongs to another. If we hope to build trusting relationships and cooperation, then He tells us not to be unfaithful to our spouse and not to lie to one another.

Our lives are better when we follow His direction. “Your word I have treasured in my heart,” Psalm 119:11.

Bernie Sanders’ disregard for Article VI

President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russell Vought, was subjected to a scathing examination during his confirmation hearing by Senator Bernie Sanders. Vought, an alumnus of Wheaton College, had written an article defending his alma mater when a professor there, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, had caused a controversy by saying Muslims and Christians “worship the same God.”

Several Christian observers have voiced opposition to Sanders questioning that apparently violates Article Six of the United States Constitution that reads, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Vought held to his Christian conviction that salvation is through Jesus Christ alone, accepted Christian orthodoxy for almost two millennia.

As Sanders tried to paint him a bigot, Vought replied, “As a Christian, I believe all individuals are created in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of their religious beliefs. I believe that as a Christian, that ‘s how I should treat all individuals.”

Sanders was visibly angry when he said, “I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about. I will vote no.” If Sanders’ only reason for voting no on Vought’s appointment is because he holds to orthodox Christian beliefs then he did make this appointment about a religious test.

While I think Sanders is wrong in this instance, I am not angry with him. He sees politics through the lens of a socialism of his own making attempting to placate a fringe minority of supporters. He is a political extremist in a society that has little use for extremes.

I do not expect unbelievers to understand why we believe what we believe. Paul wrote about this to the church at Corinth, “But a natural man [an unbeliever] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised, “ 1 Corinthians 2:14.

Unbelievers do not understand those of us who hold to a Christian worldview. Believers see reality through the lens of spiritual truth, a view that unbelievers disregard as myth or dismiss as being impractical. But biblical truth is no myth, and in his rejection of biblical truth the natural man fails to see its practicality.

Sanders is an obvious example in this respect. He is so busy attacking what he believes is the discriminatory beliefs of Russell Vought, that he disregards his professed practice of non-prejudicial treatment of those who hold differing religious beliefs. And why? Because he embraces the biblical teaching that all men are created in the image of God making each one worthy of dignity and respect.

Bernie Sanders did nothing to explain why Russell Vought should be disqualified for public office, but he did exhibit the kind of prejudice that should disqualify him to be a Senator.

The Truth about Lies

The June 2017 edition of National Geographic magazine has an article titled, Why We Lie: The Science Behind Our Deceptive Ways. It is interesting what science has to say about the ninth commandment of the Decalogue that reads, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” Exodus 20:16.

Before I get into the article I think it is important that we distinguish an untruth from a lie. We have all said things at times that at the moment we thought were true and discovered later they weren’t, but they were said believing them to be true and with no intent to deceive the hearer. A lie on the other hand is something said that the speaker knows is not true with the intent to deceive others. One can inadvertently say something that is not true, but one cannot inadvertently lie.

The article was extensive. Information about lying was gathered from a number of different surveys and studies, a host of experts on the subject were interviewed, and some scattered anecdotes were included. The various reasons for lying were addressed in detail, and which age groups were more honest and which were more deceptive.

Lying can begin as early as the age of two and remains with us throughout life. People lie to avoid other people, cover up a mistake or misdeed, for financial gain, or to promote self-interest or image. No culture, profession, or ethnic group can claim mastery of the practice, nor to be free from it.

Lying is so pandemic that it is accepted as a part of the human condition. So much so that the byline for the report says, “Honesty may be the best policy, but scheming and dishonesty are part of what makes us human.”

Of the Ten Commandments it is the sin that is most commonly committed. Not everyone has murdered someone, stolen something, or been unfaithful to a spouse, but everyone will readily admit they have lied at times. It is not only part of what “makes us human,” it is a sure testament to our fallen nature.

Lying is so easy and something we usually get better at over time, that some observers were surprised that we do not lie more. The age group least likely to lie was 6-8 eight year olds, and it was theorized they were the least accomplished at it and thus unsure of themselves.

The next age group was a close second, 60-77 year olds (may age group), I suppose they think we have nothing to lose by being honest. But the most prolific liars by age group were no surprise, 13-17 year olds, our middle and high school kids.

Human empiricism may recognize the pragmatic reasons we lie, but cannot identify the underlying cause; that man is a fallen, sinful creature. I suppose the biggest lie is the one we tell ourselves, that lying is merely a sign we are just human, and not a witness to our sinful state and need for a Savior.

Maddi Runkles, Fornication, and Forgiveness

Hagerstown, Maryland is home to Heritage Academy, a Christian school. Its principal is David R. Hobbs. Students who attend Heritage the fifth through twelfth grades sign a pledge not to engage in sexual immorality, or use illicit drugs, alcohol or tobacco. The school believes a well-rounded student should meet moral as well as academic standards.

Maddi Runkles a student at Heritage became pregnant. Maddi contemplated an abortion but decided to have her child. She told her parents and together they informed the school.

Initially, the school dismissed Maddi. Her parents, her father was president of the school’s board, appealed that decision. The school decided to let her remain enrolled, but she would not be allowed back on campus after the spring break. They appealed that decision and the school issued its final decision; she was removed from being president of the student council and would not be permitted to walk at the graduation ceremony.

When the school refused to budge any further Maddi’s father resigned from the board and the family took their argument public. They enlisted the help of the pro-life organization Students for Life of America. Its president Kristan Hawkins spoke with principal Hobbs about allowing Maddi to walk at the graduation and he refused.

Hawkins says the school is trying to shame Maddi for being pregnant, Hobbs says the school is holding Maddi accountable for her immorality. Both sides are trying to maintain their positions.

Some points need to be made. Maddi is claiming to be a “practicing born-again Christian,” but fornication is not a born-again Christian practice. She and her parents claim the school is shaming her (as if her condition would not become readily apparent in time), but they went public in an effort to shame the school into letting Maddi walk at graduation.

Maddi’s parents say she should be held accountable, but have not been forthcoming as to what that means exactly, they just don’t like the school’s idea of accountability. Maddi’s father says the school should be gracious since Maddi has repented, but I do not see the contrition in Maddi and her parents’ actions that characterize repentance.

I suppose the strangest thing I have heard in all of this is a journalist who said the school’s position does not seem to be practicing “Christian” forgiveness. He made that statement as if he understands the biblical doctrine of forgiveness.

God forgives us when we sin in response to genuine repentance and it restores the relationship between God and man that was broken by man’s sin. Christians forgive others to guard our hearts from the sin of revenge and the sins vengeance would lead us to commit. Forgiveness was never meant to be a get-out-of-jail-free card to escape the consequences of our actions.

“He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently,” Proverbs 13:34. To discipline is to love, and it seems the only ones willing to love Maddi are principal Hobbs and Heritage Academy.

The Conscientious Cooperator

I was introduced to Desmond T. Doss in a Netflix documentary of his service in 2010. He was a Seventh Day Adventist, an ordinary man whose extraordinary faith and courage left an indelible mark on the combat history of our nation.

     He never touched a gun or killed an enemy soldier, but the heroic exploits of Alvin York and Audie Murphy cannot compare to what he did. He was the first conscientious objector to win our nation’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor.

     Mel Gibson brought this remarkably true story to moviegoers in the film titled, “Hacksaw Ridge.” It is a must-see for the Christian patriot. This Memorial Day weekend I felt compelled to share his story again.

     Growing up in a Christian home Desmond was appalled to learn of the story of Cain and Abel. He could not understand why a man would kill his own brother. As a boy he vowed to never take another man’s life.

     When the attack on Pearl Harbor ushered the United States into World War II, Doss thought it was his patriotic duty to enlist. That first night in the barracks he was taunted for praying while his fellow recruits threw their boots at him. When he refused to train on the Sabbath or touch a firearm, he was ridiculed. Doss vowed while others would take lives he would be by their side to save lives.

     Despite the repeated humiliation heaped on him, he never took offense nor compromised his faith. When the 77th was deployed to the Pacific Theatre, in one engagement after another, this man his fellow soldiers called a coward distinguished himself repeatedly in providing lifesaving aid to those who fell in combat.

     Eventually the 77th was sent to Okinawa to reinforce the American troops attempting to take the island. The Japanese had retreated to the Shuri escarpment, a plateau three hundred feet above the island. The last fifty feet was a vertical climb made possible only by the use of ship cargo nets. The Americans called it Hacksaw Ridge.

     The Japanese were well entrenched. In nine successive assaults the Americans had reached the plateau only to be thrown back by withering fire. On April 29, 1945, A Company tried again. As the day closed, A Company was forced to retreat leaving seventy-five casualties behind.

     During the next twelve hours, under cover of darkness, Doss climbed to the top, alone and under constant fire from enemy snipers, he rescued every single man by dragging each one to the edge of the escarpment and letting them down by a rope. Doss prayed, as he let each man down to safety, “Lord, let me get one more.”

     Doss said of himself, “I was not a conscientious objector, I was a conscientious cooperator.” Doss exemplified the words of Christ, who said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” John 15:13.

Irena Sendler

Thanks to the movie Schindler’s List, many of us know who Oscar Schindler is, and how at great cost he managed to save 1200 of his Jewish employees from the Holocaust. But most of you have never heard of Irena Sendler who saved 2500 Jewish children.

Born on February 15, 1910, in the town of Otwock, Poland, she would grow up and become a Catholic social worker. Sometime after Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Sendler joined a Polish resistance group the Council to Aid Jews also known by its Polish name Zegota.

She was assigned to work with children and sent to the Warsaw Ghetto. Built by the Nazis in 1940, the Warsaw Ghetto was a 1.3 square mile walled off section of the city that served as a holding prison for 400,000 Jews. Those who were not hauled off to the death camps were slowly starved to death.

The Germans feared the spread of diseases like typhus and would allow Sendler and others in to try to promote good hygiene among the prisoners. While inside, they talked parents into surrendering their children to be smuggled out in suitcases and medical bags saving them from the ovens and gas chambers.

She and her colleagues kept meticulous records hoping to reunite children with their parents once the war was over, but sadly many of the parents died.

Eventually, she was reported to the Gestapo and arrested. Though she was tortured to the point of having her legs and feet broken, she never revealed the identities of any of her confederates in the Zegota, or the children they rescued.

Sentenced to be executed; she was aided in an escape. After she recovered from her injuries, she returned under a false name to work as a nurse in a public hospital where she managed to save five more Jews and survived the war.

For her life-saving work she was recognized by the nation of Israel as “Righteous among the Nations,” those non-Jews who labored to save Jews from the Holocaust. She was later awarded the Order of the White Eagle, her homeland’s highest honor for her humanitarian aid to the Jewish people.

Pope John Paul II sent Sendler a personal letter for her work, and in 2007 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She lost to Al Gore who was awarded the Nobel Prize for producing the documentary on global warming titled An Inconvenient Truth.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends,” John 15:13. Irena Sendler’s many sacrifices, humanitarian aid and life-saving work rank among history’s noblest, and I think it is an inconvenient truth she was upstaged by a documentary on global warming.

Did President Trump truly Promote Religious Liberty

In a Rose Garden ceremony President Trump unveiled his executive order entitled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.” From what I can tell, it says a lot about free speech, a right we already have, and does nothing to protect religious liberty.

Trump’s order seems to offer some relief to those evangelical universities locked in legal battles over the contraceptive mandate outlined in the Affordable Care Act, and claims to protect pastors from prosecution under the Johnson Amendment for endorsing political candidates from their pulpits.

I remember Trump saying when he was on the campaign trail that he would make it safe for believers to say “Merry Christmas” again. I thought then that was not a concern to me because I had never stopped saying “Merry Christmas.”

But it was those kind of statements that made me think he was out of touch with the real concerns of believers. Did he truly understand Christian values or was he just courting the evangelical vote? I am beginning to think it must be the latter.

Professor John Inazu at Washington University School of Law said, “When it comes to challenges to religious liberty, the Johnson Amendment is about the least important issue I can think of.” President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview John Stonestreet echoes that sentiment when he stated, “More important than whether pastors can speak politics is whether everyone can live their convictions in [the] public square.”

Their concerns come from the fact that Trump’s order did not include any language addressing the ongoing conflicts between the LGBT community and those who wish to simply practice their sincerely held beliefs. It contains no declared protection of religious liberty despite its titled claim. How can Trump claim to be promoting religious liberty without protecting it?

“Like a trampled spring and a polluted well is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked,” Proverbs 25:26. Believers cannot retreat from being an influence for biblical justice and morality in society lest we too become polluted and swept up in our culture’s corruption.

At the same time Christians should not become overly entangled in the political process to the point that we become little more than a puppet to the political system. We have a separate mandate and would do well in this respect to remember what our Lord told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world,” John 18:36.

The potential consequences to increased political speech in the pulpit both good and bad are many. But I believe politics should be about principles not personalities, issues not individuals, the character of our government and not the candidates running for office.

While the jury is still out on how Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch will rule on matters of law that affect the unborn, marriage and religious liberty, his appointment seems to be a good start for Trump. But he stumbled with this executive order that was suppose to promote religious liberty.