The Bible, The Constitution, & Neil Gorsuch

We’ve all been in those Bible studies where a Scripture is read, then everyone takes their turn giving it’s interpretation in their own opinion. The only interpretation outlawed in these settings is one that says someone else’s interpretation is wrong and theirs is right. The idea is that the Bible comes to each of us differently, therefore there is any myriad of possibilities for each text (within reason). The only problem is that Scripture presents itself to us as a meta-narrative (one big story), not as a series of small stories or good little promises. It is the story of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation, and the central figure of it all is Christ. As Sally Lloyd-Jones puts it in The Jesus Storybook Bible, “Every story whispers His name.”

Textual criticism and interpretation sounds like an art form reserved for ivory tower theologians, but it has shown up in recent news in a most unlikely place: the supreme court nomination hearings of Judge Neil Gorsuch. The question has been posed whether or not this supreme court justice will interpret the text of the U.S. Constitution as a “living document” and it has caught the attention of millions of Americans. News flash for you pastors and teachers out there: even people in the 21st Century are still concerned with the manner in which ancient texts are interpreted. Why the sudden interest from the public in something as seemingly dull as this? Because people want to be in authority.

To interpret the text of the U.S. Constitution as a “living document” is to place oneself in judgment over the text. It is to embrace the freedom to interpret words and phrases in light of one’s own personal opinion. Textual interpretation like this has a total disregard for the original intent of its authors. No attempt is made to discern what the words or phrases could have possibly meant to the founding fathers, those who crafted the very sentences themselves. In those who hold to such an interpretive theory of the text, there seems to be a fear of authorial intent which does not appease everyone’s wishes. So why worry with the original intentions of the authors when you can twist the text to say whatever the current cultural trends are saying?

As frightening as it sounds to stand in judgment over a text one didn’t write because one doesn’t like the obvious intention of its author, this is precisely what people do with the Bible. People say that there are various interpretations that people take on Scripture, but I think this is an over-generalization. As Mark Twain once put it: “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” The task of every Christian is to discern the author’s intent in the writing of any biblical text and to then apply that to their lives. The task of every pastor and teacher is to communicate the author’s original intent to the original recipients in such a way that the 21st Century hearers are comforted, corrected, and edified.

While the Bible does refer to itself as “living” we ought not to consider it to be a living document in the sense that we can interpret it how we wish. It is only living in the sense that its words are the very words of God Himself, which have the power to bring life to the spiritually dead. The first Bible twister was Satan in the Garden of Eden, who sat in judgment on God’s Word when he asked, “Did God really say?” and then, “You will not surely die!” We must always strive to let God’s Word be our judge and never attempt to be its judge.

I heard the story once of a preacher who was asked if he stands on the Word of God and his response was basically, “No. I let the Word of God stand in authority over me.” May we all do the same.

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Being Mindful of Refugees and Our Border?

Dr. Scott Redd of Reformed Theological Seminary Washington D.C. has some good and balanced words for us on the current debate surrounding immigration and our borders. Questions he brings up and answers very well are:

How do we honor, serve, and recognize the dignity of all people while recognizing that we are a nation with a border?

How do Christians interact with this debate?

Are our ethics always in line with Republican politics?

Enjoy watching, it’s just 3 minutes.

President or Savior?

“When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.” (John 6:14-15)

Election Day is tomorrow and many of us will be going to the polls to vote for the person we hope will be our next president. This is an important issue that requires much thought and prayer. However, it is not the most important issue.

We can see this in the Gospel of John.

In John 6 (go ahead and read it) Jesus is sitting on a mountain side with His disciples when a large crowd approaches Him. The crowd was following Jesus because of the miracles He had performed for the sick (v2). Much to their delight, Jesus performs another miracle by feeding the crowd. He takes five loaves of bread and two fish and provides enough food to feed five thousand men, in addition to any women and children who were also present (v9-12), and still had plenty left over (v13). Jesus had taken a meager meal and made it into a feast for thousands with plenty to spare. It was a remarkable feat that no mere man could have accomplished. Of course, no mere man had accomplished it, but the God-Man, Jesus Christ, had accomplished it. Then v14-15 tell us, “When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’ And “they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king.”

The thousands that Jesus fed rightly perceived that He was the long-awaited Prophet, one like Moses, who had finally come. However, they wrongly perceived why He had come. They were seeking a political ruler, a king, one who could liberate them from the Roman Empire. They saw that Jesus had the power to heal the sick and provide endless amounts of food; certainly He could liberate Israel and reign as their king! They wanted Jesus to help them politically and materially. They were not looking to Him as a Savior from their sin; they were looking to Him as a king for their earthly benefit. But Jesus did not come to be a political ruler. He did not come to be an earthly king. He came to save His people from their sin. He came to seek and save the lost and give His life as a ransom for many. Jesus was not interested in political leadership – He was interested in spiritual transformation. He was not the Bread of the Temporal, He was the Bread of Life (v35).

There are a couple of takeaways for us as we head into Election Day tomorrow.

First, we need to realize, unlike many of those in John 6, that man’s most essential need is not a government or material needs or a presidential candidate that aligns with all our values and beliefs. Our most essential need is a Savior who can save us from our sin. Don Carson put it this way: “If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, He would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, He would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, He would have sent us a politician. If He had perceived that our greatest need was health, He would have sent us a doctor. But He perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from Him, our profound rebellion, our death; and He sent us a Savior.” 

 We are a people who have offended a holy God by our sin and as a result we deserve infinite punishment. On our own we cannot make this right. No political policy or candidate can make this right. Only Jesus can make this right. Only He can fix our severed relationship with God the Father. He does this through His perfect life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection – not political leadership. Politics are important. We should vote and vote wisely with Biblical principals in mind. However, we should not act as if all is lost if our candidate does not reach office. A president in not our Savior, Jesus is.

Second, we need to look to Jesus as our Savior and our Treasure. The crowds in John 6 looked to Jesus as the means (powerful king) to an end (liberation, provision, power). We too have the tendency to look to Jesus in the same way. We hope Jesus will bring us a better life now here on earth – better America, better career, better finances, and so on. But Jesus did not come to give us a better life now; He came to give us eternal life. We should not look to Him as a means to an end:

He is the end. 

He is everything. 

He is our Treasure.

As we go and vote tomorrow let’s vote knowing that regardless of the outcome Jesus is our Savior; He is our King, and He is our Treasure. If the election goes how we want or not, we have Jesus, and to have Him is to have everything. Jesus in John 6:35 says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall not thirst.”

This government, this world, may not be what we want it to be, but let’s remember that our hope not in government or the world around us, our hope is Jesus and He is all we need.

What to Remember About Tonight’s Debate

When it comes to watching the debate tonight there are many things to keep in mind. There are a lot of people who don’t want to vote for Donald Trump, but there are still a lot of people who highly doubt they can even trust Hillary Clinton, so she’s going to try to prove her credibility. As for Donald Trump there are a lot of people who think he’s completely un-Presidential, so he’s going to try to show his readiness for such a task. We should be paying attention to these things. See how they respond to questions and to one another. But, before we get lost in the political maneuvering and all that we need to remember about tonight, as Christians, we cannot forget 1 Peter 2:11-17.

Here’s why.

Peter is writing to Christians living in Asia Minor who are beginning to suffer for their faith. In the first verse of his letter he calls them ‘elect exiles of the dispersion.’ This dispersion or ‘diaspora’ is a term used to describe believers who were scattered abroad due to persecution. That he calls them ‘elect exiles’ reminds his audience of two things. First, that he calls them ‘elect’ reminds them of God’s predestining love and His election of them to salvation through Christ. Because God sovereignly saved them they would have been encouraged to remember that God can sovereignly keep them in the midst of suffering and difficulty as well. Second, that he calls them the ‘elect exiles’ reminds them that because of their faith in the risen Christ they are truly exiles, aliens, and sojourners in this present world. They do live in the world but this world isn’t their true home. They’re to be looking ahead to the heavenly country whose Maker and Builder is God where their citizenship truly is.

These two things were meant to be encouragements to this group of suffering Christians Peter is writing to, and today these same two things are meant to be encouragements to any Christian in difficulty or suffering. We have been sovereignly elected by God from before the foundation of the world, we have been ransomed by the blood of Christ which is more valuable than silver or gold, and because of these things Peter reminds us that we have an inheritance that is ‘imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us.’ So for the Christian, at all times and especially in times of suffering, we must remember that the best is always yet to come. This raises a question: in the meantime while we’re doing life as exiles and aliens here, how are we to live? Peter begins answering that question for us in chapter 2 by calling us in 2:1 to ‘grow up into salvation.’ It’s a call toward maturity and away from immature faith. Well how do we do that? How do we mature or grow up into salvation? Our passage this morning tells us.

 

v11-17 answers our question about how to do life here while we’re passing through as exiles waiting to be in glory by bringing up the Christian’s conduct. v11 calls us to abstain from the things called ‘passions of the flesh’ or in other words those things ‘which wage war against your soul.’ The word abstain doesn’t just mean do ‘not do’ but ‘keep a far distance from.’ Just as a traveler doesn’t embrace the customs of the nation he’s traveling through, Christians as exiles here in this world aren’t to embrace the customs of this world. Even more, the customs and natural ways of this world wage war against our souls, which is more reason to abstain from them. The word flesh here doesn’t mean physical or bodily. ‘Flesh’ means the old sinful nature that is within us…always luring us away from God and seeking to enslave us to sin. v12a brings this same thought a bit further by extending our inner struggle against fleshly passions to a public setting. We’re to keep our conduct ‘honorable’ or good, excellent, and upright before the Gentiles, basically before the watching world. So taking v11 and v12 together the meaning is that the inner life of a Christian abstaining from fleshly lusts leads to an honorable public life from the Christian. So if you’re doing v11 and you really are abstaining from sinful lusts you’ll at the same time be living an honorable life before the world as v12 calls for. And the opposite is also true. If you’re not doing v11 and you’re not abstaining from sinful lusts inwardly you at the same time won’t be living an honorable life before the world as v12 calls for.

Peter doesn’t stop here, he continues. Did you notice the reason why Peter wants us to live such an honorable life in v12b? “…so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” What? This should be strange to you. We’re accustomed to thinking that an honorable life would be seen as honorable, but in v12b Peter says the honorable life of a Christian will cause the lost world around you to think you’re an evildoer even though they can recognize your own good deeds. Notice it doesn’t say ‘if’ they speak against you, it says ‘when’ they speak against you. This is a promise. An honorable life before God will lead to being dishonored before men. Remember what Paul told Timothy in 2 Tim. 3:12? ‘All those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Does that seem odd? That the world would recognize good deeds yet still conclude us to be evildoers? Sin never does make sense does it? But even when the world labels us as an evildoer, the reason we want to be honorable is that the world would see our good deeds and glorify Christ at His 2nd Coming.

This is the principle at work here: we don’t need our own good works to be saved. We’re saved not by our own works, not even by the most righteous of our own works, but by the fully sufficient work of Christ in behalf of sinners like you and me. We praise God for the work of His Son because Jesus took the punishment for us and became man so that men could become sons of God. All of this leads to something within the heart and life of the Christian. Redemption doesn’t stay stagnant within us, no, it’s always moving deeper in and further out. Once Christ’s fully sufficient work has saved us, His work within us by His Spirit produces good works in us. Thus, a true understanding of God’s grace to us in Christ leads to holy living. These good works are cultivated in us by God inwardly (through enabling us to abstain from fleshly lusts and passions and live honorably before the world) and then those good works are put on display publicly by God so that the world sees them and glorifies God.

So here is the principle Peter has set up for us to see: God doesn’t need our good works, but who does? Our neighbor does. Because it’s by seeing our good works that our neighbors will glorify God.

Now comes the question that flows from this: what kind of good works does Peter have in mind? From chapter 2:13 to the end of his letter he mentions many kinds of good works we can and ought to engage in, and all of these are good works our neighbors can witness for themselves.

But what is the first good work Peter mentions?

What is the first good work that our neighbors are to see in our lives so that they would glorify God?

v13-17 gives it to us – our submission to governing authorities.

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors 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.”

Peter calls us back to what is really important for the Christian as we watch the debate unfold tonight. For the Lord’s sake, we serve our neighbors by submitting to our governing authorities….when we do this our neighbors see the glory of God.

Giving to Caesar and Giving to God

After giving Jesus presumptuous and bogus flattery they posed their question to Him in Mark 12:14, ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?’

The first half of His answer in 12:17 is, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…” Do you realize how startling this would have been to a Jewish audience? Jesus, in this one phrase, told Jews that it was ok to pay taxes to an idolatrous government with an idolatrous coin. This is more than just a clever answer that saved Jesus from the trap set for Him. Many people think that in this phrase Jesus not only created but validated what we now call the separation of Church and State. I don’t disagree with that, I just think that there’s much more going on that the separation of Church and State. There are larger things happening here. Not only is Jesus saying that paying taxes to Caesar is ok, but by saying that paying taxes to Caesar is ok He is also saying that the Roman government is a legitimate government. You know what that means? A pagan government that rejects the one true God, according to Jesus, is a legitimate government.

Mark Dever helpfully comments here saying this means two things:

Christians should be good citizens, and in order to be good citizens Christians are to give to the existing government what they are due.

Government, according to the Bible is seen as a good thing ordained by God that Christians can and should be a part of while recognizing that it doesn’t have to be Christian in order to be good. So every government, pagan or Christian, reflects an innate authority based in God’s authority alone. Yet because of the fall of man in Genesis 3 we now know that all governments do not properly reflect authority, but rather tend to reflect the abuse of that authority. So even though authority is by nature a good thing, we recognize that not all authority is used for good. Within the words of Jesus here we find that even though all governments have been affected by the fall, rather than rejecting government and seeking to establish our own, we must work at government so that it more reflects proper justice and authority. This means Christians are to be law-abiding people, tax-paying people, and people who pray continually for those in working within governmental offices. This is how we give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

Christians are not only to be good citizens, but we’re to be globally good citizens.

Think about it. Jesus could have required that those who follow Him to only obey and pay taxes to earthly governments that recognize and submit to the one true God, but He didn’t. Rather because Jesus taught a submission to and the legitimacy of the pagan Roman government, this becomes a principle that is to be followed by every Christian in every nation. Think of how it was in Old Testament: one people, one nation, one God. It was a theocracy, where all citizens were expected to follow and love God. Now, Jesus says, for His followers it’s no longer this way. His followers are no longer to be looking to build one nation or one earthly kingdom but are to be good citizens of the earthly governments we find ourselves under. Why? Jesus’ “Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Because of this no earthly kingdom should ever be identified with God’s people. Here me loud and clear: Americans are not God’s chosen people. Modern Israelites are not God’s chosen people. Modern day Jamaicans are not God’s chosen people. No, God’s people are a global people. Redeemed men and women who do life in every nation, language, people, and tongue as good citizens showing forth the good character of God in whatever nation they happen to live in.

Now, Jesus could’ve stopped here in His answer and would’ve successfully navigated the crafty question meant to trap Him. But He continued to make another point clear. Not only should we render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but the second half of His answer in v17 is, “…render to God the things that are God’s.”

Notice here what Jesus is saying. The Denarius He was holding had an inscription on one side that said Caesar was the ‘son of divine Augustus’ which was meant to convey that Caesar was a god. This is also held up in other historical literature where we read the phrase ‘Caesar Kurios’ (Caesar is lord) was a common motto in first century Greco-Roman culture. By saying ‘give to God what is God’s’ Jesus is contradicting the coin He’s holding. The coin said Caesar was a god, yet Jesus clearly makes a distinction between Caesar and God, which ultimately means Caesar is not god. Because Caesar is not god, and God is God, the extent of a government’s authority and the extent of God’s authority are different. Governments really do have authority in the lives of their citizens, but their authority is not a universal authority. It has borders and boundaries. Whose authority is universal? Whose authority transcends all of man’s limitations? God’s. So Christians are to obey the government, but Christians are never to worship the government or its leader. Our duty to earthly governmental authority is limited, because we have a greater allegiance to God, and whenever we find these two authorities (of God and government) clashing, we go with God every time…no matter what. This means when the government commands us to do something that is morally wrong, we as Christians, are called to disobey those authorities and obey God instead because God’s holds a higher authority over us.

These things are played out for us in Acts 4. The authorities in place told the apostles not to speak or preach in the name of Jesus Christ and it was Peter and John who responded in Acts 4:19-20 saying, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” So in their example we see obedience to authorities but we see a greater obedience to God. A more modern example is found in Washington D.C. Capitol Hill Baptist Church is a historic church in Washington D.C. When they were founded in 1878 they labored to put Jesus’ teaching about government into their statement of faith, and this is what the came up with, “We believe civil government is of divine appointment, for the interest and good order of human society, and that magistrates are to be prayed for, conscientiously honored, and obeyed, except in things opposed to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Lord of the conscience and the Ruler of the kings of the earth.” Today 138 years later they still hold to this paragraph. They did well, and we would do well to heed it.

Before we finish note one final implication, again from Mark Dever. Because the ultimate allegiance of Christians belongs to God and no nation or government, it is therefore problematic to say that any one nation on earth is a Christian nation. For us, just because the principles of Christianity influenced the founders of our nation, and just because we have had some presidents who were Christians, this does not mean that most Americans are Christians, that most government employees are Christians, that the Christian worldview is the American worldview, or that one has to be a Christian to be an American. No, America is not God’s country. No earthly nation is God’s country. His country is our heavenly country that is already here but not yet fully here.

As Christians, we are dual citizens. We are citizens first and foremost of the city of God, and secondly we are citizens of the city of man. We enter into the city of God by faith in Christ’s work on our behalf, and show our faith in Christ within the city of man by our good works done for our fellow man. Therefore, because we’re concerned with the commission we’ve been given by God to help people find their way to and do life within the city of God (even though many political options and opinions abound in our nation and our own congregation) this is why you’ll never hear an endorsement of any political candidate or political party at my church.

This is where I want to leave you today. Our duty to our government is very important but it is limited. Our duty to God is more important and all-encompassing. Yes, pay your taxes, obey the government, pray for President Obama, and pray for whoever gets elected in November. But even more, trust in Christ, obey Him, and remember that in the end of all things you and I will ultimately stand or fall, be welcomed into glory or cast out into hell not before any government or earthly king, but before God.

A Politically Charged Game of Cat & Mouse

When it comes to religion and politics there seems to be more questions than answers.

For example: does the separation of Church and State mean that the church shouldn’t get involved in politics? If not, to what degree should churches get involved? Is there one Christian position on politics? Does the Bible line up with more with liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans? Does the Bible teach us how to vote? Does God redeem institutions or nations as well as men and women? Should the government compel religion or exclude it? Is the government good or evil? If good, how should Christians support it? If evil, should the Church begin a revolution and take it over?

Different Christians throughout history have responded to these questions in different ways. Some have been so fearful that they’ve run away from the state wanting nothing to do with anything political while others have been so eager to jump in that they’ve run towards the state by seeking governmental office or seeking change by campaigning for various presidential candidates. The rest of us seem to be caught in the middle not really sure how to think about politics in relation to our faith. So wherever you are in this discussion it would do us all very much good (especially taking into account our current political climate) to ask one question: how does Jesus teach us to think about these matters?

For today, turn to Mark 11-12.

It had only been two days since Jesus had entered the city on a donkey, where crowds of people were triumphantly cheering and shouting His name. Ironically now began the terrible game of ‘cat and mouse’, the endless Pharisaic and Roman maneuvering that will end in the death of Jesus. Perhaps it was the incident with the Fig Tree or the moment when Jesus turned over the tables in the temple that moved them to question Him, but in 11:27 we see it was the chief priests, the scribes, as well as the elders of the people who challenged Him directly. Asking about where His authority comes from and how He can do what He does. Jesus asked them questions in return and from being too afraid of the crowds they refused to answer Jesus, so Jesus refused to answer them. After telling them a parable which clearly laid blame on these Jewish leaders for refusing to believe in the Messiah, they grew so angry with Him that they sought to arrest Him, but again being too afraid of the crowds, they changed their plans and sought to trap and humiliate Him in public.

Now we have come to our text for today, Mark 12:13-17.

It’s unusual to see in v13 that the Pharisees and the Herodians were working together. The Pharisees, of course, being the Jewish religious leaders who opposed the Roman rule and supported Jewish liberty and the Herodians being servants of the Roman king Herod who opposed Jewish liberty and supported Roman rule. They were natural enemies that never collaborated on anything due to their rival interests, yet here they are, united in their opposition to Jesus. It’s ironic what brings people together isn’t it? These two groups now form the ‘they’ we read of in every verse of our passage. ‘They’ got together, formed a plan, came up with a question and sent some of their own to trap or catch Jesus in His teaching. This was nothing less than a carefully planned ‘ambush.’ After giving Jesus presumptuous and bogus flattery they posed their question to Him in v14, ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?’

On the surface of things this question may seem small but to this culture and time the question was explosive to say the least.

You see, there were many taxes, tolls, and other charges Rome commanded on their people, but the imperial tax was required only of subject peoples, not Roman citizens. So for all Jews the same sum was required from rich and poor alike. When this tax was paid to Caesar they paid it with a Denarius (a coin worth a days wage for the common person then, worth about 16 cents in our currency today). This coin, on one side had an image of Caesar and on the other side had an image glorifying his rule with the words ‘son of divine Augustus’ over it. By paying this tax, one was in essence proclaiming the glory of Caesar’s rule and their submission to it. More so, because all the coins in circulation belonged to the Caesar, paying the tax was in essence giving back to Caesar money that was rightfully his. So each time a Jew had to pay this tax it was a reminder that they were a conquered people. This was very unpopular with Jews, most of them viewed it as idolatrous because paying it implied that Caesar, not God, was king.

In asking this question to Jesus they were trying to show that He was one of two things. He was either a fraud (a weak Messiah who had no plans to save the Jews from Roman oppression) or He was a political revolutionary (a military Messiah who was going to oppose Rome). This is a ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ kind of question. Depending on His answer either He loses His popularity among the Jews, or He loses His life from the Romans who don’t allow revolutionaries to live. This question had been well thought out. It was carefully crafted, sneaky, and totally unfair. But Jesus saw through their shallow hypocrisy. He knew their true malice toward Him and that with their mouths only they were showing this honor to Him. Matthew Henry comments here saying, “Hypocrisy, though ever so artfully managed, cannot be concealed from the Lord Jesus.”

So Jesus responded to them, and did so in such a way that made them marvel at His wisdom. On Wednesday we’ll look at His answer…

Why Hyper-Conservative People Miss the Mark & Make Me Squirm

On the gulf coast of Florida there are a lot of conservative types, at least in my neck of the woods.  I am a conservative myself, but I think hyper-conservative folks miss the mark.  Why?

a) They have an unhealthy zeal for the 2nd amendment.

b) They detest liberals.

c) They seem to live under the banner of the unBiblical phrase “Don’t tread on me!”

You may think I’m overstating my case here because no one talks like this.  Maybe I’m not correct to call these people hyper-conservative.  Either way, though these people may not talk explicitly about these above three things, but I do think they live in a way that explicitly falls in line with these above items.  Overall the MAIN REASON hyper-conservatives miss the mark is this:

d) They wrap all of this mumbo-jumbo in Christian garb, and live in such a way so as to make these above things the main principles of Christianity.

To do this is sin, because it seeks to remake Christianity in the conservative agenda’s image.  It’s just as sinful as remaking Christianity in the liberal agenda’s image.  We’re not free to remake Christianity in our own image regardless who we vote for.  Jesus doesn’t wave a red or blue flag with a donkey or an elephant on it.

The flag He waves has His own face on it.

If you find yourself in this camp of people, or if this post angers you, you would do well to heed C. S. Lewis’s diabolical advice on how to get people away from the gospel, the main thing in Christianity.  This quote is from the Screwtape Letters, chapter 7 (emphasis added):

Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion.

Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part.

Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism.

The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience.

Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.

Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here.

The President at the Prayer Breakfast

Fantastic post and must read by Al Mohler concerning President Obama’s Prayer Breakfast:

Presidents of the United States are usually awful as theologians. In far too many cases, the closer they get to anything theological, the bigger the mess they make. President Obama seems rather adept at making such messes, but he is hardly the first. The only President of the United States to be baptized while in office was Dwight D. Eisenhower. In remarks made at the Freedoms Forum at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in 1952, the recently-elected Eisenhower said: “In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

Of recent presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were probably the most theologically literate, and both claimed deep roots as Southern Baptists. In his infamous Playboy interview of 1976, Carter cited Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich as influences and Clinton seemed cut from the same theological cloth. Both men have, in their own way, distanced themselves rather clearly from the theological and moral convictions held by Southern Baptists. Ronald Reagan’s evangelical faith seemed to be vague and he rarely attended church services during his eight years in office. George H. W. Bush seemed to be a very conventional mainline Protestant of the old establishment but his son, George W. Bush, may well have been the most clearly evangelical president of the modern age.

President Obama identifies openly with a very liberal version of Christian thinking and reasoning. He cites religious concerns from time to time, but he seems to operate more as a secular cosmopolitan. When he does address religious thoughts openly, as at the National Prayer Breakfast last week, he made a considerable mess.

That he holds to a universalistic understanding of religion is not in doubt. President Obama spoke of faith, of his own “faith journey,” and “professions of faith.” The common denominator in his thinking seems to be faith as an act without any concern for the content or object of that faith. Thus, “part of what I want to touch on today is the degree to which we’ve seen professions of faith used both as an instrument of great good, but also twisted and misused in the name of evil.”

When people do evil in the name of faith, the President asserted, it is because the faith has been perverted or distorted. Any faith can be perverted in this way, Mr. Obama said, and no religion is inherently violent. In his words: “Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth — our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments.  And we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards Him, and have some humility in that process.  And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty.  No God condones terror.  No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives, or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number.”

The fact remains that Western civilization — and much of the world beyond — is directly threatened by a militant form of Islam that has the allegiance of millions of Muslims. While the vast majority of Muslims in the world are not fighters in a jihad against the West, and for that we must be thankful, the fact remains that the President’s own national security authorities directly disagree with the President when he recently said that “99.9 percent” of Muslims do not back Islamic terrorism.

On Islam, President Obama is not the first to sow confusion on the issue. In the aftermath of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush argued over and over again that America is not at war with Islam. We can understand why a president would say this, and we also need to admit that there is an important element of truth in the statement.

The West is not at war with Islam if that means a war against all Muslims and against all forms of Islam. But, true as that statement may be, we must also be clear that we are facing a great and grave civilizational challenge from millions of Muslims who believe, quite plausibly, that their version of Islam is more faithful to the essence of Islam and the Quran. This understanding of Islam is growing, not receding. It is now drawing thousands of young Muslims from both Europe and North America to join the jihad. We have seen the hopes of a moderating Arab Spring dashed and we have seen the rise of even more brutal and deadly forms of jihad in groups such as the Islamic State. Clearly, there are millions of Muslims who do believe that God condones terror. They celebrate the fact that Muhammad was a warrior, and they understand that it is their responsibility as faithful Muslims to bring the entire world under the rule of Sharia law. Their actions are driven by a theological logic that has roots in the Quran, in the founding of Islam, and in the history of Islamic conquest.

And yet, at virtually every turn, President Obama and his administration remain determined not to mention Islam in any negative light, and even to redefine some acts of terror committed in the name of Islam as “workplace violence.” His refusal to acknowledge the worldview of those who declare themselves to be our enemies is neither intellectually honest nor safe. It is a theological disaster, but it is a foreign policy disaster as well.

In the most controversial portion of his address, President Obama said:

“And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

President Obama would not mention Islam by name, but he did bring judgment on the Christian past, with specific reference to the Crusades. At that point a good measure of Christian humility and honesty are called for. The centuries of the Crusades were a brutal epoch in which horrible things were done, often in the name of Christ. The union of medieval Catholicism and the power of kings was disastrous, and there are lasting stains on the Christian conscience from this era. The same is true of the era of slavery and Jim Crow laws in the United States.

But honesty is hard to come by when it comes to distant history, and that is why we should be rigorously critical when it comes to the very real and horrifying reality that terrible acts have been perpetrated in the name of Christianity. At the same time, historical honesty and humility demands that we acknowledge that in the age of armed conflict between Christian kingdoms (as they claimed to be) and Muslim armies, even the stoutest secular critics of Christianity must recognize that our current age would be very different if Muslim armies had won, for example, when the forces of the Ottoman Empire were stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1683. All those professors of gender studies and post-colonial literature in European universities might well be professors of the Quran, instead.

Even as the West is not at war with Islam, in the sense of being at war with all Muslims, the existential threat to western freedoms and liberties is real, as is the fact that millions of Muslims (and their current governments) offer aid and support to groups clearly involved in jihad. There is reason to believe that groups like the Islamic State are also now understood as a existential threat to any number of Arab regimes and Islamic communities. After all, most of the victims of Islamic terror groups have been fellow Muslims.

Intellectual honesty also demands that we recognize that going back centuries to the era of the Crusades is not really helpful when looking at the fact that the current threat is a resurgent Islam, which understands full well that the modern secular West lacks a worldview that can lead to an adequate response. Secularism and Islam are not evenly matched.

Theological honesty further demands that we acknowledge the vast difference between a theological system centered in Jesus Christ, who told Peter to put away his sword, and one that takes as its central example Mohammed, whose status as a mighty warrior is an issue of enduring Muslim pride. The strategic fact of our current times is that the terrorism feared by the West is deeply rooted in a theological worldview, and that worldview is Islam.

The real problem with President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast was not his reference to Christian history, but his refusal to acknowledge the reality of our current challenge — a refusal growing more dangerous by the day.

President Obama’s State of the Union Speech Tonight

Barack Obama

Today the most important political event that will likely occur will be President Obama’s ‘State of the Union’ address.  Appearing before Congress the President of the United States will be invited to speak to the nation, greeting friends and acquaintances on both sides of the aisle as he walks down to the podium with a large smile.  You can be sure the President’s arrival into the House of Representatives will come with great pomp and circumstance as it always does, after all he is the President, and therefore it’s fitting.  But I do doubt that many will watch tonight simply because most everyone who cares about what President Obama has to say either already know what he is going to say or will be there in the room while he is saying it.  His big three items on the agenda have been known for some time now, so there is probably not going to be any surprises tonight. Here’s a brief rundown of the 3 main items the President will speak on:

1) A need for increased revenue.  Has the government ever had a balanced budget?  This item is not going to catch anyone off guard, but what may catch the upper class off guard tonight is that the President will call for increased revenue by increasing taxes on them.  After all, if we do increase the revenue, where are we going to get that money from?  Well, the answer he has given before we’ll probably hear again tonight: from those who have it.

2) The promise of a middle class tax cut.  It is common to want to alleviate the financial tension placed on the middle class.  That the United States still has a middle class is something to be noticed in its own right, but it’s always those of us in the middle who are hit the hardest it seems.  We don’t make enough money to get hit by massive tax rates (though we all feel the taxes we do pay!) and we make too much to be allowed into government help programs.  But again, if a tax cut is coming to the middle class, who will make up for it?  See item #1, where the President tells us we need more revenue.  So again, upper class is going to take another hit on this item tonight.

I’m no politician but wouldn’t it make more sense to cut taxes equally across the board, even for the rich?  Then the wealthy would be able to put more money back into the economy rather than seeking ways to keep their money away from the government who is always trying to take it away.  To me, all of this is sounding very familiar to an old movie we’ve all seen: Robin Hood.

3) Finally the President will be suggesting that 2 years of local community college should be considered as normal as high school for every student in America, AND those 2 years in community college should be FREE.  Interesting thought, and time will tell if this does indeed change things for higher education.  It may in the long run but it seems that for those who really want higher education scholarships and help abounds.  Also, 2 free years of community college may set someone on the right track, but nowadays to be competitive in the job market you do need a Master’s degree.  Again, time will tell if this makes any major shift in education.  BUT the main issue remains, if these first 2 years of community college are going to be free who is paying for it?  The conclusion it seems will be the same here in this third item as it was for the previous two: more taxes to the rich, more cuts for the poor, aiming to equalize everyone.

So are you going to watch the SOTU tonight?  You should.  Gather your family, kids included, and see what President Obama has to say.  Whether we disagree or agree with him we all will have to live with decisions he makes, we all will learn something, and regardless of how many times President Obama reminds us that he is still the President (due to the Republican takeover this past election) watching the SOTU will be a good reminder to all adults and children that Romans 13 calls us to submit to our government AS IT IS, NOT AS IT OUGHT TO BE.

Republican Take Over in House & Senate – Why We Still Need Democracy

Last night was a crazy evening if you were watching CNN or Fox News.  The Republicans now have gained control in both the House and the Senate.  One thing is for sure – the events of yesterday’s midterm elections are causing either celebration or frustration depending on what side of the aisle you sit on.  You can be sure Republican politicians are thinking they’ve ushered in the Kingdom of God on earth while the Democrats believe they’ve lost it all.

I am convinced that most of the people in the circles I run in are Republicans.  I am, and along with me is the majority of whole evangelical world.  Are the events of last night a thing to rejoice over?  Yes and no.

Yes, because the views of the Republican party are more of a reflection of what evangelicals believe than the Democrats, and because of such things we rejoice that “right” thinking is now more a reality in Washington than it was yesterday.

No, because what happened last night is normal for the American political process.  Every 8 years we see the cycle of “everyone gets angry at the party that has twisted the truth and failed miserably at one initiative or the other, so they elected the opposite party to do the same thing.  Queue recently deposed party announcing soul searching and blaming the soon to be outgoing president.” (James Fordham)

Don’t miss the forest for the trees here.  There is a larger reality at play which must be mentioned.  The need for democracy.  Hear C.S. Lewis on this, who lived in a Monarchial governmental society speak on his need for democracy:

I am a democrat [proponent of democracy] because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that every one deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true. . . . I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost. Much less a nation. . . .The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.

In a post Genesis 3 world, a fallen world, a broken world, no one man should ever hold all the power. One could even say that no one party should hold all the cards.  We cannot be trusted with power, history proves this true again and again.  This is why we need Democracy.  More so, this is why we need Jesus Christ.

Therefore if you’re going to rejoice today over last night’s victory, or if you find yourself wallowing in defeat – remember Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, reigning.  Perfect in humanity, perfect in divinity, able to save those who believe in Him to the uttermost.  He is our hope, not the fall or rise of fickle political parties.

Why God thinks a Liberal Economy is Foolish

I know every now and then I can seem to be a bit controversial and say things in such a way so as to get a rise out of people. Should I say I’m sorry? Probably sometimes, but definitely not all the time. Today I am writing on politics, something I rarely do. But I am going to say something to you that I am not sorry for at all – I am not a liberal, but a proud republican. Why? One reason is simple: the economy.

Now I know I could wander off into no mans land here with a intro paragraph like that but I want to stay focused. The reason I absolutely think the liberal economy that our leaders have been crafting and implementing is horrendous is because you cannot spend more money than you take in. Can it be more simple than that? A household cannot exist for any long period of time if they spend more than they take in, so why does our government continue to run our country like this? I have no idea. But I fear there is larger reason behind all this that is more urgent to discuss – the liberal obsession to equalize.

What do I mean? The liberal politicians think it a good thing that everyone should be equal, meaning that no one should have more or less than the next guy. Equality is seen as a high virtue and therefore one that we all should be happy to pursue. In regards to the economy the folly of this thinking is clear with a simple illustration. Here’s the situation: you work hard in a college English class and receive an A for a grade while your neighbor slacked off and received a C. The professor wants everyone to be equal in the class so he moves your A down and your neighbor’s C up leaving you both with a B for a grade. Of course the student who has worked hard for the A is upset and the one who slacked off is happy. One is encouraged to stop studying so hard because their effort is seen as futile while the other is encouraged to continue slacking off in class. You see where I’m going?

In regards to the economy, the liberal drive for equalization looks like this. Taking more money from the rich who have generally (not always) worked hard for their money and giving it to the poor so everyone can be equal. The rich are upset and feel the government is stealing from them while the poor are happy to receive such a gift. The rich feel that if they keep working hard the government will continue taking more money from them and leaving them feeling like their effort and hard work is in vain, while the poor are encouraged in their slacking off (generally true) and being taken care of by the government.

This, to me, is completely ridiculous. I do not favor the rich nor the poor but do feel it is generally true that each group is in the economic status they’re in for a reason, and being encouraged to not work hard is not a good thing. Most of our parents taught us as children that if I work hard I’ll be rewarded, and the folly of liberal economy theory is just the opposite.

How does God factor into this? Well, in the Bible it is a general rule that Christians should be good stewards of the funds they’ve received, whether it be a large or small amount. This means, God cares about and offended when one uses their money in such a way that shows disregard for His commands. Therefore when anyone, home or country, spends more money then they take in, and financially encourages slackers to continue slacking, He is not happy And when God is not happy we ought to share His feelings and change things to please Him because we want to live lives that please Him.

Will I? Will you? Will our government? I hope so.