Archive for the ‘ Biblical Principles ’ Category

On Race & Intolerance

As a Christian, I take seriously the Biblical concept that all men are descended from an original couple, Adam and Eve. Consequently, we are all part of the same family genetically. Sin is what divides people. We tend to cluster around those who are more like us and develop suspicions toward those who are different in physical appearance. Talk of racism always bothers me because I don’t really believe in racial classifications. From the Biblical point of view, there is only one race, and it’s called “human.” The external differences we see are simply testimony to God’s creativity and love of diversity—a word that has been maligned lately due to its misapplication.

What people call racism is actually just a dislike for those who are not like “us.” It cuts across the divide and infects all people, no matter what color they are or ethnicity to which they belong. It’s not the exclusive province of Americans descended from Europeans. The attempt to remedy past ill treatment of blacks in America via affirmative action policies has only created greater injustice and division. Good intentions are not the same as good policy.

That’s why I applaud a recent Supreme Court decision that tore down the affirmative action barrier to equal treatment of all people, regardless of color, gender, or ethnic background. All that decision did was help fulfill the vision of a society in which people are judged by individual merit, not outward characteristics. Naturally, though, there are those who will cling to the old vision:

That's Racist

It’s particularly pernicious when some of those sit on that Supreme Court. Nevertheless, we should rejoice that at least one small step has been taken legally to reverse the trend.

Unfortunately, we still have an administration that uses past inequalities to hammer the current generation. Some find it exceedingly difficult to see anything outside of the “racial” box. Whenever President Obama or Attorney General Eric Holder are criticized, they immediately find refuge behind the racial wall:

Race Cards

Frankly, any other attorney general exhibiting the degree of racial bias Holder has shown would have been out the door well before now.

What’s particularly distasteful to me is that they always speak the language of tolerance, while themselves showcasing some of the most intolerant attitudes imaginable. Whenever Biblical morality is held up as a standard, its advocates are attacked as intolerant. It’s the Christians who are now being portrayed as the intolerant ones, and we are told that our views will not be tolerated:

Tolerant Community

As I’ve noted before, the real battle for the future is not political; the real battle is theological and cultural. Winning the hearts and minds is where we need to focus our attention.

Lewis: Reflection on the Incarnation

In one of his letters, C. S. Lewis reflects on when God became man in the person of Jesus. Why did He not come as a type of superhero, impervious to physical harm and devoid of emotion? It’s because He sought to be like us and to reveal the heart of the Father:

JesusGod could, had He pleased, have been incarnate in a man of iron nerves, the Stoic sort who lets no sigh escape him. Of His great humility He chose to be incarnate in a man of delicate sensibilities who wept at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane.

Otherwise we should have missed the great lesson that it is by his will alone that a man is good or bad, and that feelings are not, in themselves, of any importance. We should also have missed the all-important help of knowing that He has faced all that the weakest of us face, has shared not only the strength of our nature but every weakness of it except sin.

As the apostle Paul put it, Jesus emptied Himself of all the privileges of Godhood and chose to live as a man. The writer of the Hebrews tells us that He suffered everything we suffer, even all the temptations that the world has to offer, yet did so without succumbing to sin. That’s why He became the perfect sacrifice, to set us free from sin and death. That truth should serve to humble us before Him and spur us to love Him without condition or measure.

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