Why Do I Do This?

This is one of those mornings. I’ve written this blog for the last eight years. Why? What did I hope to accomplish? What have I accomplished?

There are times I simply want to walk away from it and never touch it again. Why bother with being called a racist because I accurately pointed to Michael Brown’s actions before he was shot in Ferguson? Why take the arrows of being considered bigoted because I warn against the homosexual agenda?

And lately, why do I continue to highlight the dangers of a Donald Trump presidency and then get accused of helping Hillary Clinton get elected? All this does is divide people who formerly were united, right?

I’ve always been uncomfortable with confrontations. I would rather write about things we all agree on and never ruffle anyone. But—what would those topics be?

Sometimes I want to give this up and let the world go its own way. My little scribblings in a blog that has a limited audience aren’t going to change anything big, are they?

JeremiahThe problem, though, is that I have a Jeremiah issue. That’s not to say I’m a prophet; God has never told me I have that gift. But I understand at least some of how Jeremiah felt at one point when he said in the 20th chapter of his book,

O Lord, You have deceived me and I was deceived; You have overcome me and prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me.

For each time I speak, I cry aloud; I proclaim violence and destruction, because for me the word of the Lord has resulted in reproach and derision all day long.

I mean, who wants to feel like that? But he continues,

But if I say, “I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name, then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it.”

Jeremiah was calling his nation to repentance, yet he knew he probably wouldn’t succeed in that mission. He wanted to stop telling them they were going the wrong way, but the Spirit of God within him wouldn’t allow him to quit.

As I said, I’m no Jeremiah; my voice doesn’t go out to the entire nation; most have no idea who I am, and I don’t mind that at all. But God has called me to speak to whatever limited audience He gives me, and I am supposed to be faithful to that calling.

So, if you disagree with my warnings about our culture, the education crisis, and the political foolishness that abounds, that will just have to be. I will continue to write and say what I believe God has put on my heart.

If possible, though, I would hope your disagreements can be shared in a spirit of humility. My pledge is that I will never treat anyone who disagrees with me in an unchristian manner. I seek to communicate in the spirit advocated by the apostle Paul when he told us we are to speak the truth in love.

I guess I’m going to keep on writing.

America’s Jeremiah Moment

From the heart today. Well, everything I write is from the heart, but this one is burning within. I have been doing my best to warn conservatives—and Christian conservatives, in particular—about giving any aid, verbal or otherwise, to the candidacy of Donald Trump. Some of you, I’m sure, are tired of hearing my warnings.

No one has responded to my warnings with anger, I don’t believe, yet I’m still astonished by people I certainly love and respect giving room to Trump in the sense that they seem to enjoy his braggadocio and politically incorrect comments.

Yes, we do need someone with courage to speak up. We need those kinds of people in government at all levels. My concern, though, is that we are confusing Trump’s self-aggrandizement with Biblical courage.

In my spirit, I’m coming to the place where I believe America is now experiencing its Jeremiah moment. We are at a crossroads in a way we never have been before. The Obama administration has openly advocated the killing of unborn children, has led the way in the destruction of marriage, has done its best to destroy the economy, and has put America in a weakened position around the world.

What is needed at this critical juncture is not a man who brags about how much money he has made, who claims to be smarter than everyone else, and who strikes back at any criticism by calling his critics names: losers, stupid, third-rate journalists, bimbos, etc.

JeremiahRather, we need a chorus of Jeremiahs throughout the nation calling people to repentance and humility—the very last things one would associate with Donald Trump.

Jeremiahs are not usually treated well. The Biblical Jeremiah got on people’s nerves; they kept telling him to be quiet, don’t stir up trouble. Yet he continued on, despite his own inner desire to stop. There was a fire from God in his bones that wouldn’t allow him to back off.

Jeremiah’s message was dire, but if you look closely, his main theme was that the nation needed to humble itself before God. Only through a humility that led to genuine repentance would Judah have any hope for the future.

That’s where America is right now. Our only hope is in a thorough repentance that begins with God’s own. Those who call themselves Christians must see clearly now as never before. We can’t let ourselves be caught up in a reactionary attitude that gives credence to any politician who makes us feel better because he “fights back.”

So I don’t write my warnings about Trump out of any kind of spite toward him personally or just because I’m on my own little hobby horse. I’m truly fearful of what a Trump presidency would bring. I fear it would be no better than a Hillary Clinton presidency, and I don’t think God will bless either choice.

I will continue to write and express my deepest concerns. I will attempt to do so in a redemptive manner, not merely offering denunciations. But the truth needs to be spoken. Our reception of that truth needs to lead us all into a personal examination of our faith and the kind of response God now requires.

This is our Jeremiah moment. How will we respond?

Happy New Year? Real Christians Are the Key

Everyone always says “Happy New Year!” Is that what we really expect, or do we look ahead with more anxiety than anticipation? Is there much to be happy about in our world?

JeremiahIn this blog, I’ve tried hard to stay upbeat even while pointing out the follies, misfortunes, and outright sins in our society. I’ve never desired to be a Jeremiah. Maybe that’s because I don’t like suffering. No one wanted to hear his words; at one point, he was thrown in a well to die. I’m not fond of wells and other pits. Not everyone gets rescued as he did.

It’s a delicate balance to maintain, pointing out the problems while remaining upbeat. There are too many who spend all their time denouncing everything. They become boring after a while. Yet there is a lot to denounce. How can we do so in the right spirit?

When I look at the world and attempt to make sense of what’s happening, I look first to the church. How is its spiritual health? What impact is it having on day-to-day life? Is it being faithful to the Message delivered to the saints?

It’s always important to keep in mind that there are two “churches” out there: one that is visible and outward, and the other that is within the visible and outward manifestation. The true church is comprised of genuine believers who may worship in many types of outward church buildings and/or denominations.

Do I have to say this? I will anyway. The true church is only a minority within the number of those who show up for a worship service on any given Sunday. The old cliché never goes out of date: going to church doesn’t make anyone a Christian any more than entering a garage makes one a car.

What the world calls “the church” is slipping away from its Biblical moorings. It has watered down Biblical authority and allowed the tenor of the times to dictate what it believes to be true. Some have even gone the entire way and have claimed that truth itself is elusive, rather relative, and unattainable.

We can never look to that external church for real leadership; we must look instead to those who labor within it who have remained faithful to the Gospel—individual salvation only through Christ and societal reform only via the salvation message.

On balance, we have both good and bad occurring simultaneously within what is normally seen as Christendom. That’s to be expected. Jesus made it clear there would be tares [weeds] growing alongside the wheat. He also said it would remain that way throughout time, until God the Father decides that our time is up.

In former decades, America saw itself as a Christian nation, at least in the sense that we honored Christian faith publicly. Those days are nearly gone. Yet, although that may cause us grief, there is an up side to it. The lines are more clearly drawn now; we cannot just rely on a civic religion that gives lip service to Christianity. We are now forced to make a choice—what do we really believe?

Atheists have lately become more emboldened. They are using the courts and putting pressure on the society to toss religious beliefs aside. The society has accepted behaviors that we never thought would become normalized.

What will the genuine church do in response to these challenges in 2015? Will that church stand tall and strong? Will it hold to Biblical truth in spite of the pressures to conform to new societal standards? Will it speak the truth in love and accept whatever persecution may come from that stance?

Salt & LightI keep coming back to this point regularly in my blog: Jesus called us to be salt and light. Salt preserves. There is much in our society that has been based on Biblical truth; it needs to be preserved. We have a responsibility to try to maintain our Biblical roots. Light shows others the way, the proper path to follow. They need this light because they are walking in darkness. If we don’t shine the light, they will remain in their sins.

Love God above all else and love our neighbors as ourselves. Those are the two greatest commandments. But we don’t love either God or our neighbors if we don’t tell the truth about sin, judgment, and how to restore a right relationship with the One who gave us life in the first place.

Will it be a happy new year? Or at least happier? The church of devoted followers of Jesus Christ is the key; we are His hands, feet, and mouth. Will we be faithful this year?

Reflections As We Begin a New Year

New Year's EveWelcome to 2014. As a historian, I see significance in the passage of time, but for practical day-to-day living, the distinction between one year and the next is artificial. What really changes from December 31 to January 1? Oh, yes, some new laws go into effect, but it’s all part of the continuum of time.

I watch the revelers on New Year’s Eve and see mostly drunks and people who could easily lay claim to an award for brainless activity and superficial happiness. Of course, those are the ones focused on by the media, as they attempt to portray “joy” in the worldly sense of the term. I realize there are those who soberly and with gratitude to God for another year, give thanks for their blessings. Yet that kind of recognition for the grace of God pales in the public mind when compared to the temporary rejoicing in Times Square. The latter takes priority.

Do I sound like a downer today? I’m not trying to be the Scrooge of New Year’s, but my frame of vision differs quite a bit from the norm. I’m not alone, or at least I hope I’m not. All genuine Christians should stand apart in their perception of reality. They should have a distinct perspective on sin, mercy, and grace, and they should be about their Father’s business in displaying it to the world.

That’s what inspired me back in August 2008 to begin this ongoing commentary on life. From the start, I wanted it to be set apart somehow from the onslaught of the multitude of bloggers, particularly those who offer little more than shrill screeds, lashing out with intemperate words toward everything they despise.

I decided to call this daily commentary Pondering Principles because I want the basic truths God has given us to be the basis for everything I write. While I don’t intend to stir up controversy for the sake of controversy, I also realize that those things I call basic truths are rejected by a good part of our age. To write in favor of God’s law—righteousness across the board in morality—now makes one controversial whether one desires it or not.

There are times I tire of writing. What atrocity do I have to talk about today? Which sin needs to be illuminated? What new stupidity has the human race discovered now? That’s why I try to make sure I balance those types of posts with the message of God’s love and His heart for salvaging as many broken examples of humanity as possible. It’s why I include a large number of cartoons to add some humor to the unfolding of our societal foolishness. It’s why I devote weekend posts to insights from C. S. Lewis and Charles Finney, hoping to escape the daily grind of political folly for at least a few days.

JeremiahI never intended to be another Jeremiah, the Weeping Prophet of the Old Testament. But neither did I anticipate the rapid decline in our national morality that has occurred since I began this blog in 2008. Jeremiah had a strong message, speaking, in this passage, for God:

For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

He got tired of delivering his message, too, and all the reproach he received from those who rejected what he said. At one point, he cried out in anguish,

But if I say, “I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,” then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it.

He remained faithful. He felt compelled to complete his mission.

I am in no way a replica of Jeremiah. I’ve not suffered major derision or persecution personally for sharing my views. Yet I can empathize with his emotion. Sometimes, I just want to walk away from writing anything more. I find myself thinking that all these words I write accomplish very little. Why submit to the inner drive to continue? Life would be easier and much more pleasant if I didn’t have to think of something to say every day. Some days I’m dry; there’s nothing worth saying. Or at least that’s how I feel.

Yet whenever I think of stopping this commentary, I find that same burning within that Jeremiah described.

I don’t really know what I’m accomplishing with Pondering Principles. Perhaps far less than I hope. Yet I also know, deep in my heart, that God merely calls us to be faithful, and we’re to leave the results with Him. Therefore, I will be like Jeremiah in at least one respect: I will remain faithful to what God has called me to do.

Those are some of my reflections at the beginning of a new year. May we all reflect regularly on God’s calling and our commitment to Him.

My Teaching Ministry–Final Thoughts

When I began this series last week, I didn’t know it would last this many days. I had thought of providing a general overview, but as it progressed, I sought to share more details. I left out a lot of the pain. As I’ve told a number of people recently, the fact that I still believe in Christian higher education is one of the Lord’s minor miracles. There was a period in which I seriously debated within myself whether to continue as a professor; the discouragement seemed nearly overwhelming. At that time, I understood the words of Jeremiah when he complained to God about his calling:

O Lord, You have deceived me and I was deceived . . . because for me the word of the Lord has resulted in reproach and derision all day long.

Yet I also experienced the rest of Jeremiah’s thoughts:

But if I say, “I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name, then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones: and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it.”

I remained faithful to the calling, learned to wait, and not to make decisions rashly. I realize it’s somewhat of a cliché, but true nonetheless, that God teaches us more in the hard times than when everything is smooth. When we are castigated rather than praised, we are more united with Christ because that is what He had to endure also.

When a new semester begins, when I walk into a new class for the first time, when I see expectant faces before me—that’s when the Spirit of God renews my strength and He reminds me that this is not about me. This is an opportunity to touch lives and make a difference for His kingdom. All of us are in constant need of that reminder, no matter what God has called us to be. We all have the obligation and the joy of being His mouth, hands, and feet.

I will continue to teach. Sometimes I joke about how long I will be a professor, and I say if someone can wheel me into the classroom, and I’m able to speak, and I have the remote control for my computer, I will be there. Retirement is not really a Biblical concept. As long as he gives me breath, I will accomplish whatever task He lays out before me.

After all, this is not the final act in the drama of life; it goes on into eternity.

The Election Scenarios: Which One Will Become Reality Today?

By the end of this day—barring any legal challenges or chicanery—we should know the political landscape for the next two to four years. No one expects the House to revert to the Democrats, so that much is set even before the counting begins. But the Senate, and of course the presidency, are the real questions. Let’s examine the possible scenarios, from worst-case to best-case.

Scenario #1

Barack Obama retains the presidency and Democrats continue to control the Senate. What will this mean? We will be in the same state we are currently. The House will try to pass legislation to correct the debt Armageddon and Obamacare, but the Senate will not act on anything the House does. It will remain adamant in opposition to the Republican agenda. The Congress, in this scenario, will be as it is now—worthless. This will lead to Obama doing what he has already begun to do, which is to rule by executive orders. No amount of protest that his actions are unconstitutional will avail. With a Justice Department firmly in his control, he will be free to do whatever he wishes, thereby foisting even more government control over the lives of individuals and trampling religious liberty through Obamacare. That “signature” piece of legislation will go forward without anything to stop it. By the end of his term, the United States will be pretty much like the European states that have given themselves over to full-scale socialism. We will also be on the verge of total bankruptcy. Oh, and since Supreme Court justices have to be confirmed by the Senate, he will get to replace perhaps three of the nine currently on the bench with ideological soulmates.

Scenario #2

Barack Obama stays in as president and the Senate changes hands to the Republicans. Under this scenario, with both houses of Congress controlled by the Republicans, certain pieces of legislation aimed at undoing the Obama agenda will pass both chambers and be sent to the White House for Obama’s approval. He will approve nothing coming from a Republican Congress. The veto will become his favorite weapon. On occasion, Congress may be able to muster a 2/3 vote to override a veto, but unless enough Democrats are willing to join with Republicans against the titular leader of their party, most of the proposed legislation will go down to defeat. Then Obama will do as noted above in scenario #1: he will rule by executive orders. The only saving grace is that he might not get the justices on the Supreme Court he wants, but that’s no guarantee. Senate Republicans, on the whole, have never been known for their backbones.

Scenario #3

Mitt Romney wins the presidency, but the Senate does not turn Republican. Under the continued “leadership” of Harry Reid, stonewalling will be the rule. Romney will do whatever he can within the powers of the presidency to remedy the damage that has been created by Obama. He says he will give waivers from Obamacare to every state. That will be a step in the right direction. However, getting any genuine reform legislation through Congress will be tough, nearly impossible, with Reid as Senate Majority Leader. Romney also will have hard sledding replacing Supreme Court justices with anyone worthwhile since the Senate has to approve them. Without a Republican Senate, Romney’s achievements will be minimal.

Scenario #4

Mitt Romney sweeps into the presidency by a significant margin, thereby helping Republicans take the Senate as well. Coattails do exist. This is obviously the rosiest scenario. The real question is whether Republicans will follow through and do what’s necessary to reverse course on the last four years and will learn their lesson about squandering a majority the way they did during the Bush presidency. Conservatives have always been wary of Romney’s foundational beliefs; they will have to hold his feet to the fire, but they will have some victories to cheer whether they get everything they desire or not. Obamacare should be shelved; the national debt should be brought under control; justices who believe in the original wording and intent of the Constitution should be put on the Court; Biblical morality should be upheld. This is not necessarily guaranteed, but this is the only scenario that holds such promise.

Which scenario do I think will play out today? My analysis of the current state of the race tells me it should be either #3 or #4. I see #3 as more likely, but you never know what can happen when people pray and work for what they believe in. And a lot of people have been doing both. May the Lord give us another opportunity to correct the mistakes we have made. A little divine intervention would be very nice.

The Lord spoke through the prophet Jeremiah these words:

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”

Yes, I know that was a word for ancient Israel, but it is a principle—a general truth—that can apply to us today. May it be so.

 

Young Evangelicals Succumbing to the Culture

When should we believe polls? Are they true indicators of trends? They do need to be studied carefully to ensure there is no slant that skews the results, but it’s not always easy to know when that’s the case. There’s a new poll out that I would prefer not to believe, yet I sense, from my own experience, that, sadly, it may be accurate.

An organization called the Public Religion Research Institute has found that 44% of young evangelicals—those between the ages of 18 to 29—approve of same-sex marriage. This indicates a clear generational split as over 80% of older evangelicals oppose such a “marriage.” This particular poll offers no explanation for why the younger crowd has departed from clear Biblical teaching, while continuing to call themselves evangelicals.

The answer may be complex, but I think two factors are pretty clear. First, the younger generation has been inundated with the normalization of homosexuality. You see it in almost every television program, particularly popular ones such as Glee. Second, there seems to be a lack of solid teaching; instead, young people are guided more by their feelings. The lethal combination of the adoption of the attitudes of popular culture and the avoidance of sound doctrine is reaping a bitter harvest.

Rather than leading on this issue and showcasing truth to the general culture, the evangelical community is being led into error by that same culture. Yes, Jesus said we were sheep, but He didn’t mean it in that way.

I must admit I’m a little despondent over this poll because I believe it does reflect the true state of modern Christendom. We are supposed to be the ones who help rescue those trapped by sin; how can we do so when we don’t believe sin is really sin? I have sorrow for those who claim they are Christians yet promote sin, and I have sorrow for those who are enmeshed in sin without a clear voice to show them the path to spiritual liberty.

We live in this culture, but we’re not supposed to succumb to it. We have the words of truth, but we neglect to study them and take them to heart. We are in a sad state overall. I’ve been reading the prophet Jeremiah lately. The message God gave him was one of sorrow, a call to repentance, and the certainty of judgment if the people rejected the message. Ancient Judah fell because it turned away from the One who is truth. America is falling. Will that fall be halted? Only if those who know the truth speak boldly and help turn the tide.

It wasn’t easy for Jeremiah. At one point, he wailed,

I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. For each time I speak, I cry aloud; I proclaim violence and destruction, because for me the word of the Lord has resulted in reproach and derision all day long.

But if I say I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name, then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in.

Jeremiah, despite the obstacles, remained true to his calling. Will we?