Archive for the ‘ Biblical Principles ’ Category

Good Friday

Crucifixion & Resurrection

Thank you, Jesus, for willingly laying down your life for a people who don’t deserve your love.

Whatever Happened to Sin, Guilt, & Shame?

I’m hardly the first or only person to comment on how we seem to have lost a sense of shame. There’s rarely, at least among the political leadership, the news media, and the entertainment segments of our society, any embarrassment over actions that used to bring public disgrace. The opposite now seems to be happening: outrageous, disgusting behavior is either ignored or rewarded.

Yet how can one feel shame if one has no sense of guilt over that behavior? Why has guilt gone the way of shame? Let’s trace it back to the loss of belief in sin and one’s accountability before God for one’s thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We used to be a society that had a set standard of right and wrong based on Biblical morality. While that’s not completely gone, we are now experimenting with what a society might be like if it jettisons Biblical morality entirely. We are seeing the wreckage all around.

One of the more obvious symptoms of a deceived heart is the outward acceptance of—no, make that the active push for—homosexuality. What was once considered deviant behavior is now encouraged. When anyone comes out of some kind of supposed closet, society applauds the “courage” it takes to make that public declaration of deviance. We are in the process of redefining right and wrong. Wrong is now intolerance of previously degenerate behavior. It’s the Christians who continue to hold to the former standard of morality who are now perceived as the real threat to societal harmony.

The most blatant example, of course, is same-sex marriage, an oxymoron of the highest caliber. The sad tale of Brendan Eich, who is now the former CEO of Mozilla simply because he made a contribution to the California effort back in 2008 to maintain the traditional concept of marriage as between one man and one woman, is the latest warning to those of us who are not going to bow before the new gods of immorality.

Mozilla

We used to be concerned about genuine threats to the safety of the nation, such as when underground communists were stealing nuclear secrets and placing their devotees in key positions within the government. That’s passé.

Traditional Marriage

Culture can change without the government’s aid. However, when the government is in on it as well, it provides a greater impetus for that change. The current administration has led the way. It began with the refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act and gradually morphed into outright promotion of same-sex marriage, linking it to the civil rights movement. We have an administration that picks and chooses which laws it will support. That puts us on the cusp of utter lawlessness:

The Law

Whether it’s the push for same-sex marriage, the attempt to force businesses to provide abortion services, or the desire to silence political opponents through the agency of the IRS, we are at a precarious place. The rule of law is on the verge of extinction because we have destroyed the Biblical concepts of sin, guilt, and shame. Only by restoring those will we restore what we have lost as a people.

Lewis: From the Portraits to the Original

The Four LovesHuman love. What is it, exactly? Is it a lesser love than love for God? Does it get in our way of loving Him? Or is it a manifestation of His love? Do we set aside any human loves we have experienced when we enter His presence at the end of this earthly existence? This passage from C. S. Lewis’s The Four Loves is one to be read slowly, in order to capture the fullness of what he is saying. So don’t rush through it; meditate on it and enjoy the richness of these thoughts:

We were made for God. Only by being in some respect like Him, only by being a manifestation of His beauty, lovingkindness, wisdom, or goodness, has any earthly Beloved excited our love.

It is not that we have loved them too much, but that we did not quite understand what we were loving. It is not that we shall be asked to turn from them, so dearly familiar, to a Stranger.

When we see the face of God we shall know that we have always known it. He has been a party to, has made, sustained, and moved moment by moment within, all our earthly experiences of innocent love. All that was true love in them was, even on earth, far more His than ours, and ours only because His.

In Heaven there will be no anguish and no duty of turning away from our earthly Beloveds. First, because we shall have turned already; from the portraits to the Original, from the rivulets to the Fountain, from the creatures He made lovable to Love Himself.

But secondly, because we shall find them all in Him. By loving Him more than them we shall love them more than we now do.

That beautiful passage is a commentary unto itself, requiring nothing more.

Lewis: Unique in God’s Eyes

One of the great truths I find in Scripture is that God has made each individual unique, distinct, and for particular purposes. Yes, He follows a pattern in how human beings may look, but He is infinitely creative. When we stand before Him after this life, we won’t be part of some nameless, faceless mass of humanity that gets lost in the crowd of some heavenly choir; we will be close to Him on an individual basis.

C. S. Lewis 2C. S. Lewis delves into this truth in The Problem of Pain:

He [God] makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one. Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you. . . .

Each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some one aspect of the divine beauty better than any other creature can. Why else were individuals created, but that God, loving all infinitely, should love each differently.

This reminds me of the Biblical promise in I Corinthians 13 (Message version):

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing Him directly  just as He knows us!

We never will lose our uniqueness; rather, it will be fulfilled in eternity.

Defining Sin & Salvation

Usually on Sundays, I excerpt something from Charles Finney, who, I believe, was one of the clearest thinkers in church history when it comes to grasping the need for conviction of sin and repentance as conditions for salvation. In the spirit of Finney, I’d like to offer some thoughts today that I hope may clarify where I’m coming from in my understanding of sin, repentance, and the essence of salvation. I’ll do my best to make these comments succinct.

Some readers of this blog may have a misunderstanding of my concept of sin. Because I talk often abut the obvious sins that are threatening our society as a whole—abortion and homosexuality probably being the most prominent—they may think those particular problems are my ultimate focus and my definition of sin. No, they are merely manifestations of the real problem. They are sinful actions, but they stem from something deeper.

What is sin, exactly? My reading of Scripture informs me that sin is rebellion against the altogether reasonable and righteous commands of God. I don’t believe God lays out laws for our misery, but rather for our well-being. He knows far better than we do what virtue consists of and why it is best for us. When we depart from His path, we are setting ourselves up for disaster. That’s why He warns us to examine ourselves.

Motive of the HeartAll sin begins in the heart, which can be defined as the will and motive for our actions. There are only two ultimate intentions in life: to act for the glory of God or for our own selfish gain. Even if we never descend into outward actions that are considered notorious, we are sinners nevertheless for our inward choice to do what we want to do, contrary to the will of God.

Murder [both outside the womb and within], sexual immorality [both hetero- and homo-], and every other type of sinful behavior is committed first in the mind, then transferred to the heart, and finally manifested in action. But even if someone does not follow through on the outward action, the sin still has been committed—God judges the heart.

Outwardly, a person may be “good” in the artificial sense in which most people judge goodness. A person may be “nice” in temperament, give time and money to “worthy” causes, and even be quite adept at God-talk. Yet that same person may have never faced up to his inner rebellion, never come to the point of genuine repentance for sin, and never seriously considered humbling himself at the cross of Christ to receive forgiveness. There are a lot of people who have a wish to follow God, but that wish never translates into action. That leads to an attempt to prove oneself worthy of heaven by concentrating on external good deeds.

PhariseesBut the Lord will always look at the heart first. That’s why Jesus made some rather harsh statements about the Pharisees of His time. I like the wording of Matthew 23 in the Message version:

 You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?

You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.

You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.

The thrust of Jesus’ argument is that it’s not what’s on the outside that counts, but what’s on the inside. No matter how good one may look, if the heart does not belong wholly to God, it’s all a sham. We will be nothing more than frauds and hypocrites.

Sin, therefore, is in the heart, and that’s where it must be dealt with. When it is acknowledged and sincerely repented of, one can then receive the forgiveness offered through Christ. And when the heart is cleansed, sin is avoided in the future and the desire is to be everything God wants us to be. Righteousness doesn’t become a burden, but a blessing.

The apostle John put it this way in his first letter:

Do we love God? Do we keep His commands? The proof that we love God comes when we keep His commandments, and they are not at all troublesome.

It’s not hard to do what God requires when we have come to love Him and live in gratitude for His love for us. That’s genuine salvation.

Salvation

What About Impeachment?

Talk of impeachment is beginning. President Obama’s latest power grab, declaring publicly that he will act without Congress to get done what he considers his priorities, is rankling those who are committed to the delicate separation of powers established by the Constitution. Is this just talk? Are there sufficient grounds for impeachment? Is it even politically feasible?

Impeaching a president is a big step. Two presidents have been formally impeached: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. A third, Richard Nixon, resigned before it could come to a full vote in the House of Representatives. To be impeached simply means to be accused by a majority of the House of actions warranting removal from office. In both cases when the House approved articles of impeachment, neither president was removed from office after a trial in the Senate. The Senate has the final say on articles of impeachment, and in the case of a president, two-thirds of that body must vote for removal.

The vote for Johnson’s removal was very close. It fell just one vote short, so he completed his term, which was less than a year anyway. For Clinton, a Republican-controlled Senate had a majority for removal, but not the two-thirds necessary; not even one Democrat joined the Republicans in favor of turning the White House over to VP Al Gore.

If you study the history of impeachment proceedings, both in Britain and America, you find that causes for removal from office can range from actual violations of law to non-criminal activity that simply brings disgrace and/or dishonor to the office. It’s not essential to find that someone has broken a law; if continuation in office is deemed to be detrimental to the proper functioning of the government, that is sufficient grounds for dismissal.

Because the Clinton impeachment is so near to us historically, that’s what most people will use as their comparison with the current president. What were Clinton’s actions that led to the impeachment? He was formally accused of perjury and obstruction of justice, both violations of law. In the background, of course, were his unseemly sexual inclinations. At the time, accusations of sexual relations with a young woman working in the White House and a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former Arkansas state employee formed the context for his violations. The whole thing was tawdry. I was in favor of his impeachment and removal due to the dishonor he conferred upon the presidency, not just because I disagreed with his political agenda.

ImpeachableAfter the Senate trial ended in his acquittal, I interviewed all the House Managers who argued before the Senate for his removal. It led to a book that gave their side of the story. Nowadays, conventional wisdom says they were wrong and/or foolish to proceed with the impeachment. Even though the Senate had a majority of Republicans, getting the two-thirds vote was considered a real long shot. However, I thought it was worth the fight, if for no other reason than to stand for principle. There was at least a glimmer of hope for success, given that Republicans did control that chamber.

My interviews also revealed to me a group of congressmen who fought this fight for the sake of principle: no man, not even a president, is above the law. Everyone is equal before the law, and all must be held accountable. I continue to honor them today for the stand they took.

So what about President Obama? There are two considerations: has he committed impeachable offenses and is there any realistic hope that impeachment proceedings will result in his removal from office?

On the first consideration, I am of the decided opinion that he has overstepped the lawful boundaries of his authority on many occasions. He is currently attempting to rule by executive orders, a clear violation of the constitutional limitations on a president. With respect to the IRS targeting of his political foes, is there anyone who, deep down, believes this was the result of a few rogue agents who acted without the approval—either directly or with a smile and a nod—of the president? Using a federal agency to undermine political opposition is the very thing Nixon was accused of. Democrats, at that time, didn’t think it was unjust to use that as a reason for impeachment.

Obama Arrogant Look 3Then there’s Benghazi. Regardless of whether the military could have gotten there in time to help the besieged, the massive coverup afterwards is reprehensible. Blaming the attack on some obscure video when it’s obvious now that Obama and everyone else around him knew it was a planned terrorist action, is inexcusable. Throwing the producer of the video in prison was unconscionable. And doing it all during an election season to hide the truth from an electorate deciding whether to keep Obama in office was deception of the highest order.

So, yes, he has committed clearly impeachable offenses. His disregard for the Constitution seems limitless; his desire to do whatever is necessary to remain in power renders him unfit for the office.

But that brings us to the second consideration: is there a realistic hope that the Senate actually would remove him? I don’t think there’s any hope of that at all. Not only is the Senate controlled by his own party, it is more bitterly partisan now than ever. If not even one Democrat senator could bring himself or herself to vote to remove Bill Clinton from office, how is there any reasonable expectation that twenty-two of them would do so today? Any impeachment proceeding against Barack Obama would be futile.

So what can be done?

First, I applaud Sen. Rand Paul’s lawsuit against the president over the misuse of the NSA’s intelligence-gathering. How about some more lawsuits aimed at the president’s unconstitutional power grabs? Not all the courts are corrupt. There are still some judges out there who revere the rule of law.

Second, focus laser-like on the upcoming congressional elections. If Republicans can take back the Senate, and if a few more of those senators can grow the spines they currently lack, legislation can be passed to curtail unconstitutional activities. Yes, the president will veto all such legislation, but this will be a vital educational experience for the general public as they see a president flaunting the law so openly.

Education of the public in the principle of rule of law will provide an opening for a Republican presidential candidate who has the stomach and integrity to stand for what is right. If Republicans can unite behind a bold, principled leader, there remains a hope that the present drift of the nation politically can be turned around.

I realize a lot has to come together to make this happen. I’m not naïve. And at the root of any great reversal of national fortunes must be a spiritual revival that calls people back to foundational truths. Although we need to take the proper steps in the political realm, ultimate success rests with a Biblically grounded people. Will we be such a people?

Lewis: The Unfathomable Anguish of Hell

Regular readers of this blog know that each Saturday I pull quotes from the vast resource available from C. S. Lewis. The past couple of Saturdays, I’ve focused on his comments about hell. Why, some may wonder, would I dwell on that topic? One reason is that we live in a society that pretty much dismisses hell as a fantasy or, at best, an illustration of something more “real” but less frightening. Well, hell is real. And, if you take the Scripture seriously, it is the destination for the majority of humanity. Therefore, I make no apology for spending some time highlighting it, if for no other reason than to make us think soberly about eternity.

Problem of PainIn Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, he paints a portrait of hell as the absence of genuine humanity, and shows the contrast between heaven and hell on that score:

To enter heaven is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being in earth; to enter hell is to be banished from humanity. What is cast (or casts itself) into hell is not a man: it is “remains.”

To be a complete man means to have the passions obedient to the will and the will offered to God: to have been a man—to be an ex-man or “damned ghost”—would presumably mean to consist of a will utterly centered in its self and passions utterly uncontrolled by the will.

A couple of chapters later, in the same book, Lewis helps us understand what it might feel like to have been so close to heaven, only to lose it all:

We can understand Hell in its aspect of privation. All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will awake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it, or else, that it was within your reach and you have lost it forever.

Is that perhaps the real hellishness of hell, to spend an eternity in unfathomable anguish of soul for having allowed eternal bliss to slip from one’s hands? Can anything be more of a hell than to have glimpsed what might have been?