Ours is not a political mandate

The Washington Post recently ran an article titled, “Trump threatens to change the course of American Christianity.” Having won the Presidency with 81% of the white evangelical vote, it is commonly accepted that it was the religious right that led the way to Trump becoming the leader of the free world.

It was men like Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, that helped catapult Trump to the White House. Evangelicals who supported Trump, like Jeffress, are thought to have Trump’s ear and are seen as having possible significant influence as Trump’s advisers.

Writing for the Post, John Fea says Trump’s faith, questioned while he was campaigning, has not changed since being elected. He goes on to suggest that American Christianity will not change Trump as much as Trump will change American Christianity.

Only time will tell if Fea is a journalist or a prophet, but believers might want to keep their eye on the man who co-authored the book titled The Art of the Deal. Trump has already got what he wanted and it remains to be seen what evangelicals will reap, although the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is a good down payment.

It is in the political arena where we observe the greatest animosity today. The first election I voted in was when Jimmy Carter ran for President, and I do not think I have ever seen the sheer bitterness I have witnessed in this last campaign and seems to persist.

While politics can be a dirty business, I believe Christian citizenship requires believers to thoughtfully consider the competing platforms of each party, and then to prayerfully vote our convictions. But in doing so, we should guard our hearts that we do not allow ourselves to become puppets of any political party.

Billy Graham said several years ago, “The central issues of our time aren’t economic or political or social, important as these are. The central issues of our time are moral and spiritual in nature.” Times haven’t changed.

Christianity’s primary mandate is not a political one, Jesus Christ commanded, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you,” Matthew 28:19, 20.

I do not remember the date; it was the seventies. The Florida Baptist State Convention met that year in the Veteran’s Memorial Civic Auditorium in Jacksonville, Florida. Two men I admired were to speak, Vance Havner and Dr. W.A. Criswell.

Dr. Criswell was at that time the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, as Jeffress is today. He delivered a sermon to the pastors present encouraging them in the importance of the Gospel ministry.

While my memory is vague on the date, his words still ring clear, “If I were offered the Presidency of the United States, and left my pulpit to accept, I believe I would be taking a step down.” I hope Jeffress is listening to his predecessor, and pray we do not take a step down.

The Christian response to homosexuality

We live in a time when there are widely contradictory perspectives among Christians and those who claim to be Christians. Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., said it well when he wrote we are “living in an age of widespread doctrinal denial and intense theological confusion.”

This dichotomy is most readily seen in the different responses to same-sex issues. Some have capitulated to the propaganda of LGBT activists, and others have faithfully held to a biblical perspective of marriage and human sexuality.

Nominal Christians are lauded by the LGBT community, while genuine Christians are maligned as homophobic, bigoted, and hateful. So what distinguishes a nominal Christian from a genuine Christian?

The simplest definition is a Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ and His teachings: one who lives as He did. If a Christian by definition is one patterning his life after that of Christ then we cannot deny that Christ placed His confidence in the authority of Scripture.

When he was twelve His parents lost Him and later found Him listening to and asking questions of those who taught in the temple. When He was tempted in the wilderness He replied to the devil’s three temptations with “it is written.” In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill,” Matthew 5:17.

Time and again when Jesus was questioned about marriage, the resurrection, His authority to do the things He did, He unwaveringly gave the authority of God’s Word as the authority for what He believed and did. Christ never disobeyed the Scriptures.

The inescapable conclusion is that to be a genuine Christian one must place the same confidence in the authority of Scripture Christ did. Anything less is not Christian. Scripture frames the Christian’s worldview, so that the Christian concept of what is sin, and what is not, is informed by Scripture.

If we are to remain true to the Scriptures as Christ did, we must declare homosexuality to be a sin because that is what the Scriptures declare.

But this is not a license to treat those in the grip of homosexual sin in an unloving way, to bully or shame them, because their sin is no greater than our own. We needed someone to love us when we were in sin and warn us so we could repent and turn in faith to Christ.

This is why we are compelled in God’s Word to love and warn those deceived by homosexuality, because while their sin is no greater than ours, it is no less grave.

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators…nor adulterers…nor homosexuals…will inherit the kingdom of God,” 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.

It will take more than childish name calling to stop us from warning those who are lost, not because we are bigoted or hateful, but because we love as Christ loved us.

The couple, the baker, and the supreme lawmaker

Jack Phillips is a baker and owns Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. In 2012 a gay couple asked him to bake a cake for their wedding. He told them the same thing he had to those wanting him to bake a cake for a bachelor’s or Halloween party; “I’m sorry, but I can’t promote messages that violate my beliefs, though I’d be happy to sell you anything else.”

Jack took the words of Christ seriously. When Jesus was questioned about divorce He replied, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?” Matthew 19:4-5. Since the beginning of time marriage has been one man and one woman. Jesus said it; Jack believed it.

The couple reported Jack to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and it effectively shut down his cake making that represented forty percent of his business. He has been battling for the right to run his business according to his deeply held convictions ever since. Colorado claims Jack violated the couple’s civil rights; Jack says Colorado violated his free exercise of religion.

Jack is going to get his day in court. The case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission is on the docket for the next session of the Supreme Court. Since the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, that in effect legalized same-sex marriage, the First Amendment’s protection of the “free exercise” of religion has been questioned.

But in his majority opinion Justice Anthony Kennedy addresses the First Amendment protection. He wrote, “Finally, it must be recognized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”

The Court seems to be saying that granting same-sex couples the right to marry is not a right to force another to abandon their right to freely exercise their beliefs. The right to marry does not obligate another citizen to compromise their faith to help you celebrate or secure that right.

In the wake of Obergefell v. Hodges a number of states introduced legislation similar to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act to protect those persons who wish to practice their Christian faith. Incidentally, that bill was signed into law by then Governor of Indiana Mike Pence.

One person who objected to Indiana’s law commented he was against it because he did not want to be forced to live by “Christian rules.” Here’s a news flash, Christians are not the ones trying to make someone bake them a cake.

What would you die for?

Recently Robert Kirby writing for The Salt Lake Tribune published an odd article. He asked, “Would I denounce my faith to save my neck?” He answered his own question, “You bet, in a heartbeat.” He went on to suggest Jesus would be disappointed in someone who died for his faith, and to do so is a waste.

Stephen did not feel that way. He was the first Christian martyr recorded in Scripture. He would be followed by many more throughout the history of the church. Most of the apostles would seal their testimony of the Gospel and resurrection of Christ with their blood.

If the apostles had stolen the body of Christ as some claim to fake the resurrection, does it make sense they would spend the remainder of their lives suffering ostracism, persecution and death for something they knew was a lie? Their willingness to spread the Gospel and message of Christ’s resurrection at their peril without ever recanting is strong evidence they bore witness to something they experienced, something they could not deny.

After the execution of Christ and being his closest followers, they feared they would be next. But the resurrection of Christ was a game-changer. Their willingness to fearlessly defy the religious leaders command to stop preaching Christ crucified and risen stamped the seal of truth on what they proclaimed. Their boldness breathed life into the fledgling faith.

I do not know how each of us would respond if our loved ones or ourselves were threatened with death unless we disavowed Christ. It is a hypothetical easily answered, but not so easily lived. But I do not think those who threatened my family or myself with death unless I recanted, could be counted on to keep their promise. They could kill you anyway out of a sadistic sense of pleasure. One could recant with nothing gained. Still, most of us would be desperate enough to try.

I am sure some would think, “discretion is the better part of valor,” that is, it is unwise to risk one’s life for a belief, better to live and testify another day. But we will all die one day, and I think if what I am living for, is not worth dying for, then it is not worth living for.

Jesus said, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:25-26.

Jim Elliot died on the mission field sharing the Gospel. He said, “No man is a fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” Maybe putting our life on the line for what we believe is not a waste after all.

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.