My Biblical Foundation for This Blog

I began this blog in August 2008. I had no idea how long it would go, but I’m still here and haven’t yet been led by the Lord to stop, even though I’ve contemplated it many times.

The goal of Pondering Principles always has been to bring the light of a Biblical worldview to bear on all aspects of life. As we enter into this new year, I thought I would simply lay out once more where I’m coming from and why I write as I do.

A litany of Scripture passages will serve as the basis for this, beginning with Isaiah 59:2:

But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.

That’s the state of the world overall. Mankind is in rebellion against the righteous rule of the Creator. The rebellion begins in individual hearts and then spreads into the various cultures.

In spite of this, God loves us. Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, was sent into this sin-soaked world for one supreme purpose, as explained in Matthew 1:21 when an angel informed Joseph,

She [Mary] will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.

The Greek word that we translate “from” actually means, more precisely, “away from” or “out of.” The strong message is that through Jesus we no longer have to be a sin-soaked people, but we can be separated from our sins rather than be separated from God.

John 14:6 makes it abundantly clear that there is no other way to be reunited with our God when Jesus says to His disciples,

I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

That’s why I write from the perspective that the Christian faith is the one and only true, genuine faith in the world. All others are attempts to find a different way back to God, but all fail.

What is God’s goal? It is found in II Peter 3:9:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Repentance is the key, yet it is so often minimized in the modern Christian message. It’s not enough merely to give a mental assent to some propositions about Jesus; rather, a change of life is essential—and it starts with repentance. Some see that word as harsh, but it isn’t. As the apostle Paul explains in Romans 2:4,

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

It’s the greatest kindness of all to be truthful with us about our sinfulness and to point to the way out of it. Once we make that initial turnabout, He then gives us the grace to live the kind of life He knows will bring real joy. One of my favorite verses is Romans 12:2, which says,

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

The word translated “transformed” is the same word used when Jesus went up on the mountain and was “transfigured” before His three closest disciples. They were allowed to see His true glory for a few minutes. In the same way, He wants our lives to be “transfigured” so we no longer walk as we used to walk.

As we live out this new life, we need to be a discerning people. We need to know the difference between truth and falsehood and how that affects our society all around us. That’s why I also use this Scripture, Colossians 2:8, quite often when I speak:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

That’s why I spend so much time and effort trying to apply Biblical principles to what I see taking place in our nation and in the world. That’s why I comment often on politics and government and seek to show how the Christian faith should impact them. Government is not our savior, but it can help stem the tide of evil—and evil seems to be increasing to the point where this plaintive cry from Isaiah 5:20-21 describes the direction of this nation:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!

Never in the history of America have we elevated evil to such an extent as we are doing now—and call it “good.” We did it in the past with slavery and segregation, but now we are reversing good and evil in unprecedented ways.

This why I write, to do whatever I can, in my limited way, to shine a light on God’s path, in the hope that I can influence a few to look to Him.

The most well-known Scripture is John 3:16. When you couple it with the verse that follows, it offers the rationale for what God seeks to do among us:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

The problem, however, has always been man’s response to God’s love. Jesus concludes the above statement with this:

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.

For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

My commitment is to partner with the Lord as much as I can in revealing the Light that is Jesus. Along the way, that means calling out the darkness; we have to see the stark contrast between the two.

I will do my best always to include the way out of the darkness, shining the Light of Jesus on it.

Modernity & the Church

Impossible PeopleI’m working my way through a new book by Os Guinness called Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization. It diagnoses the problem of the church as it becomes co-opted by modernity.

Guinness says, quite correctly, I believe, that it’s not the frontal attacks of secularism and atheism that do the real damage; rather, it is the seduction and distortion of the faith through modernity that leads us astray and destroys the Christian witness to civilization.

Guinness says that predictions of the disappearance of religion in our culture are off-target. In fact, religion is flourishing, but the nature of the Christian faith has been subtly altered, thereby making it less genuine.

One major change in perception that has changed the faith is the undermining of the whole concept of submission to authority. We have shifted “from a stance under authority to one of preference. . . . All responses are merely a matter of preference.” This is at odds with basic Christianity. “Unique among the gods believed in throughout history, the Lord is transcendent, so what he says is truth, binding truth, because it addresses us as authority. To dilute this authority is to dismiss the Lord himself,” Guinness notes.

The statement “Jesus is Lord” is the essence of Biblical truth. There is no other name through which anyone can be saved.

Our modern world, though, informs us that there is no ultimate authority; we have unlimited choice in life.

From breakfast cereals to restaurants and cuisines to sexual identities and temptations to possible sexual arrangements of all types to self-help techniques and philosophies of life, we are offered an infinite array of choices, and the focus is always on choice as choosing rather than choice as the content of what is chosen. Simply choose. Experiment. Try it out for yourself.

Os GuinnessGuinness goes on: “Our freedom is the freedom to choose, regardless of whether our choice is right or wrong, wise or stupid. . . . Choosing is all that matters. Truth, goodness, and authority are irrelevant.”

In the world at large, this leads to the rejection of any absolute standard. Guinness explains,

Does it matter . . . whether your sister-in-law is straight or lesbian, or your boss is a heterosexual womanizer, a homosexual, or was once a woman? There are different strokes for different folks. We are all different, so who are we to judge? . . . This is my choice. That is yours. We are all free to choose differently, and our choices only amount to different preferences, so who is to say who is right? . . . And what business do any of us have to judge other people’s preferences?

It’s understandable that the world outside the Christian faith would fall for this, but when it shows up in the church, that’s when the faith is compromised and loses its witness of truth to the world.

As Guinness laments, “Christian advocates of homosexual and lesbian revisionism believe in themselves and in the sexual revolution rather than the gospel. They therefore twist the Scriptures to make reality fit their desires rather than making their desires fit the truths of the Scriptures.”

In our seeker-friendly church world, we often exchange the truth for a lie. Guinness quotes from a Christian marketing consultant who said, apparently without any sense of irony, “It is . . . critical that we keep in mind a fundamental principle of Christian communication: the audience, not the message, is sovereign.”

TruthGuinness expresses his shock over such a statement: “The audience is sovereign? No! Let it be repeated a thousand times, no! When reaching out as the church of Jesus, the message of the gospel and Jesus the Lord of the message is alone sovereign—and never, never, never the audience, however needy, however attractive, however prestigious or well-heeled an audience may be.”

While we are to be sensitive to those seeking the truth, we must have truth to offer them. While we are to be all things to all people, the purpose for that admonition is to bring them to the Truth Himself.

Here is the challenge, as Guinness so clearly lays it out:

All Evangelicals should search their hearts. For a generation now the air has been thick with talk of “changing the world,” but who is changing whom?

There is no question that the world would like to change the church. In area after area only the church stands between the world and its success over issues such as sexuality. Unquestionably the world would like to change the church, but does the church still want to change the world, or is its only concern to change the church in the light of the world?

Something is rotten in the state of Evangelicalism, and all too often it is impossible to tell who is changing whom.

I would add that as I survey the current political state of America and the evangelical rush to support, and even promote, a candidate whose worldview and lifestyle is contrary to the Gospel, that I see this rot infecting evangelicalism to its very core.

Who is changing whom?

I applaud Os Guinness’s clarion call that we be the church once more.

Stand for Righteousness

As a Christian I believe that salvation is offered to all who will acknowledge the sin in their lives, sincerely repent of it, and put their faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross. I believe, as Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, that we are then obliged to “go and sin no more.”

Further, I believe that no sin is outside the circle of God’s forgiveness. The sin of homosexuality is no exception. And the admonition to go and sin no more applies as well because sin is a choice—there is no homosexual gene, regardless of what you may have heard.

It isn’t the Christians, though, who have made homosexuality such an issue in our society. As a historian, I could go back and trace all the antecedents that have led us to where we are today, but the short version is to say that the cultural revolution started in earnest in the 1960s and 1970s.

Prop 8 Protest IThis revolution had many facets but sexual “liberation” was a key. The push for legalized abortion and homosexual “rights” began simultaneously. Both are the outward manifestation of the rejection of Biblical truth and the substitution of the cult of self-centeredness and licentious behavior.

Christians always have reached out to those trapped in sin. After all, that’s why God has us in this world, to be His voice, arms, and legs. I would never have a problem sitting down with individuals caught in any sinful lifestyle and helping them see the true liberation that comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What has happened in the past few decades, though, and that has now accelerated beyond anyone’s expectation, is the demand by those in sinful lifestyles—particularly homosexuality—that the society not just tolerate their sinfulness but that we embrace it.

We have gone far beyond a call for tolerance into the realm of government force to make us bow to the new immorality. Christian businesses such as bakeries and photographers are fined if they won’t participate in homosexual weddings. Some have had to close their businesses over this.

Christian educational institutions are threatened with loss of accreditation if they don’t change their stance on homosexuality. The latest such threat comes from the California legislature.

The drive for normalization of what used to be considered by nearly everyone as unacceptable has now led to public shaming for those who refuse to submit to the idea that there should be no gender distinctions in bathrooms and locker rooms.

Keep Govt Out

One could easily say that plain old common sense is disappearing in the onslaught of a political correctness that is in the process of destroying what remains of our society’s Biblical basis.

This is a new militancy that already is sprouting the seeds of totalitarianism. Yet, ironically, it is those who are simply holding their ground on decency and traditional morality who are being stigmatized as the narrow-minded, the bigots, the haters.

How to respond? It’s easy to become indignant and angry over the false accusations. It’s easy to want to lash out at the foolishness and sin that is destroying us.

The Scripture says that God is angry with sin and with those who promote it. His judgment looms. Yet we also know, from that same source, that He seeks to save even those who may seem beyond saving. His mercy is everlasting. That doesn’t mean judgment won’t come, but until it does, He will continue to draw people to Himself.

We need the same outlook. Yes, be angry over the sin that is sending people into both a personal hell and a literal one. Yes, strive to replace government officials who promote a sinful agenda; there is a political side to this.

TruthBut, more than anything else, do whatever we can to showcase truth and reverse the dominant worldview that has led to this. Politics and government are not our savior; neither are they the source of the problem—they only reflect who we are as a people.

Changed minds and changed hearts provide the only solution. That’s where our primary focus must be, and there are many avenues through which we can achieve this. Wherever God has placed you, you are now His voice, His conscience, His heart.

Renewal of the mind happens one person at a time. Work within the sphere of influence you already have. Give God every opportunity to work through you to salvage a nation on the path to devastation and ruin.

Stand for righteousness and then stand back and see what the Lord will do.

A Line Is Being Drawn

In the wake of the Orlando terrorist attack, some people are making fantastic charges. I’ll come back to that in a moment, but first, a short testimony.

Good & EvilI know what it means to be in rebellion against God. There was a time in my life when I walked away from His love and rejected His ways. In short, I was lost in my sin and was on a road to perdition. God was merciful. He kept working on me despite my attitude toward Him. Over a period of a number of years, He drew me back through the Biblical path of recognition of sin, repentance, and faith.

For many years afterward, I referred to Him as The God of the Second Chance.

I share that up front today because I want it to be known that my personal experience of God’s mercy gives me a heart of compassion for others who still remain in rebellion as I was.

The reason I speak out against sin is not because I hate anyone. I speak against it because sin is what separates us from God; only through repentance and faith can the relationship with God be restored.

Therefore, it is not love that refuses to acknowledge sin in others; a truly loving person wants those involved in sinful lifestyles to be aware of the danger. Genuine love that is inspired by God points to the danger in order to rescue others and put them on the road to salvation as well.

As a former pastor of mine used to say, “A Christian is one beggar telling another beggar where to find food.”

Judging OthersWhen anyone tries to use Scripture to say we shouldn’t judge, they don’t understand the context of the Scripture. The instruction there is to first take the log out of one’s own eye—in other words, be sure you don’t have a sin that you need to repent of first—before taking the splinter out of someone else’s eye. We are to judge, but in the proper spirit of humility.

That said, let’s look at the situation in Orlando through that perspective. It is clear that the prime perpetrator of sinfulness was the shooter who deliberately sought to murder as many people as possible. In that sense, it doesn’t matter who the targets were; murder is murder and we legitimately grieve over the loss of life.

I firmly believe that homosexuality is a sin. It is a perversion of the gift of sex given by God. I also believe that those who die unrepentant of their sinful lifestyle, be it homosexuality, heterosexual sin, or a life of thievery, murder, or whatever sin you may want to list (and the Scripture gives a long list), means an eternity separated from the love and presence of God.

So, the saddest part of what occurred in that nightclub is the possible loss of forty-nine souls to the enemy of our souls. Barring a thief-on-the-cross confession at the last minute (and only the Lord knows who may have offered that), those forty-nine awakened to a terror that far exceeds what they experienced in the moments before their death.

C. S. Lewis 15What makes this so tragic is that God intended for all of us to be in close relationship with Him. We are the ones who refuse to acknowledge His ways. C. S. Lewis said, in his famous “The Weight of Glory” sermon,

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.

But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.

God created each of us with inherent worth. Each person, no matter his or her lifestyle, is an immortal. We all will spend an eternity somewhere, but when we stay in rebellion against God’s righteousness—a righteousness intended for our good, not to stop us from “having fun”—we become immortal horrors.

That’s the real tragedy of what has transpired over this past weekend.

You will find, if you pay attention to the responses to the attack, that Christians have come to the forefront to offer aid and counsel for those left behind and grieving. Why? It’s because we operate out of the love of God for others, even for those with whom we disagree.

We don’t throw people from buildings or murder them because of their sins; rather, we reach out and try to help lead them out of their sins. We know what it means to have received mercy; therefore, we want to extend that same mercy to others.

Yet what do we hear from some sources? Christians are to blame for what happened because they believe homosexuality is sinful. Christians are to blame because they have pushed for freedom of religion laws. Christians are to blame for creating a mentality that leads to this.

No, no, and no.

Yet this onslaught of accusations is taking its toll. First, in public policy, we may see even more stringent controls over those of us who maintain Biblical standards of morality. Christian institutions like the one I’m part of, an evangelical university, may undergo more pressure to conform to the world’s way of thinking and acting.

Robert GeorgeThen there’s the pressure on individual Christians to lay aside their faith, to go along to get along. Professor Robert George of Princeton University penned a sad but true insight the other day, talking about how Christians are now, more than ever, tempted to follow the cultural trends no matter how antithetical they may be to Biblical teaching.

We deceive ourselves, Prof. George says: “Christians who fall in line with a trend always find ways to say that the trend, whatever it is, is compatible with Christian faith–even dictated by it!” That’s the greatest danger of all, when those who call themselves Christians fall in line with a society that has rejected Biblical norms and even try to claim that the new ideas are somehow really Christian.

He ended his commentary with this:

Being human, we crave approval and we like to fit in. Moreover, we human beings are naturally influenced by the ways of thinking favored by those who are regarded in a culture as the sophisticated and important people.

When push comes to shove, it’s really hard to be true to Christian faith; the social and personal costs are too high. We Christians praise the martyrs and honor their memories, but we are loath to place in jeopardy so much as an opportunity for career advancement, or the good opinion of a friend, much less our lives.

So we tend to fall in line, or at least fall silent. We deceive ourselves with rationalizations for what amounts to either conformism or cowardice. We place the emphasis on whatever happens in the cultural circumstances to be the acceptable parts of Christian teaching, and soft-pedal or even abandon the parts that the enforcers of cultural norms deem to be unacceptable.

We make a million excuses for going along with what’s wrong, and pretty soon we find ourselves going along with calling it right.

I’m afraid he is correct in his analysis. My approach, instead, is to follow what Christian leader A. W. Tozer once said: “I claim the holy right to disappoint men in order to avoid disappointing God.”

Take Up the CrossJesus told His disciples to take up their crosses and follow Him. He also said the way is broad that leads to destruction and the way is narrow that leads to life. We are at a point where a line is going to be drawn—in fact, is already being drawn—where we will have to decide which side of that line we are on.

Moses, upon coming down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, saw the Israelites worshiping a false god and giving themselves over to sexual sins. He drew a line that day; those who came to his side were spared, but the others were destroyed.

Decide this day whom you will serve. It’s a decision that determines your eternity.

If the Foundations Are Destroyed?

I have taught Biblical principles in my courses for the past twenty-seven years. I’ve wanted my students to understand that we must look deeper than outward appearances when we scrutinize historical events.

A principle is a source or origin of anything; it is a general truth, that is, a truth that is so broad and sweeping that many other truths can be considered off-shoots of it.

The idea of general truths that apply to all of society formerly had wide acceptance in America. The key word is formerly. So my goal has been to reintroduce those principles as best I can through my teaching and writing.

FoundationsThat’s why, back in 1993, I published a book based on the principles I teach in the classroom. I’ve revised it a few times along the way.

If the Foundations Are Destroyed: Biblical Principles and Civil Government is a primer on the principles that I believe come out of Scripture and ought to be applied to everything in our society.

The onset of evolutionary philosophy and the pragmatism to which it has given birth have led us to think more in terms of expediency than principle. People sacrifice principles to that which is less troublesome.

Standing on principle can be wearying when no one else seems to care or understand what you are doing. Yet God calls on Christians to make His principles the foundation of all they say and do.

Christians get in trouble when they conform to the world’s thinking and ignore principles. They are tempted not to cause waves, forgetting that the world already is a turbulent place and that men are seeking—whether they realize it or not—for the stability of fixed principles.

America has always had those turbulent times; historians probably understand that better than most. There was a presidential election in 1800 that was quite controversial. Leading up to that election, one man, Jedidiah Morse—a Congregational minister, the compiler of the first American geography book, and father of Samuel F. B. Morse, the inventor of the telegraph—preached a sermon that issued the following warning:

Jedidiah MorseOur dangers are of two kinds, those which affect our religion, and those which affect our government. They are, however, so closely allied that they cannot, with propriety, be separated.

The foundations which support the interests of Christianity are also necessary to support a free and equal government like our own.

To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness, which mankind now enjoy. In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation, either through unbelief, or the corruption of its doctrines, or the neglect of its institutions; in the same proportion will the people of that nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom, and approximate the miseries of complete despotism.

Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all the blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.

If that dire warning was applicable in 1799 when Morse preached that sermon, how much more so today?

America may be more bitterly divided now than it has been since the Civil War, and there is no guarantee that Biblical principles will gain the ultimate victory in this earthly realm. But God does reward and protect those who serve Him with a whole heart. He is looking for faithful individuals through whom He can work to make changes.

Jesus asked the best question for our times: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

The book of Hebrews says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That is the kind of faith He seeks; it is the only kind of faith that will make a difference. May it be the faith that He finds.

If you would like to peruse the principles in my book, you can find it at Amazon by clicking here.

Jesus & Anxiety: A Lewis Primer

Letters to MalcolmAnother C. S. Lewis book that I read recently—for the first time—is Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. One section speaks directly to me with respect to a hard time I’m going through at the moment.

We would like the world to be predictable, something we can manage according to our expectations. Lewis says we have to lay that expectation aside:

But is it not plain that this predictable world . . . is not the world we live in? This is a world of bets and insurance policies, of hopes and anxieties, where “nothing is certain but the unexpected” and prudence lies in “the masterly administration of the unforeseen.”

Nearly all the things people pray about are unpredictable: the result of a battle or an operation, the losing or getting of a job, the reciprocation of a love. We don’t pray about eclipses.

Therefore, despite our faith, we can’t avoid the potential anxieties life throws at us. Lewis seeks, though, to distinguish between anxiety and sin:

Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ.

Jesus in GethsemaneJesus, Lewis reminds us, had to suffer anxiety in order to be fully human. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to the crucifixion, held the hope, however slim, that He might not have to go through with it:

Lest any trial incident to humanity should be lacking, the torments of hope—of suspense, anxiety—were at the last moment loosed upon Him—the supposed possibility that, after all, He might, He just conceivably might, be spared the supreme horror.

If Jesus hadn’t sweat blood in the Garden, “perhaps He would not have been very Man. To live in a fully predictable world is not to be a man.”

Lewis concludes these thoughts with this:

We all try to accept with some sort of submission our afflictions when they actually arrive. But the prayer in Gethsemane shows that the preceding anxiety is equally God’s will and equally part of our human destiny. The perfect Man experienced it. And the servant is not greater than the master. We are Christians, not Stoics.

Who am I to think that I should be allowed a lifetime full of completely manageable, totally predictable moments? That expectation would place me above my Master.

I like Lewis’s final sentence very much. The Stoics attempted to glide through life unaffected by anything bad that happened. They sought to so completely control their emotions that nothing bothered them. That is unrealistic.

Christians should not expect to be unaffected by the sin and misery that are the common lot of us all, redeemed and unredeemed alike. What we have that the unredeemed do not is a Savior we can look to who knows what it is like to experience similar anxieties. He was fully human, even as He was fully God. He can come to our aid in our darkest hours.

Jesus My Refuge, My Peace, My Overcomer

Did you ever have one of those days? You know the one I mean, when you wonder why you even try? When the best of intentions and the desire to make a difference doesn’t seem to make a difference at all? I had one of those days yesterday, and it might continue today. Evil abounds. What about God’s grace, which means the strength to withstand the evil?

I don’t want to give in to the temptation not to care anymore. I want to be infused with God’s grace today. A few scriptures have come to mind, given, I trust, by God, as I am struggling within my heart.

Let’s start with select verses from Psalm 91:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust!”

A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not approach you. You will only look on with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. For you have made the Lord, my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place. No evil will befall you.

“Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.”

Then I go to the New Testament and find these words of Jesus at the Last Supper:

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.

Truly, the Lord is my only refuge today. I want to look past, or through, the tribulation in my life and recognize I can have peace through Him. I want to see that last line come to pass: He has overcome the world.

Faith