Act Like Men

In a special article written for the Christian Post entitled Petraeus: A Failure of Moral Leadership, authors Kenda Bartlett and Penny Nance make a case that our military can still be trusted despite moral failure at the highest levels of our government.  As this sex scandal takes on the full blown “trappings of a daytime soap opera” and though “General Petraeus had more will power, discipline, and professional duty than almost any man alive. Yet he fell prey to sexual betrayal and, as a result, placed his marriage, career and reputation in jeopardy.”

When Judge Andrew Napolitano told a newspaper, “David Petraeus didn’t betray his country…He betrayed his wife…Big deal”  Bartlett and Nance make a penetrating point, “Holly Petraeus served the military for 37, years as she walked beside her husband and supported him through graduate school, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and promotion as Director of the CIA.  Holly was Petraeus’ closest ally, and he betrayed her.  If he can betray her, then we have no idea who or what else he could betray.”

The authors claim “it’s widely said that American families only trust their pastors and their military.”  And when it comes to trust it all boils down to what the Concerned Women for America repeatedly stated during the Clinton sex scandal “character counts.”  And when it comes to character Bartlett and Nance declare America’s ideals “are safeguarded across the globe day and night by thousands upon thousands of military men and women of lesser names but greater character.”

This failure of moral leadership has its parallel in the church.  Many a pastor has fallen prey to that unholy trinity of fame, fortune and infidelity.  Pastors who were looked up to as pillars of humility, frugality, and purity tumble from their pedestals in one scandal after another.

In his newly released book The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, drives home the point that “the church desperately needs leaders” and that “leadership should be driven by distinctively Christian conviction.”

Mohler’s case is well made.  I do not know if there was ever a time in the history of the church when there was a greater need for leadership, at least in America.  This dearth of leadership lies in a lack of character, a lack of character that is fueled by the conviction that what the Scriptures teach are true and should be lived out, not just talked about.

But I want to take this idea of leadership to another level.  The most basic unit of any society is the family.  Travel the world and you will not discover a country, a people, a culture that a family of a husband, a wife, and children are not at its very foundation.  In this simple family unit lies the hope of future generations.

In the Scriptures the husband has been placed as head of the family.  God said to Eve, “your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you (Genesis 3:16).”  Paul  wrote, “for the husband is the head of the wife…husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5:23, 25).”

The husband is the leader in the home, a leader that “should be driven by distinctively Christian conviction.”  He should be a leader by example putting the needs and wellbeing of his wife and children before his own.  Providing for them and protecting them is his responsibility.  A man who truly does these things will never lack the love and respect of his wife and children.

But the breakdown in our society can be attributed to the breakdown of our families.  And all too often the breakdown in the family is due to a father who abdicates his rightful responsibility in the home.

At different times and in different places well known and respected secular and supposedly spiritual leaders have let us down.  But our nation will not fold up and collapse because of a few no matter how celebrated their place of leadership.  As long as husbands and fathers assume their rightful role in the home, and live out the exhortation of Paul to “act like men (1 Corinthians 16:13),” then our families and our nation will be safeguarded by Christian men of lesser names, but greater character.

A cult or not a cult?

This past October the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association removed an article from its website that claimed Mormonism is a cult.  In the article Mormons were listed along with several other groups as meeting the definition of a cult.  Jehovah Witnesses, the Unification Church, and Scientology were some of the other religious organizations purportedly mentioned in the article.

The article was removed from the BGEA website shortly after its founder Billy Graham had met with, at that time, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.  Graham was said to have been impressed with Romney’s “strong moral convictions” and promised to do what he could to help Romney in his bid for the presidency.

The BGEA has come under fire from some Christian leaders for removing the article from its website, and some parties who advocate a strong separation of church and state have filed complaints that the organization has violated federal law in its supposed support of Romney.  The BGEA claims it was advocating for Christian values in its advertisements and they were candidate neutral, but the removal of the article from their website lends credence to the complaints.

In the wake of the controversy Franklin Graham who now heads his father’s ministry issued a statement this past Wednesday hoping to clarify the BGEA’s position.  He claimed to be “shocked” when he discovered the article was on the ministry’s website and said the use of the term “cult” was tantamount to name-calling.  “If I want to win a person to Christ, how can I call that person a name?  That’s what shocked me, that we were calling people names” said Graham.

It is never a joy to disagree with someone I respect as being my brother in Christ and is an effective advocate for Christianity.  To do so for me is heart-rending.  But to me Franklin Graham’s comments amount to nothing more than damage control, because the issue is not about name-calling.  The issue is whether or not Mormonism is a cult, and whether the ministry acted irresponsibly in posting the article on its website or in removing it.  The issue at its essence is what is the truth about Mormonism?

If winning the lost at all costs is the goal and name-calling hinders reaching the goal, then Franklin has denounced the very Lord he serves.  No one cares more about the lost than the Lord Jesus Christ and yet in the twenty-third chapter of Matthew Jesus repeatedly called the Pharisees hypocrites.  Jesus accuses them of being hypocrites seven times.

Was Jesus just being mean-spirited?  No, his stark denunciation of the self-righteous teachings and practices of the Pharisees was to prevent others from being deceived and ending up in hell.  “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shout off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in (Matthew 23:13).”  To miss the kingdom of heaven means to end up in the default destination,  an unacceptable alternate.  When the issue is where we will spend eternity, Jesus needed to be clear.  So does Franklin Graham.

In an article I wrote entitled “The Lost Maps of Mormonism” back in October of 2011, I detailed how the lack of maps in the book of Mormon compromise its historicity and relegate it to a book of fables.  There is not a single shred of archeological evidence of a Jewish civilization having ever been established on the North American continent as the book of Mormon claims.  The book of Mormon is not “the most correct of any book on earth” as Joseph Smith said.

The book of Mormon’s lack of historicity makes it an unreliable guide to the hereafter and the doctrinal beliefs that flow from it stand in direct contradiction of all that the Bible and orthodox Christian beliefs say about eternity.  We need to be clear about these differences because the way to heaven and where one spends eternity hangs in the balance.  If we are to be adamant about what the Scriptures say is the way to heaven, we need to be equally adamant about those paths that lead to hell.

I voted for Mitt Romney not because I was beguiled into believing Mormonism was a variant way to heaven, but because Mitt Romney stood for the biblical principles I wanted to see propagated by our government.  I voted on the issues, not the man’s beliefs.  The issue is not about name-calling, it is about where we will spend eternity and whether Mormonism is a cult or not.

Politics and Religion

When President Obama was first elected four years ago, I had several people ask me if I thought he was the antichrist.  I replied, “No, but I think he would be willing to host a state dinner in his honor.”  I do not mind sharing this comment now that the general election of 2012 is history.  While I stand for biblical principles, and I am not reticent to speak out on political issues where those principles should be applied, I do not endorse candidates for public office.  For me politics is about issues, not candidates.

Robert Jeffress who is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, has said much the same thing recently, “I am not saying that President Obama is the Antichrist…but what I am saying is this: the course he is choosing to lead our nation is paving the way for the future reign of the antichrist.”  He went on to say we need “to push back against this evil…and do so via the ballot box.”

We both said essentially the same thing but there is a distinction between the two comments.  My comment was made four years ago and shared with a few individuals who thought my reflections were worth consulting, and were not repeated during this very heated contest for the White House.  Jeffress made his comments to a much larger audience on the Sunday before the election on Tuesday.  I shared my thoughts with a few; he attempted to sway the thoughts of many.

Before I say more on this subject of politics and religion, I should digress to make what seems to me to be an important point.  There are two words in the Bible that are sometimes confused; they are predestination and foreknowledge.  I believe prophetic texts arise from both; God foreknows some things and predestines others.  Let me give an example to clarify this point.  I do not believe God predestined Adam and Eve’s response to the serpent’s temptation, but I do believe He foreknew they would fall and He had already predestined a Savior.

With that thought in mind when we consider the prophecies regarding the antichrist, his eventual advent is either foreknown or predestined.  Does Jeffress think he can thwart biblical prophecy through the political process?  If President Obama is indeed to be linked in some way with the rise of the antichrist, will your vote or my vote prevent it?  I think not.

I am not saying that we should not participate in the electoral process; it is our duty as Christian citizens to inform ourselves on the issues and vote for biblical principles.  We do this regardless of the outcome of an election; we do this because it is the right thing to do and is a possible opportunity to ensure the welfare of our nation.

Billy Graham was accused of endorsing Mitt Romney for President, but when Graham commented on the upcoming election he never mentioned Mitt Romney.  Billy Graham’s endorsement was “I strongly urge you to vote for candidates who support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman, protect the sanctity of life, and defend our religious freedoms.”  I made the same endorsement.

The reason this was considered an endorsement for Mitt Romney is because he was the only candidate that supported these three positions.  Our supposedly “Christian” President has led the assault on all three of these issues.  The choice should have been a no-brainer for the Christian voter.  I am not concerned with “being on the right side of history” on the issues of marriage, life of a child, and religious freedom; I’m concerned with being on the right side of God.

I am not a political pundit, but I think the Republican National Committee made a mistake when they backed Mitt Romney because he was a fiscal and cultural conservative.  Conservative evangelicals had a problem voting for Romney who is a Mormon.  Many of them saw Romney as a member of a cult and considered a vote for him to be a repudiation of their orthodox Christianity.

While I would hope that anyone running for public office, is indeed a Christian, because the Christian worldview is the most just perspective of reality, their stand on biblical issues will ultimately be the deciding factor for me.  But that was probably not the case for others in those states where Obama’s win was thin.  A poor evangelical turnout may have been the deciding factor.  The popular vote was close, but the Electoral College count was a landslide for Obama.

Let us console ourselves in the thought that God is ultimately in control.  “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes (Proverbs 21:1).”

The Just Can’t Help Themselves

This past week as hurricane Sandy bore down on New York City and battered the East Coast for hundreds of miles the following article appeared in the news, Even Scientists Unwittingly See Purpose in Nature.  I read it with interest and was reminded that scientists, while brilliant in their various disciplines, are not English grammarians.

The article stated that when we as humans contemplate catastrophic events like hurricanes, earthquakes, and famines, etcetera, we are inclined to dismiss them with clichés like “Everything happens for a reason.”  Such platitudes the article claimed “irks scientists.”  They disdain purpose-based remarks.  Such remarks infer a transcendent intelligence controlling natural events, which the average scientist rejects.  But a recent survey revealed this may be humans “default way of thinking.”

Boston University had a team of psychology researchers ask various scientists to evaluate explanations for natural phenomena.  When these geologists, physicists, and chemists from schools such as Yale, MIT, and Harvard were asked to explain natural processes they received the following type of responses.  “The Earth has an ozone layer in order to protect it from UV light” or “Trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe.”

These kind of teleological or purpose-based answers indicate there is “a bias for purpose-based reasoning that even scientists can’t escape.”  Associate professor of psychology at BU Deborah Kelemen stated, “Even though advanced scientific training can reduce acceptance of scientifically inaccurate teleological explanations, it cannot erase a tenacious early-emerging human tendency to find purpose in nature.  It seems that our minds may be naturally more geared to religion than science.”

The findings of this study which appeared in the online October edition of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General can be added to similar results in previous research.  The cumulative findings of these studies indicate humans, even non-believing scientists, are hardwired to give a supernatural explanation for natural events.  Kelemen said “It is quite surprising what these studies show.”  While she may be surprised, I am not and here’s why.

In the first chapter of Romans the apostle Paul writes about “men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (v. 18).”  In the next two verses he explains “because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

Here is a paraphrase of what Paul was getting at when he wrote these words in Romans 1:18-20.  “It is not right to obscure the truth about God since He gave us the internal ability to reason regarding the things we can clearly observe.  And since the beginning of the universe, which is immense and as far as we can tell infinite, is an effect that the only reasonable cause could be an all-knowing, all-powerful God, we cannot excuse His existence and we will be held accountable for what we know and have observed.”

Paul has summed the situation up nicely when he explains the issue is not that men do not know the truth about God, they know about God but choose to suppress the knowledge of God.  They do so because to admit there is a God would be to admit the need to conform to His moral dictates and that is something they simply will not do.  They refuse to surrender their autonomy to His sovereignty.  It is not man’s ignorance of God that will be his downfall but man’s stubborn rebellion to conform to His will.

That being said, Sandy’s advent is not the first time scientists have gotten tongue-tied in trying to explain their position.  Back in 1999 they tried to explain their view of evolution in the publication Science and Creationism; A View from the National Academy of Sciences, Second Edition.  On page seven they wrote, “Of course, even if a living cell were to be made in the laboratory, it would not prove nature followed the same pathway billions of years ago.”  Such language personifies nature giving it the ability to choose which pathway to follow.  When you consider the scope of that choice is the beginning of life and the method of how it will become diverse and complex, they have done much more than personify nature; they have deified it.

This apotheosizing of nature is ironic.  Scientists reject the God of nature, and then give to nature god-like qualities.  Thanks to the research conducted by Deborah Kelemen and her colleagues we now know the truth.  They just can’t help themselves.